Snowbird destinations: Texas, Part 2

Texas Spoken Friendly

Rio Grande Valley

The vast majority of Winter Texans flock to the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) in South Texas.

A Rio Grande Valley sunset. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The Valley,” as it is affectionately called, is an area near the Mexican border that stretches from Brownsville and Harlingen in the east to Mission in the west—a distance of about 65 miles. Starting in the east and heading west, there’s Brownsville, Los Fresco, Rio Honda, San Benito, Harlingen, La Feria, Mercedes, Weslaco, Donna, Alamo, San Juan, Pharr, Edinburg, McAllen, and Mission.

Technically not part of The Valley, nearby Rio Hondo, Port Isabel, and South Padre Island are also favorite roosts for Winter Texans. The South Padre Island beaches are never crowded, except during Spring Break, when no Winter Texan in their right mind would venture there.

The Valley lies at nearly the same latitude as Miami, Florida. Winters tend to be mild and a bit breezy; however, the weather can be unpredictable. The Valley enjoys a year ’round sub-tropical climate with an average temperature of 74°F. The average rainfall is 23.2 inches.

Unlike Arizona, the evenings are warm enough to wear shorts.

The "Killer Bee" welcomes you to Hidalgo. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Valley is arguably the best bargain in the U.S. for wintering in a warm climate. While the area offers everything you’ll find in other places, living costs are less expensive, with the added advantage of being right next door to Mexico.

Dining comes in all shapes and sizes in The Valley, beginning with Texas slow-cooked barbecues, where the pork, chicken, and beef fall off the bone, to Tex-Mex specialties, Mexican cuisine that’s as good as you’ll find in Mexico, fast foods, and buffets. Eating out here does not break the bank, and senior specials are available daily.

Long known to Midwesterners as a great winter spot, many other U.S. and Canadian RVers have recently discovered it, too. New Winter Texans continue to arrive each year and many, like us, become repeat visitors. Over 50 percent of Winter Texans have been visiting The Valley for eight or more years.

It has been said of The Valley that there are two kinds of ground cover: Perfect rows of irrigated citrus groves and winter vegetables; and semi-organized rows of recreational vehicles.

Newspaper headlines and signs welcome Winter Texans back home to The Valley.

In trying to define what makes the Winter Texans different from their Snowbird cousins in Florida, Arizona, and Southern California, it seems to us it has to with their roots and why they spend their winters here. Winter Texans come primarily from a Mid-West, small-town or rural roots—not that much unlike those that winter in Yuma. The majority of Canadians who winter in Texas are from Manitoba and Ontario.

Quinta Mazatlan is a popular stop for birders and non-birders alike. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most of the larger parks have highly organized activities to make sure you don’t get bored.

The Winter Texans have created a culture of their own. And they tend to do what they do back home. They are crazy for dancing!

Most activities center around dancing, dance classes, and dance workshops (from pre-beginners to Advance II to Phase VI)—square dance, line dance, round dance, ball room dance, mainstream dance, pattern dance, tap dance, 2-step, waltz, cha-cha, Latin dance, Country Western dance, West Coast swing, clogging—and Bible study.

Birding

Bird-watchers from around the world converge on The Valley to see rare and unique birds.

The Valley is a diverse ecosystem of semi-arid brush and wetlands that provide unique habitats for unusual plant and animal communities, which are found only in subtropical environments. Mostly frost-free, the valley contains the northern-most extension of the Mexican subtropical biota ecosystem, attracting a variety of neotropical birds more commonly found in Mexico.

Plain Chachalaca is one of many species of birds found in The Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Much of the valley now supports extensive urban/agricultural activities, but numerous natural areas along the Rio Grande have been protected and provide oases for more than 500 bird species that reside in or migrate through this region.

Many of the subtropical species are south Texas specialties, meaning it’s the only location in the United States where these birds can be found. Although many of the Valley’s residents can be seen year-round,

The birds we’ve seen include green jay, chachalaca, great kiskadee, ringed and green kingfisher, green parakeet, elegant trogon, crimson-collared grosbeak, golden-fronted and ladder-backed woodpecker, olive sparrow, white-winged dove, black-crowned warbler, Altamira oriole, white-tipped and Inca dove, long-billed thrasher, clay-colored robin, curved-bill curlew, black-bellied whistling duck, least grebe, great blue heron, little blue heron, great white egret, snowy egret, reddish egret, white-faced ibis, least bittern, brown and white pelican, cormorant, moorhen, American coot, wood duck, red-winged blackbird, Couch’s and Eastern kingbird, Northern cardinal, American finch, phoebe, white tailed hawk, vermilion flycatcher, and blue bunting.

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

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