My 5 Favorite State Parks

Every year, America’s nearly 8,000 state parks see more than 720 million visitors—more than two-and-a-half times the number of all visits to national parks, which include marquee names such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon.

green jay
Take up bird watching. Many of the colorful birds found in Sunbelt regions are tropical species, reaching their northern range limits. The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These state parks tend to be smaller than national parks, and relatively modest in comparison, but they form the backbone of the park system and enjoy fierce loyalty from families who visit year after year.

Chances are you’re not too far from a state parks. Visit a state park today.

Everyone has lists and seldom do any two lists agree. But lists can be interesting fodder for discussion, debate, and sometimes agreement.

Here are My 5 Favorite State Parks.

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, Texas

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center. Witness hawk migrations and enjoy bird walks and natural history tours at this key migratory stopover.

You can spend a whole day exploring bird life along a one-mile walking trail through sugar hackberry, Rio Grande ash, and Texas ebony; and the six-mile paved inner and outer loops. Or take the tram or rent a bicycle to meander around the loops.

Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina
Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.

One of the special features at Catalina State Park (among many!) is an amazing population of saguaros. There are about a half-dozen large stands within the park, each numbering close to 500 plants. Along with hundreds of scattered individuals, these stands account for an estimated saguaro population of close to 5,000 plants.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas
The Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas derives its name from red sandstone formations, formed from great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs, 150 million years ago. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its blood-red sandstone cliffs and weird rock formations, there’s an other-worldly feeling at Valley of Fire State Park. The terrain at Valley of Fire so resembles Mars that the Mars scenes of Total Recall were almost all filmed here.

Popular activities include camping, picnicking, photography, hiking among the intriguing rock formations, and soaking in the fascinating story of the area’s geological evolution. Park features include Fire Canyon/Silica Dome, Rainbow Vista, White Domes, and Beehives. Valley of Fire State Park is 55 miles—and a few light-years—northeast of Las Vegas via Interstate 15 and on exit 75.

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Consisting of 6,150 acres with two miles of sugar white sand beaches and three fresh water lakes, Gulf State Park has a modern full-service campground, cabins, cottages, back country trails, and the largest fishing pier in the Gulf of Mexico.

The park also features an interactive nature center, nationally recognized scenic nature trail, new tennis courts, beautiful beach pavilion, 18-hole Refuge Golf Course, and a 900-acre lake for fishing in the picnic area on Lake Shelby.

Relax and enjoy the beauty of Gulf State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Relax and enjoy the beauty of Gulf State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota
With its pine-clad mountains and striking stone spires giving way in the south to gently rolling grasslands, the 71,000-acre Custer State Park occupies one of the prettiest corners of South Dakota’s Black Hills.

Drive on the windy Needles Highway in the north, through narrow tunnels carved through the rock, to mirror-like Sylvan Lake, the “crown jewel.” To the south, the 18-mile Wildlife Loop is the place to find pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, elk, and the famous “begging donkeys”.

Custer State Park touts itself as one of the few remaining wild sanctuaries in the country. Elk, mountain goats and nearly 1,300 buffalo roam this 71,000-acre park, set in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

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Birding in South Texas

Not fitting the stereotype of the avid birdwatcher who travels to the most exotic corners of the globe, many RVers simply want to be where the birds are.

A few of the hundreds of black-bellied whistling ducks that make their home in the Mission area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A few of the hundreds of black-bellied whistling ducks that make their home in the Mission area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not wearing the latest outdoor gear, carrying the biggest scopes, peering through the most expensive binoculars, and checking another bird off the official life list, we carry our mid-priced super-zoom cameras and take great pleasure in seeing the beautiful creatures that fill the air with music and the skies with color.

That’s what draws us and many other snowbirds to South Texas.

Located at the southern tip of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley hosts one of the most spectacular convergences of birds on earth. Well over 500 species have been spotted in this ecowonderland, including several that can be found only in this southernmost part of the U.S. Each year, birders come to The Valley to see bird species they can’t find anyplace else in the country—from the green jay, black-bellied whistling ducks (pictured above), and the buff-bellied hummingbird to the great kiskadee (pictured below), roseate spoonbill, and the Altamira oriole.

