Santa Ana NWR, Sabal Palms and the Border Fence

As day dawned on my last full day at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, I discovered that I was totally exhausted. I had dragged myself out of bed at 4:30 a.m. for three days in a row, and I was not able to do it one more day. I decided to take a drive to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Located on the banks of the Rio Grande, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful 2,080-acre nature preserve.

Because I was tired from days of birding, I took the tram tour around the refuge. Although the noise of the tram drove most of the birds into the trees, we did get to view areas that most people do not travel to on foot.

An old cemetery on the refuge, Santa Ana Cemetery, is still visible. It is partly enclosed by the original hand carved ebony fence. There are approximately thirty graves and a tomb built of hand crafted bricks.

Entrance to the Cementerio Viejo

As we walked through this entrance arch, we saw and heard several Great Kiskadees calling. Although they followed us for quite some time, I was never able to get a clear photo of any of them.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

A view of Santa Ana Cemetery

There is a caption of the plaque at the foot of the large cross which reveals an interesting bit of Texas history about the drowning of Thomas Walter Jones, a surveyor born in 1827 and drowned during a river flood on July 23, 1858 following the treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo in 1848.

Santa Ana Cemetery

Plaque commemorating the death of Thomas Walter Jones.

We were able to walk down to the Rio Grande. I was anxious to see the Rio Grande in South Texas, because it is the same river that flows near my house many miles to the north. The vegetation along the Rio is different, but the river looks very much the same.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

The Rio Grande in South Texas.

As we walked near the Rio Grande, we saw a crossing where undocumented workers from Mexico cross into the US.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

River Crossing

And this brings me to the border fence. I had never seen the border fence until I went to South Texas. I had always thought that it was a terrible idea and most likely an unworkable plan. After seeing it I know that both of those things are true. The border fence is clearly putting money in some people’s pockets, and that seems to be about all it is accomplishing. The local residents with whom I spoke were very unhappy about the border fence.

One problem is that the border fence is not built along the border, but often several miles inland. This leaves many areas trapped in a no-man’s-land between the fence and the border. Such was the case with several important birding and conservation areas, including Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary. An interesting article on the effect of the border fence on several important areas and on the Sabal Palms themselves can be found on the Nature Conservancy Blog.

Another problem is that the border fence is not a single fence, but rather a series of fence sections. Sabal Palm was closed for over a year, in part because of uncertainty over the border fence. Visitors now enter by driving through a gap in the fence. Amy Hooper took this excellent photo of the fence:

Sabal Palm Audubon Refuge

Border Fence by Amy Hooper (used with permission)

Spanish explorers called the river the Rio de las Palmas long before it was called the Rio Grande in the United States and the Rio Bravo in Mexico. They used the palm forest at the mouth of the river as a landmark as they sailed along the Gulf Coast. In those days, dense groves of Sabal Palms were found along the river up to 80 miles inland. Today the last stands of Sabal Palms are confined to a tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Sabal Palms Audubon Sanctuary and the Nature Conservancy’s Southmost Preserve. All three of those areas are now behind the border fence. Although there is access through gaps in the fence, many trees were sacrificed or moved when the fence was built.

Sabal Palm Audubon Refuge

Sabal Palms

Whatever your political beliefs, you should see the border fence and judge its potential for both effectiveness and harm for yourself.

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Filed under Rio Grande Birding Festival, Texas bird photography

5 responses to “Santa Ana NWR, Sabal Palms and the Border Fence

  1. Cindy

    The border fence is indeed a travesty..a monument to stupidity..This is an important post..thanks for giving me a glimpse..even tho’ it is painful!

    • Thanks Cindy. It was a painful thing to see and a painful subject to write about, but I did think it was important to let people see what I saw. Although I live in New Mexico, most of our southern border is with Texas. This was the first time I was smacked in the face with the horrid reality. I wish that everyone could see the reality of the situation.

  2. Donna M. Simonetti

    Thanks for this post Linda. We have serious rio & wildlife (& of course human) issues such as this in El Paso, Texas too because of the wall(s). Living only 35 minutes from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico it’s awful to see it firsthand. Some politicians should be ashamed of themselves. Wonderful photos btw.

    • This was the first time I had seen it firsthand. I was truly horrified. Reading about it does not even begin to prepare you for actually seeing it. It’s truly a travesty. The people of the US are being sold a dreadful lie. I wish that everyone could see it for themselves in order to realize what a total political boondoggle it is.

  3. I hope that everyone will read the blog that Donna Simonetti referenced: It’s excellent!

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