Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Dog-Free Vacation in...Texas!

Knowing me, as you do, you might not think that McAllen, TX is my ideal dog-free vacation location. But Florian had an offer to teach a dance workshop there for two weeks, so we decided that I would join him for a bit just for fun.

The town itself is pretty much like any other middle-sized American town, except that the strip malls containing the exact same stores owned by the same few corporations are decorated with palm trees. 

The magic happens when you get out of town. As soon as Florian finished his classes on Friday afternoon, we were off to South Padre Island. 











Beautiful, mostly empty beaches, warm water, and pretty big waves! We went in but were scared to go too deep. 

This part of Texas along the Gulf is known for its incredible diversity of birds and butterflies, as it is along a major migratory pathway. 

So of course we went to the World Birding Center, a neat raised walkway through an expanse of brackish wetlands.
We were hoping to see an alligator, but no luck. Just a lot of Great Blue Herons.


We stayed just one night on South Padre then drove out through Port Isabel, and had a veggie sandwich in a little outdoor cafe that definitely felt like it was across the border.











Next stop, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. 

Where we saw a javelina as we were driving in, and where Florian hopped around and swore almost the whole time we were on the narrow trails near the visitor's center, where staff had told us there were often sneeks, I mean snakes. We did not see a single snake, but we did see a beautiful Green jay





and finally some baby alligators. 


After Laguna Atascosa, we continued west along a two-lane highway until we reached Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, also known for its network of trails and fantastic birding. Here too, we were warned about the multitude of snakes so Florian hopped around tightly gripping my arm as we made our way along narrow pathways amidst the spooky, mysterious Spanish moss. 

We walked in the steamy, sweltering heat, close on the heels of a nice family who didn't mind us tagging along behind them so they would be the first to encounter any snakes. Florian was pretty brave though, and we got to walk part of the way well out of reach of any ground-dwelling slithering friends. 


It is magical to be up above the tree canopy and able to look across such a lush tropical forest, and stand among the profusion of bright yellow butterflies as you listen to the trill of cicadas and the screech and cackle of all those birds.


Having completed our trip back to McAllen, Florian had to teach all day Monday so I took the day to explore one more birding and biodiversity hotspot: Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, known as one of the best birding locations in the country. 


It is not far from McAllen, but having gotten there I was not about to be deterred by the fact that the road was blocked off and the trails, once I hiked in along the road, were marked closed due to storm damage. Signs like that are merely invitations, as they promise an even more remote and natural experience. 

Along trails that are completely deserted as they meander through the low, scrubby riparian woodland forest, the only sounds the chatter of insects and birds. 
I must have hiked 6 miles through the scrubland forest, the last vestige of the semitropical forest that once covered the Rio Grande Delta but has been cleared to make room for agriculture--primarily beef production--and sprawl. 

You wouldn't know it from the top of a hawk tower that was also closed, the better to enjoy the silent, steaming expanse of treetops in serenity and solitude.

Didn't see any hawks but did get a view across the Rio Grande, wide and marshy in this part, and the spooky sky and approaching storm. 


Hiked the path all the way to the edge of the Rio Grande, got a bit lost until I realized I was on a loop trail :) The rain was a relief both for a tired hiker and undoubtedly all the critters who make their home here. As I walked back along the road, a company of birds kept calling back and forth to each other across the road but they stayed out of sight, their calls somehow always emanating from the trees on either side of the road just ahead of me. I never did see them fly from tree to tree. 

Sneaky bastards. 

I knew this trip would be good because I knew I needed to reconnect with my beloved Southwest desert and Rio Grande Valley ecosystem. Thanks to the scraps of precious wildland that have been spared conversion to yet another WalMart or Home Depot, and have instead been left for the birds, the critters, and for human sanity, I was not disappointed! 

5 comments:

  1. I always hate going to a new town and seeing exactly the same stores/restaurants that we see at home. Aaron and I always look for the other business that hopefully are locally owned.

    It looks like you had a fun trip!

    Monty, Harlow and Ramble

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  2. Hi Kirsten, Sam says "hi". It looks like the two of you had a great time. Are you starting to miss the "kids"? My peeps are not fans of snakes. We haven't seen any but there are plenty of skunks, coyotes and a few raccoons around the city. A coyote followed Jetta and my mom for awhile. Don't you miss the PNW? Your beer is still waiting for you when we meet up. We'll get Florian one too.

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  3. Ive always loved the idea of visitng Texas it seems like the sort of place Id like. Im not much of a traveler and my husband doesnt enjoy it so that combined with the dogs mean we dont really travel at all I am dying to go to palm beach that seems like retro heaven to me. Im glad you had a good time but Im sure you miss the kids

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  4. I really like dogs , they are so cute , thank you
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    teefury , redbubble , threadless.

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  5. The young boys ended up absolutely stimulated to read through them and now have unquestionably been having fun with these things.
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