The Rio Grande Valley's Nature Site

Photos of The Valley Nature Center

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The Valley Nature Center in Weslaco is easy to get to.  From the west, take Expressway-83 east towards Weslaco, and exit south onto Westgate.  Go south on Westgate past the football stadium and across the RR tracks to Bus.-83.  Turn left (east) on Bus.-83, get in the right lane and go to the next traffic light, which is Border Ave.  Turn right (south) on Border Ave. and go just a short distance and turn left (east) into Gibson Park and the Valley Nature Center.

From the east, take Expressway-83, exit south onto FM-88/Texas Blvd and go south across the RR tracks to Bus.83.  Turn right (west) onto Bus.83, go west to the Border Ave. traffic light and turn left (south) onto Border Ave.  Go just a short distance and turn left (east) into Gibson Park and the Valley Nature Center.

From the south at US-281/Military Highway, turn north onto FM-1015/International Blvd. at Progreso or turn north onto FM-88/Texas Blvd.  Take either FM north to Weslaco to 18th St. and turn left (west) on 18th St.  Go to Border Ave. and turn right (north) on Border Ave.  Take Border Ave. north and turn right (east) into Gibson Park and the Valley Nature Center.

Of all of the wonderful wildlife watching sites in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, the Valley Nature Center is at the top of our favorites list.  For more years than I want to count, we had been coming and staying in Weslaco and beginning our search for birds and butterflies at the Valley Nature Center.  After moving to the Valley, we still try to get to the VNC as often as possible.

The Valley Nature Center has a wonderful history; visit the VNC and the Staff will tell you all about it.  The 6 acre site is leased by the Valley Nature Center from the City of Weslaco.  November, 2009, is the 25th Anniversary of the Valley Nature Center.

To quote VNC's Director, Martin Hagne:  "The nature park...consists of six acres of recreated Mid-delta Thorn Forest, a biotic community of the Tamaulipan Mezquital Ecoregion.  Features of the park include small ponds, about one mile of nature trails, wildlife feeding stations, and both butterfly and cactus gardens.  These attributes, combined with the park's extensive native plant cover, make it a haven for area wildlife."  And a haven it is.

The excellent Staff has taught many tens of thousands of students about nature and the environment, as well as the importance of preserving and protecting wildlife and their habitats.  No other nature-related site in the Lower Rio Grande Valley has touched as many young people as has the VNC.

Most exciting is that next year the VNC will be building "a new Nature Center faciility to house a state-of-the-art interpretive exhibit hall, classrooms, meeting facilities, nature store and operations.  It will be a LEED's certified green building".

The Valley Nature Center's physical address is 301 S. Border Ave., Weslaco, TX 78596.  Phone no: 956-969-2475.

Hours: Monday-Closed; Tuesday-Friday 9:00 am-5 pm; Saturday 8:00 am-5:00pm; Sunday 1:00 pm-5:00pm.


Kids love to crawl inside the turtle's shell to see what its like to be a turtle.


Kids can see live frogs, snakes, fish, turtles and tortoises, all from the Lower Rio Grande Valley.


Live specimens are everywhere.


Labeled animal tracks from LRGV critters can be found all over the floor. EVERYTHING in the Valley Nature Center is designed to provide unique educational opportunites for kids.


Adults can always learn something new at the VNC, too.  Wander around and discover what is here.  I am always drawn to the Texas Indigo Snake-Drymarchon corais erebennus.  It is always fun to get an up-close look at these beautiful endangered snakes.


Excellent wood carvings and taxidermed specimens of Valley birds are displayed throughout the VNC.  It is amazing how the creative Staff have been able to cram so much interpretive material in such a small space.

It is so fantastic that the Valley Nature Center will get a new building...and space.


The songs and calls of North American birds are always continually being heard in the background, along with their videos.  Videos of the LRGV butterflies are always playing.


Skulls, skins and just about everything you can imagine that can entice a child to want to find out more about his environment and the world around him, are here.


Kids love the mother Bobcat and her kitten.  All animal specimens displayed at the VNC were salvaged from road-kills and dead found specimens, not hunted species.  Proper State and Federal permits were used to salvage the specimens.  It is so neat that these were collected and preserved to help kids see up close what creatures can be found in the LRGV.


