We had a long drive from Miami to Key West, but we really wanted to see the Everglades so we decided to spend our morning doing some extra driving. It was well worth it, and ended up being one of our favorite days. The park was not at all what I expected--I was thinking shadowy mangrove swamps full of alligators, but it was more like what I imagine an African savannah would be. We stopped first at the Royal Palm visitor's center and walked out just a bit on both of the trails there, where we saw the most hideously ugly one-eyed turtle imaginable (not all of them are hopelessly adorable, apparently). We turned off to have some lunch at a pond, and witnessed enormous fish jumping several feet out of the water, which made me giddy. Finally, we drove all the way to the end of the road in Flamingo, FL, where we wandered around the seemingly abandoned (pink!) visitor's center that was like something out of LOST. I got so close to a great blue heron and was just trying to frame my shot when a motorboat went by and scared it half to death so that it flew squawking into the brush. Still, it was enormous and pretty incredible to see that close. HOWEVER, the best was yet to come! I walked over to the little harbor area and there was a manatee! I had been hoping to see one ever since we arrived in Florida, and it was every bit as exciting as I expected. We hung out for a while and made friends, and then it finally swam away (probably when it realized I didn't have a lettuce treat or anything).
We headed back the way we came, trying to stop a couple of times along the way but ultimately giving in when we were repeatedly attacked by swarms of mosquitoes. Thus began our long journey through the Florida Keys!