Big Cypress National Preserve
My drive through the Everglades was interesting, but not quite satisfying. So, as I made the long drive back to Tampa, I decided to take a detour, with hopes of finding some swampy excitement. I'm happy to say, I found it in the Big Cypress National Preserve.
US 41 forms the northern boundary for part of Everglades National Park, then cuts through the middle of Big Cypress National Preserve. If you're headed westbound on US 41, you'll first pass Shark Valley. A few miles after the turnoff to Shark Valley, US 41 will turn slightly to the north, while the scenic loop road continues west. At first, it's paved, then the road turns to dirt. It eventually turns north and rejoins US 41 at Monroe Station.
At first, the dirt road through Big Cypress National Preserve doesn't appear to be very scenic. If you only look straight ahead, you'll miss out. Instead, take it slow, and watch both sides of the road for windows to open.
Those breaks in the trees and bushes reveal small ponds, where cypress trees grow...
... out of the swampy water. The dark water provides a perfect, glass-like reflection, especially later in the day, when beams of light break through the surrounding forest to illuminate these small pockets of scenic swamp.
I spotted more wildlife here in Big Cypress Preserve than I did in Everglades National Park. Here's a Great Egret...
... and a White Ibis.
The best spot for viewing wildlife was Sweetwater Strand, at the bend where the road turns to the north. One alligator was hanging out here, perfectly positioned on a log...
... while another one patrolled the waters near the road. I hadn't seen any other people on the scenic road until I reached this corner, but there were at least a dozen people hanging out at Sweetwater Strand.
by the time I made it back to US 41, the sun had set, but the sky was still glowing pink behind the skeleton trees. From the scenic loop's western end, Naples is still 50 miles away, and Tampa (my destination) was a whopping 200 miles.
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