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Photos of Sabal Palm Sanctuary

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All photos on this site are by Jan Dauphin and are copyright protected and may not be used or published elsewhere without the permission of Jan Dauphin

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The 527 acre Sabal Palm Sanctuary is at the southernmost tip of Texas.  This is one of the premier wildlife watching sites in the LRGV, with over 210 species of butterflies and over 380 species of birds (many of which are endangered or High-Priority bird species) being recorded, here; many native species of plants and animals reach the northernmost limit of their Mexican range, here, and do not occur anywhere else in the U.S.  Many reptiles found here are unique to Sabal Palm Sanctuary.  New-to-the-U.S. species of arthropods are constantly being found here.  Special dragonflies and damselfies fly here.  

Much of the flora of Sabal Palm Sanctuary can be found nowhere else in the LRGV, nor the U.S.  Named for the palms that once reached eighty miles upstream on the Rio Grande River, the Sanctuary is now the last vestige of a Sabal Palm forest in the U.S.  The Sabal Palm is the only native species of palm tree that occurs in Texas. 

Sabal Palms-Sabal mexicana are nesting sites for bats, owls, and many other birds.  Sabal blooms attract many species of butterflies, particularly various Hairstreaks.  Birds and mammals eat the fruit, and the palm fronds are used as roofing thatch (many palapas and other structures can be found throughout the LRGV, using Sabal Palm fronds as roof cover).

Sitting directly on the banks of the Rio Grande River with Mexico just across from Sabal Palm Sanctuary, this is truly a wonderful and "must" place to visit.

Sabal Palm Sanctuary is owned by the National Audubon Society.  The Gorgas Science Foundation has a twenty-five year lease to operate and maintain Sabal Palm Sanctuary.

Entry Fees (the lowest in all of the LRGV):  $5/adult, $3/children under 12 years old, $25/yearly individual membership, $35/yearly family membership.

Real Address: 8400 Southmost Rd. (at Sabal Palm Rd.)

Phone:  Office: (956) 541-8034
Open:  7 Days a Week From 7am – 5pm

Mailing Address:  Gorgas Science Foundation
P.O. Box 5688
Brownsville, Texas 78523

Web Page:  sabalpalmsanctuary (dot) org

Getting to Sabal Palm Sanctuary is very easy.  We prefer the following route:  From the U.S.-83S/U.S.-77S interchange at Harlingen, go south to Brownsville (from the interchange to Brownsville City Limits is ~9.5 miles).  Stay on U.S.-77S/U.S.-83S well into Brownsville (you will pass through parts of the cities of Harlingen, San Benito, Rancho Viejo, and Olmito), crossing over Alton Gloor Rd. (FM-3248), then over Ruben Torres Blvd. (FM-802), then over Boca Chica Blvd. (TX-48).  After crossing over Boca Chica Blvd. (TX-48) (be in the right lane), slow down for the exit to International Blvd. (TX-4), which is just one mile from Boca Chica Blvd.  Take the International Blvd./TX-4 exit, and turn left on International Blvd./TX-4, get in the right lane, and go 0.5 miles to Southmost Blvd.(FM-1419), (there is a traffic light at this intersection).  Turn right onto Southmost Blvd. (FM-1419), at the EZ Pawn store and the traffic light (you will stay on Southmost Blvd. (FM-1419) ~5.9 miles), all the way to Sabal Palm Dr.). 

From the TX-4/Southmost Blvd. intersection, you will go ~3.5 miles to the Raul A. Besteiro Middle School (6280 Southmost Blvd.), which is in the curve and is the last major structure on your right.  Continue from the Middle School for ~2. 4miles to Sabal Palm Rd.  Turn right on Sabal Palm Rd. (which will dead-end at the Sanctuary Visitor Center) and go ~0.4 miles to the Border Fence on the levee, go through the Border Fence and continue ~0.4 miles to Sabal Palm Sanctuary's Rabb House, then continue 0.1 miles to the Visitor Center Parking Area.

Sabal Palm Sanctuary was closed by Texas Audubon for several months, due to lack of support funds (not due to the Border Wall).  Thanks to The Gorgas Science Foundation, the Sanctuary was recently re-opened.

