Everglades National Park in June

When you think of Everglades National Park in June what comes to mind? Humidity and swarms of mosquitoes? Yup. Me too. Except never actually having experienced that, I was like how bad can it be? It was bad. Like I was literally running from swarms of mosquitoes. While I’m not sure I want to relive that experience anytime soon, have you really lived if you haven’t ran from mosquito swarms? I think not. Crazy adventures make for the best memories/stories.

Everglades National Park sign taken from the car with the windows up because mosquitos

I’ve always wanted to visit Everglades and am not sure when we’ll be back that way so we decided to ignore the warnings and visit in June. I was really excited for Everglades because the terrain is so different from anything I’ve ever seen.

We arrived at the Shark Valley visitor center at 9am when it opened. Everglades is divided into several sections and we chose the Shark Valley area because we wanted to take an airboat ride which is in the northern section of the park. Shark Valley is a neat area with the chance for lots of wildlife sightings. There is a 15 mile path/loop that follows a river where alligators and other wildlife live. It’s really pretty. You can walk the path, rent a bicycle, or take a tram to complete the 15 miles. We didn’t have time for the tram ride so we opted to walk for a bit.

Shark Valley Loop Road

As all good visitors do, we stopped at the visitor center and asked the park ranger for a hike suggestion. He must have not liked our group because he gave no warning for the suggestion. Honestly, I have no idea why he suggested it in the first place. It was not appropriate for June.

Entrance to Otter Cave Hammock Trail

The loop the ranger suggested was Bobcat Boardwalk Trail, Shark Valley Loop Road, Otter Cave Hammock Trail, and then back along Shark Valley Loop Road to the car. The mosquitoes weren’t too bad to start but then we made the brilliant decision to hike the Otter Cave Hammock Trail. Sounds like a cute trail, right? I have no clue what the trail looks like because we were being eaten alive and trying to run out of there as fast as possible. Turns out walking into a heavily wooded area in the middle of the summer is a terrible decision. Two of the six in our group knew better and didn’t follow us in. The four of us from Arizona foolishly kept going.

Once we exited Mosquito Cave Trail, several of us literally ran back to the car, being chased by swarms of mosquitos (you probably think I’m exaggerating but I’m not), jumped in and declared we were done with the Everglades. My skin is itching just thinking about how many mosquito bites I had. We had 11am tickets for an airboat ride, which it was not yet time for, but had no more interest in exploring so we drove to the airboat place and sat in the car until it was time for our ride. Since there were six of us, we had booked a private tour and our tour guide was able to start our tour a little earlier than planned.

Everglades Safari Park Airboat Tour

The best decision we made was to book an airboat tour. If you visit in the summer, this is a must. Summer is wet season in the Everglades and the rain refills the grasslands. During the winter, or dry season, the ground dries up in many places. Ecosystems are so cool. In my next life I want to become a environmental scientist. Is it too late to change careers?

We thoroughly enjoyed the breeze in our face and lack of mosquitoes. Our tour guide was a lot of fun and shared lots of cool information. I could have spent hours out there. The area was gorgeous and gliding through the water and grass was a blast. There are airboat tours all over the area but only a few are licensed to operate in Everglades National Park. If that matters to you, be sure to look at who’s authorized to operate in the park.

Airboat tour in the Everglades

We didn’t see much wildlife because who the heck wants to be out in the middle of June. We were there to ride in an airboat so any wildlife was a bonus but we did happen to see one alligator. A mother guarding her nest of eggs. In the picture below, there is a dark circle in the middle of the picture. What looks like a rock is her head. Her nest is in the grass somewhere in the back.

Mama alligator in Everglades National Park

The views were incredible. I’m not sure if the water is always that still or if we were there on a good day but everywhere we turned, the sky perfectly reflected on the water. Hence why I could have stayed out there all day.

Evergaldes National Park

In the middle of the picture below is a pond apple tree. They’re all over this area. The crazy thing about these apples is that the seeds are poisonous. What?! So basically don’t eat pond apples.

