Everglades National Park
Things to do for front-country visitors entering Everglades National Park at Florida City, part 1
The main entrance to Everglades National Park is on State Road 9336 about 10 miles from Florida City, a small city immediately south of the more widely known city of Homestead.
Ernest F Coe Visitor Center, mile 0
For some reason, the main visitor center here at Everglades National Park--the Ernest F Coe Visitor Center--is located just outside (not inside) the Park, near the main gate. You should definitely stop here at the Visitor Center.
They have excellent exhibits, plus a short movie--around 11 minutes as I recall--which helps orient you to the Park's wonders. Inside the Visitor Center, is a gift shop with a lot of books and other stuff you might decide you absolutely must have.
At the main gate, there is an entrance fee of about $10, with some discounts allowed for special situations. Check the National Park Service web site for the current fee applicable to you. This fee is good for one week at all park entrances. Your receipt is your ticket back in.
Royal Palm Hammock, mile 4
The first stop after the main entrance is Royal Palm Hammock. This is also a "must-see." At the parking lot, there are restrooms, and a small gift shop.
Here at Royal Palm are two loop trails: Anhinga trail and Gumbo Limbo trail.
The Anhinga Trail is a half-mile loop through Taylor Slough, one of several Everglades drainage ways where the River of Grass finds its way to Florida Bay.
A slough is a broad, shallow water-flow channel, on average about a foot or two deeper than the rest of the River of Grass.
The Anhinga trail is one of the best places I know of where you'll usually be able to see and photograph wildlife, especially in the winter, dry season when wildlife tends to congregate around the few remaining watering holes. Do bring your camera. Who knows? Maybe you'll take back some trophy photos.
Take your time here, and in the entire Park, for that matter. Remember, much of Everglades grandeur is hidden in plain view. Don't just look. Look to really see, so the wonders of this unique place are revealed to you. I learned the trick of looking to really see from an old SCUBA instructor. Before descending on a dive off Ft. Lauderdale, he bemoaned the guys who run up and down the reef, fins kicking like mad, never really seeing anything. He suggested we pick out a 100-square-foot area of the reef and spend at least five minutes observing it. I took his advice and was amazed at the things I saw. Even in that tiny area, life's drama was taking place right before my eyes. All I had to do was to choose to see it. When we climbed back aboard the dive boat, those of us who picked out a spot to observe, had lots to talk about. Try this trick almost anywhere in the Everglades. Look to really see. You'll be amazed.
As the name suggests, Anhingas--and other birds--often congregate along the Anhinga trail. Once again, the winter, dry season is normally the best time to see wildlife here.
Map makers say this part of Florida is sub-tropical. But tropical plants and animals don't always know they're supposed to stay on their side of the Tropic of Cancer. Consequently, you find quite a few tropical species, both plants and animals, here in the Park. Take, for instance, the pond apple (Annona glabra), or custard apple as Everglades old-timers called it. They say it's edible, but not very palatable. Don't take my word for it; I've never eaten one. Check with an expert before you eat any plant you don't absolutely know is edible. Some plants are deadly poisonous, and you don't want to make a fatal mistake.
A few alligators usually grace us with their presence in the slough along the trail. The last time I was there, a Park Ranger told of a 24-hour fight occurring in the slough between a couple of alligators and a large Burmese Python. Now, Burmese Pythons do NOT belong in the Everlgades. People buy them for pets when they're small, not knowing I guess, they'll to grow to as long as 26 feet. They reach their adult size in about 4 years, and live for up to 20 years total.
It takes a true-blue snake lover to want to take on a project like that. Since many pet owners aren't that dedicated, they simply take Kaa to the Everglades and set him free. Result? We now have an established population of Burmese Pythons breeding in the Everglades. These massive reptiles threaten to upset the ecological balance because they can feed on just about any other animal, including alligators and endangered species such as panthers and wood storks. Wish I had a Burmese Python picture to show you. Maybe I'll get one (a picture, not a python) next time I'm down there.
While you're on the Anhinga trail, check the slough for different types of fish. You'll see both domestic and invasive species.
Continued in part 2
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