Note:  The photos in this essay were taken on 5/5/2011.  Sabal Palm Sanctuary is extremely dry.  There has been NO significant rainfall, since prior to 1/1/2011.


After you turn onto Sabal Palm Rd., the Border Fence is just 0.4 miles away.


After going through the Border Fence on Sabal Palm Rd., the Rabb House is just 0.4 miles away.


The Rabb House is under renovation and will become the new Visitor Center.  What is also most exiting is that three, new, quite large butterfly garden beds are currently being installed at the Rabb House.  Like the Butterfly Gardens within the Nature Trail near the current Visitor Center, the Rabb House gardens will only contain native LRGV plants.


A view at the Parking Area of the entrance to the Visitor Center, which is just 0.1 mile south of the Rabb House.


Be sure to go inside the Visitor Center to sign in and pay the nominal entrance fee.


The picnic tables and the benches against the deck's rails face the southeast side of the Visitor Center's Bird-feeding Station.  With all the hummingbird feeders, other feeders, fruit, and  water being provided, this is a great place to pause and plan your hikes.  It is always cool here, and many species of birds can be seen at the Bird-feeding Station.  Both beginning and ending your visit to Sabal Palm Sanctuary at this location is always a good idea.


There are more vegetation and butterfly interpretive trail signs at Sabal Palm Sanctuary, than are found at any other wildlife watching location in the LRGV.


The Trail Signs at Sabal Palm Sanctuary are far better than are those found at any other wildlife watching site in the LRGV.  Placed at every junction on any of the Hiking Trails, these and the normal arrow- signs keep you aware of where you are, and keep you from getting turned around. 

Take insect repellent (occasionally, a mosquito, tick or chigger can be found in the Sanctuary, and they want to keep them) and PLENTY OF WATER, at any time of year, when you go on any of the hikes.

Here, and at any wildlife watching area, always remember to STAY ON THE TRAILS! 


Our first hike will be the Forest Trail.  We will start the hike at the Forest Trail/Resaca Loop Trailheads, which begin at the Visitor Center, and we are starting south.


We have turned to the west and are heading towards where the Forest Trail begins it loop.


Here the Forest Trail's loop begins.  We will start south on the Forest Trail loop.


All streambeds in the Sanctuary are bridged.


We are continuing south on the Forest Trail.


We are starting southwest on the Forest Trail Boardwalk, crossing what is normally a very wet portion of the Forest Trail.


The long Boardwalk makes a sharp bend to the south and will end pointing due west.


At the western base of the Boardwalk, the trail will begin a sharp rise, passing through a much drier area of the Forest Trail.


Night-blooming Cereus or Barbed Wire Cactus-Acanthocereus pentagonus can be found in this higher, drier area of Forest Trail as we continue the hike towards the junction with the Resaca Loop .


Texas Prickly Pear-Opuntia engelmannii can be found as we continue west on the Forest Trail.


Numerous, shaded, rest-benches can be found throughout all of Sabal Palm Sanctuary's Trails.


Coming in from the east, the Forest Trail makes a sharp split at the Resaca.  The trail to the right is the long, due north portion of Forest Trail/Resaca Loop Trail.  The trail to the left is the southmost beginning of the Resaca Loop Trail.


Map is for reference.  Ignore the "YOU ARE HERE" arrow.  We are at the southwest corner of Forest Trail.


At the junction, we have taken Forest Trail/Resaca Loop Trail to the right, heading north.


Continuing north on Forest Trail/Resaca Loop Trail towards their intersection with Vireo Lane.


Going north, we have reached the Trails' intersection with Vireo Lane, which is coming in from the west (by the sign).  (We will cover Vireo Lane from the other side of the Resaca, later.)  For now, we will continue north on the Forest Trail/Resaca Loop Trail towards the Resaca Overlook Photo Blind, where the Forest Trail will make a sharp bend to the east.


We have reached the Resaca Overlook Photo Blind, which looks west into the Resaca.


Note that the long entrance into the Resaca Overlook Photo Blind is partly covered on both sides, so that signs of movement are less obvious to the birds and wildlife, as you enter.


