The Everglades is a must-see for any traveler to Florida (a State of Southern USA) ! The Everglades National Park at the southern tip of continental Florida is a wetland preserve made up of lush mangroves, sawgrass marshes that are home to alligators and birds. This national park was established in 1947, and was declared an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You have certainly heard of this vast tropical wilderness in one of the episodes “CSI: Miami“… Horatio Caine and his team of scientists regularly recover corpses in the everglades with their weird little boat pushed by a huge propeller ! Ok, you are not a fan of TV shows, then maybe you like thrillers ? If so, you have surely read the excellent historical novel “Red Grass River” by James Carlos Blake, which portrayed the outlaw John Ashey, known as the “King of the Everglades”. In this novel, one gets lost in the labyrinths of the Everglades among violent human and animal fauna… No, this novel does not ring any bells ? Let’s go together to visit this bustling place, home to creatures of all kinds: gentile birds, reptiles descended from dinosaurs and an area named “Pa-may-okee” (literal translation of “grass river” or “Grassy river”) by the Amerindians. “River of Grass” perfectly describes this unique ecosystem of leafy marsh plants. It is not a river strictly speaking, but rather a shallow steam about one foot deep on average flowing out of Lake Okeechobee into Florida Bay about 125 miles south with an average width between 37 and 50 miles. The original Everglades covered an area of about 3,000,000 acres, but is today reduced to 1,509,000 acres. The human activities near these marshes as well as attempts to drain the Everglades and to divert water from the northern Everglades pose a threat to wildlife due through habitat destruction, poaching and the introduction of foreign species into the ecosystem.
We opt for a short bicycle ride (à « Bicyclette ») on the 15-mile road in Shark Valley off Highway 41 to explore the heart of the Everglades flora and fauna… but without sharks contrary to what the name suggests. Adventurers, it is time to head out singing, if you leave early in the morning / if you go on these roads / By bicycle / There are birds and turtles on the way… The density of the vegetation is just fascinating, tall grasses, cypress swamps, ponds covered with water lilies or even jungle where the vegetation is extremely dense ! Everything is incredibly quiet, plunged in shade, with tall trees, ferns, mosses of every kind and surrounded with water. This vast area of vegetation is the habitat of millions of birds and a multitude of insects: look, an Anhinga (also known as snakebird, darter, American darter, or water turkey) and just little bit further a Common Moorhen, a Great Heron and a tricolor Heron… Herons and Egrets often have their nests just above water where alligators swim, taking advantage of natural protection from an intimidating neighbour. Indeed, the alligators chase away opossums, raccoons and the like, which are likely to steal eggs or chicks.
The water seems calm, even though it is full of fish and reptiles. Looking at the water, I noticed a piece of wood moving by itself on the surface… but no, it is a big lizard that locals commonly call Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)… it looks at us with a total indifference ! But, if it had identified us as prey, it would have plunged softly into the water, approaching close to us and suddenly emerging from the water with its jaw wide open… not everyone is Paul Hogan and able to emerge from a fight unharmed ! But humans have little chance of being attacked because alligators prefer relatively small prey, prey that they can kill in one bite… The Everglades are obviously know as a den of alligators. You will often see them on the shore and even on tarmac taking the sun. The list of dangerous animals in the park is quite impressive. In addition to alligators, there are also crocodiles and pythons. Pythons are not endemic to the park. People tired of their “new pets” have “accidentally” released them. They have taken over this habitat where they have no predators… and could eventually cause degradation of this beautiful ecosystem ! This southern region of Florida is also the only place in the world where we find both alligator and crocodile: two amphibian reptiles with disturbing eyes and teeth… It seems that the alligator is nicer than its cousin the croc, which attacks even if he is not hungry ! You are surely wondering, how to differentiate an alligator from a crocodile when meeting one while on a bike ride ? After a full bout of panic, I look at its color. The alligators are a dark grayish almost black color while the crocodiles are olive brown in color… but if you have the sun in your face it is not always easy to distinguish color! A second morphological index is the shape of the snout. The crocodile has a long, triangular snout with a more pointed “V”- shaped nose, whereas the alligator has a wide “U”- shaped and rounded snout… Finally, to permanently remove the doubt in your mind, you can always ask him for a smile for the camera. When it closes its jaw and you can only see the teeth of the upper mandible, then it is an alligator. If the teeth of the two lower and upper mandibles are visible, then it is an American crocodile! And if you are not into physiognomy, there is another option: you can taste the water of its habitat… the alligator prefers freshwater whereas the crocodile favors more saline water. On the other hand, if you want to taste the alligator that dabbles in the freshwater, just go to an exit from the park because there, as in any tourist area, you will find shops and a restaurants where you can taste… guess what ? Alligator nuggets… Even if some park visitors devour their nuggets with a few crocodile tears… it is a bit “borderline”. It reminds us that man is at the very top of the chain of predators…
