Everglades National Park

Everglades (5)Deep down in Florida’s mosquito country lies the expansive wilderness of Everglades National Park.  It is the third-largest national park in the lower 48 states after Death Valley and Yellowstone.  This vast network of wetlands and forests is fed by a river flowing .25 miles per day out of Lake Okeechobee, southwest into Florida Bay.
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We began by taking a guided tram-tour of Shark Valley, a 15-mile loop full of information and wildlife.  Here we caught our first glimpse of Florida’s famous alligators, which are always black in color not the green that appears in cartoons.  We saw a nest of baby alligators

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In the evening we headed to the Gulf Coast, where we boarded a guided boat tour of the keys that make up the “Thousand Islands” area of the park.

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The following day we headed south to Royal Palm, where the fabulous Anhinga Trail walks you through a wilderness teeming with turtles, anhingas, herons, egrets, and alligators close-enough to almost reach out and touch.  We spent over an hour watching a Florida Egret fish with her child in a cat-and-mouse game with alligators that moved in closer a millimeter at a time. Afterward we drove to the “Flamingo” at the southern shoreline of the park in hopes of seeing some saltwater crocodiles, but we gave up our search before we could find any after the mosquitos began swarming.

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Biscayne National Park

Everglades (4)Biscayne is a bay in southern Florida that features some of the finest scuba-diving and snorkeling in the world.  95% of the park is covered with water, so the only way to see it is to get on a boat or swim out into it.  Unfortunately we were here during the off-season in December, so the glass-bottom boats weren’t available, and water was too choppy and cold to be inviting.  So, we took what photos we could around the Visitor’s Center and learned all that we could.

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Dry Tortugas National Park

DryTortugas (31)Dry Tortugas National Park is ~68 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. The park preserves Fort Jefferson and the seven Dry Tortugas islands, the westernmost and most isolated of the Florida Keys.  Charter boats take you to the park and supply you with snorkeling gear, lunch, and rum punch on the journey home.

Fort Jefferson is a massive, unfinished coastal fortress where work began in 1847.  It is composed of over 16 million bricks, all of which were transported aboard sailing ships.  We spent a wonderful day there exploring its history and swimming with the Key’s aquatic life.

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Kennedy Space Center

No trip to Florida is complete without a trip to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, where mankind’s reach for the stars has seen its greatest strides!  You have to be there to experience the scale and magnitude of this historical effort; words can never do it justice.

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Mount Rainier National Park

MountRainier (2)Although we had visited Mount Rainier a couple of years ago, it had not been an official part of our tour (no passport stamp, nor blog entry).  So we made our way back up to the slopes of one of the world’s most massive volcanoes, which stands nearly 3 miles high.  With 25 major glaciers, it has the largest collection of permanent ice on a single US peak south of Alaska.  The mountain itself is no stranger to us as on any clear day you can see it from all over the greater Puget Sound area.  Lisa has always been quite fond of ‘her mountain’ as she grew up near its base in Tacoma.

We picked a particularly beautiful day to visit the aptly named Paradise, a popular area halfway up the summit inside of the park.  Upon entering the park you are surrounded by a forest of Douglas fir, red cedar, and western hemlock.  At every turn of the road the mountain peeks out, often confusing you with its location, seeming as though it must be on wheels.  Just before reaching our destination, we visited the nearby Reflection Lake, where if the wind and light cooperate you’re given a full reflection of the mountain.

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We then continued our way up to the new lodge at Paradise. Here, the mountain seems so close you feel like you can touch it. The smell and sights of the wildflowers combined with the beauty and presence of the mountain was truly breathtaking. We feel so fortunate to have this natural treasure right in our backyard.

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