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I visited the Everglades National Park, south and west of Miami, Florida, USA, a few years back whilst exploring Florida and SE USA. The main part of the park is marshland, swamps and mangroves. The area was designated a National Park to protect this eco-system. There are a number of species of bird and mammal life here, but mainly we came here to do a safari on an airboat* (open-sided hovercraft – you may have seen them on the TV). We saw glimpses of alligators and crocs (one of the few places where both creatures live), and lots of water birds on the safari but were not successful in seeing any big ‘gators for any length of time (they get up to 3-4m in some cases). I did see a baby in a type of alligator orphanage though.
The region is can be very hot (tropical) and quite unique so is worth visiting if you are in the area. You can camp in the park, but as I recall we camped just outside. Bring mozzie repellent! Facilities are pretty basic here, so packed lunches are a good idea too. The best way to access the park and get around is by car (and then part by foot) so you will need private transport, but I am sure you can get organised tours out of Miami or other nearby towns.
*Airboat companies are privately owned so operate outside the NP designated area, but still plenty of wildlife to see, as well as a fun experience.
Everglades National Park is one of the many attractions the Greater Miami area has to offer. There are a few things you should know before going, though. First, plan on making the day of it. I don’t recall there being many places to eat unless you like vending machines, so you’ll want to pack a lunch. Also ask where the bathrooms are. The ones that are easy to find tend to be few and far between. It’s a big park and you’ll need a car to get from one end of the park to the other. There’s one main road you drive down. There are several places to turn off and see part of the Everglades. Your first stop should be the visitor center, which you’ll find right after entering the park. They have maps and should be able to tell you what’s open and what’s popular. There’s plenty of wildlife to see and when you visit will affect what you see. For instance, my brother tells me that certain species of snails will come out right after the rain. Bear in mind that the alligators are real and will bite. Do not feed any of the wildlife, as it leads to the wildlife becoming accustomed to humans. The idea is to see nature in an unaffected manner. The best time to go is in January or February. Because of cooler weather, you won’t be sweating as much and there will be fewer insects to bother you. There will also be a lesser chance of rain during the winter months. These problems won’t be totally eliminated, so bring an umbrella, plenty of water and insect repellant. Also bring binoculars; the paths will get you only so close to the animals. This goes for cameras, also. Bring a telescoping lens if you have one. Just don’t forget to bring water.
My brother in law and his wife are those fortunate "Snowbirds" who spend our winter in their home in Florida. When I joined them one January I was immediately enchanted with the apparent wealth of exotic wildlife around their home. Not just the little white egrets strutting purposefully along green verges or the brilliant red cardinal sitting in a nearby tree. I was in awe of the black and turkey vultures which moved away from me with a shuffle and a hop and the warning that a nearby strip of water could well hold an alligator. What I was yet to find was that all these were but strays. That less than a day's drive south from Sun City Centre was the deep, quiet, mysterious and wondrous home of them all. Here ran a shallow, slowly drifting river 200 miles wide in which the saw grass stretched forever and mangroves stood on islands only a couple of feet high which held there own individual ecology just by being that short height above the swamp. The word "swamp" has always conjoured up a picture of darkness and mud. This was not so. Crystal clear and sparkling water beneath a blue sky bordered by the Atlantic on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. We had driven down Alligator Alley, the main highway to the Everglades, and eventually the Keys. Turning off this white freeway, we found ourselves on a more gentle blacktop. We saw air boats in the distance moving slowly though the the endless tall saw grass and said that we would like to take a trip on one. We were not to bother. Seeing a sign which read "Anhinga Trail", we stopped on a grassy verge and walked towards the trail. This was a board walk, just above the swamp and with handrails. Although there were other visitors, somehow the vast primeval scenery seemed uncluttered by them. Before we entered the trail I sat for a moment on a low wall. Looking down I met the eyes of my first alligator. The notice warning of fines if they were di
