A gator walking along the roadway in the Everglades.

Gliding Through The Glades

After a bit of a bust up in Jacksonsville, we’re really looking to rebound in southern Florida with a couple of highly anticipated day trips. a big name brewery (read about our visit to J. Wakefield HERE), and just that Miami heat…no, not the basketball team, just, y’know, the temperature.

Our stay here is at the Larry & Penny Thompson Park, owned and operated by Miami-Dade County. Getting here was a little nuts, as the drivers in the metropolitan area seem certifiably nuts. The traffic is awful and everyone around the rig seems to think that we can brake on a dime whenever they choose to merge in front of us with mere feet between us. I can’t really hug the slow lane as I typically do as whoever planned the roads in and around the city seemed to think it was a good idea to constantly cycle the lanes whereby the right lane becomes an exit lane with little warning, the middle lane then becomes the slow lane, and the fast lane takes the middle spot. Whoever thought this was a good idea was a madman. 

Once in the park though, we know we’re in a great spot as a homebase for our adventures over the next week. The one kind of odd thing is we’re right on the other side of the city zoo and in the morning you could hear the apes going…well, ape. It took a couple of days for me to figure out why Jackson was always on alert, but one I heard the monkeys I kind of figured it out.

Our first big day trip is to the Everglades. This marks the first U.S. National Park for Ashley and I! We decide with our plans over this next year involving so many federal properties that it makes sense for us to invest in the America The Beautiful Annual Pass. For $80, we get access to so many places across the country, and considering it was going to cost us $40 today alone to enter the glades, this is almost a no-brainer.

The Murray family at the entrance to the Florida Everglades National Park.
Goin’ to the Glades!

When I thought of the Everglades, I always thought of some swampy, water filled bayou with airboats flying by gators in the hot, Floridian sun. Well, I wasn’t expecting that a lot of the park is actually a prairie. Yes, it’s a saltwater prairie, sort of reminiscent of the marshes back up north, but on a much larger scale. I felt like I was on the African plains in safari mode rather than the swampland I had expected.

Truck view of the saltwater prairie of the Florida Everglades.
South Florida or The Serengeti?

The Park allows you to drive along a nearly 38 mile stretch of road between the park’s entrance near Homestead, Florida all the way down to Flamingo – the southernmost point on the United States mainland. Jackson was allowed to travel in the truck with us, but sadly pets are not allowed on the hiking trails; as such, when Ashley and I would stop at one of the nature walks, we would take turns tag teaming staying with him in the truck and running the A/C. Yes, even though it’s the end of November, it’s like 80 degrees. Wowzer!

As we continue southwest along the road, the surroundings become more wooded with oak forests studded with massive mahogany trees. The trees form the foundation for entirely different ecosystems by acting as shelter and food sources for a variety of life, including tree snails, birds, and Florida panthers.

The prairie turns to light density oak forests.
The prairie turns to light density oak forests.
Huge mahogany trees provide a canopy for entirely different ecosystems to flourish.
Huge mahogany trees provide a canopy for entirely different ecosystems to flourish.
A giant tree snail making its home in the forest within the Everglades.
A giant tree snail making its home in the forest within the Everglades.

As we travel further south, the soil gives way to wetlands, but the forests actually get denser. We are in the mangroves of the Everglades, where the trees grow straight out of the water on a stilt-like root system. Sadly, damage from recent storms is evident. Even the boardwalk on one of the trails looks like wind and flood waters picked it up and twisted it, shattering it right in the middle.

A view of the mangrove from the water.
The magical mangroves rise up right from the water.

A shattered boardwalk evidences recent storms in the Everglades.
The unforgiving environment reclaims some of the man-made intrusions.

As we finally make it to Flamingo, we realize it is a much more active spot than most of the 38 mile road down to it. With a marine and a visitor center, it is bustling with tourists and campers. We are greeted at this southernmost spot by some manatees! [I really wish I had some good pictures…but they all just look like I took a bunch of shots of the surface of the water]

As we head out of the park we hope to catch one more glimpse of Florida’s most famous wildlife: the gators. We’d seen one walking along the road and had flashbacks to Assateague (read more HERE) but we went into one area of the park well known for the amphibious wildlife. Mere feet into the trail a ranger is standing by a small wall abutting the water and beckons us over. There’s a momma gator standing guard over her newborn offspring. The ranger explains the mother gator will not provide much care to her children, but she will stand vigil to ensure that predators leave them alone.

A mother gator sits silently by her young to protect them from predators in Florida.
Mama gator silently watches over her young.
Baby gators at the Florida Everglades.
Baby gators looking hungry – better keep Jackson away!

Satisfied with our day trip we head back to camp through the back roads of Homestead. Lots of farmland, randomly a man on a horse riding down the street and a…peacock? I guess we’re in Miami. Oh yeah, and a brewery too! (You can read about it HERE!) This will be an interesting stop on our nationwide trip!

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