The Great Kiskadee has a bright yellow belly and looks a little like a kingbird on steroids but with it’s bold black and white striped head, and reddish brown upperparts it is stands out from other species. It is also large (almost 10 inches in length) and loud, repeatedly calling out its name. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Great Kiskadee has a bright yellow belly and looks a little like a kingbird on steroids but with it’s bold black and white striped head, and reddish brown upperparts it is stands out from other species. It is also large (almost 10 inches in length) and loud, repeatedly calling out its name. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After all, The Valley offers not just one but a total of nine World Birding Centers, and it’s located at the convergence of two major flyways, the Central and Mississippi.

Often referred to as The Texas Tropics, this area is very popular, too, with snowbirds from the Midwest and Central Canada. However, these winter tourists are not simply referred to as snowbirds but affectionately dubbed Winter Texans. After all, these birdwatchers and winter visitors are very important to the area’s economy, so they are, indeed, welcomed.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center.

The 760-acre park draws visitors from as far away as Europe and Japan hoping to spot some of the more than 325 species of birds and over 250 species of butterflies, many of them from neighboring Mexico and Central America.

green jay
The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cars are not allowed in the park but a trolley makes regular pick-ups along the 7 mile paved loop allowing birders to hitch a ride from one feeding station to the next. It’s a quiet, beautiful, place and it is filled with birds.

As the trolley rounds the bend into the park visitors are frequently greeted by a sizable flock of the loud and raucous plain chachalaca, a brown, chicken-like species that’s found only in this part of the country.

To assist the casual birder Bentsen offers a series of bird blinds strategically placed near various feeding stations. The hut made of horizontally-placed wood slats is reached by a ramp so it is accessible to those with disabilities.

Inside the blind the wood slats can be folded down to form a platform for cameras so a tripod isn’t necessary to keep the camera steady. All you need to do is sit and watch the show as the birds keep coming to feed. We sat on a bench in the blind, peered through the opening and pressed the shutter repeatedly without disturbing the birds.

Yellow-breasted great kiskadees swooped down in front of us and drank from the small pool of water. This flycatcher has black and white stripes on its crown and sides, appears to be a kind of cross between a kingfisher and a meadowlark, and attracts attention by its incessant “kis-ka-dee” calls.

Green jays (pictured above) postured and fluttered at the feeders. This beautiful bird is, indeed, green-breasted (unlike our blue jay), with green wings, but there’s also some white, yellow, and blue plumage. This bird’s flashy coloring, boisterous nature, dry, throaty rattle, and frequent “cheh-chehcheh-cheh” call make it very easy to spot.

common pauraque
A widespread nightjar throughout the Americas, the Common Paraque reaches the United States only in the Rio Grande Valley. Its call is a loud burry whistle, “purr-WEEE-eer.” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A golden-fronted woodpecker fed at the peanut butter log. Barred with black and white above and buff below, the male has red restricted to the cap; nape orange; forecrown yellow; the female lacks red but has an orange nape. Its voice is a loud churrrr; the call a burry chuck-chuck-chuck.

Another World Birding Center located in McAllen, is at Quinta Mazatlan, a historic 1930s Spanish Revival adobe hacienda that’s surrounded by 15 acres of lush tropical landscape and several birding trails.

Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco attracts a spectacular array of South Texas wildlife with its varied landscape of shallow lakes, woodlands, and thorn forest. Commonly seen species include the great kiskadee, Altamira oriole, green jay, groove-billed ani, tropical parula, common pauraques (pictured above), green kingfishers, grebes, black-bellied whistling ducks, and an assortment of wading birds like the great blue heron, and roseate spoonbill.

The warm winter climate and the awesome bird watching attract Winter Texans to The Valley and keep them returning year after year. We’ll be back, Hope to see you there.

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Top 7 Snowbird Hotspots

Cold winter weather is inevitable. But there is an escape.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Residents of the northern half of North America have long found respite from winter’s chill by fleeing to the southern half. As refugees from the frozen north, snowbirds avoid winter’s bite, snow and blowing snow, and treacherous icy sidewalks and streets by migrating southward.

Northerners have a bounty of options for destinations. Many snowbirds are north-south creatures with Florida remaining a top spot for Easterners. Snowbirds from the Northwest settle in Arizona and southern California while those in the Mid-West are attracted to Texas. But these states aren’t alone in luring snowbirds, and even within each of these states there’s a bevy of choices to suit every traveler’s taste, interests, and budget.

