To me, the Everglades region of Southwest Florida has always emitted vibes of adventure. The image in my mind was a dank swamp where nothing lived in the putrid waters except creepy crawly things. So the time finally came when I felt compelled to either substantiate my long held preconception or perhaps discover the truth.
Everglades National Park comprises more than 1.5 million acres, the third largest national park in the lower 48 states, following Death Valley and Yellowstone. In other words it’s huge, and there are hundreds more square miles of everglade marsh outside of the park.
There’s a storied history of human meddling and decimation of this important ecosystem, but the state and federal governments are now spending billions of dollars in an attempt to restore this precious water resource that supplies Southern Florida.
The drive from Miami westward across Interstate Highway 75 through the vast complex of flora and fauna was more than just interesting. The highway, known as Everglades Parkway, is referred to by locals as Alligator Alley and I actually saw alligators basking in the sun on the side of the road. There was very little traffic and I said a silent prayer that I wouldn’t have a flat tire or run out of gas.
I chose to stay at Billy Swamp Safari on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. My room was a waterfront bungalow. The windows in the cozy thatched-roofed shelter were screens covered by opaque curtains and lighting was supplied by candles. You might say the accommodations were primitive.
The bungalow would have been quiet except for the sound of an occasional mosquito, the wind, the movement of the water and myriad creatures filling my imagination. It was necessary to imagine them because it was so dark you surely couldn’t see them. Nevertheless, I quickly fell asleep.
In the morning, I realized that I had actually slept pretty well and looked forward to my adventure in the swamps. Strolling around the grounds of my little retreat gave me an opportunity to enjoy the animal life – it was everywhere. A few exhibits in the compound were homes for animals that appeared to be easy to take care of, some big turtles for example. I wanted more.
In a few adventure-packed days, I managed to squeeze in just about everything I wanted to do. To begin, I took a tour on a funny-looking elevated vehicle called a swamp buggy. We traveled through the wetlands looking for interesting wildlife and, when we came to a river, we just drove right into the water. We saw plenty of hogs, deer and bison, but we never saw any Florida Panthers or Black Bears that supposedly lived in the area.
Next, I rode an airboat across the water trail through the sawgrass prairie while our knowledgeable guide pointed out so many bird species that I lost count. Everybody on the boat paid respectful attention of course, but we were all really looking for alligators, and we saw them too – in the water and on the shore. They came right up to the boat and then quickly disappeared into the murky water just like the jungle cruise ride at Disneyland.
My adventure revealed the truth about this World Heritage Site. Yes, there were plenty of swamp-themed attractions in the Everglades to entertain me, but I also learned a greater lesson about this subtropical preserve that teems with innumerable species of living creatures. The lesson is: we should be doing more to protect our planet.