Pond apple tree

I know I’ve complained a lot about the mosquitos but I’d do it all over again if given the chance. If you are planning to visit in the summer, I’d suggest minimizing your walking. Take the tram, rent a bicycle, or take an airboat tour. You want to be moving faster than the mosquitos. I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of the area but that just means we’ll have to go back (not in June)!

Airboat ride through the Everglades

Dry Tortugas National Park

I love the national parks and would love to visit them all eventually. Some are harder than others to get to and those I assume I may not get to. Dry Tortugas was one of them. It’s 70 miles off the coast of Key West and Florida has never really been on my list. Nothing against Florida but there’s just so much to do between Arizona and Florida that it’s way down on the list. A friend of ours is from Florida and convinced us to take a trip to Key West and boy am I glad we said yes! When we started planning and I realized how close we’d be to Dry Tortugas, I knew I had to make it happen.

Dry Tortugas National Park

The Dry Tortugas are a group of seven islands west of Key West. The islands were named Las Tortugas (The Turtles) in 1514 but later changed to Dry Tortugas to signify that there is no fresh water on them. The United States started building Fort Jefferson on Garden Key (one of the seven islands) in 1846 as a way to control navigation of the Gulf of Mexico and protect Mississippi River trade. During the Civil War, the fort was a prison for captured deserters and also held the four men accused of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Most notably, Dr. Samuel Mudd. (We’re huge fans of the National Treasure movies so seeing Dr. Mudd’s cell in real life and learning even more about the story was exciting.) Eventually the Army left the fort and in 1908 it became a wildlife refuge. In 1992 it became a national park and is home to endangered sea turtles, birds, coral reefs, ship wrecks, and Fort Jefferson.

Garden Key

There are two ways to get to Dry Tortugas – a 2.5 hour ferry boat ride or a 30 minute seaplane ride. I guess the third option is to take your own boat but that’s only for local boat owners. Of course no option is perfect. With the ferry you get to spend four hours on the island. With the seaplane you only get two and a half hours. I really wanted to take the seaplane to see the area from the sky but our group opted for the boat. As long as the sea isn’t too rough, you can stand on the front of the ferry which was fun for a little bit but so windy as we were going 30+ MPH.

Yankee Freedom ferry ride to Dry Tortugas National Park

Fort Jefferson is massive and was constructed with 16 million bricks. The color contrast between the red bricks and the different shades of blues in the sky and water make for absolutely stunning views everywhere you look.

Moat wall around Fort Jefferson

It’s so hard to decide how to spend your four hours because there is so much to do. Snorkeling, swimming, exploring the fort, walking on the beaches. We started with a dip in the water and a picnic lunch on the beach. Off in the distance in the picture below, you can see the lighthouse on Loggerhead Key.

Lunch views at Dry Tortugas National Park

After lunch we decided to explore the fort. There are three levels and throughout are signs explaining how the fort was constructed and operated. Every hall looked like the picture below. Some narrower than others but so perfectly constructed. Are all forts like this? This is the first I’ve been to so maybe this is normal.

Inside Fort Jefferson

In between each pillar is a window and I’m pretty sure I took a picture out of at least half of them. Jaw. Dropping. They each so perfectly frame the gorgeous sky, sea, moat wall, and beach. I could have sat there all day but only had four hours so we had to keep moving.

Looking out of Fort Jefferson to the ocean

You can walk on the top of the fort which is a little crazy as there are no rails. There are a bunch of cannons up there (I don’t know if they are original or replicas) and more signs explaining the history. The fort is so large that we didn’t have time to explore the entire thing.

Walking on top of Fort Jefferson

Inside the fort walls there used to be several buildings. In the left of the picture below you can see what remains of the barracks. The right side is the armory which is still largely in tact.

Interior of Fort Jefferson

After exploring the fort we headed back to the beach for more swimming and snorkeling before having to board the ferry back to Key West.

