Day 83 of Year Long Roadtrip Following Scenic Byways in the USA
The Everglades National Park
After dropping Carol at the airport, I continued on to Wellington for another night at Page’s before heading to The Everglades National Park in the morning. I passed by acres of farmland, some merely plowed and barren and others planted with vegetables and fruit. The Everglades in Southern Florida span over 4,000 square miles. The area is so large that the 1.5 million acre National Park occupies only 20% of the area. The widest river in the world, 50 miles, slowly flows through the grassy wetlands whose highest elevation reaches only ten feet.
After collecting a brochure from the Main Visitor Center, I stopped at the Royal Palm Visitor Center to explore a few short trails. Scout and Petey didn’t get to join me on the trails, but they got to walk around the visitor centers and picnic areas along the way. I first took the Gumbo Limbo Trail, not even half a mile. The trail is named for the Gumbo Limbo tree, once used for making carousel horses, was imported to the area by Spaniards. Its smooth bark peels off its trunk like sun burnt skin.
The next trail I took was named for the Anhinga bird. The boardwalk on the Anhinga Trail provided access to a variety of wildlife. Herons hunted for small fish. Anhingas stretched their wings to dry their feathers. Alligators rested on the shores. Vultures circled overhead. I had a heyday photographing this natural world. The best way to describe the area is to simply post the pictures.
Long Pine Key
Since I got to enjoy two walks, I thought it was time to let the dogs enjoy one. The ranger at the Main Visitor Center suggested that the walk around the picnic area at Long Pine Key was lovely. Lovely is right…we circled a small, aqua blue lake while watching for alligators. Thankfully we didn’t find any.
Our next stop was at the Pa-hay-okee Overlook. The boardwalk looped over expansive grasslands that looked more like an African prairie than a wetland. I reflected on my recent safari in Tanzania, and thought I’d be lunch for a lion right about now, as I meandered by the shimmering sawgrass.
Mahogany Hammock and West Lake
I moved on to Mahogany Hammock, a jungle-like area. The boardwalk wound past ferns, orchids, palms, and one of the oldest, largest mahoganies in America. Driving a little farther south, I arrived at West Lake, a mangrove home to alligators and a variety of birds. I believe it was too cold for the alligators to be out, but I saw a handful of birds hopping along entanglements of exposed roots.
Finally, I made it to Flamingo, the last stop in the Everglades National Park, at least by car anyway. Flamingo includes a visitor center, boat tours, exhibits, and a convenience store – the only place to get food in 40 miles. The dogs and I toured the parking lot, passing by a drainage ditch where a GIANT alligator laid sunning. I think I jumped a foot as the alligator’s eyes opened and rolled around toward the back of its head in an attempt to get a look at us. We made a quick detour!
Before I left Flamingo and backtracked all the way to Wellington for my final night in a house, I briefly strolled along the Coastal Prairie Trail offering views of the Florida Bay. I spent some time photographing what I thought was a white heron, indigenous to Florida, but I think it turned out to be a great white egret…bummer! Carol and I had seen one in the keys, but we weren’t quick enough with our cameras before it flew away.
I really enjoyed the Everglades. I’m certain the cool weather had something to do with it, as the park wasn’t too crowded and the mosquitoes weren’t biting! ETB