Sunsets, starry nights perfect for romance
FLORIDA CITY, Fla. — Mud, alligators, mosquitoes and swamp.
The sprawling water, sawgrass and marshes of the Everglades National Park, just south and west of Miami, don’t exactly scream romance.
The Everglades is the largest sub-tropical stretch of wilderness in the U.S., and it is the only national park created for its biodiversity. Inside it are alligators, crocodiles, manatees, birds and turtles.
|The sun begins to set behind the pine trees in Long Pine Key, creating silhouettes of the tree trunks and long shadows over the nature trail (Photos by Susan Peavy).
For most, the Everglades provides an outdoors family adventure involving sweat, camp songs and canned beans. But when the sun is setting and the breeze is blowing, a quiet stroll or picnic dinner in the complete isolation of the wilderness can be the height of romance.
Karen Gallagher, a frequent visitor in the Everglades, finds romance in the starry nights away from the congestion and bright lights of the city.
“The campgrounds are wonderful places to stargaze,” she said. “And, at Shark Valley, there is a ranger-led bike ride when the moon is full.”
The Everglades in the evening has a mythical quality as the light disappears over the horizon and the sounds of nature are all that remain.
|The Long Pine Tree nature trails are isolated and perfect for a romantic stroll.
But Gallagher’s friend, Everglades National Park Ranger Katy Dimos, has a different idea of a romantic day at the Everglades.
“One thing I love to do is take a real fancy picnic dinner and wine to Long Pine Key, walk the nature trails and watch the sun go down through the pines or the cypress trees.”
Long Pine Key, near the Ernest Coe Visitor Center, has a campground, picnic area and two isolated nature trails that wind through the lanky pine trees. Interspersed among the trunks of the pines are the surprises of red, yellow, purple and pink flowers, frogs and often butterflies fluttering along the path.
“It’s romantic to be the only two people on the trail,” said Keiron Ortiz, 26, as he walked alone through the sea of trees with his girlfriend.
“The sky is so much bluer here than in the city. It’s amazing,” he continued.
|As the sun disappears over the horizon, Long Pine Key is left in the darkness of twilight, with only the sounds of birds and the wind.
During the day, the sun sits high in the crystal blue of an uncontaminated sky. But at sunset the trail really transforms itself into the setting for a romantic rendezvous, with the light changing in all directions.
Through the tops of the trees, the sun lights the leaves and the clouds with gold and silver, creating silhouettes of the tallest trunks against it. As the cool breeze of twilight whispers through the flora and fauna, the sun casts long shadows of pine trunks across the path.
To have the best experience on this trail, however, it is best to visit in the winter or spring, as the mosquitoes descend in the summer to thwart the romantic quality of the scenery.
|Brightly colored flowers are a surprise amongst the green of the grass and the pine trees along the nature trails at Long Pine Key.
When asked if the Everglades is a good place for couples to visit, one young couple from the United Kingdom answered, “definitely.”
“We’ve already been to the Anhinga Trail at Royal Palm,” said Avieon Griffiths, on vacation from the UK. “I think it’s just a good place to come.”
The romance of the Everglades speaks to adventurous souls and peaceful hearts. There are many wildlife trails to bike, hike and canoe, and when the sun goes down there are also many places to slow down and enjoy the scenery and each other.
But while Dimos thinks the best sunset spot is Long Pine Key, the contest strikes some controversy among those who know best.
“There are tons of spots in the park that are good for that,” said Rudy Beotegui, who works at the Ernest Coe Visitor Center. “You can go to Mt. Schinus. It’s not very tall, but it’s the tallest point in the park.”
Mt. Schinus, which is only a few feet above sea level, is located along the “Hole in the Doughnut” route near the Ernest Coe Visitor Center and is particularly good for bird watching and taking in the scenery.
“Watch the sunset at Pahayokee,” said Park Ranger Leon Howell. “The scenery is classic Everglades: Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ ‘river of grass’ and everywhere you look just wilderness.”
|The nature trails at Long Pine Key wind through the wilderness of a pine tree forest.
The Pahayokee Trail is a wooden boardwalk which twists through the sweeping expanses of grass and contains a raised overlook perfect for sunset viewing.
“All you hear is the wind and the sun going down and each other,” Howell continued, a light twinkle in his eye. “When two folks are digging each other it doesn’t matter where you are.”
Throughout the romantic and less romantic locales of the Everglades National Park, the scenery will speak to you in different ways. But when you find that special spot to enjoy with your sweetheart, it just might be a whole lot more magical than any moment spent on a mixed drink couples’ getaway.
If You Go:
Long Pine Key
- Long Pine Key, Anhinga Trail, Mt. Schinus (at the Hole in the Doughnut Trail) and Pahayokee are located near the Ernest Coe Visitor Center, located at 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead, Fla. 33034.
- Directions (from U.S. 1 South): Turn right onto Palm Drive (State Road 9336 / SW 344th Street) and follow signs to the park. Hours of operation: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Phone: 305-242-7700 (ask for Visitor Center).
- The trails at Long Pine Key are accessible by bike.
- Shark Valley Visitor Center is located at 36000 SW 8th St., Miami, Fla. 33194.
- Directions: take exit 25A from the north and exit 25 from the south. Hours of operation: 9:15 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.
- Phone: 305-221-8776.
Be sure to bring water, sunscreen and mosquito repellent.