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Glades’ bike trail provides gator adventure

SHARK VALLEY, Fla. — As soon as I passed the Miccosukee Resort and Casino at SW 177th Avenue on U.S. 41, I knew I had entered new territory. The 20-mile drive encompassed a beautiful untouched landscape with an unsettling, impression that left me feeling like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” I looked over to my boyfriend, Michael.

“Well, we aren’t in Miami anymore.” I said to him.

On the drive, we passed at least four places advertising airboat rides and a sign that said “Save the Everglades.” On the two-lane highway, the only sounds we hear are those of cars buzzing by in the opposite direction and the radio humming country music. The silence is blissful but opened channels of wandering thought.

Along the Shark Valley trail, visitors are very close to the native animals. This alligator was only a few feet away and patiently waiting for his photo to be taken (Photo by Amanda Alvarez).

At 8:28 a.m., we had reached the entrance to Shark Valley, the north central section of Everglades National Park. At 8:30 a.m. on the dot, the cars that were lined up in front of us flooded into the parking lot. People of all ages began to unload their professional biking equipment and they clearly fit the part with their typical biking attire; short sleeve dri-fit shirts with those spandex shorts that have butt pads.

Meanwhile, Michael and I looked like clueless tourists as we entered the Shark Valley Visitor Center to figure out what we should do. The center provided information about different activities, from tram rides to biking trails to a casual stroll on one of the nearby trails. The options for each visitor can be customized to his or her needs.

As an adventure aficionado, I immediately went to the biking rental desk because biking in the middle of nature is definitely my calling. Michael, not too thrilled with my choice of activity, agreed anyway and decided to join me on the excursion (although he really had no choice.)

“What bikes do you want,” asked Jonathan, the man working at the desk who pointed to the options that were laid out on the left side of the building.

The bike options were very limited, 10 blue ones some with baskets and 10 yellow ones without baskets. It was like the blue ones were intended for the ladies and the yellow ones were intended to be for the gentlemen. So, naturally I grabbed a blue bike and loaded my camera bag in the basket and lowered the seat. Michael selected a yellow bike and raised the seat up to accommodate his 6-foot-5 frame.

The Shark Valley landscape is breathtaking (Photo taken by Amanda Alvarez).

As soon as we got on our bikes, our “newbie” look became even more apparent. We both wobbled, almost falling off during our first few pedals, as a cult of riders zipped past us in unison in their matching uniforms.

We approach the trail and the first thing we hear is a growling noise. We looked over at each other in utter panic. Michael looks over to me and says “What the **** did you get me into?” We couldn’t determine where the sound was coming from or what was making it so we fled the scene as quickly as we could.

Along the trail, we encountered not-so-friendly alligators, who were unbelievably close to us. The first one we came across looked like it was sleeping. However, a disturbed gator could potentially be a recipe for disaster. There was no fence or landscape that separated us from the wild. Birds, gators, fish and insects were all up close and personal for us to admire.

The Shark Valley trail took us about two to three hours to complete because we went at a slow pace. For the bikers that knew what they were doing, the 15-mile paved trail probably took them about an hour or so.

We also stopped at the Bobcat Boardwalk, which we quickly learned we could not take our bikes through as a family exited across the pathway. The boardwalk is just less than a quarter mile in length and it was a nice little break from the biking, especially when you don’t have butt pads.

On the trail, we explored a bay head full of sweet bay, magnolia, cocoplum, and wax myrtle plants. In order to appreciate a three-dimensional experience, the trail encouraged us to touch the sawgrass plants and leaves all around. There was a sign that said to look out for bobcats. Luckily, none appeared because frankly there is nothing that could protect you from a bobcat. The boardwalk is just well … a boardwalk. While it was amazing to be surrounded by so much greenery, I didn’t entertain the thought of seeing a bobcat.

At the end of our thrilling excursion, we headed back to the visitor center where we were greeted by a park ranger named Kimberly Oppen. I asked her if the park is always this busy.

