Back to the Wilderness ~ Everglades National Park

Walking along shadowed paths, the sun not yet quite ready to greet the day, contentment settles over me.  I feel as if I am floating upon the fog that is blanketing the grasses, alert to the callings on the wind and the chirping of insects underfoot.  I think this is how it feels to be in the moment.

I marvel as egret wings caress the pastel sky above me but I am keenly aware that I am only seeing a small percentage of the birds as those seen back in the 1940′s when this land was slated for protection under the National Park system.

We are back in the Everglades, and after the exhilaration of the Keys, this has been quite an abrupt change.  A bit of sadness washed over me as we left to start our trek north, but strolling this campground my spirit is buoyed by the calm, ready for a week devoid of cell phone and internet connectivity, free of the trappings of modern existence.

Our travels have taken us to the southern tip of the Everglades, the Flamingo campground, our home for five days.  This is America’s Crocodile Capital, where saltwater melds into fresh, the only place in this country I have read where alligators and crocodiles co-exist.  We had already visited the western part of the park so I was wondering if we would find enough to occupy ourselves for this length of time.  I need not have worried.

Here are our top 6 favorite activities while visiting Flamingo (in no particular order):

1)  Eco Pond

A trip to Eco Pond, about 0.5 miles from the Flamingo campground, particularly at sunrise, is a birder’s delight.  Bug repellant is a must as these pesky insects seem to like first light as much as we do.

Hundreds of egrets with a splash of pink coloring the landscape.

Hundreds of egrets with a splash of pink coloring the landscape.

The roseate spoonbills’ captivating pink plumage comes from a red pigment found in some crustaceans they feast upon.

The ravishing roseate spoonbill

The ravishing roseate

2)  Anhinga Trail

We were lucky to be in the park for the ‘Big Day Birding Adventure’, led by Ranger Christi, conducted only twice monthly.  We started at the Anhinga Trail, spending a couple of hours there, and headed back south, making several stops until we arrived back at the Flamingo Visitor Center.

Ranger Christi (center) pointing out anhingas nesting in the surrounding trees

Ranger Christi (center) pointing out anhingas nesting in the surrounding trees

Lots of boardwalks cross over lily pad laden waterways, with countless wading birds on the shores contemplating a delicious breakfast.

Long lengths of boardwalk traverse the watery depths.

Long lengths of boardwalk traverse the watery depths.

We entertained ourselves watching a cormorant try to gulp down a rather large walking catfish before a waiting wood stork swooped in.  He swallowed it just in the nick of time. :)

A cormorant desperate to enjoy a big breakfast before having it stolen away.

A cormorant desperate to enjoy a big breakfast before having it stolen away.

3)  Bike Rides

We spent many a day biking the campground and roadways, stopping off at various ponds or boardwalks to enjoy the wildlife.

Mottled duck at Mrazek Pond

Mottled duck at Mrazek Pond

4)  Pinelands Trail in Search of Tree Snails

As you walk this 0.5 mile trail, keep your eyes trained up into the canopies of the smooth-barked Jamaican dogwood and gumbo limbo trees, and you just might spot some of the colorful Liguus tree snails.

5)  Hang out at the Marina

This time of year, spending time at the marina will reward you with some pretty spectacular views of osprey nesting, and if you’re lucky, you might be there for feeding time.

A very intense stare

A very intense stare

A tender moment captured as an osprey feeds her chicks

A tender moment captured as an osprey feeds her chicks

Many also come to the marina to spot the crocodiles lying on the banks or taking up residence in the boat slips.  Early in our stay this is where we saw the crocs from a safe distance.  Much to our surprise, the very next day a 9-footer decided to visit us at the campground, causing a bit of excitement.

An unexpected campground visitor

An unexpected campground visitor

6)  Kayak to your Heart’s Content

We spent many a day paddling the waterways in the park.  It is one of the best ways to see roosting birds, pelicans feeding, dolphins frolicking, and alligators and crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks.

The water level in the Florida Bay rarely exceeds a depth of six feet so watching the tides is important if you don’t want to get grounded in the seagrass.  Low tide is the best time to check out the variety of birds on the mudflats.   We paddled Florida Bay one blustery day at low tide, which made for a nice shoulder work-out.  We also experienced it at early morning high tide, paddling from the marina to Snake Bight, a 5-mile round trip that rewarded us with dolphin sightings and a variety of roosting birds in the mangroves.

