East Coast 2021:
Day 15 - Homestead, FL


Bundlings.com: [Main] [Contact Us] [Events] [Family] [Fun] [Garden] [Misc.] [Photos] [Search] [Site Index] [Travel]

East Coast 2021: [Day 1 - Erie, PA] [Day 2 - Syracuse, NY] [Day 3 - Littleton, NH] [Day 4 - Ft. Kent, ME] [Day 5 - Bucksport, ME] [Day 6 - Hampton, NH] [Day 7 - Branford, CT] [Day 8 - Bensalem, PA] [Day 9 - Jessup, MD] [Day 10 - Petersburg, VA] [Day 11 - Columbia, SC] [Day 12 - Baxley, GA] [Day 13 - Titusville, FL] [Day 14 - Homestead, FL] [Day 15 - Homestead, FL] [Day 16 - Homestead, FL] [Day 17 - Tavernier, FL] [Day 18 - Marathon, FL] [Day 19 - Gainesville, FL] [Day 20 - Natchez, MS] [Day 21 - Nashville, TN] [Day 22 - Heading Home]

Friday, September 24, 2021: We got started just after 7 AM. Today was going to be all about the Everglades.
Sunrise is almost always beautiful, especially when you can see this scenery from the drive through at McDonald's.
We were headed north and west from Homestead.
These palm trees looked silver in the brilliant sunrise.
Many baby plants were perfectly arranged at this nursery.
This towering cumulus cloud was blocking the sun and making it possible to take photos looking east.
We passed lots of farms and nurseries on our way north.
Most of the streets had runoff and drainage just off the road. Debbie had been giving alligator reports whenever we passed standing water. "No gators, babe" was frequently heard.
This seemed to be a pumping station to move water along the canal next to the road.
This bridge was a bicycle/pedestrian bridge connecting the south side of the canal with the Tamiami Trail on the other side.
This was another pedestrian bridge allowing access to the houses on the other side. We weren't sure how the cars got into or out of the narrow lane leading to the bridge. The lane seemed to be only one car-width wide, so you were at the mercy of anyone who parked behind you.
That's the Everglades out there.
More canal water-flow control stations.
It seems odd to see a stand of tall trees growing out of the water, but that's why we are going on an Everglades tour: to learn more about this unique place.
We took the turn off to ...
... Everglades National Park (Shark Valley).
This anhinga kept us company while we waited for the gates to open.
This guy must have been swimming recently. He was drying his wings majestically after his dip.
We have an alert system that goes off once we get to Florida. Whoever is not driving, usually Debbie, scans fresh water that we drive by for alligators. This can be ponds, canals, swimming pools, or in this case, the Everglades. If  the scanner sees an alligator, they alert the other person with the phrase, "Gator, babe." It's a very simple and reliable system. As we drove into the park, Debbie sang out, "Gator, babe."
"Same gator, babe."
"Another gator, babe." You get the idea.
We arrived at the Shark Valley Visitor Center to check in for our tour. There were very few people about, which pleased us greatly.
We looked around at the various exhibits while we waited for our tour to start, including this map of the tram trail that we would be following in our tour.
We got started right on time at 9:30 AM, and we were very, very pleased to have this entire tram car to ourselves.
The lead tram car, with the driver and naturalist/tour guide, had two other groups of two people, who had inexplicably sat one row right in front of the other. It's a pandemic, people. Spread out!
Almost immediately after getting on the tram trail, our tram driver, Taylor, stopped for this mama alligator and her baby (on left). Her head is above water on the right, and her little guy is the skinny thing on the water swimming away on the left.
Here's an extreme close-up of the tiny baby gator swimming into the sawgrass. The guide, Bob, explained that the babies will stay near their mom for two years, but the mom will only provide protection via her presence, and will not feed or otherwise help her young.
Here's a great blue heron (white form).
Here's another great blue heron, but this one is actually blue.
This is the Shark River Slough. Bob explained that a slough is a slow moving, wide sheet of water. The Everglades are not stagnant water, but flowing water from north to south as the elevation changes from fourteen feet above sea level in the north, to approximately seven feet above sea level at the southern end.
There were countless spiderwebs stretched across the tall sawgrass and they rippled in the sunlight.
There were lots of Halloween pennant dragonflies, but they were very hard to photograph.
We entered an area where dwarf bald cypress trees were dominant, and this great blue heron was taking every advantage of the extra height.
This alligator was barely visibile, but Bob explained that the distance between the eyes and the snout was directly proportional to its overall length. He estimated this one to be between six and eight feet long.
There were fish by one of the culverts that allowed water to pass under the tram road. There was also a tiny whirlpool as water passed through.
A man and his gator.
