D, E, F & G

We are on a roll now. We can cover Delaware, Florida and Georgia. There’s no state starting with E so we’ll just skip right over that.

D is for Delaware

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No. This teeny, tiny state ranks # 49 in size. I don’t know much about the state but when I search it on trip advisor there are just loads of attractions and things to do. A lot of it seems to revolve around the seashore, wine and food. They have a Delaware Wine Trail, a Delaware Culinary Trail, a Boardwalk Arts festival, a sandcastle competition, and for the lighthouse lover Breakwater/Harbor of refuge.

Delaware River

F is for Florida

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YES! and YES again.

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Florida is almost like my 2nd home. From Key West at the tip to South Florida (Miami/ Fort Lauderdale) on to Central Florida with Disney, Kissimmee and surrounding area the only places I haven’t spent much time is the Gulf coast and the northern section and panhandle. I seem to find myself going back there every year or so as I love the Everglades and other natural areas. I don’t need to visit Mickey and Minnie every time I go down.Disney 2012 324a copy

There are an array of Botanical Gardens and parks, both State and National, there are lighthouses and forts, when I can tear myself away from the alligators and tropical birds.

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I still want to see more of the Everglades.

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There are 2 more entrances to the park that I haven’t been to. High on my list as well is Miami Zoo and a place, I think it’s called Bird Island.

Mermaids

Mermaids

G is for Georgia

Yes. I’ve been to Atlanta. I even went to a Halloween Party in Georgia.

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I visited Stone Mountain

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and followed “Homer” The Atlanta Braves Mascot around.

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No, I wasn’t stalking him, I was “assisting”. ūüôā I went to the zoo and the huge Georgia Aquarium and rode a Segway. ( I even fell off!) And¬† I watched the fountains in Olympic Park and visited the World of Coca Cola.

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And I can’t forget that we had dinner at Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffle restaurant. That was a very full trip!

So I can check Georgia off the list.

So lets me see, what’s the tally now? 10 State in¬†A – G and I think we’re tied up. 5 states visited and 5 still to go. Let’s see how it goes with H & I.

Gators or Crocodiles

One thing I learned in my exploring around the Everglades is that Alligators and Crocodiles are not the same creatures. Oh they may look a lot alike but there are differences.

Both animals are reptiles and they do look a lot alike but with the exception of Florida they live in entirely different areas of the world. They also prefer different kinds of water but aside from habitat the easiest way to tell the difference is the snout.

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The snout, or mouth and nose, looks very different. A crocodile snout is long, narrow and V-Shaped while those of the alligator as wider and u shaped. If you get a chance to look at the 2 species side by side the difference is not subtle at all. In fact I think once you compare the 2 snouts you’ll be unlikely to ever mix them up again.

The snouts are an indication of the different diets these beasts follow. The wide snout of the alligator gives it more crushing power which it need to devour its favorite meal of turtle. Crocodiles on the other hand eat mainly fish and small mammals so they don’t need that big chop to break through a shell. Thier narrower snout lets them strike quickly to snag the small creatures that make up their lunch.

One of the things that I find most interesting is their jaw. When an alligator closes its mouth the lower teeth are not as visible as in the crocodile. Because the alligator has that wide snout its upper jaw covers the lower jaw so the teeth in the lower jaw fit snuggly inside. A dentist’s dream.

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But the crocodile, now that’s the orthodontist’s dream patient. Braces for life. The upper and lower jaws of the crocodile are basically the same width so when it closes those jaws the bottom teeth interlock with the upper ones. My what big teeth you have!

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The last difference I will touch on is color. The typical crocodile tends to be an olive , brown hue. Alligators are much darker, almost black, especially when wet. Alligators that have been sunning and are dry may look more gray than black but all of the crocodiles I’ve seen have definitely tended more toward the brown. (Not that I’m an expert by any stretch)

Of course if you happen to run into one of these animals in the wild, on a walk, or in your pool, I wouldn’t stand around trying to figure out which one it was. I’d make tracks to a safe distance and call the experts. Crocodiles can run up to 10+ miles per hour for short distances. Alligators not so fast but they can spin around and jump really fast because that’s a skill they need to ambush their prey. So if you run across one..call the Gator Boys or 911 and don’t touch! ūüôā

Walking the Walks

The tram pulled back into the Welcome Center right around 1pm…right on schedule. I wasn’t quite sure what my next move would be. The peanuts weren’t going to last me forever but I hated to leave and try to come back because of all the construction.

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Our guide had talked a little about the construction zone. All of the development, filling in, canal building and draining of the Everglades was starting to put a strain that could ( or maybe I should say would) destroy this unique ecosystem. The aquifer that ran under the Everglades and provided water for human habitation was critically low and the raining season was no longer restoring it. Too much water had been diverted. Once again humans refused to do anything until it began to affect them. Now this construction project was part of the effort to being back the Everglades and restore the aquifer.

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As I understand it the road is being raised so the water that has been dammed back can be released and re-flood portions of the ‘glades that are too dry now. The hope is that by restoring the water balance above ground that the balance will also come back underground.

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The sun was high. Not the best time of day for pictures.

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Even the animals seemed to have withdrawn. There were fewer alligators on the banks and the water that had been alive this morning was still.

