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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

Finally-An Alligator!

~Wednesday, January 20, 2021~

Day 220

The one downside to boondocking in a national park as opposed to boondocking in a national forest, is waking up to generators all promptly starting at 8:00 a.m. and in close proximity to your campsite. We were just commenting on how nicely spaced apart each campsite was, except for the guy that is across from us who decided to aim his generator right toward our campsite and for at least 3 hours. I get aiming the exhaust away from your own rig, but there are plenty more options in which way to turn it. But we’re all neighbors and we have to make the best of it. So let’s move on shall we?

Since there’s nothing to fix quite yet on the water pump issue (the part arrives tomorrow), this would be a great day for getting oriented with this huge national park…..The beautiful and unique Everglades. And the best place to get oriented….why of course the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. Mr. Coe, known as the “Father of the Everglades”,

was an American landscape designer who dedicated his life to the preservation of the Everglades. As we’ve come to notice, all national park visitor centers are set up the same way during COVID with park staff manning tables outside the entrance, eager to answer any questions or give any kind of advice on what to see and when to see it. We had the perfect docent to help us dial in our itinerary. Unfortunately, many of the activities will not include Miss Sadie. Dogs are only allowed in parking lots and campgrounds in national parks. So there will be many long walks with her in the campground before we venture out for the day. The majority of the visitor center was closed, except of course, the gift shop. I made note of a few books that looked interesting enough to add to the “Trip Bookroom”. Because there is such limited cell reception in the park, we planned out which tours we wanted to do early on, in the visitor center parking lot. As recommended, we booked two tours (one for tomorrow and one for Saturday), so stay tuned to find out what those tours will actually be. Now to plan out the rest of our time in the Everglades.

One of the suggestions the park staff mentioned was the Anhinga Trail….a .8 mile trail that is a part paved/part boardwalk trail right over a sawgrass marsh in the Royal Palm (Paradise Key) area. It was here that we spotted our first alligator, right next to the paved trail, beside the water. We nearly missed it, had a little girl, filling out her Junior Ranger checklist, not called it to our attention. Then we saw alligator #2, just a few feet away. Did someone plant “Charlie” and “Beefcake” here just so we could say we saw an alligator today?

There was a park attendant nearby to answer any questions but mostly to make sure nobody did anything stupid. The raised platform leads you out to a multi arrayed lily pad/plant covered body of water with swimming turtles, fish, alligators, anhingas, herons, egrets and the Purple Gallinule (which you see in our video as they’re hopping from one lily pad to another). Next, we spotted 3 or 4 curious American Coots sunning themselves on the roof of a covered seating area. Located right by the visitor center, all of this was our first glimpse of the Everglades. We’ve never seen anything quite like it. Amazing! For such a short trail, Mother Nature sure packed in a lot of wildlife. It’s amazing how the slight elevation changes (even inches) influence the slough’s, the hammocks and the different types of wildlife that inhabit each one. There certainly is a delicate balance. It was concern for the developments in the area in the early part of the 20th century that led to the establishment of Everglades National Park in 1947.

In the same vicinity of the Anhinga Trail is a moderately trafficked trail called the Gumbo Limbo Trail. Flanked by ferns and red-brown gumbo limbo trees (a super dense hardwood tree), this trail gives you a true jungle like experience. It appears this area has fully come back to life after the effects of devastating Hurricane Andrew came whipping through here at 165 mph in 1992. Many of the gumbo trees survived even after losing most of their limbs, but within days, were sprouting new leaf growth due to more sunlight exposure. Many species are resilient and adaptable aren’t they? As we were about to exit the trail, Jeff scared himself and me as he was just looking out over a small bridge into this dense pond area, when low and behold, less than a foot below us, was a resting alligator in the water and he was a big boy (see video). Wow, what amazing timing. Since we likely disturbed his afternoon siesta, he definitely deserved to quietly swim away to a better location in his swim hole.

A few things we learned today:

  1. Sloughs are where water is moving in

  2. Marshes are where water is more stagnant

  3. Hammocks are high points in the slough where trees and bushes grow out of the water. They are teardrop shaped orienting themselves in the direction the water is flowing.

  4. Alligators prefer fresh water and have a more rounded snout

  5. Crocodiles prefer salt water, have a more pointy snout and are usually larger in size.

It was nice to arrive back at our campsite before dark, so we could enjoy a nice walk and sunset. As we did our loop, we met a nice couple from Florida, asking them where they purchased their 2 bundles of firewood. As you recall, when we arrived at this campground, we were informed that firewood was scarce. Evidently when this couple arrived today, they were told that there was a new delivery of firewood prompting us to head in the opposite direction, to the car to see if there’d be any left. There were 10 bundles left, with no limit. Of course we didn’t want to hoard, so we purchased 2 and it’s nice, real hard firewood so we can enjoy a fire for longer than 30 minutes. 🔥 After we dropped our bundles off, we resumed our walk in the other direction, not getting past the first campsite and met a very nice couple from Boulder, CO who are taking a month off to travel to warmer pastures. Then across from their campsite, we met another couple (not sure where they were from) who were on their second year of full-time RV’ing with their 2 young boys 6 and 8. Since they were already in the swing of home schooling before COVID hit, there wasn’t much adjusting to that on their end. Then the couple who told us about the firewood were walking toward our group and before you knew it, we had 4 families social distancing, talking about their travel experiences. You meet the nicest people while traveling. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes crashed our party forcing us all to safer quarters. These pesty buggers are not too bad, but enough to annoy anyone and even poor Sadie. I really can’t imagine what it would be like during the summer months. We’re hoping with a few campfires, this will keep most of them at bay.

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