My camera is unable to show that the Resaca Overlook Photo Blind is a full semi-circle.  It is roofed for shade, and is designed to allow great viewing and photography opportunities, while helping you to not be very noticable to the birds and wildlife.


Looking due west into the Resaca.


Looking due north into the Resaca.


Looking due south into the Resaca.


Looking southwest into the Resaca.


Map is for reference.  Ignore the "YOU ARE HERE" arrow.  We are at the northwest corner of the Forest Trail, where the Forest Trail bends to the east, back towards the Visitor Center.


Just outside the entrance to the Resaca Overlook Photo Blind, looking to the north towards where the Resaca Loop Trail intersects Oriole Lane.  Directly across from the Blind's entrance, the Forest Trail bends back east, towards the Visitor Center.


We are starting back southeast on the Forest Trail, towards the Visitor Center.


As we continue southeast towards the Visitor Center, we are pausing to listen to several species of singing birds.


We are almost back to the Trailhead at the Visitor Center, seen just ahead.  This short, 0.6 mile hike has been a blast!


Map is for reference.  We are starting the Resaca Loop Trail from the Trailhead at the Visitor Center.


It is a long hike, going west-northwest on our start of the Resaca Loop Trail from the Visitor Center.


We have reached the Resaca Loop Trail/Oriole Lane intersection.  Resaca Loop Trail back to the Visitor Center is at the bottom right; the Resaca Loop Trail, south back to where it joined up with the southernmost part of the Forest Trail (much of which we have already covered), is to the left.  Oriole Lane is straight ahead.


Going northwest on Oriole Lane from its intersection with the Resaca Loop Trail.


Oriole Lane makes a sharp bend to the southwest, as it intersects the Wetland Bridge.


The start of the Wetland Bridge at its intersection with Oriole Lane. 


The Wetland Bridge is quite long, and heads due north.


The northern end of the Resaca is quite dry.  Remember, Sabal Palm Sanctuary has had NO rain since prior to 1/1/2011 (today is 5/5/2011).


The northern end of the Wetland Bridge meets the Berm (which goes northwest then bends to the southwest, where the Resaca Loop Trail turns back to the southeast).  Since it is so dry, we return back south to the Wetland Bridge/Oriole Lane intersection.


The great Sabal Palms can be seen off the Wetland Bridge, also.


We have returned back to the Wetland Bridge/Oriole Lane intersection, and are heading southwest across the Resaca.


Least Grebes, numerous waders and shorebirds can be seen as we take Oriole Lane across the Resaca.  It is so dry, that this is about the northernmost limit of water in the Resaca.


Looking to the southwest towards Dave's Overlook, near where Oriole Lane meets the far side of the Resaca.


Dave's Overlook, just southeast and below Oriole Lane, is another great viewing and photo blind on the Resaca.


A view to the northeast from Dave's Overlook.


Oriole Lane climbs up to the west side of the Resaca Loop Trail and Vireo Lane intersection.


Standing on Oriole Lane (at the bottom) intersection with the Resaca Loop Trail (north and to the right) and Resaca Loop Trail/Vireo Lane (south and to the left).


At the intersection, looking back north at the Resaca Loop Trail, which borders the west side of the Resaca.


Going south on the Resaca Loop Trail/Vireo Lane from the Oriole Lane intersection.


A view to the east of Vireo Lane, just at its intersection with the Resaca Loop Trail, directly opposite the rest-bench on the Resaca Loop Trail. 


Map is for reference.  Ignore the "YOU ARE HERE" arrow.  We are back where the Resaca Loop Trail/Forest Trail start north (right) and the Resaca Loop Trail starts southeast (left) around the southern end of the Resaca.


We have covered the Resaca Loop Trail/Forest Trail going north (right) in the Forest Trail hike.  Now we are going to take the Resaca Loop Trail southwest (left), around the southern tip of the Resaca and end at the Vireo Lane/Resaca Loop Trail intersection.


Going by the southernmost end of the Resaca on the Resaca Loop Trail, the trail makes a steep drop, where it is wetter, and the vegetation becomes much more lush.