Books and toys and stickers for kids of all ages are at the VNC.  The Valley Nature Center is NOT in any way a museum, and you quickly get a sense of that after roaming around in the VNC.  It is, indeed, a superb teaching facility for the children of the LRGV.

Never forget that in the blink of an eye, these kids will be tax payers, voters, potential donators, and hopefully volunteers.  Turn around, and these children will be the adults in charge to care for our environment, habitats, and creatures.  Everyone in the LRGV, are most fortunate that the Valley Nature Center has taken on the challenge to, as the VNC's Mission Statement says: "Provide educational opportunities, and foster understanding and appreciation of the Lower Rio Grande Valley's unigue natural communites of flora and fauna".


All kids love to see the live Texas Tortoise-Gopherus berlandieri exhibit.


The VNC's Gift Shop is well stocked.  The Valley Nature Center actually has the best natural history book supply in the LRGV, always causing us to delay our wildlife watching outdoors, while we peruse the stock.

The VNC has a very good library of their own, and visitors are welcome to use their library in a relaxing area.


The VNC's Meeting Room has provided many wonderful natural history programs.  The room is also the meeting site for other groups, such as the Native Plant Project. 


As soon as you step out the back door of the VNC building, you are facing a  grouping of Sabal Palms and a water feature beneath them.  Sounds of birds and insects are suddenly all around you, as you leave the bustle of the city behind you, and you know you are in a special place.

Did you remember to pick up a Map of the VNC at the front desk?


There are 13 named Trails, all with sign posts to help direct you.


Excellent Interpretive Signs are spaced throughout the VNC to help teach you about the LRGV's habitats, flora and fauna.  No matter how much we think we know, every time we leave the VNC, we find we have learned something new.


Bird and hummingbird feeders are placed throughout the VNC.  We always are pleasantly surprised when we see a feeder "hidden" just barely off the Trails, making the VNC not only attractive to the birds, but easy for the birder to see the LRGV's unique species.


Feeders for the butterflies hang off the trails, far enough away so that you won't be bothered by the bees and wasps that come to them, also; but, close enough that photographers get good photos.  Many species of butterflies do not often come to flowers, preferring sap and rotting fruit, instead.  The VNC makes sure these butterflies are attracted, by filling these log feeders with "butterfly brew" (for a recipe, go to our webpage's Butterfly Links page).


Although just six acres in size, there are almost a mile of interconnecting trails that have been carefully located so that you forget you are on the edge of the City's business district.


When you step out of the Courtyard area onto the Trails, just like in the Wizard of Oz you have two choices: go left or go right.  If you go right and follow the pink Brick Trail, you will immediately come upon the Native Plant Nursery.  Just like back at the Gift Shop's book racks, now you are going to be slowed down as you look over all the available LRGV native plant selections.


The Native Plant Nursery offers only LRGV natives, and is a learning experience in itself.  The plants are not just labeled, they are signed as to their uses for birds, butterflies and/or animals.

For its huge selection of Valley native plants, the VNC's Native Plant Nursery is without a doubt, the best place in the LRGV to buy natives (the only plants we should be planting in our yards, no matter where we live).  Prices are very, very reasonable.

If you came to wildlife watch, make a selection and set it aside to pick up at the end of your visit.  One caution, with the Valley's heat, you do not want to leave your plants in a car for very long at all.


Birds are attracted to the Native Plant Nursery area, because it is a moist area.  Butterfly plants are all along the left side of the Brick Trail.


There is a designated Butterfly Garden, just past the Native Plant Nursery.


Of course this is the most special brick on the Brick Trail.  If you step on it, you are guaranteed to see a bird or butterfly at the VNC that you can't see in your yard...try it, it works!


The VNC property was once a petting zoo, so you can find two or three unusual water features.  This one, at the end of the Brick Trail, is one of the best places in the LRGV to see the Desert Firetail damselfly.


Check on the rocks, floating sticks, and moss for Desert Firetails.  Neat tadpoles are seen, also.


Heron Trail starts just to the left of the end of Brick Trail and will take you towards the southern border of the VNC.  Many species of birds can be found, along the Trail.


