Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
How about stopping by the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Boynton Beach, Florida?
You can see one of the northernmost parts of the Florida Everglades, yet be only about 15 minutes from "civilization". It's great if you want to see a piece of the 'Glades, but don't want to venture too far out to do it.
The Florida Everglades -- A River of Grass
Before visiting the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, my only experience in the Everglades was on the Florida Gulf Coast. And as you can probably imagine, there are differences in the eastern and western Glades. Each side is unique, but both are part of the whole Everglades experience.
So what is the Florida Everglades, anyway? And why should you bother to visit?
Personally, I call the Everglades "Jurassic Florida". Why?
So come on and take a look.
Do the Walk - The Boardwalk
When you drive into the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, I highly recommend that you first stop by the Visitor Center. Not only can you get more information on the Refuge, but you can start exploring by taking a stroll on the boardwalk.
Nope, no thrill rides or popcorn vendors -- this boardwalk seems to take you back in time. Huge trees tower high above, and epiphytes (plants that live on air) hang down, drooping over the branches like a loose wrap. Miniature dinosaurs (also known as lizards) prowl the walkways. Herons ply the air, somehow managing to avoid the low-hanging tree branches. There are marshy areas underneath the boardwalk, but just how damp is dependent on how wet the weather has been lately.
I'm going to mention the lizards again. If you are afraid of or are squeamish around lizards, please reconsider taking a stroll here. When I did the walk, it seemed like I saw a different lizard every few feet. They won't bother you -- in fact they will do their level best to get out of your way, pronto. But they are numerous.
The boardwalk is about 1/2 mile total, beginning and ending at the Visitor Center.
And here's a piece of trivia for you -- what does the name Loxahatchee mean? It's a Native American word that translates to "river of turtles".
What Else Is There at the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge?
Now that you've seen the boardwalk, it's time to take some strolls out to the wide-open waters and grasses. You can enjoy:
Unless you have planned ahead, hiking and/or picnicking it will have to be -- if you want to bike or boat, you'll need to bring your own; there are no rentals available. As far as fishing, you'll need to bring your pole, bait and a valid Florida fishing license. Picnicking? Need I say it...bring your own food and drink -- I didn't see any food vendors when I was there in May 2005.
I got a big kick out of some visitors recently. I had parked at one of the trail heads, and two gentlemen were sitting on lawn chairs, on the cell phone to some Northern friends. It was still pretty chilly up in the northern USA, and the two men were bragging how they were in shorts and t-shirts, relaxing in the Everglades. I have to admit, they did have a pretty spot picked out with a nice view.
A Notice About Weather and Insects
Hey, this is Florida, so there are two things to consider before arriving at the Refuge gates. Two things that are eternal in Florida.
Hot sun and bothersome insects.
Okay, let me qualify that some. If you visit from November to March, the weather will probably be lovely and insects at a minimum. You probably will want sunscreen for any uncovered body parts (don't forget your face) and sunglasses, but unless there is an un-seasonal rain storm, you'll have great weather.
Now for the rest of you that visit during the April to October time frame, be prepared for heat, rain and insects (not necessarily in that order). Although our rainy season really doesn't start until late May, afternoon showers can happen just about any time. Sunscreen, sunglasses and bug repellant are the orders of the day. Oh, and don't forget a hat and some lip balm.
Time and Place
The refuge is open year-round from sunrise to sunset. The visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The main entrance to Loxahatchee is off U.S. 441 west of Boynton Beach. From the north, exit I-95 at Boynton Beach Boulevard. Turn south at 441, and go about 5 miles to the entrance at Lee Road. From the south, exit I-95 at Atlantic Avenue, then turn north at 441, watching for the Lee Road entrance.
The Loxahatchee National Wildlife Preserve is in Southeast Florida, with the main entrance in Boynton Beach. The closest airports are West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.
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