From Mission and Hidalgo to Brownsville and South Padre Island, the Rio Grande Valley of Texas encompasses many cities and towns that are rich in history and offer tons of unique things for Winter Texans to see and do.
Mission is home to the World Birding Center. Known as one a top birding destinations, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park well deserves its status as headquarters of the World Birding Center. Birders across the nation know Bentsen as a treasure trove of unique Valley specialties, tropical birds found nowhere else in the U.S.
Striking Green Jays with bright green backs, purple-blue heads, and yellowish-green under parts; radiant orange Altamira Orioles; Great Kiskadee, an eye-catching mix of black, white, yellow, and reddish-brown; and raucous Plain Chachalacas are just a few of the very common birds you can find congregating at feeding stations placed throughout the park.
The historic pumphouse is a symbol of the Valley’s past and is now a landmark for its future as a valuable nature and birding attraction.
Built in 1909, the Hidalgo Pumphouse provided irrigation for the crops in the area drawing water from the Rio Grande. It operated, first by steam and eventually by coal and electric, until an all-electric pumphouse was built in 1983. Visitors can tour the pumphouse and see the machinery that once powered the pumps. As part of the World Birding Center, the pumphouse is surrounded by trails and is an ideal spot to view some of the valley’s sub-tropical birds.
The town of Hidalgo has the distinction of being noted as the spot where killer bees crossed from Mexico into the U.S. Hidalgo’s mayor decided to make the most of this footnote and worked with the city to commission a sculpture of the World’s Largest Killer Bee. This one of a kind piece of art stands 10 feet high while the body is 20 feet in length and sports four-foot antennae. This harmless sculpture sits at the entrance to the Hidalgo City Hall.
Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and World Birding Center opened in March 2003 and became the first of nine World Birding Centers. Built on re-claimed farm fields adjacent to the city’s effluent and floodwater ponds, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands is a showcase for wildlife and a native habitat site set amidst an urban setting.
Waterfowl and shorebirds like the green kingfisher, black-bellied whistling duck, least grebe, and American avocet have a home here, and can be easily viewed from platforms overlooking peaceful freshwater lagoons.
Another Edinburg highlight is the Museum of South Texas History which features the Rio Grande Legacy exhibit and tells the story of the area from prehistoric times to present. The museum is also home to the Will Looney Legacy Park which features several beautiful sculptures.
Harlingen is home to the Marine Military Academy with the original Iwo Jima Memorial from which the Arlington, Virginia, statue was cast. The memorial depicts the five Marines and one U.S. Navy corpsman shown in a Pultizer Prize-winning photograph as they struggled to plant an American flag atop Mount Suribachi on the Pacific Island of Iwo Jima February 23, 1945. The island had been taken by the Japanese in the early years of the war and the planting of the flag was a symbol to the free world of the struggle going on in the Pacific to preserve freedom.
Located on 31 acres in Brownsville, The Gladys Porter Zoo offers 377 species of animals and 225 species of plants. Divided into four areas (Africa, Asia, Tropical America, and Indo-Australia), visitors can expect to see Galapagos tortoises, tree kangaroos, kookaburras, crocodiles, zebras, camels, camels, and more.
The Palo Alto Battlefield was the site of a battle between U.S. and Mexican troops in 1846 during the U.S.-Mexican War. The site is now part of the National Park Service and provides visitors with the history of the war.
There are more than just beaches to South Padre Island. For birders, there’s the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.
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