Shark Valley Ride
This page may take some time to load if you have dial up service. I think it IS worth the wait time to download this page. I took all of the photos you see here during a 15 mile bicycle ride into the swamps of South Florida.
I was in an area of Everglades National Park known as Shark Valley. More on how this place got its name later! HINT - there are no sharks, but there IS a valley. You just have to look closely to see it. And it helps to know the everglades. I have some photos that show the valley.
The land which is part of Shark Valley today used to be the property of an oil company. The company found oil in the everglades, but thankfully the oil is too high in sulfur content to be useable. At the time of discovery, there was no way to remove the sulfur from oil - there is today. But now that this land is part of a National Park, it is unlikely that a single drop will ever be pumped out. Also, the oil would be very expensive - because of the extra steps that would have to be taken to remove the sulfur.
Shark Valley is chock full of wildlife. It is a pretty good place to see birds, and and excellent place to see large lizards. You can also see turtles, snakes, and a whole slew of other things - if you are observant. Snakes in particular are hard to spot, as they have excellent camouflage and slither away when they detect humans.
NOTICE! Clicking on these photos will open them up in their full resolution. These will be large images - anywhere from 1 - 3 megs each. Most are around 2 megs.
The above photo is of a blue heron. This wading bird lives on small fish and frogs. They REALLY like frogs. With their long legs, they can walk through the shallow waters of the swamp and hunt for stuff to eat. In the tall grass of the everglades, these birds can vanish before your eyes. Of course, a semi truck could also vanish before your eyes, the sawgrass is thick.
This is what most tourists come to see. You can not say "I visited Florida" unless you have seen AT LEAST a dozen alligators. These large lizards are all over the place in Shark Valley. The day I took these photos was overcast, and a not-so-great day to see gators (park visitors see many more gators when the sun is out and the air is cool). So I only saw a hundred or so of them. On a good day you can see twice that number without even looking very hard. The best place to gator spot is on the tram road. Just a short walk (less than 100 yards) down the path and you will see at least 5 gators. Walk opposite of the way the trams run.
When I say there are a lot of alligators, I am not kidding. And you do not have to walk off the path either. This gator is partly ON the tram road. These alligators are so used to people, trams, bicycles, and everything else that they DO NOT MOVE for anything. If you want, you can walk right up to one and touch it (please do not do this, these lizards are wild animals and could attack if you scare them. Also, the park rangers will give you a $300 ticket for disturbing the protected wildlife). If you are on foot or bike and you see a gator in the road, just walk or ride around it. You are in the alligator's house, do not be rude. In the national park, the alligator has more rights than you do.
This bird is called an anhinga. What makes this bird cool is its ability to swim underwater. You can see just how webbed the bird's feet are by clicking the image (WARNING! The image is very large - close to 2 megs). These birds can often be seen in trees with their wings spread out - drying them off. They spend a lot of time every day preening themselves, and covering their feathers with oil to waterproof them. In the water, these birds sit low. Most of their body will be underwater. They will spend some time on the surface, then dive. If you are close enough to the water, and you have polarized sunglasses, you can watch them swim. They do not use their wings so much underwater, as they use their feet.
All of the above photos were taken off the right hand side of the tram road. Roughly 1/2 of the tram road is straight (this is the part of the road made by the oil company) the other half of the road loops a little bit (the parks service built that part). The straight part of the road is where you will see most of the critters. Above, you can see what is one the left side of the road. On the right side, there is a canal, dug to make the fill for the road. This canal is deeper than the surrounding area, and tends to attract fish. The fish in turn attract the gators, and some birds. You can also see stuff in the swampy area, you just have to look harder.
This is the tram. As you can see, the road is not very wide. When a tram comes, all bikes must stop and pull to the side of the road. Bikes and walkers are encouraged to go opposite the flow of the trams, so you can see them better. You can see a lot of wildlife on the tram tour, but you can see even more on foot or on bike.
This is the overlook. It is similar to the overlook on Clingmans Dome inside the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. The parks service built this so visitors can get a good look at the expanse of the swamp they are in. I took this shot from at least 1 mile away, my digital camera has a 10x zoom.
At the overlook, there is a short foot trail. I went about 50 yards (or less) down the trail and I had to stop. I came across an alligator jam. There are six alligators in this photo, and at least one of them (the closest one) was a decent size. For me, this was the end of the trail.
This is a close up of the largest gator's head. Notice the teeth. You do not want to mess with an alligator. They look like they are slow moving, but they are not. They are not exactly dangerous, but they can be if you are not careful. Most alligator attacks are on small children playing near the waters edge, but they can also attack adults. Usually the root cause of alligator attacks are idiots who feed them. When people feed an alligator, they doom the animal. The gator associates people with food, loose their fear of people, and start to approach humans looking for a handout. In the park, the gators have no fear of people, but they do not approach people for handouts either. As a result, gator attacks on people are rare. So rare I have never heard of a single incident. DO NOT FEED ALLIGATORS! They can find their own food.
This is a buzzard. He is just hanging out, waiting for something to die. I think this guy is called a turkey vulture.
Here is the tram road from the top of the overlook. The tram had just arrived, meaning that a bunch of people are about to swarm the overlook. You can see just how straight the first part of the road is, and the canal that runs along the side of the road. If you look closely, you can see three bicycles on the road. The road is just wide enough for the three to ride side by side.
Remember when I sad I would explain how the place got its name? It is time to do this now. Shark Valley IS in a valley. The elevation to the east and west is slightly higher. When I say slightly, I mean a few inches. In the everglades, a few inches is a lot. Above, you can see where the "shark" part comes from.
The everglades is a river. A very wide, very shallow, and very slow moving river. It used to be the width of the State of Florida, before it was drained to make room for people. All along the edges of this one large river are smaller "mini-rivers". These mini rivers are deeper than the rest of the everglades, and usually have a tide. Often they are brackish or even salt water. You find these rivers along the area where the everglades meets the sea. One of these rivers is named the Shark River. Above, you can see Shark River Slough. There are many sloughs in the everglades, each one eventually feeding into or becoming a river. Before the system was screwed up, the Shark River Slough was the primary flow path for the everglades. Today, it is still a major flow path - but not like it used to be.
This is another shot of the slough. The standing water you see in the foreground could be a natural pond, or it could have been dug out by man. I can not tell. It is not very deep, and has an irregular shape, so I would guess it is natural.
I found this guy under the overlook. This is what an alligator looks like from above.
In this photo of the slough, you can see some tree islands. These are called "hammocks". All it takes is a few inches of elevation to make a hammock. The everglades is so wide, that these hammocks do not usually flood, even if they are only an inch or two above the surrounding area. Hardwood trees that like to grow on dry land can live on these islands. The everglades is dotted with these hardwood hammocks. A lot of these hammocks are tear drop shaped. The flow of the everglades causes a buildup of sediment where the current first hits the raised area. Over time, the sediment builds up and forms the hammock. The water is diverted around the island, causing the island to taper off on the downstream end.
In this photo, you can see the valley. What?! You do not see a valley? Well see those trees WAY off in the background? That is one of the ridges. The grassy area is the slough, and the slough runs through the valley. The other ridge is in the opposite direction. So there you go. You can see the valley, and the Shark River Slough in this photo. Now you know why this area is called Shark Valley.
This is another shot of the valley. I used the zoom but the ridge line is still way off in the background. You can see it better from the overlook.
This is the bike rack near the overlook. And the birds are crows. Crows are fairly smart, for stupid birds that is. Someone decided to pack some food in that white plastic bag. Not a bad idea really. But the idea to leave the food with the bike was a VERY BAD idea. The crows discovered it very quickly. The crow on the bag pecked at it for a while, and eventually worked the bag free from the basket. Then the bird flew off with the entire bag, and the food inside it. A little way down the road I found a group of crows eating crackers and cookies. I wonder where they got it from?
These are park visitors on a "slough slog". This is when you pay a ranger to take you on a tour of the swamp, by getting in the swamp. You get to see a hardwood hammock up close and personal, but you have to get wet. And muddy. These people are walking through muck and standing water. Yes, there are also alligators in that swamp they are walking through. But the alligators do not mess with people. The slough slog is a great way to see critters that you might otherwise miss out on seeing.
This is a wide shot of the people on the slog. They are a fair distance from the road, heading to the tree islands off in the distance. Hopefully, they all made it back. There are a lot of alligators and snakes out there. Some of those snakes are venomous.
This is one of three or four deep water lakes in the area. I think these might be the test wells for the oil company that used to own the land. I could be wrong on this. Anyway, when it is dry these deep water holes concentrate wildlife. In the wet season the fish and frogs can spread out. When it is dry, you can count on finding wading birds and gators in these holes. When the everglades floods, everything can move away from the holes.
And this is the rest of the tram road. I have about 5 miles left to go from the point of this photo. Nobody is around me. No trams, no other bicycles, just me and the crow.
This concludes my Shark Valley tour. Click HERE to return to my blog and leave a comment!