Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Everglades National Park - Florida Bay Boat Tour

Our first tour was the Florida Bay Boat Tour from the Flamingo Marina. $24/person. I must point out this Marina also doubles as a grocery store including ice creams! While waiting we saw a manatee! The Ranger in the Visitor Center said that manatee need fresh water and so think they hang around the boat wash area because of the fresh water. The tide was going out.

Once out in the Bay we saw the endangered Green Sea Turtle and a multitude of birds, including the pink Roseate Spoonbill. We got pretty close to the Wood Stork, an endangered bird (This is one of Isaac's pics).  Very grateful that I brought my binoculars, later we got to see them feeding further out in the Bay. This is very strange to watch as they basically have to bump into their food with their bill to catch it so they sweep their open bills from side to side. On the park map they point out this is called tacto-location.

We were also treated by a fish which literally skips across the water first on its side and then its tail fin. I wish I could remember its name. The guide mentioned something must have been chasing it. There are a lot of predatory animals living in the Florida Bay. Not a good place to swim.

This tour gave us an up close look at the Red Mangrove Trees with their roots all tangled together and into the shallow Florida Bay. The Mangrove seedlings can sometimes float around in the Bay for a year before germinating. Isaac took the photo below of one that is about 40 years old. Some day this will be another little island or "key".

When we got back to the marina we walked over to the brackish water on the far side of the marina building to see what all the commotion was and saw our first crocodile on the shore of the small key across the boat channel. It was huge!  Very intimidating, much more erect as compared to the lounging alligators. This one looked like he was ready to sprint.

This was our last official tour of our Everglades trip. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Everglades National Park - Flamingo

We got in late last night from a side trip out to the Keys. We had rented a car so this morning we had to return the car. Another note here about "everything takes a little longer in South Florida". Enterprise in Homestead will pick you up and drop you back at Long Pine Key Campground. That's very generous! Be prepared to wait.

When we got back we packed up the RV and headed into FLAMINGO. The 35 mile drive there goes by quickly on the 55mph road. The road is dotted with several short hike trails.

This area was devastated during hurricane Wilma in '05. The Flamingo Visitor Center, Marina and hotel were destroyed and the main parking lot had 4 feet of mud in it. It took them 3 years to reopen the area to the public.

As soon as we arrived We stopped in at the Buttonwood Cafe for a bite. Gator tails were on the menu! After dinner we headed into the campground. We chose a site with electricity to charge camera batteries. $30/night. The park attendant shared a little secret with us. Showers in the RV park are cold water only. Tent site showers are solar heated. This area is right on Florida Bay. T
Some tent sites have water views. Reservations are needed because this campground is very popular.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Everglades National Park - Three-In-One Trail

Seeing as people keep reminding us that it's the snakes we need to be careful of I was a little apprehensive about today's hike. There are a series of wilderness trails all around the campground and the Ranger suggested the small .5 mile Three-In-One Trail across from the picnic areas on the main campground road to start. It gets its name from the three different habitats you walk through; slash pine forest, prairie, and hammock.

We headed out alone through the Slash Pine Forest. We saw lots of butterflies and anoles; tiny lizards. There was a lot of undergrowth, not like the pine forests at home. Isaac has cultivated a healthy curiosity and often wanders off trail back home. I have mixed feelings about this. It wasn't much of an issue on this hike, because he wanted to stay close. 

 The trail opens to the Prairie where all you see are grasses. The 6.1 mile Pineland Trail runs through here.

The Saw Grass looks harmless until you touch it. Isaac filled out a page in his Jr. Ranger book about this plant. 

The third part of the trail runs through the Hammock.

As we walked through the Hammock we had to watch our step, because snakes can look like tree roots. Our pulse really quickened here as the sounds of the wildlife were much louder, although you couldn't see anything. The air inside the Hammock is cooler and very wet. It is darker.  The trees crowded the trail, especially in one spot where at one point we turned around and thought we were on the wrong trail. The Ranger said it's been difficult keeping them cut back with the unusually wet Dry Season they've had. 

When we emerged we felt more alive…braver.

We took it easy at the campground for the rest of the morning. It was a great time to catch up on math, Jr Ranger badge activities, and journalling. At first glance the badge activity book looks trivial. Like the books they give you at hotels to keep the kids quiet. But this book is full of follow up activities for the sites in the park, like writing a poem about what saw grass really is.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Everglades National Park - Nike Missile Site

Next program was a surprise. The National Parks offers a tour once a day of the Nike Missile Site right in the park. It was one of many secret US Missile sites that closed down in the late 70's. This one opened for tours just 4 years ago.

It was a great war history lesson!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Everglades National Park - Anhinga Trail

Hello from Sunny Florida!

We call this the "not to be missed"Anhinga Trail at the Royal Palm Visitor Center. Royal Palm is the closest area to the Park Gate.

When we drove into the parking lot for the first time and saw some of the cars covered in blue tarps we thought it odd. Then we saw the vultures….pecking and pulling at a windshield wiper blades and rubber window trim of an uncovered car. Apparently they get bored and this is what they do for amusement.

The Anhinga Trail is mainly a boardwalk. You can certainly walk the .7mile without the Ranger but the free program started out with classroom time, learning all about the watershed and history of the Everglades, and proceeded with a narrated hike. Isaac drank in the Ranger's wisdom and asked questions freely.

This is THE place to see alligators up close from a safe distance.
The photo above is a baby alligator. We tried to find it's mother but she was well hidden.

 After the 2 hour program (the brochure says 1.5 hours but as I am learning..."it's South Florida ...everything takes a little longer") we wandered for another hour revisiting things we liked, particularly the nesting Anhingas. They nest in the Pond Apple tree. The Everglades have had a wet dry season.

There was a brood of Anhingas that had hatched recently. The eggs were still visible. Hard to see in the bottom photo, half way down on the left in the tree. They are fuzzy cream color and the egg shell is white.

We like to linger…just be here.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Everglades National Park - Long Pine Key Campground

This is our first National Parks entry. These entries are delayed as there is no Internet service inside EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK 

The Everglades has two seasons, dry and wet. The wet season begins somewhere around April/May. The wet season isn't tourist season because of the extreme weather, extreme heat, and mosquitoes. Plus  the majority of animals go further north where people are unable to go.  We caught the tail end of the Dry Season visiting in mid March

Our first stop was the COE VISITOR CENTER. Don't go into the park until you've stopped here. We picked up maps and the Jr Ranger Activity book for Isaac to complete to become a Jr Ranger.

Made sure we had a full tank of gas and continued on into the Park (paying the park fee $10.00/ 7 days) to LONG PINE KEY CAMPGROUND. It's the first big campground  off the main Park road about 6 miles in from the gate. It is rustic, no showers or electrical hook ups.  They have really clean bathrooms. $16/night. We chose this location because of its proximity to several Ranger Programs, as well as some wilderness trails. It's a nice quiet campground because there are no electrical hook ups.

For today we wandered around the campsite slowly getting to know our new surroundings. At one end of the campground there is an amphitheater just beyond a small pond. As we were walking there we saw a Black Racer snake go from the pond into the hammock.