For hundreds of years the land on both sides of the Rio Grande River has been valuable farm land. Water from the river makes the dry scrub productive. Today some of the farmers view the growth of subdivisions and strip malls with sadness and deplore the loss of this productive farm land. But before the farmers came, this land belonged to the birds and animals. Man has finally begun to recognize the effect of all this loss of habitat on the original locals. In addition to the birds that are full time residents, the valley and Gulf coast a bit north are rest stops for a number of migrating birds. We saw a documentary filmed here about humming birds and they go all the way from central Mexico to the northwestern coast of the US with the seasons. After they fly 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico, these tiny birds need a place to stop and rest and eat. In addition to the human Winter Texans, there are a huge variety of birds that also wait here for winter to leave North America.
There are a few precious specks of land that are still devoted to the critters. Santa Ana National Wildlife Reserve and Bentsen State Park are both located on the Rio. We are not birders. Too many birds are small and brown and too hard to see. Bird watching requires a patience we don't have. But people throng to these oases binoculars in hand and the local papers breathlessly cover the sighting of the rare brown throated so and so. Automobiles are banned from both parks. Visitors take trams into the interior and can get off to hike. We've taken these shuttles in both parks, but found that trams full of people talking being pulled by trucks with noisy engines meant that the wildlife was long gone by the time we got there. We were delighted to see that bikes are allowed on the tram roads and that certainly seemed like a quieter choice. And if perchance an interesting bird did appear, we would be able to stop and admire it.
We've been taking bike rides from the campground, but these of necessity always take place amidst the traffic. In Chicagoland where we live, we are used to myriad bike trails which have been built on abandoned railroad tracks. Riding next to cars doesn't feel safe and breathing exhaust fumes seems like a bad idea. It's so much more pleasant to ride away from the traffic, peering into the underbrush, looking for critters. It was fun to finally see the javelina, a pig-like creature that we've only heard about, but never seen. Honestly, they are not all that attractive; even the babies looked like something only a mother would love. But here they had a safe place to be. Now that the border fence between the US and Mexico is built larger and the no man's land around it is bigger, the four legged animals that used to call this area home, are restricted to even smaller spaces than the birds. There's never enough land or money to go around.