BYLINE: JAY CLARKE Herald Travel Editor SECTION: TRAVEL; J; Pg. 1 LENGTH: 1508 words

Used to be that if you wanted to get away from it all, you went to the end of the road. Here, at the end of the road in Everglades National Park, you can go one better: Get a boat and really lose yourself in this watery wilderness. Cruise up Buttonwood Canal, Coot Bay, Tarpon Creek and into Whitewater Bay and you enter a world far removed from the condo- covered shorelines of Miami and the South Florida Gold Coast. Here, in a surprisingly huge bay, you rarely see another boat and never a house, seawall or other trappings of civilization. Thick mangroves line the banks, eagles and egrets soar overhead and in the waters you may spot manatees and alligators as well as smaller, more edible denizens of the sea ripe for your hook and line. You can get a taste of this great wilderness on a park service tour boat, or from a rented skiff if you don't bring your own. But come winter, you'll really be able to get away from it all for more than a few hours at a time: Houseboats are returning to the Everglades for the first time in five years. HOUSEBOATS RETURN The popular craft, which will be rented at the Flamingo docks, permits you to explore this region at leisure and in depth, exploring river channels, small inlets and byways, anchoring whenever and almost wherever to fish, sunbathe, cook and sleep. Marine charts tell you where you can go and where you can't, and enable you to navigate all the way from Flamingo through Whitewater Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, or up the Shark River to Tarpon Bay in the heart of the Everglades. You don't have to be an experienced boater to run these craft. I took a houseboat into the Glades for three days a few years ago with no experience -- and had no trouble operating it. Five 39-foot houseboats will be available starting in December, each sleeping four to six persons. Rental fees have not yet been set, but will probably run around $900 to $1,000 a week.

Also new this winter at Flamingo will be organized, overnight canoe trips. Led by guides, the canoers will explore the backcountry on two- or three-day camping trips. Visitors have always been able to rent canoes for day paddling around Flamingo, but heretofore the only canoe outfitter for overnight trips was located just outside the park boundaries. Cost of the canoe trips will be $70 per person per day with a two-day minimum. The park hopes to offer a trip every Tuesday starting in mid-December and running through March, said Rick Hoeninghausen, the concessionaire's marketing manager. A WORLD OF WILDLIFE Whether traveling by tour boat, houseboat or canoe, visitors spend a lot of time looking at the wildlife. The place, after all, is for the birds. Thousands of them nest here, among them ospreys, pelicans, herons, egrets, roseate spoonbills, anhingas, ibises and the one everybody looks for -- the bald eagle. Oddly, though, you'll see few of the birds for which this settlement is named -- the pink flamingo. Seems that the first settlers thought the plentiful roseate spoonbills were flamingos and so named the place. No matter. The name is tropical and so is the scenery and the wildlife. In this setting, birds have a particular beauty. The anhinga, sometimes known as the snake bird or water turkey, dives into the water to seize fish, then perches on a tree limb, wings spread wide, to dry his feathers. The great white heron stands spindly tall and motionless, a striking sight against the sawgrass and mangrove. The gallinules walk daintily atop floating lily pads, while the eagle gracefully banks and turns to land on his treetop eyrie. Of the 600-odd species of birds known in North America, more than 300 make the Everglades their home some time during the year. GATOR IS THE STAR Among other wildlife at the park, the alligator easily is the star. The slithering reptile, with his baleful eyes and powerful jaws, is found throughout the Everglades, usually slumbering at water's edge but sometimes darting with surprising speed after his prey. This year, there are more alligators than ever; rangers report a "tremendous increase" in the gator population of Shark River Slough, one of their principal breeding grounds. In the rivers and sloughs, turtles, bass, bream and the cigarlike garfish swim with a wary eye out for alligators. Porpoises and manatees are seen in the larger bays and rivers. Deer and raccoons roam the islandlike tree hammocks that stand a foot or so above the main watery sawgrass plains. Panther and black bear also are found in the park, but they are quite rare, as are smaller mammals such as the mink. The less common forms of wildlife are seen only deep in the Everglades, but other species can be seen almost anywhere in the preserve. On a day visit of just a few hours, one can see a great deal, particularly at the Royal Palm Visitor Center near the entrance. Flamingo, however, is the

