2021-01-08 A Visit To Langtry Texas

Cactus Wren - Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
Cactus Wrens and Rock Wrens play regularly in this cactus garden. In Langtry Texas there is a museum run by the Texas DOT and dedicated to the memory of Judge Roy Bean, who was a colorful Texan figure in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Outside the visitor center is a lovely cactus garden replete with many of the native birds.

Less than a half-mile from the Rio Grande, and almost 40 miles upstream from its confluence with the Pecos River, is the sleepy town of Langtry Texas. This is where Judge Roy Bean established a reputation as “The Law West of the Pecos”. Hollywood fell for the legend of this wild west character and lumped their own fabrications and exaggerations onto the substantial pile of whoppers told by Roy Bean himself. Whether played by Walter Brennan, Edgar Buchanan, or Paul Newman, each retelling strayed from fact, preferring a fiction of their own design. Roy Bean was a shady and colorful character, who took his own liberties with the stories about his exploits.

Golden-Fronted Woodpecker - Melanerpes aurifrons
Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers are the dominant woodpecker in this part of Texas. 

I came through Langtry last March (2020) to sniff the air and get a perspective of this place I’d heard about since childhood, but wind and rain discouraged me from stepping out from my rig and giving a proper examination to this legendary town. I noticed a cactus garden behind the visitor center, and I’d read that it was a place to meet the local birds. I’d hoped I would return on my way out of Texas last May, but the pandemic prevented that from happening. Last Friday provided me the opportunity to pay this place a proper visit.

I arrived at the visitor center promptly at their 8am opening time, and I asked the staff inside if it was OK for me to walk their gardens looking for birds. They assured me it was fine. Within the confines of the garden are the preserved buildings where Roy Bean conducted his affairs. In my tour of the grounds, I inspected the Jersey Lilly (mis-spelling Lily) Saloon and imagined Judge Bean holding court at the bar or on the front porch. I also toured the Opera House, which served as Roy Bean’s sleeping quarters.

Northern Cardinals here were shy, but the wrens and woodpeckers were more cooperative. After spending several hours in the cactus garden, I visited with the friendly DOT-Texas staff in the visitor center, and when I’d finished here, I bid adieu to this well cared for garden, wishing I could visit more often throughout the seasons.

Before leaving the area, I drove the dirt road south through town to the Rio Grande overlook to see what birds I might find there. I missed meeting the Scaled Quail in the garden, and I thought this location might be more fruitful. I didn’t find any quail, but the visit was worthwhile. I found sparrows that had been eluding me in Big Bend and other places in Texas. When I finished exploring Langtry, I’d gathered images of Black-Throated Sparrows, Brewer’s Sparrows, Cactus Wrens, Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers, Lark Buntings, Northern Mockingbirds, Phainopeplas, Pyrrhuloxias, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers.

I highly recommend that fellow travelers visit this area. There is history to see, a splendid cactus garden, birds, and a friendly staff manning the visitor center.

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