Turtle in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park
Hiking and biking isn't something you often associate with sharks is it?
The seemingly oddly named Shark Valley area of the Everglades isn’t home to sharks, but it is home to many alligators. There are a couple of shorter trails here, but the big attraction is the Tram Road.
The Shark Valley Tram Road is a 15mile long loop that you can explore by hiking, biking, or taking the educational tram ride. If you have the time, the best experience is by bike.
With that said, I will admit that I visited Shark Valley when I was short on time. I simply did not have the time to spend a whole day hiking or biking around, I only had a few hours. So what did I do? I took the tram out to the observation tower, then hiked back to the visitor center from there. It was a good compromise of education and exercise, as I learned quite a bit from the tram operator on the way out to the tower.
For example, did you know that the Everglades are moving? It’s actually a sea of grass?
As educational as the tram was, it didn’t let me stop, explore and take in the scenery as I wanted to. We had to zoom on past alligators and herons and wildlife, to stick to the program. By the time I was at the observation tower, I was itching to stretch the legs and go on my first hike in the Everglades.
The leg stretching started with climbing to the top of the observation tower to see what lurked below and beyond. From up here, it was an impressive site. The Everglades goes on for miles in all directions, with nothing that seems the least bit hospitable. Beautiful to look at and visit, but not a place I’d want to live.
From atop the tower, I spotted a few alligators in a nearby opening that I thought I could get fairly close to on a nearby path, and so the alligator hiking adventure began.
Snap snap snap, I took a few photos and the gators obliged nicely by opening their jaws for me and otherwise being docile and still. I quickly realized that these are genius creatures. They look so slow and lethargic, but without warning they’re able to lunge, twist and attack with lightning speed.
As the tram tour took off into the distance, I found myself heading down a side trail all on my own. It was quiet, except for the buzz of bugs. Even the birds were quiet, which seemed strange – I thought the Everglades would be noisy with bird songs.
The side trail got me within a few feet of an alligator, lurking just below the surface of the water, except for his eyes and nostrils. It took a minute to sink in that this close proximity probably wasn’t very safe, so I slowly backed away and began the journey down the Tram Road.
As I hiked along the paved road I was greeted by birds, turtles, alligators, millipedes, flies and bugs. This place was alive with creatures large and small. Apparently deer are found here too, but I found it kind of surprising when the highest points of land are only a few feet above the water.
It was hot and muggy and it wasn’t even the middle of summer yet, I can’t imagine how humid it would be hiking or biking along this trail in July or August! No wonder the animals here all seem to move slowly, conserving their energy.
On the hike back I had planned to count how many alligators I saw. But after an hour or so I gave up as the gators were everywhere. Some were sunning themselves right along the side of the Shark Valley trail, some were lurking in the water, others were walking across the road and some were swimming in the always present ponds and waterways.
It was eerie and impressive at the same time. I envisioned myself having to walk through this area without the convenience of a paved pathway. Navigating these waters without a canoe would be impossible. This is a land that makes you realize we are just visitors in a wild world. The animals were at home, but every hiker, biker and tourist I came across seemed out of place.
Perhaps that is why I liked it so much. Places that still feel truly wild are hard to come by in the United States. It was a real treat to be hiking amidst such a variety of wildlife and birdlife.