Nauru Travel Diary

From Houston to Sydney 2013

From Houston

to Sydney



The forecast was right.  Today’s weather was indeed the best we had seen in Miami.  That still meant we had a mix of patchy cloud and overcast conditions, but the rain was minimal and the thunderstorms were nowhere to be seen.  That made it a great day to do more Everglades exploring.

Whereas yesterday’s Everglades visit had focussed on the southern part of the Park, today we headed to the northern part of the Park along the Tamiami Trail (which is also known, confusingly, as US Highway 41, State Road 60 and State Road 90, and in parts, State Road 45, as well as South 8th Street, and Calle Ocho).

The Tamiami Trail shoots out in a direct line due west from Miami, and to be honest, it is not the most visually exciting road along which to drive.  It has no curves or hills whatsoever for miles on end, and for most of its distance between Miami and the Shark Valley Visitors’ Centre in the Park (our first destination), it is a dead-straight drive with scrub on the left of the road and a straight canal following the line of the road on the right.  There is very little sense that you are driving along the northern boundary of one of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems and one of only three wetlands in the world to have been declared as having global significance by UNESCO.

We arrived at the Shark Valley Visitors’ Centre at a little after 11:15 am.  Our main aim of visiting Shark Valley was to take the two hour tram ride through the wetlands, during which a park ranger would explain the various features of the ecosystem.  Although the tram trips depart every half hour during the dry season (December to April), departures are only once every two hours in July, and with the break for lunch, the next departure was not scheduled until 2 pm.

We bought our tickets to secure our places on the 2 pm trip, and decided that we would use the time remaining to explore a nearby different environment, the Big Cypress Swamp (officially the Big Cypress National Preserve) to the west of the Everglades.

Despite its official name, and contrary to my nutritional aspirations, the Big Cypress National Preserve is not very jam-like at all.  Being slightly more elevated than the Everglades, Big Cypress is dominated by an even more diverse ecosystem than the Everglades, centred on wet cypress forests with mangroves, orchids, alligators, snakes, birds, and to our surprise as we saw beside the road today, even some white-tailed deer.

With high expectations, we drove to the Oasis Visitor Centre where we obtained a map, saw a stuffed Florida panther in a glass case, and perused the wildlife observation boardwalk – without success as the water levels were fairly high following this summer’s heavy rainfall.  It was suggested that we might have more success at another wildlife observation boardwalk 20 kilometres further west at the H.P. Williams Roadside Park.  This boardwalk was even smaller than the one at the Visitors’ Centre and there was no wildlife for us to see apart from two small dragonflies.

Somewhat disappointed with the Big Cypress National Preserve, we drove back to the Everglades and the Shark Valley Visitors’ Centre, where we arrived in comfortable time to board the 2 pm open air tram trip.

It was certainly worth the wait.  We joined about 60 other people from many parts of the world and enjoyed a fascinating two hours guided insight into the Everglades environment and its ecosystems.  The very well informed ranger pointed out the various components of the Everglades natural systems, stopping for some great views of wildlife along the way – great white egrets, both blue and black herons, turtles, anhinga and alligators of various sizes (from babies to very mature adults) being the main examples we saw.  I was also very impressed by the small yellow flowers that devour mosquito larvae - what an excellent invention!

The half way point of the loop trip involved a stop to climb a 20 metre high observation tower that provided excellent views across the saw grass prairies.  From this vantage point it was easy to see that the saw grass was interspersed by hardwood hammocks (where the land is slightly higher) and the doughnut-shaped so-called alligator holes where slight limestone depressions had allowed the water to be slightly deeper, thus allowing nutrients to collect and a circle of willow trees to become established and attract all forms of wildlife to the delight of the Everglades’ resident alligators.

By the time the tram returned to the visitor’s centre at 4 pm, we felt that we had learned a great deal about the Everglades and understood many aspects of the ecological workings of the environment.

I was, however, saddened by one comment that the park ranger made.  He mentioned that in the year before Disney World opened in nearby Orlando, the Everglades attracted about two million visitors.  As soon as the Disney facility opened, that number halved to about one million, a figure that has remained fairly constant ever since.  As a geographer, I think it is really unfortunate that families are choosing Disney World to entertain their children rather than a “real” and spectacular natural environment such as the Everglades.  The fact that the only American accents I heard on the bus belonged to the driver and the ranger suggested that while overseas visitors remain highly interested in the Everglades environment, local Americans are by-passing this wonderful experience – which is a great pity in my humble opinion.

Day 14 - Everglades National Park


19 July 2013