sturbed was unnecessary. To be this close to such a huge and truly awsome reptile took my breath away. We then moved on to the boardwalk and started our walk. Although not particularly long, we took 2 hours to stroll and stop and gaze. Here the wildlife went about it's business undisturbed. The variety of birds was staggering in this wild haven. The large rather comical-looking black bird with white topped wings, for which the trail is named, allows it's wings to become waterlogged in order to dive for fish. The Anhinga were perched in the trees hanging their wings out to dry. Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and dignified Wood Storks fished within a few yards of us. Beneath our feet gar,large primitive and many-toothed fish, drifted slowly through the clear water. These and many other birds were impervious to the alligators which lay on nests of vegetation-almost benevolent looking in their stillness. Around us as far as the eye could see were hummocks of mangrove. The hummocks are only just above the water, yet this small height is enough to produce an ecology of it's own and different to that in the swamp itself. The mangrove is a pretty tree and, as it's name suggests, grows in groves. It is not at all like the dark pictures used to illustrate swamps in scary stories. It's seeds begin to grow while on the tree, then fall and drift with currents until they form new islands. These islands stretched to a very distant horizon. Maybe because of the time of year we were not bothered by flying insects. I heard it said more than once that the summer is not the most comfortable time to visit Florida. There are too many species living in this sub tropical paradise to mention here. I did not see a crocodile outside of a park, but they live alongside the alligators. Those I had seen made the alligators look pussy cats. Snakes abound of many types and colour and many are venomous, such as the smal
l brightly -coloured coral snake. Again I did not see any in the wild. Just as well as Mike, my brother-in-law, took a long time to recover from spotting a large brown snake under a bush outside his front door. For those who wish to travel on the swamp itself, there are airboats. Although we felt we could not get any closer to the life of the swamp than we had, I should think an airboat could be an enjoyable way to see the sights. Not far from the Everglades are alligator farms. Since these tend to sell alligator steaks, we gave them a miss. We had journeyed to watch them not eat them. Typically of this region the rest areas were frequently found, spotlessly clean and had tables and seats for picnics. It still amazes me that someone must drive out regularly to these isolated areas to clean and tidy up. The Everglades should not be missed if you are in Florida and have a car. Leave the touristy glitz behind for a while and slide quietly into this vast, unique area and breath for a moment alongside the wondrous life it contains.
The Everglades River courses slowly through a large part of southern Florida. The original swamp habitat is still intact for the time being, and it's well worth a visit. For maximum enjoyment, stay on a reservation. The Seminole Indians maintain a reservation in the middle of Everglades National Park. They have native Cheekee huts to stay in, real gator dishes to eat, gator wrestling, airboat rides, and animal safaris. Besides the aligator, there are many types of animal in the Everglades, including the panther, many gazelle-family animals, and two species of buffalo-family thingies. Don't forget bug spray. Florida mosquitoes are armor-piercing.
The Florida Everglades are basically a vast area of swamp land but they are also a very beautiful and unique place. There Everglades have not one but two national parks, and the broad spectrum of wildlife living here includes acquatic birds, wild hogs and of course many alligators. From the road you mostly see 'saw grass' the tall reeds in the swamp and many visitors choose an airboat ride to explore further. These are not for the faint hearted - they go at great speed through the saw grass, are not particularly comfortable and you are almost guaranteed to see many 'gators. However they're ideal if you want to be close up to the swamp, but beware of the mossies! There are many genuine Native Americans still living in reservations in the park, some of these are open to the public and others are most certainly private. The main tourist route through the Everglades is the Tamiami Trail and this has plenty of information boards and rest areas. The area is 'high profile' in Florida due to the ongoing environmental damage taking place from a variety of sources (including tourists visiting of course!) The place is unlike any other in Florida and well worth a visit
"Everglades National Park preserves the southern portion of the Everglades (all south of Tamiami Trail), but represents only 20 % of the original wetland area. The Park covers 2,357 mi² (6,105 km²) and is a World Heritage Site. The only highway access to the main part is State Road 9336 and its extension in the park, running 38 miles (61 km) from Florida City to the coast at Flamingo. Excluding the main visitor center and some smaller park facilities, there is no development in the park; this 1,296,500 acre (5,246 km²) area has been designated the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness."