If your travels take you south through the Sunshine State, past theme parks and sugar cane fields, past the last cross-state highway, then west of the throbbing population centers of the Gold Coast through tomato and squash fields filled with farm workers toting heavy baskets, then you will have arrived at Everglades National Park. Your two-lane road will lead you through the River of Grass and a wonderland of vistas like you have never seen. There are several jewels, or stops, along the 38 mile drive from the Coe Visitor Center to Flamingo. One of my favorites is Pa-hay-okee Trail and Overlook.
The boardwalk loop skirts one of the teardrop tree-islands along the eastern side of Shark River Slough. As a result, visitors have the opportunity to observe at least three different habitats, freshwater marl praire with its waving fields of sawgrass, cypress, and hardwood hammock. Pa-hay-okee is Seminole for grassy waters. During most of the year, varying levels of water flow across this piece of pristine wilderness, but this is the end of the dry season and there’s not a drop to be found. Still, the rising sun revealed a world of beauty. As we began our 1/4 mile hike, the scent of fresh magnolia blooms filled the air.
Wildflowers and sedges pushed their way through the dry paraphyton substrate. Hidden therein, a multitude of plant and animal organisms await the summer rains that liberate life.
A Red-shouldered Hawk searched for prey from the vantage point of a Cypress tree.
We had the trail all to ourselves. After enjoying the lower portion of boardwalk, we climbed steps leading to the Overlook.
There we gazed north across miles of the River of Grass. Birds flew overhead. At the overlook and in the general area, we saw a Cardinal, Green Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, White Ibis, a pair of Sandhill Cranes, and a Swallow-tailed Kite.
The observation platform boarders a stand of Cypress. Bromeliads adorn their trunks and branches spicing their new green leaves with flames of red.
Bird songs punctuated the air, some familiar and some new to our ears. The artist of one such melody soon appeared with his bride. A pair of Great Crested Flycatchers wove in and out of branches of Gumbo Limbo and Cypress in what appeared to be a wedding dance. One of the birds always had a bit of nesting material securely clamped in its beak while the other raised its crest. Neither seemed concerned by our presence.
Later we spotted another flycatcher, a lone Eastern Kingbird. This bird perched far enough away that I had to use my 500mm lens. This lens tends to be a bit soft at its farthest reach.
I hope that this Pa-hay-okee sample has whetted your taste for visiting this unique ancestral home of Seminole Native Americans. It is easy to see why they would have chosen this place. For me its a welcome respite from the pressures of life; an island of peace in a troubled world.