For Josh Hovick, camping is a way to remind him of his childhood in South Dakota.
The 25-year-old Pharr resident spent most of his childhood camping every other weekend with his parents and siblings, he said. Those memories are ones he hopes to recreate with his own family while camping at Mission’s Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.
Park Ranger Roy Rodriguez lets Bryan De La Fuente look through his spotting scope to see an Altamira Oriole at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Progress Times photo by Jose De Leon III
“Nature is basically where everyone started, it gives me an idea of what my ancestors were doing decades ago without electricity and it makes you appreciate what you have; so much more,” Hovick said. “You feel an appreciation for nature after just a night here. You’re lost without it and everything about it is unique. For sure I want my kids to feel the same way about nature.”
Hovick and his family, which includes wife, Marcella, and her children, Santiago and Victoria, were spending a weekend at the state park to experience camping for the first time together. The 760-acre park, located on Mission’s south side at 2800 S. Bentsen Palm Drive, offers a variety of activities attendees can enjoy after paying the $5 entry fee.
Besides camping, the park offers seven miles of hiking trails, a 15-acre lake, “La Parida Banco,” where visitors can fish and kayak. There’s also shuttles for touring the park which also includes Hawk Tower, a two-story observation platform from which visitors can view the entire park from.
Because of all the amenities in the park, Hovick said every visitor will find something to enjoy.
“You can miss a lot of things if your eyes aren’t open and not paying attention to the surroundings,” he said. “If you do that, all you’ll see here are a lot of mesquite trees and think the park looks boring. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll spot multiple kinds of dragonflies, lizards, birds and other animals that makes this visit memorable.”
Past activities the park would provide to its more than 30,000 yearly visitors include monthly angler fishing lessons and weekly overnight tours, said Park Ranger Roy Rodriguez.
According to the park’s website, the combination of wetland, scrub, brush, riparian and woodland habitats in the area makes the park one of the rare places in the country to observe birds and wildlife most commonly found in the subtropics of northern Mexico.
This makes the park the headquarters of the World Birding Center as nearly 350 types of bird species can be spotted in the park, Ranger Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez was explaining this to 10-year old Brian De La Fuente, a Cub Scout who was visiting the park to earn a birdwatching merit badge.
“The thing about birdwatching is that there’s so many opportunities to miss it,” Rodriguez said as he adjusted his spotting scope so De La Fuente could view a golden-fronted woodpecker. “You need to always be on the lookout and be ready to adjust your gear or you’ll miss spotting something.”
“Is the woodpecker a male or female?” De La Fuente asked.
“It’s a female, you can tell by the crest on its head,” Rodriguez replied. “Maybe later we can spot an Altamira Oriole, it’s the largest oriole bird and it only lives in the Valley.”
De La Fuente’s grandmother, Paula Flores, was with him during the trip. Flores is the leader of a Girl’s Scout Troop in Weslaco and said she hoped to bring her troop to Bentsen.
“My troops are Daisies, the younger group of Girl Scouts and this seems like it’ll be perfect for them to experience as many haven’t camped before,” she said. “It’s a nice environment, really safe and it feels like a good place for someone to try camping for the first time.”
Rodriguez, who has served as a park ranger for more than 10 years, said even he finds new things to explore every time he visits the park.
“I grew up here in the Valley hunting and fishing. I thought I had experienced everything there was to do here, it turns out there’s a lot going on especially for people interested in nature,” he said. “If you want to have fun here, it doesn’t just have to be birdwatching, there’s also seeing the kind of plant life and wildlife we have here. We push the locals to come out to find things.”
“It’s interesting how this place is right outside of town and serves as a chance to get away from it all since all you get here is the quiet, solitude of nature. These places are sanctuaries for people, not just animals.”