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Falcon State Park

For the best view, try a canoe.

By Arturo Longoria

The gloaming over Falcon Lake unfolds like a three-act play. An hour or two before dusk, Mexico’s Sierra Picachos emerge silhouetted to the southwest as if a curtain were suddenly lifted, perhaps pulled upward by the counterweight of the sun’s downward slide. Then reds and yellows dance across a water knurled by ripplets spanning the reservoir into the horizon. Finally, with the sun quietly bedded beyond the mountains and the wavelets quelled by the lonesome song of a night heron, stillness overcomes the last timid bits of light. All that’s left are softly sloshing waters, part of a timeless pilgrimage that begins atop faraway snowy passes and ends in the tepid currents of the Gulf of Mexico.

Of all the ways to view this South Texas drama, there is perhaps none better than to coast along the lake’s shoreline in a canoe. Canoeing inserts an adventuresome element into a milieu otherwise dominated by outboard motor boats — that coupling of machine and speed that in paradoxical ways oftentimes removes its participants from their surroundings.

Canoes can be launched from dozens of places along the lake, but the most accessible is from Falcon State Park at the western edge of Starr County. Falcon State Park’s 572.6 acres contain a boat ramp, screened cabins (with and without air conditioning), a recreation hall and kitchen, RV hookups with varied combinations of electricity, water and sewage, restroom facilities with showers, picnic grounds, and three miles of walking and biking trails. Of course, the main attraction is the 84,000-acre reservoir that was created in 1954 by the damming of the Rio Grande.

A canoe’s magic lies in its ability to drift in harmony with the lake’s own melody. You’ll silently skirt old stands of brushland timbers — mesquites, palo verde and retama — that over the decades were immersed and resurrected over and again. Their brittle bark is covered with cottony silt that gives them the look of spindly ghosts affixed into the mud of fate.

You’ll paddle attuned to that union of worlds that meets at the water’s edge. A beaver or nutria might swim by while cormorants and ospreys fly overhead and green kingfishers skim the water nearby. Perhaps you’ll glimpse a largemouth bass leaping skyward, or a lumbering channel catfish’s murky wake along the shoals. Watch for schools of white bass bubbling the surface, but stay close to the sandy, narrow playa because you’ll want to gaze as much inland as you do across the water. You might spot a coyote or bobcat or even a white-tailed deer.

There’ll be days when Falcon Lake does not welcome canoeists, for its waters are shallow, and strong breezes can whip up whitecaps making canoeing uncomfortable. However, on calm days when the wind snoozes, the water reflects like a mirror against an endless sky, Falcon awaits those travelers whose eyes roam the skyline as their spirits float gently alongside.

To get to the park, take U.S. Highway 83 northwest from Roma or southeast from Zapata then turn southwestward on FM 2098 for three miles before turning right on Park Road 46. For more information, call (956) 848-5327 or visit Falcon State Park on the Web.

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