Everglades National Park
Florida’s Everglades boasts one of the most original and fascinating natural areas in the United States. Very few other locations have a subtropical wilderness where freshwater rivers and the salty ocean intermingle, giving rise to an incredible amount of biodiversity found nowhere else in the world. Due to the eclectic mix of a temperate climate with a tropical one, there is a rather peculiar mixture of flora and fauna in the park. Temperate animals such as crocodiles (crocodylus acutus), red-shouldered hawks (buteo lineatus), deer (odocoileus virginianus), oak trees (quercus virginiana), raccoons (procyon lotor), and bobcats (lynx rufus) share territory with tropical orchids, manatees (sirenia), loggerhead turtles (caretta caretta), and Florida alligators (alligator mississippiensis). Here, the highest variety of orchids (orchidaceae) in any of the national parks flourishes. These delicate flowerers are found in such numbers in the park because it encompasses both the northernmost regions for some species and the southernmost region for others. The delicate and fragrant flowers of these plants are so valued that many species have become extinct due to the illegal gathering of the blooms before and after the protection of the park was enforced. When in the park, be sure to take a peek at the lovely orchids, but don’t touch them! The same is true for the bizarre Bromeliads, or air plants. These plants need no dirt to grow as they absorb all of their nutrients and water with their leaves instead of a root system. Avoiding direct contact is a necessary rule of thumb for all of the wildlife as well, no matter how cuddly that manatee looks. This is especially important because this is the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators coexist. Also, be wary of snakes.
Photo Credits: NPS (top left), Rodney Cammauf (top right and bottom left), Jimi Sadle (bottom right)
Today, the Florida Everglades are known for the sheet-like water system that covers over 1.5 million acres of land, creating fertile bogs, marshes, ponds, and wetlands that host a wild variety of life. Over a century ago, this was also true but on a much larger scale. Water once flowed from the Kissimmee River into Lake Okeechobee to the estuaries of Biscayne Bay. When the population of Florida began to increase, prospective farmers began to drain the wetlands, forever altering the balanced biosphere of the glades. In a relatively quick 40 years, Everglades National Park was established with the purpose of conserving the natural landscape and preventing the destruction of the multitude of species that call the Everglades home. Before Western habitation, Native American tribes fought their way through a life in the swampy land. The two major tribes in the region were the Calusa and the Tequesta of Taino origin. Both tribes never lived in the everglades, but frequently ventured in for resources. During the Seminole Wars, the U.S. Military forced the tribes into the Everglades, which is where they now reside. Today, the Park hosts tourists from all over the world.
Photo Credit: NPS (left), Cal Singletary (right)
1. What are the weather and conditions like in the park?
The weather is typically sunny and humid. If you are coming in the summer months, be prepared for walking in damp and wet trails, and come with a hat and sunscreen. The average temperature in South Florida ranges from 74-77 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Where should I stay?
Cities and towns surround the 1.5 million acres of the Everglades, making lodging a breeze. West of the park, the closest town is Everglades City which sits directly on the Western border of the park. For something more luxurious, stay at Marco Island. For more information, follow this link: http://traveltips.usatoday.com/good-place-stay-visitors-everglades-105420.html
3. How much does admission to the park cost?
There is a fee of $20.00 per vehicle, or $8 per person walking or cycling into the park. For more in-depth information about the fees, including motorcycle, van, and sedan fees, go to this page: https://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm
4. What should I not miss?
The Anhinga Trail is the most popular walking path in the park. The trail is about a mile and includes boardwalks. This is a fantastic trail to walk for wildlife viewing. Having a guide is worth it on this trail, because they can often point out things that you would otherwise have missed.
Shark Valley is a bit longer (a 15 miles round loop) but hosts the most easily viewed alligators. Biking this loop is a popular choice for many visitors.
Also popular are the private boat tours, starting from $44. Driving the loop road is equally edifying. Be sure not to miss the Royal Palm Visitor Center on your way to Loop Road!
For more information and reviews of the various trails the park offers, follow this link: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g143024-Activities-Everglades_National_Park_Florida.html
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