Nauru Travel Diary

From Houston to Sydney 2013

From Houston

to Sydney



After yesterday’s weather-induced ‘enforced’ rest, I was really looking forward to my visit to the Everglades National Park today.

Visiting the Everglades was the main reason I had included Miami in this travel itinerary.  I have taught and written about the Everglades ecosystem and its environmental management for several decades, and indeed, I have visited the area once previously.  However, that visit was many years ago, and it was confined to just one small part of this vast wetlands area.

For those who are not familiar with the Everglades, this vast area of wetlands comprising saw-grass prairie with pockets of jungle-like forest on minute areas of slightly raised land called ‘hammocks’ covers a huge 160 kilometre long area in the southern part of Florida.

The source of the water that creates the wetlands environment (‘wetlands’ being the politically correct term for ‘swamp’) is Lake Okeechobee, a large natural lake in central Florida.  Every year in Florida’s wet season (i.e. summer, i.e. now!), the waters of Lake Okeechobee spill over and create the immense ‘river of grass’ that is the Everglades.  The unofficial name ‘river of grass’ arose because the water flows as a wide, thin film of water southwards to Florida Bay across imperceptibly sloping land where ‘saw grass’ grows (‘saw grass’ being named because the edges of its leaves have sharp serrated edges like the blade of a saw).  From a distance, it looks like a flat grassy plain, but when close it can be seen that the ground surface is under several centimetres of slowly flowing water.

The Everglades is a very finely balanced ecosystem where all the elements of the natural environment – water, plants, animals, birds, aquatic life, soil, fire, climate – are held in a fine balance.  Or to express it more precisely, they WERE held in a fine balance until a new additional element began to exert an impact on the natural systems; human beings

It is now many decades since the Everglades has functioned in its natural state.  Ever since Florida’s economic development began, property developments and farmlands have resulted in the diversion of Everglades water by a growing network of canals, levees, dykes.  The result has been the shrinkage of the Everglades – a sad but fascinating example of misguided water resource use and ecosystem destruction.

From this extremely brief and superficial description of the Everglades, I hope you can appreciate why it attracted me to come and visit – a little against Di’s preferences, as she prefers cooler and more spectacular mountain scenery to hot, humid, mosquito-infested swamps – sorry, ‘wetlands’.

The prospects for good weather seemed very bleak when we woke this morning.  The skies were dark and heavy rain was falling.  However, the weather radar scans were showing better weather in the Everglades than where we were staying in Miami, and my weather app held out the hope of several hours of “intermittent clouds” (as opposed to the prevailing “mostly cloudy with thunderstorms”) between 10 am and 2 pm.

It was thus something of an act of faith as we began the drive south-west to the Everglades National Park through thunder and lightning with driving rain that required double-speed windscreen wipers and headlights on.

A little over an hour later, we reached the visitor centre near the park entrance.  By this time, the skies were still overcast but the clouds were higher, and the rain had slowed to a light but constant sprinkle – perfect conditions for perusing the book shop area of the centre.

By the time we emerged about 10 minutes later, the rain had stopped and the sky was brightening, so we headed to the Anhinga Trail to make the most of the better conditions.  By the time we arrived, the sun was shining through thin clouds.

The Anhinga Trail is quite short.  It starts as a sealed pavement walkway along the edge of the water, and then branches out into a few boardwalks that allow onlookers to walk over the water and through the flooded sawgrass areas.

The real appeal of the Anhinga Trail is the opportunity to see prolific wildlife.  Much of the wildlife is small in scale, such as grasshoppers, butterflies, dragonflies and fish, but some of it is definitely larger in scale, such as fresh water turtles and several alligators.

Having walked the Anhinga Trail, the sun was still shining to we drove a little further west to the Pinelands Trail.  This trail comprised a circular pathway through a different environment, a hammock (slightly raised island of land) with a forest of Slash Pine trees interspersed with wetlands ferns and grasses in the lower areas.  In the lowest areas of the hammock were solution holes, which were pools of largely stagnant water formed by the action of weak organic acids on the underlying limestone.  In the still air of the hammock forest, the solution holes were also obviously the homes of several billion small mosquitoes, who came out in wave after wave of dive-bombing formations to greet me and drink my blood.  Normally, Di is the one who seems to attract mosquitoes, but as she had waited in the car while I walked the trail, the mosquitoes had me all to themselves.  I felt like a lone Red Army soldier in the first wave of the blitzkrieg, but I persevered and completed the circuit of the trail, emerging with arms, neck and face covered in splatters of (presumably my) blood and the squashed remains of a few thousand mosquitoes.  Okay a slight brag – I didn’t get quite that many; I just managed a few hundred.

The sun was still shining through the clouds, so we decided to go further into the park.  Driving west, we came to the Pa-hay-okee, a circular trail that comprised an elevated boardwalk to get sweeping views of the ‘river of grass’ with some hammocks in the distance.  This trail provided us with the ‘classic’ view of the Everglades environment in all its pristine beauty.

By the time we finished at Pa-hay-okee, the clouds were gathering once again and the sun was threatening to disappear.  Nonetheless, we were confident we had time for one more short walk, so we drove further west to the Mahogany Hammock Trail.  This trail crossed a short stretch of saw grass with some exquisite examples of periphyton before completing a circuit of a small hammock with old growth mahogany trees that had somehow avoided felling operations when the area was first settled by Europeans.  Indeed, the hammock is the location of the largest mahogany tree in North America, and now we have seen it!!!!!!

The clouds were now thickening and a few drops of rain had started falling, so we decided to call it a day and head back to Miami.  This timing proved fortuitous because within half an hour of our return to the hotel (at about 4:30 pm) the thunderstorm was so intense that no shape and no light could be seen by looking outside through our hotel window – the ‘view’ could just as easily have been a coating of thick dark grey opaque paint on the outside of the glass.  Furthermore, a traffic jam had formed in the streets around the hotel, clogging all blocks in all directions for several kilometres in every direction; it was so intense that it had still not cleared three hours later.

Meanwhile, we were dry and very happy that we had managed to squeeze in such a great day’s sightseeing in spite of today’s fairly treacherous weather.

Day 13 - Everglades National Park


18 July 2013