Panther Key is located at the beginning of the channel leading to the Faka Union Canal and the Port of the Islands Collier County boat ramp. We often anchored on the West and North sides of Panther then accessed the beach via a Lund WC14 we purchased in SW Florida to better explore the shallow bays.
The 10,000 Island National Wildlife Refuge maintains a series of canoe trails accessible from the Tamiami Trail (Route 41) which meander through ponds, bays and mangrove tunnels before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. Along the trails red mangroves, spiders, snails and crabs are in abundance.
The Marsh Trail provides a 2 mile (round trip) walk along a canal stretching South from Rte 41 into the West Florida wilderness. Along the path alligator tracks are seen as footprints on either side of a line made by the dragging tail. Crushed brush and grass on either side of the trail hint at the alligator's preferred crossing points. The trail has a viewing tower from which we saw roseate spoonbills and wood storks.
Shark Valley, part of Everglades National Park maintains a 15 mile paved loop road for biking through the heart of the Shark Slough a true section of the "sea of grass" a 100 mile wide river down which rain water from Okeechobee historically spread across the SE corner of Florida and finally to the ocean in Florida bay. At the half way point of the bike trail there is an observation tower with an expansive view allowing one to imagine what Southern Florida was like before Europeans arrived.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary an Audubon society property is located due North of the 10,000 Islands (our Winter home). The 13,000 acres making up the sanctuary were preserved in part began it contains the last expanse of virgin bald cypress left in the world, it also is home to a wood stork rookery. The park has a 2.25 mile boardwalk built with all the twists and turns needed to meander between the trees.
No overview of a Winter spent in SW Florida would be complete without a token alligator shot. Every one of the previously mentioned parks is home to the American alligator. While driving along the Tamiami trail from Miami to Naples at 60 mph the alligators at the side of the road are too numerous to count. They swam by the boat, walked across trails, and lounged in the sun. However the above photo not only shows an alligator but also captures the essence of the Fakahatchee Strand state park, and "Jane's Scenic drive" which allows access to not only a cypress forest but a view of the back country way of life in SW Florida with hunting camps and 4 wheelers in abundance.
Completing our short tour of a Winter spent exploring the natural world of SW Florida we return to the mangrove and barrier beach as experienced on Cape Sable deep in Everglades National Park.
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