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The park was still busy with human visitors. I was kicking myself that I hadn’t brought a lunch. The brochure warned that there was no restaurant and recommended that you pack a lunch and spend the day. I didn’t have a cooler and I’d come in too early to by a sandwich on the way but I wasn’t ready to call it a day. I decided to take a short walk on some of the trails. I bought a candy bar in the snack shack and headed off on the main trail.

Baby Alligator

Baby Alligator

The birds were still around and I spotted another mama gator with her babies sitting on her. I gotta say, baby alligators are just the cutest things!

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They have vertical brown stripes on their tails. As they get older those will fade away.

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Around 3pm I reluctantly made my way back to the car and headed back toward Miami. I stopped at 2 restaurants along the way but they were full with long waits so I just kept heading back to Fort Lauderdale. I figured I’d head to the Golden Corral and then look for someplace for some sunset shots.

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Where are the Sharks? Where is the Valley?

Back on the tram we headed back to the info Center. As we traveled through the sawgrass prairie our guide turned to the landscape. The birds and alligators were still there but it was time to learn about the land. We stopped at a mound covered with trees where she explained that this was “Tree Island”. During the wet season it is surrounded by water but the canopy of the trees on the island keep the interior dry and the shade makes it cool. Everything from animals like Florida Panthers, deer,¬† alligators and even humans use these tree islands for shelter. Large tree islands doubled as homes for the native Florida Indians. There is room on the interior for small campfires and dry for sleeping.

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Moving on we passed the skeleton of a dead gator and an anhinga looking for a mate. You can tell when an anhinga is ready to mate by the colored circle around its eye. When they are searching for a mate the color of the circle becomes a brilliant color.

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Then she asked the million dollar question…why is this area called Shark Valley? As we looked around it didn’t look like a valley. The land looked pretty flat and there certainly wasn’t enough water for sharks. But that’s where we were about to be corrected.

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According to the guide Shark Valley is really a valley. To get to the coast you really have to go uphill. The rise may be slight and not that noticeable but it is there. Therefore this area does meet the definition if a valley: 1.low-lying area: a long low area of land, often with a river or stream running through it, that is surrounded by higher ground

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Ok so it’s a valley but where does the shark part come into it? The Everglades is not a swamp. The water is not stagnant. It is a slow-moving river filled with vegetation, hence the name “river of grass”, but it’s a wide shallow river still the same. And rivers go somewhere. The Everglades eventually connects to the sea.¬† At the junction where the fresh water Everglades meets the salt water of the sea an area of brackish¬† water exists. Here salt water crocodiles mingle with fresh water American alligators. It is the only place in the world where these 2 species exist side by side. And it is here that bull sharks enter the valley.

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Bull sharks are unique in the shark/fish world in that they can survive in both fresh and salt water. So in the brackish water where the ocean and fresh water meet, bull sharks come to hunt. The lower end of this valley connects to the ocean and creates that unique environment. Early settlers saw the sharks and the name Shark Valley stuck. 

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I attempted an internet search to confirm this explanation but so far my preliminary results have come up empty so I pass this along as a story told by our guide. It rings true to me. Florida is higher at the coast than the interior and bull sharks do survive in both fresh and salt water. That has been confirmed in many places of the world. So Welcome to Shark Valley. Definitely a place to visit when you get a chance.

Shark Valley Observation Tower

High noon as our tram pulled up the observation tower, the half way point of our tour. Our guide gave us strict instructions to be back in 30  minutes or walk! The limited amount of time would mean no side trips.

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I noticed a small side trail but there wasn’t time to explore too far so I turned around¬† and headed to the observation tower.

As a diabetic I have to be careful to make arrangements to eat on a schedule if I want to avoid the uncomfortable effects of low blood sugar. As I approached the tower I began to recognize the familiar signs…fast heartbeat, shaky hands, legs like rubber. I had tossed a bag of peanuts into my camera bag before I headed out this morning but I was annoyed that it had to happen now. Why couldn’t it have held off until I was back on the tram. I only had 30 minutes to explore!

At the tower there were benches and restrooms so I took a few minutes to eat my peanuts. As the symptoms began to subside I  made my way up the circular ramp admiring the view as I went. The tower provides a 360-degree view of the Everglades sawgrass prairie.

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The tower is about 50 ft high so you get a really clear view. Looking down there is an alligator pond and it was busy today.

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Many alligators were hauled out sunning but there were some swimming as well.

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We were high enough up to be above most of the tree tops so I found myself looking down on some of the birds too.

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From this vantage they looked awful close to those gators.

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Off in the distance I could see the loop road the tram had just traveled down and the paved path I walked to get to the tower.

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Up here there was a breeze and the temperature was warm but comfortable.

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Time was flying so I headed back down the ramp. On the walk back I peeked in on that shaded side path. There was a muddy puddle on the side of the path and I thought I heard a rustling. I froze and tried to peer through the shaded foliage. I couldn’t see anything but when I looked into the water I could see a reflection and it seemed to be moving. I couldn’t¬†make out details but the reflected motion reminded me of a snake. I’m not sure but I might have seen one of those pythons that are invading the park.¬†¬† I wish I could have gotten a better look!

But now I was running late so I hurried back to the tram with the last of the stragglers.