Now that summer has officially ended, snowbirds everywhere are planning their winter excursions. A popular destination that offers mild temperatures and much to see and do is the greater Rio Grande Valley in south Texas. The area includes McAllen metro with a population of 726,000, Brownsville with 140,000, and Harlingen with just under 60,000 residents.
Along with a host of other smaller towns and communities that stretch eastward from McAllen to South Padre Island on the Gulf Coast, the Rio Grande Valley offers more than 500 RV parks, nearly 20 golf courses, a plethora of museums and festivals, endless shopping opportunities, day trips to Mexico, and the most prominent bird watching area in the country. According to Nancy Millar, director of the McAllen Convention and Visitors Bureau, “We affectionately call our visitors winter Texans.”
Whether you’re chasing birdies on a golf course or capturing them on film, winter Texans have opportunities for both of these popular activities on a year-round basis in the Rio Grande Valley. “This area is the most productive birding destination in all of North America,” says Millar. “The Rio Grande Valley has recorded 538 bird species in an area only 120 miles wide and 60 miles tall. It’s possible to see more than 100 species in a single day. And, people come from as far away as Europe to bird the valley.”
The World Birding Center, a network of nine unique birding sites spread throughout the region, was developed to accommodate popular birding activities. One of those birding sites is Quinta Mazatlan right in the heart of McAllen. Located on a 1930s country estate, Quinta Mazatlan is a historic Spanish revival adobe hacienda surrounded by 20 acres of lush tropical landscaping and native woodland, which is the perfect habitat for migrating birds.
At the nearby McAllen Country Club, birds of another kind are hotly pursued by locals and visitors alike. This picturesque golf course in the heart of McAllen shares a common border with Quinta Mazatlan at hole number 11. Given their proximity, many visitors finish a round of golf, and then visit the birding center in the same day. The par 71 course measures 6,454 yards, features mature mesquite and bougainvillea vegetation, and is a private club.
Other golfing options
Though it averages 42,600 rounds of golf annually, you would not know that Palm View Golf Course is a municipal track. With water coming into play on 14 holes, Palm View is a par 72 that measures 6,771 yards from the tips. As its name indicates, palm trees are plentiful throughout the course, which is open every day of the year except Christmas. Also, the lighted driving range is very popular, especially when the temperatures are warm during the daytime. The Palm View Golf Course dining room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is known for serving a mouth-watering half-pound burger and tasty fajita tacos. (palmviewgolf.com)
In nearby Mission, Texas, the Cimarron Country Club, known as the Club at Cimarron, has a nice layout with gentle rolling hills and well-placed sand traps. The 18-hole, par 72 course measures 6,821 yards, and offers a variety of leagues and programs throughout the year. (clubatcimarron.com)
Here are several more public courses in the Rio Grande Valley:
Brownsville: Brownsville Golf Center, Fort Brown Memorial Golf Course, River Bend Resort, Valley International Country Club.
Edinburg: Monte Cristo Golf & Country Club, Ebony Hills Golf Course (nine holes), Los Lagos Golf Club.
Harlingen: Cottonwood Creek Country Club (nine holes), Stuart Place Country Club (nine holes), Tony Butler Municipal Golf Course (27 holes), Treasure Hills Country Club.
Mission: El Nino Golf Course (nine holes), Martin Valley Ranches Golf Course (27 holes), Meadow Creek in the Valley, Shary Municipal Golf Course.
Rio Grande Valley Must-See, Must-Do Events
In addition to bird watching, butterfly viewing and golfing, here are several attractions and activities that should be on your to-do list.
Visit Mexico for a Day
Step across the border and spend a day in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico. This small border town is located south of the Rio Grande about eight miles south of Weslaco and just east of McAllen. You can drive over the border, but parking your car and walking is the preferred method. Nuevo Progreso is noted for its pharmacies, and duty-free liquor and cigarettes, but is also a great shopping area for all sorts of things, like regional arts and crafts and souvenirs.
Little Graceland—A Tribute to Elvis
Even 37 years after his death, it seems like the King still has not left the building. Elvis Presley’s former Army buddy in Germany, Simon Vega, maintains and continually updates this small but impressive tribute to the king of rock n’ roll. For those in town in early January next year, Little Graceland, located in Los Fresnos, will hold the Elvis Festival on Saturday, January 10.
Iwo Jima Memorial
Any military veteran—or any American for that matter—will appreciate the stunning Iwo Jima Memorial at the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen. This is the original full-size working model for the Iwo Jima War Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Sculptor Felix de Weldon, who donated the work, got his inspiration from the world-famous photograph by Joe Rosenthal. In that photo, 18-year-old Corporal Harlon H. Block of nearby Weslaco, Texas, is the Marine seen at the base of the flag pole. Sadly, just six days after participating in that historic flag raising, Block was killed in action at Iwo Jima. He is buried near the memorial.
For RVers wintering in the Rio Grande Valley, finding a place to call home isn’t difficult because there are so many options available. A good place to start your search is at mcallencvb.com or wintertexaninfo.com.
Rick Stedman is an avid golfer, RVer and writer. Rick writes a weekly golf blog, “The 19th Hole,” which is published every Saturday at rvlife.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.