A Trip to Everglades National Park
by The Perkins
Sara and William on a log
When I was a child, my dad used to take us hiking and camping all the time. I grew up in South Florida, and can remember walking on boardwalks with dozens of alligators underneath, wondering how hungry they were.
So when we decided to take the kids to the Everglades, I expected to see the gators lined up, much like we did in Big Cypress. But, on our trip, we actually didn't see any alligators!
When we got to the Shark Valley visitor's center, the area was flooded! I mean literally flooded! The gate that you have to pass through to pay your admission had about 4 inches of standing water. It was no problem in our big diesel truck, but the car behind us was a nice new convertible (evidence of how close we were to Miami) and I seriously feared that we were going to have to pull him out. At least he had the sense to put up his top as he was waiting in line for us to pay!
Unfortunately, because of the high water, the tram tour was unavailable. We would have liked to have gone on that trip. Instead, we hiked.
We stopped by the visitor's center first, and learned about the near extinction of 90% of the Everglades population of birds in the early 20th century. Apparently, they made good decorations on hats! Yes, dead birds! The poor things were hunted and mounted on heads.
We took out our Junior Ranger books to earn the Everglades National Park badge. One of the requirements was that the kids touch the sawgrass, both on the grain and with the grain, to see how it felt. Then they had to write a poem or story about the sawgrass.
William had no problem with this. We got out on our hiking trail, (ironically, a boardwalk) and Daddy grabbed some of the sawgrass that had come up between the boards. William thought it was cool. Sara, who had recently been devastated by a paper cut from her sketchbook, was terrified.
Seriously. Terrified! We tried to tell her that it wasn't going to cut her, but she actually started crying. Finally, we told her that she couldn't get her Junior Ranger badge unless she touched it, and
she reluctantly, gently brushed it. And instantly she realized she had been overreacting!
In her Junior Ranger booklet, for her poem about the sawgrass, she wrote: “I was very scared by the sawgrass because it was going to hurt. So I cried and cried but then I touched it. It was soft and fun.”
The hike was fun....well, mostly. We saw lots of dragonflies and butterflies and all different types of plants and trees. Remember, this was a boardwalk. All of a sudden, I looked up...and saw hundreds of quarter-sized spiders that had built an intricate city of webs about two feet above Ed's head!
I suddenly realized we had been walking under them the whole time. I couldn't backtrack, they were behind me. And in front of me. I ducked and ran in short bursts through the boardwalk, Sara beside me. The boys laughed.
When we got off the boardwalk, we started to walk the trail that the tram would have run. The swamp water was quite high, coming to the road on both sides. We heard lots of rusting in the grasses, but didn't see what had made it. Lots of little frogs were jumping around too. The bugs weren't bad at all.
We met the guy who had been in the convertible. He was an amateur photographer and was taking pictures of everything. We walked with him for a while, and saw a large egret, about as tall as Sara. Slowly, the five of us crept up on the bird, the photographer in the lead. He was able to take hundreds of photos as the egret finally got sick of looking at us and took off. The kids had a blast trying to keep still and sneak up on the thing.
After our walk, we picnicked on the benches in front of the tram. The kids were sworn in as Junior Rangers and were even able to wear a real Ranger hat! Next time we visit, I want to spend a few days here. We did enough to get our passport books stamped, and see the tip of the park, but the Everglades is vast and there are so many different things to see! Next time, a tram tour and an airboat ride. Oh, and alligators!