Long before Walt Disney made Orlando a tourist mecca, small tourist traps in Florida were luring travelers to stop and see gee gaws made out of sea shells and shellacked alligator heads. Gatorland has been in existence since 1949 and is this sort of place, a place we would never deign to visit. But last year the photography club at our campground visited Gatorland and participants raved about what a great destination it was for nature photography. While the park doesn't open until 10am, it offers photographers special access at 7am on some days. Gatorland has been on Ken's to-do list and with the time change this weekend, 7am will be in total darkness for the next few weeks, so it was time to go. It is about an hour's drive for us and we found ourselves standing bleary eyed at the gate: nineteen men sporting outrageously huge lenses and hefty tripods and me. It all felt a bit "mine's bigger than yours machismo" to me. (Eventually a few more women showed up.) I don't even like standing next to macho photo dudes with their motor drives rat-a-tatting next to me, making me feel for all the world like I am in some kind of war zone.
Once we were inside it was clear that the photo club members were right. The park is centered on a lake where 130 alligators float round looking well fed and mellow. Surprisingly, birds like to build their nests above those gators. As long as their babies don't fall out of the nests, the gators keep other predators away. We happily clicked away, but some people around us complained that there used to be many more birds there. You don't know what you're not seeing. On our way out we met the owner who said that the gators had worn down the banks of the lake on one side and after they shored it up, the birds moved to a part of the lake currently inaccessible to people visiting Gatorland. He's hoping to improve access to their new location.
In spite of my negative remarks, I should add that the owners of Gatorland have done a fine job of maintaining and modernizing this attraction since 1949. In addition to the endemic creatures that are the featured attraction, they have a petting zoo and other animals like emus. A good place for a family to spend the day and a destination we just might visit again, especially if we hear that the rest of the wild birds are within view once again.