Big Cypress National Preserve – Everglades in southern Florida, USA
We had visitors from Michigan over the week-end and they enjoy seeing critters of all sorts so we took them into the Florida Everglades. On a previous visit we went on a dirt road in the Big Cypress National Preserve called the Loop Road. This time I wanted to explore some of the dirt roads in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, a large area to the west of Big Cypress. It was just my kind of day.
Our first stop was the Big Cypress Bend 3,200 foot boardwalk that I read about in O’Keefe’s excellent book The Photographer’s Guide to the Everglades. Even though we went right where he told us to go we didn’t find it. Instead we found an abandoned portion of road that was originally the Tamiami Trail (US 41 from Tampa to Miami). The alligator above resides in the canal along this walk. The next three photos were also taken from that walk.
I would still like to find the boardwalk and there is a number to call in the guidebook.
What we did find was the Janes Scenic Drive off Florida 29 going north. It is an eleven mile dirt road that goes to nowhere and back through the different ecosystems of the Everglades.
Travel was slow so we only went about half way before we turned around. Returning was even slower because I was driving and I know the spots where I had wanted to stop but couldn’t tell they were good until Jim had passed. A section of this scenic drive runs east/west and the raised parts are culverts that allows for this very slow flow of the very wide 6 inch deep river from Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Much of this water flow is through saw grass plains that are seen in the photos above. Driving down the Tamiami Trail through these plains, we seen large wading birds congregating at small ponds and nesting in far off stands of pines and bald cypress.
My favorite experiences are traveling through the cypress swamps to find birds fishing in the shallow water and seeing alligators sunning themselves. You should know that I enjoy being somewhat close to the alligators in the winter months when they are in semi-hibernation; not that hungry nor eager to attack. In any case, I understand that Alligators have the power to cause damage to my body.
We saw several birds but this one was one I wasn’t familiar with and was in the process of communicating sweet nothings with a potential mate a ways away. When I processed the photos I realized that we saw two different birds. I think it is a Least Bitten heron, and maybe the one on the left is an adolescent.
Here is the one on the right with the mating plumage down.
We also saw the green heron on the left and many black vultures (right).
As we were nearing the end of the Janes Scenic Drive, we could see storm clouds building on the horizon and it started to sprinkle a little.
Daughter, Sharon, was visiting from Texas last week and one of the things she wanted to do was visit the Everglades. I have traveled the Southern Loop Road, a 26 mile loop of narrow dirt road through the Big Cyprus Preserve, many times in the peak winter months when it is cooler and water levels are low.
I didn’t have any photos on file from October or November so I was a little concerned about whether there would be birds and alligators in the water close to the road for Sharon to enjoy.
When we stopped at the first (last) stop with facilities, several vultures were in the trees welcoming us. Or did they detect the smell of old age?
As we drove deeper into the everglades, the first thing I noticed was higher water. If the road hadn’t been well built we would have had to have kayaks. The higher water levels provided beautiful water-scapes of foliage
In an environment where I don’t detect any dramatic change of seasons, the plants in the high water provided color.
.And there were a few birds but not as many as I normally see. The high water provides good fishing throughout most of the everglades. We heard lots of splashing and thrashing about in the brush – just out of view. It was kind of eerie in the daylight, what would my imagination do at night?
We didn’t see any alligators sunning themselves along the road but this was to be expected because it has been hot, with very warm nights. The alligators were keeping cool in the water. At several places Sharon would say she saw an alligator, but then question whether it was a floating log. Some were real because they sank underwater when she opened the car door.
That happened in one spot and we were all sure because we could see the ring of bubbles where the alligator had dove deep. We were feeling a bit pleased with the sight when she noticed babies in the water – about 20 of them. We didn’t get too close because we knew Mama was somewhere very close keeping an eye on us – and we knew she would strike if we reached down to pick one up (also not a good idea because I understand alligators are hatched biting and fighting.
Sharon was very pleased with her excursion deep into the Everglades and we ended the day by sharing a gaterburger and gater nuggets in Everglades City. And for me, going into this untamed piece of the Glades never grows old because it isn’t staged. I get to see how nature unfolds it’s story for the first time, all over again.
I-75 turns east at Naples and then goes to Ft. Lauderdale on the east coast of Florida. It goes through the Everglades to the Atlantic Ocean. This stretch of I-75 is called Alligator Alley and there isn’t much along that stretch – except alligators.
We don’t take that road when we want to visit the Everglades because US-41 is closer to our doorstep. But when we go into the Everglades on 41, we see alligators.
J thinks I’m reckless because I occasionally jump out of the car to take a gator photo. I did for this one because he is such a beauty and he was right there on the side of the road – there were a lot of them sunning but I didn’t tempt them all. Just this one – and I kept my door open and our vehicle between me and the gator. I leaned around the corner because I know they can run fast on land – even though they look sluggish and docile. I don’t run very fast so I have to use my brains instead.
I wasn’t taken in by his smile.
We stopped at an information area that had a boardwalk along a canal where alligators like to sun themselves. With my telephoto lens I was able to take these photos of their amazing feet.
Don’t tell J, but I have an intense desire to reach out and touch them. I also have an abundance of common sense.
You can see a couple of juvenile gators here.