SOUTHERN FLORIDA'S NATURAL WONDERS
Few regions of the United States have as concentrated a collection of remarkable natural scenic wonders as southern Florida. The region is unique, lovely and a great place to both enjoy nature in action and to learn to appreciate how fragile many ecosystems are. This is a quick rundown on several spots within easy reach of Miami:
BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE - Big Cypress Swamp covers 2,400 square miles of southern Florida with lush marshlands, dry prairies, mangrove forests and islands. The Preserve rests on top of Everglades National Park. The cypress trees themselves are very noticeable, but the entire swamp is a delicate preserve that gives us an idea of what a large portion of Florida once looked like. Many plants and creatures are just hanging on in these areas.
BIG PINE KEY - This key is home to a number of refuges for endangered animals as their habitat is destroyed by development. Bird and deer preserves are open, usually without fee.
BISCAYNE NATIONAL PARK - Just below Miami, this is a gorgeous spread of unspoiled Florida. Most of the area is water: of the 181,500 total acres, only 9,073 are dry - usually. Wandering the several ecosystems represented is an education in itself. Boating and diving are available, fees usually involved, call (305) 247-2400. Email:
EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK - The Everglades are known around the world, and rightly so. Nowhere else in the United States can you explore such an expanse of subtropical wilderness. Route 9336 wanders from Homestead west to Flamingo, with several possible stops along the way. The scenery is intense, and the need for this lush breeding ground is becoming accepted. This knowledge, however, is not stopping potential encroachment. Take your kids to this remarkable place and get a feel for what a tropical peninsula is all about. If you're very lucky indeed, you may see a manatee - a gentle butterball of a creature which is literally being eaten up by motor boats. There are fees, and any pet must be on leash, crated, or restrained. Call (305) 242-7700 for details.
METROZOO - Unlike the above parks, this is a man-made nod to the animal kingdom - with cageless exhibits in natural habitat separated by native region. The Asian River Life area is usually a favorite, with clouded leopards and blood pythons among the inhabitants. There are also animal shows and staged musical shows. Open daytime only, admission charges. Call (305) 251-0401
MIAMI SEAQUARIUM - While small compared with the previous offerings, the Miami Seaquarium is very interactive, allowing visitors to actually touch many of the sea creatures in residence. Several exhibits are arranged by type, such as WaterWings and Faces of the Rainforest. A much less intense experience, and there are kennels available for your co-travelers. Not cheap admission, but some credit cards accepted. Call 305-361-5705. Email: email@example.com.
MONKEY JUNGLE - And here you focus on another group of fellow Earth creatures, this time the primates. More than 50 species call Monkey Jungle home, each roaming freely in large areas which recreate their natural home. Again, admission fees, some credit cards accepted, open daytime only. Call 305-235-1611
PARROT JUNGLE & GARDENS - Back to the birds, and a very colorful lot they are - macaws, parrots and cockatoos love to perform, and will strut their stuff for you. Of course there's a flamingo lake with a large flock of those pink beauties. There are educational exhibits, a playground, and a petting zoo. Give this one some time. Fee, credit cards, daytime hours. Call (305) 666-7834 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is just a beginning of the many spots you can visit with your children that focus on the natural world in southern Florida. Check out the Ocean World Dolphin Show and Butterfly World, and there are many more adventures. Who knows? You may have a budding zoologist or botanist in your midst.|
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