Off the keys, our next objective is the everglades. It is a very large park, but not much of it is open to the public. From our campground to Flaming,o at the end of the road, is only about 50 miles. So we took two nights at the campground to have the whole day free to explore.
After breakfast at Cracker Barrel, we drove down into the park. The first thing we saw was a sign saying that camping was only allowed in campgrounds. There are campgrounds? We were operating under the idea that there weren't any. We learned at the visitor center that there are two: one near the beginning --- dry camping only, first come first served --- and one at Flamingo with some hookups --- reserve several months in advance.
One often thinks of the everglades as this great sawgrass prarie,
or a tree-filled swamp. In fact, there are half a dozen or so unique ecosystems, often separated by just a few inches of elevation. The first walk we took was through a slash pine forest. These forests play host to several hundred species of tree snails. These snails spend half their lives dormant, sealed tight during the dry season (winter). Picking one up allows it to dry out, thus killing it.
On the way to another walk, we spotted people parked on the shoulder, taking pictures. A sure sign of something interesting to see. At first we thought they were looking at the wood storks and ibis in the water. But the real interest was a mama gator with two babies right alongside the road.
We pressed on to Flamingo for a late lunch. There we were able to spot a crocodile resting in the mangroves (yet another ecosystem).
We also saw an osprey feeding a chick.
There was also another species you see in national parks, a couple of fully-geared up photographers taking pictures of the ospreys with huge long lenses.
On the way out, we stopped by a lake that sometimes has roseate spoonbills. There were no spoonbills, just a group of teenagers hauling out their canoes. Thus no birds, though we did spot a couple of gators in the middle of the lake, and perhaps an anhinga on the far side.
All in all, a busy day, and we still didn't see all of the "limited" area open to the public. Tomorrow we will see if we can get a site in the first campground. If so, we will have another day in the 'glades.