only place within the park boundaries with overnight accommodations, and its wide range of facilities and tours yield a deeper and more relaxed experience for the visitor. In the winter, rangers offer a number of special programs, including ranger-led nature walks, canoe trips, birdwatching walks, demonstrations and nightly campfire programs. Visitor can cruise on a park boat up the Buttonwood Canal to Coot and Whitewater Bays, home to many nesting birds, or go on a sunset cruise on Florida Bay. Tram rides are conducted through the hammocks and along the shore. Visitors also can rent patio boats for a leisurely trip on the waterways, skiffs for fresh-water fishing, or charter a boat for angling in Florida Bay. Accommodations at Flamingo include hotel rooms in the lodge, which has a restaurant and screened-in pool. The park also has 12 one-bedroom cottages, kitchen equipped, close to the amphitheater where campfire lectures and slide shows are given daily starting Dec. 20. The campground is situated in this area as well. Also at Flamingo are two bars, a gift shop, service station, marina and grocery store. Flamingo is situated about 70 miles southwest of Miami and 38 miles from the park entrance near Homestead. Other points of interest accessible on the road to Flamingo include Royal Palm Visitor Center with its half mile of elevated boardwalks, nature trails and exhibit area; the Long Pine Key campground; Pa-hay- okee Overlook and its boardwalk and observation tower, Mahogany Hammock, a forest of large mahogany trees; and the rookery areas of West Lake and Coot Bay Pond. The park road, incidentally, climbs up to and descends from Reef Rock Pass, but don't worry about high-altitude problems. The elevation of the pass, as an official park sign notes at the summit, is 3 feet. IF YOU GO PARK ADMISSION: $2 per vehicle. BOAT CRUISES: Backcountry cruise: Twice daily, three hours, $9.95 adults, $5 children 612, under 6, free. Summer cruise is two hours. Florida Bay cruise: Four times daily, 1 1/2 hours, $5.50 adult, $2.75 children, under 6 free. Last cruise is the sunset cruise. All-day trip to Cape Sable in 40-foot motor sailer, Capt. Bill Campbell, $30 a person, starting around Thanksgiving. Last year, two-hour sailing trips on a 53-foot windjammer were available at the marina, but the operators have not yet indicated if they will be back this winter. RENTALS: Patio boats on pontoon (capacity 6 people): $45 half day, $75 all day. Skiff (14 feet) with 8 HP motor: $33 half day, $47 all day. Canoe (17 foot): $3.50 an hour, $10 half day, $15 all day. Rod and reel: $5 a day. Bicycle: $2.50 an hour, $7.50 half day, $12 per day. Houseboats: prices not yet set. Deposits are required on all rentals. CHARTER BOATS: For three people, $175, $10 each additional person. Captain supplies boat, fuel, ice and rod and reel, customer pays for bait. TRAM TOURS: Three times daily, 2 hours, goes to Snake Bight Trail and boardwalk, $5 adult, $3 children.

ACCOMMODATIONS: Nov. 1-Nov. 30: Lodge rooms for one or two persons are $50, cottages $65, lodge suites (to 4 adults) $75. Dec. 1-April 30: rooms are $63, cottages $72, lodge suites, $95. May 1-Oct. 31: rooms $36, cottages $50, suites are closed. Additional persons are $6 each in all facilities except during the summer, when the charge is $3. Campground sites at Flamingo are $5 per night for drive-in sites, walk-in sites are $4, with no hookups. During the summer, camping sites are free because you share them with hordes of mosquitos. HANDICAPPED ACCESS: Virtually all facilities have full access for handicapped, including one of the backcountry campsites. OTHER PARK CENTERS: The Shark Valley road and observation tower, reached from the Tamiami Trail about 35 miles west of Miami, is closed for some months while a new road is built. At the western entrance to the park, at Everglades City, boat trips lasting 1 hour and 45 minutes are offered four times daily at $7 for adults, $3.50 for children. INFORMATION: For accommodations and rentals, Flamingo Lodge, P.O. Box 428, Flamingo, Fla. 33030; (305) 253-2241 or (813) 695-3101. For information about the park, Everglades National Park, P.O. Box 279, Homestead, Fla. 33030; (305) 247-6211.

Copyright 1986 The Miami Herald All Rights Reserved

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