Fewer Winter Texans Visit The Rio Grande Valley

The Rio Grande Valley has been a winter refuge for northern snowbirds for many decades.

Iwo Jima Memorial,
The original sculpture of the Iwo Jima Memorial, that is in Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC, is in Harlingen at the Marine Military Academy and Iwo Jima Memorial Museum. This is the clay sculpture that the bronze statue in Arlington Cemetery was made from. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the heydays for these retired part-time residents, dubbed Winter Texans, may be over.

A new study by the University of Texas-Pan American’s Business and Tourism Research Center shows an alarming drop in the number of Winter Texans traveling to the Valley.

The survey counted about 100-thousand Winter Texans this past season, down from 144-thousand four years ago. In turn, the economic value of Winter Texans also shrunk, from 800-million dollars spent four years ago, down to 710-million dollars this past season.

Last winter, the Valley lost 33,000 Winter Texans many of whom have migrated south for many years, said the bi-annual report that surveyed 88 parks and nearly 1,400 people.

Winter Texans who have died, fallen ill, or have been deterred by Mexican drug violence have helped caused the drop, according to the survey.

Many of today’s winter visitors are younger and more mobile than their counterparts of years past.

As Winter Texans grow older, 62 percent of respondents in the report noted that health was a factor in them not returning for a new season.

World's Largest Killer Bee
Hidalgo is the “Killer Bee Capital of the World” and proud of it. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Concerned family members were the second reason that they do not return.

Perceptions of drug violence ranked third—a departure from the last survey taken in 2012, when it ranked atop the list of why wintertime visitors avoided the region.

It is a worrying trend. That’s how the head of the U-T-P-A Business and Research Tourism U-T-P-A marketing professor Dr. Penny Simpson summed up the study. It’s time for local chambers of commerce to ramp up their marketing campaigns to counteract the negative perception potential new Winter Texans may have of the Valley, she said.

Kathy Olivarez, the editor of the Winter Texan Times, says they’re getting numerous calls from readers wondering if it’s safe to return—citing national media stories that portray a dangerous border region in chaos.

Learning of the report’s findings last month prompted local chambers of commerce to join together for a call of action in late July.

“We have been tracking this, knew it was happening and have a plan,” said Nancy Millar, vice president of the McAllen Convention and Visitors Bureau, a branch of the local chamber.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is a boisterous duck with a brilliant pink bill and an unusual, long-legged silhouette. Watch for noisy flocks of these gaudy ducks dropping into fields to forage on seeds in the Rio Grande Valley. Listen for them, too—these ducks really do have a whistle for their call. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Millar said the chamber rounded up more than 200 business leaders to try to find ideas to keep Winter Texans coming—and coming back.

She admitted that businesses relied on word of mouth for years instead of targeted marketing in the Midwest states, where many Winter Texans reside.

Nuevo Progreso, a Mexican border town just south of Weslaco, is still considered a safe haven for many Midwesterners and Canadians who flock there for cheap dental work and discounted medical prescriptions—though there have been a handful of violent incidents.

In July, a nearby shootout between suspected armed rival groups left 10 dead and spooked some retirees. And in December 2009, gunfire erupted during an annual celebration welcoming back Winter Texans, but no visitors reported injuries.

RV parks surveyed in the 2014 report cited worried calls from prospective visitors up north, but none of the dozen RV Parks contacted for this story would confirm it.

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

More than 85 percent of Winter Texans said they visited Mexico for an average of five trips per year, which has helped Tamaulipas’ northern border towns rake in around $30 million in tourism revenue each year, the report said.

Others deny longtime Winter Texans are afraid.

“We are looking forward to a good year,” said mobile home park manager Gail McDaniel, who runs 1015 RV Park in Weslaco.

McDaniel said reservations are strong and most Winter Texans are not worried about border violence.

She pointed to poor health and the inability to travel for most vacancies.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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Migrating Hummingbirds Face Drought Conditions

As the ongoing drought worsens, migrating hummingbirds may find little native vegetation to sustain them as they fly south for the winter.

Black-chinned hummingbird at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Black-chinned hummingbird at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This year, local birding experts say, it’s essential that humans feed the tiny feathered travelers.

On a recent visit to Central Texas, Norma Friedrich, president of the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society saw no native flowering plants on which the hummingbirds would rely as they pass through Texas, en route to Mexico and Central America. The migrating birds will be forced to rely almost entirely on humans for their food, Friedrich told the Valley Morning Star.

