May 12, 2011

5/12/11 – Everglades NP (south)

There’s more to Everglades National Park than the north side that we visited from Big Cypress, so we headed to an RV park in Homestead.  From there it was about 10 miles to the park.  We drove through fields of tomatoes and papayas (well, not growing together…), but it is certainly amazing the number of produce stands there are around Homestead. 
Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center was our first stop.  We talked to the volunteers and toured the exhibits before we went out on the boardwalk around the “Borrow Pit” behind the building.  The doors to the gift shop are beautiful! 
Next stop was Royal Palm where there were two trails.  Anhinga Trail goes around Taylor Slough where we saw birds and alligators.  There was an Anhinga perched on the boardwalk railing, and had no hesitation about people being near, and sometimes she’d open her wings to show off. (I have lots more pictures of this bird, if you’re interested.)  There were lots of Anhinga, even more Black Vultures--which might as well be the Florida state bird, there are so many of them!  And there were alligators.  (If you haven’t figured it out by now, any puddle of water in Florida probably hosts at least one gator.  They’re beginning to lose their enchantment as far as I’m concerned.)
Then we went on the Gumbo Limbo Trail through a hardwood hammock.  I’d go on that trail just because I like to say “Gumbo Limbo”.  There were gumbo limbo and mahogany trees, as well as the ubiquitous palms.  We saw lizards and I finally saw the ever-elusive tree snail!
We decided to head straight to Flamingo Visitor Center on Florida Bay, and hit the other trails and overlooks on the way back.  It was still really smoky from the Big Cypress fire.  I know the wet season hasn’t started yet, but I was really surprised that the Everglades were so dry.  And so grassy.  I think I expected the Okefenokee Swamp…
The Flamingo Visitor Center is (surprise!) pink—but there are no flamingos there.  There’s a big boat marina.   We wandered around looking for manatees (couldn’t find any) and American Crocodiles.  One of the guys who worked at the marina pointed out a crocodile under the shade of some trees on the riverbank across from us.  I’ve got a not-very-good picture, but you have to trust me a little bit.
The wind was picking up and the sky was getting darker, so we decided to head for the truck.  By the time we got across the parking lot, the rain was splatting and the lightning was rolling.  Good thing George was driving because I would have pulled over and waited for the storm to pass; he just drove a little slower.  
Typical Florida thunderstorm passed in less than 10 minutes, but we could see others on the way.  We decided not to try any hikes, just quick stops on the way back.  We stopped at Paurotis Pond to see the wood stork rookery.  There were wood storks, roseate spoonbills, egrets, herons…Wow!  You could see them better with binoculars than the cameras, but I tried.  You wouldn’t believe how noisy they were!
More lightning all around us, and I wanted to stop at the Pa-hay-okee Overlook to see the River of Grass.  We waited until there was a lull between black clouds and rushed across the boardwalk to the observation tower.  There was lots of sawgrass, but the ground was dry down to dusty limestone. 
On the way back home*, we stopped at a big produce stand called “Robert Is Here”.  I got a key lime milkshake and George got strawberry-passion fruit.  Yum!
More pics:  Everglades (south) 

*Home is where you park it.

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