I’ve traveled back and forth from Austin to Corpus Christi probably hundreds of times, still making new discoveries every trip. On a recent weekend, though, I reached back to a distant, personal past.
My first night out away from family as a teenager was during the summer of 1965 or ‘66, early in my junior high experience. Raised Presbyterian, I got to attend a retreat center called Camp Aranama, just outside of Goliad, run at that time by the South Texas Presbytery. Aranamas were natives who lived there long ago, a band related to the Tawakonis and for whom 18th-century Spaniards built several missions.
Campers arrived on a Sunday afternoon and said farewell to their parents. The whole split into four separate groups, each consisting of five boys, five girls, and two adult counselors of corresponding gender. Every kid brought bedding and clothes. We slept in “hogans,” which were wooden-framed structures covered in canvas and netting. Each group cooked its own breakfast and supper and performed chores. Lunch happened with all four groups together in the central recreation hall.
Typical of such church-oriented operations, our schedule included religious study, learning outdoor skills, swimming in the pool, and gaming. The highlight of our week was the hike. We took off cross-country, first to the Big Tree—an enormous old live oak with branches that grew to the ground, forming an enclosed shelter and offering shady rest. From there, we continued to town to see the presidio and mission and learn the area’s rich history. A van or small bus gave us a ride back to the camp.
Come Saturday, the experience drew to a close and everyone went home, rugged and tanned and happy.
I’d visited Goliad on many occasions in recent months, but at last determined to find the camp this trip. It’s now Aranama RV Park. I drove in and promptly met the proprietor, Bruce Jones. He’s also from Corpus and is a day younger than I. He told me that his family had acquired the property in 1990 after the place had been “abandoned” for two decades. The Joneses built sheds for vehicles and equipment and installed hookups for numerous trailers. They also enclosed what had been the rec hall. The swimming pool was fenced and unused. Bruce showed me a fading photo of one of the hogans, now likely returned to the elements.
I also looked for the Big Tree, following the circular road around towards a bend in the San Antonio River. The tree wasn’t evident from my vantage points, but the broad grassland with scattered live oaks and anaquas provided a pleasing green panorama, especially after a rain shower watered the sandy ground.
It’s pleasing to discover that those acres still cater to campers, albeit older and less rustic ones. It’s also meaningful for me to reconnect with the site where began my long experience of tents, fire circles, and fun out in the woods.
What was your first camp?