Everglades National Park

Each of us has places where we want to return over and over again. For me, one of those places is Everglades National Park in Florida. Howe...

Each of us has places where we want to return over and over again. For me, one of those places is Everglades National Park in Florida. However I'm not exactly sure whether our children and their children would be able to experience it the way we do it today since this park's future is in question. So is the large part of Southern Florida.

In April 2015, it was our second time in Everglades National Park. First time we visited it in March 2013. Though I have not noticed any major changes in the park's flora, this time there were much fewer wild animals such as alligators and big birds. There is nothing unusual in this though as the end of April also marks the end of a dry season. Water level reaches its yearly minimum, so fish and other animals that depend on it move further south toward the Florida Gulf where the water level is still high. 
Despite the fact that Everglades National Park looks like a big swamp, it is, in fact, a river 70 miles (110 km) wide. It slowly flows north to south from Kissimmee River toward the Gulf of Mexico with the constant speed of 90 ft (30 m) per day.
This land has not always been a national park. Since the end of 19th century and till 1947, it suffered a lot from excessive human activities and over-development. The water was drained, and the land was on sale for exorbitant 30 dollar per acre (70-80 dollars per hectare). Cunning sellers would bring potential buyers at the end of spring when the water is low and the weather is nice and calm. However, starting July the raining season would often bring floods and hurricanes. Even drainage canals would not help protect people from natural disasters. In year 1928 alone, Okeechobee Hurricane killed 2500 people in Florida. 
However the battle between humans and nature continued, and in 1930s a huge dam was built around Lake Okeechobee where the Everglades River takes its water resources. As a result of building the dam, a severe drought hit Southern Florida in 1939 which caused numerous wild fires. On this picture - a lock on one of the canals.
Trees were cut, wildlife killed, however drainage canals that diverted the Everglades River's water for agriculture and other domestic needs had the biggest negative impact on the Southern Florida's ecosystem. A competition for potable water becomes a challenge as the population in Florida continues to grow and estimated 40 million tourists visit Florida each year. Some 12 million people (many of them are Canadians) have seasonal homes there and come visit Florida in winter months when the water level is already low. Since Everglades and the majority of Southern Florida is only 3-7 ft (1-2 m) above the sea level, when the fresh water levels drop, the salt water penetrates the land from the Atlantic Ocean causing drastic changed to the environment.
Federal and state authorities are taking actions that help mitigate ecological problems in Southern Florida such as expanding the park and reserve boundaries, destroying drainage canals, building water treatment reservoirs. While it may effective to accomplish local short-term goals, in the long run it cannot protect from negative outcomes of a much bigger problem - ocean level rise - which can eventually submerge the whole Everglades region.
But let's get back to what the Everglades National Park looks like today. This is a pine oasis, a rare ecosystem within the park accessible from the Pinelands trail. Pines grow at higher elevations where there is not much water year around, so a piece of land like this will be submerged by the rising ocean when everything else in the park is already underwater. 
Tree shadows save you from the brutal midday heat.
A small lizard is a little curios and does not seem to be afraid of humans. 
We found about 20 snails with beautiful shells along the trail. 
These bright-colored grasshoppers are so numerous in the park, so I often had to turn my steering wheel to avoid squashing them on the road.
Another trail we visited while the sun was still high up in the sky was the Mahogany Hammock trail. 
It looks like an island within the wast grassland. 
I was very surprised to see a place with such lush vegetation in the middle of boundless swampy river. 
It felt so good to hide from the heat under the big branches of palm trees and redwood.
This island is like an oasis in a desert where the life abounds.
On such a hot day, all I really wanted was to cool off in the ocean. We drove all the way down to the Flamingo campground at the Florida Bay where there is a beach. It turned out that there was no good access to the ocean though, so in order to get to the water you would need to wade through a dense layer of seaweed and debris about 6-8 ft (2-2.5 m) wide. Also, two campers warned us that there are some crocodiles in the mangrove wetlands (pictured below), and unlike their close relatives - alligators, these guys don't mind having you at lunch. 
A bald eagle's nest at the Flamingo camground.
This is how Everglades National Park mostly looks like - an immense wet grassland.
If you only have a couple of hours in the park, Anhinga Trail is where you want to spend your time.
A beautiful anhinga bird whom the trail was named for.
Spanish moss.
Why Anhinga Trail? Because this is where you're almost guaranteed to see alligators in the wild.
In March there is much more wildlife here than now in April. Compare this picture below with the next two taken in March 2013.
Taken in March 2013 when the water level was still high, so fish were abundant.
I love this place!
Baby gator.
You better not swim here.
Dazzling sunset over Everglades National Park.
More posts from Florida are coming soon. Stay tuned!

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