December 16: Miami & the Everglades

After breakfast on Sunday morning we did an early walk-off with our luggage. Since I had made a reservation with Alamo (and NOT Hertz), we just walked over and got on the Alamo/National shuttle bus that took us to the car rental center near the airport.

Our 2012 Toyota rental car. Large field of yellow summer squash Closeup of the yellow squash.

The first photo shows our Alamo rental; a 2012 Toyota Camry. After dropping our luggage at our hotel we headed south-west thinking we might go down to the Florida Keys. Before long we were driving through agricultural land. We turned off the main highway south when we saw a sign for the Everglades National Park. On the way to the park we drove through mile after mile of land that had been cleared and drained so it could be used for agriculture. Some of the fields, like the one above, were planted with a yellow summer squash while other were planted with corn or beans.

Entrance to the Everglades National Park Sign to the Visitor Center UNESCO recognition of the park as a biosphere reserve.

We entered the Everglades National Park and stopped at the Visitors’ Center. The park is recognized by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve and helps protect and conserve the biodiversity of south Florida. Originally virtually all of south Florida was covered by a layer of shallow water that spilled over from Lake Okeechobee in central Florida and flowed slowly southward to the ocean. A lot of the land that was originally part of the Everglades has been drained and is now used for agriculture or for housing developments.

Map of the Everglades National Park
The above map of the park shows the vast extent of the everglades. There is a road that extends for quite a distance into the park. However, we only explored the area within about 10 miles of the park entrance on the east side.

Area of the park we explored Not very far above sea level

The left photo shows the area of the park near the entrance that we explored. The roads shown in blue are where we drove. The photo on the right is neat. We usually think of passes being thousands of feet above sea level. However, this pass is just 3 feet above sea level. Just think of what happens to the everglades when there is a storm surge caused by a hurricane or what the effect will be of a sea level increase due to global warming.

Mama alligator beside the road Movie of baby alligators Mama keeping a watchful eye on me

As we drove into the park we spotted an alligator sunning itself beside the road. We stopped and saw that it was a large female alligator keeping a watchful eye on her clutch of baby alligators. If you click on the photo of the babies, you can view a video of the little ones moving about. Mama kept a close eye on me as I took photographs of her brood.

The way to the Anhinga Trail Spanish moss growing on the trees in the Royal Palms parking lot Pond at the start of the Anhinga Trail.

Our first stop was at Royal Palms where the Anhinga Trail begins. Melissa and Mary Ann didn’t have much experience with the Spanish moss that grew on the trees in the lot where we parked. This is the pond that was located at the start of the Anhinga Trail we followed.

A large gar fish swimming in the pond. An alligator swims out of the reeds to check out the tasty park visitors. An Anhinga dries its wings after a dive.

We saw an incredible variety of wildlife along the Anhinga Trail. There was a large gar swimming in the water. Several alligators swam out of the reeds to investigate the park visitors. The third photo is of an anhinga drying its wings. The anhinga or snake-bird is a cormorant-like bird with an average body length of 85 cm (33 in), a wingspan of 117 cm (46 in), and a mass of up to 1.35 kg (3.0 lb). It is a dark-plumaged piscivore (fish eating) with a very long neck, and often swims with only the neck above water. Its feathers are not waterproof and so after a few dives after fish, the anhinga must spread its wings to dry in the sun.

A white egret Two water birds and an alligator Two turtles sunning themselves on a log.

We saw a wide variety of water birds including egrets and herons. They didn’t seem to be afraid of the alligators and were often in close proximity. We saw quite a few turtles like this pair enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

Sign describing the bromeliads growing here. A community of air plants (bromeliads). Blue heron

Since the everglades are warm and moist, air plants or bromeliads grow on other plants. These are not parasites that draw nutrients from their host plant. They just use the other plant as a perch. The last photo is of a blue heron.

A brown anole lizard Nancy spotted on a tree. Melissa gets her photo taken with one of the Everglade guides. Alligator crossing

As we were walking back along the Anhinga Trail Nancy noticed a small brown anole lizard on a tree. We also stopped to talk with one of the Everglades guides and Melissa had her picture taken with him. As we drove back to the main road we saw an alligator that appeared to be ready to cross the road. Or, maybe it was just waiting to grab an unwary visitor to the park.

Pinelands trail marker Just sprouted slash pine. Young slash pine.

Our next stop was at the Pinelands Trail. This takes us through a slightly higher and dryer area of the region where slash pine grows. When a slash pine sprouts it is just a bundle of long needles. In the next few years it grows rapidly.

Mature stand of slash pine. Sign describing the disappearing pines. Sign for Pa-hay-okee Overlook

The first photo is of a mature stand of slash pine. The second photo is a sign indicating that the slash pine is endangered in south Florida because its habitat, higher dryer ground, has been taken over for housing developments and much of the remainder has been cut for lumber. However in north Florida and the Gulf coast states slash pine is widespread and a valuable commercially logged species. The last photo is the sign that indicates the Pa-hay-okee Overlook.

The saw-grass covered everglades. Interpretive sign about this area

Pa-hay-okee is a Seminole phrase meaning “grassy waters.” The Pa-hay-okee Overlook is a boardwalk that allows easy access to the area. In the grassy areas the ground is covered with a few inches of water. The areas that have shrubs or trees are slightly higher and hence dryer.

Stand of bald cypress Interpretive sign about the bald cypress

The boardwalk takes you past a stand of bald cypress. The trees are not dead. These conifers lose their needles in the winter to cope with seasonal drought. The acid from their decaying needles erodes the limestone near the trees. This improves the habitat by deepening the water in which they grow.

The ladies on the boardwalk through a shrubby area. A vulture perched in a tree near the highway. Sign warning of a panther crossing.

As we came back along the boardwalk towards the parking area we passed through an area of shrubs and trees indicating a higher and dryer habitat. As we drove back out towards the park entrance, we passed a vulture perched in a tree near the side of the road. Obviously it had been feasting on some road kill until we interrupted its meal. We passed a sign marking a panther crossing. Florida panthers were once common throughout the southeastern United States. At present fewer than 100 Florida panthers (Puma concolor coryi) are estimated to live in the wilds of south Florida.

Beans growing on trellises A new crop of vegetables just up. The Catalina Hotel and Beach Club

After we left the Everglades National Park we were back in an area where the everglades had been drained and used for agriculture. The climate is mild enough that there were crops in all stages of growth. Some were just sprouting while others were ready to harvest. After supper at Applebee’s restaurant we headed for our hotel in the heart of Miami Beach. We were staying at the Catalina Hotel & Beach Club. We don’t recommend staying there. It was noisy, the fire alarm went off several times in the middle of the night, and parking at the hotel or nearby was very expensive. In the morning we dropped off our rental car and boarded out flights for home.