South Texas is so rich in birdlife that even casual birders can enjoy seeing large fat hawks, flocks of songbirds, the occasional quail or partridge scooting across the road, and, most dramatically, the crested caracara, known locally as Mexican eagles. In addition, the open prairie is home to peccaries (also called javalina), a piglike creature. The Rio Grande west of Brownsville Texas The Rio Grand west of Brownsville

Our trip this year from Corpus Christi to the southern tip of Texas took us through a series of tiny towns, many of them losing their downtown businesses because they have been bypassed by major highways. Each town has a short street with old brick or stone facades on the store fronts and a few surrounding blocks with a variety of houses, some of them quite large and beautiful, reminding us of the glory days of oil booms and new train routes. Now all that remains are auto repair shops, perhaps a bar or cantina, and a hair-and-nails salon.

Highly decorated family tomb Family tomb in South Texas Sometimes the most colorful spot is the cemetery. Here, the graves with their marble tombs and occasional glass-enclosed shrine are blanketed in (artifical) flowers, reminding us of the Slovak cemeteries. In Realitos, an artistic resident has sculpted a Last Supper, with Bible verses carved across the base of the statue. Last Supper statue, Realitos, Texas Last Supper, Realitos

In Hebbronville, the town center is alive and well and resembles a Central American town. Benches have been placed around the central plaza, just across the street from the large church. Next door, a Catholic school, Scotus College, was in session.

In Brownsville, we visited the Sabal Palm wildlife refuge, where we greatly enjoyed the trails and the imposing The Sabal Palm tree Sabal Palms palm trees even though we didn't see many birds. The Rio Grande valley is the northern limit of the range of the Sabal Palms, and extensive irrigation and farming coupled with the growth of cities has left this refuge as their principal location in the U.S. We saw a couple of chacalaca, a ground dwellilng bird resembling a giant pigeon. But the best part was the view from a blind onto the lake which was filled with ducks, coots and turtles. Even though the turtles moved hardly at all during the minutes we watched them, they appeared to be keenly interested in something, their heads outstretched in a position of attentiveness -- or possibly they were all asleep! A logful of turtles Turtles

We enjoyed our visit with Elsa's cousin Barb and her husband Bob who have been wintering near Brownsville for 14 years. After treating us to a delicious Tex-Mex lunch, they took us to the Marine Miltary Academy in Harlingen, where we saw the original model for the Marine Corps War Memorial. This statue, of the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima, was created by Felix de Weldon after the Life Magazine photo taken by Joe Rosenthal. The sculptor donated the original model to the Academy in the early 1980's. The bronze casting in Arlington National Cemetery is seen by millions. Marine Memorial The Marine Memorial We also visited the excellent small museum and watched the video describing the terrible battle against more than 20,000 Japanese troops living underground and determined to fight to the death for the Emperor. The casualties on both sides were very high, but once captured, Iwo Jima served as an emergency landing strip for thousands of U. S. bombers.

A few days later we found ourselves trying to remember the words of the cowboy song as we strolled through the lovely streets of downtown Laredo, which seems to us to be the most heavily Hispanic of the border cities. Most of the signs are in Spanish, and everyone we met seemed to be speaking Spanish. Away from the downtown area Laredo is experiencing large and rapid growth; many businesses, large and small, have sprung up along the highway, and the cross-border traffic is very large. Lots of Laredo stores display the sign "Mayoreo y Menudeo" which we learned means "Wholesale and Retail." Further away from the old downtown large housing developments and even larger business parks and warehouses have sprung up, and there are a rash of new hotels to accommodate the many business travelers. This thriving border city stood in amazing contrast to the sleepy cattle towns not too many miles inland. NAFTA, of course, has provided the impetus for the explosive growth of Laredo. Clouds on the Guadeloupe Mountains Cloudbank on the Guadeloupe Mountains

When we were in Fort Stockton we learned about the impending huge midwestern ice storm, so we packed up and headed for El Paso, where, if we were to be stuck, there were more things to do and places to see. Our drive west was foggy and drizzly all morning, until we reached the base of the Guadelupe Mountains. Suddenly as we crested the ridge the sky ahead of us was brilliantly blue, and the silhouette of El Capitan was clear and crisp. Looking back, we saw the blanket of fog we had just left.