Ex­plorer See You Later, Al­li­ga­tor

Bik­ing through Shark Val­ley in the Florida Ever­glades

Bonita & Estero Magazine - - DEPARTMENTS -

If you want to see al­li­ga­tors up close in the wild, then a day bik­ing through Shark Val­ley in the Ever­glades should be on your bucket list. Lo­cated off the Tami­ami Trail, the Shark Val­ley en­trance to Ever­glades Na­tional Park lies mid­way be­tween Naples and Mi­ami. This na­tional park is both eerie and im­pres­sive with plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to see a va­ri­ety of wildlife in their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. Places that feel truly wild are few and far be­tween in the United States, es­pe­cially Florida, but this unique area will not dis­ap­point if you are seek­ing an au­then­tic view of na­ture.

Cre­ate your own one-of-a-kind Ever­glades eco­tour by tak­ing a self-guided bike ride. Shark Val­ley has a 15-mile paved trail that is ideal for any bi­cy­cle, and since the road is flat and free of rough ter­rain, just about any­one can make the ride. You can

bring your own bike or rent one there on a first-come, first-served ba­sis.

A typ­i­cal ride on the loop trail takes two to three hours. Plan to make many stops to take it all in, es­pe­cially al­li­ga­tor sight­ings. I had ev­ery in­ten­tion of count­ing how many al­li­ga­tors I saw, but af­ter 30 min­utes I gave up as the ga­tors were lit­er­ally ev­ery­where—sun­ning on the side of the trail, lurk­ing in the wa­ter and even cross­ing the road in front of me.

AL­LI­GA­TORS BUT NOT SHARKS

De­spite the area’s name, sharks are one form of wildlife that you will not see in the shal­low wa­ters within Shark Val­ley, though they are not too far away. The brack­ish wa­ters of the Shark River and Lit­tle Shark River just to the south­west

The view from the 45-foot-tall ob­ser­va­tion tower, over­look­ing Shark Val­ley in Ever­glades Na­tional Park.

De­spite the area’s name, sharks are one form of wildlife that you will not see in the shal­low wa­ters within Shark Val­ley, though they are not too far away.

pro­vide won­der­ful feed­ing and nurs­ing habi­tats for sev­eral species of sharks, in­clud­ing bull, black­tip and le­mon sharks.

It’s also hard to tell that Shark Val­ley is in any way a val­ley. There are no moun­tains fram­ing the area, but it lies be­tween the coastal ridges of South Florida, which are higher than the in­te­rior part of the state. The west­ern coastal ridge is ap­prox­i­mately 14-17 feet above sea level; the At­lantic ridge is 1520 feet above sea level; and the Shark Val­ley Vis­i­tor Cen­ter area is about 7 feet above sea level. That puts this area of the park in a val­ley be­tween those two ridges.

So, while you may not see any sharks, and cer­tainly no vis­i­ble ev­i­dence that you are in a val­ley, what you will see plenty of in the mis­named Shark Val­ley are ga­tors. The word al­li­ga­tor comes from the Span­ish word el la­garto, mean­ing the

lizard. Th­ese par­tic­u­lar “lizards” are the largest crea­tures liv­ing in the Ever­glades. Males can reach 14 feet in length and weigh 1,000 pounds.

Al­li­ga­tors are so­cial crea­tures and of­ten stay in groups called con­gre­ga­tions. You will see this as you bike through Shark Val­ley. Th­ese groups are typ­i­cally seen bask­ing in the sun or tak­ing a swim. This is be­cause al­li­ga­tors can’t con­trol their tem­per­a­ture in­ter­nally. So, when they are cold, they sun­bathe, and when they are hot, they go for a swim. Their ap­pear­ance says, “Stay away,” and that’s cer­tainly the best ad­vice, though th­ese an­i­mals typ­i­cally keep to them­selves and are un­likely to at­tack hu­mans un­less they feel threat­ened.

TRY THE TRAM

Though bik­ing the Shark Val­ley trail is a great way to ex­pe­ri­ence this part of Ever­glades Na­tional Park, you can also see it by walk­ing or tak­ing the Shark Val­ley Tram Tour. Pas­sen­gers will learn quite a bit from the tram op­er­a­tor on the way out to the 45-foot-tall ob­ser­va­tion tower over­look­ing Shark Val­ley, but they will not get a chance to stop and ex­plore all the ar­eas the tram drives by.

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit nps.gov/ever. Mandy Carter is a lo­cal mom with a pas­sion for fam­ily travel, a pop­u­lar travel blog­ger in­clud­ing her own fam­ily blog at acup­ful.com, and the man­ag­ing edi­tor for TOTI Me­dia.

Places that feel truly wild are few and far be­tween in the United States, es­pe­cially Florida, but this unique area will not dis­ap­point if you are seek­ing an au­then­tic view of na­ture.

A guided tram tour is a good way to see Shark Val­ley, but bi­cy­cles pro­vide more free­dom to stop along the way. The Amer­i­can al­li­ga­tor is a fre­quent sight along the paved trail.

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