Day 5: Biking Shark Valley Slough

Day 5: Biking Shark Valley Slough

LET THE ADVENTURE UNFOLD: Phoenix Kids Travel to Study

Imagine herding cats at the bike livery in Shark Valley as we all searched for bikes that fit us best. Once paired with one that matched our size, we were off to learn the finer points of riding and stopping an old-fashioned bike. We had to get used to “definitely weird” handlebars according to the kids, no gears, and only foot brakes.  Finally, we were off along the canal, heading to the observation tower 7 miles away.  Next stop, animal or bird sighting…and there were many!  

Lazy alligators lead the list with at least 62 according to Fiona, our official alligator counter.  One even crosses the road in front of us. Frisky striped gator babies entertain us, but we keep our distance since Mama is near. Most of us hope to see a big-footed purple gallinule and we do.  Its giant feet are like tropical snowshoes for walking on carpets of splatter dock that cover the water. 

Today we see birds, so many more than on all other days combined; anhingas drying their wings, great blue herons fishing, little blue herons in shallower water, egrets, ibises, and huge flocks of birds flying overhead. Our special treat today is a turtle alongside the path, laying her eggs.

To be expected there were a few minor “crashes’” as we practiced our control in mile 1.  By mile 2 we were much more proficient and able to keep watch for birds, critters, and tree islands dotted throughout the prairie of sawgrass.

Riding 15 miles is hot and thirsty work, so we are delighted to be sprinkled on and then drenched for a brief period along the way. What a refreshing way to cool off. It’s perfect we agree.

Tonight, thinking back on our time in the Everglades, we each pick our high point; maybe something we will always remember, something of which we are proud, a challenge we have overcome.

Charlie: bike ride… I got to know a lot more about Kyle and Max because we were together at the end.

Alice; canoeing…it was physical like I like, a new experience and a good challenge through a unique landscape.

Arlo:15 mile bike ride…I talked with others and my partner, there was lots of wildlife, and, since it was flat, not too tiring.

Karina D: slough slog… I was engaged because I like to see the animals, birds, and trees.

Karina PZ: the end of the bike ride because I felt proud and accomplished …15 miles is the most I ever did.

Max: canoeing because seeing alligators & anhingas was pretty fun.

Aiden: bike ride because I could use more strength and go fast, and I saw lots of alligators. I’m proud of myself.

Eziah: canoeing … I got to canoe for the first time and learned how to use a paddle, and make different strokes work. It was fun.

Liam: canoeing…  I’ve never done it before. Getting the hang of it quickly was very satisfying.

Fiona: canoeing… Kyle let me be captain because I was really good at paddling and steering.

What a great way to end a remarkable trip!


Day 4: Canoeing on Buttonwood Canal

Day 4: Canoeing on Buttonwood Canal

LET THE ADVENTURE UNFOLD: Phoenix Kids Travel to Study
Traveling to the southernmost tip of The Everglades brings us to Flamingo where we meet Ranger Chris for our next adventures. He shares information about the local inhabitants: manatees, ospreys, and crocodiles.
Even though we learn that manatees love to hang out in the marina basin before us, they are too shy for us today. Next, we gather under a giant osprey nest with its two juveniles who are cared for by their vocal parents. It’s easy to understand why Chris admires these strong, intelligent creatures who mate for life, return to the same nest year after year, and fish for their hungry, demanding offspring. They soar through the air, in search of fish below, then perch above us, noisily keeping sharp eyes on their chicks. Lastly, alligators and crocodiles capture our attention as Chris demonstrates their differences using replica skulls of each.  We have declared the phrase ‘bird brain’ obsolete after seeing in the skulls where tiny reptilian brains reside…about the width of an adult forefinger and very shallow; good only for 3 things; mating, eating, moving.
Canoeing along Buttonwood Canal is the highlight of the day.  Those who have experience kindly help our novices.  We paddle along banks of entangled mangrove roots, on the lookout for lazy American crocodiles, alligators, turtles, and birds. We are lucky today to see a true diversity of wildlife including rare crocodiles, as well as a female manatee nursing her calf as she floats along.
Kyle considers himself lucky with Fiona and Karina D. who banishes him to the middle seat to take over the bow and stern, giving him a well-deserved rest. Eziah shows his power and skill in Leslie’s canoe, with Karina PZ navigating bravely at the bow.   Liam and Max stretch their paddling muscles, almost to exhaustion as they fight against the wind. Alice takes command in the stern in her canoe, while Aiden paddles enthusiastically in the bow.
A group like ours is bound to have several memorable moments.  Today it is Arlo’s and Charlie’s turn.  With his paddle threatening to float away, Charlie reaches out to save his paddle, throwing his canoe off balance.  In a flash, Arlo and Charlie are cooling off.  Every moment of a Phoenix Travel-Study trip is a learning opportunity, so Kyle expertly instructs them in the art of restoring a capsized canoe to its upright position and safely climbing back in.  The two boys are calm and confident and now have a new skill.
Back to the hostel we go to shower and enjoy a tasty meal prepared by Kyle.  We will all sleep well tonight!
Leslie, Barbara, & Kyle
Head of School. Founder of School, & Alumni
Day 3:  Slough Slog

