We had an extra day in the Miami area, so what better to do than see the Everglades for the first time? It was a hot day in June. In Miami it was high 90’s and it was even hotter as we entered the park. After a brief one hour drive from Miami we reached the park entrance. We stopped at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center which sells binoculars in case you forgot to bring them (I did!). Behind the visitor center is a large deck overlooking a pond, and there was supposedly an alligator in the pond but we didn’t see it. It’s a nice visitor center and it had good air conditioning and restrooms, snacks, etc. There are giant locusts everywhere and it is kind of gross and cool at the same time. I guess they are called Eastern lubber grasshoppers, but they are huge.
We drove through the entrance station and I bought an annual parks pass ($80) because my previous one had expired. The ranger informed us that the best time to come to the Everglades is in winter when all the migrating birds are in the park. I definitely want to go back for that.
We took the first turn off for Paradise Key/Anhinga Trail. There are some vending machines providing cold drinks and snacks, and also a small seating area for ranger talks. We walked the Anhinga Trail which features some beautiful ponds with lily pads and an Anhinga breeding area. It is such a unique place to see. The grasses were so massive and the shallow water was full of fish and turtles. There were egrets standing in the water, supposedly fishing. All of the living things seemed lazy in the heat. The water was only six inches deep and the fish sat there nearly motionless, moving their little gills a bit but otherwise not wasting energy. The egrets stood perfectly still, resting, even though the water was full of fish. Maybe they doze off at midday. The turtles were likewise still, only their heads poking out of the water.
The boardwalk loops to the left where there is a large observation area. From here we saw our first big alligator, right in front of us like it was posing for a post card. It was the one thing that was not still. We watched it for a while as it walked around and then came towards us. It came straight at us as if it were hunting but then went under the boardwalk right beneath us. We were glad the boardwalk was raised and had a railing. If alligators can leap the length of their bodies we would have been lunch I guess. It moved faster than I would have thought even if it wasn’t interested in us. We watched a few more turtles but we were starting to get too hot.
We hurried back to the car because it was already getting unbearably hot. We stopped at Pa-Hay-Okee Lookout Tower and quickly took a look. It smelled like melted plastic from the Trex deck baking in the heat and there were bees the size of chicken eggs buzzing around our heads. Nature, sort of. The plastic smell made us feel a little sick and definitely made the experience seem oddly man-made, even if the decking was the only thing unnatural around. Did I mention that there were hardly any visitors in this heat?
We stopped at a pond that had canoes for what is apparently a canoe trail. Literally, the entire trail was to be done by canoe. I’m still debating if I would ever do that. Maybe in winter that would be something to consider, but not when it’s almost 100 degrees. We were the only people around and it was eerily quiet. Then we drove down to Flamingo Visitor Center which was under construction. There were a few boats in the marina and even the buzzards were standing in the shade. I used my binoculars to positively identify an Osprey but that was the only time I used them. If I go back during the winter I will bring better binoculars and a much better camera for birding.
We drove back to Miami Beach. Overall, I would say that Everglades National Park is a really unique and cool place and I will definitely try to make it back during the winter some day.