He knows you are looking at him. You can see it in his eyes. Tom saw another gator a short time later that he estimated asat least ten feet long.
The tram going by scared off this heron, ...
... and he flew off low over the water, ...
... but as we drove on, he turned around, ...
... and flew back to his original perch, ...
... as if we had never been there.
After 45 minutes, the observation tower at the farthest point of the trail was visible.
The observation tower is 45 feet high, and allows a person to see for approximately 20 miles in any direction.
There are restrooms at the base of the tower..
Let's go up, shall we?
The observation deck is reached by a widely sweeping ramp ...
... that was an easy walk to the first level of the observation tower.
Unfortunately, the upper levels were chained off.
The view from the first level was still pretty great, and the tram trail from the observation tower back to the visitors center was visible like a straight line in the distance.
The Shark River flowed next to us.
It was quite deep, considering that the water we had been seeing was only a few inches to a foot deep. This seemed to be ten feet deep at least. The water was very clear, and Debbie saw something that looked like a gar, but we couldn't get a picture before it was out of sight.
See that green thing in the center of the picture?
Turtle!
Debbie got this picture of a what may be a largemouth bass while trying to get another picture of the turtle.
On our walk back to the tram, this little guy was patiently waiting on a railing post for us to go by.
The guides told us that there was a large alligator down a trail off the path to the observation tower. We headed that way to take a look, crossing this wooden bridge and continuing down the path for a short distance.
The path was narrow and overgrown, with river views suddenly appearing when least expected. We gave up and came back when the trail turned muddy and we needed to rock-hop to continue down the trail. We didn't need to see the alligator that much.
After a 20 minute stop, the tram headed back toward the visitor center down the old oil exploration road that was built in 1939. They actually hauled oil drilling equipment out here, and while they did find oil, it had enough impurities to render it unable to be refined.
Our guide spotted a turtle climbing a tree, but we were unable to get a picture of it before it fell back into the water. Speaking of the water, there were lovely plants growing in the water and along the water's edge, including this one that put up these pretty white blooms.
Our driver spotted this juvenille alligator sunning himself. We had now seen a baby gator, a mama gator, a huge gator, and a juvenile gator. Thanks, Everglades!
Another gator, babe.
This monster is an Eastern lubber grasshopper. It is about four inches long, and its brilliant coloring is a sign to predators that it is toxic. It eats the sawgrass that is abundant in the Everglades.
Here's another beautiful anhinga drying off after a swim.
Debbie kept a constant vigil for anything on her side of the tram, ...
... and captured a photo of this lizard crossing the road.
These pond apple trees lined the road. The guide rattled off the other names that it is known by including swamp apple, monkey apple, soursop (in Jamaica), and alligator apple (because alligators eat the fruits when they drop).
The guide also explained that the name "anhinga" is from a native Brazilian word meaning "devil bird," and that some Floridians call it the "snake bird."
We arrived back at the visitor center just before 11:30 AM, almost exactly two hours after we had started the tour.
Pulling out of the park, we noticed this turtle trying to cross the highway. Luckily, there wasn't much traffic on the road, so we hoped it would make it to the other side safely.
It was quite determined, and was making good progress as we drove off.
We decided to head further east into the Everglades, to ...
... the Oasis Visitor Center at Big Cypress National Preserve.
They have a wonderful boardwalk with interpretive displays explaining about the wildlife in the park.
It's a small but lovely park, and it has ...
... a plaque dedicated to Stephen Tyng Mather, which we had decided to collect after seeing a couple on our trips out west earlier in the year.
Back in the parking lot, Tom spotted this Electric Vehicle charging station. We had noticed quite a few of these in the national parks we had visited, which was really great to see.
There were bromeliads and Spanish moss in the branches of the trees along the road.
Driving back toward Homestead, we passed the memorial to ValuJet flight 592, a passenger jet that crashed here in 1992 killing all aboard. The memorial consists of 110 concrete pillars, one for each person who lost their life in the crash.
The road out to Shark Valley Visitor Center is lined with many airboat tour operators, like this one, ...
... and this one.
We decided that it wasn't too decadent to have yet another meal at Pollo Tropical. They are very conveniently located, and their food is just so delicious. Debbie ordered roast chicken and sweet plantains, ...
