Ruth & I have been to the Rio Grande Valley twice in the past 2 years. There are many fine attractions there and birds galore. I highly recommend the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, the Sabal Palm Audubon Center, and the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. At the other end of the spectrum are 2 attractions that I do not recommend: the Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg and the Old Pumphouse in Hidalgo. Both are barely 2 Compass experiences. However, the Pumphouse is a notable World Birding Center also known for butterflies. Ruth and I are not avid birders and did not see any rare birds there, so a dedicated birder might have a totally different spin on the Pumphouse experience.
I might have a different attitude if I had seen the World’s largest killer bee in Hidalgo. Aggressive and scary African Killer Bees entered the United States like today’s Central American border crossers in 1970 at Hidalgo. How did its citizens react to this bad news? They erected a bee statue next to their city hall and invited travelers to come see the “World’s Largest Killer Bee” that was announced and still is in all of their major Rio Grande Valley enticements. The pump house, which has a modest fee for tours, is one of the last facilities of its type with original equipment in the United States. It’s steam driven pumps were the primary source of irrigation for agriculture here until 1983, when they were permanently silenced. Hidalgo is south of Harlingen and very close to the Rio Grande River and Mexico. If you are driven to see to 1st general store in Hidalgo County and a decommissioned pump house on the National Register of Historic Landmarks that attracts butterflies, birds, and dragonflies, by all means head for Hidalgo. Don’t forget your binoculars! An asphalt bike trail that’s more than 4 miles long is behind it and goes along the border wall. One sign at the Pump house reflects, “Today the Pumphouse no longer siphons water from the Rio Grande to irrigate Hidalgo County fields, but the stories it has to tell of the life and times of the past century live on.”
The Museum of South Texas History is in a huge, dark, cavernous building. The 1910 Old County Jail Annex was closed when we were there. The museum displays were mostly up a splendid staircase on the 2nd floor. This museum opened in 1970 and probably still looks like it did on opening day. The 1st things I saw in the display area were a mammoth, a Clovis Point, and some information about the native tribes, the Coahui/Tecans, who lived in this area before European settlers arrived. Since Cabeza de Vaca, my favorite early explorer, had amazing adventures on his way from Cuba to Florida to Mexico and is vividly detailed in this museum, I was temporarily diverted even though I learned nothing new. De Vaca and other Florida shipwreck survivors were separated by the outflow from the Mississippi, and they were soon enslaved by natives. The story is historically accurate but preposterous. I was also diverted by a mosaic floor decoration based on a 10th century chart used to determine wind direction. But then I was in a world of armor, saddles, missionaries, dried peppers, The Alamo, church bells, ranch life, cattle wars, chaps, spurs, Model Ts, and on and on. Area history ended in 2001 near a hallway telling about the war in Viet Nam as if it occurred yesterday. Luckily, closing time was near and the staff hustled us out of this museum.
ps It was too dark to take decent photos so I have none. The bird on the tree stump photo was taken at the Santa Anna NWR, which I do recommend.