Visited: June 22, 2013
Site Type: Natural
Background and Opinion:
The Everglades National Park was on my to do list for as long as I could remember. When I got an 18 hour layover in Miami on my way to Peru last year, I didn’t even hesitate in making plans to explore this ecological wonder. While I did not get to see manatees, it definitely did not disappoint. If there is one thing the region is known for besides sandy beaches and hot bods, it is the swamps filled with a fantastical amount of alligators. Seriously, if you can go through this area without seeing a gator, you did something wrong.
I only had time for a single trail so I chose Shark Valley after reading tons of good reviews on it. I actually got there at 7 am, a good hour before it even opened, so I explored the surrounding area to see if I could find something interesting. There was one place where you could launch kayaks or small, un-powered boats which I will have to look into on my way back. Other than that, the mere morning sounds of nature waking up were enough prelude to the experience. Oh yeah, an insane amount of bugs too.
Outside of the entrance, I met one local who was fishing next to a couple of gators. He seemed nice until he started whacking the gators on the head. The animal lover in me couldn’t really humor him much longer so I walked away. Once inside, I saw what I was in for. Shark Valley is a huge loop some 15 miles or so. I initially tried to talk it, but that was an idiotic idea. The thermometer might have said 85F, but the humidity was killer.
I stopped being cheap and rented a bike, which was the best decision ever. I hate guided tours, so I would have rather walked than take the tram, but the bike was pretty cool. I did record a lot of this hike, but the video quality is garbage, which is why I never posted it. I did stop whenever I heard gators or saw eagles in the sky. One of the coolest animals in the region is also the Florida softshell turtle and according to wikipedia, I was incredibly lucky to have seen two of them at very close range and outside of the water.
I also saw some huge vultures, eagles, a ton of gators, and a hand full of other birds. It was definitely an amazing experience and I can only imagine how awesome seeing manatees would have been.
The background has something to do with it being formed at the end of the end of the ice age and if you are interested with reading an incredibly dry explanation, be my guest. The TL;DR is that it has a bunch of cool animals.
1) Completeness / Preservation (9.5 out of 15): This is a really tricky one to evaluate. On the one hand, I have not seen many other places anywhere in the world with so much wildlife. In addition, I am a huge fan of the National Park Service and how they try to preserve nature in the US. On the other hand, the Everglades is the US’s only ‘endangered’ UNESCO site, with the risk of losing the status due to the rising sea level. Florida is incredibly low lying and unfortunately, this wonder will not last long.
2) Extensiveness of the Site (15 out of 15): Another tricky one to grade because of its history. The everglades are massive, ranking as the third largest NP in the continental US and nearly the size of Yellowstone if you count the entire area and not just the National Park. However, it is but a tiny part of what used to be swampland. Still, it would take days if not longer to see it all.
3) Natural Significance (23.5 out of 25): One of the most gorgeous places in the world with wildlife everywhere. Seriously feels like you are walking around in a magazine.
4) Personal Impact (13.5 out of 15): Again, just ridiculous.
5) Logistics (8.5 out of 10): For one of the most popular hikes in the park, it was pretty empty. Given, I went on a weekday and off season, but nonetheless, I was impressed. There are only a handful of roads so it is hard to get lost. However, like many places in the US, unless you rent a car, you’re screwed, but it doesn’t matter as car rentals were $20 a day.
6) Uniqueness (16 out of 20): While it is not the only National Park that is a UNESCO site, it is definitely one of the best cared for. The US does a magnificent job of investing money into our natural wonders which gives you a very unique feeling.
Combined Score: 86.5/100
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Curious how the scores are derived? Check out the scoring criteria.