Texas Top to Bottom Part 3 - McAllen:
It's For the Birds!
Each year millions of visitors fly into
McAllen, Texas where they are generously provided with lush accommodations
at no charge. They eat for free too, 24-hours a day if they wish. And when
they depart not a single one of these visitors offers a thank you or a
tip. Through it all though the residents of McAllen are absolutely delighted
with their visitors who just so happen to be birds, butterflies and dragonflies.
McAllen is in south Texas, way down in
the Rio Grande Valley on the border with Mexico where it enjoys a subtropical
climate that's irresistible to the avian crowd. The flocks even have their
own resort, so to speak, called the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.
Bird watchers come to the refuge too hoping to spot the colorful hooded
warbler, catch a scissor-tailed flycatcher in flight or hear the noisy
call of the chachalaca. In all there are over 400 species of birds that
visit the Santa Ana NWR at one time or another, not to mention half of
the species of North American butterflies and lots of dragonflies and damselflies.
There are several observation towers that bird watchers can climb and lots
of trails where a sharp-eyed wildlife lover may spot lizards, armadillos,
indigo snakes or rare animals like the ocelot and jaguarondi.
There's an interpretive tram ride too,
and one of the refuge's trails leads to something unexpected; the picturesque
Cementario Viejo where you can see 150-year old graves and a crypt marking
the final resting places of the folks who lived here when the place was
a working ranch. There's always plenty to see at the Santa Ana NWR but
there are certain times of year that are best to see certain species, so
if you are a birdwatcher looking to check a few rarities off your list
its best to check in advance as to when you are most likely to see these
elusive creatures. And yes, there's lots to do in the McAllen area even
if you're not interested in things with wings.
There's a surprisingly large number of
fun arts-related things to do in McAllen and the city's International Museum
of Art and Science is a top-notch place to spend a day viewing fine art
as well as browsing a large collection of folk art and even a geological
(rocks, minerals) collection. There's always a special exhibit or two at
IMAS and currently the museum is spotlighting the third Shinzaburo Takeda
biennial of print making; Takeda is Japanese but he lives in Mexico and
much of the art on display was created in Mexico's Oaxaca state. If your
taste in art is less exotic, then McAllen's First Friday Artwalk is the
place to be.
Artwalk takes place in the heart of the
city and hundreds of vendors come out to peddle arts and crafts of all
sorts, and of course there are lots of goodie stalls offering eats as well.
Artwalk also features live music and colorful street characters and provides
a good opportunity to mingle with locals that show up in droves for the
monthly event. McAllen even has a place where you can get hands-on with
art; head to the Tipsy Canvas and you can take a painting lesson while
you enjoy wine or other beverages that you've brought yourself. On Saturdays
McAllen has a farmer's market in the square outside the Alhambra restaurant
and night club; you'll find more arts and crafts on sale there along with
all the fresh grown produce.
Before you leave town, make sure you visit
Quinta Mazatlan; there you can tour a historic home that now serves as
the headquarters of a nature center where among the native species you
can get a glimpse of critters from far away, like the Australian beaded
lizard. Stroll the grounds at Quinta Mazatlan at your own pace but don't
miss the regularly scheduled animal shows. And the folks in McAllen sure
know their Mexican food; whether you eat at fast food chain El Pato or
dine at the classy Frida's you'll come away satisfied. Let's just say that
at these places you'll find it impossible to eat like a bird.
For more information on McAllen and area
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