Recently, my family and I traveled to Florida for ten days. We spent the majority of our time lounging on the beach but managed to squeeze in some adventuring, as well. One of the highlights of our trip was a fifteen mile tram ride through Everglades National Park in Shark Valley. On our ride, we saw a variety of birds, alligators, snakes, and turtles. And, a lot of mosquitoes! Part of the journey included climbing up a 65-foot observation tower for a birds-eye view of the “River of Grass.” It was stunning.
Toward the end of our vacation, we ventured back into the Everglades, but this time an airboat was our vehicle of choice. Although not as educational, the experience was memorable. My kids loved the thrill of flying through the water and the sharp turns that inevitably sprayed them with water. I loved weaving in and out of mysterious groves of vines and plants and then popping out into open water and simply seeing the blue, blue sky reflected in the still waters.
These two experiences were not only fun, but they also gave us all an appreciation for the Everglades. Along with my newfound appreciation, I also learned several things along the way:
There are so many mosquitoes. Okay, I knew this one ahead of time. That is why I spent $8.00 on bug spray at the gift shop before our tour. What I didn’t know was that if you happen to miss one tiny spot with bug spray, those buggers will find that spot. They will invite their friends. They will invite friends of friends. And, you – poor innocent northerner that you are – will end up with about 20 bug bites on that awkward back of your arm part that leads to your underarm. So. Very. Itchy.
My son is really and truly obsessed with snakes. He spent the entire tour looking for snakes. Sure the dozens of alligators we spotted were of interest, but it wasn’t until he saw a long, brown snake slither its way across the path that the tour was deemed a success. However, he was a bit disappointed that he did not spot a python. I, on the other hand, was okay with that.
I never want to be that close to an alligator again. In the last several feet of our tram journey through the Everglades, a very large alligator rested in the grass on the side of the path. We passed it, snapped pictures, and then the tram parked at the station. From there, most passengers doubled back to stand dangerously close to the alligator to pose for pictures. I know that alligators are not that fast or agile on land, but still…
My family and I lingered in the back of the pack. I was not about to get any closer to the alligator but was contemplating waiting around until some of the people cleared out to get a better photo of it. Suddenly, the alligator turned, waddled, and splashed its way back into the water. It didn’t look that slow to me!
Despite the heat, mosquitoes, and other dangerous animals, the Everglades is a beautiful place. At one point on our tram ride, the guide stopped the tram and told us to just listen. We couldn’t hear a thing. (Well, except a few mosquitoes buzzing by my ear!) She told us to look around. All we saw was miles of grasses and water and sky.
This moment really highlighted the size and isolation of the land. (Everglades National Park is the third largest National Park in the lower 48 states.) It is wonderful that parks like this exist for this very reason.
Although at home when I look out my back window I see nothing but trees, I can still hear the distant roar of a lawn mower or the squeals of children swimming in a pool down the hill. When I take hikes with my kids in local state parks, we might not see a person for some time, but inevitably, we pass another hiker or biker or can still hear distant noises of cars on nearby roads. There are few places that I visit regularly that I can only see and hear nature and nothing else.
I want to go to more places like this.
I will keep taking my kids on family adventures. I love that we can travel and explore together as a family. I love how we have a shared bank of stories and experiences to draw from that are not just part of our ordinary lives.
Yes, I greatly enjoyed the week of beach sitting and margarita drinking sandwiched in-between our two Everglades adventures; however, I think it is the exposure to new places and the exploration of nature that we will remember most. I’m happy that my children will grow up learning to appreciate nature. Hopefully, they will understand the importance of having national parks like this and always have their eyes open to the wonders of the natural world.
Thanks for reading! What national parks have you visited? What’s your favorite? We are headed to Acadia National Park next.