What is it like to be retired? There is a difference in being retired and in slowing down. Most of the people who come to the Rio Grande Valley for the winter are not really retired, they have just slowed down. They are sometimes even more active here than they are back home. They keep busy helping their neighbor, giving back to the community, doing volunteer work at their church or pitching in as they help to prepare meals at the RV parks where they stay. And they do this until it warms up back home. Their minds are just as eager to learn as they always were.
Since it is said that our Rio Grande Valley is a world unto itself, most of the Winter Texans want to learn more about “our world”. But as soon as it warms up, the itchy foot wants to put the petal to the metal and head for home. Some even leave too early and are caught in a snowstorm in route. Just because the farmers are planting in the Rio Grande Valley doesn’t mean it is planting time back home. Stay a little longer, folks, we enjoy having you here!
Wherever you may be, the best way to learn about any area is to take a guided, narrated tour. If you are from a farming area, the Farm Tour, the King Ranch Tour and especially the King Ranch Farm Tour are highly recommended. If you are planning on taking a Farm Tour or a King Ranch Farm Tour, it does become important to watch the fields. Planting time comes early for us in the Rio Grande Valley - generally around mid-February.
On the King Ranch, they actually take the temperature of the soil - and when the soil reaches the right temperature, then it is time to plant. Now, that’s down to a real science. Farming on the King Ranch is just a bit different than what most of us can imagine.
As you drive through the King Ranch Farm area, look to the right of the road. The furrows stretch for three miles. Look to the left, the furrows stretch for three miles. Mind boggling! Not only are the rows long, they are as straight as can be. No doubt the driver that laid out those rows was equipped with instruments that kept the rows even and straight.
No such equipment existed in earlier times. Old timers didn’t much admire anyone who couldn’t plow straight. A favorite saying among farmers about someone who wasn’t worth his salt was “He can’t even plow a straight row”.
The road through the field leads to a state-of-the-art cotton gin. Although the gin won’t be in operation during the winter, the experienced King Ranch guide will tell you in detail how the gin operates. If we are lucky, we will see a huge mound of grain inside a large storage shed. Yes, they rotate their crops just like all good farmers do. One year, one field is planted in cotton, the other in grain. Next year, crops are reversed - the cotton field becomes a grain field and the grain field becomes a cotton field.
There is a lot of history to be told about the King Ranch - in fact, on the tour you will hear about some “firsts” that occurred on the King Ranch. The King Ranch Tour includes the Historical Tour on the 12-mile loop road that runs through the ranch, plus the Henrietta Memorial Museum and the Bar-B-Que lunch that, weather permitting, will be served in the Cesar Kleberg Camp House. It is said that the cowboys spent their last night in the Camp House before heading out on the cattle drive to take the cattle to market.
You might say that the King Ranch Farm Tour is an enhanced King Ranch Tour. The extras are the tour to the Farm and the tour to the Feed Lot. At the Feed Lot you will see where beef are being fattened up before they are sold. What a contrast to the cattle you saw on the 12-mile loop road.
There seems to be two types of herds on the King Ranch - those beautiful thoroughbreds you saw as we drove through the Ranch and the ordinary looking cattle at the Feed Lot. The thoroughbreds are mainly raised and sold for breeding and the ordinary cattle are sold and butchered for the meat market.
Whatever tour you take - be it the King Ranch, the King Ranch Farm Tour or a regular Farm Tour - you will learn a lot about the Rio Grande Valley. They are educational and fun days.
See you soon!