... and Tom got the Mojo roast pork again. Ordering online allowed us to customize our meal, with Debbie deleting the beans on her order, and Tom adding onions to his pork. Neither customization actually happened though, but we tried.
The typical afternoon rain arrived after we finished our lunch and were headed south.
We drove past a lot of farms and nurseries, before eventually getting to ...
... Everglades National Park (Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center). We were going to see all of the Everglades that you can see without leaving the comfort of your vehicle.
There are panthers in the Everglades?! Apparently the Florida panther is the offical state animal. Who knew? They are critically endangered, with only a little more than 200 animals in the wild, so we didn't see any on this trip.
We talked about how much the tram tour earlier had tought us about the Everglades, and admired the sawgrass and the wetlands that we drove through.
We pulled into the visitor center and Debbie spotted this tiny lizard. They are everywhere, but they are adorable.
The plaque to Stephen Tyng Mather at this visitor center had recently been cleaned, and looked remarkably good.
This statue of a Florida panther was dedicated to Ernest Coe, who was largely responsible for the creation of the park.
Let's explore the park, shall we?
This great white heron (also known as a great egret) was at the entrance to ...
... the Pa-hay-okee Trail. It's a very short trail on a wooden walkway. Let's do it.
This grove of bald cypress trees was looking really healthy.
The trail was a loop, encompassing a variety of grasses, trees, and water.
The displays explained the nature of the Everglades, which was useful if you hadn't had the tour that we had been on earlier.
The great white herons were easy to spot in the distance.
It was an easy walk, and we stopped frequently to listen to the sounds around us. It was a treat to be the only ones there.
Fish!
It was nearly impossible to get a photo of the Halloween pennant dragonfly, but Debbie finally got a really good one.
Lizard.
We were still doing great at going where other people weren't.
We drove further east, toward the end of the road, looking at all of the birds and giant grasshoppers, and ...
... is that a gator?
Gator, babe. This monstrous fella was just hanging out under a leaf by the side of the road. As we approached to get a good photo, he got spooked and slid into the water nearby.
We made it to the end of the road at Flamingo visitor center and marina.
The current visitor center building is a temporary one, ...
... with the main visitor center building still closed and undergoing repairs after Hurricane Irma in 2017.
We wandered over to the marina after Tom thought he saw something surface in the water.
There was definitely something out there, and we thought maybe it was a dolphin, ...
... but no, it's a manatee! It's several manatees!
There was another couple visiting the marina too, and they had a manatee in the water close by them.
As Tom went to the end of this mooring slip, this manatee swam up for a closer look at him.
Wow! Just wow! The manatee stayed close to us for several minutes, surfacing, looking at us, breathing, and submerging. It was a remarkable experience to finally see a manatee in the wild for the first time.
There were several more in the marina area, and we crossed over to the other side to get a closer look.
Sure enough, they came over toward us as we stood there, appearing to be as curious about us as we were about them.
After about 15 minutes of watching the manatee, we headed back toward our van, seeing this black vulture in the nearby grass, ...
... along with these white ibis. We were very glad we had decided to drive all the way out to Flamingo visitor center. It was very worth the time.
We drove back toward our hotel in Homestead, passing the Robert is Here fruit stand that we had visited in 2018. We wouldn't be stopping today, but don't worry, we will stop here before we leave the area.
We kept with our vow to keep getting food from Pollo Tropical until we got sick of it, which never happened on the entire trip.
This time, we got a Tropichop with roast pork, white rice, and onions, and Tom got the (you guessed it) Mojo roast pork platter. We had also ordered flan and cuatro leches cake for dessert, which was the perfect end to a really great day.

Miles today: 231. Miles from Fort Kent, ME: 2877.

Day 16 >


East Coast 2021: [Day 1 - Erie, PA] [Day 2 - Syracuse, NY] [Day 3 - Littleton, NH] [Day 4 - Ft. Kent, ME] [Day 5 - Bucksport, ME] [Day 6 - Hampton, NH] [Day 7 - Branford, CT] [Day 8 - Bensalem, PA] [Day 9 - Jessup, MD] [Day 10 - Petersburg, VA] [Day 11 - Columbia, SC] [Day 12 - Baxley, GA] [Day 13 - Titusville, FL] [Day 14 - Homestead, FL] [Day 15 - Homestead, FL] [Day 16 - Homestead, FL] [Day 17 - Tavernier, FL] [Day 18 - Marathon, FL] [Day 19 - Gainesville, FL] [Day 20 - Natchez, MS] [Day 21 - Nashville, TN] [Day 22 - Heading Home]

Bundlings.com: [Main] [Contact Us] [Events] [Family] [Fun] [Garden] [Misc.] [Photos] [Search] [Site Index] [Travel]

Copyright © Deborah Schilling/Thomas Bundy