Total change of scenery… A few miles away from the Everglades Park on the Gulf of Mexico is the city of Naples, pronounced “naipeuls”… This seaside resort, named after its Italian sister Napoli, was baptized in 1887 by its founders, Kentucky U. S. Senator John Stuart Williams and his partner Louisville businessman Walter Newman Haldeman, publisher of the Louisville Courier-Journal. Naples is one of the wealthiest cities in the United States, and home to those who prefer to flee the noisy urban areas of Palm Beach and Miami… There is limited public transportation and nobody wants it because in Naples, everyone has a car ! Neighborhoods are peaceful, the city streets are adorned with palm trees, large and cozy houses are laid in the center of beautiful unfenced lawns worthy of a golf fairway, the gardens are manicured… From Gordon Pass (south) to Seagale Drive (north) lies an uninterrupted succession of superb pristine white sandy beaches lined by a parade of palm trees nearly ten miles long. This is where the residents of Naples come to maintain their year-round tan ! At the west end of 12th Avenue South is the Naples emblem, the Naples Pier, an impressive 1,000 feet long jetty erected in 1888. This pontoon was a dock for gigantic ships carrying building materials and supplies. It was a vital element in the development of the city. It even had a post office ! Exposed to the devastating fury of hurricanes (in 1910, 1926, 1944 and 1960 the jetty completely collapsed under the force of the wind), the Naples Pier has undergone successive reconstructions. In addition to hurricanes, in 1922 a fire destroyed the post office as well as part of the structure. But the pier is unshakeable, it is still standing and is the joy of many fishermen due to the concentration of large fish in this location, as well as of tourists admiring the scenic sunset views and with a little luck dolphins, pelicans catching fish and sometimes even small sharks…
This beach resort is a popular vacation destination for the wealthiest. Naples is the second highest population of millionaires per capita in the United States and is the winter quarters of Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg. Like New York, Naples has a its 5th avenue with fashion boutiques, antique shops, art galleries (Fifth Avenue Design Gallery), designer shops (Peach Tree Designs), jewelry stores and restaurants with shady terraces, dog bars… If your eyes like what is flashy and you have a deep pocket, you can stroll in the luxury shops of 3rd street… Ferraris, Bentleys, luxury boats anchored in the Marina and wealthy tanned retirees give the street flash. Finally, to complete your program for the day, you can dream in front of the extravagant houses of millionaires in Aqualane Shores, a very chic neighborhood located between old Naples and Port Royal. At sunset, make sure to stroll along the beach next to the Pier in front of “rather posh families” enjoying a glass of sparkling wine with the setting sun in the background… And enjoy the spectacle (for free ! ) of the sunset that blazes into the sea with a palette of stunning colors… while listening to French singer Gerald De Palmas: J’ai vécu longtemps votre système / Le pouvoir de l’argent, tout le monde l’aime / Je perdais le sommeil, je perdais mon calme /Alors, j’ai touché le soleil pour sauver mon âme / Et désormais / J’obéis aux lois de la nature… translated as, I lived in your system for a long time / The power of money, everyone loves it / I was losing sleep, I was losing my calm / So I touched the sun to save my soul / And now / I obey the laws of nature… (Les lois de la nature).
That alligator sure gave me the creeps. I probably wouldn’t have seen him and wandered straight in. Isn’t it crazy how the can camouflage so well. They are really patient and can sit still for ever so long.
Even if people generally said that the alligator is nicer than its cousin the croc… I got a full bout of panic as well 🙂
I had no idea crocodiles and alligators were different colors! Ha! Sounds like a gorgeous place… I’d love to go in the winter when the humidity is down!!
We’ve all wondered what makes alligators and crocodiles different, because lets face it, to the ordinary person, they look pretty much the same 🙂 But if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to tell them apart instantly !
I went once when I was younger, but I’d love to go back now that I appreciate the nature now! The Everglades are such a special area!
The Everglades national park is heaven for lovers of the great outdoors, with loads of nature to watch, tons of trails for hikers ! There are loads of different of ways to experience the area, and a never-ending list of things to do there !
Great post! Your writing is so in-depth, it really makes me feel like I’m there! I think I might be scared of the pythons and alligators as you said, but I also think it would be a great experience! The Everglades have an impressive variety of species!
The park spans 1.5 million acres of watery grasslands, and is home to myriad birds, mammals, and yes, alligators 🙂 This is an amazing experience !
oh my – the everglades is def on my bucket list! would love to see these nature scenes in person!
