Monday, January 28, 2013

76th Annual Texas Citrus Festival

Shortly after we had arrived here in December I had seen advertisement regarding this festival, and already determined back then that we would it attend it.  It is a big deal down here, almost like the Tournament of Roses in California.  The festival celebrates what Rio Grande Texans are very proud of;  their groves of oranges, lemons and grapefruits famous for their rose colored flesh and sweet taste.  The activities for the festival begin a couple of weeks before, with a Product Costume Show and Royal Reception.  A week later is the Royal Coronation of King Citrus and Queen Citrianna.  The latter event is the first place where the 2013 Royal Court and the duchesses competing for a place on the court are introduced, wearing their regalia.  The duchesses represent a Valley product, and must wear a ball gown the color of that product.  The Duchess of the Ruby Red Grapefruit is pictured below.  With her is her assigned page.
All of the duchesses rode in the Parade of Oranges, which we attended Saturday afternoon.  The Royal Court, pictured below, was the first float in the parade.  Other members of the court include heralds, train bearers as well as crown bearers.  There are also princesses, who range in age from 6 years to college age students.  The duchesses are of high school age.  It is quite the social event for everyone involved.
While we were observing the parade a lady came and stood next to us, camera in hand.  She explained that she wanted to get a good picture of her daughter who was Duchess of Palm.  She had been a princess 10 years ago and, according to her mom, it was her time to be in the festival again.  Her daughter successfully applied to be a duchess.  The gown she wore was quite beautiful, it had to be specially designed and cost $3,000.00.  The Duchess of Palm is pictured below.
 "Kaleidoscope of World Cultures" was the theme of the 2013 Texas Citrus Festival.  The Rio Grande Valley is a melting pot of culture, as evidenced by the many floats representing countries from around the world, as Germany, China, and Italy, to name but a few of those entries.  Pictured below is a colorful float which depicted the theme of  world cultures.
There were also floats representing various Texas cities, schools of the valley, as well as the Texas winter recreational vehicle parks.  Many of those parks had their own chosen kings and queens.   High school and mariachi bands, as well a variety of dancing groups, kept the momentum of the fun going with their rousing mixture of marches and Tejano music.  It was a good parade, complete with over 80 floats. We came two hours early, just to get a good spot from which we could see it all.  We had heard that the festivities bring in over 100,000 people annually, however we did not feel the crush of people which we have encountered at other parades in the past.  Most importantly the weather was perfect, with a warm sun and a cool breeze.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rio Grande City, Texas

Our second stop of the day Thursday was at another border town, Rio Grande City.  One of the oldest settlements in Texas, it was founded in 1746 by Jose de Escandon, a Spanish colonizer.  The town was once part of a ranching community.  During the 19th century the city had a active passenger and cargo shipping trade with New Orleans.  We came to the city primarily to see Fort Ringgold, which was established in 1848 as a border cavalry post by General Zachary Taylor during the Mexican War.  Driving into the historical area of the city we saw no signs pointing us to the fort, so we decided to get out of the car and walk. We soon found ourselves walking on a shady lane through a park-like area which covered several blocks.  Large concrete picnic benches and tables were located along that path.  The shade was appreciated as it had turned out to be quite a warm day with temperatures in the mid eighties.
This path ended at a Replica of the Lourdes Grotto Shrine.  It was build and dedicated in 1928 by a Oblate Father of the Mary Immaculate.  We decided to ask for help to find the fort.
The shrine was an unexpected surprise, as was our next stop.  We stopped at the Starr County Historical Foundation office building to learn the location of the fort, and that office building was located near the La Borde House, a luxurious, full-service hotel.  Built in 1899 it was once a traveler's way station for many years.  It was also once a trading post.
We did eventually find Fort Ringgold.  General Robert E. Lee served there in 1859 when he was sent to investigate a Mexican raid on Rio Grande City.  His house is still on the grounds of the fort and is pictured above.  During the Civil War Confederate Troops evacuated the fort when Union Troops anchored off the Texas coast.  In 1865 it was reoccupied due to hostilities with Mexico.  It was rebuilt in 1869, and occupation of it continued until 1944.  In 1947 the fort was turned over to the Rio Grande Consolidated Independent School District, who rehabilitated some of the buildings for classrooms and administrative offices.  It has not been very often when John and I have found original buildings of a fort still standing, so this was an interesting fort to explore.  We saw the fort's hospital building, commissary, and several of its barracks.  Most of those buildings, not in use by the school district, are badly in need of repair.  Before leaving the town we made some effort to find a wildlife refuge, which a local citizen encouraged us to visit.  While driving in the back streets of Rio Grande looking for that park we saw some very poor sections of the town. One time I glanced out my window and was surprised to see a calf hanging out on the back porch of a residence!   We asked a local policeman about the wildlife refuge and he showed us its location, however because of its close proximity to the border, he did not encourage us to visit it.  On that note we decided to head for home.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Roma, Texas

