8 Cool Things to do in and Around the Everglades –
On the southern tip of Florida is 1.5 million acres designated as Everglades National Park. Surrounded by The Big Cypress Preserve, the Fakahatchee Strand and the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge, the area offers: sawgrass marshes, cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks, pine lands, mangroves and estuaries. These diverse ecosystems make for all manner of wildlife, ecotourism and exploration. The roadside canals are in constant disruption of boils and splashes as whatever lies beneath surfaces for food and air. The skies are also in constant motion from birds of all shapes, sizes and colors. I am fortunate to have several days to criss cross in and around the Everglades. While, I couldn’t possibly cover it all during this visit here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite curiosities.
Say you were there @ Robert is Here:
Just outside of Everglades Park entrance on State Hwy 9336 is Robert is Here. Billing itself as a fruit stand it is sooo much more. It’s one of those road side destinations I just love. Of course, there is plenty of fruit to be had before venturing into the Everglades. But you can also pick up some sandwiches and other treats from the grill. The visit is not complete without getting a fresh fruit smoothie and a $3 bag of animal feed and heading out back. Here you’ll find chickens, turkey, emus, turtles and one rude goat anxious to help you free yourself from the huge bag of food.
The east side of the Tamiami trail (HWY 41) is a little touristy with more development primarily of air-boat operators, and alligator shows. The southside of the trail offers more commercial venues whereas the north side offers smaller boats operated by the Miccosukees and Seminoles. I am always a sucker for the touristy things and opt to visit the Everglades Safari Park. The admission includes the 35 minute boat ride and an alligator show afterward. On my next trip I’d opt to support the local tribes and chose the smaller boats and forego the alligator show.
Bike Shark Valley loop:
Bring your own bike or rent one nearby. The 15 mile loop is one unforgettable ride. Besides the usual abundance of birds and plants, you will also see many alligators along this stretch. While a little unsettling at first, the gators really don’t pay you much mind. The observation tower at the turn around point offers a 360 degree view of the Everglades as far as the eye can see. Enjoy the view, the flat roads, and pray you don’t have a flat. For the faint of heart, a guided tram tour is also available for the loop.
Take a walk on the wild side – Swamp Walk:
To experience the beauty and diversity of the Everglades, a Swamp Walk is a must. Several ranger led options and locations are available. I chose to swamp walk in the Fakahatchee Strand. This is a strenuous 1/2 day hike in cool, murky, knee deep water. There is a bit of satisfaction achieved by spending a few hours slogging through a swamp and coming out unscathed to brag about it.
Take a walk on the wilder side – Florida Panther Refuge:
The Panther Refuge located on Highway 29 covers over 26,000 acres and offers a protected range for the once endangered Florida Panther. Believe it or not there are trails available through the refuge where I saw owls, storks, and an abundance of interesting plants. Panther sightings are rare on the 1.3 mile trail and as such I did not see any. However, signs warn not to leave valuables in car. I guess panthers, because they are now protected, have developed a pilfering problem.
Gators, Crocs, and Manatees, oh my!
Due to the confluence of fresh water from the Shark River slough and the salt water of Florida Bay, Flamingo offers a rare opportunity to see Alligators and American Crocodiles in coexistence. I walk into the visitor center and inquire about the location of the crocodiles. The attendant points to the marina and informs me they are all over out there. I walk out on the docks and circle around the marina. I only see a pelican. A little disappointed, I walk the seawall around a rocky shoal. Then a flash and splash. I reel around and see 2 eyes and a snout peering at me. I’m relatively sure it’s a crocodile due to its tannish color and pointed snout. The eyes sink below the water and simultaneously the nostrils of a breathing manatee appear. I know the manatee didn’t eat that croc, but I never see the reptile again.
I watch the manatee as it frolics in the foam along the seawall. It seems to be sucking at the foam like it was a head on a beer. I follow the manatee as he stops and seems to be making an easy meal of the algae that has formed on the seawall.
Since I was a kid sitting in the backyard of grandmothers house identifying robins, cardinals, bluejays and woodpeckers, I’ve had an affinity for birds. The Everglades is a birders paradise. Everywhere I turn is not only just a new bird to identify, but they are big and colorful birds. The Tamiami Trail is lined by a canal on the North side. It is just teeming with life and wading birds of all types can be seen . The Wood Stork though a bit awkward looking on ground looks like a 747 on final approach in the air. The snowy egrets shine like beacons with the marshy thickets and saw grasses as backdrops.
The Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm at the park entrance on 9336 give testament that these these ain’t your momma’s sparrows. A sign foretells of damage to vehicles by vultures. The park provides large blue tarps to protect your wiper blades that the vultures have taken a liking to eating. The Anhinga Trial, true to its name, offers many Anhingas with their wings spread and backs to the sun. Having seen Anhinga many times, the little Purple Gallinule hopping across the water lilies garners most of my attention. The Roseate Spoonbill, a striking pink wader, can often be seen a little further down the road at Paurotis Pond.
Revisit the Cold War:
Back in the 60’s during the Cold War tensions mounted as Russia used Cuba to house nuclear weapons. The Everglades Nike Missile site was the first line of defense for the US. During the height of the crisis, this site had over 20 buildings and 100’s of troops. Today only a few of the buildings remain and 3 of the bunkers serve as reminders of a bygone era. The site has a volunteer on-hand to provide history and details of the site and armament. Though, these times are limited and access is blocked otherwise.