Life on the border – Mission, TX

If you visit the Rio Grande Valley (also referred to as the RGV) with the idea of enjoying beautiful scenic vistas, then you probably picked the wrong place.  There’s really no “oohing” or “aahing” when you look around as you explore and drive.  Instead, you’ll see a valley plotted into RV parks and shopping malls, and grapefruit and onion fields – all protected by the ubiquitous U.S. Border Patrol.

Don’t get me wrong – although the scenery may not be gorgeous, there’s lots to do here, just ask the hundreds of “winter Texans” who come back year after year.  And if you’re a serious birder, this is the place to be – but that’s a story for another day.

Mission Texas

Farmland with the ever-present (and very powerful) Border Patrol cameras

Our home base for the month of February in the RVG is Mission, Texas.  The city has been advertised as “The home of the Ruby Red Grapefruit” since 1921.  This area is home to the Texas Citrus Exchange, and is prime acreage for growing this fruit.  And yes, the Ruby Red is the best grapefruit I’ve ever had!  It’s sweet and has fewer seeds than the others.  Although Steve isn’t a fan of grapefruit, he admitted this one is “almost edible”.  I’m glad he won’t eat it, since it means I don’t have to share the bagfuls of it we buy at the local farmer’s market!

Rio Grande Valley grapefruit

The sweetest grapefruit I’ve tasted, the Rio Grande Valley grapefruit

With mostly mild temperatures and sunny days, we focused our efforts on getting back in shape to make up for the lost days while we were at Port Aransas.  Our home base for the month is at Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort (Steve’s review here), which is right across the road from Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.

I learned that the RV park was created as part of an agreement the landowners made with Texas Parks and Wildlife to locate the World Birding Center headquarters in the middle of Bentsen Development.  Because of that, RV park guests get free daily passes to the state park and Butterfly Center – much to our delight!

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park

Can you see my wide smile?  Free biking and walking through a world-class birding area!

In addition to free passes to the state park, RV park guests can also borrow kayaks and bicycles for free, and take a 3-hour pontoon boat ride on the Rio Grande River for only $10.00.  We took the relaxing boat ride on the river, which is the border between the U.S. and Mexico in this area.

It’s common knowledge that folks on the Mexican side of the border frequently make the easy swim across this river to enter the U.S.  It’s a bit disturbing to be here and actually see how simple it is.  The Border Patrol officers are doing an almost impossible job, and we can’t imagine how bad it would be without them.  We’re very thankful for them and give them a friendly wave whenever we can.

Rio Grande Pontoon boat ride

Taking a break during our afternoon pontoon boat ride, a relaxing way to spend a sunny day

Reynosa, Mexico

Back there across the river is Reynosa, Mexico

Reynosa Mexico

Mexicans fishing on the river right across from the U.S. side

Even considering the constant vigilance of the Border Patrol, Mexicans and others from South America try repeatedly to cross the border, due in part to the incessant drug-related violence south of our border.  We heard that 15 people were killed by drug-runners in one day – right across the border from us in Reynosa.  This news promptly canceled our plans to have some dental work done across the border!

State police are heavily involved in border protection as well:

Texas Border Patrol

Well, let’s see – 900 horsepower, 4 mounted machine guns and several officers in full body-armor – do you think these guys are serious?

But for those lucky enough to get across and believing they alluded the U.S. Border Patrol, further surprises await them – like an infrared-equipped helicopter and a van ready to transport them “downtown”.  The Border Patrol folks mean business and are really doing a fantastic job.

The two images below were taken through a window of our RV!

US Border Patrol

US Border Patrol

Almost daily when the weather allowed during the past 2 weeks, we either walked or biked through the Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park, or along the levees that surround the huge Bentsen Palm Development property.  We also enjoyed trekking to the nearby Mission Nature Park – always under the watchful eyes of the Border Patrol – and feeling quite safe during our outdoor activities.

Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park levees

Walking along the levees

A funny story – one morning while biking in the state park we separated as Steve went to one part of the park while I photographed the sunrise.  He started talking to a Border Patrol officer, who was looking for a woman riding a bike alone and wearing a backpack. Steve told the officer he would keep an eye out for this person.

When we met up a little later, he realized I was wearing my camera backpack – they were looking for me!  Apparently my travels had somehow raised suspicion on one of their super-cameras, and they wanted to talk to me.  We found the officer and confirmed that I wasn’t one of the bad guys.  Steve got a big laugh out of that one, and has been referring to me as “the outlaw Mona Liza” ever since!

Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park

On the Resaca Trail in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park

We walked and biked the Mission Nature Park trails a few times:

Mission Nature Park

On several occasions we observed some interesting stuff along the trail, like these tree snails hugging trees and Prickly Pear cactus plants…

…and a temporary sleeping area with a mattress sitting against the Prickly Pears…

Mission Nature Park Trail

…and temporary hideouts where people left clothes and water bottles when in a hurry.

wpid34108-2015-02-14-TX-1730637.jpg

We were careful to avoid numerous nests of Red Harvester Ants:

Red Harvester Ants

This little hill was the most “hiking” Steve did here:

Mission Nature Trail

Really not much more than a giant ant hill 🙂

Mission Nature Trail

It may not be spring yet, but these weeds had started to bloom and color our trail:

Back at our home base there’s a ranch behind our site where Brahma Bulls roam around.

Brahman BullFinally, another one of the perks at our RV park is the “mobile farmer’s market” that comes to visit us every Tuesday afternoon.  It’s very convenient, and the produce is fresh and reasonably priced.  Our favorite is the sweet fresh pineapple that they core and peel for us on the spot.  Yum!

We’re enjoying our stay here in Mission, as we finish up medical appointments and cross the final “Betsy to-do’s” off the list.  In a couple of weeks we’ll begin our next northward trek, but happily I still have plenty of time to spend here with my feathered friends!