Exploring the Rio Grande Valley on a Bike

Cycling this year has been different for me. Aside from the usual bike routes, I have started to venture out and explore the Valley on my bike. It started when I passed up a road that I’ve never been on that was going through resurfacing. Passing it several times on my outings I always wondered where it led to. I knew it was in the general vicinity of a 900 year old tree but I never knew exactly where it was. It wasn’t until one day, when I was doing my usual route, that I noticed that the road was finished and open to traffic. On the way back I decided to make that turn and go look for that old tree. It was then that I began exploring the Rio Grande Valley on my bike.

So far it has been fun riding places to check things out. Sometimes I go by myself and other times I create an event on Facebook and invite others to join me. Many cyclists go out riding for either speed or distance. They get their workout in and hang up the bike until next time. Others ride the same route over and over until there is a rut on the road. Don’t get me wrong I’m just as guilty, but lately I want to explore other routes. I check the Strava Heat Maps and look to see where people are riding. I look for those lesser known routes that I can go out and see for myself, what is out there?

So far I’ve gone to see a 900+ year old Montezuma Bald Cypress tree that I heard about through the grapevine. Some of my friends have been to it, but I have never made the trip to view it with my own two eyes. I was stuck in that rut like the majority of people here and couldn’t see myself going there. The tree tends to catch on fire with visits and then things settle down and it goes back into obscurity until the next discovery by a new batch of cyclists. Currently, I’m the new batch. I shout its praises and take who ever wants to see it.

Next came the old town of Penitas. It’s a little further down the road on Abrams past the tree. Penitas is one of those little towns that if you blinked you passed it. That’s the bad thing about driving, you tend to pass things up. This is an old town that has survived the ages. Settled in 1520 it is the oldest city in the United States. Penitas is Spanish for “small stones”. There is a lot of history there of exploration and colonization from Spain.

Abrams road is a fantastic newly resurfaced road with shoulders that turns into old military road and parallels the expressway (or should I say the expressway parallels military road since military road was there first). This is perfect for cyclists traveling in that area as it’s a good way to travel from town to town without getting on the expressway. You really get to see more of the countryside on this route. Lots of farms and wildlife preserves with small communities dotting the route. Following this route will take you to Abrams, Penitas, and La Joya. Shortly after La Joya the road turns into a caliche (dirt) road to Sullivan City.

Recently, a fellow cyclist and good friend made a trip to see the Los Ebanos Ferry (south of Sullivan City). What’s so great about a ferry you ask? Well it’s the only hand drawn ferry between Mexico and the United States. That’s right, hand drawn or pulled. There is a rope that is anchored on the US side to a huge Ebony tree and stretches across the Rio Grande River over to Mexico. The ferry operators use that rope to pull, by hand, the barge across the river. As a result, only three vehicles and foot traffic can cross at any given time. My friend, Letty and her riding partner are like me, explorers. They took the off beaten path and went exploring the area for new sights and sounds.

I thought that was a neat place to go check out. Although Letty didn’t get to see the Ferry, that didn’t stop us from creating an event and rounding up some cycling friends to make our own trip. It was a good 40+ mile round trip with excellent weather. What a site to see that old barge in operation. Not only did we get to see it we also took a ride on it! Two dollars later we were on it on our way to Mexico!

Once on the other side we were not sure what to do. Turn around and take the ferry back or press on to the town nearby for some tacos. After talking to the Mexican officials we decided to press on. We rode on over to the nearby town and although we didn’t find any tacos we did find some pastry treats. On our way back to the ferry we did stop at a street vendor and got our tacos from them. Great homemade food.

Another treat down Abrams/Military road is over in La Joya that I never knew existed is Rancho El Charco. El Charco is a 150 acre ranch / event center that has picnic tables along Walter Lake, a Restaurant, three swimming holes and many different exotic animals. Some people have heard of it before and other cyclists have not. After another event was created on Facebook, we had a ride over there to celebrate the end of summer. We did pick up some new cyclists for the ride and lost others due to other last-minute conflicts.

Going further West there are places that I’d like to cycle to such as Rio Grande City, Roma and Falcon State Park. These could be day or over night trips. Rio Grande City has the Fort Ringgold history while Roma was a steamboat port of trade. Who knows. I might find other places to check out while I’m there.

Going East towards Brownsville has many other destinations to visit. Numerous state parks, old towns, farms, civil war sites and battle fields during the Mexican-American war. In fact, it was my cycling friend, Letty, that has opened my eyes to the eastern part of the Rio Grande Valley. She has cycled that area before and has posted a lot of pictures from her cycling travels. These are sites that you have probably passed by in your car and didn’t even notice. On bike, you have the time to notice things you swear were not there when you drove. That is the beauty of cycling, discovering things you missed while zipping by in your car.

