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.
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 wood stork sits on its nest.
A wood stork mom with her two restless chicks.
I’m sure a lot of mothers can relate to this feeling…
A wood stork family.
A very young anhinga, surrounded by equally fluffy siblings.
Mother Green Heron watches over her curious babies tucked in a well-hidden nest.
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.
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.
Amendment 1 is our last chance to protect Florida’s fragile ecosystems. With climate change becoming more of a threat with each passing day, and the recent revelation that vertebrate populations have declined by more than 50% in just the last forty years, saving our planet and its plants and animals is something we can no longer wait for someone else to do. We the people must stand together, and by simply marking a ballot, we can choose to allocate more than $10 billion dollars to environmental conservation and water protection over the next 20 years, without any increase in taxes. Doing otherwise would be an irreparable act of negligence.
Since 2009, the Legislature has cut funding for land and water protection by 95%! Because our government seemingly does not find clean water all that important, citizens took matters into their own hands to get Amendment 1 on the ballot. Florida’s Water and Land Legacy was established, and within a year and a half, they received more than 700,000 certified signatures that allowed Amendment 1 to be placed on the November 4, 2014 ballot.
Restore, manage, and acquire lands necessary to protect Florida’s drinking water sources and protect the water quality in our rivers, lakes and streams;
Protect our beaches and shores;
Protect and restore the Everglades and other degraded natural systems and waterways;
Manage fish and wildlife habitat, protect forests and wetlands, and restore conservation lands that are an important part of Florida’s economy and quality of life;
Provide funding to manage existing state and local natural areas, parks, and trails for water supply, habitat and recreation.
The money that will allow this to happen will come from Florida’s excise tax on documents, or documentary stamp tax. This is an already established tax generated by documents necessary during the sale of real estate, and Amendment 1 will see to it that 33% of the funds raised by this tax will be used only for conservation purposes. This money will help Florida’s fragile ecosystems, and will combat both land and water pollution, helping to ensure clean and plentiful drinking water for this generation and those to come.
If this Amendment does not pass, the future of Florida and its inhabitants will be at stake. The future of clean drinking water, of our beaches, and of tourism will be uncertain. Will our children know the beauty of the Everglades, will they know of manatees and Key deer, will they be able to traverse trails and play in parks? Let’s answer these questions ourselves, with action, with our voices.
We can no longer rely on our legislators or representatives to do right by us and by the environment. We must do the checking and balancing.
It is up to us to protect our state, our ecosystem, and all of the inhabitants within it, whether they walk on two legs, four legs, or none. We must take action, and the easiest way to do that is to Vote Yes on Amendment 1 on November 4th, 2014.
North Fort Lauderdale beach (A1A, north of Sunrise Boulevard) is undergoing major construction at this time. This section of Fort Lauderdale beach drew runners, bicyclists, and rollerbladers due to its wonderful, wide lane that ran parallel to the beach on the northbound lane of A1A.
This section of the beach also had ample metered street parking, a great alternative to the sometimes costly garages in the main hubbub of Fort Lauderdale Beach.
While the beach remains open in this area, the pedestrian lane and the parking is gone. At times, traffic can become very congested in this area during construction.
If you are planning on taking a trip to Fort Lauderdale beach, it is best to access from either the Las Olas Boulevard bridge, or the 17th Street Causeway. Another option may be to take Sunrise Boulevard, and park in Hugh Taylor Birch Park, which also offers paddle boarding and kayak rentals.
It may be after Labor Day, which serves as the unofficial end of summer season to most of the U.S., but here in South Florida, we are gearing up for our busiest time of year, known to us as simply, “Season.” Home to an endless summer, many people from all over the world escape to our sands and sea, trickling down here beginning in September, and swarming Duval Street, Collins Avenue, Las Olas Boulevard, and Worth Avenue in full force by December.
This is an exciting time of year, and the perfect chance to discover new beaches in South Florida whether this is your first season or fiftieth. We at The Beach Review have been working hard to bring some new features to our website, such as a county-by-county guide of the beaches of South Florida, launching soon.
We hope you have your white outfits, sandals, and sunscreen ready, because the real beach fun is just getting started!!! Stay tuned!
Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is your quintessential beach town. Its quaint shops, casual restaurants, dive bars, and boutique hotels create a charming small-town atmosphere. Nestled 33 miles south of Palm Beach and 30 miles north of Miami, LBTS offers a low-key and laid-back experience in the coastal heart of South Florida.
