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What has 400,000 legs, avoids hot peppers, and hates cold weather?

February 1, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

Los Ebanos Ferry

(Photo Caption: The Los Ebanos Ferry)

There is an interesting group that shows up in the Rio Grande Valley (extends approximately from just West/North of Rio Grande City down to Brownsville) each year that are called “Winter Texans.”  Some estimates say that 200,000 (for a total of 400,000 legs) Winter Texans arrive in the Rio Grande Valley each year (other estimates are closer to 150,000), causing some of the smaller cities in the region to almost double in size.

Okay, not all Winter Texans avoid the jalapenos you find down here in the valley, but a significant number of them do; and ALL of them seem to have a strong dislike for cold weather.  I’ve noticed that many of the Winter Texans also tend to avoid local dishes such as barbacoa and menudo.  For the uninitiated, in South Texas barbacoa is normally a slow roasted and seasoned meat dish that is made from the cheek of the cow (the high content of connective tissue provides an excellent flavor, but a texture that some prefer to avoid) and menudo is a soup-like chili dish that contains beef tripe and hominy (again, while the flavor is excellent, the texture tends to make people avoid this dish).  Even some locals say that while they love homemade menudo, they avoid ordering it in restaurants.

Gonzales' Burgers

(Photo Caption: Gozales Burgers in Donna)

It is important to recognize that when you take a group of 200,000 people or so, and insert them into an area with a population of only around 1,000,000 (the whole Rio Grande Valley), it makes quite a difference.  Another thing that is important is to recognize that the Winter Texan population is about 98% Caucasian, while the year-round population in “El Valle” (the Spanish translation for “The Valley”), is predominantly Hispanic (for Example, Hidalgo County, where Mission, McAllen, Edinburgh, and many other popular destination cities are, is 89% Hispanic).

Another important consideration is that Hidalgo County is, according to some reports, the poorest County in the United States.  This is important because it makes the income provided by this influx of Winter Texans an important part of the economy.  The agricultural nature of the area provides visitors with some of the best produce in the country (most notable are the citrus—grapefruit, oranges, limes—pineapple, and melons) at very affordable prices (but avoid the grocery stores, and locate the local vendors for the best flavor and prices).  Most of the larger RV communities will have vendors regularly come right to the site.

Asleep at the Wheel

Asleep at the Wheel in Mission Texas

While there is a rich and fascinating culture that comes from the close proximity to Mexico, and the distance from the United States (yes, it often feels as though you have traveled to a new country, which historically left the locals less influenced by the US), the Winter Texans prefer to bring “home” with them, resulting in many activities targeted specifically for these Winter Texans; but there is an interesting mix of the local flavor, as seen by the popularity of Western music and square dancing.  There are often so many activities it is difficult to keep track, and impossible to attend them all.  One organization that does a great job of helping you keep track of what is going on throughout El Valle and South Padre Island is Welcome Home RGV.

Egrets in Retama Village

Egrets in Retama Village

There is a shift in the demographics of the Winter Texan, though.  The last few years have seen less of a focus on golf and more on nature.  This area has always been known for the birding, butterflies, and other activities engaging with nature, but is growing in popularity for these activities.  The World Birding Center has 9 locations in the area, and there is also the North American Butterfly Association’s National Butterfly Center.  There is also a trend for more mobile visitors who do not wish to stay quite as long; which creates a challenge for the RV communities who would rather have people stay for 5 months rather than 2 months.  The new Winter Texans have a greater need to stay connected, which is a challenge in an area where wi-fi seems to be a fairly new thing for the RV communities and cell coverage (for air cards) is often spotty.

Protection on the Rio Grande

The Border Patrol on the Rio Grande

It would be impossible to list all of the RV communities in the area, because there are so many; however, they range from your typical RV park (of all sizes and qualities) to upscale RV Residential Communities (such as Retama Village) and everything in between.  The bottom line is that the Rio Grande Valley provides a winter haven for people wanting to avoid the cold weather—with a latitude approximately the same as Miami, Florida, a cost of living that is friendly to the pocket book, and winter weather that is mild without the cold nights found in the Southwest.  AND, this is the only place where I’ve ever found “grapefruit pie” served in restaurants.


2 Responses to “What has 400,000 legs, avoids hot peppers, and hates cold weather?”
  1. Gary & Brenda says:

    Well your article was very interesting and we have added it to our bucket list of places go expirience. There seens to be a great variety of activities and the fresh produce deliveries sound wonderful.

  2. Hoby says:

    Gary and Brenda,

    I’m sure you will not be disappointed if you make it to El Valle. As with any other popular site for RVers in the winter, the best parks require advanced booking. Yes, having the produce vendor right there in the park each week is wonderful (of course, many parks have orange and grapefruit trees right at your site).

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