An Everglades Escape
Everglades National Park . . . Regi and I sped westward along Main Park Road, mesmerized by the river of grass along both sides of the asphalt. Small humps broke a horizon capped with white puffy clouds. These tree islands were just a few inches above the moving water, where tropical trees provided a haven for the bird and animal life. An exquisite mixture of cool air from the sawgrass and warm air from the rising sun blew through the open windows of the Jeep. I turned the CD player up a notch.
Sure, we knew the Everglades could be paddled, but we hadn't seen anything, so far, where you could stroke a blade. The road became closed in by a wall of tall trees which we found out later were mangrove. Shortly thereafter, a salty scent wafted into the car the ocean was near. The Flamingo complex, a marina, lodge, ranger station and campground, was surprisingly large.
Our first order of business was to obtain a backcountry permit. We had decided to make the long distance traverse of the park, roughly paralleling the Wilderness Waterway. I had never made this end-to-end traverse before. It offered a slice of everything - the wide-open waters of the Gulf, natural beaches, snake-like creeks and all three types of backcountry campsites. Being in numerous environments also enhanced our chances of seeing more Everglades wildlife, from ospreys to alligators.
Other options were to head out to the far flung islands of Florida Bay, such as Little Rabbit Key, North Nest Key and Carl Ross Key. Florida Bay was better suited for sea kayaks, with so much open water subject to unpredictable winds. We could have also circumnavigated Whitewater Bay, paddling some of the small creeks and rivers north of Flamingo. This was more viable during higher winds, but campsites were limited and we wouldn't be able to visit the Gulf of Mexico. I also considered heading from West Lake to Alligator Creek, where bird life was abundant, but the bugs could be fearsome on the creek and at Shark Point.
The rangers worked with us in developing a route. Being contrarians, we decided to make a south to north traverse, even though winds generally blow from north to south. Regi made one last phone call to North American Canoe Tours, where we arranged our shuttle ride back to Flamingo from Everglades City, once our trip was completed.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication