Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park, Florida

The city of Homestead turned out to be an ideal base for exploring all three of the National Parks in southern Florida.  Biscayne National Park is just nine miles to the east.  Everglades National Park is just eight miles to the west.  And Highway 1 runs from Homestead all the way down to Key West, where a ferry makes a daily trip to Dry Tortugas National Park.

According to the local meteorologists, however, Hurricane Irene might make it difficult to go anywhere at all.  Irene was wreaking havoc in the Caribbean and might hit southern Florida the next day.  Knowing that Biscayne National Park was best explored by boat, I decided to go there right away in case the ocean would soon be whipped into a frenzy by 100-mile-an-hour winds.

I was lucky enough to arrive at the Biscayne visitor center just before the afternoon snorkeling boat was scheduled to leave, and less than an hour later I was cruising out to sea with an international group of tourists that included families from India, Slovakia, and (of course) Germany.  As our boat passed Adam’s Key, the captain told us it had once been the site of the Cocolobo Club, one of Richard Nixon’s favorite getaways.  The captain also pointed to the place where the legendary pirate Black Caesar executed his captives by chaining them to a rock at low tide and then watching as the water gradually rose above their heads.  Apparently the area attracts a rough crowd.

 

Snorkeling Boat at Biscayne National Park

 

Storm Approaching Biscayne National Park

 

Manatee Zone Sign in Biscayne National Park

 

Storm Over Biscayne National Park

 

Adams Key in Biscayne National Park

 

Eventually we dropped anchor in shallow water and started snorkeling.  The captain warned us that we might run into a few moon jellies (“Using the word ‘jellyfish’ is inaccurate,” a park ranger said during our pre-trip briefing, “because they’re not fish.”), but there were far more than a few.  Occasionally I found myself completely surrounded by the ethereally beautiful jellies, translucent with a pink tinge, some of them larger than a basketball.

Several people in our group refused to even get in the water.  I had about 45 minutes of snorkeling time before the captain called us back to the boat so that we could try a different location.  But, unable to find any jelly-free water, the captain decided to call it a day and return us to the visitor center ahead of schedule.

 

Heron at Biscayne National Park

 

Clouds Over Biscayne National Park

 
That evening I drove over to Everglades National Park for sunset photos.  The fact that I had the park almost entirely to myself should have alerted me to the possibility that something unusual was happening, but it wasn’t until I stopped to walk around Ficus Pond that I understood why the park was deserted.  Almost immediately after stepping outside the car I was surrounded by a cloud of mosquitoes so dense that my vision seemed blurry.  On my right arm alone there were more mosquitoes than I could count.  I’d never experienced anything like it.  Foolishly I stayed out long enough to take a few photos, but, literally covered in mosquitoes, I soon retreated to the safety of my car, where it took me about 20 minutes to dispatch, one-by-one, the relentless mosquitoes that managed to slip inside during the few seconds it had taken to open and close the door.

Having learned my lesson I didn’t leave the car again.  But I did continue to drive around the park, and whenever I stopped it only took an instant for a dark swarm of mosquitoes to appear at the windows, each of their tiny bodies slamming repeatedly against the glass in a frantic effort to reach me.  I settled for a few more photos from inside the car and then retreated back to Homestead.

 

Ficus Pond at Everglades National Park

 

Egret at Everglades National Park

 

Sunset Clouds at Everglades National Park

 

The next morning, already irritated by the itchy red welts on my arms and legs, I’d just pulled out of my hotel to make a breakfast run when flashing red lights appeared behind me.  A cop, hand on his holster, approached warily and asked for my license, insurance, and registration.

I’d really hoped I could make it through this road trip without getting pulled over.  My registration and insurance had both lapsed while I was overseas, but as soon as I got back in the U.S. I’d renewed my insurance and mailed in a check to cover my registration fee (plus the fine for being late).  The registration paperwork, however, hadn’t arrived yet, and I’d left the packet containing my new insurance card back in my hotel room.  I explained all this to the cop.  “Well, according to my system your registration expired in December,” he said.

“Would it make any difference if I showed you on my phone an image of the cancelled check the California DMV just cashed?” I asked.

The cop’s mirrored sunglasses prevented me from seeing his expression.  “All I care about is what’s in the system,” he said in a businesslike monotone.

His system was accurate.  I found out later that my registration was still invalid because the interruption of my insurance coverage had, without my knowledge, triggered a $14 penalty that remained unpaid.  I was in the wrong, but that didn’t make the ticket I received any less frustrating.

Thankfully my luck began to improve.  The mid-day sun and a light breeze completely changed the mosquito situation in the Everglades, and I was able to walk around the Anhinga Trail without losing any blood.  I hoped to see some wildlife and the Everglades didn’t disappoint – large alligators glided slowly though the water and came very near the path.

 

Alligator at Everglades National Park

 

Alligator Close Up

 

Alligator Swimming at Everglades National Park (Video)

 

Baby Alligator at Everglades National Park

 

I returned in the late afternoon and found even more alligators alongside the Anhinga Trail.  At dusk the mosquitoes flared up again, but they never became as unbearable as they’d been the previous evening and I was able to stay outside until well after sunset.

 

Alligator Smile

 

Alligator Teeth

 

Everglades Turtle Close Up

 

Alligator Straight On

 

Everglades Alligator

 

Alligator and Lily Pads