So, yes, the Valley does offer a lot to explore by biking. The terrain is relatively flat with good roads to travel on. The weather can be pleasant during the Spring and Fall seasons. Very doable during the mild winter months. the Summer months can be a scorcher with 100+ degree (Fahrenheit) during the day, but if you travel in the early mornings you will be fine. You are limited to going West, North and East due to the proximity to the border with Mexico but that offers a lot of farm-to-market roads to choose from. There is plenty to see, you just need to conquer your fears or perceptions of traveling on those roads or locals.

12 thoughts on “Exploring the Rio Grande Valley on a Bike

  1. I think you are on to something. Exploring is great on a bike where you can go slow enough to soak it all in if you want. I do that sometimes and like you am surprised at what I see.

    • Yes exploring is fun and you get the exercise too. I’m finding that a small group of us like to get off those well beat’n routes and go off in a different direction. What get’s to me is that other cyclist don’t like doing that. They ride their choice of 2-3 routes and that’s it! I ask why they don’t go find new routes and the number one response is that “it’s not safe”. It boggles my mind to think that cycling in the city is safer than cycling the farm-to-market roads. Oh well, more roads for us 🙂

  2. Boy, am I with you on this! I love to visit new areas on my bike. Problem is, I have to drive to get out of Austin to see new places — otherwise, I spend too much time on the same ol’ city streets I’ve ridden on too often. Your ferry ride looked like a lot of fun.

    • Oh yes, that ferry trip was a blast for everyone. I think that was the highlight of the summer other than my trip to SA and Austin a few weekends ago with a friend of mine.

  3. Thanks for sharing and I totally agree with you. In early August I went to Brownsville to visit family. I was finally able to ride the bike/jogging trail. I took some very nice pictures along the way, especially downtown and at the Palo Alto historical site. Next time I go, I want to try another route. I try to explore here in SA but like you say, we get into our rut.

    • Edgar, I go to SA a lot. What are you favorite long routes over there? I’ve introduced some of my friends to both the Mission Reach trail and the Leon Creek Greenbelt. Now I’m looking for new places to ride.

      • There is the Hwy 471 ride to Castroville which is 33 miles. I start at the Exxon on 471/Culebra before Hwy 211 and ride to Castroville along Hwy 471. It’s mostly flat but the ride can be windy sometimes. In Castroville I stop at a Shell gas station and next door there is a bakery which is very good.

        Another favorite is a ride I do with a group once in a while. It’s called the Missions Ride. We start at the Blue Star brewery and ride towards Braunig Lake. You actually ride past Braunig Lake. You also ride past the Ghost Tracks. This one is about 33 miles too but you can add another loop to make it 40. If you want to do only 20, the rest stop is at the Shell gas station next to I-37 and you can return from there.

        The first Saturday in December the Missions to Missions Ride will be held. It’s a nice ride and they have several routes.

        If you want to test your lungs, there’s Scenic Loop ride. You start in Helotes and ride Scenic Loop road to either Leon Springs about 20 or Boerne about 30. I lost a lung last year on this route. 🙁

        There’s the Salado Creek trail. I haven’t tried this one yet.

        My favorite though is Leon Creek. 🙂

        • A friend of mine and I were in SA not long ago over at trail head for the Leon Creek Greenbelt trail on the Anderson Loop and one of her friends mentioned the scenic ride. We had no idea what he was talking about but I’m pretty sure he was talking about the Scenic Loop that you mentioned. From what I’ve been looking at, it looks like a straight out and back from Helotes. I was hoping for a big loop around the Rancho Diana Park but there doesn’t appear to be a safe way of doing it.

          The other ride to Braunig lake looks interesting. Google maps don’t show any bike routes out that way. If you have routes that I can look at that would be great!

          • I had never seen Rancho Diana. We’ve done a ride that we start at the Leon Creek Trialhead on 1604 then take 1604 W to Babcock Road then up to Scenic Loop then down to Helotes, then take BAndera Road to FM1560 and FM1560 to 1604 and 1604 back to the Trailhead. It’s about 20 ish miles. Babcock is closed right now so some people take Kyle Seale up to Babcock. And I mean UP to Babcock.

            I’ll send you some routes. The Braunig/Missions to Missions ride is popular with many riders.

          • Ranco Dianna park is in between Scenic Loop and Kyle Seale. I saw the Kyle road while I was looking for a circular route but wasn’t sure if it was safe to ride on. I could take the Kyle road south to Sonoma Pkwy then west on 1560 (W Hausman Rd) to Bandera Rd to complete the loop. I’m not sure of 1560 … google street view doesnt give me confidence that it’s safe to ride on, even for that short distance to Bandera rd.

            Sounds good on the Braunig ride.

          • Kyle Seale is safe. It doesn’t have a lot of traffic. FM1560 is ok. I would ride it early before traffic picks up.

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