Day 8 of our Summer Vacation
The Ernest F Coe Visitors Center near the entrance of Everglades National Park was just an hour from our condo. Our route took us near Homestead, Florida, the town where Hurricane Andrew severely rearranged the landscape in August, 1992. While the kids and grandkids checked out a waterpark, the four grandparents decided to check out the Everglades.
Grandpa Eugene even hoped to ride an airboat on some private land just outside the park if things worked out.
Entry was free with my National Parks Lifetime Senior Pass that allows me and three friends into all National Parks for free. Passes are available to U.S. Citizens ages 62 and up. Mine was $10. Last August, Congress raised the cost to $80, still a heck of a bargain.
After a quick stop at the Visitor’s Center, where we grabbed some snacks and a map, we headed west on State HW 9336. Florida State HW 9336 is a mere 4 feet above sea level.
First stop: the regally named Royal Palm Visitor Center and the Anhinga Trail. It was hot and muggy as we climbed from the car. We added another layer of insect repellent. Since the Anhinga Trail had two routes, I asked the Ranger for his advice. Forest Route or Swamp Route?
“If you take the Swamp Route, you will see alligators. If you take the Forest Route, you will see mosquitoes” he responded.
Swamp Route it was! It consisted of an elevated boardwalk through a bright, sunlit area of green vegetation & black water.
As we got back in our car, reinvigorated as the ac hit our sweat-covered bodies, a decision was made to drive to Flamingo Lake at the western park boundary and work our way back to the Visitor’s Center.
Flamingo Lake, we learned upon arrival, had sustained major damage from Hurricane Irma last September and is still recovering. On the way we had passed a gator sunning itself by a small lake. Since stopping would have blocked traffic, I decided to investigate on the way back.
Not a lot of activity at Flamingo Lake, though we did spot a pair of manatees lazily drifting in the water.
When asked the most memorable thing that happened on their cruise through the Everglades, a young couple in a kayak replied without hesitation “Fighting off the biting flies!”
On our way back to the eastern entrance to the park, rain began to fall. It let up briefly and we stopped to see if the alligator was still visible beside the small lake we passed. Even though news reports had just carried a story about a gator carrying off a woman who had been taking her dog for a walk, and against the advice of the other three occupants of our car, Grandpa Eugene decided to get a closer look. I got my iPhone ready to record, just in case.
As we watched with wide eyes, this well-marbled tasty gator snack known as Grandpa Eugene, opened the car door, got out, and strolled from one end of the shoreline to the other. As he stood gazing out over the water intently, the thought crossed my mind to sneak up on him, touch his leg with a stick, and then video the second man in history to walk on water.
Then the rain got serious, with an ample dose of thunder and lightning for good measure. The narrow road began to cover with water and I soon understood the principles of hydro-planing more thoroughly. At the storms crescendo, I pulled off the road. It would have been interesting to watch the water rise on one of the “4-Ft. Above Sea-level” signs but none was around.
During a let-up in the storm we made a dash to the Ernest Coe Visitor’s Center Parking lot and parked on a high spot. Near a storm drain the water was up to the floorboard on a nearby minivan.
It was an interesting, educational – if somewhat brief – trip to the Everglades.
There would be no airboat ride for Grandpa Eugene today unless it is part of a rescue attempt.