As we continue bending around the southern end of the Resaca, we see this area is as low in water as we found at the northern end of the Resaca.


Several wildflower species, such as Turk's Cap-Malvaviscus arboreus are seen, along with Sabal Palms, as we begin a slight rise before our turn to the north on the Resaca Loop Trail, towards the Vireo Lane. 


The Resaca Loop Trail continues to rise toward much more drier habitat, just as it turns north, towards the Vireo Lane's eastward crossing.


After the Resaca Loop Trail climbs over  the berm at the southern end of the Resaca and heads north, we reach a rest-bench that faces east, at Vireo Lane.


A view to the north of the Resaca Loop Trail, from the Bench and the eastward bending of the Vireo Lane, back towards the Oriole Lane/Resaca Loop Trail intersection (that we have already discussed).


The walk, eastward from Vireo Lane's intersection with the Resaca Loop Trail at the rest-bench (see the photo above the previous map), passes through very lush vegetation.


As we continue east on Vireo Lane's Resaca crossing, we meet up with the intersection of the Resaca Loop Trail/Forest Trail.  Turning left (north) at the intersection will take us back to the Resaca Loop Trail/Oriole Lane intersection (we covered the walk back, during our Forest Trail hike).


Map is for reference.  Ignore the "YOU ARE HERE" arrow.  We have gone back north on the Resaca Loop Trail/Forest Trail to the intersection of Oriole Lane and the Resaca Loop Trail, to start our hike back to the Visitor Center.


Going back southeast on the Resaca Loop Trail to the Visitor Center seems longer than when we came up this trail, at the start of the hike.


The Visitor Center is just ahead, and we end our 1.1 mile (is that all it was?) Resaca Loop Trail hike.  Cold sodas and some rest at the Bird-feeding Station, before we start the Nature Trail hike, are awaiting us.


Map is for reference.  Ignore the "YOU ARE HERE" arrow.  The Native Trail hike starts from the Visitor Center's Parking Lot.


The Entrance to the Native Trail, the Via del Rio Trail, and the Butterfly Garden is at the Visitor Center Parking Lot.


The Butterfly Garden is towards the top of the list, if not there, of the many butterfly gardens in the LRGV, and is, indeed, a"must" place to visit.  Even if you are not "into" butterflies, the huge variety of flowering Lower Rio Grande Valley native plants and the great variety of LRGV birds (particularly hummingbirds), makes a stroll through the Butterfly Garden worth your while.


The fenced area behind the Visitor Center is the original butterfly garden.  Now, it is set up not only with butterfly-attracting plants, but is another Bird-feeding Station with a water feature.  Benches are in place to let you comfortably wait on the birds and butterflies.


Numerous Benches (more than are found at any other LRGV wildlife watching site) are placed within a few feet of the beds and are much appreciated by everyone, enhancing a great wildlife watching experience.  Other LRGV butterfly gardens would do well to follow Sabal Palm Sanctuary's example.  The LRGV can, occasionally, get a little warm, and a shaded rest-bench is always welcomed.


The water feature on the east side of the Butterfly Garden is a very long, bubbling stream that attracts many birds and other wildlife (notice all the benches).


These are just a few of the flower beds that are scattered throughout the Butterfly Garden.  Notice that the size of the beds allow close viewing into the beds from any side.  Sabal Palm Sanctuary put a lot of thought into the total design of the Butterfly Garden.


Still more flower beds.  The Sabal Palm Sanctuary has more butterfly-interpretive signage than any other Butterfly Garden in the LRGV.


Several of the flowering plants in Sabal's Butterfly Garden are unique to the tip of Texas, and are not found in any other LRGV wildlife watching butterfly garden.


Map is for reference.  Ignore the "YOU ARE HERE" arrow.  We are heading due east from the Butterfly Garden on the Native Trail going towards the River Overlook.


The walk from the Butterfly Garden, going east to the River Overlook, is a relatively short walk; however, take it slowly and enjoy the butterflies. birds, and plants as you go.