This year, more than ever, the hummingbirds will seek out flowering plants in gardens, as well as feeders in yards, on porches and patios.

The migration should start any day now, she said. The first to arrive will be the ruby-throated hummingbirds. The ruby-throats, which spend the summer in New England, the northeastern U.S., and southern Canada, will be followed by black-chinned hummingbirds that travel south from the western United States. Then the Rufous hummingbirds arrive, migrating from the western United States and as far north as Alaska.

Friedrich also reminds humans who feed any birds of a lesson many birders know: “You attract more birds with water than with seeds.” A water mister or a lawn sprinkler with a fine spray will attract many kinds of birds. The appreciative hummingbirds will give themselves showers by flying through the spray.

Nesting hummer at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Nesting hummer at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The regular and widespread practice of feeding hummingbirds in Rockport (Texas) resulted in the city’s annual hummingbird celebration, this year marked its 25th anniversary, September 12-15.

Feeding

Feeding hummingbirds requires a limited amount of paraphernalia, according to several specialized websites.

To begin, you need a hummingbird feeder, sugar, water, measuring cups, and a suitable place to hang the feeder. For feeder maintenance, you need a couple of brushes to clean the inside of the feeder and the little holes where the birds feed.

Boil water and measure one quart into a container. Let the water cool and add one cup of white granulated sugar. Stir or shake until the sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate unused sugar-water. Pour sugar-water into a hummingbird feeder. At first, fill the feeder with one to two cups of sugar-water.

If the feeder is empty in a day, it means you have hummingbirds feeding from it. At the peak of the migration, you may be filling it daily. If that’s the case, consider hanging a second feeder several feet away from the first one.

When the feeder is empty, wash it thoroughly using a bottle brush to remove any film on the inside of the feeder. Use a small brush to clean the holes where the hummingbirds feed.

Do not use artificial sweetener, corn syrup, or honey. Use only regular granulated sugar.

Do not use red dye. Some dyes can harm the birds, and it’s unnecessary anyway. Other useful information from the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society:

Buff-bellied Hummingbird at Frontera Audubon Thicket in the RGV near Weslaco, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Buff-bellied Hummingbird at Frontera Audubon Thicket in the RGV near Weslaco, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hang the feeder in a shady location, such as from a tree branch or along the eaves of a porch.

Some gardeners hang feeders on shepherd’s hooks staked among flowering shrubs, providing a bird buffet. It’s important, though, to hang the feeder where it’s easily accessible because you’ll need to regularly remove, wash, refill, and rehang it.

It’s also a good idea to hang the feeder outside a window, so you can watch the birds feeding.

Don’t hang the feeder where it will be accessible to neighborhood cats.

Turn on a lawn sprinkler or a mister. The hummingbirds — and all other birds — need water, especially in the current drought conditions. The hummingbirds will cool themselves when they fly through the spray.

Hummingbirds are especially attracted to red or yellow flowers. Recommended native plants that attract hummingbirds include Sophora, bottle brush, esperanza, pride of Barbados, and native Turk’s cap. Hibiscus, although not a native plant, also attract hummingbirds.

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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To our Winter Texan Friends

Like many snowbirds escaping the ravages of a northern winter, we often roost in the Rio Grande Valley (RVG).

PrintTo assist Winter Texans keep in touch with the latest happenings in the RVG, the Valley Morning Star has put together a free newsletter.

The following information appeared in the August 26 (2013) edition of the paper:

“Because e-mail is a great opportunity to stay in touch, the Valley Morning Star has put together this free newsletter for you with some of the latest information about the Rio Grande Valley.

“As you start your autumn journey back to the Valley and our welcoming sunshine, we know you’ll want to know what’s going on here.

“So once a month or so, we’ll send you these e-mails and hope you’ll enjoy reading about Harlingen, San Benito, South Padre Island, and our other surrounding cities. How are the crops doing? What new businesses have opened up? Are there any new restaurants? How about special deals or savings? And as always, we’ll tell you about the Valley’s interesting people and events.

Green jay takes a bath in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, headquarters for World Birding Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Green jay takes a bath in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, headquarters for World Birding Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Don’t worry. We won’t “spam” you. After this email, you should be getting one in late September, one in January, and another in February.

“Let us know what you want to read about, too. Just send us an e-mail at WT@ValleyStar.com.

“Also, if you have friends or family back home who might be interested in keeping up with the Valley while you’re down here, we’d love to include them on our e-mail list.

