No. 17 Resaca Loop Trail
Sabal Palm Sanctuary
In the three and a half years since Seth Patterson began managing the Sabal Palm Sanctuary, he has received regular phone calls from would-be visitors wondering where Mexico begins. That’s because, to reach the sanctuary, which is home to one of the last stands of old-growth palm forest in the United States, travelers must pass through a gap in the border wall. “It’s not a popular place for trafficking,” says Patterson. “But people do call, wanting to know if they need their passport.”
You don’t, though after paying the entrance fee at the Rabb Plantation House—a two-story mansion built in 1892—you will find yourself transported into an ancient, otherworldly ecosystem where feathery palm fronds appear to tickle the light. Follow the trails around the resacas—former channels of the Rio Grande—and through the dark sabal palm jungle, and you’ll soon discover a host of strange and colorful birds; if you go early in the day, when reptiles come out to warm in the sun, you may also see one of Texas’s rarest snakes, the Central American speckled racer. When I visited, on a cool, foggy morning, the speckled racer never showed, but there were bright-green jays at the feeders, long-billed thrashers in the underbrush, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley’s signature chacha-lacas squawking like feral chickens in the branches.
Back at the plantation house, I found a scope that Patterson and his colleagues had set up for visitors to spy on a great horned owl that was nesting in the palms next to the building. As I peered at her, the bird stared in my direction, as if miffed by my intrusion. This made some sense: a century ago, all but a relative handful of these palms were lost, destroyed by human activity. Humbled by her yellow-eyed glare, I felt grateful for this little protected paradise that remains.
Getting There: From U.S. 77 in Brownsville, exit east onto International Boulevard. After almost a mile, turn right onto Southmost Road (FM 1419) and continue for 6 miles, then turn right on Sabal Palm Road, passing through the border wall. (Open 7–5 daily, Adults $5, children $3. 956-541-8034.)