Several weeks ago a friend of mine, Letty, rode her bike to go see the Los Ebanos ferry. Although she couldn’t see it due to customs blocking the view it did spark something in me. I want to go and see it myself. After talking about it we decided that we would go one weekend and cross over to Mexico for a taco and a Coke. Well, one-thing led to another and we decided to open it up and make it a public event and invited our Facebook friends to join us.
What all the commotion over a ferry ride? A little background on it. The Los Ebanos Ferry is the only hand-pulled ferry on the Rio Grande River between Mexico and the US. The barge has been operational since the 1950’s and it is anchored to a large ebony tree. Since the ferry is hand-pulled, only three cars can cross at a time. Three cars and foot traffic that is. Here is what the Historical Marker at the site says (note, you can no longer go up and read the marker):
This is an ancient ford. The first recorded usage was by Spanish explorers and colonists under Jose de Escandon in the 1740’s on the Rio Grande. A salt trail led from here to El Sal del Rey (40 mi. NE). The ford was used by Mexican War troops, 1846, by Texas Rangers chasing cattle rustlers, 1874, by smugglers in many eras, especially during the American prohibition years, 1920’s and 30’s. The ferry and inspection station were established in 1950. Named for the ebony trees here, this is known as the only government licensed, hand-pulled ferry on any boundary of the United States.
This ferry has been in our back yard ever since we have lived here and we have never seen it before. We have a nice route that we can bicycle out to it and make it a nice 40 mile ride. So why not go and spend a half day with friends on an adventure to the ferry and for those that can, take a ferry ride crossing the Rio Grande River over to Mexico.
With invitations sent on Facebook, we collared 11 riders for the event including someone to SAG the ride. Great! Riders of all skill ranges joined Letty and I for the tour that day.
The ride started at 6:30 am to avoid the heat and have a pleasant day cycling. The route took us West of Mission along Business 83 where we eventually turned on Abrams Road. Abrams road goes for about 2-3 miles before curving to the right and becomes old military road. Abrams and Old Military road as been recently resurfaced with smooth asphalt and shoulders on each side which makes a really nice ride out in the country with ranch and farm land to provide the scenery.
Along this route is the 900 Year Old Tree. We decided to visit the tree on the way back as a treat for those that have never seen it.
Onwards we pressed until we reached our rest stop at the back-end of Walter Lake. Walter Lake is a private lake in La Joya that is enclosed in a gated community. There is no way in unless you are visiting someone there. You really can’t see the lake from the road either, but at this stop you can. You have to climb to the top of canal inlet, that feeds water to the lake, to get a view of it at a distance. Why is this lake private? I wish I knew. Seems like a waste of recreational resource for the Valley.
After this stop, we pressed on until old military road ends (turns into a dirt road) and we have to detour through La Joya to get to the express way. The express way is not all that bad with it wide shoulders. I did spot a Wildlife Management track of land that was actually open to the public. I’ll have to go back and check it out at a later time.
After a few mile we make our turn towards the border and to Sullivan City and finally Los Ebanos. Los Ebanos is a small community with many streets that zig-zag around. Luckily Letty has been here before and she guided us to the border crossing.
The Border Crossing
Was I ever surprised when we got the border crossing. I envisioned a small shack next to the river with a lone border custom’s official. Was I ever wrong. There is a complete border crossing with buildings, lanes, custom officials and a long line of cars waiting to cross!
Not knowing what to do we pulled up behind the cars like everyone else and started to wait. A woman in the Jeep in front of us asked if we were going to cross and after learning that we were she said that we didn’t have to wait but to cut to the front and cross as if we were pedestrians. What a time saver that was. She got the award for the Best Tip of the Day!
After moving to the front of the line a few members of the group opted not to cross because they didn’t have any form of ID with them. The rest of us had either their passports or drivers license. The plan was to cross on the ferry and turn around and cross
back. For $2 that seemed like a good plan.
After walking down the embankment we had to wait until they loaded up the three vehicles first then the pedestrians (and our bikes) could board. The ride was smooth as several men pulled the ferry across using the rope that stretches across the river. A sudden jolt was the signal that we made it across. The ferry crew were very friendly and wished us well as we departed.
Once on the other side we had to decide what we were going to do. Do we turn around and hop on the ferry the next interval or do we press on to the small town in Mexico. Not sure what to do, two members of the group went up to the Mexican customs personnel and asked some questions. A few minutes later they arrived back and told us that we are okay to proceed with no issues. With big smiles on our faces we hopped on our bikes and gave our best “Gracias” as we rode on through.
Cycling in Mexico
The road in Mexico was like any other road here in the US. Small country road that passed by farm lands and at some points you could see the river as it winds it way westward.
The town of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz is a small community with a population of roughly 15k. It was a quiet Saturday morning when we rolled in with a few residents peeking out the doors to see what was happening. Within two blocks we arrived at a large plaza with a gazebo at the center. The place was deserted except for a few people at a church in the corner. We were in the mood for taco’s and after surveying the area we found a little store that we could check out.
Bingo! No tacos but the owner had treats called Gansito El Pastelito. It’s a chocolate covered pastry with a fruit filling in the shape of Twinkies. Best of all they are cold! Not bad for 50 cents. After downing our treats, chatting and the photo sessions it was time to head back.
When we arrived at the border crossing on the Mexican side we were still in need of tacos for fuel for the ride back. The vendor that was selling tacos was still there so we paid him and his family a visit to load up on tacos for us and for those that didn’t cross. Four potato tacos for $2 and another $2 for large water bottles hit the spot just right.
At this point we waited for the ferry to come back to Mexico bring its load of three vehicles and anyone walking. By the time it unloaded we noticed that one of the vehicles was the same Jeep that told us to cut in line when we first arrived! Wow, it took that long or her to finally make it across the river.
On the US side we had to go through Customs and present our Passports or any other form of ID that we had. Even though most of us didn’t have passports they still let us through with just a Drivers License. It did take longer to clear us and they did give us pamphlets on how to apply for a passport and sent us on our way.
Past Custom we met up with the SAG and the two others that didn’t cross and shared the tacos with them and exchanged stories of what we saw and did in Mexico. It was exciting to see that everyone was having a good time on this tour.
The Ride Back
Our journey back is the same route we took getting out there. The wind was in our face and that slowed down the pace for everyone along with the heat of the sun. The group was starting to splinter so I stayed back with the slower group and caught up at the rest stop under a tree.
The 900 year old tree was close by and I was looking for the entrance to the levee to head over to it. After finding the right ramp we road a little ways on dirt road to find he right Border Gate. When someone see the tree for the first you can see the “Wow” factor on their face. It never fails to impress them on the sheer size, age and the fact that the tree is still alive! I would guess that it takes 6-7 people holding hands to form a ring around the trunk of the tree.
The ride home was hot, windy and slow going but we arrived at the end, everyone had a smile on their face with excitement in the air for the next ride. As far as I can tell, mission accomplished.
One thing to note about the ride over to the ferry. This being along the border with Mexico we saw a lot of Border Patrol, DPS (State Police) and some county Sheriff patrol vehicles along with an occasional helicopter and the Border Patrol Blimp in Penitas. Couldn’t have been safer on the road with the large presence.
The Valley has a lot to offer especially on a bike. Many cyclists do the club rides, going on the same routes, ride-after-ride and never venture out of their comfort zone. This one ride encompassed two or three attractions in a different part of the valley that they have never ridden before and hopefully will encourage them to continue to explore the Valley on a bicycle.
For fun I created a small video of the ride.