BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Sheltered in a bend of the Rio Grande, not far from where the river empties into the Gulf of Mexico, thrives a vestige of what was once a vast palm forest.

The 557-acre Sabal Palm Sanctuary is owned by the National Audubon Society and managed by the Gorgas Science Foundation. Within the tract stands the historic Rabb Plantation home built in 1891, which is nestled amidst the critically endangered 32-acre legacy native palm forest that once extended some 80 miles upriver and encompassed approximately 40,000 acres.

As you stroll the serene palm-shrouded paths of the Sanctuary, you are taken back in time where primordial palm forest once stretched for miles along the banks of the Rio Grande.

With more than three miles of nature trails, some draped with gently swaying strands of Spanish moss, the sanctuary offers visitors a unique glimpse into the rich natural heritage of the Rio Grande Valley.

This iconic palm grove and surrounding environs is home to an astonishing diversity of wildlife from colorful red-crowned parrots, tropical ringed kingfisher, and dazzling butterflies.

While raucous calls of wild parrots echo through towering palms, you may glimpse an exotic Mexican bluewing butterfly flitting along forested pathways.

If you want to see one of the rarest snakes in the United States, then Sabal Palm Sanctuary is the place to go.

The strikingly beautiful speckled racer barely edges into the United States. Sporting an array of yellow to bluish pearl-like spotting, they may appear turquoise to gleaming black depending on how light plays on them.

Ecotourism is a huge boost to the Rio Grande Valley bringing in more than $400 million annually, and Sabal Palm Sanctuary is a prime attraction for visitors.

Sabal Palm Sanctuary is open six days a week from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Wednesdays.