SHARK VALLEY, Fla. — The first time I went to Everglades National Park, I had seen my first live alligator from aboard the trams of the Shark Valley tram tour. While the ride was enjoyable and the guide knowledgeable, the trip didn’t exactly have the ‘river of grass’ feel I was expecting from the Everglades.
For my second trip to Shark Valley, I would instead be making the trip around the park on foot.
Venturing into the park was much the same as the first time, the guard at the front gate recognizing me from my first visit a few weeks earlier.
“Back again for more?” she asked, evidently having so few Delawarean visitors as to make one noteworthy.
“It was so nice the first time that I just had to come back for more,” I said with a smile. After paying the entrance fee, I parked my car and started off for the walking path.
Of the three ways to experience the Everglades, walking seems the most daunting task. Compared to the convenience of bicycling or the luxury of a motorized tram tour, walking a path of several miles through the wilds of south Florida can appear more like a punishment than a pleasant way to spend the afternoon.
But once I started walking, I began to appreciate the comparable advantages over more mechanical methods of travel.
Walking through the sawgrass prairie of the Everglades is one of the most peaceful experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Save for the occasional passing of a tram tour or family of cyclists, the park is unexpectedly peaceful.
Nature can be either studied or enjoyed, which the Everglades allows visitors to do thanks to their various tours. The tram tour was full of information, naming wildlife and explaining the various ecosystems found throughout the park.
While walking through the Everglades, I was less concerned with the names of the animals I was seeing than I was with noticing them in the first place.
Rather than regulate birds to a nuisance to the scenery, I found myself excited to spot egrets, storks, herons and ibises among the tall grasses.
Once I reached the Observation Tower that marked the halfway point on the tram tour, I decided to venture down the walking path rather than upward to the scenic panoramas offered by the tower.
But this difference made the trip all the more exciting.
Alligators are said to be more afraid of people than we are of them, provided people don’t feed them or act aggressively. I took comfort in this and managed to take plenty of pictures of newly born alligators and their mothers.
After a lengthy walk down the straight road originally designed by Exxon-Mobil, I returned to the Visitor’s Center.
The experience of the walking tour in the Everglades is wholly unlike the one provided by the tram tour. Nature has a much more tangible quality, able to be reached out to and touched rather than something simply to be observed in passing.
On the whole, Shark Valley provides all of the venues necessary to fully enjoy the scenery. Guests can ride their bikes while taking in the surroundings, ride the tram tour to learn about the environment or simply go for a walk to enjoy nature.
Not a few steps down the path, I found my way blocked by a dozing alligator. On my first trip into the park my only goal had been to see one, but I found that after one trip they had become somewhat commonplace.
I snapped a few pictures from a few feet back, only to find an older gentleman from the tram tour upset by the creature.
“Don’t frighten it,” he said. “If you bother it enough, it’s sure to kill us all.”
I smiled politely and took my leave of the area surrounding the Observation Tower, which had been overtaken by families on the tram tour.
Much as it was the last time I had been to the Everglades, the second leg of the trip was rife with alligators with the main difference being that I was now at ground level rather than safely aboard the tram.