Variety of Activities Attract Winter Texans to Rio Grande Valley

During the summer months, Clyde and Kathy Janssen work as dance instructors at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, one of the most famous dance halls in America, which traces its roots to the Big Band Era of the 1930s and 40s.

The sighting of this Black-vented Oriole brought birders from around the world to Bentsen Palm Village. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Black-vented Oriole made its home a short distance from our RV site at Bentsen Palm Village. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But from November through April, the Janssens teach Jitterbug / Swing at Victoria Palms Resort in Donna. They also assist Grethe Sullivan in teaching salsa, cha cha, and other forms of ballroom dancing at the resort, according to a Texas Association of Campground Owners news release.

Victoria Palms Resort is one of many resorts across the Rio Grande Valley that offer dance classes as well as dancing to live and recorded music during the winter months.

“Dancing is one of the most popular activities at RV parks across the Rio Grande Valley,” Clyde Janssen said.

“It’s especially popular with empty nesters, whose kids have graduated from high school. It’s just mom and dad now. Now they have time for themselves and they can take time to do the things they’ve always wanted to do.”

A "Valley Specialty,: the Buff-bellied Hummingbird is a common sight at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and Wold Birding Center and other Valley nature spots. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A “Valley Specialty,: the Buff-bellied Hummingbird is a common sight at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and Wold Birding Center and other Valley nature spots. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The wonderful thing about dancing is it’s something couples can do together as opposed to doing something where they are competing against each other,” Janssen said, adding, “It helps build personal relationships.”

Roughly 90 percent of the RV parks and resorts in the Rio Grande Valley offers dance lessons as well as venues where Winter Texans can dance to their hearts’ content, said Kristi Collier, president and CEO of Welcome Home Rio Grande Valley, which markets 75 RV parks and resorts from Mission to South Padre Island.

Of course, dancing is just one of a growing array of activities being offered at Rio Grande RV parks.

Some parks have literally hundreds of activities, from sewing and quilting classes to exercise and meditation classes, such as yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong as well as water aerobics and pickleball.

“If you’re bored down here, it’s your own fault,” Collier said, adding that many of the larger RV parks and resorts have multiple halls with breakout rooms for class and other activities and special events.

Many parks also have various arts and crafts classes, from painting to woodworking and lapidary, the art of jewelry making using fresh cut and polished stones.

Tom and Ayumi Towles have been teaching Winter Texans how to cut, grind, and set stones at the Llano Grande lapidary for 16 years. They also teach silver smithing and wire wrapping.

The lapidary shop is a unique feature, being the largest of only two lapidaries in the Rio Grande Valley. With 45 different machines available, guests of Llano Grande have unparalleled access to multiple aspects of this special craft. Lapidary shop guests pay for their materials, but the Towles provide instruction free of charge.

“We’ll normally have a dozen to 20 people a day who come in here and work,” Tom said.

“Most of the guys make jewelry for their wives. But they’ll also make bolos and belt buckles for themselves.”

Most work with various colors of jade, agates, jasper, and putrefied wood that they bring in from their travels, as well as local rocks they pick up in southern Texas, and coprolite which comes from western Colorado or eastern Utah.

“It’s petrified dinosaur dung,” Towles said. “It’s very pretty. It has lots of colors in it. It’s usually 70 to 100 million years old.”

Visitors to Santa Ana are often greeted with the raucous cry of the drab brown, scrawny-looking, turkey-like bird called a plain chachalaca, a bird that reaches its northern limits in the Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to Santa Ana are often greeted with the raucous cry of the drab brown, scrawny-looking, turkey-like bird called a plain chachalaca, a bird that reaches its northern limits in the Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Llano Grande’s lapidary shop also has various rocks as well as jewelry settings which are ordered from jewelry suppliers for those who need them.

Towles said most people who try making their own jewelry enjoy it.

“It’s like a bug that bites them and then they’re in here every day,” he said.

Further to the east, many of the Winter Texans who stay at Bentsen Palm Village enjoy the park’s woodshop, which is equipped with a variety of wood cutting machines.

“We have two volunteers who teach people in the park how to make beautiful wood bowls and other items,” said Juanita Carvajal, the park’s general manager.

Bensten Palm Village also has a craft room that is frequented by quilters and sewing enthusiasts. The park offers a variety of art classes, including gourd painting, Swedish blanket making and water colors.

“We also have line dancing and couples dancing and zumba classes,” Carvajal said.

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