Tourists Trapped on Gator Alley

            To avoid losing a week of time-share, we fished around for a decent exchange in South Florida.  As fresh Florida residents, we had only the foggiest notions about what one might do in South Florida to make it exciting.  We packed our bags and drove six hours to the South Florida megalopolis between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. 

Our first exciting discovery was learning to avoid the dozens of psychotic drivers who were aiming their vehicles directly at us on the toll-roads and interstates.  Only through sheer cunning and the roll-bars on our SUV were we able to escape with our lives onto the city streets.  A leisurely walk along the New River in downtown Ft. Lauderdale, and a dinner cruise on the River Queen provided about as much relaxation in this man-made jungle as we could tolerate.  With that we returned to our time-share bordering the marshlands west of Ft. Lauderdale twenty miles inland. 

            Our second exciting discovery was that the roads in south Florida are not graded, - they are dredged.  A dredge hauls up muck, sludge, and underwater debris to make a waterway navigable.  Floridas Alligator Alley, Interstate 75, also known as Everglades Parkway,  was dredged up from the swamp in order to raise the roadbed above the water and the critters.  It is 67 miles of perfectly straight interstate with 67 miles of canal on each side.  Chain link fence is then strung the length of the road on both sides to keep the critters out of the way of the vehicles.  The gators are free to roam the open spaces, and we, the tourists in our SUVs, are prisoners on the interstate!

The first leg of our journey was a drive west along the length of Alligator Alley from Ft. Lauderdale to Naples.  It is largely swampy grasslands with no trees and a water bird planted like a statue every half-mile waiting for a meal.  While imprisoned inside chain-link fence traveling 70 miles an hour, the mystique of Alligator Alley completely disappears.  The last thing I needed to do was to take exciting natural pictures of swamp critters through a chain-link fence.  We, the tourists, were trapped inside the cages, and couldn't get out with our cameras.

There was only one escape from Alligator Alley at about the midpoint of the 67-mile stretch, where one could travel either straight north or straight south.  We had no reason to believe that either direction would be any more interesting than Gator Alley, so we continued on into Naples. 

Being unimpressed with Gator Alley, we decided any alternate return route to the east would be an improvement.  U.S. highway 41 follows a more southerly course, and borders Everglades National Park to the south and actual trees along much of its course on both sides of the road.  To our delight there was no chain-link fence on either side of the road.  Free at last!  Free at last!

Our first stop was to take a serious walk into the swamplands at Collier-Seminole State Park.  There we found a well-beaten nature trail into a heavily forested area, and started along its course.  After 100 yards we were already discouraged, as there was little to see besides pine trees and palmetto bushes.  The next 25 yards produced a swarm of mosquitoes.  It is difficult to take serious pictures while swatting at bloodsuckers.  With no chemical repellant, we retreated on a dead run from our first walk along this nature trail.  In the first two minutes of our hike we had seen all we needed to see under natural conditions. 

Arriving back out of the forest, we vowed to find a store with an ointment guaranteed to protect us from anything that might care to feast upon us in the swampland.  After another few miles we found an Indian gift shop next to another nature trail and boardwalk into the swamp.  We purchased some repellant, applied it liberally on everything that was edible, and started our second trek into the swamp.  I knew that a magnificent picture was awaiting at every bend of the walk, so my camera was primed and ready to go as we trudged along the path.  To our surprise, we had walked less than 25 yards when we noticed an opening in the undergrowth next to a swampy waterway.  Vines and branches were growing up from the ground, and across the water. 

On a tree branch in the clearing only a few inches above the water was a perfectly motionless bird of some considerable size.  Standing completely motionless ourselves, we watched the bird for what seemed like several minutes.  The longer we watched, the more we focused upon the birds details.  The legs appeared to be made of a light yellow plastic material with both feet carefully wrapped around the branch on which he was sitting.  The knees, which on a bird bend in reverse of our own, seemed to be quite severely distorted, as they were very wide around the bend.  They appeared to be artificial plastic legs, possibly part of a totally artificial bird, but how natural,-  we thought. 

We pondered whether the bird could really be artificial, and was placed on that branch to induce the ignorant tourists not to become discouraged and leave immediately, as we had on our earlier path with the mosquitoes. We knew that the water was not very deep, and the bird could easily have been placed there as a trick. 

Without being certain exactly what I was taking a picture of, I got out my camera, zoomed into his perch with great care, and took my first picture along that primrose path.  The picture was magnificent, plastic legs and all.  What a marvelous fake, I thought to myself, and what a great picture I got of that fake bird sitting on that branch right above the water.  The bird could not have been more than ten feet away, and seemed to be completely unaware of our presence.

Then in a flash, that artificial bird plunged his head down into the swamp water to fetch his first meal of the day, a small fish which he gulped down instantly.   At that moment, I learned that birds along the swamp are excellent fisherman, maintain perfect quiet, and can pass for plastic statues as they wait and watch for their meals to come to them.  Had I not been watching at that instant, I would have missed the action of that amazing plastic bird planted on the tree simply to attract the tourists, - who cant tell the difference between a plastic bird and the real thing.  Then throughout the rest of the day, I discovered that most of the swamp scenes have actual birds planted in them, and on occasion you have to know where they are to see them.

The path changed into an elevated wooden walkway that winded deeply into the swamp.  After a half-mile walk, we arrived at an enlarged platform in the middle of a pool of perfectly clear water, vegetation, rotten logs, gators, snakes and birds.   It was the perfect place where we could find out about the swamp.  Two adult gators were sunning on the logs, and newly hatched baby gators were crawling around nearby immediately adjacent to the platform. 

Across the pool I spotted a Great Blue Herron fishing.  He would move a few inches, stand perfectly still, and wait and watch.  At one point in his fishing he looked straight at me taking pictures from the platform.  If I had not known where he was, I would have missed him.  As you can see, he is standing up perfectly straight in the exact middle of the picture. 

A second Great Blue Herron was spotted near a large pool next to the road.  His camouflage was perfect with his background environment of lichen-covered cypress trees and cypress knees.  Except for the head and neck, he would be invisible hiding in front of the tree. 

 Each of the thumbnails below may be expanded by clicking on the image.  To return to the thumbnails, click the back button on your browser. 

Four in a high perch

Six in a low tree with a gator lurking

Beautiful swamp scene

More swamp beauty

Blue heron after hiding in front of cypress tree

Baby gators sleeping

Same gob of gators crawling on a log

Papa gator propogator

Mama gator doing a chin-up

Great Blue scouring every inch of the pond

Great Blue close-up

Great Blue hiding in the shade of a bush

White heron with an itch

Two juvenile blue herons surviving

Big blue down from his favorite tree

Pretty white heron in a tree

White in reflection

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