The first time we came to southern Florida, we visited the main part of Everglades National Park, which is the best known. After many more visits, we have discovered there is a treasure trove of protected land here at the bottom of Florida also worth a visit. In addition to the national park there's also Big Cypress National Preserve, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Picayune Strand State Forest, the 10,000 Islands part of the national park only accessible by boat, and the western part of the national park called Shark Valley. I don't understand the ramifications of different government entities administering these various sections of land. Superficially all this protected land looks pretty much the same, but a few inches of elevation change greatly alters the vegetation. Once the salt water starts seeping in, the vegetation adjusts and everything looks different again. We've encountered many of the water birds we have grown to know and love further north in Titusville, but since so much of the area is protected, the bird population seems more dense here. They might like the slightly warmer temperatures, too.
There's a new way to see the swamps here - from the deck of a swamp buggy. Owners weld a metal framework to the top of a pick up truck, add huge tires and low gearing, and you can drive pretty much anywhere through the swamp. Where they go is regulated so these vehicles don't tear up the ground and vegetation. In these COVID times we had our driver to ourselves. He was happy to have us onboard; his usual clientele is European tourists. it's been a year since they've been here. He has a special permit to drive his buggy into the protected land and is limited to what he called roads. They mostly looked like river beds to me. He started the tour showing us alligators. Of course, the Europeans are thrilled to see them, but we were blasé. Then he understood that we wanted to photograph birds and the view from the top of his vehicle gave us a new perspective on what have come to be old friends. The deciduous cypress have dropped their leaves, so it was easy to see flocks of large birds perched precariously on their tiny branches. We were glad to see that there were so many. The huge habitat area here makes such a difference.
We took a boat tour to visit the modestly named 10,000 islands area just off the coast; there are actually more than 14,000 islands here. The highpoint of this trip was the dolphin show. The park ranger onboard told us that some of the creatures circling the waters around us were nursing babies while others were hard at work creating new ones. He could have told us anything, because we only saw tantalizing bits of their bodies circling us in the water. It was a thrill to see them willingly hanging around.
We wanted to recreate a bike trip we took in Shark Vallly on one of our first visits
here, slaloming through a field of snoozing alligators on our bikes, but this part of the park has been under water from the enormous rain fall late summer that still has not drained away. It was closed. We came across standing water on other roads here as well, tip toeing through fingers crossed.
After months of cooking three meals a day at home, we treated ourselves to some fresh local seafood in Everglades City, a small town that has more airboats than cars. We wondered where all the folks who live around here buy food. We haven't seen a grocery store anywhere.