The swaying sawgrass, brackish waters and soaring pelicans are not the only wonders of the Everglades. About ten minutes up State Road 29 coming from Everglades City is a gravel road on the right-side of the highway called Wagon Wheel. This road connects to Birdon Road, which connects to Turner River Road, continuing the scenic route in the form of a loop. You can also get to Birdon and Turner River Road by heading towards Miami on the road 41. About 15 minutes from Everglades City they roads are going to be on the left. If you take a drive down one of these roads, you’ll be surrounded by beautiful hammocks filled with palmetto and pine trees, stretching grass prairies and strands of cypress that are home to many of the Everglades wildlife. Deer, black bears, bull-frogs, panthers, turtles and multiple bird species are just a few of the wildlife that live in this environment.
My parents and I love to take drives out to these roads in the late afternoon around sunset, to be engulfed in nature and experience the sounds of the woods and wildlife. When you first enter this area, you will be in awe as you encounter some of the wildest part of the Everglades that is often forgotten. I like to sit on the tool box in the back of my dad’s truck, as it offers the best view. As we drive down the white gravel road, I can instantly feel the temperature drop as the wind gently whips across the prairie and kisses my cheeks. In the distance I can see the palmetto and pine tree hammocks placed remotely away from the next. The truck comes to a soft stop as my dad points out the window towards one of the hammocks in the brown and green grass. Two deer, both does (female), peek their heads up from eating to stare back at us.
About two hours before dark, or after it rains, is the best time to see the deer out here since it’s when they are out to feed. My parents came out here one afternoon after it had rained and saw 13 deer. Occasionally you can see a black bear wandering through the prairie but it’s definitely not an everyday occurrence. The first and last time I saw one was last summer at the corner of Turner River and Birdon, standing up in the grass looking at us as we were passing by.
Turning left onto Birdon Road the sun starts to set through the trees creating an orangish-yellow glow. We start to see more deer peaking their heads up and running with their white tails in the air as the prairie continues and grows larger. Continuing down the road, I see birds flying all around us on the left and right. One of them that I find astonishing is the red-winged blackbird. It’s spot of red on the top of its wings looks like fire against a dark night sky. One of them lights on a tall, thin blade of grass to fluff its feathers before taking off again.
Ahead of us on each side of the road are brown swamp rabbits twitching their ears and nose. Skittish as they are, most of them wait until we are even with them to run back in the grass to hide. Rounding the corner of Birdon there are two small ponds amongst the tall grass where bass, garfish and other small fish are. Turner River and Birdon Road are great for bass fishing, as they both have ponds and canals. They’re also home to alligators that creep along the surface and bask in the sun on the bank. I caught my first bass out there a few months ago during mating season for alligators. There were so many that in a small part of the canal, I counted 15.
Finally reaching Turner River, we decide to pull over on the side of the road to watch the sunset. My dad shuts off the truck and my parents and I began to hear the peaceful songs created by the wildlife. A cluster of birds fly over us heading to roost on the trees to the left, their wings create multiple whooshing sounds as they soar through the air. The bullfrogs hidden in the grass start to croak and bellow with their baritone voices, adding deep sounds to the mix. Small creatures rustling through the grass and the steady humming of locus occur all around.
Up above us are clouds of pink, orange and grey against the fading yellow-blue sky. Every five minutes or so an airplane will fly high over us filling me with the feeling of how small we are in this world. The birds that flew over us earlier are now perched in the trees. As the sun reaches its last beam, we head back home to Everglades City and reflect on the beautiful sights and sounds we experienced on our afternoon drive in the Everglades wilderness. If you ever want to experience the peacefulness and beauty of this often-forgotten part of the Everglades I highly recommend that you do.
University of Florida student Savannah Oglesby has lived in Everglades City her entire life. A lover of nature; some of her favorite things are sunsets, night lightning and mountains. She enjoys adventures and spending time with family, friends and two orange tabby cats. She also enjoys travelling, taking photos of nature, learning about extreme weather and seeing the world in different perspectives. Savannah’s love for Everglades City, and its history, is endless.