The Beach Review is on indefinite hiatus.
It’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Some experiences require more than words summed up in a photo to express the true impact of that place, that moment, or that memory.
My bike ride on the Shark Valley loop is one of those experiences. I love documenting my travels, and I planned to document this adventure like any other. However, it turns out that I need to work on my shooting-while-bike-riding skills, so many of the photos (as you will see) have a hint of blur to them.
For the second half of this bike ride, I put my camera away and just let the moment consume me. I allowed myself to be fully present, and while I may not have photos to show for it, the beauty I witnessed that day will forever be etched in my mind.
So what is Shark Valley?
Shark Valley is located in Everglades National Park in South Florida. The access point for this loop is where the Shark Valley visitor’s center is. Here, you can rent bicycles for the fifteen-mile paved path, or you can go on a leisurely tram tour that takes you through the Everglades. From mid-December to April, tram tours leave on the hour, every hour from 9am to 4pm, and from May to mid-December tram tours leave at 9:30 am, 11:00 am, 2:00 pm, and 4:00 pm.
My Shark Valley Experience
I had long lost cell service, when my fiancé and I arrived at the Shark Valley loop off of the Tamiami Trail. We arrived just after 6pm to find the gates to the main park closed, as expected. Outside of the gates, there is room for about four to six cars to comfortably park so bicyclists can bike in before or after the park hours.
We went late because we didn’t want to contend with the tram tours on the path, and we looked forward to a sunset ride through the Everglades.
We brought our own bikes. I have a cruiser, which was perfectly fine for this ride because the path is paved, wide, and smooth.
My fiancé and I have made it a life goal to visit each of the US National Parks together. This is the first one we crossed off the list!
Tip: If you are considering biking this path after park hours, I recommend doing this ride with a buddy. It is a long ride and there is no cell reception. Once you are seven miles out in the middle of the Everglades, you are out there with no safety net. Make sure you are prepared.
To the Observation Tower
The Shark Valley trail is a fifteen-mile loop. Each mile is painted in the middle of the path, allowing you to know how far you have gone. Half-way through the loop, is the observation tower, and we were on our way.
Right out of the gates, we were greeted by one of the local residents.
Yes, that black spot in the center of this picture is an alligator! It was about four to six feet long, and completely ambivalent to our presence. Just to be safe, we stayed as far left on the path as possible, and left it alone.
This was the closest that we got to an alligator the whole ride, but seeing this gator at the beginning of the journey was a stark reminder to always be aware of my surroundings. In Florida, it is always wise to assume that there is a gator in any type of fresh water, whether it is a retention pond, a canal, a lake, or of course, the Everglades.
We saw many more gators throughout the rest of the trip. We saw little baby gators and a some huge mamas and papas.
There are a few benches along the loop, but after seeing so many gators, I thought it best to keep the wheels of my bike moving until we got to higher ground.
There were dragonflies everywhere. The gentle zip of their wings hummed across the grasslands. The curious ones would fly parallel to my bike to check me out. Others rested with effortless balance atop their own stalk of grass, awaiting the sunset show.
You can barely see it, but this is the first glimpse of the observation tower way off in the distance. At this point, we had been biking for almost an hour non-stop, so it was a welcome sight.
We saw a handful of wading birds during this whole trip which I found surprising because I expected to see a lot more. We did see a lot of large ravens, especially near the observation tower. They seemed out of place yet to belong.
Watch the above time-lapse video to see the first half of my bike ride on the Shark Valley Loop trail. This video covers about seven miles of trail, and ends atop the observation tower with a special surprise in store.
I filmed the video with my iPhone attached to a selfie stick wrapped to my bike with a hair tie, so while it may not be the best quality, it still captures the spirit of Shark Valley. Enjoy!
At the Observation Tower
This is the observation tower. It is forty-five feet high, and was designed by famed architect Edward M. Ghezzi. I think it looks like something you would find at Tomorrowland in Disney World. (Sorry for the awful picture, but you can’t write about the Shark Valley Loop without showing the observation tower!)
We reached the observation tower just before sunset, and the views of the watercolor sky over the Everglades are unforgettable.
On the left, you will see a favorite sea turtle delicacy known as the Portuguese Man O’War.
On the right, you will see a piece of garbage I found washed up on the shore.
Look how similar these look! It is easy to see how a sea turtle might confuse this garbage as food.
Please keep the beaches clean and dispose of your trash properly! Protect the sea turtles!
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the human and animal moms out there! To celebrate, I have assembled a collection of images from my last trip to Wakodahatchee Wetlands. As it is springtime, I was fortunate to capture many nests full of infant and juvenile birds, as well as a baby alligator!
Check out the gallery below, and be sure to share with your mom or your own baby bird!
I think it is incredible to witness the relationships between the mother birds and their babies. Maternal love and protection comes in many different forms!
A few days ago, I took my camera to one of my favorite nature and bird hotspots in South Florida, Wakodahatchee Wetlands in West Delray Beach, Florida.
