After spending time at Bentsen–Rio Grande Valley State Park, you’re likely to become obsessed with winged creatures. So don’t miss the National Butterfly Center, which is right down the road as the crow flies. Wander among patches of Gregg’s mistflower and seaside heliotrope as you look for a few of the 239 species that have been spotted there, then take the wandering “road” to what the center calls the “Back 70,” where you can see a beautiful stretch of the Rio Grande (and maybe surprise a camouflage-clad birder who has been sitting on the banks in his camp chair since dawn hoping to check a rare specimen off his bucket list).
About five miles east of Bentsen is La Lomita Chapel, a tiny sanctuary rich in history, its altar brightened with flickering veladoras and colorful silk flowers; mass is offered on Fridays at 6:55 a.m.
If you head south from there on FM 494, toward Granjeno, you’ll come upon two of my favorite park-adjacent discoveries, El Vaquero’s Hangout, in the shadow of the Anzalduas International Bridge, and Cabrera’s (a.k.a. the Junk Yard Bar), both of which are frequented largely by retirees living their best lives, drinking bottles of beer served in actual plastic buckets full of ice and dancing and singing along to “I’m much too young to feel this damn old.”
It’s a bit of a drive, but if you lack the desire to camp, McAllen’s Spanish-style Casa de Palmas, opened in 1918, has more charm and character than the run-of-the-mill hotels and motels that surround it, from its courtyard shaded by a giant African kigelia (sausage tree) to its inviting pool, whose lights change disco-like from blue to pink to purple. If you do stay in McAllen, don’t miss a meal at stylish Salomé on Main (see “The Best New Restaurants in Texas for 2020”), whose ceviche with jackfruit and yuca chips and empanadas stuffed with mushrooms and rajas con queso are about as far from hot dogs and s’mores as you can imagine.
This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Texas Monthly. Subscribe today.