Timeless Texas: Roma Bluffs World Birding Center

The epicenter of Starr County’s birding activity is the Roma Bluffs World Birding Center, on the scenic bluffs high above the Rio Grande in the small town of Roma, a once-thriving steamboat port.

This Buff-bellied hummingbird makes its home in the courtyard of Roma Bluffs World Birding Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of nine sites that make up the World Birding Center (WBC) network, the Roma Bluffs location holds another distinction: It occupies two restored buildings on the old plaza in Roma’s National Historic Landmark District that includes a three-acre riverside nature area.

Roma Bluffs Interpretive Overlook offers a magnificent view of the river, island, and woodlands below, as well as views across the border to the Mexican town of Miguel Aleman. Down a brick stairway, a riverside trail leads upstream. In all, nearly 4,500 acres of nearby state and federal preserves offer excellent birding opportunities.

Roma Bluffs is a great starting point for diverse activities such as walking tours through the National Historic District and birding float trips down the Rio Grande operated by Friends of the Valley Wildlife Corridor.

The district features a central plaza surrounded by vintage structures that illustrate building techniques used along the Rio Grande during the 19th Century. Several of the structures were designed by Heinrich Portscheller, a German architect who arrived in 1879 and combined European styles with local stone and ornate brickwork.

The Roma Bluffs Overlook offers a magnificent view of the Rio Grande and the woodlands beyond in Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Roma’s intriguing setting promises to draw an increasing number of history-minded tourists, most visitors today come for the birding. You can see birds here that you can’t see anywhere else in the United States. For example, Starr County is one of the few spots where you may find five oriole species—Altamira, Bullock’s, Audubon’s, orchard, and hooded.

At Roma Bluffs World Birding Center, visitors find exhibits about the region’s wildlife, as well as staff and volunteers eager to share information about recent sightings and nearby birding hotspots, such as Falcon State Park, Salineño, and Chapeño, all less than 30 minutes away.

The Roma Bluffs Birding Center is housed in the 1878 Ramirez Store and Residence in the Roma Historic District and is owned by the City of Roma and operated by the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Roma is in Starr County, about 50 miles west of McAllen on U.S. Highway 83. The Roma Bluffs World Birding Center is at 610 N. Portscheller Street.


Roma Bluffs World Birding Center

Hours: Open Tuesday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; Nature trails open seven days a week

Admission: Free

Location: Downtown Roma Historic District at 610 North Portschellar Street (across from City Hall)

The Roma Bluffs World Birding Center is located the old plaza in Roma’s National Historic District. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Directions: From U.S. 83, turn south on St. Eugene de Mazenod Avenue, and go 1 block south to the plaza. Roma Bluffs WBC is on the northeast corner of Portscheller and Convent streets

Mailing Address: 610 N. Portscheller Street, P.O. Box 3405, Roma, Texas 78584

Phone: (956) 849-4930

Website: theworldbirdingcenter.com

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
In the 1970s, Canadian singer Anne Murray popularized a song about “Snowbirds” flying from the north to a land of “gentle breezes.” Since then, the term “snowbird” has described retirees from northern climes who spend a large portion of the year in the U.S. Sun Belt.

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Jerome: America’s Vertical City

High up on the side of a mountain is Jerome, Arizona. When I say on the side of a mountain, I literally mean that. At an elevation of 5,248 feet, Jerome hangs precariously on the 30-degree slope of Cleopatra Hill on the edge of Prescott National Forest. In fact, through the years some of the houses have lost their grip and have slipped down the slope.

Jerome, Arizona, is located high up on the side of a mountain. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This hidden gem was once a roaring mining town of 15,000 people, with multistoried buildings and fine homes. For a time, Jerome was the state’s fourth-largest town. But like all towns in the West, founded on digging up a limited resource, it is now a mini-version of its former self.

Early Jerome

Jerome started off as a copper mining town and became known as the wickedest town in the West, with more than its share of saloons, opium dens, and brothels.

Historians think Native Americans first mined this area followed by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1580s. Three hundred years later, a few American industrialists found the huge veins of some of the richest-ever veins of copper ore.

The United Verde Copper Company, an investment syndicate, was formed in 1883. Canvas and board hovels began popping up on the steep hillsides, and the community was named Jerome, in honor of one of the principal investors, Eugene Jerome of New York. Jerome, a cousin of Winston Churchill, never visited the town named for him.

By the late 1890s and early 1900s, the United Verde had become the largest copper mine in the U. S. It is said this mine produced 3 million pounds of copper a month.

At an elevation of 5,248 feet, Jerome hangs precariously on the 30-degree slope of Cleopatra Hill on the edge of Prescott National Forest. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome was incorporated in 1889, and as it flourished, became a real town with brick and mortar and wood buildings.

In 1912, James “Rawhide Jimmy” Douglas came to Jerome and bought the claim to the Little Daisy Mine. He struck it rich when his crews found huge copper ore deposits just as copper prices soared in the threatening shadow of World War I.

By 1929 Jerome had two major copper mines—the United Verde and the Little Daisy, each pumping out tons of copper ore.

But by 1930, as elsewhere, Jerome found itself in the throes of the Great Depression. Copper prices plunged, and in 1935 United Verde sold its mining interests to Phelps Dodge. By 1938, the Little Daisy closed down. In 1953, all copper mining there ended, when Phelps Dodge closed its Jerome operation. Businesses and residents soon departed. Jerome’s population dwindled to a mere 50 to 100 by 1953, and the town looked more and more like a ghost town.

Jerome today

Some remaining folks stayed, protecting many of Jerome’s historic buildings from vandals and squatters, and somehow preserved the town, which earned a National Historic District designation in 1967. Funds then became available to preserve Jerome.

The town began to attract tourists, history buffs, and the counterculture folks.

Today’s permanent population of approximately 600 consists of an eclectic group of artists, musicians, writers, craftspeople, merchants, hermits, bed-and-breakfast owners, and shopkeepers. It’s definitely not your typical Small Town America.

Jerome State Historic Park

Douglas Mansion, now Jerome State Historic Park, is a museum featuring exhibits of photographs, artifacts, and minerals in addition to a video presentation and a 3-D model of the town with its underground mines. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Douglas Mansion, on Douglas Road off Arizona 89A, has been an eye-catching landmark in Jerome since 1916, when “Rawhide Jimmy” Douglas built it on the hill above his Little Daisy Mine.

Douglas designed the house as a hotel for mining officials and investors as well as for his own family. It featured a wine cellar, billiard room, marble shower, steam heat, and, ahead of its time, a central vacuum system. Douglas was proud of the fact that the house was constructed of adobe bricks that were made on the site.

He also built the Little Daisy Hotel near the mine as a dormitory for the miners. The concrete structure still stands.

The mansion, now Jerome State Historic Park, is a museum featuring exhibits of photographs, artifacts, and minerals in addition to a video presentation and a 3-D model of the town with its underground mines. One room, the Douglas library, is restored as a period room. There are more displays outside along with a picnic area offering a magnificent panoramic view of Verde Valley.

Photo Tips

Jerome has been described by some as a photographer’s paradise. Situated on beautiful switchbacks, Jerome offers photographers an amazing view of the valley and mountains below. Everything about Jerome is an artistic photo waiting to happen, from the old doors to quirky light fixtures.

Jerome might be small, but its beauty is big, making it a favorite spot for photographers of skill levels.

Grab your camera and let’s get clicking!

Worth Pondering…
The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.

—St. Augustine of Hippo

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