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Visit Laredo — more than a border town

Visit Laredo  — more than a border town
HARRY & LINDA KAYE PEREZ The most interesting rest stop in Texas is located at Exit 18 on I-35 near Laredo. It almost appears resort-like, and includes a small pond and gardens, along with restroom facilities and a Visitors Center.

Laredo sits on the north bank of the Rio Grande River, just 178 miles from La Vernia. Founded in 1755, Villa de San Agustin de Laredo got its name in honor of St. Agustin and from a town in Spain.

Laredo has the distinction of being the only city that can claim Seven Flags Over Texas. In 1840, while not yet a part of Texas, Laredo briefly became the capital of the independent Republic of the Rio Grande, set up in opposition to Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Their efforts failed and the land was reclaimed by Mexico through military force.

At the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo gave the United States the Rio Grande boundary for Texas, ownership of California, and a large area comprised of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. This treaty brought Laredo into the United States. At the elegant and stately 50-year-old La Posada Hotel, you can see all seven flags flying, including the Republic of the Rio Grande flag, to celebrate Laredo’s history.

Today, with a population of over 200,000, it is the 10th most populous city in Texas, the oldest border crossing along the U.S.-Mexico border, and is our nation’s largest inland port of entry. More than 47 percent of U.S. international trade headed for Mexico and more than 36 percent of Mexican international trade crosses through the Laredo Port of Entry. Needless to say, Laredo’s economy is based on international trade with Mexico.

Around the town

In the center of the historic downtown area is a beautiful square guarded by a magnificent statue of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin, best known for defeating invading French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, now celebrated in both the United States and Mexico as Cinco de Mayo.

The square is bounded by Grant, Flores, San Augustine, and Zaragoza Streets. Anchoring the east side of the square is the San Agustin Cathedral, founded the same year that Laredo was established, 1755. The La Posada Hotel is on the south side of the square.

The Lamar Bruni Vergara Planetarium, located on the Texas A&M International University campus, close to Lake Casa Blanca International State Park, presents a wide variety of programs in a domed theater, such as “Earth, Moon, and Sun,” “Destination Saturn,” and “Wonders of the Universe.” It is open to the public. Admission is $4 to $6.

The Imaginarium of South Texas, formerly Laredo Children’s Museum, provides a hands-on experience with science, technology, and art. It is located in Mall del Norte; admission is $4 per person.

Fort McIntosh was established in 1849 to guard the Texas frontier at the site of a strategic river crossing and was occupied by the 1st U.S. Infantry. In the late 19th century, several African American units, including the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, made Fort McIntosh their home. The Fort was also active during World War I, as a training base, and during World War II. It was deactivated in 1946 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Laredo Community College is now using many of the original buildings.

Getting out

Lake Casa Blanca International State Park is just 8 miles from downtown Laredo and offers camping, picnicking, boating, swimming, and water skiing. The most popular activity is fishing; catches include largemouth and striped bass, crappie, and catfish. This man-made lake has a surface area of 1,680 acres with a maximum depth of 36 feet. There are also trails for mountain biking and hiking, a baseball field, and tennis, volleyball, and basketball courts. Geocaching is alive and well at the park. There is also an 18-hole golf course nearby.

Birding opportunities at Lake Casa Blanca include migratory and year-round bird species too numerous to list here.

Also sighted in the area is the protected Texas horned lizard. We used to call them “horny toads.”

A little culture

Shopping along San Bernardo Avenue gives you a South-of-the Border experience without actually crossing the border. Shops along this 40-block area offer the finest in Mexican imports, including clay chimineas, Talavera pottery, wrought iron, and rustic furniture.

There are numerous art galleries, history museums, live theatre, and performances by the Laredo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale.

One last note: As you approach Laredo on I-35 just before Exit 18 on the left side of the highway, you will see a massive, colorful building that looks like a resort. This is a Texas sized rest stop like no other you have seen before. It includes a small pond, gardens, covered picnic areas, and even a large parking area for those really big trucks. It also houses a Visitors Center that can provide all types of information for your visit, and of course, bathroom facilities. This place is amazing.

Laredo -- so much more than a border town.

Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at Harry-Linda411@att.net.

Foodie alert!

According to the December 2010 Texas Monthly, Laredo is home to four of the top 50 Mexican restaurants in Texas. Each is still there and still serving up great Mexican food.

¢Zaragoza Grill, at La Posada Hotel, historic downtown, 1000 Zaragoza

¢El Meson de San Agustin, historic downtown, 904 Grant St.

¢Palenque Grill, 7220 Bob Bullock Loop

¢Fonda Don Martin, 9652 McPherson Road

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