The US/Mexico Border Daily
SECTION FOURteen: Laredo to McALLEN
As we piled out of Dan and Julia’s vehicle onto the highway a giant, raptor-looking bird took flight. We had seen this bird often enough to have an interest in identifying it and Dan was equally enthusiastic about solving the mystery. He and Julia are birders and we all wanted to know more about this feathery giant. It had a dramatic coloration: black and white broken by a red beak. Time to hit the books (or the smartphones). It was a crested caracara!
Seeing the caracara confirmed what we already knew about the area; this is a migration route for most bird species traveling north from the tropics to breeding grounds in North America. We’ve already seen multiple signs indicating this area is on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, which is a state-designated system of trails, bird sanctuaries, and nature preserves. Each showy bird that we encountered in this paradise made the amateur ornithologist flare up in us.
How can you not be stoked when this part of Texas hosts more bird species than any other area in the States?
Ranch after ranch after ranch. It's difficult to find much to look at in these large, private acreages sectioned off by no trespassing signs and 8 foot tall fences. The only breaks in monotony were brief glimpses down an occasional driveway marked by an overarching gateway with the name of so and so’s ranch inscribed clearly over top. Today we were bored enough to keep track: Bluestone Natural Resource Inc. Marcum Ranch, Los Corralitis Ranch, El Cowboy Ranch, The Ponti Ranch, San Fernando Ranch. The list goes on.
A historical marker (these are all over the place on Hwy 83) had info on the Camino Real, the old Spanish road. Yet another migration route - human this time - through this area of the country. The Real was a Native American trading route and in the early 1700s it was taken over by Spanish explorers and missionaries. It consisted of a networks of paths from Mexico City into the States. When Spain controlled this part of the country, their military used the road to counter French intrusions. Another example of the lengthy history we have of borderland strife.
Forward to the Holiday Inn, in the little town of Zapata which would be home base for the next couple days. Zapata is best known for its proximity to the Falcon Reservoir, a giant lake on the Rio. We got to experience some local culture when we hung out in the hotel lobby during the six o’clock social hour. Free beers loosened up some tongues! When the concierge heard about our project he eagerly listed all the nearby historical sites we should visit. In the 1950s there was a nearby settlement called Uribeno which was flooded and washed away when the reservoir was built.
We also hung out with some of the hotel guests, most of whom were workers living here while they completed their contracts. Several oil and construction workers and a couple of folks from Houston here to open up the new CVS Pharmacy. We have seen this frequently in this part of the country, hotels are full of contract workers who spend weeks to months living out of a hotel, going home on weekends or not at all. There aren’t many easy commutes to work in a state as big as Texas!
One of the various characters who joined the gathering had seen us hiking yesterday. We really don’t like how visible we are these days along the highway. He went into a spiel about how he assumed our vehicle broke down and we were high tailing it into town. He then joked about thinking as he passed how easy it would be for someone to slow down, open their door, and pull us inside without stopping. Thanks man. We’ve had this paranoid thought many a time. So far so good though! Let’s hope it stays that way.