After exploring the park and realizing that we saw no sharks I asked Oppen why the park was called Shark Valley.

“The Shark Valley area is predominantly a freshwater sawgrass prairie that annually floods to become a shallow 30-mile wide river. This sheet flow of water, known as the Shark River Slough, flows 30 miles south into the Shark River, named for bull sharks found at the mouth of the river. Shark Valley lies between two higher ridges, once in the Big Cypress National Preserve and the other along the Atlantic coast, making the area lower “valley.” The shallow depression in the land and the final destination of the water combine to give Shark Valley its distinctive name,” said Oppen.

After experiencing the trails of Shark Valley, I was able to appreciate nature and what it has to offer. The 1.5-million-acre wide tropical wetland preserve on the southern tip of Florida brings a new experience to any nature-crazed adventure enthusiast.


More Information on the Trails:

The Shark Valley visitor center is the place to go if you have any questions regarding the trail (Photo by Amanda Alvarez).

Bicycling information:

Bicycling at Shark Valley is the best way to get up close and personal with the Everglades at your own pace. The 15-mile paved road gives easy access to any type of bicycle, with no hills to climb or tough terrain to traverse. However, windy days may be challenging for some riders. The typical bike ride around Shark Valley will last between two to three hours, but it always depends on you and how many wild things can catch your eye.

 

Tram Tour info

Shark Valley Tram Tours offer a two-hour, open air tour through the heart of the Everglades. All tours are led by trained naturalist, ready to point out some of the unique wonders of the river of grass. At the halfway point of the tour, you get to experience the ‘Glades from a different angle. From the Observation Tower, get a bird’s eye view of the grandeur of the Everglades and some of its wild inhabitants.

 

Otter Cave Trail

The trail begins 0.6 miles from the visitor center and enters a hardwood hammock. Where one can fine gumbo limbo trees and strangler figs, as well as limestone and solution holes. The trail also features Otters, turtles, alligators, songbirds and hawks are often spotted along the trail. The trail can flood in the summer.

 

Seasonal Information

Dry Season (November-May)

The dry season in Shark Valley coincides with cooler temperatures and the arrival of many migratory birds (Egrets, Herons, White ibis, and wood storks). The water in the slough dries and the remaining pools of water are a refuge for small fish and other aquatic animals.  Turtles, Florida gar and anhinga’s swim in the canal along the west trail. Alligators often sunbathe themselves in the mid-afternoon on the tram trail or along the banks of the canal.

 

West Season (June-October)

The weather in the west season is described as hot and humid with a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon. The rains of summer rejuvenate the parched Everglades and flood the Shark River Slough. Great egrets, great blue herons, ibis can be found keeping cool near the culverts under the road or in the canal on the west trail.

This bird is asking for trouble (Photo by Amanda Alvarez).

If You Go

  • The Shark Valley entrance of the Everglades National Park is located on U.S. Highway 41 (also known as Tamiami Trail and SW 8th Street).
  • 25 miles west of the Florida turnpike (SR 821,) or 39 miles east of SR 29.
  • Address: 36000 SW 8th St., Miami, Fla. 33194.
  • Park admission fee? Include that here.
  • Tram tours are offered seven days a week, all year (conditions permitting).
  • Departure times may vary by season (for reservations call 305-221-8455, strongly recommended December through April).
  • No deposit required for tickets but must be picked up 30 minutes prior to scheduled tour.
  • Senior group discounts are available for Tram Tours.
  • All Tram Tour are accessible to the handicapped.
  • Bike rentals are $9 per hour.
  • Bring at least one gallon of water.
  • Keep a distant 15 feet from all wildlife-including alligators
  • Be prepared for all weather conditions. There are no shelters or shade along the trail.
  • Stop when tram approaches and let it pass
  • Bikes must yield for pedestrians and stop for trams
  • Gates close and lock at 6 p.m., all vehicles inside the gate after 6 p.m. will ticketed

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