I’ve met people’s whose goal is to visit every national park. Many of them, like Yellowstone, are essential. Ruth & I recently went to another essential for the 1st time. It’s different from all the others we’ve experienced in at least 3 ways. Its landscape is unique, it’s very existence depends on water, and it’s critically close to a large city. It’s Everglades, which ranks 10th in size among the 59 national parks.
Our guide on the Long Pine Key Trail was a man named Paul. He had been a volunteer for only a few months and was still super excited about leading tours. He clearly loved the Everglades and continuously stopped to encourage us to pay attention to the abundant wildlife. Paul spent 10 minutes telling us about how alligators growl during mating season. He knew a lot but I kept thinking that it would take anyone a lifetime to really begin to understand and appreciate this place. Marjory Stoneman Douglas invented the phrase “River of Grass” to describe The Everglades in her book. That book was first published in 1947 and is still a bestseller. She had spent lots of time there before writing it. I had only a day to learn as much as I could and was only able to relax when I decided that this had to be Day One.
The ecosystem that shapes this totally unique sea of grass began as a creeping river that was 50 miles wide but only a few inches deep fed by Lake Okeechobee. Being fresh water moving slowly towards a salty gulf and ocean, its biggest enemy would be a thirsty city. Miami’s metro area now has a population of around 5.5 million, and it’s so close that I couldn’t believe that such an expanse of natural terrain could exist that near to ever-expanding urbanism. From the park’s entrance station to the one-time town of Flamingo and back, less than 80 miles total, Ruth & I felt alone in a vast wilderness. By the way, Miami’s population in 1900 was 1,671.
This feeling of solitude was an illusion. In the winter, thousands of visitors are exploring Everglades National Park, and millions of residents are too. Thanks to Paul we saw many of them–alligators, anhingas, Florida gars, etc. I don’t think I want to be here in summer, however, when 43 species of mosquitos are out and about. Except for a couple of signs and a stuffed example in a visitor center, we didn’t see panthers either. Maybe I should be glad about that. And this. The Everglades is the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators exist together. The anhinga is just one of 300 bird species that spend time each year in this park. However, 60% of these species vacate in the summer.
We must go back. We didn’t have time for an air boat tour, a canoe trip, the Tamiami Trail, more than 2 of the 5 visitor centers, etc. Only visit Everglades National Park if you want to feel both exhausted and frustrated at the end of Day One.