Del Rio, Texas – Flawed Perception? Texas Border Town Fights Misconceptions, Boasts Safe & Friendly Family Living
I’ll start by saying I was one of those people, when I first received notification of job transfer to Del Rio.
My wife and I came from Tucson, Arizona. Arizona has a lot of problems with the Mexican border and drug smuggling. It’s a great state, but the border is a big problem. We all have heard the stories of cartel wars in Nogales & Juarez, mass graves, kidnappings, stray bullets flying over the fence, murdered border ranchers, and the whole works. I’ve spent most of my life near the border, but not in a border town, per-se. So, Del Rio was our first real exposure to the remote, West Texas border, and initially thought...of all places to go! A previous coworker even asked, “who did you piss off?”
When you research Del Rio, you can’t find much about what people who actually live here think about it. And, actually, the only thing I really heard about it before we moved there was, “it’s only a three-hour drive to San Antonio”, as if Del Rio was a God-forsaken, run-down, dusty border town that everyone couldn’t wait to leave.
To be honest, I know some people feel that way, and my heart aches for them. In most cases, from what I’ve observed, it’s because they arrived close-minded to the opportunities and relationships that Del Rio and the surrounding area offers. I’m not talking about Mexico – although I’ve heard there is fun to be had there as well. I’m talking about a culture, that, if you choose to immerse yourself in it with no strings attached, will welcome and hold you like family.
You see, it’s the uneducated misconception of the town that Del Rio struggles with – one of its worst enemies – and that in itself deters many from ever experiencing it for real. Is Del Rio perfect? Absolutely not! Certainly, not every perception or rumor about the town is flawed. There is plenty that both the town and the townsfolk could do to improve the quality of life, economy, and attractiveness. This discussion is not about community development, however – it’s about the importance of being open-minded.
Listen, one of the first people I met in Del Rio told me that they had relocated here because they just loved the culture and the friendly, safe town. While encouraging to both me and my wife, we can both admit that we both thought this person must be a little crazy or something to want to do that. I tell you what, though – I’ve come to see why more and more folks – many of them transplants – are calling Del Rio home. They aren’t crazy, they have just learned to appreciate the real things in life that the community of Del Rio holds dear – things like faith, family, and community spirit.
But, without going any further, I’d like to address some of the perceptions that both my wife and I had when we were a little less educated about Del Rio before we moved here – and what the reality of the town actually is.
Misconception: Nobody Speaks English
Not true at all. While Spanish will certainly help you understand the local gossip standing in line at the H-E-B grocery store, you don’t have to speak any Spanish to get around. Signs are in English, menus are in English, and we even have English radio stations.
Now, if you are Hispanic, some Del Rioans may speak initially to you in Spanish, assuming that you speak Spanish. If you reply in English, they will be happy to accommodate you in your native tongue. Many Hispanic locals are bilingual, so this is common. I’ve also heard conversions switch languages mid-sentence. You will hear this the first few times and be confused, then just learn that that’s the way it goes.
One foot-note, however – it helps to be bilingual for job opportunities. This is a common “plus” in many places, not just border towns, but it really does make a difference here. No worries, my wife easily got a job upon arrival here and doesn’t speak Spanish.
Misconception: The Low Crime Rate Is Fudged
I suppose that I can’t say for sure that this is false, but I can say that I’ve never really witnessed a crime in Del Rio in the two years that I’ve been here. It is extremely safe. I never worry about my wife and young daughter at night, out on the town by themselves, or even if we left our front door wide open (not that we do that…).
I’ve read the arrest reports for a little mischief here and there – but compared to many other places that I’ve lived, Del Rio does not have me worried about safety and security. I’m actually way more worried about crime in San Antonio than in Del Rio.
I learned quickly that Texas does not tolerate drugs. In California, Oregon, and Arizona – three states that I lived in most of my life – it seemed like drugs just seemed to overwhelm small towns. Not Del Rio, Texas.
Del Rio isn’t drug-free. I’ve heard a few stories of folks getting caught with a little marijuana – and in some cases heavier narcotics or pills. But overall, I don’t see a bunch of people blazed out of their minds walking aimlessly down the street in Del Rio like I would see in many other places that I’ve lived.