The Shore-t Story
Parking: There are many different options for parking in LBTS. Recommended parking for the beach is in El Prado Parking lot and the grass lot next to it, located just north of Commercial Boulevard. Here it is $1.50 per hour, or $10 for all day. Other options included metered parallel parking, restaurant valet, parking lots on the west side of A1A, or the parking lot near the pier.
Refreshments: There are many restaurants within walking distance if you get hungry, but if you are just beaching it, it is recommended to bring your own refreshments.
Picnicking/Grilling: There are no picnic tables or grill spots near the LBTS beach. There are two covered gazebos or the grassy area at El Prado Park, but most picnicking here will be done on the actual beach.
Restrooms: The public restrooms are located behind Town Hall, which is a decent walk from the beach. This could prove problematic for anyone with small children or a bathroom emergency.
Fishing: Anglin’s Fishing Pier open 24 hours
Snorkeling/Diving: Excellent spot; the SS Copenhagen is a popular dive spot near the Sea Watch Restaurant, as is the BioRock Reef south of the pier
The entire town of Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is situated on a barrier island, meaning that on one side of the town is bordered by the intracoastal waterway, and the other side is the ocean.
Towards the end of the 2013-2014 season, aesthetic renovations to the town center were completed. Many people may have stopped going to LBTS because of the inconveniences of the construction, but worry not, because they are done and they have created many fun spots throughout the town where you can relax with family.
Murals and sculptures of sea life can be found throughout the town, every utility box is colorfully painted, and no bike rack is an eye sore. These details found throughout the town add to the charm that can only be found in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea.
Seasonal flags are found on all street lights. Some announce town events, like their local farmer’s market.
This pavilion near the town center grants shaded access to a stunning view of the beach and pier. All of the benches are repurposed boats!
Extending from the pavilion, this paved area is lined with colorful Adirondack chairs, and umbrellas. Beachgoers utilized the space to play bags and giant Jenga.
The town center meets at El Mar Drive and Commercial Boulevard. For any holiday, LBTS is very festive.
This is the round-about of LBTS. On any corner of the round-about, you will find shops and dining.
A zoom in on the pelican sculpture that is situated in the middle of the roundabout. A group of real pelicans flies by in the distance.
A tropically painted utility box in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea.
This is a fishy bicycle rack!
Tip: All of the hotel accommodations in LBTS are boutique hotels, which are perfect for large groups to rent out. They might not satisfy those looking for glitz and glamour, but will be a comfortable fit for those looking for a low-key vacation.
Lauderdale-By-The-Sea’s beach provides ample room for any beach activity. It is a wide beach, so unless it is a super busy day, there is usually enough room to spread out and not crowd onto someone else’s beach blanket.
Just north and south of the pier will usually be the largest concentration of people, even though you are supposed to stay at least 300 feet away from the actual pier when you are in the water. Go south of the pier if you want to snorkel the BioRock Reef; go just north of the pier if you are looking for a fun atmosphere near the town center.
From El Prado Park access point looking south. The beach is nice and wide.
Beautiful shore and water.
Looking from the pier north to Lighthouse Point.
Looking from the pier south to Fort Lauderdale beach.
As you continue north on the beach away from the town center, the upbeat tempo of reggae beats from a restaurant’s musician will fade away, and you will be left with the sound of the ocean waves and the faint chatter of the beach crowd.
Even in this area north of the pier where there is not a reef, you can still snorkel and see many different fish just offshore. Snorkeling directly offshore LBTS is great for beginners.
The other area that becomes concentrated with people is the access point at El Prado park. Across from El Prado park are two decent sized parking lots for daytrippers. El Prado Park is a nice grassy area good for picnicking or playing frisbee, and it is framed by colorful adirondack chairs and umbrellas. There are two gazebos that offer shade and some excellent people watching.
View of El Prado Park from the El Prado Parking Lot, just north of the town center.
El Prado Park features two gazebos, a bike rack, and many Adirondack chairs and umbrellas for relaxing. The lawn is a nice spot for picnics or yoga.
If you exit the beach from this access point, follow the sidewalk through the El Prado lot, and then cross A1A, you will find the LBTS public restrooms.
Showers can be found at this access point and at the beach entrance near the pier and beach pavilion.
Colorful Adirondack chairs underneath the gazebo are an excellent place to watch the sunrise.
A seating area with recycling.
Looking at El Prado park.
The inviting beach entrance to LBTS.
