By: Georgia Tasker
Using a primal language, the Everglades calls in a powerful and compelling voice that speaks to all of South Florida. Find a solitary place and hear the wind tell the story of a stout, ancient cypress tree with tendrils of strangler fig roots encircling its tapered trunk; a vast golden marsh of winter-colored sawgrass that moves sinuously with the wind or is slowly parted by a black leather alligator.
Overhead, against the bluest of skies, a circling of birds: scissor-tail kite, redtailed hawk, and great blue heron. Then, through our great flat farmlands, enter our sprawling urban landscape. Here is another voice, lilting and tropical, sung in palms, from coconuts to majestic blue-gray Bismarcks, sky-bound vines, kaleidoscopic colors of crotons, and golden drops of sunlight spewing from orchids. These landscapes mix our once-wild places with those of the tropics. Unlike any other place, the blend is wonderfully harmonic.
Tour Must-See Natural Wonders:
Tropical Everglades Visitor Association & Visitor Center (TEVA)
160 U.S. Highway 1
The non-profit TEVA Visitor Center is the perfect place to begin your exploration of the southernmost reaches of South Miami-Dade. The association and visitor center provide information about lodgings, dining, special events, attractions and local parks including both Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park. The center provides maps, brochures and discount coupons.
Everglades National Park
40001 State Road 9336
Spanning the southern tip of the Florida peninsula and most of Florida Bay, Everglades National Park is the only subtropical preserve in North America. It contains both temperate and tropical plant communities, including sawgrass prairies, mangrove and cypress swamps, pinelands and hardwood hammocks, as well as marine and estuarine environments.
The park is known for its rich bird life, particularly large wading birds, such as the roseate spoonbill, wood stork, great white heron, little blue heron, little green heron and a variety of egrets. It is also the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles exist side by side.
Make your first stop in the park at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center located at the entrance to the park, just 10 miles west of Florida City. The staff there can help you plan the best use of your time and answer questions about park facilities and activities. The park contains nature trails, boardwalks, a full-service marina, boat launching ramps, boat rental facilities, and camping facilities. Activities include guided land and water tours, chartered fishing and extensive educational programs.
Biscayne National Park
9700 SW 328th St.
Turquoise waters, emerald islands and fish-bejeweled reefs make Biscayne National Park a paradise for wildlife watching, snorkeling, diving, boating, fishing and other activities. Within the park boundaries are the longest stretch of mangrove forest left on Florida’s east coast, the clear shallow waters of Biscayne Bay, more than 40 of the northernmost Florida Keys, and a spectacular living coral reef. Superimposed on all of this natural beauty is evidence of 10,000 years of human history, including stories of native peoples, shipwrecks, pirates, pioneers and presidents.
Biscayne National Park is the largest marine park in the National Park System, with 95 percent of its 173,000 acres covered by water. The Dante Fascell Visitor Center is located less than 10 miles east of Homestead. Here visitors can picnic, fish, canoe, learn about the park, or take one of the boat tours offered by the park’s concessionaire, Biscayne National Underwater Park Inc. The concession offers gift sales, canoe rentals, glass bottom boat tours, snorkel trips and transportation to the island.
Miccosukee Indian Village and Airboat Tours
Mile Marker 35, US Highway 41 (Tamiami Trail)
Experience how the Miccosukee Indian tribe existed and still exists in the heart of the Florida Everglades. Visit the Miccosukee Indian Village and let their guides take you on a tour through the past, present and future of their culture and lifestyle. See demonstrations and displays of woodcarving, patchwork, beadwork, basket weaving and doll making. Thrill to the world-famous Indian alligator shows.
History and culture are reflected through the Indian museum. A short film and historical artifacts are highlighted, along with paintings by tribal artists and a photo exhibit depicting contemporary Miccosukee society. By airboat, you can take a ride through the vast Everglades and discover a typical hammock-type Indian-style camp that has been owned by the same Miccosukee family for more than 100 years. The Miccosukee Restaurant features such delights as fry bread, ’gator and catfish, as well as standard American cuisine.
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