The Everglades is not a swamp—it is a freshwater marsh. It is one of the most unique wetlands in the world, a 50-mile-wide “river of grass” that flows from Lake Okeechobee to the southern tip of Florida. Everglades National Park was created in 1947 to protect a portion of the Glades, however, continued development, diversion of water for agriculture and human use, and water pollution threaten its existence. The State of Florida and federal government plan to spend about 10 billion dollars over the next 30 years to restore and maintain the remaining portions of the Everglades, but the future is still uncertain.
Last week we stayed at Midway Campground on the Tamiami Trail, which is located in Big Cypress National Preserve just west of Everglades National Park. Big Cypress is a swamp—specifically a cypress tree swamp. So in the future, remember that swamps have trees and marshes have grasses or similar vegetation.
Our campsite at Midway Campground—a nice little campground except there are no showers. We felt sorry for the campers in tents.
Both the Everglades and Big Cypress are not easy parks to see and to appreciate. They are huge with limited access but if you make the effort to get out into the parks, visiting them can be very rewarding.
One of the best ways to visit the Big Cypress National Preserve is by kayak. The Preserve feeds water to several creeks and rivers that flow into the Everglades to the Gulf of Mexico. We use our own kayaks but the park also gives tours and private kayak outfitters in Everglades City also give very good guided trips.
We kayaked on Halfway Creek which is a well-marked paddling trail located directly behind the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center. Here are some photos.
Patty on Halfway Creek
A Quill-leaf growing on a tree along the creek
Heading into the mangroves—the southern borders of Big Cypress and the Everglades are populated with mangrove trees that are able to live on the brackish water near the coast. (Wetlands + mangrove trees = mangrove swamp.)
Patty in a mangrove tunnel—many of the places we kayak in Big Cypress have tunnels
that are so small that we have to break our paddles in two to maneuver through the mangroves.
Maneuvering in a mangrove tunnel—Ed had Patty go first because she has a rudder so her kayak is more maneuverable. This worked well until she started running into spider webs and a spider fell into her kayak and climbed up the leg of her shorts.
Heading back—Patty survived the spider attacks.
One of the best places to see the Everglades is at Shark Valley on the Tamiami Trail. There is a 15-mile paved trail that you can explore by walking, biking, or by riding a tram. We biked the trail and were amazed at the variety and the numbers of wildlife. Here are some photos.
Patty on the Shark Valley trail
Another view of Patty on the trail—we visited Clyde Butcher’s photo gallery, who has been called the Ansel Adams of the southeast. He is known for his beautiful black-and-white photography of Big Cypress and the Everglades—this is Ed’s attempt. You can see Clyde’s photos on his web site: http://clydebutcher.com/.
Patty and friend on the trail
As always, alligators were everywhere. Note the young alligators in the bottom right photo—Mom seems bored.
We saw almost every type of bird we have seen in the Everglades on this one bike ride. Starting at lower left and going clockwise: a Little Blue Heron, an Anhinga drying its wings, a Snowy Egret, and an Anhinga who is getting ready to eat a fish it just caught. It swallowed it whole in about one second.
More birds—starting at lower left and going clockwise: a Purple Gallinule, a Great Blue Heron, a Wood Stork, a Black-crowned Night Heron
Wildflowers and some pollinators
Some people might question why we are spending so much money to save the Everglades. We hope the photos in this week’s blog provide a little indication of why this irreplaceable natural resource should be preserved.
[Editor’s Note: For those who would like to learn more about the history of the Everglades and recent restoration efforts, Ed highly recommends “The Swamp” by Michael Grunwald.]