A common side-effect of drugs – homelessness – is another thing that Del Rio appears to lack. I can’t remember the last time I saw a homeless family here. Del Rio doesn’t let folks go without a roof over their head.
Misconception: It’s a Barren Wasteland
Google Maps doesn’t help with this misconception. Do yourself a favor and don’t use Google Maps Satellite View to get an impression of Del Rio, sort of like I did originally. Del Rio and the local surrounding area is home to not only the Rio Grande and Amistad Reservoir, but also the Pecos River, the Devils River, the Frio River, the Nueces River, and Hill Country. My favorite local natural beauty is San Felipe Creek, which the city has done a great job developing into a wonderful park.
Del Rio is actually pretty diverse when it comes to nature. West of Del Rio is the Chihuahuan Desert and Big Bend. It’s dry, but serene. North and northeast of Del Rio is Hill Country – the closest Central Texas can come to forested mountains (hills). South and east of Del Rio may seem a bit barren for an hour or so, but is relieved by a bunch of farmland and much more humid air from the Gulf of Mexico. So, whether you want to spend a night under the desert stars, tube down the rivers in Hill Country, or start a garden – Del Rio gives you the opportunity to do so.
In conclusion, I think it’s only appropriate that I thank a number of unnamed people in Del Rio who welcomed my wife and me to this town. I remember telling my mom, when she asked about what I thought of Del Rio, I said, “I haven’t met someone who hasn’t smiled”. It’s a growing community, slowly, but surely. Every day it seems like there is a new organization or initiative in town with a passion for continuing to promote and develop the community, highlighting the pride that Del Rioans take in their city.
If I had never met many of the locals that I have come across if I didn’t have an open mind about Del Rio, I might still be lumped into the category of folks who can’t wait to leave. Fortunately, I’m in the other boat – the group that doesn’t want to leave.
- Dan Schreiber
See More About Del Rio Here
The Drive To Del Rio From the West
From Sanderson, it’s about an hour and a half of no civilization eastbound to Del Rio. It’s beautiful, in my opinion, during the springtime when recent rainfall has left the normally dry and dead desert shrubbery different shades of light to dark green. After crossing the Val Verde County line, you’ll eventually run into Seminole Canyon State Park and the Pecos River – which again, is quite gorgeous. Even if you don’t stop at Langtry (the site of a legendary Judge Roy Bean’s courtroom, which also doubled as a saloon) or Seminole Canyon State Park, you will probably be as amazed as I was at the natural cut that both the Rio Grande and the Pecos River have made in the local terrain – it is actually quite beautiful.
Other Restaurants. Del Rio also has the standard fast-food restaurants. Chick-Fil-A just opened a year or so ago and is still a big hit, as is Panda Express (even newer). No Denny’s (bummer for me), but an IHOP. Applebee’s and Chili’s. Buffalo Wings & Rings, Skillets, and the local donut shop, River City. But, let’s talk about some unique places. Keep in mind, my wife and I don’t eat out much, but when we do – here’s where we prefer:
Walmart does have a decent supply of amenities, and Home Depot, Russel's True Value, AutoZone, and O’Reilly Auto Parts are a weekly stop-off for the Do-It-Yourselfer in me. Tractor Supply Company (TSC) and McCoys are also in town. There are a few furniture stores in town, a decent-sized small-town mall (Marshalls, Ross, Bealls, JC-Penny, and a small Cinemark theatre along with the standard small-shops).
My wife is pretty satisfied with the beauty salons such locally. I don’t know much about that sort of stuff, but she’s still been able to maintain being sexy since we got here.
Banking can be a challenge if you are used to the larger banks like Wells Fargo or Chase. Neither of these banks exist in Del Rio, the closest being San Antonio or San Angelo. So, you can either online bank, or work with a local branch.
We give UPS, USPS, and FedEx quite a bit of business with Amazon Prime and Ebay – simply because the closest drive to anything that we can’t find in town is either three hours north in San Angelo or three hours east in San Antonio.
