On my days off from work, my parents and I like to spend at least one of the days connected to nature. Although living in the Everglades you’re pretty much connected to nature at all times, it is still fun to go out of your way to fully immerse yourself in the colorful and alive natural world. A few days ago, we decided to take a ride out to the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve and drive down the road known as Janes Memorial Scenic Drive. The Fakahatchee Strand Preserve is the largest state park in the state of Florida. The preserve offers landscapes filled with a grand variety of animal and plant species unique to the area that cannot be found anywhere else in the United States. The park’s large size allows it to be split into four main areas of usage. Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, Janes Memorial Scenic Drive, the Jones Grade lakes, and the East River all come together to allow visitors to leave the hustle and bustle of society and slow down to the pace of nature. Janes Scenic Memorial Drive was created back in the 1940s as a railroad trail during the logging era, where many, like my grandpa Cecil Oglesby Sr., logged and hauled the Cypress trees through the Fakahatchee swamp. Today, those railroad tracks are long gone, and the road is now a narrow dirt path that takes you through the subtropical wilderness where many come to hike, bike, and see the wonderful wildlife.
My parents and I find it the most magical in the afternoons close to sunset. The beginning of the route takes you through a wooded prairie where many deer, Red-shouldered Hawks, and other wildlife roam. The sun was close to its golden hour time of the day when we began our drive. My dad rolled down each of the windows in the truck so we could get a better glimpse of the environment and look for wildlife. The grass and trees out in the prairie gleamed so bright from the sun’s reflection I had to put on my polarized sunglasses to view its glory. Our radio in the truck played country gospel songs on a low volume as we made our way down the path. Soon we entered another part of the drive where the prairie merged silently into a cypress swamp. I folded my arms across the edge of my window and laid my chin on my wrist, looking down at the greenery below me. Certain places opened up from the vegetation and exposed the soft flowing water of the swamp, where the cypress trees stood strong and tall. The reflection off the water revealed the view above us. Baby blue skies, golden-pink clouds, and the skinny branches of cypress trees full of leaves sat soundlessly in the water’s painting. Below the painting the water created, small fish danced and played through the slow current produced by the Everglades natural flow. As we continued down the road, I could easily tell that springtime is near. The Tillandsia Cardinal Bromeliads around us began showing off their bright colors of red, pink, and green, as the blooms shot out from the base of each air plant. Suddenly something caught my dad’s eye on the left and he stopped the truck. There in the water beside us were two baby alligators. They were relaxing and swimming to-and-fro alongside one another, while hiding in the far left under a cypress tree sat their mother. Always be aware of your surroundings if you’re in the Everglades, especially if you happen to stumble across young wildlife, because the mother is always nearby even if you cannot find her – she will always have her eye on you to protect her babies. The sun was starting to set, and we still hadn’t prepared dinner, so we knew it was time to turn around and head home. As we continued forward to find a wider place to back up and turn around, we spied a huge alligator laying deep in the swamp behind the trees on what looked like a small bank. He looked so peaceful and happy lying under the trees – just seeing him made me want to go home and lay in my hammock under the palms in our yard. On the way out of the swamp another animal caught my dad’s eye. If you don’t know my dad personally, he has the eyesight of a hawk; I can never see something before he does. Sitting above us on a tiny branch sat a Barred Owl. My mom and I were so amazed by his cuteness we both let out an “aww,” which made it turn its head to look at us. The Barred Owl’s attention quickly changed when something below caught its eye. Although we couldn’t see what it was because of the greenery below (if my dad looked hard enough, he could have found it) we didn’t want to mess with its next meal and went on our way. The sunset across the prairie painted the trees black, and they stretched across as a silhouette against the red and pink sky. A lovely kiss goodnight.
If you wish to explore the Fakahatchee and its natural wonders I highly suggest taking a trip down Janes Scenic Memorial Drive and fully immerse yourself in Florida’s largest state park.