The many songs and calls of the birds, that we are hearing on the Native Trail, are just as amazing as what we heard on the Forest Trail and the Resaca Loop Trail.


The many grassy meadows along the Native Trail are abundant.  After rains the meadows can be filled with wildflowers, bringing in many butterflies and birds.  Again, all of the photos in this essay were taken on 5/5/2011, and as noted before:  there has not been ANY rainfall at Sabal Palm Sanctuary, since months prior to 1/1/2011.  If not highly shaded, the meadows throughout the Native Trail (and the Via del Rio Trail) are extremely dry.


Just as the Native Trail turns to the north, we can see the turn-down to the River Overlook to the right at the end of the photo.


Going east down the path to the right for just a few feet, and we will be at the River Overlook.


At the River Overlook, look around for some of the many birds that you can see near a river bank.


The River Overlook faces due east towards the Republic of Mexico.  Going across the deck at the end of the Overlook, we found lots of Basket Flower-Plectocephalus americanus scattered among the sunflowers on the river bank.  This is the first time we have seen Basket Flower growing in the LRGV.  Lots of Lesser Goldfinch are working on the sunflowers, and butterflies and hummingbirds are coming to the Basket Flowers. 


We are looking due east and straight across into Mexico.  The Rio Grande River at this point is very narrow, only ~50 yards wide.

Confusingly, since we are on a bend in the River, the River flows from right to left (or from south to north) in front of us, as it heads to the Gulf of Mexico, just a few miles away.


As we look to our right (south and downstream) a pair of Mottled Ducks lift off the Rio Grande River, and a Gray Hawk is calling.  This would be a geat place to add birds to your Mexico and U.S. lists, as the birds fly back and forth across the River.


After we came up the path from the River Overlook, we continue north on Native Trail towards the Via del Rio Trailhead.


The Native Trail has just turned west and has met the Via del Rio Trailhead (to our right as the Vial del Rio starts north).  We will continue west on the Native Trail to go back to the Butterfly Garden.


As we head west on the Native Trail, we pass many parched meadows.


The Native Trail bends to the southwest and takes us through very typical Tamaulipan thorn scrub.


The Native Trail bends sharply to the west, towards the Butterfly Garden.  All during this short hike, we have seen and heard dozens of Olive Sparrows (our favorite North American Sparrow).


We have reached the Butterfly Garden (the back of the Visitor Center can be seen, ahead), and when we reach the car for a cold soda, we will have finished this short, 0.4 mile hike.  We will return back this way for the short hike back to the Via del Rio Trailhead, to begin our last, but long, hot hike.


Map is for reference.  Ignore the "YOU ARE HERE" arrow.  We are just a few yards above where the Via del Rio Trail meets the Native Trail, on the Via del Rio Trail.


We have started north on the west side of the Via del Rio Trail, just above its southern Trailhead's junction with the Native Trail.


This will be a very short discussion of the Via del Rio Trail, because all of the habitat on the long, narrow, oval Via del Rio Trail (and we DID do the hike!) is very monotonous, and it is extremely dry.  We have seen few birds or butterflies and no reptiles.


Hiking back south on the east side of the Via del Rio Trail, we have a dry, grassy berm on our left, with Mexico being seen over the berm.


We have come south down the east side of the Via del Rio Trail, and are almost at the turn to the nearby Trailhead, where we started: ending this long, hot and boring 1.2 mile hike.  We have done this hike, before, when Sabal Palm Sanctuary was not parched.  The Via del Rio Trail can, indeed, be fun for both birds and butterflies and reptiles; the flora can be lush and blooming, but not today.  It is time to make the short trip back to the Butterfly Garden and another cold soda.


Made it and time to look for butterflies and birds (which you can't do, while taking pictures of trails), but Dave the Wimp says his feet are sore and wants to go eat a late lunch.  Oh well, we both have enjoyed all we have seen and will be back.  Sabal Palm Sanctuary is less than an hour's drive from our house in Mission, and that includes some 30mph areas; we are so happy it has re-opened. 

Thanks, Seth, Jimmy, and the other volunteers for all you do, here.

Please consider making a tax-free donation to The Gorgas Science Foundation!