I finally made it to the southernmost end of Florida and the greater Everglades ecoregion – I spent a week in and around Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve, adventuring by foot, boat, and bicycle and getting wet, muddy, and mosquito-bitten in the process! It was different from what I had expected, and I discovered some fascinating facts to pass on! Fresh water flowing slowly but steadily towards the ocean, over surface bedrock, has created five distinct ecosystems within those 4,000 square miles. The next few posts will go into more depth on what I learned and experienced, and provide some recommendations for exploring this area in even greater depth! Enjoy!
Goliad, TX to Padre Island, TX
After passing through the revolutionary towns of central eastern Texas, I made my way through Corpus Christi and out to Padre Island. I could feel the humidity and salt in the air by the time I got to Corpus – but all I saw there was traffic and bright signs! Padre Island seemed like more of the same, with a few fancy tourist resorts, until I got into the National Park. There, the subdivisions and flashy billboards gave way to seemingly endless sand plains covered with dune grasses. Padre Island National Park preserves 60 miles of undeveloped white sand frontage in a barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico for wildlife habitat. This is Texas, thought, don’t forget, and in Texas beaches are considered public highways below the ordinary high water line. Yep, you can drive the whole beach (and back – there’s no crossing at the south end), if you don’t get stuck… and remember to watch out for endangered sea turtles! There is a section of beach at the park that is reserved for swimmers and wildlife watchers, though, and I went there to take a dip.
It was too windy to lie out on the sand, so I swam for a bit amid the jellyfish and crabs. It was really more body-surfing than swimming, due to the waves and wind, but pretty nice to be swimming in the ocean at the end of October! I walked on the beach, watching the ghost crabs on the short, and the pelicans swooping low to catch their dinner. I decided to camp out on the beach rather than paying for a spot in the crowded (and paved) campground, so I headed down to the public roadway section.
Only the northern 4 miles or so are passable with a 2-WD vehicle… and with the low clearance on my over-packed Camry, I didn’t venture more than a few hundred yards. It was so windy that I knew my tent would be a hassle all night, and the balmy temperature (and romantic notions of sleeping next to the ocean) convinced me that it would be a good idea to sleep on the beach. This turned out to be a horrible idea! The sand was stuck to me all over, and more kept blowing on me, and the tarp I had spread out also kept blowing around under me. I was plenty warm in the light sleeping sheet-bag I was in, but my toes were very itchy. At first I thought it was the sand and salt, then thought of sand fleas or some other such creature, but after an hour or so of torment I realized that it was mosquitoes. I sprayed my feet thoroughly with DEET, but it only seemed to keep them off for about five minutes. After another hour or so of this, I gave up and got into the car to try sleeping for the rest of the night! The wind increased in force as the night went on, until the gusts were shaking my sturdy car. As soon as it was light, I drove off the beach, afraid that the sand would blow across the tracks made by vehicles the day before and that I would be stranded.