Everglades National Park

07/28/2022 | All pictures and Article By Chubby Squirrel

 Everglades National Park is the third largest national park in the lower 48 states, infested with all manner of voracious man-eating beasts. Just kidding about the latter part; the alligators and crocodiles are actually all very docile and well-behaved, preferring to sit in the middle of a well-travelled trail waiting for food to come lumbering by instead of spending energy on chasing down dinner. For whatever reason, I allowed myself to be taken along on a three-day excursion to this swampy excuse for a national park. What's even more surprising than me going? I actually ended up liking it despite myself.

 On Friday, April 1st (truly a great day to be travelling), my companions and I set off towards the airport for the first time in what seemed like forever. The last time I had gone down to Florida was in 2012, and the only thing I remember from that trip was the oppressive humidity common to the tropics. My bemoaning this was cut short when it was announced that our flight would be delayed by three hours. Three hours became four, and soon all I wanted was to be in Florida already. My wishes were answered, and our plane took off and flew for approximately 30 minutes before the pilot announced that we were ordered to fly in circles for an hour while we waited for a storm to pass. Well, that's exactly what we did. We flew in circles for an hour, and then when air control judged it was safe to proceed, everyone gave a cheer of relief (very much infiltrated by annoyance), and we flew ever closer to the sunshine state.

 Right upon exiting the mercifully air-conditioned Fort Lauderdale Airport, the scorching sun and thick humidity hit me like a sledgehammer. You could practically smell the water in the air and it felt as though one would only have to breathe to stay hydrated. The first night of our visit, we drove down to the Florida Keys to see the sunset. We arrived too late, but we saw a little bit of the rose quartz sun withdrawing under the lapping waves of the sea. Withdrawing ourselves to the air-conditioned comfort of our hotel room, we slept soundly after the trials of the day.

 Our first experience with the park was at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. There, we learned a bit about the park from the wonderful park rangers, and got a glimpse of the environment around and inside the park. Vast wetlands dominated the landscape, appearing like normal grassy fields but thoroughly saturated with water. Located at various points upon the wetland were what are known as "tree islands", or small hills covered with trees and other vegetation not found on the ground level. Because water runs down hills instead of accumulating, trees are able to grow without drowning. These "tree islands" contain diverse arrays of flora, and more importantly, provide refuge for a multitude of animal species.

 The first trail we visited was a boardwalk which meandered through the marsh. It was like walking through a primitive jungle, and the inhabitants looked the part too. From the relative safety of the boardwalk, I saw my first alligator (or was it a crocodile?), along with other large fish the likes of which I had never seen before. There were huge birds and colorful insects as well. The walk itself was short, lasting only about 15 minutes. But along the way, I saw at least three gatordiles (I can't tell the difference between gators and crocs, so I've started calling every man-eating scaly lizard I see a gatordile) and many fish with very sharp teeth. I also got sunburn after a mere 15 minutes, which I deserved for my carelessness in forgetting to apply sunscreen in such an infernal place.

 After the boardwalk, my travel companions and myself visited other "roadside attractions" along the way, including a swamp gazebo in which you could enjoy the scenery while being pestered by almost a hundred bees and a trail leading to one of the aforementioned tree islands. This latter trail was actually one of my favorite in the park. A boardwalk takes you a short distance through the marsh, upon which you enter the shade and coolness of a tree island. You are able to see firsthand all the trees and plants that grow on it, and the benches located throughout the tail allow you to immerse yourself in nature. This is a great place to relax and cool down on a hot day in the Everglades.

 On the second day of our stay, we visited Shark Valley Visitor Center and biked the 15 mile loop trail behind it. Beside the trail, and, indeed, on the trail, were big gatordiles laying on the ground sunning themselves. One lay perpendicular to the paved trail, so that passerby had to tread carefully around to avoid becoming breakfast. Exactly halfway through the trail was an observation tower, on which one could marvel at the sprawling wetlands of the Everglades. Unlike the former section of the trail, which ran alongside a stagnant canal and had many wildlife so close that you could touch them (if you got tired of having two arms), the latter half of the trail passed through the flat wetlands with no shade. There were still many animals, but they can be easily missed if you don't look closely. The bike ride itself was pleasant, the trail being generally flat.

 In addition to biking, our group decided to go on a boat tour of the bay. This is where we saw our first manatees. The guide explained that manatees like to drink the hose water which runs off the sides of boats when they are washed, because they prefer freshwater to the salty brine which is found in the bay. After our boat tour, which cooled us down, we went canoeing up a canal. We didn't last for long, because we were so uncoordinated that we kept making the vessel crash into either bank. However, we did see another manatee, which made it all worth it.

Although I was quite sardonic regarding the Everglades at first, it really is a unique place, worthy of its place among the other great national parks in the United States.