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Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Everglades - Paddling to the Wilderness from Nine Mile Pond

Monday, March 14, 2022 was our last opportunity to paddle in Everglades National Park.  We've really enjoyed what we've done so far, and we were eager to get out onto the 6+ mile paddling trail beginning at Nine Mile Pond.

As the whole week has been, the day was very windy when we started paddling, but on the upside, we had no bugs.  Unfortunately, the entire first part of our paddle, some 2.5 miles, would be straight into the wind.  We were uncertain how successful this trip would be.

Our paddle began on Nine Mile Pond and ended on two smaller, adjoining ponds.  The trail description told us that these ponds would be our best opportunity to see wildlife.  We weren't disappointed, given the heaviness of the winds today.  We saw a flock of white ibis roosting in the wind as we paddled up the shoreline.  They fled as we approached:

We also followed four anhinga, who first moved away from us by swimming in the water, but then decided we were too dangerous and took wing:

At the opposite end of the pond, we entered the portal to the trail, which was marked by a white pole with a number "1" -- the first of 116 markers along our trail.  We enetered the portal and felt like Alice as she fell down the rabbit hole:

Just like a Cheshire Cat, this night heron spotted us and hopped off into the tangled roots of nearby mangroves, but could not escape our intrepid camera:

Leaving the mangroves momentarily, we popped out into a wide, open range of shallow water graced by green spike rush:

At several places along the trail, we had the opportunity to view the fabled Paurotis Palm, which is rare and only grows on relatively high ground in the Everglades:

The entire first half of the paddle trail, to Marker #72, was like a maze.  Here, Kathy claims victory in spotting Marker #31:

At Marker #44, about 1.5 miles into the paddle, we stopped for lunch:

Air plants graced the branches all around us:

When we had finished lunch, we paused to examine the very unique, spongy, beige colored biotic mass of algae, known as periphyton, that floats in little clouds across most of the water in the open, freshwater marl prairie:

In the photo below, you can see the spongy biotic mass floating on either side of the channel, while spike rush graced the channel itself:

The entire area boasted only two flowers that we could identify -- the small yellow flowers of the bladderwort, and these larger, white blossoms graced with red and green highlights, standing proud but vulnerable above the water:

Approaching the far point of our paddle, we re-entered the mangrove forest and the very narrow channels that challenged us to break down our paddles and maneuver carefully along the sinuous, dark channels:

Sections of the wildgrass prairie hosted small islands of mangrove, some comprised of only one plant:

After about 2.5 hours of paddling, we reached Marker #72, the far point of the trail, where only wilderness could be seen to the west.  We rested, drank some water, and looked forward to our chance to paddle back toward the beginning of the trail with the strong wind behind us:

In the middle of the wild, marl prairie, we came across what we dubbed, "The Littlest Walking Tree," because this baby mangrove was so brave as to try to grow where none others had tried yet:

Halfway back in our paddle, the clouds separated, the sun came out, and the prairie became a beautiful palette of colors:

Finally -- Marker #100 of 116!  We had finished a channel that remains from an old airboat route, and we were about to work our way across the prairie to two smaller ponds that would mark the end of our paddle:

We found a spot where the two most common shrub species -- mangrove, with its oblong leaves (on the right), and cocoplum, with its rounded leaves (on the left) -- were accessible right on the water:

It wasn't long before Kathy led us into the first of the final two small ponds:

We worked our way through each of the two smaller ponds, back out onto Nine Mile Pond itself, where the winds made their strength known to us again.  We were blown straight across the lake to where our Jeep was parked, and blown up onto the beach.  Once we had landed, Kathy checked the final statistics on her GPs -- 6.4 miles in 4.5 hours!

We're tired but elated at such an epic paddle!  We're sorry we won't have more time here in the Everglades before we start our drive north for our grandson's Spring Break.  Safe travels!

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