Del Rio Texas reminds me of Key West. Which on the face of it makes no sense at all, a desert town filled with spiky plants and dust, on the border with Mexico and loaded with 35,000 residents. What about this place could possibly resemble Key West? Let's see...First: Del Rio is 150 miles from San Antonio, a long dreary drive, far drearier than the Overseas Highway actually because in the Keys you have a slow drive but one filled with spectacular views while a driving escape from Del Rio is truly a desert experience.
So Del Rio is isolated. It is sustained by the US Air Force which has been training pilots at Lauchlin AFB since World War Two, just as pilots train at Boca Chica AFB.
Del Rio has two Walmarts where Key West famously is closer to Cuba than to Walmart. Del Rio is a frontier town just like Key West, and yet just like Key West you wouldn't know it. Indeed Key West makes more of its tenuous connection to Cuba, the Forbidden Isle, than Del Rio makes of its close connection to Ciudad Acuña, a city of a quarter of a million inhabitants. Drive across the bridge to Mexico and car repairs, tooth repairs and eyeglasses cost a fraction of what they do in Texas. In Key West as we all know everything costs more by virtue of ...it being Key West.
Del Rio is not a tourist town though it does boast of having once won the title for "friendliest border town." If they have a Tourist Development Council I saw no evidence for one. A neighbor in the campground asked if there were any boat rental opportunities on Lake Amistad. No idea is all I can say to that. I never saw one thing advertised as a tourist attraction or activity. Perhaps I wasn't looking.
Del Rio has every facility a traveler could want and campers who have shopped at the HEB grocery say it is as good as any they have seen. Car washes? Mechanics? Car dealers? Restaurants? Every national chain you have heard of is lined up on Highway 90 into Del Rio, far in excess of anything Key West can offer on North Roosevelt Boulevard.The sprawl of name brand box stores and fast food restaurants lines a five lane highway, two lanes in each direction and a turn lane in the middle and it goes for miles. It is overwhelming.
Del Rio, as one frequent visitor put it to me is a government town. There are more than 5,000 military here that help run the base to train pilots. Border control is obviously a huge issue and even though we haven't seen any there must be agents all over the place. Tourists come by but they aren't a mainstay.
We did see a brown street sign pointing to the historic downtown and there we parked and walked. I saw an old town filled with potential but still ticking along. The main drag was filled oddly with pawn shops and gyms, oddly paired with lovely old facades and curiously mid 20th century buildings. I don't know where they would find the money but of they did this city could really be brilliant. Some pictures:
On May 3rd 1635 a group of Spanish missionaries arrived on the bank of a river and called their mission San Felipe Del Rio (St Philip of the River) as that date is the feast day of St Philip the Apostle. The locals took exception to the mission and destroyed it but the settlement persevered even into the absorption of this area into the Republic of Texas and eventually into the United States.