Brochures advertising this town tout it as having an outstanding birding center, great views of the Rio Grande River, and impressive 19th century architecture in its historic district.  Once we arrived in the town on Friday, we immediately headed to the river bluff area for a view of the river.  As we looked out of the river the loud noise of a swamp boat caught our attention.  It was a Mexican Border Patrol boat cruising at a fast clip on the Rio Grande.  Looking across the river we noticed a couple of trucks with machine guns loaded on them, as well as a large number of soldiers toting other guns.  They were observing a yellow raft being pulled by a couple of men who were wading in from an island not far from the Mexican shore.  The raft was loaded with cardboard boxes, which, upon reaching the shore, were loaded onto the trucks.  It looked like all of the men were Mexican military troops, and a lot of their attention was directed toward the mysterious boxes.
We assumed that maybe the boxes contained illegal drugs.  It seems that frequently in the local news recently there are reports of numerous drug busts on our side of the border, on one of those occasions tons of marijuana was recovered.   A local man standing near us on the river overlook commented that just about a month ago some kind of shoot-out occurred on that same Mexican shore, with hand grenades being lobbed.  In the course of our day Friday, in border towns along the Rio Grande, we were frequently warned by the Border Patrol and local police to stay away from any land near the river, that it is just not safe.  The town pictured above, a Mexican sister city of Roma, is Miguel Aleman.  Roma was founded in 1765 by Mexican families.  Many residents of the town still have their land grants from that time, which was the Spanish Colonial era.  While John and I were exploring the historic area around Roma Plaza, we were approached by one of its residents who seemed eager to share with us the history of the town.  He said he was the eighth generation of his family to still be living in the town.  He also pointed out to us a building across from his residence.  It was where, in 1952, the movie Viva Zapata! was filmed, starring Marlon Brando.  Anthony Quinn supposedly rode a white stallion on the balcony.  The house is pictured below, it is pretty run down and in need of some major repairs.
Another old building, which I found interesting, was Rosita's Cantina.   Built in 1880, it was where local residents would arrive on horseback to drink and have a good time.
 The word "Beer" still appears on the side of the building.  It is a good example of the 19th century architecture found in the historical area of the town.  The buildings back then were either built of local sandstone or ornate molded brick, designed by a Prussian immigrant by the name of Heinrich Portsheller.  After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848 many Anglo American entrepreneurs flocked to Roma because of the thriving riverboat commerce.  After the Civil War the number of those Americans decreased and currently it is mainly Hispanic people who reside in Roma.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mission, Texas

Of course, this town is named after an historical landmark, the La Lomita ( "the little hill").  It is a mission founded by the Oblate Fathers in 1865.  The mission originally sat on land provided by a Spanish land grant in 1767.  The land was used by the church for farms and ranches to support the priests and their charities.
The adobe church, built in 1865,  has been rebuilt and restored a couple of times.  It was relocated to its present location in 1899.  The Oblate Fathers are credited with being the first to plant citrus in this region, which is now known for its ruby red grapefruit.  We have a tree on the lot where our home is now parked, the fruit is quite delicious!  In 1912 a local land developer, John Shary, started the first large-scale commercial citrus grove, and by 1922 shipped his commercial crop. 
Our other stop yesterday afternoon was at the Mission Historical Museum. In the annex of the building there is currently a showing of local quilts.  We were also able to explore the town's old post office (built in 1940), which use to be part of that building.  It has a hidden room where the postal inspector was able to make a surprise visit to check on the postal workers.  In that room there are very tiny windows whereby the inspector can make his observations without anyone knowing of his presence in the building. 
In the main building of the building is currently on display a Sister Cities Exhibit.  According to the museum newsletter, Mission enjoys a "thriving relationship" with 12 sister cities of Mexico.  It is showcasing regional traditional Mexican dresses and art which reflect the customs and traditions from each of those regions.  The dress pictured above is from Ciudad Allende Nuevo Leon, on it is painted points of interest and industries of that city.  I found it interesting that the dresses from each of the 12 cities were so different from each other, and that there is such a a wide variety of cultures within Mexico.  Also in the museum was an area dedicated to Tom Landry (1924-2000).  He was a much loved coach of the Dallas Cowboys,  and Mission was his hometown.  We thought the museum in Mission would be quite small and uninteresting- however, we were pleasantly surprised at how well it entertained us on one cold afternoon in January! 
I will be doing a road trip with my sister Linda back to St.Louis tomorrow, and will continue my posts on the Rio Grande Valley once I return next week.  Unfortunately, now that my sister is leaving, the weather warmed up a bit today,  at least the sun came out!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Birding in the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