Day 3:  Slough Slog

LET THE ADVENTURE UNFOLD: Phoenix Kids Travel to Study

Elsie, our ranger naturalist begins our slough slog adventure by describing the flow of the River of Grass over time.  Without the shallow moving water, this unique environment would not exist. She provides us with long slogging sticks to help us make our way through the cypress dome’s watery world.  We slog along through periphyton, kicking up mud in our wake as we try to pull our feet out of the sucking muck. Max and Leslie decide to take a little dip, probably wanting to get up close and personal with the bladderwort. We each had our personal opinions of the slog.

Charlie: My feet sink into the mud as I search for the next safe place to step. My attention is drawn to a juvenile ibis searching for the perfect landing.

Fiona: Knee-deep water splashes delicately against the cypress trees as we march across the cypress dome.  

Karina D. As we were wading cautiously in the water of the cypress dome, there was life teeming both below us and above us, birds chirping and organisms swimming around our feet.  

Alice:  As we parade through the mighty cypress dome, sounds of slushing and rustling leaves dominate the soundscape.  

Arlo: As I swiped the net across the cypress floor, it suddenly felt heavier.  Lifting it up, I realized it was filled with cypress needles that cover the cypress dome floor. I remember from my research that needles certain acids that slowly degrade the limestone floor.

Karina  P-Z:  As I slogged through the cypress dome I saw a long, slimy, green strand of bladderwort floating along. I look up to see a night heron perched comfortably on a high branch. 

Max: As the ranger explains periphyton I wonder how can something so small support 2,357 square miles of submerged sawgrass and millions of creatures.

Eziah: Walking slowly through the cypress forest with my slog pole to help me keep my balance, I hear sounds all around me. Kapunk, kapunk, my muddy feet walking through the cypress water feel funny. I look up and see a night heron squawking at me.

Aiden: Sawgrass felt sharp against my fingertips.  As I walked through the slough I saw a dark blue night-heron perching on a twig. I wonder if night herons are actually rare.

Liam: As I walked through the slough, sinking in the mud, I saw the knees of the cypress almost as tall as me.  Bromeliads clung to the trees far above me.

Exploring the Visitor Center and watching the Everglades movie there answered more of our questions.

On our way back to the hostel, as a special surprise, we pulled into Robert Is Here fruit stand for a fresh and delicious fruit smoothie made from Robert’s own homegrown exotic fruits. We arrived back refreshed and ready to record our adventure through words and watercolors in our journals.

Leslie, Barbara, & Kyle


Day 2:  Anhinga Trail, Everglades Study Travel Program 2022

Day 2: Anhinga Trail, Everglades Study Travel Program 2022

LET THE ADVENTURE UNFOLD: Phoenix Kids Travel to Study

(Can you spot the alligator?)

We awaken hungrily, and truly appreciate our breakfast of Kyle pancakes, cereal, fruit, milk, and juice. After filling up, we head back to discover the Anhinga Trail by day. Shapes and shadows of last night come to life in the sunlight. 

Lazy alligators bask on the banks, warming themselves.  Some glide effortlessly across the pond half-submerged like ancient submarines. 

Snake-necked Anhingas fly from tree to tree, watching for breakfast below in the clear dark waters of the slough. We are lucky to see one swim by, searching for fish, then climbing up to perch on the handrail, spreading its wings to dry.

Several social turtles pig pile at the water’s edge to steal their share of the bright Everglades sun. In the distance, Great Egrets float across the sky looking for productive fishing spots, before sinking gracefully into tall grasses, out of sight except for the tops of their heads. