I’m cruising down the river on a sunny afternoon, not far from home. The Rio Grande is the river, and my cruise ship is the Riverside Dreamer, capacity 49, powered by two 135-hp motors, and docked at the Riverside Club in Mission.
Captain Johnny Hart has been going up and down the river for more than 25 years, beginning soon after he and his wife Jennifer bought the Riverside Club in 1982. To reach the ship, I drive down Chimney Road, go up and over the levee and down to the Rio Grande. A crowd has gathered on shaded benches surrounded by palms and ferns, waiting for their noon departure and a leisurely, hour-long cruise upstream and downstream.
Gui Macoux of Canada, who won a Riverside Dreamer cruise at an RV park, boards with a friend and snags front seats to catch the sun and the first sights. Sharon Dagsgard is taking the afternoon cruise for the fourth time. “We love it here. There’s so much to see, and they give you so much information.”
“Some people come three or four times a season, bringing different visitors with them,” Jennifer Hart says. “It’s good, clean fun, and people learn about the river.” She’s right. This is a no-fuss adventure: a breeze cools us under the pontoon boat’s canopy as we glide down the Rio Grande, which is 30 to 50 feet deep in this stretch. Onboard are Winter Texans, full time RVers, Valley residents and people from Colorado, Illinois and beyond.
“Everything to your right is Mexico,” Captain Johnny says, as we head down river to Anzalduas Dam and Park. He points out a section of Mexico not frequented by American tourists—riverside picnic grounds, private mansions with papaya trees, and small theme parks. The U.S. side is a thicket of 15-foot tall carrizo cane, tree snags and thorny brush. What we see is primarily a federal wildlife refuge, undeveloped except for an occasional Border Patrol observation tower.
We zig-zag downstream, listening to the swishing of water past the hull and waving at a fisherman standing between white-painted tree trunks on the Mexican bank. By the time the Rio Grande reaches the RGV, it has no water from its source in Colorado, Capt. Johnny says. All the water beneath us comes from Mexican watersheds. “It’s 80 miles from the Anzalduas Dam to the Gulf of Mexico, as the crow flies, not as the river twists.” Floating booms prevent us from approaching the dam’s towers. In warmer weather, jet skis and pleasure boats populate this part of the Rio.
Green jays and ibis on a tiny island capture our attention. A birder from Utah points out Muscovy ducks.
We head upstream past the Riverside Club and pass under huge power lines that carry electricity to Mexico. Captain Johnny tells us the landmark chimney was built in 1907 as part of an irrigation pumphouse initially powered by mesquite wood.
I am surprised to see campground sites and simple riverside cottages—weekend getaways—on the Texas side. When we see sugar cane fields stretching into the distance, Riverside Dreamer does a U-turn. Thirty miles upstream is the Los Ebanos ferry and 80 miles away is Falcon Dam.
Back at the Riverside Club, I’m hungry enough to ask for a menu. Hmm, burgers or a shrimp basket? Maybe BBQ chicken nachos or fried pickles with an adult beverage? Pleasant tables overlook the river. Open daily 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., the club has live music Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Tours go out at noon everyday but Sunday, with a second tour available if demand is high. For more information call 956-581-1033 or visit ontheriver.net.