“Here are no lofty peaks seeking the sky, no mighty glaciers or rushing streams wearing away the uplifted land. Here is land, tranquil in its quiet beauty, serving not as the source of the water but as the last receiver of it. To its natural abundance we owe the spectacular plant and animal life that distinguishes this place from all others in our country.” – President Harry S. Truman, address at dedication of Everglades National Park.

image

The Florida National Parks are located in southern Florida. We decided to use air mileage and fly in and out of Fort Lauderdale instead of hauling Tex all the way from Austin. This meant we had to find lodging in the super expensive area south of Miami to be central to Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. We ended up booking the Super 8 in Homestead which we jokingly referred to as “the 8” because we just didn’t find it that super.

Everglades is the third largest national park in the contiguous U.S. and is the first national park that was created to protect a threatened ecological system that even today still hangs in a delicate balance between man and nature.

IMG_4494

IMG_4493

There are four-visitor centers spread-out along the park’s North, South, West and East boundaries. We selected the Ernest Coe Visitor Center, east of Homestead, to watch the park movie, take in the exhibits, and find a park ranger to discuss the best way to spend our time in the Everglades (much of which is inaccessible to cars). Turns out that a majority of the hiking trails in the park are located along the main park road between the Ernest F. Coe and Flamingo visitor centers.

IMG_4510

We started with the Anhinga Trail. While almost certain to spot alligators along this half-mile loop, we were amazed to see lots of birds and at least twenty-one alligators warming themselves together in the sun just off the trail. During the dry season (December-April) water gets scarce and the alligators apparently tolerate each other near deeper water holes.

IMG_4492

image

IMG_4499

image

IMG_4487

IMG_4500

There are about 100 vultures around this trail and the park service has a tote of tarps to lend to visitors to cover their cars. Apparently damage to vehicles is common!

The ranger also let us know that the Barred Owl had a nest on the Mahogany Hammock Trail hike. When you look out over the Everglades you mainly see grass, but there are clumps of trees here and there which signifies drier land. We went in search of the owl but hoot no. We did see the largest living Mahogany tree in the US and an impressive forest of the most diverse tree types

IMG_4504

image

IMG_4495

The 40-mile drive through the park ends at the Flamingo visitor center and campground where the park meets the ocean. We took in the exhibits, explored the shoreline and did our fair share of bird watching until we decided to start the drive back out of the park ending our first day.

image

IMG_4498

To complete our visit we decided to take a 45-minute drive to the northern end of the park and visit the Shark Valley Visitor Center. We debated whether to walk, bike or take a tram tour along the 14-mile loop road. In the end we opted to take the 14-mile guided tram ride and we are glad we did. Our guide was excellent and we saw numerous alligators and birds. We were even lucky enough to see a mother alligator defend her babies and a father Anhinga feed his young. The baby Anhinga stuck its head clear down the father’s mouth to get the food!

IMG_4565

That shadow in the water is an alligator just waiting for the right moment!

That shadow in the water is an alligator just waiting for the right moment!

image

Babies took off running as we neared and the mother shot out about three feet before hissing and sliding back into her hiding place.

image

Well of course there’s snakes.

image

Non native Burmese Pythons (one of the largest snake species on earth) are eating mammals and birds. This skin is over 15 ft long.

image

Oh, almost forgot, we found a fruit stand called “Robert is here” just outside the park near Homestead that makes the best fruit milk shakes! If you’re ever this way absolutely stop here!

IMG_4582

Visited February, 2015

Next Up: Biscayne National Park