While many snowbirds head directly south from their northern home and enjoy long-term stays at RV parks and resorts, others cut across the country in a diagonal direction, exploring a whole new longitude. Still other snowbirds follow an itinerary across the Sun Belt sampling a variety of regions and roosts.

Here’s a look at six places that snowbirds might call their winter home.

Yuma and the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Yuma and the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs

Rich in natural beauty and blessed with glorious weather, Palm Springs and the desert resort cities of the Coachella Valley is a snowbird and vacation paradise, the ultimate desert playground. Part of the Colorado Desert, the area is bounded by majestic mountain ranges—the San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, and Santa Rosa mountains close by, the little San Bernardino Mountains to the west and the Chocolate Mountains to the east. This desert oasis is also known as a golfing paradise.

Key West

The southernmost tip of Florida has been the end of the line for eccentrics, free spirits, and creative types for a century or more. Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams are among its former residents.

Yuma

Yuma’s wonderfully temperate winter climate makes this southwestern Arizona city a popular destination for snowbirds escaping their cold winter homes. Arizona’s warmest winter city and the sunniest year-round spot in the U.S., Yuma has an annual average of 4,133 hours of sunshine.

Yuma is a major growing region for lettuce, dates, broccoli, cabbage, and agricultural seeds. Some of the major attractions around the Yuma area include the historical Territorial Prison, the Yuma Crossing Historic Park, and the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.

green jay
Green jay at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park/World Birding Center near Mission © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Diego

San Diego is the last major city in southern California before the Mexican border. Cosmopolitan, and upscale, the area is blessed with a Goldilocks climate that’s never too hot nor too cold, a natural beauty on the Pacific Ocean and a deep restaurant and entertainment scene centered around the central and walkable Gaslamp Quarter.

Mission

Located in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, Mission welcomes the thousands of Winter Texans that call Mission their temporary home. Mission offers some of the most spectacular locations for birding and butterfly watching on earth. The Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park/World Birding Center and the National Butterfly Center have created havens for the special species unique to the area, and invite birders and naturalists to their sites by offering viewing stations, watching towers, interpretive centers, and various programs.

St. Petersburg

Along with beautiful beaches, St. Petersburg attracts visitors with the Salvador Dali Museum, Fort De Soto Park, and the St. Petersburg Pier. Beach Drive features a variety of dining and shopping opportunities. Glimmering between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg is known for its warm weather and delightful breezes, and fun in the sun.

Stretching outward, an army of saguaro cacti waved at me with their massive prickly arms. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Saguaro National Park near Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

There are numerous reasons to visit Tucson and the many other historic towns and sights around Southern Arizona. Some snowbirds come for a week or two. Others stay for the season.

Some of the major attractions include Sabino Canyon, Saguaro National Park, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, San Xavier del Bac (White Dove of the Desert), Catalina State Park, Kit Peak National Observatory, Tohono Chul Park, Pima Air and Space Museum, and Old Tucson Studios.

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Magnet For Birds & Snowbirds

They may be blue in the North Country, but in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, the jays have bright green backs, purple-blue heads with black trim down to the chest, and yellowish-green underparts.

green jay
Take up bird watching. Many of the colorful birds found in Sunbelt regions are tropical species, reaching their northern range limits. The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © 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.

The Valley is one of North America’s meccas for birders. And the green jay (pictured above) is the official bird of McAllen, the area’s largest city with 135,000 residents.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park—an area well known by both birders and the U.S. border patrol—is a great spot for bird watching.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center.

Dozens of green jays along with the raucous chachalacas (pictured below), great kiskadee (pictured below), and Altamira orioles (pictured below) congregate around a series of feeders a short distance from the roadway at the first stop on a tram ride from the visitors center.

The raucous Plain Chachalacas are just one of the very common birds you can find congregating at feeding stations placed throughout the nature centers in the Rio Grande Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.
The raucous Plain Chachalacas are just one of the very common birds you can find congregating at feeding stations placed throughout the nature centers in the Rio Grande Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

This is bird watching made easy in what is touted as one of the most ecologically diverse areas of the United States.

