For those that don’t know, I was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, the southernmost area of Texas. Unfortunately, I didn’t really appreciate how special the RGV was during my youth until I moved to Austin permanently. And it was there that I realized that I hadn’t explored much of the beauty of the Rio Grande Valley. One of those places that I didn’t get to explore was La Sal del Rey (the Salt of the King).
La Sal del Rey is located in the northern central part of Hidalgo County and is one of several natural lakes on the coastal plain near the Rio Grande.
Prehistoric artifacts, such as pottery shards and spear lances, showed that Native Americans from the Mexican interior, including Aztecs, may have camped by the water over 1,000 years ago. According to writings by the Spanish, there are accounts of Aztec trade with northern regions, which shows that it may be plausible.
But it was the Spanish that made this lake famous.
The Spanish Impact
The Spanish who discovered the lake named it La Sal Del Rey and mined it for the Spanish crown. By 1729, the lake was already being identified on maps. Special provisions had been made to mine and ship the salt into Mexico, becoming the first export from the Rio Grande Valley.
The Mexican-American War caused a decline in the exportation of salt from the lake. But it wasn’t a permanent stop to the mining.
The American Civil War would re-start mining the lake for its salt. The Confederacy would use camel caravans, with each animal carrying 600 pounds of salt, to take the product to Brownsville and Matamoros, Mexico. From there, the salt was loaded into foreign ships and sent elsewhere.
After the Civil War, there was a dispute about who owned the salt due to Spain’s mineral rights continuing from the Spanish Colonial period. The State of Texas eventually declared that the mineral rights belonged to the property owners and could no longer be used by the general public.
Salt mining continued at La Sal del Rey until the 1930s. It was acquired in 1992 by the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
La Sal Del Rey is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail. You can read more about the history here.
The large salt deposit has no connection with any other body of water, and no one knows how it was formed. But when you remove salt blocks from the lake, it is quickly replenished in like 2-3 days as the southeastern winds of the area shift the water.
And even after centuries of being mined, the lake holds an estimated 4 million tons of salt. It is ten times saltier than the ocean. You can hear the crunch of the salt when you’re walking on water.
The 530-acre lake and surrounding area support local wildlife, including the javelina, white-tailed deer, bobcats, and coyotes. Near the lake, you can see prints of the creatures that have walked by recently. It is also a good spot for birding.
Even though we went in the winter, the high was in the mid-80s, which means that we had to take water with us if we wanted to do the 3-mile roundtrip hike. We did not bring sunblock, so we were a little red, but the experience was amazing.
I enjoyed seeing the paw prints of all these various types of animals and even saw a deer up close who was curious about us. Touching the salt was also interesting as it was rough, but seeing the amount of salt pile up was cool.
I highly recommend visiting if you want to do a nice hike with a beautiful view.
Tips on Visiting La Sal Del Rey
- Using Google Maps, you will be taken to the main entry point, which features a 1.5-mile hike. For a shorter hike, drive to Brushline Road, make a left, and then go about a mile down the dirt road. You will see a small parking lot on your left-hand side to start the trail, and it’s about a mile.
- Please make sure to bring lots of water, bug spray, and sunblock if you are hiking in warm weather. It can get extremely hot in this area. And the main area does not have a lot of shade.
- There are wild animals in the area, so be careful and stay on the main path.
- Shoes will get covered in sand, so make sure to bring a change of shoes if you have plans afterward.
- Leave No Trace.
- The lake can be empty, so just FYI.
I had a really great time visiting, and I hope you do too!