“You can send their e-mail address to us, again, at WT@ValleyStar.com.

“We also encourage you and your family and friends to enter the WT contest for a chance to win a new Kindle Fire. It’s easy to enter. Just click the contest promotion spot on this newsletter, and complete and submit the form. Make sure you include who referred you to enter the contest. One lucky winner will be randomly chosen.

Combining Birding and Photography with our life on the road is like enjoying pecan pie with Blue Bell ice cream for dessert following a turkey feast on Thanksgiving Day! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
In addition to nearly 30 bird species found nowhere else in the US, the Lower Rio Grande Valley is home to an astonishing concentration of more widespread birds. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The Valley Morning Star is excited that you’re coming back to visit us, so get ready to enjoy our South Texas hospitality.

“Have a safe trip!

“Lilia Castillo Jones

“Publisher, Valley Morning Star.”

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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Survey to Determine Why Winter Texan Numbers Have Declined

The number of Winter Texans coming to the Rio Grande Valley has fallen, and folks at the University of Texas-Pan American want to know why.

RGVThey’re asking Winter Texans to fill out a survey on its website.

Penny Simpson, director of the Valley Markets and Tourism Research Center, said it will take about 15-20 minutes.

“We want to know what we can do, both in the Valley to improve the Valley to make it very winter Texan friendly and for the parks, so they know what kind of amenities to offer,” Simpson told The Valley Morning Star.

Winter Texans make a big impact on the Valley economy. The report estimated each household spends almost $11,000 during each stay and estimated the total impact to the local economy at $751 million.

The Tourism Research Center conducts a survey every two years.

In 2010, it showed 140,000 Winter Texans in 75,000 households. By 2012, that number dropped to 133,000 in 69,000 households.

It also showed the average age of the Winter Texan had increased from 70 in 2010 to 71 in 2012. A study in 2004 estimated the average age at 68.

Simpson said it’s unclear if the younger baby boomer generation is just not coming to the Valley or if previous Winter Texans are not returning.

“The big concern is the age was also increasing,” Simpson said.

“The bigger question is are the younger ones going to come and replace the older ones as they no longer come?”

“This is, I think, a Winter Texan’s voice,” Simpson said.

“This is the opportunity to share their opinions. The results will be shared with the parks and valley leaders.”

The survey is available online at http://utpa.edu/wintertexan

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

Those who respond to the survey by February 26 will be eligible to win a Kindle Fire.

The survey is an important tool for the university Tourism Research Center to measure the economic impact of Winter Texans in the Rio Grande Valley.

“All information provided will be kept confidential. The data will be tabulated and only statistical information will be made public,” said Dr. Penny Simpson, associate dean of the College of Business Administration at UTPA.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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Flocking to Texas

In the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, magic arrives on wings in winter. Bird-watchers from around the world converge on The Valley to see rare and unique birds. Situated at the confluence of two major migratory flyways—Central and Mississippi, The Valley is world famous among birdwatchers for the variety and number of birds to be found here.

Green Jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its diverse ecosystem of semi-arid brush and wetlands provide unique habitats for unusual plant and animal communities, which are found only in subtropical environments.

To the east, the gulf and bay waters, along with coastal prairie, reign supreme, while to the west are the arid lands of a desert-like environment. The northern portions are dominated by dense brush land and oak-choked, landlocked islands, while the southern boundary is subtropical and made of woodlands often draped in long curtains of humidity-loving Spanish moss.

Mostly frost-free, the valley contains the northern-most extension of the Mexican subtropical ecosystem, attracting a variety of neo-tropical birds more commonly found in Mexico.

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 600 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.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These birds include Green Jay, Chachalaca, Great Kiskadee, Green Kingfisher, Green Parakeet, Altamira Oriole, Clay-colored Robin (also called the Clay-colored Thrush), Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling Duck, and Buff-bellied Hummingbird.

Plus, every now and again, simply because of its geographical proximity to the tropics, the valley attracts some off-the-wall, rare strays. The valley will then be inundated with bated-breath birders, all hell-bent to add one more special bird to their beloved lists. This winter it was the Rufous-backed Robin (also called the Rufous-backed Thrush), White-throated Thrush, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Blue-throated Hummingbird, and Black-vented Oriole who made its home in our park, Bentsen Palm Village.

Native to Central America and Mexico, the Black-vented Oriole is an accidental visitor to South Texas.

