The next stop on our route was Everglades National Park, the first National Park of our trip! Most national parks are created to preserve unique geographic features; however Everglades National Park was the first created because of its biodiversity. It is home to endangered species such as the Florida Panther, American Crocodile and West Indian Manatee to name a few. The Everglades is also the only place in the world where you can find Alligators and Crocodiles together in the wild due to the unique climate and geographic location.
After getting settled into our campsite at the Long Pine Key Campground, we headed out to shoot sunset at a small pond nearby. Max and I had a bet going as to who could spot the very first alligator in the park and the winner would get a splurge meal of their choice. We both scoured the pond and nearby areas for alligators, but saw none. Just as the sun was setting, I spotted something really small moving in the water. As it swam closer and closer to us we realized it was a baby alligator and there were four others swimming toward us as well. They were really cute, but we knew that wherever there were baby alligators, mama wasn’t far behind! Between that and the crazy amount of mosquitos that swarmed us at the onset of dusk, we left and headed back to Big Red.
That night while we were making dinner, we noticed small bugs flying around our ceiling lights. At first we thought we accidentally let them in through the door when we opened the RV, but even after we caught most of them their numbers kept increasing! Our doors were closed and we had screens on all of the windows, so how were they getting in? After closer inspection with a flashlight from both inside and outside the trailer, we noticed that many of the window screens are not flush with the wall, which left small openings for bugs to fly in. Unfortunately, that meant we had to keep all of our windows and doors closed in the 85 degree weather until we were able to get to a hardware store to seal up those cracks.
The next morning we set out for the Anhinga Trail. This trail is known for being able to see American alligators up close as the boardwalk rises above the marshes and waterways. Because this is such a popular trail for visitors to the Everglades, the full parking lot also attracts another type of visitor – vultures. We were shocked to learn that vultures at this particular parking lot like to eat the soft rubber on cars, so if you are the unlucky one in the lot you may come back to see the soft rubber shredded on your car. Given the severity of the problem, the visitor center provides large tarps to cover your car on a first come first serve basis. Luckily, we were able to get one of the tarps and escaped unscathed after our visit. Oh and most importantly, we got to see several alligators on the trail!
A trip to the Everglades would not be complete without a stop at the Flamingo Visitor Center, also known as the end of the road. While not in the best condition due to recent storms and lack of funding, the area around the visitor center provided a great way to see more unique wildlife. As we strolled the boardwalk around the saltwater lagoon, we saw several manatees up close eating the vegetation off the side of the docks. These massive gentle creatures are on average 10ft long and weigh up to 1,300 lbs with females generally larger than males.
Given that the Everglades is the only place in contiguous US where crocodiles are found, we really wanted to see one. We heard the best place to view them is behind the Flamingo Visitor Center’s general store at the confluence of where the saltwater and freshwater meet. As we waited to see a crocodile appear, I noticed kayakers calmly paddling up and down that very same water way. Part of me wanted to kayak the waters, but the other part of me was screaming “are you crazy?” However, I came to my senses on the basis of not wanting to spend money on the kayak rental. After waiting there for what seemed like an hour with no sight of crocs we both disappointedly walked back to the car.
As were in the parking lot ready to drive away I heard a boy yell “Crocodile!” I immediately jumped out of the car and ran over to see a 12ft crocodile slowly swimming from one side of the water way to the other. At the same time, an unsuspecting kayak was coming back from their paddle up the river and their parents were yelling at them frantically to move to the other side! A park ranger showed up, but didn’t seemed phased by the kayak in the water with the croc situation. I asked the park ranger about it and he said they have never had an “incident” with humans and crocodiles even when kayaks have tipped sending someone overboard!
The ranger could tell I was still a bit uneasy about the idea, so he suggested we sign up for a ranger led canoe trip the following day where we’d canoe through mangroves in search of alligators and crocodiles…and it was free! Ranger led…safety check, free of charge…budget check – now I certainly couldn’t say no!
That following morning we launched our canoe at Nine Mile Pond through the mangroves in search of alligators and crocodiles. Even though we weren’t able to spot the resident 14ft crocodile “Croc-zilla”, we had a great time going deep into the water jungle and spotted a few alligators along the way.
Lastly, to top off our Everglades trip we stopped at the famous Robert is Here Fruit Stand in Homestead, Florida which is known for their fresh key lime milkshakes and hard to find tropical fruit. While a bit on the spendy side, ($40 for a key lime milkshake, guanabana banana smoothie, a mango and a guanabana) the fresh tropical taste brought us island vibes without the cost or hassle of a plane ride.