This was such a fun day and one of my favorite days on our trip. I cannot get over the insanely gorgeous water colors. I’m mostly a mountain girl but I can see why people love the beach and this part of the world. If you ever get a chance to visit Dry Tortugas, I highly recommend it. It’s a little pricey but worth every penny.

A Few Days in Miami, Florida

It’s been so long since my last post, I almost don’t remember how to use WordPress. Our last proper summer vacation occurred in 2019 so we are well overdue for a good trip. We still camp all the time but have mostly been spending our time closer to home lately. Our kids are all grown up so this year we took an epic trip with friends. We started the trip in the Florida Keys and ended in Miami. If I’m being honest, I mostly didn’t enjoy Miami so I’m going to start with that and save the best for last (in a different post).

You are probably aware that I want to see all the things and cram in as much as possible on any trip. Of course that happened when we started planning a trip to Key West. Being so close to Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, we added a couple days in Miami to the end of our trip so that we could hit up those parks.

Ocean Drive, South Beach Miami

We decided to stay in South Beach Miami, Florida. It sounded like a good idea when planning but the reality was not as good. We stayed at the Moxy Miami South Beach and our group definitely bumped up the average age (and we’re not even that old!). We felt very out of place and hilariously, when we were out and about and told bartenders/servers where we were staying, they all laughed and agreed that we didn’t belong at the Moxy.

There were a few things we enjoyed. One being the Havana Vieja Cuban Restaurant which was across the street from our hotel. The food was amazing and worth every penny. If you find yourself in the area, check it out.

Our hotel has dedicated beach chairs on South Beach. When we were planning our trip, I envisioned us relaxing by the beach in the hotel chairs napping and reading. What was not in my dream were 10,000 of my closest new friends. The picture below looks more like my dream but this was taken very early in the morning. The rest of the day it was packed and there was hardly anywhere to put down a towel. Needless to say, we didn’t spend any time on the beach relaxing.

South Beach Miami Florida

Many of the hotels in South Beach were built in the 1930s so it’s fun to walk around and admire the Art Deco architecture.

Since our plans to relax at the beach were squashed, we instead explored Miami. The first stop was the Wynwood area to explore the murals. Wynwood is Miami’s arts district and there are murals on almost every building. It’s a fun area to walk around and there are so many shops, restaurants, and breweries to explore. J Wakefield Brewing received 5/5 stars from our group and was our most favorite beer stop on this trip. The walls are decorated in Star Wars and Marvel murals and they were playing Star Wars movies. Definitely a fun vibe and the beers were excellent.

After Wynwood, we drove over to Little Havana which is Miami’s famed Cuban neighborhood. This is such a cool area and I loved walking around. The La Colada Gourmet coffee shop is phenomenal. I wasn’t sure what all the drinks were on the menu but I was hot (Miami in June was not our brightest idea) and wanted something cold and dairy free. They asked me a few questions and surprised me with a drink. And for a fun bonus, they added a shot of hazelnut liqueur! 5/5 stars for both customer service and taste. There are several good restaurants in the area which we didn’t eat at but wanted to. Overall, it’s a great place to walk around and explore. Lots of shopping, food, and cigar shops.

I was so excited to see Domino Park! I have no idea how to play dominos but the place was packed and everyone was having a good time.

Domino Park, Little Havana Miami

Miami in June is hot and humid. I’ve lived in the desert my entire life. This was my first experience with real humidity and heat so now I understand everyone who says they prefer a dry heat over the humidity. I am in that camp now as well. A little PSA if you are planning a trip to Miami, so many restaurants and stores are not open on Mondays and Tuesdays. For real, like half of the places we wanted to visit were not open.

Fun fact: On our way home from Miami, I learned the new Father of the Bride movie dropped. Father of the Bride was my favorite movie growing up. The new movie is set in Miami and all the places we had just been. It was so fun watching it.

So that’s a wrap for Miami! Up next, Everglades, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas National Parks and the Florida Keys…