America's 'Third Coast,' as it has dubbed itself, is a place of many contrasts. The beach-town scene of Port Aransas is a sea of calm compared with the frenetic hedonism of South Padre Island, for one. There are plenty of reminders of the state's dramatic history, too, from the first shots of the Mexican-American War at the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site to the long and bumpy history of the port city of Galveston.
Along the Rio Grande, border politics affect all aspects of life. In many ways the area forms a cultural border distinct from Mexico and Texas, a unique multicultural and bilingual region that for a short time was even an independent state. The Republic of the Rio Grande may not have survived as a political entity, but its unique history still accents the towns and remote stretches from Brownsville to Laredo and beyond.