Everglades, Part 1: Flamingo and Shark Valley

April 29, 2017

Everglades National Park is an amazing place. I'm glad we went there this February.

Also, I don't think we'll ever go back.

Besides its manifold attractions (which I will eventually get to), the Everglades is known for heat, humidity, and bugs. Lots of bugs. Mosquitoes especially. And they don't come out just at dawn and dusk; they rule the place all day long. The Visitor Center has a handy chart to help you understand the current mosquito level, as if you didn't know already. We were at the "Unpleasant" level.  I can't imagine what "Hysterical" would be like.

Add to that combination a broken air conditioner (and the fact that the Flamingo campground is 44 miles from the nearest small town and who knows how far from the nearest RV repair person), and you don't necessarily get happy campers. 

But enough of our first-world problems. 

Everglades National Park has three main areas: Anhinga, near the entrance to the park; Flamingo, at the southernmost tip of the peninsula; and Shark Valley, accessible via a different entrance to the north of the main east entrance.

There are campgrounds at Long Pine Key and Flamingo, but you can't reserve a site at Long Pine key (and it doesn't have electricity). We'd heard (and have found to be true) that reservations are important in Florida in the winter, so we stayed at Flamingo.

It's hotter at Flamingo than elsewhere in the park. And there are more mosquitoes. Just saying.

Let's start with the stuff that everyone goes to the Everglades to see: alligators and birds. The place to see these is Shark Valley. This day-use area is located on the north side of the park off a road appropriately called "Alligator Alley." Shark Valley has a 15-mile bike path that takes you about 7.5 miles into the Everglades, along a canal that is very attractive to alligators because it has water all year round. We started counting alligators, then gave up. It's amazing how quickly you can become blase about seeing these large reptiles.

Here's Jane carefully avoiding one. I note that she is being careless by riding on the wrong side of the road...

At the end of the bike path is an observation tower that gives you a good view of the surrounding area and the large pond at its base. We got to see this fellow attack and eat something, probably a fish. It was hard to tell, as alligators tend to make a lot of splashing in the water when they catch something.

Flamingo is a different environment. Flamingo sits at the southern land tip of the Everglades park (the park extends far out into the gulf of Mexico, and the water is only a couple of feet deep for much of it), and it also happens to be at the northernmost range of the crocodile. At Flamingo, the fresh water from the Everglades flows into the salt water of the gulf. Since alligators live in fresh water, and crocodiles live in salt/brackish water, Flamingo is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles live together. Manatees also tend to congregate in the marina at Flamingo. Seems that they know that there is fresh water dripping out of the outboard motors when they get flushed (to remove the salt water), and the manatees come up to the motors and drink the dripping water.  Odd, but cute in a way.

Here's a large (12 feet long) crocodile that hangs out in the marina area.

You'll notice the differences from the alligator - the crocodile has a pointy snout and is grey in color.

The Flamingo area used to have a lot more activity than it has now. There was a lodge, a restaurant, and rental cabins. But all were severely damaged by a hurricane in 2005 and had to be closed. Read more about it here. By 2008, they had determined that the lodge was damaged beyond repair and would need to be torn down when the funds were available. It's 2017, and the lodge is still waiting to be demolished. The restaurant is sort of semi-functional. There's a seating area that's usable, but the kitchen is not. So there's a food truck parked next to the building where they do the cooking for a limited menu.

The Everglades is a World Heritage site. People come from all over the world to see it, and we did encounter people from many different places. But what they find is one of the great US treasures left to decay, without even sufficient funding to demolish the damaged buildings, let alone replace them. They can't understand how the US can let this happen, and neither can I.

by Steve

Next: Everglades, Part 2: Anhinga and Nike missiles.

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