Normally, when we think of visiting a grand natural wonder in the USA, we think of the Grand Canyon, Yellow Stone National Park, Niagara Falls, of the Sequoia Forest of Northern California. Seldom do we think of marshlands as an amazing National treasure with immense beauty and value. But the Florida Everglades are in a category of their own.
Unlike swamps, the Everglades are actually a river, that springs from lake Okeechobee in central Florida, and flows southwest into the Gulf of Mexico, spanning the Florida peninsula almost entirely from the east coast to the west coast. The water moves very slowly, at about a half mile per day, keeping the water fresher than swamps, while providing a much larger area of brackish water than other rivers. The shallow water also creates an effect of maintaining warmer water than other rivers. These qualities, along with specific water and ground conditions in Florida, make the Everglades a totally unique setting, that has thrived with amazing wildlife for thousands of years.
The unique conditions of the Florida Everglades make it the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators live side by side. They also make it the only place where many of its creatures can live, and is still in pristine condition, it has become a refuge of dozens of threatened and endangered species, some of which are very close to the hearts of many Americans, like the Florida Panther, the Southern Bald Eagle, the West Indian Manatee, the American Crocodile, and the Green Turtle.
But as well as unique, the Everglades are vast. The term Everglades comes from old English in some of the first nautical charts and maps of the areas. A ‘glade’, is a section of a forest without trees (grassland), and the term Everglades used in those early charts, referred to the vastness of the Sawgrass prairies out to the horizon, as far as the eye could see.
Some of the distinctions of the Everglades are that it is by far, the widest river in the world, and contains the largest continuous mangrove system in the world. It is also the most important breeding ground for wading birds in the American continent, and the largest sub-tropical wildlife in the USA. The diversity of life and uniqueness of the Everglades have earned it the designation as a National Treasure of the US, and a World Heritage site.
Because of land requirements for construction and agriculture, the size of the Everglades has been reduced to half of what it was a century ago. Because of hunting, human use of water, construction interruptions of water flow, and the use of pesticides in commercial agriculture, the wildlife population of the Everglades has been reduced to one tenth what it was a century ago. Many preservationist groups have created awareness of the situation and legislation has been enacted to protect the Everglades from future losses.
The better tours of the Everglades take people deep into the pristine wilderness in air boats with experienced tour guides, who comment on the sights and wildlife that are seen along the way. The experience of ‘flying over the river of grass’ is exhilarating, educational, and full of wonder. And is available from many points throughout central and coast to coast in the southern areas of Florida.
If you need ground transportation in Fort Lauderdale to reach the Everglades or other tourist destinations, there are shuttle services from major hotels, along with many companies that provide car services and limo services to take you to the Everglades. A great base camp to set out in exploration of the Everglades is Holiday Park, where the famous Animal Planet show ‘Gator Boys’ is filmed. They have an alligator show on the premises, and rent fishing gear and dinghies for those who want to catch and release in this amazing setting.