An Adventure in a Cypress Dome
My husband Harold and I took a trip to Everglades National Park in early January. We were primarily going to do some birding, but we were disappointed in the lack of birds compared to what we saw 33 years ago when we stayed at a cabin near Flamingo. Flamingo is the endpoint of the 38-mile main road as one enters the park via the east entrance. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 cut right across South Florida and in addition to demolishing all the cabins, it pulled a lot of salt water into the park which continues to impact the ponds, etc., where birds used to congregate. Fortunately, we had registered for an adventure for that afternoon.
We signed up for what was called a “Wet Walk” and met the very experienced volunteer at 1:30 pm on a low 70’s F day at the Royal Palm area wearing our long pants and close-toed tied shoes. With 10 others we drove about 20 minutes to an area near the Pa-hay-kee overlook. After we parked our cars off the road and onto the grassy area, we observed two American alligators and what looked like a black rat snake near where we were to enter the off-road area.
In front of us were somewhat short bald cypress trees (Taxodium spp ) that had lost all their needle-like leaves and were in about 3 inches of water. Our goal for the next 90 minutes was to walk/slosh into this cypress dome. We were given a very sturdy stick and began our journey. The water was clear, and we were to use our stick and the trees as support to find our way. As the water got deeper, a couple of people stepped into holes and had water up to their thighs. I was very careful and hence the last one to meander. It reminded me of when we went with Dr. Porcher into the pocosin, but here our sticks did hit limestone not the boggy peat of a pocosin. On our way we heard a barred owl! The farther we went into the dome, the taller the trees became, the higher the water became, and the closer the trees were to each other. We reached the high dome which is defined by an area where the trees are very tall and very close together, and the water is the highest. Apparently from the air, these domes are circular in shape. The guide talked about a plant called alligator flag, but I never saw any and if there were any up by the guide, by time I got there, I was more concerned about staying upright as the water was above our knees now. We also saw numerous bromeliads.
Once at the center of the dome, we closed our eyes and listened for about a minute. We could still hear vehicles on the main road, but other than that it was very quiet. Our guide explained that these trees grow best in the water (the more water, the better they like it) and the ones in the dome’s center, which are very high, could be the same age as the ones near the road which are shorter and in just a few inches of water.
We made our way back giving a wide berth to an alligator hole/den; at least that is what the guide told us. It was an interesting experience, but honestly, I was always on the look-out for alligators, so it was a little nerve wracking. I did not take my phone into the dome, as I did not want to ruin it should I have fallen. I have attached a couple of photos from the internet that represent well what we saw. Our dome, however, started just a few yards from the main road.
Reddish Egret, Merritt Island
BTW, we hit a bonanza of birds on our way back to Charleston when we stopped at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge near Titusville/Cape Canaveral.
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