The United States of America, my home country, currently has 417 sites known as National Parks, which are basically protected areas of natural environment where humans aren’t allowed to develop or interfere with the land. I’ve decided that part of my bucket list is officially to go visit every single site.
Most of the national parks are featured in this image. They’re ALL OVER the place!
Iceland had a transformative effect on how I view travel, maturing me from a city-type to a nature-type in one quick metamorphosis. Now I have an itch (actually more of a burning yearning) to go see all of these places for myself, and I started my lifelong journey right here in my backyard: Everglades National Park.
Bird’s eye view of the Everglades. You can hear my friend telling his mom that they should really invest in a drone because they’re awesome
The stereotype about Florida is that it’s the part of the United States where everyone is crazy, high, stupid, weird, or all four. There’s a running joke online where a reporter asks a retired old lady why she moved to Florida, and she says “I threw a dart at a map of the United States and it landed in the trash.” That’s what the rest of the country thinks of us, and honestly, we’ve kind of lived up to that reputation in a lot of ways. News out of Florida always has headlines like Elderly Florida man caught masturbating in McDonald’s parking lot. Claims privacy was invaded (I’m not joking, that’s a real headline, Google it).
But that eccentricity is also part of what makes Florida so special, and the Everglades is the greatest example. The Everglades spans 1.5 million acres in southern Florida and protects such awesome creatures as the Florida Alligator, Florida Crocodile, Manatee and Florida Panther. Shark Valley, the location I decided to visit, is chock full of the grisly beasts in the featured image: Florida Alligators.
Momma gator protecting her baby gator. The baby is just to the left of the momma’s snout, it looks more like a lizard than a gator because it’s so young!
Alligators first of all strike you with their non-stereotypical coloration. They don’t sport the sassy forest green that cartoons and images often associate them with. Instead, gators are nearly charcoal black with shiny scales and white, muddy dry areas. In shark valley, the entrance has a small building, the Visitor Center, which leads out into a 15 mile trail through the Everglades where you’ll find tons of wildlife just hanging out. If you’re on a bicycle, on a hot summer morning, you’ll likely find a new alligator basking in the son every 2 minutes or so of bike riding along the trail. It feels as though it’s filled to the brim with these prehistoric creatures.
Another gator, closer to the beginning of the trail, right next to where tourists walk.
The very first time you encounter one of these guys, you feel a little pin drop in your stomach, and if you’re a rational person, you’ll also feel a bit of fear as you stare at an animal that could very easily annihilate you if he so wishes. Remember, this is no zoo, it’s their territory. There are no cages or bars to hold them back. They’re sometimes literally right next to you. It is technically possible to even touch one of these beasts, though you probably won’t try to if you’re the type of person who values their life. However, with all the inherent scariness of viewing a literal monster that can eat you for dinner aside, alligators are actually beautiful, and docile at that. If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you. They like their fish and birds, and you look like neither of those two things, so they won’t even give you a second look. As a matter of fact, most alligators just lay in the sun, lazily watching the grass grow, not caring at all about your existence, which is probably better than if they did care.
Along the trail you’ll catch sight of several other incredible animals that only the Everglades could offer. Herons are just as common along this trail as the alligators are, but they’re scared of humans and will clumsily fly away if you approach too near to them. These birds have these long, slinky tube-necks that make them look less graceful and more funny when they try to fly away. They’re also a lot bigger than you expect. These things are easily as tall as some humans if they stretch their necks out, and their wingspan is definitely awe-inspiring once you see it try to fly away.
Caught a heron trying to hide behind a bush!
There’s also a few hawks here and there, dispersed around Shark Valley, and really only making an appearance on the trail on rare occasions. But when they do show up, you get the same initial feeling that you do when you see an alligator: Holy crap, that thing can tear me into tiny shreds of a man. Herons are beautiful in their own awkward way, but hawks are gorgeous in a majestic, regal sort of way. These birds also don’t seem to care very much about whether or not there are any humans around, and let you film them until they decide to fly off to their next meal.
I call it a hawk, but honestly, it could be a falcon, I’m not too sure. It is beautiful though.
I could go on and on about all the different animals you can see in the Everglades, but I’ll go ahead and save that for some of the next posts about this wondrous National Park.
Definitely coming back here. I even bought an annual pass! Come visit me and the gators some time!
-The Wandering Toucan