Gators in the Glades

Trip Start Feb 15, 2010
Trip End Feb 14, 2011

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Where I stayed
Miami Wal-Mart

Flag of United States  , Florida
Thursday, March 11, 2010

Today I ventured back into the Everglades to a place called Shark Valley.  It is known for it's heavy concentration of wildlife, and the landscape is quite a bit different from the mangroves I visited the day before.  Shark Valley is in the open grassland part of the Everglades.  Although it looks like a prairie, I learned that the entire area is actually classified as a river, albeit a very slow moving one.

In the park area there is a 15 mile loop road that leads out to an observation tower at its most distant point.  Visitors are welcome to walk, bicycle, or take an open-sided tram tour.  Given the threatening clouds, my desire to learn more about the area, and my time constraints, I opted for the tram. 

There were more alligators than I could count, turtles, snakes, and birds of every sort.  The guide had a lot to teach us, and I won't get into much of it but to lay out the basic ecosystem.  The Everglades are essentially all water with three levels.  The middle ground that is either covered in water during wet season or bone-dry in the dry season and covered with the saw-grass, areas that are depressed into lower ponds and surrounded by willows, and areas that are a few feet higher making small isolated islands that are covered in hardwood trees and called "hammocks."  The land animals and (formerly) native peoples make their homes on these hammocks.  The lower ponds are created from depressions in the limestone base of the ground.  During the dry seasons all of the middle ground areas will dry up entirely, leaving only these ponds with water.  Alligators make their homes in these ponds and are known as the "Keepers of the Everglades."  As they enter these ponds the alligators will clear out vegetation and shove aside muck and sediment, increasing the depth about 1/4" per year.  Other fish, shrimp, turtles, and any other life requiring this water-filled environment will rush into these ponds that are maintained by the alligators to survive the dry months.  Without the work of the alligators, these animals would all die in the open as the water disappeared.  Pretty interesting how the primary predator is the one creature that keeps it all going.

After the tram tour was finished I walked back along a couple miles of the road to watch some of the animals more closely and take some photos.  It is pretty interesting how calm the alligators in the area are around people.  There were at least a dozen laying right alongside the path during the couple miles that I walked, and they were just resting and being lazy like alligators do.  Overall, it was a very worthwhile section of the park to visit.  I didn't manage to see any bobcats, panthers, or black bears, but they are very rarely spotted, and there was plenty of other life to see.  Even though our guide told us if we had been able to see the park a century ago there would have been about twenty birds for every one that we saw.

After leaving the "Forever Glades" (as it was first called by the British), I made my way back into Miami and drove over to South Beach.  It was nice to see the ocean again, but the day was cloudy and the atmosphere around the beach wasn't the best.  Not the peaceful and relaxing atmosphere I am used to seeing on beaches.  As well as Ocean Drive being incredibly crowded, ludicrously expensive, and not quite the visual I expected.  Oh well, at least I can say I've been there.

After stopping for a quick dinner, I hopped in my Explorer and typed in a search for Cape Canaveral.  While stopping for gas along the way I typed in Flying J and found one in Ft. Pierce.  I decided to make it my stopping point for the night because I need to do laundry, wanted to use the internet, and I can easily finish the last hour of the drive to the cape tomorrow morning.  Oh, and in case I hadn't mentioned it yet, the temperatures down here are around 68-72 at night and up to the 80's during the day.  Quite a change from a couple of weeks ago!   
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