Amazingly, we found all three in our two days in the Everglades—plus lots more. If you want to see exotic birds in an extraordinary landscape, this is the place. I must admit, though, that I didn’t always feel so positively about the Everglades.
It Can Be A Hellacious Place
I grew up in Miami, and my memories of the Everglades are of marathon fishing trips with my parents, where my sister and I ran shrieking through dense clouds of mosquitoes to jump into the boat. “Hold on!” my dad would yell, as he gunned the motor and took off from shore, blowing the mosquitoes away. The sun was scorching, the air thick with humidity, and the waters weren’t fit for swimming (too many bull sharks and gators). Not surprisingly, as soon as my sister and I were old enough to stay home alone, we bailed on those rugged expeditions.
I can understand why early settlers wanted to tame the Everglades, drain the swamp, and eliminate the mosquitoes and other vermin. Even Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the environmentalist and writer largely responsible for saving the Everglades, said, “To be a friend of the Everglades is not necessarily to spend time wandering around out there … it’s too buggy, too wet, too generally inhospitable.”
Learning To Appreciate The Everglades
So it was with trepidation that Eric and I visited the Everglades a couple of years ago (on my birthday, no less). To my surprise, we discovered a unique landscape rich with wildlife. The temperatures were pleasant and breezy, we weren’t eaten alive by mosquitoes, and I began to appreciate this special place.
We returned this year in mid-December to once again explore the beauty and wildness of the Everglades. In Shark Valley, we biked through 15 miles of sawgrass marshes that extend as far as the eye can see—a soothing palette of gold and green grasses with shallow, clear ponds reflecting an enormous cloud-filled sky. And in Big Cypress National Preserve, we explored primeval cypress strands that provide ideal habitat for beautiful and elegant wading birds.
Click on photos for a larger image
How One Woman Saved The Everglades
There’s no other place on earth like the Everglades. Created by a shallow, slow-moving sheet of water 120 miles long, 50 miles wide, and less than a foot deep, it’s fed by rainfall in the Kissimmee River Basin, and flows south from Lake Okeechobee to the mangrove estuaries of Florida Bay. Ms. Douglas famously and poetically described the Everglades as a “River of Grass” in her book that transformed the public’s view of the glades; she observed that the grasses ripple like waves as the water languidly moves through the landscape.
Originally covering 3,000,000 acres, half of the Everglades fell to “progress” in the name of housing developments; canals, dams, and dikes to tame the water; and sugar cane fields. The southernmost 1,500,000 acres was dedicated in 1947 as Everglades National Park, thanks in large part to Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ tireless work to educate people about the necessity of saving this critical wetland habitat. Here’s the best part—she was 79 years old when she started her crusade to save the glades. She kept on going until the age of 108, a friend to the glades to the end.
“I believe that life should be lived so vividly and so intensely that thoughts of another life, or of a longer life, are not necessary.” ~Marjory Stoneman Douglas
About The Campground: And A Few ‘Don’t Miss’ Attractions:
Midway Campground in Big Cypress National Preserve nestles up to the northwestern edge of Everglades National Park. It’s the closest campground for exploring one of the most accessible and beautiful areas of the Everglades.
Every site is level, grassy, and lovely. The sites at the back of the loop are the furthest away from the two-lane highway and the quietest. Electric hookups, drinking water, restrooms, dump station, intermittent Verizon coverage. $30 per night/$15 with Senior Pass.
The Everglades has two very distinct seasons: mid-December through March is generally dry, breezy, pleasant, and with few bugs. This is also prime birding season because the warm winters attract lots of wading birds. April through November is rainy, hot, humid, buggy, and generally miserable.
Don’t miss the 15-mile loop trail in nearby Shark Valley, in the heart of the Everglades. We enjoyed biking it (rentals are available) but you can also take a tram tour. The birding is phenomenal and the views from the Observation Tower offer a 360-degree panorama of the “river of grass.”
In Big Cypress Preserve, just west of the campground, is a fantastic 27-mile scenic loop drive that travels through cypress and pine forests and deep clear water strands. It’s an excellent place to see wading birds.