From an observation tower in the park’s south end, visitors catch a glimpse of the meandering slow-flowing Rio Grande and neighboring Mexico. Sharing the park with birders and cyclists, are numerous border patrol vehicles, keeping watch along irrigation canals for people trying to enter the US illegally.

The green jay, along with some 500 other species that stay in the Rio Grande Valley year-round, is one of many head-turning attractions for the tens of thousands of Winter Texans who flock to The Valley annually.

Those who like to combine birding with spectacular architecture do what we did and head to the city-owned Quinta Mazatlan, one of the largest adobe-style mansions in the US.

There, staff relate stories of Jason Matthews, the adventurer who is said to have fought the Turks with Lawrence of Arabia and who built the estate, including a rooftop “hooch” made of sticks.

The great kiskadee has yellow on its crown that is often obscured by the black stripes that frames it. However, if you get a view of the top of its head as I did in this photo, the yellow brightly stands out on this Rio Grande Valley specialty. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The great kiskadee has yellow on its crown that is often obscured by the black stripes that frames it. However, if you get a view of the top of its head as I did in this photo, the yellow brightly stands out on this Rio Grande Valley specialty. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The place was nearly demolished after being damaged by a hurricane in 1967 but a local couple bought it for a song and restored it to the point it was honored for its splendor by the State of Texas.

At the end of the ’90s, the property was once again up for sale and the city outbid developers seeking to raze the mansion and develop the site. Now Quinta Mazatlan, like the state park, is one of the region’s most important birding areas and one of the most photographed spots in McAllen.

Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and World Birding Center sits on 40 acres within an Edinburg city park. 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. Surrounding the Interpretive Center, the 3.5-acre native butterfly habitat offers some of the most diverse habitat in the region.

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. At least 13 species of ducks flock here in winter months.

Estero Llano Grande has a well-deserved reputation as a can’t-miss birding destination. At the geographic center of the World Birding Center network, Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco attracts a spectacular array of South Texas wildlife with its varied landscape of shallow lakes, woodlands, and thorn forest.

The Altamira Oriole is a bird of Mexico and Central America whose range just reaches into southern Texas. The largest oriole occurring in the United States, it makes the longest nest of any North American bird: its woven basket-like nest can reach 25.5 inches in length. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Altamira Oriole is a bird of Mexico and Central America whose range just reaches into southern Texas. The largest oriole occurring in the United States, it makes the longest nest of any North American bird: its woven basket-like nest can reach 25.5 inches in length. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Estero Llano Grande shares some of the same specialty birds as Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Commonly seen species include the great kiskadee, plain chacalaca, Altamira oriole, green jay, groove-billed ani, tropical parula, common pauraques, green kingfishers, grebes, coots, black-bellied whistling ducks, and an assortment of wading birds like the great blue heron, roseate spoonbill, and long-billed dowitcher.

The many area RV parks are packed with Winter Texans who have for decades discovered Texas as a more economical alternative to Florida.

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Mission a Prime Destination For Winter Texans

Located right in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, about 250 miles south of San Antonio, lies a tight knit community of friends, family, and children.

The raucous Plain Chachalacas are just one of the very common birds you can find congregating at feeding stations placed throughout the nature centers in the Rio Grande Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.
The raucous Plain Chachalacas are just one of the very common birds you can find congregating at feeding stations placed throughout the nature centers in the Rio Grande Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

During winter, they embrace the thousands of Winter Texans that call Mission their temporary home. With winter temperatures averaging 72 degrees and with a ZERO percent chance of snow… why wouldn’t they?

Mission has a little bit of everything for everyone. Close enough to the hustle and bustle of a larger city, but far enough from the harsh cold winters most are trying to escape. While Mission has over 80,000 permanent residents, the Sunbelt community caters to those looking for a sunny alternative to blizzards, snow shovels, and tire chains.

Mission looks forward to another season full of fun loving, adventure seekers who also want to just kick up their feet and enjoy a margarita right on the calm waters of the Rio Grande. There is never a shortage of activities to do, places to visit, or delicious Tex-Mex food to eat.

With more than 300 butterfly species, Mission is proud to be the butterfly capitol of the US.

