DOWN in the 'VALLEY' - A fall getaway

Published in the Wilson County New on September 16, 2015

DOWN in the                                                      'Valley '

Looking for a fall getaway?  Head South

Story & Photos by: Harry and Linda Kaye Perez

Spot Texas wildlife from the Tree Tower Overlook in the Santa Ana National Wildlife  Refuge                                                                                               near Alamo Texas-in The Valley (photo below)

 Tree Tower at Santa Ana Refuge

    It had been a long time since we traveled to the Rio Grande Valley other than for a quick trip to see relatives and then we were focused on visiting different family residences, occasionally going to a local restaurant and bringing home bags of grapefruit. Imagine our surprise to find that the “Valley” had emerged as a premier vacation destination while we weren’t looking.

        For many years the Rio Grande Valley has been a favorite spot for what are called “snow birds” or “Winter Texans”.  They come from cold areas of the United States and Canada to enjoy the magnificent South Texas weather and hospitality, swelling the population to over four million people during the winter. This growth has created the need for more restaurants, hotels, theatres, museums, and shopping venues.

      Long before humans occupied the area, the unique environment for over 500 different species of birds and over 300 species of butterflies was developing thanks to the convergence of two major bird migratory routes, biologically diverse areas, an average temperature of 72 degrees, and approximately 325 days of sunshine and 22 inches of rain each year.

For the Birds

    There are over 85 different birding sanctuaries scattered throughout the Valley. At Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park, near the city of Mission, birdwatchers can sit back and relax in lawn swings, provided by the park, positioned with a perfect view of a variety of bird feeder occupied by Green Jays and other birds. The Green Jay, a brilliantly colored tropical species, is a Valley resident and breeds almost exclusively in extreme southern Texas. Close by is the National Butterfly Center, home to over 300 species of butterflies, providing a perfect habitat for possibly God’s most colorful and graceful creatures.

 Canopy Walk Rope Bridge-Santa Sna Refuge

      During a visit to Quinta Mazatlan, located in McAllen, not only can you enjoy the tour of the beautiful mansion that was built by Jason Chilton Matthews, an eccentric Indiana Jones-type character, but also you can meander through beautiful gardens and see Great Kiskadees, Green Jays, and Chachalacas. Unlike the Greet Kiskadee and the Green Jay, the Chachalaca is not a colorful bird, nor does it have a melodious song, but it is a very entertaining bird.  It runs and jumps more than it flies, and its most distinctive feature is its extremely loud call “cha-cha-lac” ergo, its name.

      Sitting on the large shaded deck overlooking the Isis Pond at the Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco, guests can observe a wide variety of birds and waterfowl. In fact, the record of sightings from this deck is 115 bird species in one day.                                                       The Canopy Walk rope bridge invites hikers to get closer to nature in the refuge

Take a Hike

        At the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, seven miles south of Alamo, you can take the Nature Tram on a 1½-hour tour with knowledgeable guides, or you  can hike the 12 miles of nature trails on your own, through Ebony trees dripping with Spanish moss. The Chachalaca Trail is one of the most popular. This one-half mile trail will lead you to Willow Lake to view grebes, black-bellied whistling ducks and several varieties of kingfishers. Within the Refuge you can visit an historic cemetery and climb the 40-foot high Tree Tower Overlook for great wildlife viewing. Enjoy a unique Canopy Walk on a rope suspension footbridge.

        Another interesting place for both hiking and birding is the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, a 40-acre wetland oasis. This World Birding Center has an Interpretative Center with a gift shop, a 3½-acre native butterfly habitat, and 2 ½ miles of trials. Waterfowl and shorebirds make this place their home, including herons, cormorants, ospreys, and the Green Kingfisher.


Food for your Mind

      The Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg includes displays from prehistoric plants and animals of the area to modern culture of both South Texas and Northern Mexico.

     At the International Museum of Art and Science, a Smithsonian Affiliate, science comes alive with illustrations of planetary and celestial systems with images from the Hubble Space Telescope. The Nuevo Santander Gallery, the anchor of the vibrant arts district along Main Street in McAllen, focuses on art of the Spanish Colonial and Old West periods in the Rio Grande Valley. Enjoy First Friday Art Walk beginning in September each year to enjoy over two dozen galleries.

… and your body

      With over 600 restaurants in McAllen alone, the culinary world is alive and well in the Valley, offering cuisine that is second to none. Among several restaurants in the McAllen Art District is locally owned Salt-New American Table, offering not only great food but also unique dining experiences. At one side of this restaurant is a beautiful exhibition kitchen where guests can sit and enjoy their dining experience while watching the Chefs work their magic; but you have to get there early for these seats.

Green Jays at Feeder-Bensten Park


      There is no shortage of shopping opportunities in the Valley, from high-end and outlet shopping to specialty downtown boutiques, the McAllen area attracts shoppers from as far away as Northern Mexico to this multi-national community.

      My, how the Valley has changed over the years! rediscover it for yourself.

Photo above: The Rio Grande boasts more than 85 birding sanctuaries, where bird-watchers can spot green jays, great kickadees, chachalacas, and more.

Chef's Table at -
Salt-Chef's Table & Kitchen


Arrive early and snag a seat at the Chef’s Table at Salt-New American Table in McAllen, and watch the chef’s create dishes for your dining pleasure.

View of the Rio Grande from Santa Ana Refuge

A visit to the Valley wouldn’t be complete without a view of the Rio Grand River - this one’s from the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

The Fine Print

Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park, Mission                                                                                                                                                                (956) 584-9156                                                                                                                                                                       

 National Butterfly Center, Mission                                                                                                                                                                           (956) 583-5400                                                                                                                                                        

 Quinta Mazatlan, McAllen                                                                                                                                                                                      (956) 681-3370                                                                                                                                                                  

Estero Llano Grande State Park, Weslaco                                                                                                                                                              (956) 565-3919                                                                                                                                                                     

 Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Alamo                                                                                                                                                     (956)784-7500                                                                                                                                                       

Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, Edinburg                                                                                                                                                                     (956) 381-9922                                                                                                                                                                     

Museum of South Texas History, Edinburg                                                                                                                                                         (956) 383-6911                                                                                                                

International Museum of Art and Science (IMAS), McAllen                                                                                                                                (956) 682-0123                                                                                                                                                                          

Nuevo Santander Gallery, McAllen                                                                                                                                                                        (956) 618-4959                                                                                                                                                               

Salt-New American Table, McAllen                                                                                                                                                                         (956) 627-6304                                                                                                                                                      

Old Cemetery-Santa Ana Refuge
Couch's Kingbird at Feeder

 All photos by: Harry and Linda kaye Perez




   © Harry Perez 2012