Friday, October 16, 2015

Walking and Boating the Everglades

Leaving Key West, there is no easy way to get to the west coast of Florida except to drive across the entire state, either on I75 or SH41.  Since SH41 ran smack through the Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress National Preserve, we decided to take the more southern route on our way to the Fort Myers area, our next planned destination,  and stay just long enough to take airboat ride through the Everglades.

Highway warning

Did you know there were panthers in Florida?  I have to say I did not.  Even though I didn't actually see one, this highway sign must be proof of it!  This was the first big surprise of our time in the Everglades.  The second was when we got to our campground - it was completely empty, except for the resident "camp host."

Our very own!

This campground was beautiful, with about 30 concrete pads with electricity around a small lake.  No other amenities, but the grounds were beautifully maintained and each site had a couple of trees for shade.  For the first two nights, the alligator was our only companion!

Airboat tour companies line the highway all through the park, but after researching the options, we decided to take a "quiet boat" tour offered by the park.  This option gave us the best chance of seeing wildlife and took us into the dense, swampy mangroves on a 6 passenger boat at a slow pace, with a guide that could personally answer all our questions.

My first alligator sighting!
Just in case we didn't see one on our boat tour.

Doesn't he look excited?

Armed with lots of bug spray and hats, we headed out.   Our guide was a native to the area and well informed about all kinds of things.  He had an answer for every question posed and more.

Also called Chockoloskee Chicken, the local Native Americans used to eat this bird.

Ibis family
The ibis young are grey in color, to blend in with the trees better, then turn white as they grow up.  We watched this family's children learning to fly.


An osprey nest built into the sign.  Unfortunately, we didn't see any manatee on this trip.

Heading into the mangroves

Spider webs across the waterway
Impossible to photograph, the webs crisscrossed the water and contained the largest spiders I've ever seen in my life!

These things are enormous and I spent the first part of the trip praying that none would decided to drop into the boat or, worse, on to my head.

Tree crabs
A little hard to see in this picture, these little guys were everywhere in the mangroves.  You didn't notice them at first, but once you got accustomed to seeing them, the trees were alive with them.

We did see alligator in the swamp and the river leading up to it as well as lots more birds.  The most fascinating part of the trip, however, was just being among the mangroves in a place where you could never see except in a boat and hearing the guide talk about the different flora and fauna.  The whole thing took a couple of hours and was time well spent.  We left there with a whole different understanding of the Everglades and a new appreciation for the area I had previously considered just a swamp!

Even though it was hotter than Hades and the humidity was about 98%, we next decided to go on a nature walk.  Throughout the parks, there are boardwalks that have been constructed to allow easy access into the dense vegetation.  I was amazed at the variety of trees, flowers and plants in the wetlands.

You mean Florida is not just beaches?!

Air plants
Sid was just fascinated by the air plants and snitched a couple to have in the motorhome.

This guy was hiding along the walkway before we hit the boardwalk.  He looked so docile that we had to remember the warning signs posted everywhere and not get too close.

On our way back, the alligator we had seen earlier had decided to get out of the water and sun himself.  Let me tell you, it's a bit of a shock to round a corner and almost step on this guy!

Even the turtles wanted a little sun.

Tree trunk
This strangling fig must have surround this tree when it was much younger.

Of course, we saw much more than is shown in these few photos.  In fact, we found the area to be so interesting that, instead of stay just two nights, we extended to four and had some other adventures that you'll hear about in a later post.  For now, I'll leave you with one of the beautiful sunsets that we experienced during our stay.

Sunset over the Everglades

Until next time...

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