Tag Archives: Florida

More From The Everglades

View from the observation tower at the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park

I had always thought of the Everglades as a swamp, but it’s not.  While there are swamp areas in and around the park, the Everglades per-se is actually a 60-mile wide freshwater river, running from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico.  It is only a few feet deep in most places.  Because the water flows across a limestone shelf, there is little or no silt or sediment, so the water is remarkably clear.  The flow of water has been greatly impacted over the years by development and diversion of the water to major cities, but recent efforts to stem the loss of wetlands has at least slowed the loss of this ecosystem.

Observation platform on the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park

For our visit, we wanted to see as much of the park as possible, so we didn’t really spend a lot of time in any one place.  It would be possible to spend weeks in any one area, but to get a good overview we concentrated on three main areas.  We stayed in south Miami near Homestead, so we had a good bit of driving to do to get anywhere, especially the second and third areas mentioned below.

Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park, Florida
The Gumbo Limbo Trail in Everglades National Park, Florida
Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park, Florida

The southernmost part of the park starts near Homestead and stretches from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center down SR-9336 to the Flamingo Visitor Center.  We spent time on the Anhinga Trail, which is an easy 0.8-mile path and boardwalk through an area that is home of a large number of wildlife.

Baby alligators along the trail from the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park
Tram tour from the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park

The section that is probably most familiar to visitors to south Florida is the section that is bisected by US-41, known as the Tamiami Trail.  Because the Tamiami Trail only borders the National Park on the south side, and only in a relatively small section, this is the place where all the air boat rides, ‘gator rasslin’ places and trinket shops are located.  The Shark Valley visit center is probably the most visited center in the park, and unfortunately has the smallest parking lot.  It’s not unusual to have to endure long waits to get into the parking lot, with the alternative of parking on the road and walking about a half mile in to the visitor center.  That wouldn’t be bad in February, but I wouldn’t want to do that in August!  Then again, I want very little to do with south Florida in August!

We were fortunate to have only a relatively short wait to park, then lucked into a tram tour that left about an hour after we arrived.  The “loop road” that goes to an observation tower is a 15-mile round trip.  Walking it would be the ideal way to experience the trail and the wildlife, but 15-miles is a long way!  It’s also possible to bicycle the trail, and it’s possible to rent bikes there.  But the tram tour goes slowly enough and stops whenever wildlife is encountered, so for tourists like us it’s a pretty good way to get around.

White Pelican and Cormorants during our Everglades National Park
Historic Smallwood Store on Chokoloskee Island, Florida

The third area, which is probably more a sub-area of the second, is the area around the towns of Everglades City and Chokoloskee.  From Chokoloskee we took a boat tour through the Chokoloskee Bay toward the Gulf of Mexico.  We opted for a tour in a small motor boat rather than an airboat, since the motor boat is slower and quieter I think we were able to see a lot more wildlife.  Airboats are not allowed in the National Park, so any of the airboat companies up along the Tamiami Trail don’t actually take you into the National Park.  Not a big deal, but I wanted to experience the park proper, not just the Everglades in general.  We lucked out and only had 4 people on our tour plus the guide.  Compared to the option of the airboat I think we made the right choice.  I’d love to take an airboat ride sometime, but I think of it as more of a thrill ride than a way to see wildlife up close.

Everglades National Park contains a number of these shell islands that were constructed by the Calusa Indians using only shells. The shell layers are visible along the edges of the water.
Everglades National Park boat cruise with Everglades Area Tours
Dolphins during our Everglades National Park boat cruise with Everglades Area Tours

I’ve got plans for a few more posts detailing some of the highlights from these various areas.  I didn’t want to clutter this post up with too many more words or photos, so those will come later.

An Unexpected Place

Nike Missile Base Historic Area in Everglades National Park, Florida

When Kathy & I were looking over information about the Everglades, we had noticed several references to a Nike Missile base located within the park.  There wasn’t a lot information online, but once we got there we saw signs  directing us toward the location and indicating that there were “open house” hours daily.  So we decided to check it out.

Nike Missile Base Historic Area in Everglades National Park, Florida
Nike Missile Base Historic Area in Everglades National Park, Florida
Nike Missile Base Historic Area in Everglades National Park, Florida

As it turns out, there had been three Nike sites located within the Everglades as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the close-the-barn-door approach that was taken after the fact.  There are several abandoned bunkers that are inaccessible due to asbestos contamination, an unused hanger and one that houses an actual but de-fused Nike missile.

Nike Missile Base Historic Area in Everglades National Park, Florida
Nike Missile Base Historic Area in Everglades National Park, Florida

It was an interesting side trip on an otherwise nature-oriented visit, but it was something unexpected in an otherwise natural habitat.

“Don’t worry, those signs aren’t enforced on Mondays.” We were there on a Monday. Whew!

A Few Days in The Everglades

Tram tour from the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park

Kathy & I are wrapping up a short week in south Florida, where we spent three days in various parts of Everglades National Park.  I’ve got a ton of photos to process when I get home and we’ll be on a cruise ship next week.  So my postings may be a little thin over the next week or so. Here are a few photos in the interim.

Alligator on the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park
Great Blue Heron
Wood Stork
Osprey and nest
Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park
Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park
Pa-Hay-Okee Lookout Tower and boardwalk, Everglades National Park
Pa-Hay-Okee Lookout Tower and boardwalk, Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park boat cruise with Everglades Area Tours of Chokoloskee Island, Florida

Elvis Didn’t Sleep Here

The supposedly famous Heartbreak Hotel in Kenansville, Florida

Spotted enroute to our cruise ship in Port Canaveral, Florida.

According to several sources, the tie to Elvis is a tenuous and indirect one.  The song “Heartbreak Hotel” was co-written by songwriters Mae Boren Axton and Tommy Durden.  Durden possibly did stay at this hotel, and was possibly inspired by a local newspaper article about the suicide of a lonely man who jumped from a hotel window.  Although not this one.

The Land Where The Palm Trees Grow *

Palm tree nurseries near Homestead, Florida

I suppose if I had thought about it I would have realized that somewhere on this planet had to be a place that had palm tree nurseries.  Today we found them!

Palm tree nurseries near Homestead, Florida
Palm tree nurseries near Homestead, Florida
Palm tree nurseries near Homestead, Florida

Kathy & I are in south Florida and decided to head out to Biscayne National Park near Homestead.  On our way there and back we passed dozens of palm tree nurseries, covering thousands of acres or more.  I shot a few examples of them on the way, but it was amazing to see the sheer number of palm trees – of all sizes and types – being grown all in one place!

Palm tree nurseries near Homestead, Florida
Palm tree nurseries near Homestead, Florida

* Some sources suggest that the original song lyrics are “the land where the bong tree grows,” but this is the version I remember – from “The Owl & The Pussycat”

Mangrove Reflections

Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida

I’ve been finishing up some of the photos from our first trip this year, the one to Captiva and Sanibel Islands, Florida.  These are a few more from the mangrove swamp at Ding Darling NWR.  Not all of these are of mangroves per se, but you get the idea.

Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida

I felt like these needed to be in black & white.  Partly because of the weird color of the water due to the brackishness (is that a word?) of the marshland water but also because of the patterns themselves.

Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida

Birds, Birds, Birds!

White Ibis at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida

Kathy & I spent the day yesterday exploring the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island.  I was channeling my buddy Don Brown just a little bit, as he is one of the best bird shooters I know.  I was handicapped a bit by a 200mm lens on my Fuji, not really long enough for serious wildlife work.  But I came away with a few shots that are reasonably well exposed, acceptably sharp and representative of what we saw.

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida

The most amazing thing we saw I wasn’t even able to record!  we walked back a trail into a wood, and soon found a group of egrets lounging in an area well off the beaten path.  There were easily a hundred or more there, but the brush was so thick that there was no way to make a photograph.  But the sound!  I said it sounded like the morning after a frat party – lots of guttural sounds and weird noises.  It was quite an experience, but you’ll just need to take my word for it!

White Snowy Egret at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida
Little Blue Heron at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida