It is hard to go deep in the everglades without special equipment. We went deep in the everglades and found it enchanting. The everglades define the largest contiguous wilderness in the country. The one defining characteristic is that it is a shallow freshwater swamp nearly everywhere. Most of the swamp is covered in sawgrass.
We have spent most of a month at the edge of, or deep in the everglades. December through February is prime time because it is the dry season with moderately warm temperatures. There are two seasons here. Summer is hot, muggy, and rainy. Winter is much dryer, warm, still with plenty of rain but nothing like summer. Some people define the two seasons as buggy and overwhelmingly buggy. For us, the bugs haven’t been too bad.
The northern edge of the everglades swamp is Lake Okeechobee. Lake Okeechobee is the largest natural freshwater lake in the 48 contiguous United States. To make this a true statement you have to take the Great Lakes off the list. All the Great Lakes are bigger than Okeechobee. In terms of water volume, however, Okeechobee would fit into a small corner of Lake Superior because even though it has lots of surface area, it is only about nine feet deep.
This is the place I was going to insert a picture of Lake Okeechobee and even though we went there, we didn’t get a picture. This is because there now is a huge dike built around the lake to keep the water in. This dike and swamp on both sides of the dike prevented me from taking a picture of this inland sea. Even from the top of the dike, all we saw, when facing the lake, was a dense swamp tangled with brush and trees. The south side (where we were hoping for a picture) is where the lake turns into the everglades.
Lake Okeechobee gets most of its water from the Kissimmee River which comes from the north and runs from the south Orlando area. The natural outflow of most of the water from the south end of Lake Okeechobee is the everglades wetlands (swamp).
A shallow lake and a shallow swamp
The south end of Lake Okeechobee is a shallow swamp (missing picture described above) The swamp once covered the entire south end of Florida. Revisions to some of the water flow from Lake Okeechobee connect the lake to the Caloosahatchee River (we stayed there) heading to the west and the Saint Lucie Canal (we stayed there as well) heading to the east. Using these two waterways you can boat from the Atlantic Ocean across Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico.
Other than some canals (and city water supplies), most of Lake Okeechobee water ends up in the everglades. In the everglades, it flows very slowly to the south and into the Gulf of Mexico.
My perspective of the everglades centered on airboats gliding across the shallow water and sawgrass. Really the everglades include an entire sea of sawgrass but also include several swampy forests. At the coastline, where the water turns salty, there are hundreds of miles of mangrove swamps.
The south end of Lake Okeechobee is now farmland and orchards. The large majority of the everglades is still a wild swamp without trails. Yes, I said without trails. If you want to go for a hike deep in the everglades plan on plenty of wading. Camping on dry land is close to impossible.
I mentioned special equipment to explore the wilderness. Airboats are an obvious choice. There is another jeep-like creation called a swamp buggy that has big flat floating wheels and plenty of ground clearance that you could use. We paddled our kayaks through some of the deeper water areas and even took one bike ride on a specially developed bike trail.
Not all swamp
Along the coastline, most of the eastern edge of the everglades is now in the cities. Miami is the largest especially since it is right next to Fort Lauderdale. On the gulf coast, Fort Myers and Naples are directly west of Lake Okeechobee.
Other than Miami, most of the rest of the cities on the coastline lack high-rise buildings and are similar to most suburbs with a south Florida look and feel to them.
The one defining characteristic of the everglades is a shallow water swamp. Birds, not gators are the number one most obvious wildlife deep in the everglades. The wildlife includes lions, bears, and deer but birds are the most common. They are everywhere.
I took the pictures of the flocks of American White Ibis (above) and the pictures below at the Flamingo Gardens Wildlife Sanctuary in Weston Florida. The pictures of the flamingos didn’t turn out as good as the pictures of these two peacocks.
On our trip south through Florida I had expected to see lots of alligators. Really our gator count was quite small until one day when we took a bike ride deep in the everglades.
My focus next week will be on gators deep in the everglades. As you may have noticed in our previous article about our visit to Everglades National Park we haven’t included many pictures of gators. Even the previous article with gators in the title didn’t really have lots of gator pictures. That will soon change. Here is a link to our previous article. Hunting Crocs (and gators)
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