Previous sighting in the United States have been rare. The first of six sightings of this species was at Big Bend National Park on September 27, 1968—and on-and-off to October 1970. Other documented sightings include Kingsville in 1989 and South Padre Island World Birding Center in 2010.

Photo tip

Capturing a bird’s image can be challenging, frustrating, and fun all at the same time. Try to get the bird’s eye in focus. Don’t put the bird in the exact center of your photo. Show the bird doing something interesting.

A major challenge when photographing birds is to get close enough to obtain a decent-size image of the bird.

Roseate Spoonbill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a photographer, you need to be two to three times closer to any bird for a good photo as you would need to get with binoculars. Don’t expect that you’ll be able to get good bird photos with a group of birders, since they won’t appreciate the closer approach you’ll need.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Did You Know?

The ocelot, once found throughout south and central Texas at least as far north as the Houston area is now limited to Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr and Willacy Counties.

Little known and interesting fact about Texas

Beaumont to El Paso: 742 miles

Beaumont to Chicago: 770 miles

El Paso is closer to California than to Dallas

King Ranch in South Texas is larger than Rhode Island.

Worth Pondering…
We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

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Winter Texans flock to the Rio Grande Valley

“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 Rio Grande Valley is a birders' delight. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

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 the reasons 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, Arizona.

Well-represented states include Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. The majority of Canadians who winter in Texas are from Manitoba and Ontario.

Long known to Midwesterners as a great winter spot, many other Northerners have in recent years discovered it, too. New Winter Texans continue to arrive each year and many, like us, become repeat visitors.

The Great Kiskadee is a South Texas favorite. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Numerous 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.

Even though they spend considerable time participating in the activities and scheduled events at their RV resorts, Winter Texans still have time to get out and explore the Rio Grande Valley.

The Valley offers a wide variety of activities and attractions that you won’t find elsewhere in the American Sunbelt. The area’s many outdoor attractions range from beaches to battlefields, lighthouses to bird and butterfly sanctuaries. The Civil War Battlefield at Palmito Ranch and the Palo Alto Battlefield are both National Historic sites located near Brownsville.

Nuevo Progreso

Shopping is an adventure in the Mexican border towns. The recommended place to shop is Progreso, officially Nuevo Progreso. Park your car for a small fee on the U.S. side and walk across the Rio Grande Bridge. This little town seems to have been built just for Winter Texans. Every block has dentists and pharmacies, where you can have your dental work completed and save money on prescription medication. Mexican produced liquors, such as tequila and Kahlua are also a bargain. There are many fine restaurants in Progreso and shops sell handmade Mexican craft items, souvenirs, linens, blankets, and toys. Haircuts are also a bargain.

The Killer Bee was first sighted in the U.S. near Hidalgo in South Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Did You Know?

The brush land of south Texas is home of some of the richest biodiversity in North America.

Little known and interesting fact about Texas

The name Texas comes from the Hasini Indian word “tejas” meaning friends. Tejas is not Spanish for Texas

Worth Pondering…
Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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Tip of Texas

The Lower Rio Grande Valley rolls out the red carpet for snowbirds. This is Shangri-la, a subtropical paradise, where the average annual T-shirt and shorts temperature is 74 degrees with an average rainfall of only 23.2 inches.

The Tip of Texas along the Rio Grande River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This area of extreme deep-south Texas is actually more of a delta than a valley. There are no hills and mountains to define it and its southern border forms the present-day wide, sweeping flatlands of the once mighty Rio Grande River.

It is rich agricultural land, on which the fertile alluvial soils foster a diverse variety of crops, including 56 types of fruits and vegetables. Most visitors are astonished at this diversity of Valley farm products. Fields of peas, cabbage, spinach, onions, and carrots are easily recognized, but there are less common vegetables too—daikon, kohlrabi, and aloe vera. This is the original area of aloe vera, whose marvelous natural cream has become popular in sunburn and beauty lotions.

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

Lying at nearly the same latitude as Miami, Florida, the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) 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 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. The Las Vegas Café in Harlingen is a favorite of ours.

Winters tend to be mild and a bit breezy; however, the weather can be unpredictable.

Hidalgo Historic Pumphouse welcomes visitors to explore the history of The Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It can be windy and some visitors dislike the wind. But those of us who enjoy the RGV will tell you that when the wind is blowing, the humidity is down and skeeters are grounded.

Unlike parts of Florida bugs are not an issue during the winter Snowbird season.