Two hundred butterfly species have been seen at Mission’s National Butterfly Center, a project of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation and study of wild butterflies in their native habitats. This 100-acre wildlife center and native species botanical garden contains trails for exploring, observation areas, garden café, educational exhibits, and a plant nursery. The beauty of the natural world, the wonder of butterflies, particularly and the powerful role they play in maintaining healthy ecosystems and sustainable food resources. The Center is open for exploration daily.

Camping at Bentsen Palm Village RV Park south of Mission.
Camping at Bentsen Palm Village RV Park south of Mission. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Butterfly Center is honored to host the 19th Annual Texas Butterfly Festival. From November 1-4, 2014, attendees will spend three days exploring renowned public lands and private properties with world-class trip leaders and expert guides. The Festival is taking place during prime butterfly season, when you may reasonably expect to see more than 60 species in a day.

In keeping with all the nature that surrounds the area, Mission is also home to the World Birding Center. Known as one of the top birding destinations in the country, 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 United States.

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.

Other neo-tropical varieties such as Ferruginous Pygmy-owl, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Clay-colored Thrush, Hook-billed Kite, and Gray Hawk are also likely. Virtual clouds of migrating Swainson’s and Broad-winged Hawks are a popular spring and fall spectacle.

Pet friendly amenities at Bentsen Palm Village in the Rio Grande Valley include dog agility course and pet parade. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Pet friendly amenities at Bentsen Palm Village in the Rio Grande Valley include dog agility course and pet parade. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission prides itself on the affordable appeal of the town and it’s amenities.

New restaurants and stores open weekly and huge projects such as the University Of Texas Medical School and a Space X commercial launch pad plan to call the region home.

The recent media exaggerations of the lifestyle in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas have raised some concerns. However, contrary to what is reported by mainstream media regarding safety and illegal immigration, Mission is, in fact, one of the safest places to be. The community’s priority is the security of their visitors and residents.

With its wide variety of outdoor recreation, such as kayaking, canoeing, biking, and golfing at one of four premier golf courses and world class birding and nature attractions, Mission is a place where simple activities become rich and enjoyable experiences.

Mission extends an invitation to come for a visit and see for yourself why thousands of Winter Texans return every year.

A few of the hundreds of black-bellied whistling ducks that make their home in the Mission area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A few of the hundreds of black-bellied whistling ducks that make their home in the Mission area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

For additional information on the Mission, Texas, area visit the following websites:

Discover Mission: www.discovermission.com

The Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce: www.missionchamber.com

National Butterfly Center: www.nationalbutterflycenter.org

World Birding Center: www.theworldbirdingcenter.com

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Bentsen Palm Village Awarded 2012 Park of the Year

Bentsen Palm Village has received the campground industry’s highest honor, the Park of the Year Award, from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).

Bentsen Palm Development 1173826v1v1The 250-site campground won the award in the medium size park category, which is based on several criteria, including customer service, employee training, operational excellence, national directory ratings, and community service, according to a news release.

Bentsen Palm Village General Managers Guy and Juanita Carvajal received the award during a November 30 ceremony at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, which was hosted by ARVC.

Built 10 years ago by developer/builder Mike Rhodes and his wife, Lori, Bentsen Palm Village is located next to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park & World Birding Center and has a lot of visitors who come to enjoy the resort’s native plants, which host butterflies and birds.

“Our guests love to come bird watching and butterfly watching,” Carvajal said, adding that the park also has two miles of frontage along the Rio Grande River.

“We have pontoon boats that take people on the river for bird watching and nature tours.”

Although Bentsen Palm Village was built from scratch, the owners planted native trees and shrubs, which are becoming more beautiful each year as they mature, Carvajal said. The park was designated by Texas Parks & Wildlife as a certified wildscape and is the largest of its kind in Texas.

Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort Super Site
Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort Super Site

Texas Wildscapes is a habitat conservation plan for rural and urban area. It enables Texans to contribute to wildlife conservation by developing wildlife habitats where they live, work, and play.

But while Bentsen Palms has a scenic setting, Carvajal said it’s the park’s exemplary customer service that results in high ratings.

“The majority of our business comes from referrals,” she said.

“I get a lot of calls from people and the first thing they say is, ‘We have some friends and they recommended your park.’”

Bentsen Palm Village has 5.5 miles of onsite hiking and biking trails as well as numerous organized activities and workshops, from couples dancing and Zumba classes to gourd painting, Swedish blanket making, water color painting, and woodshop.

