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.
Southeastern Florida is known for its beaches and its neon lights, its sports teams and its tile-barreled roofs. It offers up its own varietal of tropical tranquility, though the sense of peace it breeds does have a slightly manufactured feeling.
Even when you visit the coast or the parks in any of the cities, for me, it has been nearly impossible to find a true sense of detachment from the hustle bustle.
Standing at the top of the Shark Valley observation tower, with no one else around except my love, I finally found a sense of serenity, a sense of connectedness to nature, that I have desperately sought for the last five years in South Florida.
There were no sounds of ambulances or motorcycles, no sounds of rude people or loud music.
Instead, there were the deep croak-croaks of the pig frog, and the disembodied splashes of something breaking the surface of the swamp. There was the chatter of the ravens, and the rustle of both grass and leaves.
Each inhalation of the fresh air took me further from the South Florida I have come to know, transporting me to a land that seemed so distant and so new.
Being out in the middle of Everglades National Park at Shark Valley was a refreshing and soul-cleansing experience. The Everglades is a precious ecosystem that is a world of its own. If you are looking for a new adventure that allows you to connect with nature in South Florida, then give Shark Valley a visit.