In 1995 we visited Everglades National Park with our kids. At that time, we went to the main visitor center in Homestead, Florida. Last Monday was President's Day, and admission to all National Parks was free. Since the cost of admission to the Everglades is $25, we decided to take advantage of the free day and visit one of the other visitor centers.
We headed east on US Hwy. 41 and soon came to Big Springs National Preserve. Congress created the preserve in 1974 to protect the fresh water's natural flow from the Big Cypress Swamp into the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands. We stopped at the visitor center and watched an informative movie about the preserve. Southwest Florida was in danger of disrupting the natural flow of water if development was allowed to continue unchecked; so conservationists, hunters, land owners and Native Americans helped create the preserve.
As we continued along the highway, we stopped at two boardwalks in the preserve to view alligators and wildlife. The boardwalks are great because you can see the alligators from above and safely get a great view. We saw many alligators. Here are just a few of them.
Our next stop was the Everglades Shark Valley Visitor Center. Many other people had the same idea we did of visiting on the free day. The parking lot was full, and we had to park almost a mile down the road. As we walked along the entrance road, this large alligator was sunning himself on a culvert pipe just a few feet away.
One of the top things to do at this visitor center is the two hour ranger guided tram tour. Luckily, I had called the day before and booked us on the 2 pm tour. The cost was $25, and it was a very informative tour. Lots of people were disappointed that the tours were sold out or that they would have to wait for hours for the next available tour.
While we waited, we watched the movie which was shown outside. It was not the best place to show a movie as many people were hanging around the seating area, but ignoring the movie and talking through the whole thing. Those who wanted to actually watch it, had a lot of noise to contend with. The movie explained a lot about the Everglades wildlife and about the fragile ecosystem. If the Everglades is not carefully protected, Florida could suffer a severe fresh water shortage.
There was a viewing platform along a canal near the visitor center. We saw lots of birds and fish and a few alligators in the canal. There were tons of Florida Gar fish in all the canals we stopped at. They are very large fish. The water is amazingly clear throughout the Everglades. Not at all what you expect in a swamp.
This Black Crowned Night Heron stood totally still for a very long time watching the water.
The Green Heron was hiding in the brush. He sure is beautiful.
We boarded the sold out 2 pm tram and were surrounded by a large group with lots of crying and talking toddlers. Luckily, the speaker system was nice and loud so we could hear the very interesting information the ranger was telling us. I had no idea that the Everglades originally started near Orlando and was 5 million acres. It is now about 1.5 million acres.
We saw plenty of alligators and birds along the way. About 8 miles in, we stopped at the 45 foot observation tower. Kevin commented that the tower looked very similar to the one in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It turns out, they are the same design. It was built around the spiral staircase in the center which was originally a fire tower. You can only go as high as where you see the people. The spiral staircase is closed off.
Here we are with a view of the Everglades behind us. This is the dry season. During the wet season in summer, this area is waist deep with water. All the water in the Everglades comes from rain.
Back on the tram we saw a few rare sights. The first was a wood stork. They had become endangered, but are making a comeback. Kind of an ugly bird.
We also saw a Great White Heron. I didn't know this bird even existed. He had something in his beak.
This Great Blue Heron had caught a Big Mouth Bass. He used his beak as a spear. The tram stopped, we watched him for several minutes to see how he would eat the fish. Apparently, he didn't like being the center of attention as he flew off with his fish.
We also saw this large alligator walking in the grass. How cool is that. I wonder where he was going. The canal was behind him on the other side of the road.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day in the Florida Everglades. The weather has been quite warm lately. Florida is experiencing warmer than average temperatures this winter. They are also in a drought. Today it is raining, which is a good thing for Florida.
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