Tuesday, January 29, 2019

South Padre Island Dolphin Tour

The Activity Committee at the campground had arranged a group outing with a Dolphin Tour company at South Padre Island, and it sounded like fun, so Tom and I signed up to go.  There ended up being about 30 of us in the group.
Of course, when the day of the tour arrived, we had the highest winds we’ve had all season – up to 5o mph!  We were worried that our tour would get cancelled (8-10 ft. surf on the Gulf), but it was still on, and we all headed out after lunch.  At least it was a warm and sunny day, well into the 70s.
Travelling over the bridge to South Padre Island, the water in the Bay looked pretty rough – I was hoping we had a big enough boat!  We arrived at the dock, and waited for tour time.  It was a little  chilly waiting on the dock, I was glad I brought a sweatshirt.

Our boat looks big enough to handle the rough water.

None of the fishermen were going out though . . . too rough for fishing!

Tom and I snagged a couple of seats on the upper deck, out in the sun – it felt really good!  Even with the high winds, the sun was nice and warm!

As soon as we pulled out of the channel, we got busy searching for dolphins.

We spotted a few out in front of us right away, but they were too quick for me to get any pictures.  We continued towards the bridge, and since we weren’t seeing any dolphins, some people kept themselves entertained with the seagulls following the boat.

Tom was trying to get them to land on his hand . . . he thought he could lure them in with bits of crackers!  They were too smart for that!

As we turned away from the bridge and headed out towards the jetty, the crew threw out a net to gather marine life for the “Eco Tour” portion of the trip. 

We were going into the wind now, and the water was a little rougher.  We spotted a few more dolphins, though, and a Coast Guard boat.


t was still difficult to catch pictures of them, but this little group was really active!

About halfway to the jetty, we slowed down for a bit and one of the crew members, Isaiah, showed us what was collected in the net.  Tom and I went down to the lower level to watch the presentation.

There were a few little bait fish, and squid (which I had never seen before),

and a few bigger fish – the first one was a spiney something (that liked to spit water out at people),

and a puffer fish.

That one was pretty cool looking,
and so were the starfish.

With the science demonstration over, the captain picked up speed again, and Tom & I went back to the upper deck.

We passed by the Coast Guard Station,

and the Border Control blimp.

It was on the ground because of the high winds that day, but normally it’s tethered over the jetty, keeping watch over the shipping lane in and out of Brownsville, and the waters off Boca Chica Beach.  We saw it in the air the day we went to Boca Chica, but didn’t know what it was.

As we got closer to the jetty, we could see the state park at Boca Chica, where there are several houses on the cliff overlooking the water.  They were there before it became a state park, and the owners were allowed to stay in them, although they don’t have any electricity or water.  They can’t ever sell the property, though, and if the home is destroyed, they can’t rebuild.

Fishing, or Scuba-diving?

We spotted a few more dolphins, and these were close to the boat.

We could see the surf on the other side of the jetty, and it looked really rough.  Not too many people fishing today!

Not the best beach day, either!

We could see the city campground as we turned around at the jetty – it looked pretty nice, really close to the water, though.

We were on our way back to the channel, and spotted another dolphin . . . and I was finally able to catch a picture!  It’s not quite clear, but still a decent picture!

The pelicans waiting on the dock as we pulled back into the channel,

and one more coming in for a landing!

Even with the high winds, it turned out to be a beautiful day for a boat tour, and it was fun – we spotted dolphins, saw some interesting sea life, and had fun with the seagulls.

From there, most of the group headed over to Port Isabel for dinner at Pirate’s Landing.

Lots of photo ops . . .Tom  is always willing to take a silly photo,

and sometimes he gets a little help from a couple of photo-bombers!

It was a fun day!  We were definitely glad we participated!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Relaxed, but full, Weekend

After our trip to the beach on Friday, we didn’t have too much else planned for the weekend.  It had gotten pretty windy on Saturday, but still sunny and warm, so we decided to check out one of the local Flea Markets.  We also needed to put a care package together for Nick, so figured we’d go ahead and pick up his cowboy boots to put in the same box.  We’ve looked at quite a few, but had decided on a pair we saw back before Christmas, in Mercedes.

The Don-Wes Flea Market is on the border between the valley towns of Donna and Weslaco, and a fairly small flea market, but nice.  We got there around noon, so we started out with getting a quesadilla for lunch.  They have a little cafe, with live entertainment, and decent food.  We met a couple from Mission (formerly from Wisconsin) and shared a table with them while we all enjoyed our lunch.

The inside area is pretty typical, but I did find a booth selling fabric and quilting supplies (that’s a new one!) . . , didn’t buy anything, though.  I was looking for flannel, and she didn’t have any.  We did pick up a cool swiss vegetable grater, though!

The outside area was fun, with lots of interesting collections!

Nice looking produce

We went in a couple of booths that were just jam-packed full of stuff!  Almost anything you could possibly want was sure to be in there!



Even ice skates, or a Sherriff’s Badge!

We found this little shop that sold their own nuts, dried fruits, seasoned pistachios, and chocolates . . . we spent a bunch of $$ in there . . . lots of treats for Nick’s care package!

You should have been there Danny – we found a whole flamingo family for you!!

There’s an ice cream shop at the flea market, too – Blue Bell Ice Cream – so we had a cone as we left.  Mmm . . .

The boot shop was just down Business 83 in Mercedes, and we got there about a half hour before they closed.  We picked out the boots we wanted, and they darkened the heels and soles for us as we waited.  They had been left natural, but we thought they would look better brown.

While the guys in the shop took care of that, we chatted with the saleswoman, and another woman who turned out to be the owner’s daughter.

It’s a good-sized family-owned shop, still run by the father, who had started out as a bootmaker in Mexico, then came to Texas and worked for a local bootmaker before opening his own shop in 1972.  Now they make custom-ordered boots and exotic leather boots in this shop (see that huge snake skin above!?!), and have a small factory in Mexico that makes the rest of their boots – the father still buys all the leathers used in the boots, and every pair of boots is made to his specification.  The factory exclusively makes their boots, and you can’t buy them anywhere else.

We liked the shop, the personal service, and the boots are very nice quality!

Nicolas got them this week, and he said they fit perfectly, and were very comfortable.  He likes them!

On Sunday, we went to church and grocery shopping, and then just hung out at the RV.  Tom visited with some of the neighbors, and I sat in the sun and read on my Kindle.  A nice, relaxing day!

Monday was the Martin Luther King holiday, and I didn’t have to work.  There was a Winter Texan Appreciation Fiesta in Harlingen, and Tom wanted to check it out, so we took a drive up there after lunch.  It was pretty much a disappointment (mostly local businesses catering to older people that spend the whole winter down here – not us!)

There was a Mariachi Band,

but we only listened for a couple minutes (too loud!)

There was a SMALL car show, too, but that only took a few minutes to walk through!

This was a pretty cool truck!!

We were done there quick, so we stopped at Walmart on the way home to pick up a few things, then went back to the RV to enjoy the sunny afternoon.

Monday night was the Lunar Eclipse, and we joined a few others outside after 11pm to watch the progression.

My pictures weren’t great (I was having a hard time keeping the camera steady), and we were freezing (it was in the 40s that night!) . . . so we didn’t stay out long enough to watch it go really red.

Not a bad way to wrap up a nice weekend!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Where the Rio Grande meets the Gulf

We had heard from several people that Boca Chica Beach, east of Brownsville, is even nice than South Padre Island – more remote and less commercial.  That much is definitely true – there’s one road leading from Brownsville to Boca Chica, and there’s absolutely nothing there.  No beach shops, no restaurants, no hotels or beach houses . . . no facilities of any kind!

You pick up Highway 4 in Brownsville, drive past the airport, and then just keep going until the road ends at the ocean.

Right before we got to the beach, we did come upon this interesting sight.

SpaceX has purchased a chunk of land out there, and has established their South Texas Operations.  There is a prototype rocket under construction

-- literally, right off the side of the highway; we could have walked right up to the fence.

On the news, we’ve seen pictures of the rocket apart, like we saw it, and also complete . . . so it must be fairly simple to lift the top on and off.

On the other side of the highway, they are building the launch pad – again, just a few feet from the edge of the highway!

We were shocked to see this going on so close to the road!  In a news story on TV, they said that the rocket is supposed to be ready for launch as soon as possibly March.  They also talked to several people who live in Boca Chica Village, which is just behind the rocket assembly area.  They are not going to be able to stay in their homes when this launch happens, but they haven’t heard anything definite about what they are going to have to do, or for how long they may have to leave.

We continued on, and a minute later arrived at the beach – the end of the road.

We knew that by going to the right, we would reach the Rio Grande River, where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico.  We wanted to see that, and we only had about 3-1/2 hours until high tide, and we didn’t know how accessible the beach would be as the tide came in, so we went that way first.

The beach was fairly wide, and there were lots of people out fishing . . . and Great Blue Herons keeping watch from the dunes,

and in some cases, from the beach, right next to the fishermen!

We startled this one as he was walking along the beach.

We drove about as far as we could along the beach,

and stopped near some fishermen from Wisconsin.

They took our picture for us . . . with Mexico in the background.

Tom chatted with the fishermen while I walked the beach.  The water looked nice and clear – but chilly – and there were some nice shells . . . and an occasional jellyfish.

Unfortunately, though, the whole area had an overwhelming smell of fish, and there was a ton of trash washed up on the beach and the dunes.  It really was too bad; it could be a really nice beach.

In addition to all the Blue Herons hanging around, there were pelicans flying around to.  This group was flying back and forth across the river.

Walking along the river, the landscape gradually changed from sandy beach to a rocky cliff edge.  The river was actually deeper than it looked here.

We could see people over on the Mexico side – doing the same as the people on the US side – fishing and feeding the birds on the beach.

When the fishermen would catch something that wasn’t big enough the keep, they would throw it to the herons. 

As I walked back toward them, they were getting ready to throw this guy a fish.

He swooped over to get it!

Then, just as quickly, flew back off to his perch on the dune!

The clouds were starting to disperse, and with the sun out, it was a really nice afternoon at the beach.  We got our chairs out and sat there for awhile, enjoying the sun and the surf, until the water crept closer and the tide came in.

We packed up then, and made our way back to the road, as the beach got smaller and smaller.

The beach was nice, but we still prefer South Padre Island better – it doesn’t take as long to get there, and we do like to have a little bit of civilization nearby!  At least it wasn’t as windy this afternoon – the Jeep didn’t end up full of sand, even with the top open! 

Leaving the beach, we had to pass through a border checkpoint – that’s the first one we’ve seen down here!  We pulled up and stopped, the Border Patrol Agents said, “Hi . . . Go ahead, you’re OK”  That was easy!  We thanked them for being there, and continued on our way!

We finished our day with dinner in Brownsville, before heading home – another nice day in the RGV!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Biking and birding in Mission, TX

We’ve been wanting to get the bikes out for a longer ride, and I had read online that the Bentsen - Rio Grande Valley State Park was a favorite biking location in the area, and also part of the World Birding Center.

We’re not true “birders” but we do know how to identify some of the more popular birds, and it was a great day to get out on the bikes.  Plus, we’ve been wanting to check out the Mission and McAllen areas, so we loaded up the bikes and headed out.

The park is south of Mission, bordering the Rio Grande River, and is right next to two very popular RV Resorts – Bentsen Palms and Retama Village.  The parking lot is actually outside the park, and there’s no personal vehicle traffic allowed in the park at all.

