Camping, Florida, Hiking, Historical sites, national parks, outdoors, Travel, Uncategorized, Vacation

Later Gators: Everglades National Park, Revisited

A storm moves over the rivers of grass

It is difficult for me to ignore the call of the wild, especially when the wild is so close. When considering my second stay in Miami, Florida, I hoped to have the opportunity to visit the Everglades once again, and maybe do a different hike or have the chance to observe something I hadn’t noticed before. The opportunity presented itself early in the trip, and after a drive through a torrential downpour in Homestead off Florida’s Turnpike, the heavens opened up to grant a beautiful morning at Everglades National Park.

I returned to hike the Anhinga Trail, this time as a pleasant morning walk before the humidity set in. This flat, easy trail takes one through the Taylor Slough, the shallow wetland that covers 152 square miles and provides drainage for freshwater to the Florida Bay. The surface of the slough was still covered by bright green water lilies, but two months after my first visit, summer had turned to autumn in South Florida, and the lilies were beginning their late summer blooms with their bright yellow buds. There were other flowering plants in the water that either weren’t yet in bloom or that I hadn’t noticed before. There were pretty purple pickerelweeds and morning glory lending their bright colors in contrast to the abundance of green. There weren’t as many lubber grasshoppers littering the trail on this visit, but I still found quite a few. As I headed back toward the parking area at Royal Palm, I had the good fortune of spotting a relatively small American alligator hiding among the aquatic plants. Spotting him wasn’t nearly as obvious or exciting as the big guy swimming away on our last visit, but it still made my day. See you later, alligator!

An alligator chillaxes in the waters of the Taylor Slough
The lilies and grasses brighten a cloudy morning.
A cardinal hides in the giant reeds

After returning to the car, I continued south on the main road. I stopped at the Long Pine Key Picnic Area. There is a nature trail, which can be hiked or better yet, biked. The Long Pine Trail is one of the few trails that allow for cycling. At time of writing, the trail isn’t super well-maintained, so caution is urged as you adventure out. I didn’t go too far on the trail, as it started to rain again, however, I was able to get some nice up close views of the Florida slash pines. The campground is currently closed; reservations are available from November-April. With the smallest increase in elevation thanks to the limestone ridge on which they grow, the Pinelands are a very different habitat from the freshwater marshlands. Florida slash pines rise above the forest floor, with an understory of saw palmettos, and over 200 varieties of tropical plants. In the biologically diverse Pinelands, you have a small chance of spotting an endangered Florida panther or occasionally a Florida black bear.

Florida slash pines
The understory

At time of writing, the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center has reopened, however I recommend checking the NPS website prior to your visit to double check. One of the rangers noted that it did have to close once after reopening on September 5. The bookstore and outside porch are open; the visitor center displays are roped off at time of writing. I was able to pick up an alligator plush toy for Sami, who requested that I bring home a real alligator or crocodile as a souvenir. I figured a plushie would be a better alternative to bring aboard a plane. Another cool thing was that from the boardwalk leading up to the center, I was able to see the sawgrass marsh up close.

Sawgrass

The back of the visitor center has a porch that looks onto the pond that is actually a manmade borrow pit. This is a pit created by the dredging of materials during road work. While this pond is man made in that sense, it does lend to some varied biodiversity. There are a number of aquatic plants growing in and around the pond, and sometimes alligators may be spotted hiding in the water. For me, it was a nice shelter to wait out an afternoon deluge.

The view from the porch at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center
Rain ripples on the borrow pit pond.

For more information, visit the National Park Service site. You may also check out my July 2020 post. There you’ll find more info on what we learned after the first time, as well as our Flamingo kayaking adventure. After a while, crocodile. And happy trails!

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