Yesterday was a pretty busy day for us. We started out by packing up and leaving Florida City. We headed West on the Tamiami Trail to the Shark Valley Visitor Center. Our setup was a bit too long for the parking area, so we disconnected the Jeep and parked it separately. Then we pulled the bicycles off the rear rack of the RV. Due to the amount of locks, cables, wires and everything else that secures the Jeep and bicycles, this is not a small amount of effort. I’m only telling you this so you understand that I was hot and tired before we even really started exploring anything.
The Shark Valley Visitor Center is known for it’s trail. The trail is a 15 mile loop that goes out into the Everglades, where an observation tower has been erected. It’s paved and quite wide. You can do the trail by walking it (hah!), biking it, or on a tram that runs every half an hour or so. Unless it’s raining, cold or dark, I’d suggest the tram. I think it was $17.50 a person. I think that’s a bit steep, but it does support the park and it’s probably worth it if you’re not a fitness nut in really good shape (I’m not). There is no shade on the trail and there may often be extremely high humidity and no wind. We were lucky to have a bit of a breeze, because we brought our mountain bikes and put them to good use.
Even before actually pedaling anywhere, we spotted a couple of alligators and a lot of Florida gar at the visitor center. We’d spot plenty more gators on the way, along with a fair variety of birds. The tram and bikes go opposite directions, and bikers are asked to pull off and stop if a tram is approaching. We only had to do so three times, so it wasn’t a great inconvenience or anything.
If you have a fear of gators, you will definitely want to be in a tram. They are quite close, no matter where you are. They also can and do come up onto the path, although we only saw “evidence” of such behavior.
The west leg of the trail has a canal dug beside it. That pretty much guarantees that there will be gators on that side. The east leg is a bit drier, but it does have “borrow pits” dug out that generally keep the areas around them damp enough for most critters. There are culverts under the trail to allow water to flow from one side to the other and gators will often be in these slightly deeper parts.
While the gators are the obvious attraction, there is an astounding array of other life to appreciate. There were more varieties of birds than I can remember and I can only recognize a handful of them. Redwing blackbirds, spoonbills, tri-color herons, ibis, swallowtail kites, vultures, purple gallinules, and a whole host of others. If you’re into birds, I think it’s kind of hard to have a bad day in the Everglades.
At the half-way point on the trail is an observation tower. I don’t know how tall it is and I’m a horrible judge of stuff like that, but it’s definitely tall enough to give you a slight idea of how big the Glades is. It’s surrounded by a borrow pit, which is usually full of gators. In our case it wasn’t, probably due to the amount of rain we’ve had here this spring. They aren’t forced to congregate at the pits. Don’t worry, you’ll still see plenty.
There are a few other “side trails” you can check out, but we skipped them. We were cooked from just biking the 15 mile trail. I’m not a complete couch potato, but 15 miles in Florida heat is not something I’m accustomed to.
We got back in the RV, cranked on the air condition and continue down the Tamiami Trail to our next destination, which I’ll cover next time!
The observation tower
Me, enjoying the shade in the observation tower
That’s about as close as I could convince Dasy to get to the gator
The west leg is almost dead straight, just keep going and don’t run over anything that moves
There’s always another gator!
GPS track of our ride