The Everglades is a must-see for any traveler to Florida ! This national park is heaven for lovers of the great outdoors, with loads of nature to watch and tons of trails for hikers 🙂
I’ve never been to the Everglades and I know I should! although I get chills just looking at the pictures of alligators haha! I love Naples, it’s my plan to retire there hahaha even tho I’m far from being millionaire 🙂
People have a mix of fear and excitement when they visit the Everglades; the fear of not knowing what to expect and the excitement of getting so close to an animal this big 🙂 I also plan to buy a sweet home at Naples after winning a National Lottery 🙂
Another destination for my Florida bucket list! Thanks for explaining the difference between crocs and alligators – I have always mixed them up. Love your wildlife shots! The alligator looks very cunning lurking under the water waiting for its prey.
Thank you 🙂 The Everglades was the first U.S. national park set aside for its biodiversity.The national park is a vast wilderness, and one can return again and again and find new places to explore…
I would definitely run to the other side if I spot an alligator lurking nearby! We have crocodiles here in Borneo and as a child we’re taught not to swim in the rivers unsupervised – and definitely do not swim in murky waters! Lovely post though 🙂
So do I ! Alligators, crocodiles, caimans and their kin, kill hundreds of people each year. For sure crocodilians typically do not include humans in their diet, but in truth they will eat just about anything if given the opportunity ! The only sure way to survive an encounter with a crocodile or alligator is to never meet one in the first place 🙂
I honestly never knew there was more to Florida than the amusement parks and Miami but this just proved me wrong. what a beautiful place!
Florida is much more than this ! The Sunshine State offers other magnificent surprises. It is definitively a “State” unlike all the others. You can travel in peace and quiet and spend a classic seaside holiday gathering seashells on the beach or have some fun in one of the amusement parks of Orlando, Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World, or visit the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, or play “Crocodile Dundee” in the Everglades. In Florida, everyone can find happiness 🙂
Fascinating stuff! I loved the details on differentiating alligators from crocodiles. Essential information, I’d say!
Coming face to face with a crocodile or an alligator, you’d see a mouth full of serrated teeth that would likely scare the bejeezus out of you… Upon closer inspection (Snout shape,Toothy grin, Home base) not recommended out in the wild, you’d spot glaring differences 🙂
I’ve always wanted to visit the Everglades. I lived in Orlando for a while, but never quite made it down that far. This is such a fascinating ecosystem that may not be around much longer.
If you ever get the opportunity, I strongly encourage you to visit the extraordinary Florida Everglades 🙂 There is no other place like it in the U.S. It is the largest subtropical wilderness with a unique landscape that provides a habitat for several endangered species !
I love *love* the Everglades! I’ll never forget the first time I drove from Miami to the Keys I saw an alligator sunning itself on the side of the highway! The birds are probably one of my favorite things to view.
Palm trees frame postcard views of boats slicing through blue-green water as swooping birds cry overhead. Miles of mucky grass, once derided as worthless swamp, shelter an incredible range of wildlife, from the elegant (great blue herons) to the fearsome (alligators). A trip to the Everglades, reveals the beauty and fragility of the subtropical beauty… 🙂
I loved all the information that you included about the birds, too – most people tend to forget about them when thinking about the Everglades. This fun post was filled with so many interesting facts! I visit Florida annually or more – maybe next time I’ll have to consider a bike ride in the area…
In just one park, you can enjoy an impressive variety of animals, plants and eco-systems. During our day trip in the Everglades we saw many different species of birds, alligators, snakes, turtles… I can only imagine how many animals we might have walked past and not even noticed 🙂
The Everglades looks like such an awesome place!! As a huge wildlife nut it is high on my list of places to explore!
If you ever get the opportunity, I strongly encourage you to visit the extraordinary Florida Everglades ! This is an incredible journey 🙂
As a local Floridian I love the Everglades!!! Great post, lots of great info!! Also thats a BIG alligator!!
Thank you 🙂 Yes, the alligator was quite impressive !
I visited the Everglades a few years ago to see the alligators and was impressed by the amount of wildlife there. Really cool place. I hadn’t heard of Naples and it is interesting to know that it is one of the wealthiest places in the USA.
So, if you plan to visit Naples… The first thing you will know preparing for your journey is that there are at least two Naples in the world: one is in the south of Italy, another is in Florida, U.S.A. Sun, sea, and palm trees are the things these cities have in common, but nothing more. Naples in Florida is a respectable resort for millionaires, Naples in Italy is another matter completely 😉
Wow, I would love to go there to see the alligators and other animals. Don’t want to get too up close to them because I don’t have the Paul Hogan skills either lol! But it’d definitely be an awesome place to visit!
This is definitively an awesome place to visit… A trip to the Everglades, reveals the beauty and fragility of the subtropical beauty… and the alligators are quite impressive 🙂