This Memorial Day I spent the morning in the city of Brownsville. I knew of a trail that runs from the Gladys Porter Zoo up to the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic park and I’ve been looking for some time to take my bike and go cycling it. This holiday was a great opportunity to hit both parks with a bike ride in between. Early Monday morning, I loaded up the bike and took off on my hour drive to the other side of the Rio Grande Valley.
GLADYS PORTER ZOO
I got to the zoo early and found good parking in the gated area. With my bike locked up on the bike carrier, I took off to explore the zoo. The day was overcast so that helped keep the temperatures down a bit. I spent the morning walking around the zoo snapping photos and admiring the animals that they took care of. One thing that struck me is how they used the water from a stream to provide both a moat (for containment) and drinking water for the animals. Clearly, water played a big role at this zoo and they do a great job of managing it.
My favorite animal? It’s hard to say as I liked all of them. If I had to name one, I think I’d go with the Southern Greater Kudo. They exhibited a lot of curiosity and seemed genuinely interested in you. The other animals seemed indifferent to our presence.
By mid-day most of the animals (especially the primates) were in the snoozing in the shade stage and I felt it was time to ride the trails. I’d save the rest of the zoo for another trip.
PALO ALTO BATTLEFIELD TRAIL
The majority of the trail is an abandon rail road line that has been converted to a usable trail. It will take you on an eight-mile one-way trip to the national Park without having to ride on the street. What a pleasure that is! No cars to worry about, taking a lane or yelling out “Car back!”. At every major intersection there is a street crossing button to press to get the lights to change. The majority of the lights change quickly except for one busy intersection where you have to wait, but it will change.
The path is dotted with rest stops. Some have water and other don’t. I left my water bottle in the car where it does the most good. One of the rest stops is a bus terminal. It was there that I found a vending machine to fork out a bottle of water for $1.25. The trail flows right through a warehouse district where they used to use the train to load and unload goods. Further on out the trail runs through neighborhoods and crosses several water ways. I wish Mission had a river winding through it.
Going out even further you hit the outskirts of Brownsville and you start to get into a more rural country feel. You will still find rest stops out this far which is great to pull over for a breather. Some of the stops seemed to be victims of vandals. Tagging and physical destruction is typical but you can see that trail maintenance is being performed. You really can’t get away from that. There is always someone that wants to tear down what’s good and that’s unfortunate.
I know that there is a Bike Brigade of young kids that periodically goes out and does trail clean up. Thanks to their efforts, the trail is very clean and enjoyable. I didn’t see any signs of trash anywhere on it. That is something that every community should take note off. Why wait, or depend on the government to do something, when the citizens can do it themselves.
PALO ALTO BATTLEFIELD NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK
The entrance to the park (for those cycling or walking) is on the corner of Highway 550 and Paredes Line Road. You are greeted to a well-kept red paver stoned entrance with a huge black painted canon standing guard. There is a little paved trail that goes by the gated entrance and back into the park where you will find a large park building. Inside the park building you will find a lot of history about the battlefields and the events leading up the to the fight between Mexico and the United States. What strikes me the most were the uniforms that they wore in this south Texas heat!
Going out the back you will find a display of the different munitions used in the canons. All I can say, I’m glad I wasn’t around then when those were going off. Past the build there is a paved path that takes you out to the park and the rugged land that two armies fought over. The signs say that fallen solders from both sides are buried out there somewhere. If you go out there early in the morning, I’m sure you will catch a glimpse of the wildlife that call the park their home.
The ride home is the same trail that got me there. The bridge crossing over the railroad tracks to the port provides a nice scenic view of the country. I had the wind to my back going up there, so going back I now have it in my face. That’s ok with me. There one section where standing water covered a small portion of the trail but it’s nothing major. Rather it has a cooling effect in that hot day. I even saw sand crabs and lots of them in that section! I should have taken a picture or video. Something for next time I suppose.
Anyone wanting to do the ride I highly encourage you to do it. Completely off the city roads, plenty of rest stops, quick detours to restaurants for food, a zoo at one end and a Historic Park at the other end and nice scenery in between. What more could you ask for? I have a map of the route in the Cycling Routes section of my blog and it’s also on Google Maps under the Bicycle overlay. Brownsville has a gem of a trail, enjoy!