Wednesday, February 4:  Into the Everglades

Ya think?

We continued on Highway 41 this morning into the Everglades.  Thankfully, it was warmer today, in the high 50s, but The Weather Channel predicts much colder weather for the next few days, with freeze warnings for most of the state.

Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk

At Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, we took a 1.2-mile walk on the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, ending at a swamp pond filled with a whole mess of gators.  There were lots of birds, too, mostly egrets, and also a great spotted owl.

Gaggle of gators

I'd been looking forward to an airboat ride through the Everglades for weeks.  So last night Tom picked up some brochures at our hotel, and we scientifically chose the airboat operator with the silliest name.  That's how we ended up at Speedy Johnson's in Everglades City, where we signed up for a one-hour ride leaving at noon with Captain Rick.  Speedy Johnson's boats carry only six passengers.  On the ride with us were a couple from Minnesota and - Surprise! - a couple of Germans.

Airboat in the Everglades

An airboat is a flat-bottomed boat propelled by a giant fan that can skim over even the shallowest water since there's no submerged prop to contend with.  Captain Rick took us on a rip-roaring, scenic thrill-ride, weaving through mangrove tunnels and over sawgrass marsh at over 40 miles an hour.

Mangrove tunnel

Outside Everglades City

With all the noise from the fan, I didn't expect to see any wildlife, but we pulled right up to a large alligator sunning itself on a bank.  Captain Rick said to watch out, because a gator can jump up to four feet, but he was just putting us on (I think).  In any event, the Germans were sitting between me and the alligator, so I wasn't worried.

From the airboat

Three Minute Airboat Ride (click for video)

Continuing our drive east through the Everglades, we turned off 41 at Monroe Station onto 94, a/k/a Loop Road.  The road was gravel and covered by water in some places, but the scenery was fantastic!  We met a Canadian couple in an SUV that was freaked out by the poor road condition, but we made it just fine in our little Mustang.

Snowy egret

I guess I thought alligators were kind of rare, but they aren't rare in the Everglades.  They are ubiquitous!  The gators were present alone and in groups.  There were black ones and green ones, live ones and dead ones, skinny ones and one so fat I'm pretty sure it had just eaten a person.


Smiling like he just ate a person

We first entered Everglades National Park at the Shark Valley Entrance.  There's a 65-foot observation tower here we wanted to climb, but it turns out the tower is several miles from the parking lot, and you have to take a tram tour, rent a bike, or walk to it.  It was getting late in the day, so we moved on.


Outside Florida City, we entered the park again.  It was already 5:15 p.m., so we didn't have time for any hiking and drove straight to Flamingo, at the end of the road, where we found a cold, windy, desolate campground.  The temperature had fallen precipitously since this morning.  It would be a bad night to camp, especially if you'd packed for sunny south Florida, which it most definitely was not.

Flamingo, Florida

On our way out of the park, we stopped at a few roadside turn-outs and looked around until it got too dark.  There's a wide variety of wading birds in the Everglades, especially in January, February, and March.

Wading birds at dusk

Black vulture

Back in Florida City, we checked in to the Knight's Inn.  It was right next to an Applebee's, so that's where we had dinner, being too hungry tonight to explore our options.  The day was so jam-packed with fun, we hadn't had time for either breakfast or lunch.  Applebee's never tasted so good!

Continue to February 5, 2009

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