6 Days in the Valley
Bigger in Texas
Everything is bigger in Texas, or so the saying goes. The Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine staff set out on a journey to see it for themselves.
Joe Rosenthal’s iconic World War II photograph of six men raising a U.S. flag on top of Mount Suribachi serves as inspiration for the Iwo Jima monument in Harlingen.
Felix de Weldon undertook the nearly 10-year quest to sculpt the monument. He used the survivors and photographs of those killed as models for the 32-foot-tall figures.
De Weldon crafted a statue in plaster, then sent it to New York for casting in bronze. The bronze was installed at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.; the model was stored at de Weldon’s summer home. In 1981, de Weldon donated the plaster model to the Marine Military Academy, a boys’ military high school in Harlingen.
The Battle of Iwo Jima has a few Texas connections. Battleship Texas provided bombardment support, and one of the men in the photograph is a South Texas native son, Cpl. Harlon H. Block of Weslaco, who was later killed in action on Iwo Jima and is interred behind the monument. RB
Big Ape at Bobz World
In Los Fresnos, colorful fish float in a plaster sea, dinosaurs tower over the parking lot and enormous seashells flank a skeletonized shark head. Welcome to Bobz World, a three-acre souvenir shop and arcade that boasts the only glow-in-the-dark mini-golf course in South Texas. Meander through spectacularly huge animals — you can walk through the belly of a titan-sized alligator or marvel at a gorilla three stories high — all made on site of wire forms, layers of concrete and lots of imagination. TA
Jutting from a stone base as you walk toward Pirate’s Landing in Port Isabel, the bright yellow sculpture stands tall. Very tall. At 70 feet, this fiberglass fly rod is listed in the 1999 Guinness Book of Records as the world’s longest and is attached to a fully functional reel that’s 4 feet in diameter. Imagine what you could catch with that! TA
We could see this monumental work of sacred art from the highway — a peaceful vista of a winding river irrigating fields and fading into the valley horizon, with the benevolent figures of Jesus and Mary rising above. The 45-foot-tall mosaic Christ Presents His Mother looms large over the 65-acre complex of the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle National Shrine. The Italianate mosaic consists of hundreds of thousands of tiny squares of Murano glass, crafted by master artisans. While awe-inspiring from a distance, a close inspection reveals the intricacies of its delicate shading and a masterful use of perspective. Other devotional statuary can be found along the pathways that meander the grounds, but as beautiful as they may be, none is as eye-catching. TA
Big Killer Bee
In 1976, M.F. Weiner wrote an article for the journal Medical Economics, “Don’t Waste a Crisis.” Nowhere is that spirit more joyously evident than in Hidalgo, where, in October 1990, the first colony of Africanized honeybees (dubbed “killer bees”) in the United States was spotted. Proclaiming the town as the Killer Bee Capital of the World, then-Mayor John Franz also succeeded in funding the World’s Largest Killer Bee, a giant sculpture built for a parade. The bee now resides permanently at City Hall Plaza. NA