We rode our bikes over to the Visitor Center to pay our $5/person entry fee and get our wristbands.  For people who don’t want to ride bikes or walk through the park, there is a tram that will take you around the park, and there are tram stops at each of the trails within the park.

From the Visitor Center, we showed our wristbands and proceeded into the park.  Our first stop was the Kingfisher Overlook along the La Parida Banco, which is a small lake that was formed when the Rio Grande River changed course and left behind this small area of the former river.

It was a beautiful view, but we did not see any Kingfishers or other water birds. 

We continued along the waterway, and stopped at the Green Jay Blind.

This was a pretty cool structure – there were benches inside, and any of the horizontal boards could be tipped down to give you a view of the feeder area where the Jays like to hang out.

While we were there watching, there were about 6 cardinals and several Green Jays going back and forth between the feeders and the trees,

and a javalina hanging out to catch all the feed that got knocked onto the ground.

This is the closest we’ve ever seen one!

There’s the Green Jay on the feeder,

and two Cardinals on the other feeder.  We stayed and watched them all for several minutes, before continuing on around the park.

We continued along Mesquite Road – keeping our eyes open for birds, and javalinas!

We reached the next trail, the Rio Grande Trail, which was about 2 miles long.  It was listed as hiking only, but wheelchair accessible, so we figured it would be perfect for the bikes.

We were right – it was a nice wide trail, and the surface was finely crushed gravel – perfect for the bikes, and with enough twists and turns to keep it interesting.

We thought we were going to see the river, but apparently the trail only takes you to where the river used to be, when it was wider and deeper.

There’s a survey marker that used to mark the edge of the Rio Grande River, and a twin marker exists on the Mexico side of the river – the center line of these two markers indicates the boundary between the two countries.

Back at the main road, we took the spur trail to the Hawk Tower.  It was a short trail into a tallgrass area,

leading us to a boardwalk in the grass that took us up to a raised observation tower.

There were a couple of women there looking for hawks.  They had one zeroed in on their spotting scope, but I think it looked more like a Osprey than a hawk (maybe I’m the real birder!! lol).

Back on the road, we spotted some type of hawk up high in a dead tree.

We watched it for a while,

and we were going to ask the tram driver what kind of hawk it was, but as the tram got close, the hawk flew off.

As that tram driver went by, I got a quick look at him, and I thought he looked like somebody we had volunteered with in Florida several years ago.  Tom didn’t see him, and just thought I was crazy.

We continued our ride around the park, stopping at the picnic area to have some snacks we had brought with us, and then went back to ride through the inner loop.  There was another bird blind in the inner loop, but no activity at it.

We did see a few Chachalacas at a feeder near the picnic area.  I only got a picture of one of them, though, the rest scattered when we stopped.

Back at the entrance station, Tom asked the volunteer if she knew the guy driving the tram, but she didn’t.  As we were standing there talking to her, though, he drove up, and it turned out I was right – he did volunteer with us at Camp Helen in Florida back in July of 2015!  Small world . . . and his name is Mike.

We all chatted for a few minutes, and I got some pictures of the birds at the feeders there by the entrance station.  The volunteer had just refilled the food, so there was lots of activity!

There were Green Jays,

and Kiskadees,

and sometimes both!

We were fascinated watching as the birds flew all around the feeders and the surrounding trees.  It was really cool when I could catch them in action and get a picture of the hovering near the feeder, with their wings flapping.

There were also Cardinals ( I thing these are both Cardinals),

and I got this classic Cardinal shot.

After the tram drove away, a few chachalacas showed up, too.

It was a nice day – we enjoyed watching the birds that we saw, and got in about 7 miles of riding in the park.  When we left the park, we rode through both RV Resorts, adding another couple miles to our ride.  They are nice RV Resorts – probably the nicest in the valley – but Mission is at the far western end of the RGV, quite a bit further from the Gulf, if you like to go to the beach.  It seems like the area we are in is a little more centrally located, although there are more activities aimed at the Winter Texans in the Mission/McAllen area . . . I guess it depends on what you are looking for.