Monday, February 11, 2008

Checking Out, Not Checking In to LaBorde House

“Yes, sir, this is a functioning hotel. All 21 of our rooms were restored twenty years ago from original photographs showing LaBorde House as it existed when it opened in 1899.” Then, the desk clerk extended an invitation, “You can take a look in any of the rooms that aren’t locked. If they’re locked, the rooms are occupied by guests.”

At the top of the emerald green carpeted stairs, Ed and I found that few of the rooms were locked. The first room screamed red – red carpet, red in the wall paper, red bedspread and a red rosette of fabric knotted on the canopy over the bed. The bed seemed made for short people and narrow by today’s standards. The bed appeared fragile, but I gave it a good bounce in a test for comfort. “This is definitely not a dream bed,” I told Ed as he snapped my picture.

Across the hall another door opened a crack allowed us a peak. This room featured two – again short -twin beds with their headboards pushed against burgundy patterned wall. A dressing screen hid the claw-footed porcelain bathtub, perfect for a bubble bath on a dusty Texas day.

As we explored, we found more antique furniture, wall coverings, and decorative fabrics of the Victorian period. Wooden window blinds gave each room privacy and shade for coolness in the pre-air conditioning era. And, we discovered that many of the rooms had doors that open on to a porch balcony encircling the perimeter of the Creole-style hotel designed by Parisian architects.

LaBorde House served early Texas travelers passing through the area on the Rio Grande riverboats or in wagons. They were politicians, cattle barons, military officers and Indian fighters. Today, Winter Texans visit the hotel for a glimpse of the past glory, long faded from Rio Grande City.

LaBorde House is located at 601E. Main Street, Rio Grande City, Texas.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Monday, February 04, 2008

I Never Thought I'd Get So Close...

I never thought I’d get so close to a wild pig but I did yesterday afternoon. Ed and I saw one on Sunday while bicycling at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. The pig didn’t even lift his snout as I approached on a dare from Ed, “See how close you can get before this runs away.” I got close enough to the pig to see that the pig was enjoying a feast of bird seed that had fallen from a bird feeder suspended from a low hanging tree branch. The pig never did run away as I timidly inched closer. He simply rotated his butt, and gave me a wary glance as if he too dared me to come closer.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park serves as part of the unique sub-tropical South Texas birding sites. Literature about the park claims that the park is part of a key migratory stop more than 300 species of birds headed through the Central Flyway and toward the Mississippi River basin. We took the tram tour to become familiar with the 760 acre park before venturing on our bicycles. The visitor center park ranger told us that the combination of wetland, scrub brush, riparian and woodland habitats make Bentsen one of the best places to observe birds and wildlife most commonly found in the sub-tropics of northern Mexico. The park volunteer who checked our paid passes – a “good old Texan” – told us the park also is a frequent site where illegal immigrants can easily cross the Rio Grande River to the USA. That’s not in the brochures.

Now, I’m not big on bird watching; in fact I am bird phobic. So what am I, of all people, doing at a world birding center? Ed found this quite amusing. I admit that I was drawn by the opportunity to bicycle in the park. I had also read in the newspapers that the season’s dry weather diminished the numbers compared to past years. Visiting the park mid-day reduced the numbers too since birds typically make their appearances in the early morning or the pre-dusk hours.

Even with the down numbers and conditions less than ideal, I never thought with my phobia I’d get so close to several sub-tropical birds. The park has a viewing station like a wooden hut big enough to seat at least six people. Openings shielded by movable slates of wood make it easy for park visitors to look out over several feeders and an in-ground bird bath. Neon green and bright orange birds fluttered about taking turns at the feeders, dipping their beaks for a drink and then roosting in a tree. I was close enough to these feathered creatures, but far enough away to feel comfortable.

As we continued our cycling, we came across an international maker designating a surveyor’s boundary measurements. We were near the Mexican border. Close by, a park trail wide enough for a golf cart wove through the towering cacti and mesquite. We parked our bikes and followed the trial which promised an observation deck overlooking the Rio Grande.

Even in the dry heat of the mid-day sun, Ed and I walked the trail. We remembered our October hike as far north as we could go in the Forillon National Park to the end of the Gaspé Peninsula, so we wanted to be able to say we hiked as far south as we could go to the end of the USA. At the Rio Grande River, we were as close to Mexico as we could get without getting wet.

We celebrated our accomplishment with snacks from our backpacks – Ed ate his peanut butter sandwich, and I munched on a piece of bakery fresh sourdough bread. We both enjoyed the juicy pink grapefruits picked fresh that morning; and wondered if twenty years from now the seeds we dropped would produce a grapefruit tree commemorating our lunch.

In typical fashion, we wandered along the river off the park path until the brush became too thick. But before we turned back, we saw a discarded black trash bag and three male swim suits lying dry in the trampled brush. I never thought I’d get so close to the seeing a genuine sign that three Mexicans dared to make their way to the US by swimming the Rio Grande River. February 3, 2008