3600 miles traveled.
Today we explored a little bit of the Everglades. We drove some of it, we walked lots of it, and we took a 15 mile tram tour. What surprised me most is the fact that the Everglades is NOT a swamp. It’s actually a 50 mile wide, slow-moving, shallow river. It’s so shallow that grasses grow in it and it looks like a sea of grass. The water is slowly moving down the peninsula at the rate of ¼ mile a day. As a result, it is all fresh water, there is nothing stale or stagnant about it. In fact, the water is so fresh, it is used for drinking water in many Florida cities.
Like most rivers, it has cycles. In the winter (now), it’s the dry season so much of the water is dried up and the animals congregate around watering holes. It reminded me a lot of what happens in African savannas. In the wet season (summer) the entire place fills with water, usually 3-4 feet deep. In the past, much of the water has been controlled with dams, culverts, irrigation ditches, things like that. But in 2000, Congress passed a law to reverse much of the man-made intervention. They hope to restore 85% of the Everglades to its natural state, including the seasonal flooding.
There is an incredible abundance of life here. There are alligators, of course, but there are also snakes, billions of birds, many mammals (including panthers), tons of fish, and even crocodiles. One species that’s only been around since the 1990s is the Burmese python. From a hundred pet snakes released by people who could no longer care for them (they start out tiny and cute, but they grow alarmingly fast, up to 23 feet—EEEK!) there are now about 5000 Burmese pythons in the Everglades. As a result, the deer population in the park has dropped by 94% and the panther population has dropped 90%. The rangers hold yearly hunts for the pythons and they capture all the ones they come across, but the snakes reproduce so quickly, it’s an uphill battle.
My favorite spot is where Exxon drilled for oil way back when (I can’t remember when, the 1930s? 40s?) Anyway, they found oil, but it was contaminated with sulphur and not usable. So, Exxon (then Humble Oil Company) donated the land to the National Park Service. That’s how we got the Everglades National Park. The oil rig was converted into a fire lookout and today its just an interesting tourist spot. I have pictures of everything here. As with the Dry Tortugas, most of the details of what we saw are in the captions of the photos. Enjoy!