Auto care in Del Rio isn’t really the greatest, unfortunately. The normal car dealerships are all here – so you have plenty of a selection for new and used vehicles Service isn’t superior, however – I’ve struggled to find a good combination of honest and affordable. H’s Audio was decent, however, when I visited them – they do more than audio (most of the standard mechanic stuff), and have arguably the cheapest labor costs in town. Thompson Tire is also decent for tires and alignments. Southwest Motors is also decent – they were great for me, and for many others that I’ve spoken to. Of course, each place has the occasional bad review too – and that scares many transplants to San Antonio. I’ve just become more of a do-it-yourself kind of guy because of the lack of auto repair amenities locally.
VVRMC used to have a somewhat bad reputation – but from what I here, it’s gotten much better. My wife and I had our daughter here, and, given the circumstances, it was as pleasant of an experience as we would have gotten in most small towns. Granted, our daughter needed some extra medical attention (pre-mature), so she had to be ambulanced to San Antonio for more intensive care. She turned out just perfect, if you’re curious. Del Rio is a small town – with not a huge doctor presence – so many folks head to San Antonio for healthcare, but it’s nice to know that Del Rio (as well as Uvalde and Eagle Pass) does have plenty of resources, if you need them.
Housing in Del Rio is a bit more expensive than many parts of rural Texas. I think this is because of the Border Patrol and Air Force presence (decent wages). There are a lot of very nice neighborhoods and elegant houses in Del Rio, especially on the north side of town and south near the San Felipe Creek and near the Val Verde Winery. The north side is definitely populated by the more transient population (federal employees), where the mid-section (lettered and numbered streets) and south of the railroad tracks are more populated by Del Rio Natives. Some houses are barely hanging on, others look like mansions. You can pay a little, or you can pay a lot – it’s up to you. From what I’ve seen, rent runs from about $700-1100 for a small house and can run over $2000 for a larger house near the lake or on the north end of town. The buying market seems to ebb and flow with the summer-moving cycle of the Border Patrol and the Air Force Base – but decent houses can be bought between about $130,000 to $250,000…and even more if you want something real nice.
If you are looking to rent (or buy, for that matter), we use Texas Heritage Realty. Very friendly staff that will really take time out of their day to ensure you get the perfect house for your family. And no, they didn’t give me a discount for referring them.
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Cost of Living
Del Rio is not expensive, really. While maybe a tad more pricey than other towns in rural Texas, you can make it by in decent shape, if you are wise with your money (that’s the key). The bills start adding up when you pay for more amenities and services (yard care and housekeeping, for example). A lot of folks (especially the transient population of federal employees) drive a lot of back and forth to San Antonio for shopping and entertainment - and that can add up.
Utilities aren’t terrible, but they aren’t cheap, either. I think we pay about $200 or so a month for water, sewer, trash, and electric, if you average it out across the year, but we have a smaller house and are pretty conservative with utility usage (it was cheaper in Tucson for us).
While San Antonio is the go-to place, there are plenty of other towns much closer. San Angelo is also about that same distance as San Antonio and offers just about everything, but San Antonio is larger. The drive to San Antonio takes about three hours (two and a half for lead-foots), and, after about the tenth time, feels like a drive down the street. The longest part of the drive (as far as level of boredom) is between Del Rio and Uvalde. From Uvalde to San Antonio, you will enjoy a number of small towns and farmland to break up the monotony – especially Hondo, recently taking flack for its “God’s County” welcome sign.
Since Del Rio can be a drive from just about anywhere, it’s always a great deal to become a AAA member, or pay for some roadside assistance elsewhere. Usually, a membership will pay for itself in just one call.
Like all places, Del Rio is what you make of it. I’ve met a number of people – some natives, others transplants – that say Del Rio is the best place they’ve ever lived. Other people choose to hate Del Rio – some with good reasons, others just because. One of the local Game Wardens in San Angelo once told me that his wife came to Del Rio crying, and then fell in love with it and left crying. I won’t lie, if you don’t like hot weather, Hispanic culture, or remoteness – Del Rio probably won’t be at the top of your list. On the other hand, warm winters, Tex-Mex, and a little bit of peace and quiet away from the big-city hustle and bustle is what I enjoy about this town. It’s not perfect, nor is it my favorite, but it clearly is exactly as I said – what you make it, and I will miss it when it comes time to leave.