The dog park at Bentsen Palm Village has become so popular that the owners recently added a second park so that guests could have separate running and play areas for big dogs and small dogs.

“About 70 to 75 percent of our guests have dogs, so these kinds of amenities are important,” Carvajal said.

Of course, while pet friendly amenities are attractive to Winter Texans, that’s not the only attraction at Bentsen Palm Village.

The 250-site resort recently set aside an open area of the park where its guests can grow their own organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

“It’s like a community garden,” Carvajal said, “but we give each guest a 10 by 10-foot section where they can put a stake with their name on it. They often grow kale, peppers, tomatoes, onions and radishes. Sometimes, they grow so much they bring it into the office to share.”

Details

Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort

The colorful green jay is a common visitor to Bentsen Palm Village. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort is one of the most unique RV Resorts in South Texas and is part of the 2,600-acre Master Planned Community of Bentsen Palm Development.

Bentsen Palm Village is located in South Mission at the entrance to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park on South Bentsen Palm Drive.

Bentsen Palm Village is only minutes from shopping, medical facilities, and easy access to Expressway 83.

Bentsen Palm Village offers over 250 large pull-through and back-in sites, full hookups, rental cabins and casitas, and native landscaping.

Super Sites offer a 10×12 storage building that can be locked and secured when necessary. The sites are extra-wide concrete pads that include a picnic table and a charcoal grill.

Bentsen Palm Village is affiliated with ARVC and a member of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).

Phone: (877) 247-3727 (toll free)

Website: bentsenpalm.com

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Birds of a Feather: Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and World Birding Center

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the new World Birding Center.

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 park draws visitors from as far away as Europe and Japan hoping to spot some of the more than 325 species of birds and over 250 species of butterflies, many of them from neighboring Mexico and Central America.

As a result of the $7 million development of the World Birding Center headquarters, the state park’s 585 acres of river bottom forests and thick thorn scrub were expanded to 760 acres.

The center’s headquarters’ Quonset hut-style buildings, designed to resemble 1930s agricultural structures that dotted the region, incorporate a number of environmentally friendly “green” building features, such as a rainwater collection system, well-insulated ceilings and walls, and sustainable, chemical-free construction materials.

Extensive plantings of native trees and other vegetation surround the headquarters site, attracting the Valley birds and butterflies.

Witness amazing hawk migrations, and enjoy bird walks and natural history tours at this key migratory stopover.

You can spend a whole day exploring bird life along a one-mile walking trail through sugar hackberry, Rio Grande ash, and Texas ebony; and the six-mile paved inner and outer loops.

Or take the tram or rent a bicycle to meander around the loops. You can stop along the way; one prime spot is the ADA accessible hawk-watching tower. The Hawk Tower is not really a tower; it’s an elevated walkway with panoramic views of the surrounding brush country and the adjacent resaca.

Not a "Valley Specialty" but always a delight to view and photograph is the Vermilion Flycatcher. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout the park you’ll see dozens of striking green jays gathered on platform bird feeders. With their bright green backs, purple-blue heads with black trim down to the chest, and yellowish-green under parts, these birds are just one of the tropical joys of the park.

And then there is the radiant orange Altamira oriole that reaches its northernmost range in the Rio Grande Valley from its Mexican and north Central American roots.

But don’t take for granted the drab brown, scrawny-looking, turkey-like bird called a plain chachalaca, a bird that also reaches its northern limits in the Valley. Chachalacas are members of the Cracidae family of tropical Latin American birds that include guans and curassows and represent the most endangered family of birds in the Western Hemisphere. However, at Bentsen they are raucous and plentiful.

Rare birds show up every winter, including a black-vented oriole last winter, shown in the photo below.

Details

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and World Birding Center

Black-vented Oriole feeding on the flower of the coral bean tree. Its distinguishing feature is the vent, which is all black. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hours: 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. daily

Admission: $5 or Texas State Park Pass

Physical Address: 2800 S. Bentsen Palm Drive (FM 2062) Mission, TX 78572

Phone: (956) 584-9156

Website: theworldbirdingcenter.com

Please Note: This is the third in a series of stories on Rio Grande Valley nature hot spots

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

—Papyrus

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