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February 05, 2006

Texas Rio Grande Valley

I made a mistake in the last journal when I said that Brownsville was the most southerly city in the US.  Actually Key West is quite a bit further and Miami is about 1 degree latitude further.  So my apologies on the geography error.

 We arrived in Brownsville in the early afternoon of Thursday Jan 19th as it was only about 70 miles (110 km) from the park we were staying at, south of Kingsville.   After we had set up, we headed across the city to try to find friends (Ed and Lois) from Ontario.  All we knew was that they were on East Boca Chica (the main street) and that they drove a Dodge 3500 dually and had a Terry 5th wheel.  We started at the first campground we came to and drove up and down the rows looking then continued on to the next campground.  We found them at about the 5th park.  As you can imagine they were very surprised to see us as they hadn’t known that we were coming to Brownsville.  We all headed out that night to the Golden Corral – it’s a buffet – and then they came over on Saturday to our placeIMG_0002_editede for supper.  It was fun.

Brownsville is on the Rio Grande river and this was our first chance to see this waterway that we have heard so much about all our life.   What a disappointment.  It’s an insignificant looking, dirty stream that appears as if you could wade across and about as impressive as the Don River in Toronto. So much water has been diverted, used for irrigation and the river damed that there is little to impress at this point. I know there has been a drought so perhaps it is not always this low.


Having just been on North Padre Island, we had to drive the 28 miles to South Padre Island to see the difference.  It’s 4 miles of hotels, high rise and low rise and beautiful wide sand beaches.  North of the hotels you can drive another 10 miles of  unspoiled beach with  huge sand dunes flanking the roads.  The wind was blowing so hard that the sand was drifting across the road just like snow does.  They had a front end loader out clearing the sand.

IMG_0023_editedAnother day we followed Boca Chica 25 miles east in hopes that we could see where the Rio Grande empties into the ocean.  We travelled across massive salt flats to get there but unfortunately, the road ends well north of the river mouth. I guess you can drive down the beach to it but we opted not to as we don’t have 4 wheel drive and there appeared to be a lot of sand drifts.

We did cross into Mexico while we were staying in Brownsville.  You park your car on the U.S. side and walk across the bridge over the Rio Grande (see the first picture).  There is no inspection as you go in – they don’t even look at your passport.  There were free shuttle buses to the market and it was interesting with all the small vendors and wares.  Everyone bargains and you never pay the first price asked or even the second or third.  We didn’t buy anything that day but it was fun looking.   Coming back over the border you have to go through U.S. Customs and Immigration and they do check your documents but we had no hassles.  Mind you, they had sniffer dogs and many officers checking the vehicles that were coming in.

IMG_3464_editedAfter spending 6 nights in Brownsville we headed to Mission, about 65 miles west, travelling along the road closest to the Rio Grande river.  We could never see the river as there is a high berm built along it.  The river winds a great deal so the berm also winds in following the river.  On most of it there are lights and cameras and we were told motion sensors.  We saw Boarder Patrol everywhere and there are numerous checkpoints where you are stopped.  When the Boarder Patrol saw our licence plates we were usually waved through.  It’s a border problem that we in Canada are not familiar with. 

We arrived in Mission Wednesday, Jan 25 in the early afternoon at Tradewinds RV Park. Friends from Ontario, Marg and Wayne Cocker, knew we were on our way and would arrived sometime toward the end of January.  As we sat in our rig just inside the entrance trying to figure out where the office was, Marg came across the park to greet us.  They had been watching for us and gave us a wonderful welcome.  There were about 6 rigs from Ontario all parked in the same area and before we were even set up we were introduced to everyone.  IMG_0024_edited

When we were north of Corpus Christie we got our first taste of Rio Grande Valley Texas grapefruit and oranges.  They really are worth the drive – so big and juicy and inexpensive.   Mission is right in the centre of the citrus growing and we were lucky enough to be there the weekend of the Citrus Parade.  All the floats are decorated with citrus fruit that has been sliced, peeled, sculpted and used whole.  It took close to 2 hours for the parade to pass our location.  We bought BIG bags to take with us when we left.


On Friday afternoon 12 of us we went to Pepi’s for all you can eat shrimp or catfish – for $9.99.  It’s so popular that you have to go early if you even want to get a seat.  The service wasn’t great (actually it was terrible that night) but the food was terrific and so was the company.  On the way there Marg & Wayne took us to visit La Lomita Chapel which is one of the oldest Texas missions still in use – it was built in 1865.  Pepi’s is built right on the Rio Grande and at this location it is much more what I expected the Rio Grande to be.  It also was being patrolled by Border Patrol boats.  Wayne said one of the boats would go 100 miles hour.

IMG_3446Ropa Ustada!  Now that is an experience!  As we arrived in Mission we had noticed a number of big warehouse type businesses that seemed to have a lot of activity around them.  They were all named something like – Mission Ropa Ustada or Manuel’s Ropa Ustada etc.   On Monday we went to see them – they are used and new clothing warehouses that sell by the pound.  The piles of clothes are at least 10 feet high in the middle of the warehouse floor and you just climb up, walk around and start searching.  There is no sorting done so you take your chances.  There were four of us from the park and we all knew what the others were interested in so we did find some items.  I found three things for Ricardo, a smock for myself when I paint and a mosquito net for Ricardo’s playpen.   When I went to pay for them, the clerk weighed them and I had spent a total of  32 cents.  It was a hoot and everything washed up beautifully.  

Happy hour, bid eucher, jam sessions, golf, bingo.  It was a busy time and made better by the folks there.  We spent a week in Mission and have made new friends that we expect to keep in contact with when we all get back to Ontario. 

This winter however, is a trip to discover many parts of the warm south – read no snow– and it’s now February 1st and we are going on the road again.  So, we packed up and with everyone there to send us off we head west again following the river.

Texas is a big state so we’ll be in touch from the western part of it.

Bernie & Ross

Posted by Ross at February 5, 2006 10:56 PM


You are moving right along--I have read and seen pictures of the Rio Grande and know that there is little left to that river--we seem to do that to many rivers in this country. Sure the border patrol is busy at all times--I have a cousin by marriage who ran from S of Mexico City across the border to get to the U.S. Anyway, it seems you are having an incredible trip and I hope the "no snow" continues. Sincerely, Bette

Posted by: Bette Andrew at March 2, 2006 06:46 PM

What a nice blog! It's wonderful that you visited the Rio Grande Valley and ate at Pepi's! I'm the owner of Chimney Park RV Resort, located just a hundred yards or so up the river from Pepi's, if you come back to the valley next year, please check us out. We are the home base for the Border Patrol boats in this part of the Rio Grande.

Posted by: Chimney Park RV Resort at May 11, 2006 07:15 PM