We finally set aside a day to make the 93-mile trip down into the Everglades to the Shark Valley Visitor Center. We wanted to get any early start, so we loaded the bikes into the truck the night before, and I packed our lunches, and had it all ready to go into the cooler in the morning.
We were up bright and early in the morning, and ready to go by 7:30 . . . on our chilliest morning yet! It had gotten down to 52 degrees overnight, and was only supposed to get up to the low 70s for a high (that’s cold here in southern Florida!). We were optimistic, though, and wore shorts & T-shirts, but put sweatshirts on, just in case!
We took 75 to the south side of Naples ( avoiding the bulk of the traffic on 41), and got off the freeway just before it changed to Alligator Alley, a toll road. From that point, Tamiami Trail was pretty clear sailing, and we arrived at Shark Valley just before 9:30am. We bought our “America the Beautiful” Annual National Park pass at the entrance gate, and since we bought it on Feb. 1st, and it expires on the last day of Feb. next year, we get a full 13 months instead of 12 – Bonus! It wasn’t too crowded yet, and we easily found a place to park the truck, and got the bikes unloaded.
We decided to take just a few snacks and our water bottles on the ride with us, and leave the cooler in the truck, where we’d have lunch when we returned from the ride. We had forgotten to air up our tires before loading the bikes, but luckily the bike rental concessionaire was kind enough to let us use his air to fill them up.
The Tram Road/Bike Path is 15 miles long – 7 miles along a canal, out to an observation tower, and then 8 miles back, meandering through the tall grass and swampy ground of the Everglades. The road is paved, and wide enough for the Tram to pass by without having to take our bikes off the road (or into the path of a gator!).
We had barely gone a few feet when we spotted our first gator . . . and of course had to stop for a picture! At this point, we were maintaining the recommended 10 – 15 feet distance.
As we continued along, we saw gator after gator . . . a few were in the water,
some were in the grass along the edge of the road,
and there were plenty right there on the edge of the pavement, sunning themselves on this cool morning!
As you can see, there are no barriers between us and them, so in the beginning we kept our bikes between us! It seemed like the bigger and older the gator was, the less concerned it was with us. They must be used to all the tram and bike traffic along the road, and they pretty much just ignore us.
With about a mile under our belts, we were warm enough to shed our sweatshirts, and we started getting a little braver around the gators, too!
This guy was REALLY big!
Even his feet were big!
It wasn’t all big gators, though . . . . we saw some really cute baby gators, too! Like this guy swimming in the canal,
and another one sunning on a drainpipe.
I couldn’t resist the babies – they were SO cute – had to watch out for the crazy mommas, though!
Usually, there was just one alligator by itself, but every once in a while we’d see 2 or 3 together, like this little gang . . .
We noticed that the younger ones seemed more “alert” and kept their eyes on us . . . this guy looked like he was ready to jump right out of the water!
A few even hissed at us when we got a little too close!
He was saying “Back off!”
After a while, it started getting to be kindof routine . . . there’s another gator . . . and another . . . sometimes we would stop for a picture, and sometimes we wouldn’t. We ended up with a LOT of gator pictures!
Tom and the boys even started thinking about “Slapping the bull!” (for those of you who have seen “Wild Hogs”), but I wouldn’t let them!
Tom was still thinking about it!
Some of them were just so darn cute, it was hard to believe that they’d take your arm off! Like this one, smelling the flowers . . . .
. . . . or this one, who was peacefully sleeping (or at least he wanted us to think he was sleeping!)
We did see one poor dead gator . . . he looked like he had just died in his sleep, laying there at the side of the road . . . the vultures were picking him apart, though . . . and it stunk!!
We didn’t hang around too long!
The ride was really nice (hardly any effort required on the flat, smooth road!), and soon the Observation Tower came into view.
We rested for a few minutes and ate our snacks, but we weren’t even very tired because the first 7 miles was pretty easy. After our break, we headed up to the top of the tower to check out the view.
From up there, you could look over the side and see the “gator pit” down below.
I wouldn’t want to fall down there! We took a few pictures at the top.
The wind was really noticeable up there!
Now it was time to head back towards the parking lot . . . INTO the wind, and now we started to notice that there was quite a wind!! It wasn’t such a leisurely ride anymore!
I had heard that there isn’t as much to see on this half of the trip, but we still saw quite a few gators, although we didn’t stop to take pictures as much! The boys were getting hungry for lunch, and stayed focused on reaching the next mile marker!
We passed a couple groups of babies, though, and Tom and I couldn’t resist stopping! In this first group, we counted nine babies!
A little further along, we found 2 more babies,
but Mamma wasn’t too happy with us! She was warning us to stay away!
We saw more than gators, though . . . there were a lot of birds, too, although we didn’t see as many as I thought we would. We could hear them, though . . . hiding in the tall grass on the other side of the canal!
Maybe some of you more experienced birders can help me out with a couple . . .
I’m not sure what this one is,
and I think this might be a baby cormorant, but I’m not sure . . .
I just love the feathers on this Anhinga – it looks almost like a tattoo!
We kept the pedal to the metal, and made progress, mile by mile . . . at one point I saw Nicolas running alongside his bike – I guess his legs were tired of pedaling!
Before we reached the end of the road, we had one more gator experience. I was taking pictures of some birds in a big gator pool, and this guy was just laying by the edge of the pool.
I wasn’t too concerned with him, but then he started opening his mouth!
He wasn’t active aggressive, or even making any noise, so I’m not sure what message he was trying to send . . . maybe he just wanted his picture taken! LOL
We made it back to the truck, and ate our lunch on some logs in the shade . . . it was a LOT more crowded by then, and people were even parking out on 41! It was a great day for a bike ride, and we were glad we got an early start!
We made a couple more stops on the way home, but I’ll save those for another post!