Everglades City Airboat Tour
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli
Southwest Florida has a very colorful history. The Everglades were filled with smugglers, outlaws, bootleggers, environmental activists, alligator hunters, songwriters and Gladesmen.
We airboated through the Everglades on a previous visit to Florida, and we just happened to be returning there when Captain Gary wrote us an email.
"You toured with me before. C'mon down! I work for a different company now and want to show you what we got goin' on."
You bet. Wouldn't miss it for the world.
Everglades City isn't far from Naples
We arranged for a day in the week that was convenient and drove the easy hour from Naples to Everglades City. It had been gorgeous and clear for days, but that afternoon, dark, menacing clouds gathered. We could have sheets of rain or the skies could clear. The unpredictable weather added to the excitement and we figured it was all part of the experience. We didn't mind either way.
Entrance to Everglades City Airboat Tours
Humans have lived in the southern portion of the Florida peninsula for 15,000 years. The two major native tribes which formed in and around this area were the Calusa and the Tequesta.
The coast of Florida was mapped in 1773 by a British surveyor named John Gerard de Brahm and he called this area "River Glades." It has been suggested that cartographers substituted "Ever" for the word "River" and in 1823 the name "Ever Glades" first appeared on a map. It stayed this way and by 1851 the name was sometimes spelled "Everglades."
Akaisha in rain gear with two-way communication headphone and mic
Captain Gary was coming in to the dock from having just completed a previous tour. He recognized us right away and since we were early, we waited a few minutes for the the rest of our small group to arrive.
Stating the obvious, the Captain said it could rain any moment. We could wait to see if it blew over or get the tour on the road. Or actually, on the water. We chose the latter.
Professional and courteous, Gary handed us all rain gear and explained how the two-way communication system worked. Our journey throughout The Glades would be fully narrated through our headphones (which drowned out the noise of the airboat's motor) and if we had any questions, he would be able to hear us ask.
Everglades City Airboat Tours was the only company offering this two-way communication system and it was both comfortable and convenient.
Billy sans rain gear
Always an individual, Billy chose not to wear his gear and to take his chances. We motored slowly out of the harbor going against the 7 mile an hour current and Captain Gary explained that the tide was coming in. Water levels could go up 6 feet or so during this period.
A closer look at the airboats
All the boats owned by Everglades City Airboat Tours are brand new and our boat could hold 6 passengers very comfortably on these cushy seats! Airboats today are propelled by airplane engines and skim the surface of the water so as not to disturb the ecosystem.
Ten Thousand Islands of the Everglades
The Ten Thousand Islands is an ecosystem of fresh and salt water comprised almost completely of mangrove forests covering about 200,000 acres. The trees can survive drastic water level changes and are tolerant of salt, brackish and fresh water. Because of their roots, these dense collections of mangroves protect the coastline during severe storms. The unusual root tangle absorbs the energy of waves and the surges of storms.
Mangrove forests thrive near the mouths of large rivers where there is lots of sand and mud. Over time, these roots can collect enough sediment and debris to extend the edge of the coastline further out. Mangroves in the Everglades serve as nurseries for crustaceans and fish and are breeding grounds for birds.
The pink shrimp and stone crab industries are supported by this ecosystem.
Stone crab traps
Collecting stone crabs is a huge industry in Florida, and almost 90% of commercially harvested crustaceans are born in or spend time near the Everglades. Crabs are trapped in cages such as the ones pictured above, pulled to the surface and one claw is snapped off. They are then returned to the water and within a year will grow another claw to replace the one that was taken.
Stone crab fishing boat
Stone crabs are only harvested along Florida's Gulf Coast and the season runs from mid-October to mid-May.
Everglades City is considered the epicenter of the stone crab fishery.
Intricate roots of the mangrove tree
We were easily able to move through the complex waterways of the Everglades on the airboat. Even though the airboat travels on the surface of the water, sometimes the extended roots of the mangrove tree are pulled up by the activity of the boat. This provides the benefit of keeping these trails clear for tourism. But when water trails get too narrow or clogged, they are cleared so that this industry can continue, providing income for local residents.
Mangrove trees are sometimes called "Walking Trees" because of their roots
Many of the twists and turns looked the same to me and made me nervous. Where were we going and how did Gary know where we were? All I could think of was that someone could easily disappear here forever and no one would ever know...
When I asked Captain Gary how he could tell one turn from another, he hesitated and said he was just about to pull out a map and look! Then he laughed heartily. His family came to The Glades in the 1800s and he was born and raised in this area. He knew it like the back of his hand!
This trail through the mangroves opens up at the end
Gladesmen led a simple life among the maze of mangroves and swampgrass that are known as the Everglades today. Fishing, hunting alligators and trapping raccoons gave families the protein they needed for survival. A most independent sort, they made their own rules for living together and they poled through the marshes in handmade wooden skiffs. At some point, motorized swamp buggies replaced the skiffs, and today transport is made by airboat.
Raccoons live in these parts and we were able to see one from our airboat.
The creation of Everglades National Park changed the lives of Gladesmen more than anything else. By forming a National Park, it began 30 years of contention between the locals who considered this their home grounds and the government who wanted to limit where they could live.
The National Park Service found itself balancing the traditional uses of the Big Cypress reserve by the Gladesmen with protecting it from any damaging overuse.
Fights continue to this day over access to closed areas.
Airboats replaced swamp buggies
This is a photo of another company giving a tour on their airboat. While they have headsets to keep the noise of the motors from bothering the passengers, this Captain must stop his boat at certain places to narrate about what they have just seen or are about to see. So it is a stop/start/stop kind of tour.
My first attempt at a self-portrait
My arms aren't as long as Billy's and here I am taking a self-portrait of the two of us with the Captain in front of the large fan, distinctive of airboats. I think I need more practice with the camera!
From the mangrove forest to the sawgrass prairies
Sawgrass marshes are part of a complex ecosystem that include cypress swamps, mangrove forests, tropical hardwood hammocks and pine rockland. In 1947, Marjory Stoneman Douglas described these marshes as being a "River of Grass."
Closer view of the sawgrass marshes
Prior to the Everglades being drained in 1905, there were 4,000 square miles of marshes and prairies. Climate and the frequency of fire help to create, replace or maintain these ecosystems. Sloughs are the free-flowing channels of water between the prairies. Turtles, snakes, fish and of course, alligators flourish in these waters.
Sawgrass thrives in slowly moving water but if there are unusually deep floods and oxygen is unable to reach its roots, sawgrass becomes vulnerable. This is especially true immediately after a fire. Where these grasses grow densely, only a few animals or other plants are able to live.
This is Gator Country
Alligators like to choose these sawgrass locations for nesting and have created their own niche in the wet prairies. Digging at low spots with their claws and snouts, they create ponds free of vegetation that survive even during dry season. These holes are essential to the survival of turtles, fish, small mammals and birds during extended drought times and the alligators are also able to feed on some of these animals which come to the holes.
Captain Gary holds up a mangrove propagule
So how does a new mangrove tree begin? Spindle-like propagules form on the trees like the one that Gary is holding. These can be directly planted into the soil by nurseries. In nature, these buoyant propagules are carried and dispersed by currents.
New mangroves growing up from the silt below
Here you see new mangrove trees growing up from the silt held by the root system.
It never did rain, and all those intense clouds disappeared.
Awesome Captain Gary
We enjoyed our tour through the Everglades and we definitely recommend Captain Gary. His narration was informative and made the tour come alive. If you have any questions about the history of the Everglades or the nature that abounds here, Gary will answer them for you.
Everglades City Airboat Tours
For information and reservations call 1.877.AAA.6400 or 239.695.2400
About the Authors
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.
For more information about financial independence and travel, visit our book store
Sign up for great stories, interesting tales, and superb retirement information.
Contact Billy & Akaisha TheGuide@RetireEarlyLifestyle.com
Advertise on RetireEarlyLifestyle.com
Billy and Akaisha continue to journal and photograph their world travels.
HOME Book Store
Retire Early Lifestyle Blog
About Billy & Akaisha
Retiree Interviews Commentary REL Videos