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Published: March 13th 2012
Everglade Safari - Monday – March 12th
Wow! What a fantastic day we had today!! We recommend this tour to anyone with a day to spend in Ft Lauderdale.
The morning started early because we needed to be at a pickup point about 15 miles from here, by 7:30 in the morning. Fortunately, the hotel breakfast begins at 6:30, so we got up and had a quick meal before going to the pickup. It was still dark as we pulled up (daylight savings time costs you sunlight in the morning) and parked in the lot of a botanical garden (called Flamingo Gardens). David called the company and was told that the bus would be there about 7:45, and it pulled in right at that time. We had to move the car to another spot (the parking lot was still empty except for us), but then we boarded the minibus as the last of 5 couples.
Our driver (Norman) was a wealth of information, although he was somewhat opinionated about some things. He talked almost constantly and we heard an awful lot about the Everglades. We expected the Everglades
to be a large swamp (we even wore old shoes in case we slipped off the path and sank into the muck). In truth it is a lot of wetlands, but we didn’t get into anything like we were fearfully expecting. The Everglades is actually the world’s slowest flowing river, as water moves from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico. The water flows at approximately 1 mile per day, mostly because of the almost level grade in southern Florida, as well as the multitude of growth in the waters.
There are about 1800 miles of canals which were dug to try to drain the Everglades. The purpose was to produce agricultural ground to grow sugarcane. This practice was stopped long ago, but all those existing canals continue today. The area of the Everglades has been reduced about in half (currently about 60 miles wide and roughly 120 miles long). The canals were taken over by the Florida Water Management System to help control the flow throughout the year. Norman had strong opinions about what they were doing right and wrong, but that’s his opinion. Anyway, the canals are dug below the natural ground level and the
water naturally drains into the canal. There are some pumping stations to return water to areas which need it, but mostly the system is gravity driven and controlled with dykes and levies.
During the drive, Norman told us a lot about the history of the Seminole, and the less famous Miccosukee Indians. He had many stories about how they were driven into the Everglades by the U.S. Army long ago, and how they developed over the years. The Miccosukee tribe is a matriarchic structure, with small groups living on individual hammocks (small raised areas of land).
Our first stop was at an air-boat safari location, approximately an hour after we were picked up. We had a chance to use restrooms and get food/souvenirs before & after the ride. We boarded an airboat and were given foam ear plugs to protect our ears against the noise from the enormous fan. We idled away from the dock and moved slowly through channels of trees growing down to the water’s edge. Soon the driver opened the throttle and we zipped long across swaying blades of grass out into a large open area. After about 10 minutes, we
were far from anything resembling “shore” and the boat came to a stop. The driver explained that we had been zipping across waters from a couple of feet, to only a couple of inches – we never knew the difference. There are many different types of birdlife and he pointed out lots of different kinds as they flew past.
He then took us to some denser areas. These are actually small rises of ground where trees and bushes have grown. These berms reflect just a couple of feet different from the water-flooded areas where our boat was resting. There are very small differences in elevation, making a world of difference in the terrain. He drove the airboat into deeper water and advised us to start looking for alligators. Sure enough, before long we started seeing some. Everyone was busily taking pictures – hopefully some turned out OK. We gradually made our way back to the main dock and disembarked. This was really a neat ride.
Then we boarded the bus again and headed on down the road. The roads are usually paved 2-lane highways laid on elevated land (either naturally occurring or built up
Janet & David
on Pontoon Boat
from limestone deposits). The driver pulled over to the side of the road many times where he thought we could see gators – sometimes he was right and sometimes not. Then he let us out on a side road and led us to a spot between the bushes. There was a collection of 11 baby gators about 18 inches in length. He could not spot the large Mama gator, but these were pretty spectacular. He pointed out various grasses, bushes, and trees, as well as showing us how to spot fossils in the limestone along the roadway – Janet found a Scallop fossil. Then back onto the bus.
One of the bushes produces a very sweet berry that birds like to eat (especially robins). However if they aren’t eaten promptly the, berries become overly ripe and the sugar in the berries start to ferment. When the robins eat them, the alcohol can cause the birds to become slightly intoxicated. Sometimes the really drunk robins lay on the ground and spread their wings basking in the sun. Then a fox comes out of the brush and gobble up the robins. The morale of this story is that foxes really like Baskin Robbins.
Next we stopped at a photographer’s mini-museum. He had a lot of black & white photos of spectacular views in the Everglades. They were for sale, but most were $500 - $1500 each (we declined). There were two gators on the side of the entryway, which raised the question of how fast these beasts could run. We were told about 16 mph for a short sprint, but not to worry if you could run faster than anyone else in your group. Then it was back on the bus again and headed for lunch.
We ate lunch at a restaurant in Everglade City (literally a man-made town from the ground up). The elevation is 3 feet about sea level. Most of the roads are between 7 and 9 feet above normal water level. The meal was good (Janet had chicken strips and fries, David had the salad bar with lots of fresh shrimp). Then off to the last stop.
This was a pontoon boat tour to a large lake, formed by 4 rivers flowing together and out to the sea. The water is brackish as it is a combination of fresh and sea water. The river flow is quite slow and the tidal affect causes the water to flow back and forth and the slat and fresh mix. There are supposed to be a lot of Manatees in this area, but no gators (they do not like salt water). The boat took us all the way to the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico. The ride had a little motion but wasn’t bad, although Janet was glad to have left her sea-sickness patch behind her ear. By about 3:00 the boat brought us back to the dock, but again we had heard a lot of information and seen a lot of different birdlife.
We boarded the minibus again and the driver took us back to where our car had been parked (about a 90 minute drive). Norman talked a little, but eventually he ran out of facts to share and had answered all our questions. Some of the people fell asleep on the ride back. In the meantime Janet had gotten a call with information about tomorrow’s tour, so we went back to the hotel to rest up and get ready for dinner.
We got directions how to get to TGI Friday for dinner, but we found something called the Moonlight Diner and we ate there instead. It really was a fun place and we would go back there again in the future if we remember. After today’s activity, a burger and shake, or sandwich and sundae were just what we needed. Now we are back and trying to look at the pictures/movies we took today and hopefully get some posted in the blog. There are some neat movies, but could not upload them to the blog - willhaveto find some other way to share them.
Tomorrow we need to be at the pickup point at 6:30 AM and the tour is supposed to last for about 14 hours. So we may not get a very large blog posted tomorrow.
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