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What is the most important animal in the Everglades? You are probably thinking it is the alligator, right? Well, I say it's the mosquito -- since Everglades gators number just a little over 1 million and mosquitoes outnumber us all by multi-millions! Just kidding! We do, after all, want to take a serious tour here, right? But before we get started, let's make sure we all know what an alligator looks like. What do you know about this animal?
"Not much," you say?! Well, that's why you are here on our cyber tour! Where should we begin? Let's kick things off with the words of an American woman who lived to be 108 years old, someone who dedicated a lot of time to protecting and preserving the Florida Everglades.
"There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth, remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them: their vast glittering openness, wider than the enormous visible round of the horizon, the racing free saltiness and sweetness of their massive winds, under the dazzling blue heights of space. They are unique also in the simplicity, the diversity, the related harmony of the forms of life they enclose. The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida. It is a river of grass."
This interesting saying is from the book „The Everglades: River of Grass" (first published in 1947) by Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
The National Park of the Everglades was founded in 1947 in order to preserve and to protect the wealth and variety of these fascinating natural treasures in flora and fauna and this unique landmark with its quiet and calm beauty. The National Park has an area of 1.5 million acres and it offers a very special experience of nature to each and every visitor! Do not expect gigantic mountains or scenic waterfalls! The Everglades are a very flat, wet, and lonely wilderness with a very slow moving river of grass with a lot of secrets to discover: hammocks (tree islands) with old pines and mangrove forests which used to be the home of the Indian tribes. Lots of interesting plants and animals are hiding there -- the alligator as the oldest native of the Glades; huge sea turtles; 350 different species of birds such as storks, eagles, egrets, herons, vultures; 28 different species of snakes but only 4 are poisonous. There are only about 50 Florida panthers left because they are threatened by extinction. You may find raccoons, skunks, the white-tail deer, opossums, foxes, and many more. The Everglades National Park is the only subtropical preserve in North America.
Here is the only place in the world where you can find alligators and crocodiles living side by side within the same habitat. Both belong to the crocodilian family and go back to the time of the dinosaurs - more than 200 million years ago. Alligators are only to be found in their natural environment in southern North America and in China. Crocodiles prefer salt water, quiet sandy beaches -- the Florida Bay where the River of Grass flows into the Atlantic Ocean. There are no longer many quiet sandy beaches and, therefore, no longer many crocodiles. We count about 600 in Florida, an endangered species as well. Alligators are only able to exist in fresh water.
The River of Grass, a marshland usually not deeper than 8 feet, is covered by different kinds of grass. The most important one is called saw grass which is razor-sharp with long roots full of nutrients and clear water. When the Indians were unable to hunt for their food because of hurricanes, floods, or other weather threats, the root of the saw grass helped them to survive for about a month. Other beautiful plants like water lilies, ferns, banana and oak trees, orchids, cypress trees create the typical character of this sunshine flooded wilderness. The River of Grass flows about 160 miles southwards from lake Okeechobee not faster than about a mile a day. It contains a very interesting food chain and ecosystem.
There are many different ways to discover the soul of the Everglades. Of course, that will depend on your areas of interest and on the length of time you have to spend in South Florida. For example, there are countless parks offering airboat rides on the River of Grass. Airboats are fancy propeller boats that glide on the Glades. They also perform very interesting alligator and wildlife shows, replicas of Indian villages and nice walks through the mostly unspoiled and breathtaking nature, exhibiting the variety of plants and animals found here. When you drive from Miami to Naples on US Highway 41 (Tamiami Trail) you will find Safari Park, Gator Park, Shark Valley, just to mention a few. These tours and exhibits offer you an interesting overview of the Everglades in about two hours. Each park comes along with a small restaurant where alligator nuggets are a must -- small fried nuggets of alligator tail that taste (you guessed it!) like something between chicken and Wiener Schnitzel. ;-)
Driving along Highway 75 (Alligator Alley) between east and west coast of Florida, you should definitely visit the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation. Billie Swamp Safari offers a unique swamp buggy ride through the jungle of the Everglades. You will leave with a wealth of knowledge about the Seminole tribe, its folklore and culture from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. There are campgrounds to choose from or you can even spend the night in a Seminole chickee.
If you want to spend more time out there in the swamps and get a little bit deeper into the heart of the Everglades, there are many more options: biking, paddling, hiking, fishing, camping, bird watching, etc. There is an interesting bicycle or hiking trail (about 16 miles) through the wilderness at Shark Valley (along Tamiami Trail). Bike rentals are available. Canoe rentals are offered at the Big Cypress National Preserve in Everglades City at the ranger station (Tamiami Trail east of State Road 29) for different trails along the water between 4 and 7 hours in length.
Even further off the beaten path you will be in the southernmost part of the Everglades -- driving towards Homestead, Florida City and then on to Flamingo. Very unique guided walking tours, campgrounds, and fishing places, bike and hiking trails will give you a very close look into this wonderful sliver of nature far away from the rush of the big city. The Glades are considered to be the fourth best bird watching spot in the U.S. -- the perfect place for ornithologists. Check out the Anhinga Trail at Flamingo or the Snake Bight Trail and Eco Pond at Long Pine Key, west of Homestead and Florida City.
What you read on this web site describes of course only certain choices and some hints of where to go and what to see in the Florida Everglades. And I, for sure, did not tell you everything about the gators, the crocs, and the rest of the wildlife and beauty out there since I certainly want you to come on my real tour! I guarantee you won't regret it!
Don't miss your opportunity to visit the River of Grass -- the only Everglades in the world -- on your trip to breathtaking Florida!
-- Your tour guide in Florida
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