Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park
“Bicycle birding” offers double the fun.
By Arturo Longoria
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park’s rangers tell folks the best way to enjoy the scenery is on a bike — the pedaled kind that is. The park’s four miles of paved roads are closed to all autos and RVs, so they’re ghost-town quiet, and the park’s 760 acres of monte, or scrubland forest, exist free of noise and congestion. The tree-edged lanes meander through a serene synthesis of anaqua, palo blanco and tall cedar elms, alongside ancient pathways of the Rio Grande and amid arid stands of mesquite and ebony shadowing smaller plots of granjeno, junco, cenizo and coma. This landscape creates a birder’s paradise.
The park rests snuggly betwixt nearly 2,000 acres of federal refuge land. It’s bordered on the west by a 60-acre oxbow lake and on the east by a shallower resaca that’s overlooked by a two-story hawk tower.
If you prefer, you can hike the roads and trails or take the guided tram through winding avenues as tranquil as a hidden weald. But the place just seems made for bicycling.
If you don’t own a bike you can rent one (both adult and children’s) at the park’s headquarters, near the front entrance. There are also two-passenger adult tricycles for those who want to ride with a friend. Those who enjoy identifying South Texas native plants can add that activity to their bicycle birding tour, for the park is rich in plant diversity.
Bring a lunch and enjoy it on the hawk tower as you gaze down onto the marshy resaca watching grebes, gallinules and whistling ducks, or on high at ospreys, white-tailed kites and broadwinged hawks. You can picnic near the oxbow lake and observe chachalacas foraging a few feet away, or snack while secreted at one of two birding blinds. Or park your bike at one of the trailheads and walk down to the Rio Grande. There’s primitive camping available by reservation. And there’s a coffee bar, gift shop and bookstore back at headquarters. Ride in as a group and listen to one of the lectures given by park naturalists at the pavilion by the lake or in the meeting hall back at headquarters. However you choose to enjoy it, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park remains one of the best bicycle birding havens in deep South Texas.