Since alligators are my favorite animal, it makes sense that my favorite road is named Alligator Alley. Of course, Florida messed it all up. These days, if you look for Alligator Alley on a map, it refers to the main interstate 75 that crosses the state, starting at Fort Lauderdale on the East Coast. We’ve driven across it, and let me tell you, at those speeds, you’re not taking photos of alligators. But before 75 took over the name, it was the more southern, slower Route 41 heading west out of Miami that was called Alligator Alley. And if you ask me, it’s this road that’s the true Alligator Alley. There’s no way I’m calling it “Tamiani Trail,” man – even if it does connect Tampa to Miami! (Just like it’ll always be the Sears Tower – screw those Willis people!)
So it was the old, TRUE Alligator Alley we drove across after our trip through the Keys – Route 41. And it is a great road to take your time on. We left an entire day open to enjoy this drive through the Everglades, stop at some of the Visitor Centers, and partake in some of the nature-oriented activities around. And of course, there was plenty of alligator-spotting time… and we DID spot them while driving!
Our first and longest stop was at the Shark Valley Visitor Center. The nickname for the Everglades is “River of Grass” due to the vast, shallow sheet of water the flows slowly from Lake Okeechobee southward to the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay. The grassy prairie filters the water for drinking and provides a home for many animals, for which we were on the prowl. There’s a 15 mile paved loop trail that you can choose to explore by bicycle or by tram ride, so we rented bikes and rode for a few hours.
We were not disappointed. We saw gators, turtles, anhingas (gorgeous black birds with a huge wing span) and other wading birds along the way. It was tempting to stop constantly and take photos.
In the middle of the ride, at one end of the loop, you have a chance to get off your bike and climb the observation tower there, so you can look out over the broad expanse of the Everglades.
At the end of our ride we were treated to several special sights as well – baby alligators, a gator crossing our path and an anhinga in the process of catching a fish and trying to eat it!
We were planning on two short hikes after our ride on the Bobcat Boardwalk and Otter Cave Trails, but we only got to walk a little bit as stopping for all those “special sights” had eaten up a lot of our time. We did see some cool holes in the ground:)
Our next detour was the Loop Road Scenic Drive off of Alligator Alley. Part gravel, part paved, this road had lots of pretty wetland scenery to take in. The trees growing out of and reflecting in the water were so picturesque. And of course we found a gator or two.
We tried to do a hike at the end of this road, but we didn’t get very far, as the trail was washed out.
Once back on 41, we backtracked just a few minutes so we could stop at Oasis Visitor Center. There was a short boardwalk there, and the park ranger told us there were a bunch of gators out there. Sure enough, we saw more gators in this half mile stretch than we had seen all day put together!
After Oasis, we drove straight to Fort Myers. It was light for a while so I looked for gators on the side of the road as Elliott drove and I found a few. Then it got dark, and we watched a beautiful sunset as we drove west.