Brownsville is a South Texas border city about 23 miles from what was Boca Chica township and Boca Chica State Park and beach. The population is over 180,000 and the county seat of Cameron County includes the most southern tip of Texas and the USA.
Brownsville is the last of the major cities that daisy-chain along the Rio Grande River that consist of what we in South Texas often refer to as ” The Valley”, stretching from Laredo to Brownsville.
Boca Chica State Park and Beach
Established in 1994 it is a newer State Park that includes more than 1,000 acres of beaches & dunes for swimming, fishing, surfing, bird-watching & picnics, though does not have formal picnic areas, just empty oil drum bins line the beachline to encourage proper trash disposal. The day I went there the tide was out and most of the park/lagoons were dry and the beach was at low tide. It is not listed on the Texas State Park website and does not have any official entrance, entrance fee, visitor center, or park rangers, you are kind of on your own.
With that said it is kind of a free-for-all. People were driving on the beach, setting up gazebos, bringing home barbecue grills complete with propane tanks, and pretty much anything you’re not allowed to do on other beaches I have ever been to, especially one that is a State Park. When I was on Port Aransas beach there was a $250 fine for cars parking on the beach without a permit and not much was allowed but gazebo shades and fishing/swimming.
I climbed around on the dunes and dry lagoon taking pics of the Space X landing pad, drove on the beach, got stuck, got rescued by friendly locals, and did not make it all the way to the end of the beach, but it seemed everyone was having a good time and just enjoying the Saturday in the sun. In the absence of rules and authority, there was no drinking or crazy behavior. Just a summer day at the beach because they can.
I hope people that visit South Texas visit this little nook of Texas while they still can.
The X Factor/Boca Chica Township
Now for the elon-phant in the room.
Elon Musk’s Space X started doing some rocket testing in Boca Chica around 2014 after they got the state to give them an exception to the Public Beach Access Act so they can close the road for launches. What started as a little testing site near a little township where locals could look down their Weems st. homes and see a novel little rocket project, in time grew into a classic game of Risk, wherewith a roll of the dice winner takes all. What started as a friendly neighbor science project, turned-conquerer, and ended up buying them all out to relocate when they started complaining about noise and cracks in their homes from rocket testing.
The township is really no more. Space X has bought everyone out and made a massive construction zone in front of the little house community that will be their Launch site command center complex. Homes on Weems st. are now part of the Control Complex as well as a pile of airstreams and food trucks to house and feed some of the growing workforces building new launch control and launch towers in the summer of 2021.
Location, Location, Location
While Musk famously had 5 homes all on the same hillside in Beverly Hills for convenience, he seems to have the opposite business acumen here. He has big dreams in a small pond. Except this one is surrounded by water and another country. He will see what it is like trying to dunk a basketball down a sink drain. I know he imagines it is all gonna be his one day and he can shoot rockets and catch the reusable parts from the Gulf of Mexico any time he likes.
At least in Austin/Travis County he seems to have gotten the point and has more land there than all his other Tesla factories in the world combined. Texas has lots of land for sale to visionaries that are not trying to hang off the bottom of the state and the whole USA on the southernmost tip, like Boca Chica.
Comparing this beach sandbox to Bezos’s Blue Origin spread in West Texas(165,000 acres!) I just visited, Space X would have to take over and dam-off the south bay just to have part of what Bezos has AND OWNS. Bezos has the land to grow and grow in the valley and his Kármán-line-kisser rocket looks tiny on all that land. Musk has more and bigger toys (rockets, control tower, fuel tanks) here but no real land to go and build stuff because it is surrounded by state parkland and lagoons that have seawater, and well, …MEXICO!
The Kennedy Space Center is also on a sand strand off Central Florida (not on the last strand closest to the equator at the end of the state on an island in the keys), however, it is like 1000 times bigger and has multiple launch sites. This is like a neighborhood rec center compared to an Olympic village.
I just don’t get why it has to be basically at sea level (aren’t the tides of the world rising?) and in that area at all. I am all for space exploration and he has a great operation and plans, but why could he not just get a ranch, rezone some ag land for industrial use in another part of Texas, and boost that economy? It would be much easier to get equipment in and out of major highways like the Midland/Lubbock area of West Texas? Why a sand bar near a public beach, smack-dab on an international border? I have been everywhere in Texas, there could not be a worse spot to build and grow a multi-planet space empire in Texas than there in Boca Chica.
Now I know from being a casual space enthusiast that there are better locations where it is faster to space/International Space Station than others. Traditionally space launch sites seem to want to be close to the equator (Musk has also been linked to an indigenous island in Indonesia to launch rockets for this same reason) due to the rotation and tilt of the earth, which means rockets need less propellant to reach orbit, etc. The USA uses Kennedy Space Center, near Orlando, FL. and the USSR/Russia uses a place in present-day Kazakstan (Baikonur Cosmodrome) due to its southern, desert location. Though “south” by Russian standards is still like Buffalo, New York is south of not very much in North America except Canada.
Elon’s plans were to originally build this in the port of LA (“from the stars of LA to the stars in outer space” he bragged), he know he was going to be up against environmental and noise regulations so brought it to South Texas where he had already a small testing spot on the beach. He knows Texas State leadership does not really care about much other than money and the attention it would get with a new enterprising business within their borders. Texas has a long history of just being up for sale, nature be damned, and building refineries and leaky pipelines all over the coastline and wetlands (La Porte, Corpus Christi) so why not space travel and bomb-like rocket fuels and chemicals on the beach too.
Musk says it is going to save tons of fuel moving from California to Boca Chica due to being closer to the equator. Really? We should let some billionaire who claims to care about the environment destroy a State park and beach to save fuel for personal fame and fortune?
Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic both use inland private desert locations for their space tourism launch sites, though Blue Origin, like Space X, uses the Government’s Kennedy Space Center launch pads for other government space launch projects and large commercial launches for the time being.
I was really hoping to get inspired visiting this area and hearing he wants to do space and maybe even some type of amusement/educational space park etc and an economic boom, I just did not realize how little land he had to work with without scorching all the natural areas. Just like most of Musk’s tweets that sound too good to be true, this while not impossible seems just to be a mix of hyper-bull and colonizing talk like taking over Boca Chica township from old people. Just turn and burn. When Musk is done Brownsville and Texas will get just as much love and appreciation for all the land and tax breaks they have given as Canada did for letting him migrate from South Africa so he could move to the USA for college and live the American Dream and run in silicon valley circles making globs of stock value till he wants to do or move somewhere else for better tax incentives for his next scheme/dream. L.A., Reno, Brownsville, Austin, he has a history of turn-and-burn. Our only consol here is that when he is finished messing with Texas/America he is on his way to another planet.
Why is this such a bad spot?
- mere miles from an international border line
- only one small highway road (Hwy 4) in and out, ending in water on the other end.
- close to two populated cities, Brownsville (Pop: 183,000), TX, and Matamoros, Mexico (Pop: 520,000)
- logistically at the bottom of the state and 100’s of miles from major cities, large shipping ports, and suppliers
- no local trained workforce in space engineering, and have to ferry people in from regional airports
- there is not much private land to acquire without encroaching into the state parks and public beach
Elon Musk has also voiced interest in wanting to drill for natural gas in the area for use on this land and enterprise, so F-state parks, let’s drill, baby drill! He realizes what a bad spot he is in and how long and expensive it is to bring in resources to the bottom of nowhere end of the State and just wants to take more natural resources to feed his space beast. There is no going back now, it is rape this land to get to another planet! Any old white guy in charge of Texas will just keep letting rich guys get whatever they like, be it “exceptions” tax breaks, or underdealings, that are just how Texas has always worked, it’s called a “pro-business” environment.
It is just a giant f-you to local nature and locals that have used that land for centuries as a public beach and wetlands and a quiet escape from the ruckus of big city life or the more touristy South Padre Island just northeast of Port of Isabel on the other side of South Bay.
What is left of Boca Chica?
While the township is no more, the name for that area BOCA CHICA is important and historical for the whole area as well as Boca Chica Blvd (Hwy 4) the only way to access Brazos Island State Park, Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area, and Boca Chica Park and Beach. Trying to white-wash it all into “Starbase, TX” shows Musk gives ZERO F’s about local Hispanic names, history, and culture in this area and just plans to gobble it all up into an industrial complex for his ego dreams of going to Mars. They should change Boca Chica Blvd (Hwy 4) to Elon Ego Way.
I imagine Space X will just continue to grow into a cancer-like construction zone until the beach is deemed not safe or accessible for civilians to enter anymore and FAA says it is restricted access just like you can’t go to the beach anymore around NASA’s Cape Canaveral in Florida, that is a national security zone. Hwy 4 will just end at a Space X gate at some point and only be for Space X clearance personnel and U.S. Border Patrol if this keeps growing like this unchecked.
- Nature/ nature lovers
- Access to State Parks and Beach (Eventually)
- Mars-man Musk
- County and State land tax collections agencies
- Out-of-state engineers and industrial contractors and truck drivers
- Local motels and convenience stores, at least during rush building fazes.
If you think I am just a grumpy guy wanting to keep the natural world natural, that is fine, but not all locals are thrilled either and are driving people and wildlife away from the area.