The Wakodahatchee Wetlands teemed with freshly-hatched and adult herons, egrets, common moorhens, gators, and more of the usual suspects.
It was a magical photo journey, and one of the highlights of this trip was an amazing fight between a Great Blue Heron and a snake. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.
The snake lost its battle, and the heron was fed. This was a circle of life moment of nature unfiltered, and I was lucky to be there to capture this epic fight at Wakodahatchee Wetlands!
Happy Earth Day! Earth day is a great holiday that everyone should celebrate. Whether you are inspired to pick up some trash at your favorite park or beach, or make a donation to a conservation organization, no action is too small.
We are all here together on this planet, and Earth Day helps us remember that.
Just as you should not only be nice to your mother on Mother’s Day, or only be thankful on Thanksgiving, each day we should respect our earth and strive to take care of our home planet and all of our fellow species.
Whether the citizen is a microscopic phytoplankton, a cat, a dog, a person, or a blue whale, everyone and everything deserves a safe, clean, and beautiful home!
Images clockwise: John D. MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach, Florida; An alligator relaxing at Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach; An Ibis wading in Wakodahatchee Wetlands; An orange butterfly suckling nectar at Winding Waters Natural Area in West Palm; A crazy Heron; A mother wood stork with two baby wood storks in Wakodahatchee Wetlands; An anole photographed at Morikami Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach; and a beautiful pelican photographed on the Jupiter Inlet Pier.
Recently, I went on a beach walk and did a one-hour beach cleanup. I started at the northernmost entrance to Spanish River Park, where there is limited street parking on Spanish River Road. I walked north towards Highland Beach.
Overall, the beach was relatively clean, though there were a few concentrations of trash, and plenty of disturbing finds.
Though it was overcast, it was an eerily beautiful beach day.
The gray sky bled into the gray sea, and without the help of a sailboat I wouldn’t have been able to tell where the horizon was.
The sea was also silent, a rare sight on the east coast of Florida.
Scary Findings (Or Reasons Why You Should Keep Your Shoes On at the Beach!)
In suburban West Delray, there is a hidden oasis that will truly delight any bird- or nature-lover. Wakodahatchee Wetlands is a tranquil, man-made wetland that has naturally become a sanctuary for over 140 species of birds, as well as a variety of amphibious and reptilian species.
The first time I arrived at Wakodahatchee Wetlands, I was awe-struck by the cacophony of bird calls, and the diversity of birds all in one location. I have never been to any other natural setting where there were so many different types of birds that I could easily observe in their natural environment. There were birds nesting, floating, and soaring in every direction! It was a cinematic moment.
Using over 50 acres of utilities land, the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Southern Regional Water Reclamation pumps nearly two million gallons of highly treated wastewater into the Wakodahatchee Wetlands. Instead of this land just being a nasty wastewater pond, or the wastewater instead being harmfully pumped into the ocean or injected into the ground, Palm Beach County (PBC) has found a way to harmonize with the natural environment. Instead of causing greater destruction, PBC has instead enhanced the lives of many birds who have lost their homes to the suburbs and development of the area.
Wakodahatchee Wetlands is a great example of how modern society can coexist with the natural world, and I think it is a place that other municipalities throughout the state of Florida and the US should tour to see how this man-made ecosystem is thriving.
The Shore-t Story
Who it is good for: The whole family
Time to visit: 30 minutes+
Parking: Limited spaces, free parking, guarded parking
Activities: Walking, bird-watching, nature-watching, photography
Directions: The Wakodahatchee Wetlands are located on the east side of Jog Road between Woolbright Road and Atlantic Avenue (Exit Route 95 onto Atlantic Avenue West; continue to Jog Road; turn right; park is on the right) The site is on the southeast side of Palm Beach County Water Utility Department’s Southern Region Operations Center at 13026 Jog Road, Delray Beach.
*Tip*Go early in the morning when the birds are waking up and becoming active, and before the sun gets too hot. There are covered pavilions with sitting areas along the 3/4 mile boardwalk just in case.
What to bring: Bring a hat, sunscreen if you have sensitive skin, and definitely a bottle of water in a reusable container. There are covered seating areas if you need a respite from the sun on the walk, but most of the boardwalk is exposed. There is not really a place for picnicking, and it is best to bring as little with you as possible to reduce litter in this beautiful habitat.
This awesome video was recorded on my iPhone 6s with the slow motion capabilities. While visiting the beautiful Blowing Rocks Preserve in Hobe Sound, Florida, I captured this magnificent sight- a sea hawk carrying a large, freshly caught fish!
Let me know what you think! Enjoy the video.
Thought I would share some wonderful images of the last beach walk I took in 2015 for all of those reminiscing about their holiday beach vacations.
I started at the South Beach Pavilion in Boca Raton, and walked north towards Red Reef Park. The beach in front of the pavilion is usually concentrated with people, and this day was no different. (This is a favorite spot for the FAU students.) Despite all of the people, I was able to capture so very relaxed gulls. I also saw man-o-war aplenty, so beware if you are swimming in the South Florida region!
I took all of these images with my phone. Enjoy!