Editor’s note: the US national parks system is truly diverse, ranging from awe-inspiring beauty to a more subtle wonder, like in this view of Amistad National Recreation Area by Christian, our resident national parks expert. For more of his experiences, click here to visit his index page.
The Amistad National Recreation Area lies along the dry banks of the Amistad Reservoir. The reservoir is in the Rio Grande River, which delineates the border of the United States and Mexico. The nearest town is the quiet city of Del Rio, Texas. Del Rio is in an area along the American southern border that Texans call the “Borderlands.” I can confidently say that the Borderlands are unlike any other place I’ve ever been. The Borderlands are an amazingly multicultural place where you’re as likely to hear Spanish as you are to hear English being spoken in the local bodega.
The official 2019 census count for Del Rio was 35,760, with fully 23.1% reported on the census as being “foreign born persons.” For comparison, I live in Portland where “foreign born persons” represent only 13.5%. NPR recently published a story in which a rancher described the area as “another country — that’s what this borderland is all about. It is not the United States, and it is not Mexico. It is a transitional land.” I definitely agree. The buildings have an architecture that mixes colors that are popular in Mexican towns with suburban strip malls. I highly recommend seeing it at some point in your life. The buildings in Del Rio tend to be low and stucco. It’s a small, but still somehow sprawling town. It was 95 degrees when I was there in March, and the heat was a unique type that I (a Portlander) found especially oppressive.
Amistad National Recreation Area has some camping spots that only cost $10/night, and each one comes with a picnic table and covered seating area. Even so, we didn’t camp. I mentioned it was almost 100 degrees, right? Even with the covered area, there isn’t much shade. The sun somehow seems to come from every direction. The only trees here are low gnarly ones that don’t provide any shade. The little brown shrubs that choke the desert floor also don’t provide any shade – just great hiding spots for jackrabbits, quail, geckos, and the snakes that eat them. The river is a beautiful spot to spend a few hours and swim if you’ve got sunscreen. I certainly also recommend some type of water shoe or something; the parched earth here is just as sharp and pokey as it is hot.
You can drive to the northern end of the park to get to the Pecos area. There’s a fishing spot here, and even a fish cleaning station for visitors to use. There are some short walking trails if you’re there in the right weather. The interpretive signs will point out the succulents (lots of ocotillos), and tell you that the red cactus flowers you see are pitaya. Whether you walk along the trails, or drive through the park, you’ll see the 100 million year-old Devils River Limestone. The Pecos river is well below the ground level because the Pecos River has, over time, cut 300 feet down through solid rock. The Pecos River starts up in New Mexico, and ends here as it drains into the Rio Grande. If you take the walking trail, the cliffs you’re walking on are in the United States, and the cliffs you look at across the river are Mexico.
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