The American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis. It seems that you can’t spit in the Everglades without hitting an alligator. This reptile is the barometer of the Glades and one of the poster children for its conservation.
Visiting the Everglades today, it’s hard to imagine man’s assault on Mother Nature at the turn of the 20th century. For decades the Everglades was seen as a paradise on earth, the only problem was that it was and is, covered in water. In man’s hubris to control and conquer nature, many attempts were made to drain the swamp but Mother Nature always wins. Her most decisive victory was in 1928 with a hurricane that claimed 2,500 lives.
For years men had used guile, hyperbole, backroom politics, and downright lies to convince others that the Everglades could be conquered and her rich soil could be reclaimed but it took a handful of women to try and save it. It was the women of Florida that helped create Florida’s first State Park in November of 1916. The 4,000 acres of Royal Palm State Park was just one-tenth of one percent of the Everglades ecosystem but it was a start. This 4,000 acres is now the epicenter of Everglades National Park and features the Anhinga Trail, the Gumbo-Limbo Trail and Royal Palms Visitors Center. This is the core of the Everglades that draws a million visitors a year. And the Anihinga Trail is the location where many visitors see their first wild alligator as well as bring an inspiration for the spread above.
The alligators of the Everglades were not the first time I had seen this famed reptile in the wild. That honor goes to South Padre Island in Texas on a birding trip in 2013. Unlike like birds, rodents, and humans, alligators have the capacity to hold still for hours, making them an ideal subject for the sketchbook. The above sketch was done in one sitting.