American AlligatorThe third largest national park in the continental U.S., the Everglades get little respect.  In the 17 years I have been visiting, most tourists are foreign. True, it is flat. There are bugs. But it is the largest tropical wilderness in the U.S. and endlessly fascinating.

There are three land entrances to the park, east, north, and west, which do not connect inside the boundaries.  I was lucky to stay overnight in Flamingo, the park’s remote Jurassic Park town at the Floridian peninsula’s southern tip, before Hurricane Wilma destroyed the cabins, lodge, and restaurant in 2005.

Everglades City and Chokoloskee, gateways on the west coast, are wonderfully evocative – straight out of Humphrey Bogart’s “Key Largo,” in the right weather.  Homestead, to the east, has so fully recovered from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 that you can’t tell the town was ever flattened.  This is at the park’s main entrance, with access to Flamingo along a 50-mile two-laner, the most remote road in the Eastern U.S. outside of Maine.

I take my most adventurous visitors to Flamingo, for the several hour boat tour of the park’s southern lakes and canals. A paragraph from Borderlands USA approximates the experience:

We motored past many graceful white ibis, with long spindly legs and a long downward sloping beak, both orange. Brown pelicans, cormorants, and great white herons congregated closer to seawater. We saw no gentle, lumbering manatees, but entered a number of manatee zones where we slowed to a glide, so that the slow-motion, water-bound sloth could avoid our bow and propellers. Suddenly a breeze off the Caribbean Sea ruffled the Pelican’s canvas covering. This, at the southernmost tip of the continental U.S., is what road-sloths, such as myself, call bliss. [p.230]


About Ben

Ben Batchelder has traveled some of the world's most remote roads. Nothing in his background, from a degree in Visual & Environmental Studies at Harvard to an MBA from Wharton, adequately prepared him for the experiences. Yet he persists, for through such journeys life unfolds. Having published four books that map the inner and exterior geographies of meaningful travel, he is a mountain man in Minas Gerais, Brazil who comes down to the sea at Miami Beach, Florida. His second travel yarn, To Belém & Back, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. For more, visit www.benbatchelder.com.

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