Sunday, October 2, 2016

Walk Report: Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park and South Padre Island Boardwalks (birding center)

Hello, everyone.

As promised, a walk report for today.

The morning was beautifully cool South Texas standards at least. About 70F when we woke up, so we threw clothes on, gave creatures a little bit of fresh air for necessity, and jumped into the truck to go walk.

First stop, the Texas Welcome Center in Harlingen, where we got more detailed driving info for the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park. Friends, this is one of the national parks with no entry charge. (Enjoy it while you can!) We picked up pamphlets there, including a map of the Historic Battlefield Trail through Brownsville. Palo Alto is one of the end points of this approximately 10 mile long trail that goes from downtown Brownsville out to the battlefield along the old, abandoned railroad right-of-way.

At the battlefield, on Paredes Line Road (FM 1847), we found a lovely, clean visitors center with a park ranger in attendance, interesting and informative displays about the battle and its context, and a small, but clean, restroom facility. The restroom is accessible from outside--though I'm fairly sure they lock the front gate at the road when the park is closed.

Shaded picnic benches at Palo Alto Battlefield Nat'l Historic Park. The clumps of grass in the foreground grow on all of the higher ground in the area.

View along the Mexican Army's lines--pennants in red, white, and green for the Mexicans. On the other side, pennants in red, white, and blue for the Americans. The Mexican lines were actually on somewhat higher and drier ground--note the yuccas.

19th Century "shock and awe"--US Army large cannon--this view is from the American lines toward the Mexican lines.
 An overlook with shade and interpretive signage has been placed out in what was the "no man's land" of the battle.
Tracks of some of the many animals that live in the park. 
 We saw tracks and scat of various animals--javelinas, nilgai, possibly other deer, and some burrows that might have been homes for snakes or for crayfish. The ground is low and tends toward the swampy.

It's not easy to pick out at first, but the Rio Grande River was adjacent to the US Army lines at the time. (Or possibly it was already a cut off oxbow, called locally a resaca.) Where the old river bed was, there are no yucca plants or large grass clumps. It has defined banks that are concealed in the natural brushy cover, but the plants growing in the old bed are grayish and short. The plants on the former river banks and general area include Spanish Dagger yuccas, large clumps of pokey-leaved grasses, prickly pear cactus, and assorted wildflowers.

After visiting the park (about a mile or so stroll) we drove down to South Padre Island and strolled on the nature-viewing boardwalks at the Convention Center.
A heron looking for his lunch.
 We have heard that there is at least one American Alligator living in the mangroves and grasses and small water channels here, but we didn't see any.
A crab hiding in the roots of the grass. (The boardwalk is on the Laguna Madre estuary side of the island. No waves to speak of, and generally smooth water.
 While I didn't get any photos of them, there were quite a few diving ducks on the water of the Laguna. They were making splashy sounds when they dove under the ripples to fish.
View toward Laguna Madre.
 We didn't cover all of the boardwalks at the Island on this visit. We had gone over some very muddy, unused, rough road between Brownsville and Port Isabel and needed to clean the undercarriage of the mud gathered en route. Old Port Isabel Road is apparently only used within the city of Brownsville. Going toward Port Isabel, it's basically an unused track. Four wheel drive vehicles strongly recommended. Avoid this stretch if the weather has been wet, as the road surface was low-lying and full of ruts and mud pots even in dry weather when we went.

If you visit the battlefield and then want to go toward the beaches of South Padre, we recommend that you return to the expressway to get to Highway 100 to Port Isabel, or ask the park ranger if driving north on Paredes Line Road will give a good surface all the way to 100.