And, unlike Arizona, most evenings are warm enough to wear shorts and a T-shirt.

As a result, this is big-time RV country, and flocks of Snowbirds return year after year.

In other southern states such as Arizona and Florida we’re known as Snowbirds, but in the Lone Star State there are NO SNOWBIRDS. We are all WINTER TEXANS!

Winter Texans are a major part of the economy and are treated as such. Newspaper headlines and signs welcome Winter Texans back home. You will find none of the snowbird prejudice that occurs in Florida, Arizona, and Southern California.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Did You Know?

Many of the trees, shrubs and other plants of the South Texas Brushlands can be found nowhere else in Texas.

Little known and interesting fact about Texas

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS – TEXAS STYLE

People here in Texas have trouble with all those “shalls” and “shall nots” in the ten Commandments. Folks here just aren’t used to talking in those terms. So, some folks out in west Texas got together and translated the “King James” into “King Ranch” language:

A Tip of Texas sunset. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ten Commandments, Cowboy Style.

Cowboy’s Ten Commandments posted on the wall at Cross Trails Church in Fairlie, Texas:

(1) Just one God

(2) Honor yer Ma & Pa

(3) No telling tales or gossipin’

(4) Git yourself to Sunday meeting

(5) Put nothin’ before God.

(6) No foolin’ around with another fellow’s gal

(7) No killin’

(8) Watch yer mouth

(9) Don’t take what ain’t yers

(10) Don’t be hankeri’ for yer buddy’s stuff

Now that’s kinda plain an’ simple don’t ya think?

Y’all have a good Day. Ya hear now ?

“THE EYES OF TEXAS ARE UPON YOU”

Worth Pondering…
Wasn’t Born in Texas, But Got Here as Fast as I Could

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Winter Texans Expected in Record Numbers

A tough economy, high gas prices, and violence in Mexico didn’t stop snowbirds from driving to the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) to join Winter Texans whose numbers rebounded to hit a record last year.

La Lomita ("little hill") is a small hill and the adjoining historical site of a former mission and ranch headquarters maintained by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It is located near the Rio Grande five miles south of Mission in southwestern Hidalgo County. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Valley’s low cost of living helps lure many here. Price is a very big factor, especially given the current economic conditions, reports The Brownsville Herald.

The RGV offers a lower cost of living than other snowbird roosts such as Florida, Arizona, and California. Site fees are cheaper, about two-thirds the price of Florida.

Winter Texans came to the Valley in record numbers last year after a decline that followed the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, said Penny Simpson, a professor who researches tourism at the University of Texas-Pan American.

“We’re back up to the (pre-9/11) level,” Simpson said.

But Mexico’s drug violence could cut numbers this year after news hit the Midwestern states that most Winter Texans call home, Simpson said.

Numbers hit a peak of 143,000, generating $329 million in 2001, before dropping off following the terror attacks that shocked the national economy, Simpson said. By 2005, numbers had fallen to 127,000.

The Magic Valley’s early 20th Century transition into an agricultural powerhouse is retold at the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, which also embraces nature conservation as a wing of the World Birding Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But last year, 144,000 Winter Texans came to the Valley, setting a new record and pumping $802.5 million into the local economy, Simpson said.

“I think people are getting their confidence back,” she said.

Lon Huff, the manager at Sunshine RV Resort in Harlingen, said this year’s numbers are up.

The park filled 89 percent of its 1,027 spaces last year, he said.

“We’re definitely ahead of last year, which was a very good year,” Huff said.

But at Country Sunshine RV Resort in Weslaco, Mexico’s violence is keeping some Winter Texans away, manager Melissa Cortez said.

This year, bookings are down about 30 percent at the park with 377 spaces, she said.

“My numbers are a bit down this season,” Cortez said. “The publicity we’re getting because of the Mexico issue has really hit us hard. A lot of them don’t know they can still go to Progreso and it’s OK.”

High gas prices have led many Winter Texans to drive down in their cars and rent RVs at the park, Cortez said.

“That’s a trend,” she said.

But gas prices didn’t stop Roy Ridlon from driving his 41-foot motor home to Sunshine RV Resort in Harlingen.

From his home in Embarrass, Minnesota, about 30 miles from the Canadian border, it cost nearly $1,000 to fuel up for the trip, said Ridlon, a retired operating engineer.

“To heat your home in the Snowbelt would cost more than the drive down here,” Ridlon said.

