#7 Everglades National Park
Well, the Everglades were not what I was expecting! Aren't the Everglades just a big scary swamp with alligators bellowing all around you? Well, the last part of that statement is true; but the first part is not. The everglades are a river, not a swamp. Granted, the river only moves 100' per day, but it is a river nonetheless. It actually looks like a prairie grassland, you would never know there was water just below the the grass. Not kidding, I thought I was looking at a tall grass prairie in South Dakota.
The Everglades are a quite fragile ecosystem. As I saw in Congaree NP, a mere 2 or 3 inches in water levels and ground elevation completely change the ecosystem. This is shocking to say the least! The park contains 1-1/2 million acres and is mostly unknown because accessing it is so difficult. I think it's nice that this mystery still exists in a day and age when natural mysteries are in short supply. I like wondering what the alligators are talking about in the back country.
I saw this quote at the ranger station and I hope it resonates with you as it did me.
"There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them: their vast glittering openness, wider than the enormous visible round of the horizon, the racing free saltness and sweetness of their massive winds under the dazzling blue height of space. They are unique also in the simplicity, the diversity, the related harmony of the forms of life they enclose...It is a river of grass."
Margaret Stoneman Douglas, Conservationist
Much of the park was underwater from Hurricane Irma, so we walked the Anhinga Boardwalk Trail a couple of times and then I jogged out to the main road from the Royal Palm Visitor Center to get the 5K in.
A Florida Soft Shell Turtle about 2' long
An Anhinga is a bird indigenous to the area. They can stay underwater for a full 10 minutes fishing! While we were watching two of them fish, a giant bellow came from not too far behind us. I've heard lions roar up close and this bellow was not too far off the decibel scale of a lion. Yikes! We then heard another location and another. Then across the pond came another bellow. This went on for some time. The range informed us that they are "just visiting with each other" when they perform these very vocal outbursts. Are you sure? Sounded more like "Get out of my swamp, or I'll eat you!"
For all you air plant lovers. The air plants were in every tree! They were large and plentiful. These were about 2' tall
This might not have been Anna's favorite place. She would have loved the alligators and birds, but not all the spiders. (Anna was highly allergic to spiders and insect bites) I couldn't help thinking how freaked out she would have been by the countless spiders we saw.
When i was running out on the visitor center road to the main road, I saw a big alligator tail on the side of the road and then a giant splash and he was gone...or was he? Of course, I started running right down the middle of the road in order to avoid any other encounters. I could hear the voice of the National Parks Public Affairs Director in my head, asking me kindly to check in with the rangers in every park before going out,"Let the rangers know where you are running and when you will be back...you know, in case you get eaten by an alligator or get hit by a car, we will know where to find you". It turns out both of those were a possibility in the Everglades.
There's something very primal about being in the Everglades. There are no fences to keep you a safe distance from nature's beauty and dangers.
You are immersed; you are connected, and that's wonderful.