Explore Geology
geology fieldnotes title

Padre Island

National Seashore


cover of park brochure

park geology subheading
man fishing from the beach
Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

Profile of a Barrier Island
Padre Island is one of a chain of islands that stretches along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States from Maine to Texas. These islands are barrier islands, so-called because they guard the mainland from the direct onslaught of storms. On many of these low-lying islands man has left his mark: seaside homes, lighthouses, fishing villages, vacation resorts. But on Padre Island it is not the work of man but the handiwork of nature that is most evident.

Padre Island, like all barrier islands, is a dynamic place where you can witness change:

  • change wrought by the gentle touch of breezes,
  • by the relentless crashing of waves,
  • by the rhythmic coming and going of tides,
    and, most dramatically,
  • by the violent battering of tropical storms and hurricanes.
The many environments of Padre Island - beach, dunes, grasslands, and tidal flats - are shaped and reshaped daily in response to these natural sculptors. You can see the signs of change everywhere: sand blowing in the wind, new seashells deposited by a wave, a washover channel cut into the island by the power of a great storm. Another more subtle change that is occurring, according to scientists, is the slow expansion of the entire island toward the mainland as winds and storms deposit sand on the island's west side.

The plants and animals of Padre Island are well adapted to the ever-changing nature of their native home. Sea oats, for example, thrive here. This wild shore plant is a pioneer species, one that moves into areas of loose, blowing sand where few other plants can grow, and takes root. With the sand anchored by roots, other plants take hold and dunes grow, sometimes to heights of 30 or 40 feet. The dunes are held in place unless something destroys the plants. A particularly fierce storm can do it. People can do it, by trampling the grasses or driving over them; that's why hiking and driving in the dunes are prohibited.

For years, legends have been told of great treasures hidden on Padre Island and just off its shores. The stories are of fortunes of gold and silver carried by Spanish galleons lost at sea and of vast sums of money and gems buried in the sand. Some of this wealth has indeed been found, and more may be discovered in the future. Meanwhile, there are natural treasures just as great—perhaps even greater—to enjoy in Padre Island National Seashore. Located along the south Texas coast, this sparkling preserve by the sea embraces 80 miles of white sand-and-shell beaches, picturesque windswept dunes, wild landscapes of grasslands and tidal flats teeming with shore life, and warm offshore waters. The National Seashore is one of the longest stretches of primitive, undeveloped ocean beach in the United States. Throughout this coastal wilderness you can enjoy the riches of relaxation and recreation.

  • If you're a beach- lover, the sun, sand, and surf of Padre Island are ideal for swimming and sunbathing almost all year.
  • If you're a fisherman, you can choose between the Gulf of Mexico and the shallow, extremely salty waters of Laguna Madre—both are renowned for their bounty of gamefish.
For those who delight in the discovery of a seashell of exquisite design and color, or a peculiar piece of driftwood, there are miles of shoreline for beachcombing. Campers can awake to the sights and sounds of water and island birds such as gulls, herons, and ducks that live by the water's edge. If it's adventure and a chance to get away from it all that you seek, you can hike or drive a 4-wheel-drive vehicle along the long roadless Gulf beach. For those who like to poke around in the past, Padre Island has a history of small Indian tribes that once hunted and fished here, shipwrecks, hurri-canes, cattle ranches, and oil and gas exploration. However you spend your time at Padre Island National Seashore, the rewards will be generous.

park maps subheading

The General park map handed out at the visitor center is available on the park's map webpage.

For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.

photo album subheading

A geology photo album for this park can be found here.

For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.

books, videos, cds subheading

cover of Padre Island Guide to Geology book

Padre Island National Seashore: A Guide to the Geology, Natural Environments, and History of a Texas Barrier Island. Weise, Bonnie R. and William A. White.
Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin
second printing: 1981

This guide to the Padre Island National Seashore describes and explains island and lagoon environments, the active processes that constantly change the face of Padre, and natural records left by those processes. A road log for a short field trip directs readers to these environments and effects of these active processes. The guide also presents summaries of geologic origin and history of Padre, as well as the history of human use of the island and interaction with the natural environments.

Please visit the Geology Books and Media webpage for additional sources such as text books, theme books, CD ROMs, and technical reports.

Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
ISBN 0-393-92407-6
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout

The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!

Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.

geologic research subheading

Information about the park's research program is available on the park's research webpage.

Further information on collecting specimens for geologic research can be found here.

For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.

The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.

A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.

selected links subheading

NPS Geology and Soils Partners

NRCS logoAssociation of American State Geologists
NRCS logoGeological Society of America
NRCS logoNatural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
USGS logo U.S. Geological Survey

teacher feature subheading

General information about the park's education and intrepretive programs is available on the park's education webpage.

For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.
updated on 01/04/2005  I   http://nature.nps.gov/geology/parks/pais/index.cfm   I  Email: Webmaster
This site is best viewed in Internet Explorer 6.0 or Netscape 7.0