Grren jay takes a bath at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in deep, South Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Fun N Sun, Winter Texans are arriving earlier this year, Bonnie Dominguez, the park’s manager, said.

“We’ve had more residents come back earlier this year than years before,” she said. “I’m feeling we’re going to have a great year.”

Simpson said Mexico’s violence could cut the numbers of Winter Texans this year.

Last year, news of Mexico’s drug violence hadn’t hit hard in the Midwestern states before Winter Texans left for their annual pilgrimage to the Valley, she said.

But this year, the news has spread across the United States and Canada, she said.

“We really don’t know the impact yet,” Simpson said.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—Davy Crockett

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Five Things You Need to Know Today: December 9

Since I like things to come in fives (and tens), here are five things YOU need to know TODAY!

1. Camping World Plans New Location in Washington

Camping World will open a new store soon in Liberty Lake, Washington, which is located between Spokane, Washington, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The company is seeking to fill all positions from general manager to parts people, service technicians, and service advisors.

The new store is expected to open in January.

2. Cactus Collisions

If ever there were a misnomer, it’s the teddy bear cholla cactus. Known for its barbed spines that appear to have a tendency to “jump” onto clothing and skin, this desert plant might be fuzzy, but it’s certainly not cuddly.

Beware of a teddy bear cholla cactus attack! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adventurers should carry a large comb and tweezers to remove cactus spines that become embedded in skin. Slide the comb between the spine and your body, and then quickly flick the comb. The spine should dislodge, although sometimes it’s necessary to employ tweezers to remove bits of spine left behind. Chollas aren’t poisonous, but wash any affected areas with soap and water as soon as possible to help prevent infection.

3. RVIA Show Attendance Down

Final attendance at last week’s 49th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Kentucky, stands at 8,159, down 6.2% from the 2010 show, according to a preliminary, unaudited report from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).

In the largest category, dealers, attendance totaled 2,874, off 9.4% from the 2010 show. Total buyers attendance was 3,269, off 8.3% from 2010.

Campground attendance was 28, the same as 2010.

The number of dealerships represented was 1,641, up 26.8% from a year ago.

4. When Life Gives You Lemons…

Make lemon juice work for you around the RV. Lemonade first comes to mind, but there’s a limit to how much you can drink.

Lemons are versatile. They are one of the strongest food acids you’ll have in your RV kitchen and are effective against most household bacteria. With limited space in the RV, anything with so many uses is a valuable commodity to have on board.

The acid in lemons is what makes it such a good cleaning product. An excellent use is to wash your kitchen cutting boards with lemon juice, particularly after working with items such as chicken. If you have a stubborn stain on a cutting board or a counter, pour on some lemon juice and allow it to stand for 10 or 15 minutes.

Courtesy office.microsoft.com (in public domain)

For a safe spray cleaner to keep your RV windows sparkling clean, add the strained juice of two lemons to a cup of white vinegar, and pour the mixture into a small spray bottle. You’ll have clean windows and a nice lemony scent for the coach.

If you have cooking odors in your RV, mix up a small amount of soda and lemon juice to form a paste. Place the mixture in several containers and set them on the counters. The mixture will absorb odors while giving the coach a nice lemony smell.

To make furniture polish, combine one part of lemon juice with two parts of olive oil. Use it sparingly and polish with a soft cloth.

5. South Texas City Reconsiders Sewer/Water Fees for Empty RV Sites

City commissioners in San Benito, Texas, Tuesday (December 6) agreed to consider revising a new ordinance that charges a base water and sewer fee to RV parks for empty spaces and for vacant apartments.

Winter Texans packed City Hall to protest the law that some warned would force small RV parks to shut down, the Valley Morning Star reported.

“Be fair,” Bonnie Dominguez, manager of Fun N Sun RV Resort, said after the meeting.

Under the new ordinance, the city charges Fun N Sun $168,000 a year for the park’s 1,400 spaces, Dominguez said.

But as many of 300 of those spaces remain empty year-long because they are too small for bigger, late-model mobile homes and RVs, she said.

“It’s dead space,” Dominguez said. “There’s no toilet, no building, no unit. There’s nothing there but a meter and a sewer pipe.”

Have a great weekend.

Until next time, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Worth Pondering…

I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains. Go outside into the fields, nature and the sun, go out and seek happiness in yourself and in God. Think of the beauty that again and again discharges itself within and without you and be happy.

—Anne Frank

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