Coral Gardens Full of Alligators

I love making lists. There’s a reason though; I wasn’t born that way. I used to complain a lot as a kid, in fact, that I felt like I could never accomplish all the things I wanted to. I was about 10. My sister, never one to pity little “whiners,” offered the pragmatic advice, “Make a list.” And so I did, and a monster was created! As Elliott can tell you, I now have more lists than I can manage. And my favorite lists are my travel and bucket lists.

Our Florida Keys trip was born out of my list of Road Trips. I’ve come to realize, throughout all of our travels, that road trips are one of my favorite types of travel. Yes, I live in a city in Ecuador without a car. Yes, I convinced Elliott to sell our second car and we shared just one car for many years in PA. My only explanation is that I am, after all, American-born, and we feel truly free when we are in our cars on the gorgeous open road!

open road

And gorgeous it was. Before I talk about the Keys, though, I’ll tell you a little bit about some stops we made on the way. Just 45 minutes from Miami Airport, we stopped at a little place known as Coral Castle. Previously known as Rock Gate Park, this place is small but really cool, and it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a sculpture garden carved in stone, built by one man in just over 25 years starting in the 1920’s. It’s named Coral Castle because it looks like coral, with all the embedded shells, but it is actually limestone. And no, it’s not actually full of alligators, despite the name of this post (sorry)! We were given a free tour by a friendly guide who explained everything they know about this park, and they even allowed us to try sitting in the different chairs that were carved.

Latvian born, Edward Leedskalnin was only 5 feet tall and 100 pounds, yet he single-handedly and secretly carved over 1,100 tons of coral rock! The accomplishment seems mysterious indeed when one sees these huge pieces of rock that had to be moved and worked with in order to do this.

44 Both these people are actual size

Both these people are actual size

In addition to the sculptures, Edward left behind his workshop with many tools recycled from old auto parts that help explain his feat. He clearly understood laws of engineering, leverage and balance very well, as evidenced by this video of me pushing a 3 ton rock!!

Stephanie and Carlos push a three ton rock around!

After finishing some of his sculptures, Edward charged the public 10 cents admission to see his creations, and was able to live off of the money he collected.

02 Or feed it to me

Or feed it to Elliott!

We stayed in Homestead that night and continued our drive south the next morning. We weren’t going too far though – just far enough to see my favorite animal at the Everglades Alligator Farm! We love alligator farms and go whenever we get the chance. (Correction – we love alligator zoos that don’t actually farm the alligators. Luckily many of them are misnamed, including this one.)

The highlight of this zoo, besides the alligators themselves of course, are the included airboat rides. For some reason I thought we had been on one of these rides before but Elliott assured me we had not, and as soon as we got going, I knew he was right. An airboat is propelled by a huge fan and glides over water and land. It is very loud and very fast and very FUN! We had to wear sound-muffling headphones and our driver told us over and over we were going to get very wet, especially if we sat in the front row. Where do you think I wanted to sit? I did suggest Elliott take his shoes and socks off and he was so happy he did. We saw some wildlife but the thrill is really in the ride itself.  Check out these videos:

Our first ever airboat ride

Airboat SPIN

After the ride we walked around checking out all the animals, and watched all the shows.

These guys seem to know they’re about to be fed…

The shows were especially interesting because they were all led by a very tall guy who grew up right here in the Everglades, and so is used to finding all these animals in his backyard.

We even watched the snake show twice! I was in heaven as we got to hold baby alligators and (not so baby) snakes.

Check me out with this snake who thinks I’m a tree!

We also fed the emus with all the feed we found on the ground outside their fence, and tried hard not to get our hands bitten off by the emus!  It was a great day.

Emu tries to bite off girl’s hand!

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