November 21: Today was exploring day, and Hertz came to pick us up at 10:00 (yes, we got off to a slow start again 🙂 ). We both really wanted to see alligators in the wild, and the hotel concierge had a printed card with directions to the highway known as “Alligator Alley” – officially it’s I-75.
We stopped for breakfast at Denny’s on the way, then got bogged down in a highway closure and heavy traffic that confused even our GPS. Cathy eventually got us headed in the right direction, but we took a detour to Sawgrass Mill to do a bit of shopping so didn’t reach the first rest stop (aka “alligator-viewing stop”) until 1:00pm.
My first impression was that this was like the prairies – you need to look close. If you just drive along the highway you won’t appreciate what’s here. The amount of bird life was immediately apparent.
WHOO-HOO, our first alligator already! We met a local couple who pointed him out among the grass at the far side of the channel.
A black vulture (Coragyps atratus), one of several along the access road back to the freeway. There are turkey vultures in this area as well but we didn’t see any.
Looking back at the rest stop we’d just left.
The next rest stop was more heavily developed, with an elevated viewing platform.
Birds of many species were even more abundant at this stop, seemingly because of the trees here.
The interpretive signage at the rest stops is very good. This stop’s main focus is on the tree islands that are crucial to much of the Everglades wildlife.
We drove under the freeway to the interpretive center on the other side. The folks who had pointed out the first alligator were watching another – he’d been pointed out to them by a fisherman.
We turned off the freeway and headed for Billie Swamp Safari, 19 miles away. As soon as I saw this road I felt that we were in for a good afternoon. I had told Cathy that we needed a back road for good ‘gator viewing, and here it was.
A postcard-perfect alligator – my day is complete! 🙂
This alligator looked like he was ready for lunch to float by.
This is the gift shop at Billie Swamp Safari. There’s apparently a market for varnished alligator heads – yikes!
The cost for a half-hour airboat tour was $15 each, which we thought was very reasonable. There’s lots to see while you wait (exotic birds, snakes, alligators, tortoises), but our ride time was only 15 minutes after our arrival.
A gopher tortoise in a pen.
Our chauffeur arrives 🙂
Here’s one of the videos I shot – what a hoot! They give you earplugs in case the noise bothers you – it’s very noisy, which I love.
A baby ‘gator.
Our driver/guide, Hans, did a very good job of intrepeting what was around us. He was showing us the swamp gas and black muck at the bottom here.
I had asked Hans whether the alligators would attack cattle. He said no, and a few minutes later this fellow verified that.
The German guy behind us refused to believe that this motionless alligator was real. Along the road to this facility, Cathy and I had seen how an apparent block of concrete could turn into a bolt of lightning, though!