If you want a bit more excitement, venture out into the Buttonwood Canal and paddle among the crocodiles and alligators.  I didn’t let my mind linger too long on what would happen if our inflatable decided to spring a leak.

Traversing the Buttonwood Canal - a much different feel from the open Florida Bay

Traversing the Buttonwood Canal – a much different feel from the open Florida Bay

Nature’s many voices can be heard in this pristine wilderness.  Hopefully the future health of the Everglades can survive the many demands being placed on her water supplies so future generations can enjoy her wild beauty.

Our journey north and back to civilization officially begins.

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66 thoughts on “Back to the Wilderness ~ Everglades National Park

  1. Wow! This is the kind of journey I would enjoy. Your opening prose is beautiful, as well as your pictures. I can hear NG calling you, now. Glad you finally got a great shot of the roseate spoonbill. I love the closeup of the osprey. I understand that the flamingos, also get their color from some of the crustaceans they eat. Your photos are just getting better and better. You go girl!

      • I’d love to LuAnn, but it’s a bit too far south and east for our upcoming trip. Maybe next time :) I’ve decided against hiring an RV on cost grounds and we’re just going to camp instead, which’ll be fun. After seeing New York and visiting with family in CT, we’re flying to Phoenix and going on a tour of the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion, Las Vegas, Sequoia and Yosemite and San Fran – should be epic! Can’t wait :)

      • It sounds like a fabulous trip. We will be in New and DC this summer.

        As to renting an RV, I understand as we had priced them before purchasing one and they are quite expensive.

        My heart has always been in the west, having lived in AZ for 20+ years so I may be biased, but I think you will have an awesome trip. We have not been to Zion yet, only Bryce, but plan to get there next year. I’m very excited for you and your family Mike. :)

      • Thank you LuAnn we are really looking forward to it. I can’t stop pouring over books and travel guides, I’m so excited!

  2. Sounds like your trip to Flamingo was a success! Lots of beautiful birds, especially those special roseate spoonbills. That is one big fish for that poor bird. Love the stare of that osprey. Watching an alligator walk really makes them look even more massive and powerful. That was a great photo. Kayaking in our inflatable makes me nervous with the changing tides. Glad you didn’t have to swim with crocs and gators!!!

    Travel safely!!

    • I am so thankful the mosquitoes weren’t as bad as I had anticipated. That crocodile in the campground was a bit of a surprise. I was expecting an alligator instead. :) How much longer are you in Cortez?

      • We are in Fort Pierce right now, then on to Orlando to visit my sister for a week, then to St. Augustine. From there we head to Georgia. Where are you headed from Cortez?

  3. What a wonderful journey into the depth of the Everglades, LuAnn. Your photos are gorgeous, and you got your roseate spoonbill! Seems like perhaps the biting insects weren’t too bad? I’ve been reluctant to return to Flamingo — spent far too many weekends there as a child on fishing trips with my parents and being eaten alive by mosquitoes. But your post definitely makes me want to return. Next winter, perhaps! :)

    • Thanks Laurel! After speaking to many who have traveled there before us, I was regretting how much time we had planned as the mosquitoes sounded horrible. It had not rained much before our arrival so those pesky little critters really weren’t too bad. I detest using any chemicals so I wanted to avoid Deet but didn’t want to be attacked. My lemon/eucalyptus spray worked just fine.

      I finally got the roseate spoonbill so I am a happy girl!

      Enjoy your time with MonaLiza and Steve. They are delightful! :)

  4. Wow, you hit the jackpot! All your photos are outstanding. I missed the spoonbill and the tree snails while there. Glad the skeeters were not too bad after all.
    LuAnn, that was a good decision to visit Everglades after Key West. You got your peaceful and quiet respite after a frenetic and busy visit at the Keys.

    Its still a little bit chilly north even here at the panhandle that we are dilly dallying for now.

    • I had read someone else’s post and heard that it was still a bit cold in the panhandle. We are now in Fort Pierce, having just arrived and already saw a couple of sandhill crane, although I didn’t have camera in hand. Safe travels to the two of you.

  5. Beautiful post and so enjoyed seeing it through your eyes. When I think of the Everglades, I think “Garden of Eden.” It exceeded our expectations as well when we visited. It is truly a special place. And your photos, as usual, are spectacular.

