Monday, May 3, 2010
Everglades National Park
If scary animals, evaporating wetlands, and miles of untamed wilderness is your thing, head on down to Everglades National Park. Here you'll find countless bird species, elusive big cats, and dinosaurs you can see all too well. In addition, there are dangerous plants, like sawgrass, that will slice you open if you rub it the wrong way; cypress swamps and mangrove hammocks provide ecosystems like nowhere else on earth.
That's because there is no other everglades on earth. Unfortunately, development and typical human ignorance have dwindled the Everglades to a fraction of its historical area.
The Florida Everglades is a river of grass that slowly meanders south from Lake Okeechobee down to Florida Bay at .25 miles per day. Islands among the river are home to the Florida panther, so endangered it is believed there are less than 100 left. Panthers must now contend with Burmese pythons, who have multiplied out of control after being released by irresponsible pet owners. Birds like the roseate spoonbill, wood stork and bald eagle also call the Everglades home.
Camp grounds adorn the area, the third largest National Park. Hiking, canoeing, fishing, even hunting are permitted. Just bring plenty of fresh water and sunscreen. For while Everglades water is fresh, and I've even seen a tour guide drink it to prove it, people have died out there from dehydration. Average temperatures range in the 80's, but summer months get much hotter. The best time to visit is during the dry winter months. With no rainfall, watering holes provide refuge to the animals, who gather in droves. To really see these creatures in their element, take one of the many airboat rides offered throughout the park. These flat bottomed boats skim the surface of the water, sometimes only inches deep, and penetrate the deepest areas of the park.
Of course, no visit to the Everglades would be complete without spying and alligator or two. And you will. With over a million alligators in Florida, they are everywhere. But did you know the Everglades is also home to the American crocodile? Only a few thousand are left, mostly in Flamingo. Just as the Everglades is the only everglades on Earth, it is also the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles live together.
Can you tell a gator from a croc?