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.
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!
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!
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.
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:
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!
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.
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!
We walked and biked the Mission Nature Park trails a few times:
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…
…and temporary hideouts where people left clothes and water bottles when in a hurry.
We were careful to avoid numerous nests of Red Harvester Ants:
This little hill was the most “hiking” Steve did here:
Really not much more than a giant ant hill 🙂
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.
Finally, 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!
e enjoyed our stay there as well but are of the opinion one month is long enough to do everything we want to do and then some…
Agree, a couple of weeks would have just been enough but we are running away from the cold 🙂
That is a funny story! Have a great time birding, hiking and biking. That is great there is a farmers market and a state park across the street.
Yup Marcy I guess because of my color I can be look over 🙂
Thanks for the information on the RGV. I do not think we will be visiting that location, even though there are plenty of border patrol, I would not feel safe for the kids. We stayed in El Paso over Thanksgiving and did not see any border patrol activity or hear any bad stories while we were there. We are now in San Antonio and do want to go a little further south for the rest of winter, but do not think it will be Mission, TX. We drove down to Corpus Christi this past weekend, and were not impressed with it either. If you are near San Antonio before 13 March 2015, let us know and we could link up just to say Hi in person. Don, Misty, and Kids… (LivelyRV)
Don, despite their presence we are pretty much very safe here. I would suggest camping at South Padre Island. Im sure the kids will love romping in the sand and sun! Just go there before spring break.
Unfortunately San Antonio is no longer in our itinerary this year. We will be at Big Bend National Park end of March then on to Ft Davis.
Seems like a whole other world down there on the border! Looks like you are having fun!
You got that right 🙂
I had a good chuckle over your border patrol story, Mona. Glad you were able to convince them that you’re a good gal. Hope I can do the same regarding my illusive fingerprints. 🙂
Ha ha , you know that was not even the only time I was given a once over. I guess bikes and backpacks are just dead giveaways. But the officer wasn’t overbearing but very professional.
You need a bright yellow smiley face on that backpack, teehee! Slice, section and cover in cinnamon one of those grapefruits…broil 5 min YUMMO!
I will try that recipe for that sounds yummo!
Those are amazing sights outside your RV window. I can’t imagine how terrible their lives must be for them to risk trying to sneak into the US but it sure is close there. Your pictures really tell the story. I had no idea. Love the picture of you in front of the World Birding Center. I’m with Steve on the grapefruit. You can have it all and I’ll take all the pineapple. LOL
I might be able to convert you about the grapefruit for I normally don’t like them either but the Rio Grande variety is really sweet.
I had fun taking pictures outside my window and we can’t miss it as the helicopter was flying incessantly and we can hear it.
I think I did warn you many weeks ago about the lack of beauty in that area. We will probably spend next January in Mission. We have made so many friends there, it is just about the only reason to go back.
Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is a really nice place to do a photo shoot.
Be sure to find the Mexican Green Parrots. They are amazing and gorgeous.
Ha ha , yes you did, and that was a fair warning to lower my expectations. I had been birding here with Birdie so I will be on the lookout for the Mexican Green Parrots.
Haha! I can’t believe the Border Patrol was looking for Mona Liza!! Too funny! We are experiencing the same thing here in Naco, AZ since the border is literally yards away. Saw all that clothing, etc on our hikes in Organ Pipe Cactus NM. Kind of creepy!
Glad you two are finding things to do while there. Love those Brahma Bulls:)
Be careful out there Mona Liza!!
Pam, that was not the only time:) On separate occasions I was followed and given the look when I was biking alone inside the state park.
Fortunately there are trails here to keep us active.
Come on east to Weslaco, cross over the bridge to Nevo Progresso. Lots of dentist, shopping, legal drug stores, great food and the ONLY safe border crossing. Our 9th year in Llano Grande RV Park and we go to Mexico mamy ttimes a year. Never a problem or Bad food.
Thanks for the heads up we plan to cross the border by Nuevo Progresso before we leave.
We spent a couple of weeks in Mission at Bentsen Palms a few years ago and loved it. As you said, the main reason to go is for the amazing and exotic birding. I’m looking forward to your birding photos! (I love pink grapefruit, too — nothing better than sweet Texas grapefruit!)
Oh absolutely sweet grapefruit. I normally don’t eat grapefruit but upon tasting the Rio Grande ones, I am definitely hook.
And for the birds, I am mesmerized!
Wow, that photo of the Rio Grande is surprising, when I was at Big Bend State Park the width of the river is about 2 feet 🙂 always made me chuckle that the called it “Grande”!
Exactly, why Grande? It is really an easy swim for them if they can get through the thicket.
ML you still have to hit SPI, South Padre Island, for birding, beach walking and biking. If Steve doesn’t want to go let me know and maybe we can work it in next week. This weekend a big craft thing going on there.
Plenty of museums to keep you out of the clutches of the BP 😘 .
This nice weather should have Steve caught up on the maintenance!
Keep your ears open for the night birds.
Believe it or not I had another trip, this time to an Urgent Care 🙂 I guess the birds here are upset with me.
And yes we will go to SPI, our original plan got cancelled due to the winds this week.
I heard the Paraque last night, so cool!
Haha…. told you the border patrol will be keeping an eye on you. I saw the elegant Trogon at Patagonia SP and missing those coastal birds. Now I’ll focus on Gambels Quail near Tucson. Can’t wait for your post on the birding in RGV 🙂
I know and that was not the only time too. I think biking with a backpack on is a trigger for I was followed twice and they slowed down and looked at me.
Good, you saw one of the first beautiful birds I saw in AZ! I think I will have my fill of coastal birds again, we are going to South Padre Is this week.
Oh my there are so many different beautiful birds here!
I always suspected there was a bit of a rebel in you MonaLiza and now you have confirmed it! Always love your images and am looking forward to more from your birding expeditions. 🙂
I guess a sudden turn and riding away fast was a no no here 🙂
And yet you look so innocent! 🙂
I always knew you were an outlaw!! I don’t think the RGV is for us. The water activities look nice, but I’d miss my mountains and I’m not enough of a birder (or an outlaw) to make it interesting.
Nina, definitely not your place 🙂 too crowded and there are no boon docking sites either.
Giggling over your border patrol story!! Too funny! I have a long long story of me crossing back into America from Canada. Too long to share now… but your story brought back that fond memory! THANK YOU!
I’m with Steve. Just reading the “sweet” in your claim of “sweetest grapefruit” makes me think twice. 😀 But I know I can always rely on RV’ers. 😉
The border patrol actions are a little bit whoa! Oh the price of protection, safety and regulation. Then again, I understood what needs to be done. I just wish there are different ways and measures to regulate those issue.
Sigh… the bird photos!! So beautiful. I can’t imagine seeing such a variety and such intensely beautiful colors. And, gosh, you were so lucky to have Birdie as your guide.
If you can make it, to see those Texan birds got to be in RGV. It was really fun birding with Birdie.
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