Cycling the Battlefield

We’re celebrating Travel and Tourism Week and Bike Month with this look at an article I wrote for Authentic Texas magazine about my trip to Brownsville, Texas to bicycle on the Palo Alto National Battlefield.  A spitting distance from the Gulf of Mexico, the place still has the feel of wilderness. The battlefield marks the start of the War with Mexico in 1846, and it is a GREAT place to visit by bicycle. You can read the entire article online here. It starts out:

“On my bike, I zip down the battle’s front line, pretending I’m a part of U.S. General Zachary Taylor’s cavalry. This is the first day of the War with Mexico, and it is May 8, 1846. The Mexican Army is just across the prairie and dense chaparral, which is bursting with yellow wildflowers. The soldiers on the other side are close, but not quite in clear sight. Cannon fire is all around me.

And then, I ride down the Mexican front line, for the Palo Alto National Battlefield in Brownsville provides both vantage points. The asphalt walking paths on the historic battle lines are perfect bike lanes.  This morning, I hear (if in my imagination only) the sounds of the first battle of the war: cannon fire, soldiers shouting, horses neighing.

This site, now under the care of the National Park Service, remains largely untouched since the first battle of the War with Mexico, 170 years ago.  Flags and cannons mark the open prairie, making it easy to imagine and wonder about the events and the emotions of the day. Inside the Visitor Center, exhibits tell the story of the events leading up to the battle and the consequences of the war, which by dramatically increased our country’s size.  The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1849, ceded vast stretches of land to the United States, and established the national border of Mexico at the Rio Grande River.

In less than a mile—on bike or by foot—visitors get a sense of the battlefield and the opening moments of the war.  A bonus for the visitor:  the Palo Alto National Battlefield is the northern point of the nearly 10 mile long Brownsville Historic Battlefield Hike and Bike Trail, which reaches down to the Mitte Cultural District near downtown Brownsville, and makes it easy to experience the entire city on foot or by bicycle.

A short distance from the trail’s midpoint is the site of the second battle of the War with Mexico, the Resaca de la Palma Battlefield, also managed by the National Park Service.  That battle took place a day after Palo Alto, on May 9; both days, the Mexican army retreated in disorder.  By May 11, when war was formally declared, the Mexican army was again across the Rio Grande, and the rest of the war took place on Mexican soil.

A small portion of the Resaca de la Palm battlefield remains intact. Today, visitors can enjoy both battlefields sites free of charge: Palo Alto is open daily 8-5, and Resca de la Palma is open Tuesday-Saturday, 9-3. Both, free of charge.”

Thanks to my friend Matt Walter, who provided great photos for the magazine version!  And thanks to my friends at Authentic Texas magazine. Y’all are great advocates for the great places in the great state of Texas!

2 Comments on “Cycling the Battlefield

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