Tuesday, February 05, 2008

In the 'Glades

So last weekend Aviva and I went down to Florida to visit Aviva's parents, and while we were there I took a day drove to down to Everglades National Park, which has long been one of my most desired destinations. Turned out to be a lot of driving and a long day, but an absolutely fabulous trip and well worth the time, saw some incredible wildlife (like this Great Blue Heron to the right) and amazing scenery (like the Mangrove Swamps around West Lake to the left), and came away with a burning desire to go back.

I woke up early and left Boca around 0830, heading down the Florida turnpike towards the park. I was driving Tanya's Lexus, and amazing car. The car was almost intelligent, anticipating many of my needs before I could even think of them myself, and I have to say that like driving an Audi, driving a car as well designed as the Lexus actually makes driving a joy.

So, enjoying the drive and overcoming a bit of trouble with my sunshine pass (the turnpike automatic payment system is not as simple as the EZ pass system in New England), I made it down to Homestead and turned into the glades. It was already hot, around 78 degrees, when I left Boca, and when I got out of the car at the Ernest F. Coe visitor center it was around 85. And quite humid. After talking with one of the rangers (this was the first park I have been to where all the rangers were retirees), I decided to walk the Anhinga (the Anhinga trail was named after Anhingas, see left) and Gumbo Limbo trails by the visitor center, then drive down to Flamingo and hit as many of the walking trails as I could on the way back up to Homestead.

After walking the trails mentioned above, I drove through the park down to Flamingo, enjoying the alternating saw grass plains and hardwood hammocks. In the Glades, small islands of elevated ground sitting 2 or 3 feet higher than the surrounding land grow different types of vegetation due to the flooding of the saw grass ocean in the wet season. These islands are called hammocks and keys, and they stand out as islands of green in a sea of brown saw grass (right) during the dry season. Most of the trails in this part of the park start on wooden bridges crossing the saw grass into hammocks covered with tropical hardwoods or slash pines (like those found on Long Pine Key, left).

At Flamingo I got out of the car for a while, ate lunch and walked along the water. Then I got back in the car and headed back toward Boca, stopping at Christian Point Trail, Mizrak Pond, West Lake, Mahogany Hammock, and Long Pine Key. Each of these stops had a short or long trail, mostly short, teaching me about the glades and showing off different aspects of their unique ecology. A truly beautiful place, with incredible flora and fauna (like the Julia Heliconian on the right or the Florida chicken turtle, below left, or the American alligator below right).

All in all it was a wonderful first trip, and I feel like I just scratched the surface of this amazing park (I mean, the place is over 1.5 million acres in size). Heading back after a long, luxurious day of hiking and photography, I left very happy but hungry for more. I guess I will have to go back :)

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