    • I could not believe how she looked at me. I was quietly watching her to see if her mate would come back with dinner and all of a sudden she turned her attention to me. It was pretty special! :)

    • Actually, he was a crocodile and I was far enough away that I wasn’t concerned, although I didn’t expect to see one in our campground.

  6. What a beautiful spot, great pics and lyrical writeup! I just came in from watching a flock of egrets in the river by our campsite in Arizona (similar scene!) and saw this post… same early morning spirit, but opposite sides of the country!

    • As I read your comment, I am looking out our back window and a flock of ibis just sailed by. We feel so blessed to have these beautiful gifts from nature.

  7. LuAnn, what beautiful photos! Your Spoonbill photo is amazing! The Osprey feeding her young is spectacular and fills my heart with joy! What a great time you are having!

  8. The roseate spoonbill photo is absolutely terrific! I have never seen a tree snail before. After seeing the Marina photos, I don’t think I would need to do anything else in that area except sit there and watch the time go by. Excellent.

    • We spent some time each day at the marina. I have been waiting to get a roseate spoonbill closer for a long time. I knew I would capture her, it was just a matter of time.

  9. You make the Everglades more appealing than I thought they were to be honest Lu Ann . Super pictures with your descriptive words… that excitement with the alligator is one a few could have done without I’m sure !

  10. Thank you for this beautiful post about one of my favorite places on earth, and one of my favorite campgrounds! This post brings back fond memories of our visits to Flamingo.

    You need to add Georgia to your map as you head back north!

      • Don’t miss Savannah and Tybee Island. Skidaway Island State Park and Ft. McAllister State Park are very popular campgrounds. If you want to be close to the beach there is River’s End Campground on Tybee. Lots of history and great food in Savannah. Eat at Mrs. Wilkes Boarding house for lunch. Visit Ft. Pulaski National Monument on the way to Tybee and on Tybee stroll along the beach, visit the historical Tybee Island Lighthouse and eat some great seafood. March 17 is St.. Patrick’s Day with the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the U.S. so every place will probably be full that weekend. If you time your visit right you should be able to see the azaleas blooming.

        The north Georgia mountains are also beautiful. Southeastern Georgia has the Okefenokee Swamp and one of our favorite places at Stephen C. Foster State Park in Fargo. The southwestern part of the state has several lakes with COE and state parks. An of course there is Atlanta if you want to visit a big city.

        I could go on and on. Have fun!

      • OMG, what great tips! We are staying at Skidaway for a week. Thanks so much for the thoughts on places to visit and restaurants to check out. We lived in Atlanta many years ago while still workings so don’t think we need to revisit. Thanks again!

      • Glad I could be of help! Don’t miss ice cream at Leopold’s downtown Savannah. Send me a message if you would like other suggestions for places to eat or go. Since you will be there a week you may want to take day trips around Savannah.

  11. Your images look so crisp and clear. Really really love your bird pictures. But I did get more excited when I saw the colored snails. Cool! Biking, nature stroll, kayaking, and with tech detox! Whatta week!

  12. Civilisation will always get in the way of a fine time! I hope that the beauty is retained for future generations as the variety looks looks wonderful and I need to get myself down there for a look see as well. I will make sure I have some alligator repellent though.

    • It is a pretty amazing place, the raw wildness of it all, with only unusual birdsong to break the morning silence, ok that and an occasional bellow from an alligator. Actually the gators are quite shy. I would go for the crocodile repellent instead. ;)

  13. (Playing catch up)…. what a brilliant place to visit… as for the osprey and egrets and all the other wild birds,,, wow that pink colouring of the spoonbill… what a beautiful place… magnificent photography by the way… I would never leave that place for a month…

    • Thanks Bulldog! We could have stayed longer as well. I am finding birds to be quite a challenge to photograph. I admire you all the more for your wonderful images. :)

  14. Fabulous trip you have had in Florida! Thank you for taking us there, LuAnn! I envy you paddling along the Buttonwood Canal… Beautiful photos!

  15. The Glades are a special place for sure LuAnn. When people ask me what are some of my favorite places, the Glades are on the list. It’s one of those places that I wish more people could see, but at the same time I realize that crowds there wouldn’t be a good thing. Another great collection of photos. ~ James

  16. Incredible bird shots LuAnn! Especially the Osprey family! And those tree snails are a first for me. Thank you for yet another marvelous post. Off to catch up with the rest :-)

    • Thank you Madhu! Those tree snails were fun to locate but a bit difficult to photograph given the time of day and how high up in the tree they were.

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