I thought I had lost it yesterday, driving and even riding through Miami. For those who think that Atlanta traffic is bad, I invite you to try I-95 through South Florida. But today, I regained my sanity in Everglades National Park.
The Everglades is a big place, most of it water. In this subtropical paradise, the elevation doesn’t go any higher than eight feet. We drove from the Homestead entrance into the park to Flamingo at the edge of Florida Bay, about 33 miles. This park is made for canoeing, not hiking, but we walked all the boardwalks that they offered. When we tried to walk the Christian Point Trail, a real dirt trail, we got eaten alive by mosquitoes. We were the Christians and the mosquitoes were the lions. We turned around quickly but not quickly enough. We’ll be scratching for days.
We walked the paved tourist trails but didn’t see any tourists. The trails seem to be ordered almost in altitude order: Freshwater marsh (the river of grass), Mahogany Hammock, Pineland, baldcypress, mangrove and Florida Bay.
I know baldcypress from walking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail through North Carolina, in the coastal plains. But here the cypress trees are scrawny and really bald.
The Everglades is otherworldly. The savannah really does look like a river of grass. But it’s the birds that stand out. They’re big and identifiable. We have egrets, herons, ibis, vultures.
And the birds don’t fly away when approached. Even when they cross the road, they take their time. If I can photograph a heron with a small “point and shoot” camera, you know I was close.
The Everglades are the only place where alligators and crocodiles coexist. We saw several alligators floating lazily in a pond. No crocodiles, today, though.
The Everglades is mostly water, but the big problem is the lack of water. As the park explains, before 1880, Lake Okeechobee used to overflow its southern rim in the rainy season. This started the waterflow to Florida Bay. Now the flow is interrupted by cities, roads, levees, dams, locks and pumps. The everglades must compete with people and agriculture and it’s not doing well.
Everglades National Park works hard to attract visitors. It offers a free trolley ride on weekends to three destinations from Homestead, the gateway town. You can take it to the Everglades visitor center, to Biscayne National Park or even a beach. Because it’s a joint venture with the city of Homestead, it’s well advertised. The park, itself, can’t advertise.
Once in Flamingo, the park also worries about your car.
It seems that vultures will eat the rubber around the car doors and windows. The park can’t shoo away the birds but they can try to protect your car. So they offer tarps to put over your vehicle. I guess that they realize that most visitors will find the Everglades a strange or even frightening place. And they try to smooth the experience, all in the name of attracting visitors to their national park.