“Everglades National Park is an American national park that protects the southern twenty percent of the original Everglades in Florida. The park is the largest tropical wilderness in the United States, and the largest wilderness of any kind east of the Mississippis River. An average of one million people visit the park each year. Everglades is the third-largest national park in the contiguous United States after Death Valley and Yellowstone. Most national parks preserve unique geographic features; Everglades National Park was the first created to protect a fragile ecosystem. The Everglades are a network of wetlands and forests fed by a river flowing 0.25 miles (0.40 km) per day out of Lake Okeechobee, southwest into Florida Bay. The park is the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America and contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. Thirty-six threatened or protected species inhabit the park, including the Florida panther, the American crocodile, and the West Indian manatee, along with 350 species of birds, 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish, 40 species of mammals, and 50 species of reptiles.”
Who knew? I was aware of the fact that my sister’s home in Weston, Florida, was built on the Everglades. In the twenty years that she has lived there, I went to visit dozens of times. Yet, I never once went to the National Park. My biggest fear is that of alligators. Route 75 (also known as Alligator Alley) runs west out of Weston to Naples. Take one guess why they call it Alligator Alley. We continued west on 75 to Route 29 South to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center. After watching a few historical movies, we took a break on the water’s edge enjoying the view. We wondered if we were looking at one of the Ten Thousand Islands, a chain of islands and mangrove islets off the coast of southwest Florida, between Cape Romano and the mouth of the Lostman’s River.
We went back north and then headed east on Tamiami Trail (Route 41) and entered Big Cypress National Preserve.
Big Cypress National Preserve is a United States National Preserve located in South Florida about 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Miami on the Atlantic coastal plain. Unlike the vast sea of grass that makes up the Everglades, Big Cypress has five primary habitats: Hardwood hammocks, Pineland, Prairies, Cypress swamps, and Estuaries. The Preserve is open all year, but the Visitor Centers are closed on December 25. From December through April, rangers lead programs including swamp walks, canoe tours, talks and amphitheater programs. Recreation options include bird watching, wildflower viewing, bicycling, canoeing, hunting and off-road vehicle explorations. There are several parks with boardwalk trails along Tamiami Trail. We stopped at Ochopee first and chatted with a friendly ranger.
It would be here that we would see our first alligator!
I needed to mail some postcards, so we made a quick stop at the post office.
All this walking was making us hungry. There was one restaurant in the area. It was both bizarre and yummy.
Our next stop was H.P. Williams Roadside Park.
We took a short walk and snapped a few pictures of our friends below us.
Our next stop was at Kirby Storter Roadside Park where we enjoyed a long walk along another boardwalk. Since it was winter’s dry season, you could tell how high the water level had been during the wet season.
We got back in the truck and continued east to Loop Road, otherwise known as County Road 94. It is 24 miles long and is south of the current path of Tamiami Trail. The rangers at the Visitor’s Center had suggested we take a ride on this unpaved road. It was quiet and magical as we drove for miles, stopping to catch photos of gators and birds.
We exited the park at the Tamiami Ranger Station located on the southeast side. Scott would return for an overnight solo kayak trip on December 20. Before he left, I wanted to know his EXACT plan. I wasn’t thrilled about his solo journey, but I knew I would have high anxiety if I joined him. He entered Everglades National Park via Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center from the east and traveled to Flamingo Visitor Center to obtain his overnight permit. He parked at Hells Bay Canoe Trail, and planned to sleep in a lean to on Pearl Bay Chickee Island. He saw one group of four people along the way, and he was able to get some footage with his GoPro.
After two hours paddling through the mangroves, he stopped to take a quick break. As he got back into the water, the kayak flipped over and he lost his drinking water. It was a quick but difficult decision to abort this journey. After all, there would be no place to get fresh water. Needless to say, this is EXACTLY why I wouldn’t go with him. There are gators in those waters…even though he never saw any.