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The Yturria Brand at El Canelo Ranch
by Keith Hackland (alamoinn@aol.com)
published April 2015

Who could have predicted that the Valley would have developed the way it has done today? Probably only Francisco Yturria, the patriarch of the Valley. It was his astute business acumen that opened this area to settlement and commerce, and developed the large ranches that launched the economy on the back of cattle ranching.

Francisco Yturria ran the first banking business, was de facto realtor for land purchases by the large ranches (Yturria, King, Kennedy), and was the key backer bringing the railroad here, all accomplished over 100 years ago. Today his legacy is shared by his descendants, and benefits everyone who lives here. While he anticipated much of the Valley's development, could Francisco Yturria have foreseen the popularity and value of birding tourism, here? Probably not. He left that to one of his descendants, Monica Burdette.

Monica and husband Ray Burdette run El Canelo Ranch, a piece of the original Yturria Ranch. There, typical of Francisco Yturria's brand of business, they operate a diversified conservation ranch, running cattle, breeding genetically improved White-tail Deer, offering exclusive high end hunting, all topped off with exclusive birding. See www.elcaneloranch.com

In 1989 Monica opened The Inn at El Canelo on their El Canelo Ranch in Kenedy County, just North of Raymondville. Monica is a pioneer. Hers is the first and oldest Birding Bed and Breakfast in the Valley.

El Canelo Ranch is known as the home of the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl in South Texas, when a pair nested year after year in the garden at the Inn. Birders flocked to the ranch to see it, and Monica demonstrated to the world the economic value to a land owner of caring for a rare species and sharing it with others who care. Birding fees of $35 per person are typical for short stay ranch birding. That pair of owls was viewed by many thousands of birders. Do the math and figure if caring and sharing birds makes financial sense to land owners.

Not only does El Canelo protect its birds and bucks, it also protects rare plants found in the pastures. El Canelo Ranch was amongst the very first in the Valley decades ago to invite a birder and a botanist to catalogue the species on the ranch and to seek out rare species.

This work resulted in the discovery on El Canelo Ranch of a new spurge (a small herb) plant species previously unknown to science. The El Canelo Ranch bird list and plant list is available for visitors. It has been my privilege to visit El Canelo Ranch and to guide birders there. Here one can see the birds of South Texas living their lives as they always have, across the vast ranchlands of South Texas.

Monica is an amazing gourmet cook, having studied in France and elsewhere. She produces delicious sumptuous spreads for the Inn's guests. This month she has published her first cookbook, The Inn at El Canelo Cookbook. It offers her secrets to her unique brand of South Texas cooking on its 216 pages, interspersed with stories and ranch photos introducing each food section.

Bon apetit. Good birding.