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Borderland Paradise: Del Rio, Texas

May 3, 2024 Texas, Member Spotlight

One of the best-kept secrets in Texas is the vibrant border town of Del Rio, an outdoor oasis near the crystal blue and often emerald, green waters of Lake Amistad.

Del Rio has a rich food, music, and art heritage and may be a hidden gem to some Texas visitors, but the area is well-known to boating, hunting, and fishing folks who flock to the Amistad National Recreation Area, many angling for the big trophy-size largemouth bass in one of the top bass lakes in the world.

Gateway To West Texas on Beautiful Lake Amistad

This Gateway to West Texas is the county seat for Val Verde County. Del Rio is located on the Texas-Mexico border, midway between Padre Island and Big Bend National Park. Del Rio is 154 miles West of San Antonio and 144 miles South of San Angelo.

“Despite being in a semi-desert location, Del Rio is an oasis with San Felipe Springs flowing 150 million gallons of pure water per day through creeks and canals throughout the city. Additionally, the city is eight miles south of Amistad National Recreation Area, which surrounds Lake Amistad, a huge lake formed by the Rio Grande, Pecos River, and Devils River and with 850 miles of shoreline,” says the Del Rio Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau.

With visibility up to 50 feet and home to numerous species of bass, Lake Amistad (co-owned by Mexico and the U.S.) is home to more than 50 major fishing tournaments each year.

The Del Rio area has a population of just over 50,000 residents, and the area may look and sound familiar to movie fans as films from John Wayne’s “The Alamo” to the Cohen Brothers “No Country For Old Men” to iconic novel and miniseries “Lonesome Dove” have made Del Rio the setting for its stories.

Water was Key to Del Rio’s History and Growth

Del Rio’s establishment is tied closely to water, according to the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA).

“The developments that led to the growth of Del Rio, however, took place after the Civil War. In the arid vastness of Southwest Texas, water was the key to survival; in the vicinity of Del Rio the San Felipe Springs provided millions of gallons,” says the TSHA handbook. “A number of developers acquired several thousand acres adjacent to San Felipe Creek and developed plans to sell small tracts of rich farmland to prospective buyers.”

The San Felipe Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Irrigation Company was formed in 1868 and completed a network of irrigation canals three years later. The area was originally referred to as San Felipe del Rio.

“Local lore says that the name came from early Spanish explorers who offered a Mass at the site on St. Philip's Day, 1635,” says theTSHA handbook.

The United States Post Office requested the name be shortened to Del Rio after opening a post office in 1883 to avoid confusion with San Felipe de Austin.

Del Rio became the Val Verde County seat in 1885. From its earliest years, Del Rio has always been home to military installations such as military camps and in World War II Laughlin Field was opened for pilot training.

Sheep and goat ranching in the early years made the area a focal point of the wool and mohair industry.

Del Rio was finally incorporated as a town in 1911. Population growth was slow and steady until the 1970s which saw a 40 percent boom, thanks in part to Lake Amistad opening in 1969.

Del Rio is a Vibrant Community

While Del Rio offers a lot for visitors – with events coming up this fall such as the Monarch Butterfly Festival (Oct. 19), Border Bull Mania (Nov. 9-10), and Border Bass Battle (Nov. 16) – the area is also a vibrant community where residents celebrate and gather at events such as the:

  • Annual Miss 4th of July Pageant at the Del Rio Civic Center and 4th of July Live Entertainment at Dr. Alfredo Guiterrez Amphitheater.
  • Fiesta of Flight celebration each March at Laughlin Air Force Base, the community’s largest employer.
  • Movie Nights at Rotary Pocket Park from May to October.
  • Miss Del Rio Pageant every January.
  • Annual Lighting of the Tree in December in Greenwood Park and the Wild Game Dinner and Gun Raffle.

Del Rio has been a Texas Main Street City since 2002, actively supporting the expansion of the downtown economic base by assisting in recruiting more businesses downtown. The Main Street Program currently has 80+ businesses listed.

Planning Your Getaway to Del Rio

Del Rio is a great place for a long weekend or an extended stay. Here are some things to put on your getaway trip to the area:

  • Amistad National Recreation Area: Amistad – whose name comes from the Spanish word meaning friendship – is known for its crystal-blue water and boating, paddling, fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, rock art viewing, and its rich cultural history. The recreation area is home to a wide variety of plant and animal life above and below the water.

  • The Whitehead Memorial Museum: This small pioneer village in the heart of Del Rio will delight visitors of all ages. This museum was established in 1962 in the old Perry Mercantile Building to preserve the historical and tangible artifacts that reflect the early history, cultures, and economics of Del Rio and Val Verde County. The museum has grown to include 19 buildings and over 30 exhibit sites spread across two acres.

  • Laughlin AFB Heritage Museum: This museum was founded in 1983 to educate the public about the importance of air power in sustaining the national security of the United States, and to preserve the heritage of Laughlin Air Force Base. Don’t miss the fascinating artifacts on U2 high-flying surveillance plans – made famous for their role in the Cuban Missile Crisis -- which were based at one time at Laughlin.

  • Casa de la Cultura: This community group hosts a variety of eclectic events to celebrate the community’s cultural heritage, such as the Cinco de Mayo Pachanga in the Patio, Calaveras Y Calacas, and our Christmas Posada y Tamalada. Seasonal events include a Summer Concert/Noches Musicales and monthly First Friday Arts with exhibits from artists from all over the U.S. and Mexico. You can also take a bike or walking tour of 20+ colorful murals around Del Rio.

  • San Felipe Springs: The fourth largest springs in Texas is located on the outskirts of Del Rio. There are a group of ten or more springs that extend for over a mile along San Felipe Creek on the grounds of the San Felipe Country Club and on several ranches to the north. The springs were first visited by Europeans in 1590. Swimming holes at Horseshoe Park and Lions Park are very popular cooling-off spots.

  • Val Verde Winery: This winery pays tribute to family, tradition, and quality and lays claim to being the oldest continuously running winery in Texas – having been established in 1883 by Italian immigrant Frank Qualia. When he arrived in Del Rio, he found Lenoir grapes and founded the winery. After his death in 1936, his youngest son, Louis Qualia, took over the vineyards, who in turn passed the winery to his youngest son, Thomas, in 1973. Today, the winery is operated by fourth-generation vintner Michael Qualia.

  • Day Trips: There are plenty of day trips with Del Rio as your base including Seminole Canyon State Park, Devils Sinkhole State Natural Area, Devils River State Natural Area, Kickapoo Caverns Natural Area, Witte Museum White Shaman Rock Art Tours, the Pecos High Bridge on U.S. Highway 90 at Pecos River and the Judge Roy Bean Visitors Center in Langtry.

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