Monday, November 19, 2012

Day 76 - Everglades National Park, FL

When we drove through Naples on our way to the campground I saw several yellow "panther crossing" signs. I thought these must be a joke, like having a flamingo crossing sign on your driveway. Nope, the Florida panther is critically endangered. The population is about 100 (up from only 30 in the 1990's). Their favorite habitat is slash pine with saw palmetto understory. Much of this habitat has been destroyed in favor of housing. The only place most people have seen a panther is dead on the highway. The cats try to cross the road to seek out habitat and get hypnotized by car lights. We drove on a stretch of US41 today that had wildlife sensor detection. Big signs flash lights when the presence of an animal is detected.

Birds! There are a ton of birds here already and it isn't even prime migrating season yet. We saw an enormous flock of swallows - hundreds of them. The huge wading birds are all over the place - egrets, herons, storks also kingfishers and vultures. Some great egrets were flying too low across the road this morning. We narrowly missed a messy bird/truck collision.

We had reservations for the 9am tram tour at the Shark Valley Visitors Center. We got there in plenty of time even allowing time for Brett to rescue a neighboring camper with a dead battery. Maybe the early hour was to blame but there were a lot of grumpy people in the world this morning. The convenience store clerk, the park ranger at the entrance gate, the gift shop clerk, the hostess at the lunch restaurant were all surly. But it didn't spoil my day.

The early tour was a good one to take. There were only 9 passengers. Tons of wildlife to see. Most impressive were the gators. Several were very large and right next to the tram. The tram travels a 15 mile loop through the saw grass prairie. You can also bike the loop. The guide calls cyclists "meals on wheels". I don't know why there aren't gator incidents every day! Only once has a person been attacked. A nine year old Brazilian boy fell off his bike onto a gator which then bit him and took him into a death roll. The boy's mother beat the gator with her binoculars and somehow freed her son.

Burmese Pythons are a problem. They've eaten all the bunnies. The big ones can eat birds, deer and gators. There seems to be no good way to get rid of them. The tour guide had photos he took yesterday of a gator eating a 13 foot python. The vultures had it all cleaned up today.

The Shark River Valley really is a valley. At 17 feet it is lower in elevation than Miami or Ft Myers. But it looked pretty flat to me.

There are 43 different kinds of mosquitoes here. I think I've been bitten by every one of them. I'll be lucky if I don't have Yellow Fever by the time we leave here.

We were able to climb a 65 foot observation tower and could see 15 miles in all directions. Wonderful view of the Everglades from there.

We stopped for lunch at the Miccosukee Restaurant. The tribe has several businesses in the area. The restaurant offered gator and frog but the native food we sampled was bread - pan bread and fry bread. I think it was the same dough but one was baked in a pan and the other deep fried. And then there was spam! Yup, I got the spam too.

We also drove over to the Gulf Coast Visitors Center in Everglades City. They have boat rides into the Ten Thousand and we are considering doing that. Maybe tomorrow.

Home again, laundry done and relaxing has commenced.

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