Monday, November 25, 2013

Returning to the Everglades...

I believe our first trip to Everglades Nat'l Park was in 1997, shortly after we started full-time RVing in our '91 Dolphin with no tow car.  We stayed at Flamingo, located 35 miles from the Park entrance, at the very end of the road by Florida Bay.  What really comes to mind is we had to obviously walk everywhere, or pack up and drive, so to get back and forth to the Visitor's Center, Marina, beach, etc. was probably a 3 mile round-trip walk. We were inundated with mosquitoes but of course had been forewarned, and alligators frequently crossed our path, albeit we kept our distance.  There were all these exotic birds; flamingos, herons, ibises, pelicans, egrets, and laughingly what I at first thought was a pink pelican.  Turned out to be a roseate spoonbill!  We took a backcountry boat tour and saw crocodiles and alligators co-existing in the brackish water, one of the only places on earth with both.

Spoonbill photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Fast forward to a week ago.  We actually called to make reservations at the Flamingo Campground for 3 days, not realizing we were ahead of the season, and surprised to see very few people there.  It all looked so different, kind of bleak and desolate in comparison to our memory.  The mosquito population had certainly increased and even though Howard was awash in 100% DEET, he was covered in bites. Not to be deterred, we took many walks to and from the Visitor Center complex, which also contains the Buttonwood Restaurant and a viewing platform.

Studying exhibits at the Visitor Center

Along the bay at low tide

Looking out toward the bay on a cloudy late afternoon

We saw no alligators at all and one crocodile that sunned and napped daily by the marina; always in the same place.  There were lots and lots of gulls and vultures, ospreys, white ibises, and faraway pelicans soaring and diving.  Manatees hang out occasionally in the marina and canals but they evaded us.  The rangers said that 2005's Hurricanes Wilma and Katrina completely wiped out the Everglades and the park was closed for two years for repairs and restoration. This explains a lot, especially the bleakness and lack of, or lessening of, many species we expected to see.

Crocodile sleeping

Same guy, same place! 

Proud, stately vulture

Ibis eyes are blue

Gulls galore

The Everglades are a very fragile, unique subtropical wetlands covering much of southern Florida, whose only source of water is the rain that falls on it.  Imagine a shallow slow-moving river 60 miles wide and 100 miles long created by the Kissimmee River near Orlando which discharges into vast Lake Okeechobee which in turn overflows during the rainy season. The popular term used to describe the vast sawgrass marshes is "River of Grass", part of this complex ecosystem that also includes hardwood hammocks and mangrove forests.

Boardwalk through the marsh

River of Grass

Extensive canal and levee systems now shunt off much of this life-giving water before it reaches the Everglades and alternately water control structures are opened and flood waters inundate nests or eggs of many creatures.  Agricultural run-off has altered natural vegetation and high levels of mercury endangers many species from alligators to the Florida panther.

Dark line follows our backcountry trip

We once again took the Backcountry boat tour along the man-made Buttonwood Canal, into Coot Bay, and on to the edge of Whitewater Bay.  The cost was $30 and lasted an hour and a half.  We purposely chose the 9 a.m. departure for cooler temps and hopefully more wildlife and were treated to our very own professional naturalist guides.  We were the only ones onboard!  Not much wildlife viewing, but all the different species of Mangrove were pointed out as well as the deadly Manchineel Tree, and air plants, part of the bromeliad family.  The fascinating root systems leave much to the imagination as to what dwells within!  The canal is part of an extensive kayaking trail with chickees, or raised platforms, set-up along the way for those camping overnight.

Departing from the marina

Aboard our very own private boat with guide

Buttonwood canal lined with Mangroves

And air plants, part of the bromeliad family

What lurks within these waters?

Into Whitewater Bay

Signs of wildlife

The deadly Manchineel; watch out kayakers!

Chickee image from Wikipedia

In discussing the lack of critters, the hurricane damage and other threats with our guide, he brought out a very disturbing fact regarding invasive species, both plant and animal. Primarily the Burmese python, a huge, exotic snake that has escaped from people's homes or outdoor enclosures, and feels right at home lurking and breeding in the Everglades, killing off the natives.  Yes, even alligators are no match for these monsters!  

The park is huge with four Visitor Centers and Flamingo is really isolated at the end of the road, but when we packed up and headed out we stopped at Royal Palm to walk the Anhinga Trail, and so glad we did.  There were alligators, and birds galore, plus a completely different environment from Flamingo.

The Anhinga trail at Royal Palm

A baby alligator

Not an old tire!

White heron 


Blue heron

We're picking up our travel pace considerably since we want to be back in the Bay Area (CA) for Christmas, and really missing the kiddoos.  However, I can't breeze through Eastern Florida without mentioning two major highlights:  The County Parks are phenomenal, and well-located for easy drives to major cities. In past visits we've stayed at all of them... 

On our way south we stayed at two; Wickham briefly, and John Prince Park for 4 nights. Photos from John Prince:

Our site is located on Lake Osborne


Miles of scenic walking trails

Lovely old Banyan trees

Great Blue heron patiently fishing

Herons in flight


Sunrise from our window

This brings us to highlight #2!  Though virtual friends for many years, I finally met my Facebook friend, Jan Reddin.  Be sure to click the link, especially if you're Star Trek fans!  Jan lives in Boca Raton and works for a tennis club.  She and her husband are avid tennis players and we first met up for lunch just after one of her matches.  Another day she showed us around her facility and put me in touch with a good stylist to get a haircut and highlights.  I opted not to get Jan's rainbow of colors. We thought she might enjoy a "motorhome" experience and invited her over for a great steak dinner one night.  We talked for hours.  It truly seems we have known each other forever!

Jan shows us around her tennis club

A motorhome experience and friends forever!

No comments: