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(Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife)

Matagorda Island - rugged and untamed, sea-oat-pure, populated by whooping cranes, wild turkeys, and white-tailed deer - lays 5 miles across the Espiritu Santo Bay from mainland Texas. If cowboys were sailors too, this is where they'd roam.

Wild islands often scare off the summer traveler. But, with preparation, supplies, and a Texas can-do attitude, a day on Matagorda will deliver a beach experience centuries-different from the Holiday Inn Sunspree. City-dwellers (San Antonio and Houston), make your way to Victoria; take Highway 185 south to Seadrift; continue east to Port Connor. This, my adventurous seafaring friends, marks the end of civilization.

Your best bet to access this 38-mile, 56,000-acre slim stretch of beach and dunes is to hire a local fishing guide (search for "guide" on the Port O'Connor Chamber of Commerce Web site), or boat over on your own. The going rate for a guide is $130 round trip, which will bring you to the camping grounds. Groups of six or more help water-down the cost. From there it's about a 2 mile walk to the beach. Alternatively, you can negotiate a trip to Sunday Beach on the north end of the island (just a couple of hundred yards from the beach) where the nearby 1852 lighthouse offers good spots to set up an umbrella (important to bring).

Best Meal
Matagorda allows beach fires in designated areas near the camping grounds. Bring some fresh shrimp, and skewer over an open flame. But if you want to eat on the beach, you'll have to pack your lunch or trek back to the fire rings by the camps. Also, jugs of fresh water should be brought.

Coming from Corpus
Stop by Goose Island State Park in Lamar and see the "Big Tree," the largest live oak in the state. It bares the scratches of dinosaurs. (Figure of speech.)

Don't Forget
To call ahead and schedule a boat ride from Port Connor to the island. Bug spray too. The strong stuff. Although the weather has been dry enough of late to deter nasty mosquitoes, they'll be out the later in the day it gets. Bring plenty of water, too. Matagorda is primitive so anything you need you'll have to bring with you (and don't forget to pack it up with you when you leave). And plastic bags to stuff with the tide's remnants. This may be the best spot in the state to find shells.

Perfect Beach Read
The Cay by Theodore Taylor. A young Dutch boy growing up on a Caribbean island gets shipwrecked, blinded, and deserted with a big, kind, bear-of-a-man named Timothy. A sixth-grade classic, Matagorda's quiet seclusion is a good spot for a one-day read through this thin, salty paperback.