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Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area

Escape to the hidden trails of the Longoria Tract.

By Arturo Longoria

We often yearn for respite from the chaos of modern life — a chance to suspend schedules and appointments and indulge in moments of leisure. For some this means a crowded gathering, while others seek solitude and quiet introspection. Lamentably, the latter seems harder to find in a world devoured by sprawl and commerce, though places still exist not far from most cities where one can locate hushed trails and time slows as life renews.

In the Rio Grande Valley, FM 506 connects the town of Sebastian in Willacy County with Santa Rosa in Cameron County. The land is a table-top plain of agricultural fields, with scant trees rimming homesteads, minute wetlands and manmade canals. Suddenly, however, the road reaches a tunnel of sorts, a section of highway enveloped by dense woodland. Shadows blanket asphalt and the ultragreen of varied trees and shrubs amasses so thickly against the road that one can see only a few feet into them. This secluded thicket owns the appellation, the Longoria Tract, though officially it is designated Unit 741 of Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area. These 373 acres were acquired by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department from a local family (not related to me, unfortunately, though we share the same surname) who hoped to keep a parcel of unmolested land preserved in perpetuity. To that end, TPWD has left the ground virtually intact, save for two parking spots, a walking trail, a windmill and pond and a sheet-metal barn where maintenance equipment is stored.

The Longoria Tract is a place to lose oneself in whatever endeavor the spirit bequeaths, be it woods roaming, birdwatching or, during the season, dove and chachalaca hunting. Bring your hat and canteen and, if it suits you, a pair of binoculars, and take the trail that sets off towards the rising sun on the eastern half of the refuge. You’ll hike a few yards along a paved walkway, but soon you’ll wander upon a sandy path leading into a monte, or scrubland forest, where javelina, bobcats, raccoons and coyotes traverse, and the trees harbor myriad birds both resident and migratory. Raucous green jays and manic chachalacas live in these woods, but you’ll probably hear them long before you see them.

Your trek is not a march or marathon, but instead a contemplative act. And thus you’ll discover as much within as you will in the beauty surrounding you. The trail meanders with subtle turns while taking you farther eastward until it reaches an old fence line that heralds the border with the outside world. Look north and peer down a tube-like passage fringed with mesquites, ebony, huisache, brasil and clusters of chile del monte and purple sage. You might glimpse thunderheads amassing along the nearby Gulf Coast as an untiring southeasterly breeze sways the branches above like cradles rocking gently back and forth. As you step forward, you’ll likewise step back — into a time that seems forgotten, but in hidden places still remains. And whenever the soul needs nourishment and the body hungers for space, you’ll know a quiet place to find it.

For directions to the Longoria Tract, call (956) 447-2704.

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