Hand Drawn Ferry

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About twenty people from our RV park planned a crossing to Mexico by bicycle and we decided to go along.  For two reasons; 1) It was the coldest day of the year, and 2) Rick’s knee was bothering him, we opted to follow along in the jeep.  Here are a few of the bikers  making preparations.


By now, you’re probably thinking that we spend all of our time in Mexico.  Well, we do make quite a few crossings.  This entry into Mexico was made by way of the only human powered ferry along any US border.

The Rio Grande ferry crossing is located at Sullivan City, Texas.  The ferry is known as the Los Ebanos Ferry because it has been tethered to a couple of Texas Ebony trees for years. This crossing has been in use since the 1740’s.

Spanish explorers and colonists, under Jose de Escandon, made use of this Rio Grande crossing in the 1740’s.  A salt trail led from here to El Sal del Rey (40 mi. NE).  The ford was used by Mexican War troops circa 1846, by  Texas Rangers chasing cattle rustlers from 1874, and by smugglers in many eras, especially during the American prohibition years, 1920’s and 30’s.  The ferry and inspection station were established in 1950.  Named for the ebony trees here, this is known as the only government licensed, hand-pulled ferry on any boundary of the United States.

We tried to make this crossing last year, but it was closed due to high water.

The ferry can carry two cars and some pedestrians.  A round trip for the ferry is about 10 minutes.  Here, some of the bikers and a couple of cars made it across and the rest are waiting to follow.


The town on the Mexican side of the river is Ciudad Gustav Díaz Ordaz in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.  By the way, the Mexican name for the Rio Grande is El Rio Bravo del Norte, or more simply, El Rio Bravo, like the John Wayne movie.

We were impressed with the conditions on the Mexican side of the river.  This is the approach from the ferry to the Mexican customs and immigration station.


The town of Gustav Díaz Ordaz is quite old, but a lot more prosperous than its US counterpart of Sullivan City. Here is one of the many nice houses that we spotted on the way through town.


The entire group gathered for a wonderful lunch at the Restaurante Vallarta.


The wait for the ferry was extremely short as we entered Mexico, but we had about an hour wait on our return.  We would have headed to another crossing, but we weren’t in any hurry.  The bikers made it back with no wait.

While we waited, we spotted some very nice rest rooms and there were vendor stations selling food and souvenirs.


Finally, we were next to go on the ferry.  This picture shows some interesting things.  Uncharacteristically, the Mexican side of the crossing was far better maintained.  You can see the Mexican cement ramps and walls to prevent erosion. On the US side you’ll notice the unimproved dirt road heading to the Homeland Security station.  The road was full of ruts and holes.  Luckily, it wasn’t raining or the mud would have been incredible.


As the ferry came back to get us, we got a good shot of the boat’s “engine”.  They didn’t work all that hard.


With  the jeep loaded, we were ready for our crossing.


The southbound crossing cost $2.75 and the northbound $2.00.  Pedestrians paid $1.00 each way.  We had a thoroughly enjoyable day.

One Response to “Hand Drawn Ferry”

  1. Donna says:

    Wow you guys look like your really enjoying yourselves and all your friends… Sounds like so much fun! Have a great day and Travel Safe,

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