We did return to the refuge yesterday as we had learned in our previous visit that guided bird walks were offered daily at 8:30 AM.  It was 48 degrees and misting, but we did the hike and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  My sister Linda is visiting us and has only a few days to spend here.  Yesterday was supposed to be the better one of the next two days, so we drove over to the refuge, not even being sure that a ranger was going to do a birding hike because of the inclement weather.  What is amazing was that, even with the winter-like gray pall which seemed to hang over the park, the refuge was still pretty with the hanging Spanish moss, green cactus, mesquite, and red flowering shrubs.  Pictured below is the Turk's cap shrub.
When we arrived at the visitor's center of the park a staff member had just put food out in the bird feeding station's outside of the center, everything from orange slices to suet to bird seed.  I teased the park ranger and told her that since there were so many birds at the feeding stations,  I saw no need to go out on a hike to find them!  The first bird I saw at the feeding station was an Altamira oriole,  I was interested in seeing that oriole because it is only located in the tree and willows of southernmost Texas  It has very striking black and orange coloring.  Another bird which I had been wanting to see was the golden-fronted woodpecker.  That bird came to feed at a suet bar hanging from a tree.  That bird has an orange nape, and the male has a spot of red on the top of his head.  I did not initially have my camera with me, but after our hike with the ranger I returned to the feeding station with my camera.  Many kiskadees and red winged blackbirds were then at the feeding station, and some chachalacs also made an appearance.  Two other birds which I found interesting at the feeding station were the Inca dove and the olive sparrow.  The latter is a striking small green colored bird.  It was interesting to see different birds other than the usual morning dove and the brown sparrow.
After viewing the feeding station, where our guide for the birding walk pointed out many other different birds, we hiked to two different lakes in the refuge.  The first lake, Pintail Lake, was out in the open, with no tall trees sheltering it- it was bitterly cold and here the mist seemed to turn into big drops of rain.  But it did not matter, we were thrilled to see a variety of ducks in the lake, also some shore birds as black-necked stilts and sandpipers.  A beautiful little blue heron hung around the lake, in flight his deep purple coloring stood out brilliantly against the gray sky.  We also saw white-faced ibis.  I was puzzled when our guide said they were ibis, having only seen white ibis, and  the white faced ibis we saw is black.  When our guide pointed out the long curved beak, I then could identify them as being in the ibis family.  At Willow Lake we were a lot more comfortable, with the rain stopping and the wind less intense .  I believe that it was there that the ranger espied a loggerhead shrike high in a tree.  She shared with us the information that the black-masked bird is known as a "butcher bird".  It impales its prey (as rodents, small birds and snakes) on thorny brush, and them consumes them.  After two hours of hiking with the ranger, we left her to explore a bit more of the park on our own.  We found a hanging bridge which connects two 25' observation towers. Those high vantage points gave us a great view of the refuge and from them we saw more chachalatas scurrying around on the forest floor. At that point we were quite chilled so we did not try to see any other wildlife.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Wintering in McAllen, Texas

It has been awhile since I have sent out any further postings, sorry about that.  Last week we had several days of cold, wet and windy weather.  We were fortunate if the weather warmed up to fifty degrees during the day!  We had very little desire to even get out and walk any short distance.  Most Winter Texans spend their time playing cards or bingo when the weather turns bad, which is not for me.  Then I saw a notice in our community hall from a food pantry.  The Rio Grande Food Pantry was in need of packers and sorters. John and I filled out an application to work as volunteers and consequently spent an afternoon there this week.  The pantry is in an old citrus warehouse, stacks of non-perishable items fill the large rooms there.  Some of the containers have food to be sorted and packed, many boxes have already been filled and are ready to be distributed to the 200 food agencies which are located through out the Valley.   We worked with two men who are also retirees, and later two college students joined us- they just wanted to kill some time while they are on break from college.  We were also informed that sometimes the workers are people sent in from the courts who have to put in service time.  Anyway, the work was a bit more labor intensive than we expected, especially when it came to filling boxes with 40 pounds of can goods, weighting them and placing them on a conveyor belt.  John and I got smart after awhile and worked as a team, it did make the load lighter!
We also have joined the Texas Chorus and spent one afternoon this week in our first rehearsal.  The chorus is a group of Winter Texans, residents of the many recreational vehicle parks in the area.  Last year there were about 80 members joining the chorus.  I was surprised at how our well our first rehearsal went, many of the voices have been in choirs for years.  Our director has been leading the Texas Chorus for about 14 years and is an excellent musician.  I also like the musical selections which we will be doing, one of which is a Broadway number.  Our first performance, with an orchestra, will be in the beginning of February.
Tuesday our sister-in-law Mary Jo unexpectedly had to go into the hospital for surgery.  Fortunately she is now on the mend, but it has been an interesting experience for me, having been a nurse for many years. The hospital is a few blocks from our home and is very reflective of the Hispanic culture which dominates this part of Texas.  The medical center seems to be in touch with the latest technology and took good care of Mary Jo, they just do many things differently- which we found to be true of a lot of our experiences here in the Valley.  I just have to keep in mind that this area was once part of Mexico and the rate of poverty here  is one of the highest in the nation.
Today the weather was quite warm and muggy, but we were anxious to get out and hike. Pictured above is one of the wetland areas of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.  It was established as a sanctuary for migratory birds and other wildlife in 1943.  The Rio Grande River forms the southern border of the park.  We were there by late morning.  The sky was overcast and it was quite windy- all not very good conditions for seeing birds or other wildlife.  However, we plan to be back next week for one of the refuge's guided birding tours.  My sister Linda is arriving here tomorrow and I am sure she will be anxious to join us.  Once she is here we will certainly start exploring the Rio Grand Valley more.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

