Saturday, December 11, 2010

Big Cypress National Park

Today we left the Miami area and drove north on US 41, which took us through more of the Everglades. We saw about as many of the shore birds on that drive as we had seen when we visited National Everglades park last week. We stopped for lunch in the parking lot of the smallest post office in the United States. In 1953 there was a fire in the local general store and post office, so an old irrigation shed belonging to a tomato farm was pressed into service, and has remained the post office ever since.
After we finished lunch John walked across the highway to look at the marshy swamp of the Everglades. He immediately saw an otter on the shore,  and he called me over to see it. The otter was back in the water by the time I got there, but I did see a red shouldered hawk up in the palm tree near me.
 There was a large catfish caught in a rocky depression of the swamp, we figured that perhaps he was the reason the hawk was hanging out in the palm tree. We then drove on further down the road and stopped  at a location where it is possible to take airboat rides of the Everglades. It was something John had always wanted to experience, so we bought the tickets and took a 30 minute ride over the swamp. John describes it as a "unique sensation which everyone should try".  We flew low at 35mph over mud flats, mangrove strands, and saw grass prairies. Our guide informed us that the water was, at the most, about 9 inches deep. After a storm it can be as deep as 3 feet. The white mangrove trees which live in this swamp can only exist in salt water, which flows into this area from the Gulf of Mexico. The swamp we had seen earlier in the day had freshwater, as evidenced by the cypress trees seen in the water there. Below is a picture of the mangrove trees which we saw from the airboat. Native Americans call them a walking tree, because of the nature of the root system.
I had no idea what to expect with an airboat ride, certainly not to be whipping rapidly around those trees and clumps of grass! That surprised me, was well as the loud noise from the motor of the boat ( we were told it was best to wear head phones,which the guide provided). And as our trip continued I could feel a fine mist hitting my face as well as some splatters of mud. I did feel sorry for the many ducks and egrets who arose quickly out the water to get out of our way!  What a disruption to the serenity of the swamp.
 Thank goodness there is only one tour boat company that is allowed to travel over the Everglades in the Big Cypress National Park! Our guide told us that they are the only company allowed to give tours in the swamp because they owned some of  the land before it became a national park. For myself,  I would say I am glad I experienced an airboat ride, but probably would not do it again. We did stop a couple of times and sit quietly during our ride to look for wildlife, but saw only alligators and a wide variety of birds. Panthers have been spotted in this area, but only early in the morning or at sunset. Contrary to the picture below, John did not drive the airboat. We were told that it is difficult to steer and requires lots of practice.

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