This beach does not have lifeguards. They do have life rings available just in case, but everyone here is swimming at their own risk.
Would we classify this beach as being family friendly? Yes and no. Yes, if you are on vacation and have your own hotel room, with an accessible toilet and air conditioning. No, if you are a daytripper, because there are no lifeguards and no public restrooms in a comfortable vicinity. We would recommend Pompano Beach, just north of LBTS, that features a playground, bathrooms, lifeguards, and refreshments, for daytrippers with small children.
The pier in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, Anglin’s Fishing Pier, is open 24 hours so no matter your work or vacation schedule is you can get your fishing fix. It costs $7 per adult fisher. Common catches include snook, snapper, mackerel, bluefish, and more. With the reef being just south of the pier, in the deepwater part of the pier you are able to catch a variety of fish.
If you are not a fisherman or fisherwoman, the LBTS pier offers great views of the Lighthouse Point lighthouse, Fort Lauderdale beach, and plenty of wildlife. It is a $2 fee for sightseers. Bring a camera!
Remember to stay at least 300 feet away from the pier when you are swimming!
Everyone enjoys the view!
At the end of the pier, the ocean blue begins.
Tip: We recommend this local secret for down-to-earth beach destination weddings, couples, and older family get-togethers.
The Diving and Snorkeling
There are two main spots to dive in “The Shore Diving Capital of the World.” Shore diving means that the reefs are a short swim from the shore, and boats are not needed to access them.
The BioRock Reef
Lauderdale-By-The-Sea features the first of its kind fisheries restoration project that utilizes a technology called BioRock. In a nutshell, the BioRock technology speeds up the growth of a coral reef by mimicking reefs natural growth in order to replenish dying reefs and marine life populations. Steel structures are installed and charged by solar energy that attracts and propels the growth of limestone over them.
The BioRock Reef is excellent for all levels of snorkelers and divers, and this pilot project provides a great opportunity to see a variety of fish and marine life. Being a strong swimmer is highly recommended, as the maximum depth is around 12 feet. Often times people will dive/snorkel off of a kayak or paddle board.
This reef attracts a lot of fish and marine life, and offshore in any part of LBTS you will at the very least see a few different species of fish if the visibility is good.
The SS Copenhagen Shipwreck
In 1900, the steam-ship schooner SS Copenhagen hit a reef and became stranded carrying almost 5000 tons of coal. The crew attempted to salvage the cargo, but the ship ended up being left behind. The ship remained visible above water until World War II, when it was used for target practice, ultimately causing it to sink. Most of the machinery was salvaged, but the features of the ship are still visible. The bow now sits separate from the ship after an excavation attempt gone awry.
The SS Copenhagen is a protected state underwater archeological preserve.
Throughout Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, we found a variety of recycling receptacles! Unfortunately, they were not always in use. LBTS sometimes has a lot of leftover trash from weekend revelers. If you don’t pick it up, no one else is going to, except maybe a hungry bird.
Pier goers also have to make an effort to secure their trash, especially plastic bags, that can easily be blown away and into the ocean by the breeze.
We appreciate LBTS taking the steps to attempt to promote recycling, but it takes the beach goers to make this plan came to fruition.
If you had the pleasure of enjoying the beach, let the next person have the pleasure of enjoying the beach without your trash.
Welcome to The Beach Review! It seemed appropriate to launch The Beach Review on the first day of summer, June 21st, 2014, when the days are at their longest and the sun is at its brightest.
Each week, TBR will highlight different beaches beginning in South Florida- the famous and the lesser known- as well as provide information on beach safety, wildlife, and responsible tourism. The Review will feature photography of local sunrises, sunsets, and more beach scenery for you to enjoy. We will also focus on pollution, endangered species, and ways to protect the fragile ecosystems of the region.
If you have never been to South Florida, you may not realize how many different beach options and experiences are available. Each beach has its own vibe and offers something different. From Tequesta to Key West, there is something for everyone.
Whether you are a local planning a daytrip or a first time beach goer flying into Florida, it may be overwhelming to pick which beach you want to go to. What does each beach offer? How crowded are the beaches? Which ones are clean? Where’s a good place to find sea shells? Where’s a good place for sand sculpting? Where can I park? What are the hours? What can I bring?
All of these questions and more will be answered here at The Beach Review.
Explore the beaches of South Florida and beyond with The Beach Review, where we bring the beach to you. You never know where we are, or where we will be, so enjoy the journey!
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