International Museum of Art and Science

The beautiful sunny days we first had down here are only a memory now.  Since then we have had almost a week of gray skies and moist cool weather.  So we are left to explore the science and art museums in the area of the Valley.  The International Museum is located in McAllen and is rather small compared to the one in St.Louis.  It does have a couple impressive exhibits, however.  In the science section there is a Science on a Sphere, a 6 foot, 20 pound fiberglass animated globe that uses four projectors and state of the art technology to show dynamic and animated images of the atmosphere, oceans, planets, and much more.  It was designed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.
In the art museum there are 29 imaginary portraits done by Picasso when he was 87 years old.  He painted   them on corrugated cardboard, and then had them transformed into lithographs by one of France's leading    lithographers.  The suite of 29 portraits were then sent back to Picasso for correction, the whole process      took a year.  Something else which I enjoyed very much in the art museum was a collection of stained glass  windows obtained from churches on the east coast.  They were made in the Tiffany studios.                        
Our time during  these gloomy days is also spent attending the musical jam sessions in the clubhouse of our   park.  Many of  our residents have been in professional musical groups and consequently the musical            offerings have been quite good.  Sometimes in the jam sessions there are as many as about 30 people playing on a variety of musical  instruments as guitars, harmonicas, mandolins, and keyboards.  My sister-in-law       
Mary Jo joined the group yesterday on her dulcimer.   Today we attended a big band jam session in another park.   That session featured many brass instruments and was also very entertaining.    By Monday the          weather should be in the seventies, in the meantime we will just have to look away from the gray skies and     enjoy the bright colors of the blooming plants and shrubs which can be found ever where here in the Valley.            

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hildalgo Pump Station

On the last day of 2012 we decided that it was necessary to get out and do some hiking as the weather was going to turn cool and damp after that.  The pump station in Hidalgo has a museum as well as a birding park-it was a place which we had been wanting to visit. 
The pump station was used in the early 1900s to siphon water off the Rio Grande, it helped the local ranchers not only in watering their cattle, but also in irrigating a variety of crops.  The pump station was closed in 1983 when the Rio Grande had meandered off to the southwest.  Unfortunately, once we got to the park we discovered that the museum was closed.  However, it is also a birding center and we did find one trail which was open.  We first explored the area immediately around the station.  Here there are many blooming plants and shrubs with berries on them.  There were numerous butterflies flitting among the flowers.
While I was gazing at the activity of the butterflies I heard a bird chatter nosily in the tree above me.  The owner of that voice was a bird with green and blue plumage.  As he flew away he displayed his bright yellow tail feathers.  I later learned that it was a green jay.  We did not see much wildlife on the trail which we later hiked over.  Several Border Patrol agents drove past us on their all terrain vehicles.  The park is about ten miles southwest of the U.S.- Mexico border.  According to the McAllen Moniter there has been an increase in illegal immigration, especially on the ranch lands north of the border.  In December 127 illegals were found dead near a Border Patrol's checkpoint.  That same month a large group of immigrants were apprehended walking through the brush, among them eight women and three children younger than 12, including an 11-year-old girl from Honduras traveling alone.  It is hard to believe that our country has a neighbor in such dire straits that its citizens find it necessary to risk their lives in order to leave it!  Even though we were still miles from the border yesterday, we saw tall fences around in the park, as well as cameras and numerous Border Patrol trucks in the vicinity.  Our tax dollars at work!