Just behind the large water feature on Heron Trail is this small pond.  Clay-colored Thrush, Olive Sparrow, Chachalaca, and others have been seen drinking and bathing, here.


As you walk slowly, watch for Green Jays and Chachalacas.  You certainly should hear them.


Bird feeders will be found just off the main trails.  Indigo Buntings will be seen at the feeders in the Spring.  Northern Cardinals, Black-crested Titmouse and Green Jays can almost always be found feeding.


Some VNC Staff member gets his/her excercise every day, walking the almost one-mile of trails, keeping all of the many hummingbird feeders filled.  Buff-bellied Hummingbird is the Valley's year-round and common hummingbird.  They are always found at the Valley Nature Center.


Trails in the VNC require constant maintenance, keeping the vegetation cut back from the sides, and "eye-pokes" away.  The LRGV has the longest number of growing days in the U.S. (325 days of 80% sunshine and temps. above 75F).  Southern Hidalgo Co. and Cameron Co. average just 1 day below freezing/every 8 years.  So, plants at the VNC are always growing and need to be maintained.


Throughout the VNC, trees and shrubs are labeled.  A great deal of effort has gone into seeing that the vast majority of the plants at the Valley Nature Center are native species.


Not only numerous bird and butterfly species are found at the VNC; many, many species of lizards that are unique to the LRGV are found here, also.


A native Cacti and succulent Garden is a good place to find sunning Inca, Ground, and White-tipped Doves.

Near here are some of the tallest and thickest stands of Night-blooming Cereus - Acanthocereus pentagonus that are found in the LRGV, some reaching nearly 30 feet tall.


A remnant from the days when the site was a former zoo is a beautiful, non-native cactus garden.  These are the very few non-native species of plants that occur at the VNC.


Behind the non-native cactus gaden and kind of hidden, is a dark, dense area with a Pond that is crossed by this Foot-bridge.  Many species of birds, particularly warblers and vireos, can be found searching for insects, here.


Several species of dragonflies and damselflies can be found in this Pond.  Here on the east side of the Foot-bridge, the first U.S. Record of Carmine Skimmer - Orthemis discolor (then called Orange-bellied Skimmer) was found, just a few years ago during Weslaco's Dragonfly Days.


Watch around the west side of the Foot-bridge, also.  Damsels are often seen sunning and laying eggs, here.  This is another good location to watch for Desert Firetails.


The Bird Feeding Station is just a short ways south of the Foot-bridge.  This site is well worth the stop.  Plain Chachalacas, Altamira Orioles, Clay-colored Thrushes, Green Jays, Long-billed Thrashers, White-tipped Doves, Lesser Goldfinches and Black-crested Titmouse are among the many species of birds that can be found at the Feeding Station.  Look on the citrus feeders, the bird feeders, the ground, and back into the shady leaf litter.  Search in the shrubs and trees, too, and you will be rewarded with many birds.


Sit back, be quiet and relatively still, and the birds will pay no attention to you at the Bird Feeding Station.


Walking slowly down the long north-to-south Butterfly Trail will reward you with numerous butterfly species, many of which can only be found in the LRGV.  Check the bird feeders, also.  Butterfly Trail can be particularly good for Lesser Goldfinch and Buff-bellied Hummingbird.


At the end of Butterfly Trail, be sure to turn west onto Wetlands Trail.  This trail is great for butterflies, also.


The cattails up ahead will be a signal that you are coming to another wetland habitat.  Both birds and butterflies can be found here.


This is but a small part of a very large and unusual water feature that is another remnant from the property's days as a zoo.  Dragonflies will be flying all around, and many birds will be coming in to drink.


The unusual, cave-like Photo Blind looks onto a small Bird Feeding area.  This is indeed a good blind for photographing birds.  Of course, kids love to come in and look around.


As you re-enter the VNC from what had to be a fun experience, this guy is watching you from the fence by the back door.  Did you remember to pick-up your plants from the Native Plant Nursery?

Join the Valley Nature Center and/or send a donation to the VNC at P.O. Box 8125, Weslaco, TX 78599-8125, to help them continue fulfilling their wonderful work.

Thanks, VNC, the City of Weslaco, the Weslaco Area Chamber of Commerce, Friends and Sponsors, and the citizens of Weslaco for making this wonderful place available to all of us children!