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Talk About a Wide River!

  • Ted Landphair

The Everglades on a rainy afternoon present a lush picture of tranquility. Of course, you can't see the mosquitoes here.

The Everglades on a rainy afternoon present a lush picture of tranquility. Of course, you can't see the mosquitoes here.

The Everglades stretch almost 200 kilometers across Florida

Recently, in a story about the Okefenokee swamp that straddles the Florida-Georgia state line. We noted that it's a true swamp, unlike the more famous Everglades that cover a whole lot of South Florida.

In fact, Everglades National Park could be called the world's widest river. It's a vast, extremely slow-moving sheet of water — 180 kilometers (112 miles) wide and no more than a meter deep in most places — stretching all the way from the edge of Miami on the Atlantic Coast across to Naples on the Gulf of Mexico. This lovely photo of the Everglades at dusk was made into a postcard in the early 1900s.

This lovely photo of the Everglades at dusk was made into a postcard in the early 1900s.

You could call the glades a River of Grass, too: bristly yellow sawgrass that can slice you open

The Everglades were once a formidable frontier. When the United States was pushing Spain out of Florida in the 19th Century, its fiercest foe was a band of Seminole Indians who harbored escaped U.S. criminals and southern slaves in the Everglades on dry patches of ground called hammocks.

In the early 20th Century, when Miami, now a great international city, had only 1,600 residents, nobody could figure out how to drain the Everglades or overcome the hordes of mosquitoes that brought yellow fever and attacked work crews who tried to lay railroad ties or build towns.

Over the years, though, engineers solved the drainage problem, and the edges of the great River of Grass were steadily drained for housing developments, canals, and roads. Sometimes the results were disastrous, as vegetation dried and caught fire, and ditches siphoned away fresh water. If you look carefully between the two white rocks, you'll spot a couple of sunning gators, waiting for their next splash - and meal.

If you look carefully between the two white rocks, you'll spot a couple of sunning gators, waiting for their next splash - and meal.

Wildlife has also been threatened as the glades shrink. The National Park Service estimates that the number of wading birds has declined from a quarter of a million in the 1930s to fewer than 20,000 today.

But you'll still see plenty of alligators. They sun themselves along the old, two-lane state road through the Everglades, and may be diminished but are still an awesome sight. There's nothing like them, anywhere in the world.

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