Florida Getaways of the Day
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Flamingo: See the last spit of dry land by boat( PHOTO COURTESY THE US GEOLOGICAL SERVICE )
When he dedicated Everglades National Park on Dec. 6, 1947, President Harry S. Truman said: "Here are no lofty peaks seeking the sky, no mighty glaciers or rushing streams wearing away the uplifted land. Here is land, tranquil in its quiet beauty, serving not as a source of water but as a last receiver of it."
Flamingo occupies the last spit of dry land before the park becomes a scattering of tiny islands in Florida Bay. The area was badly damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005, and the Flamingo lodge and cafe have never re-opened.
The marina is open, however, and one of the best ways to see the Everglades is by renting a canoe or motor boat or book ing a back-country boat tour.
On the excursion boat Pelican, visitors can take a ride up the manmade Buttonwood Canal from the Flamingo visitor center. On a recent tour, guide Brian Ettling repeated Harry Truman's theme as the boat made its way between thick stands of mangrove. "The Everglades were not really set aside for any kind of geological wonders or scenic features," he said. "It's the first national park set aside simply for its wildlife and the plants and trees -- for its biological diversity."
"When we think of the Everglades, we think of a swamp," Ettling said. He shook his head vigorously in the negative, flipping the ties on his safari hat. Everything about the park obviously filled Ettling with excitement. His energy compensated beautifully for the lack of snowcapped mountains.
"The Everglades is actually a river, a river that flows down from Lake Okeechobee in central Florida toward Florida Bay. The river is about 100 miles long. Its name is Shark River Slough, and it has been flowing only for the past 6,000 years. So the Everglades is very young. The upper third of the park is a freshwater marsh and sawgrass region, the middle portion is a mangrove estuary (combining salt and freshwater) and the last third is Florida Bay, which is made up of seawater."
Those who take the boat tour are sometimes rewarded with sightings of the shy and endangered crocodile, alligators and a variety of birds.
Backcountry Boat Cruise tours depart at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. daily from the marina. Please call the Flamingo Marina at 1-239-695-3101 for more information.
-- Robert Cross, Chicago Tribune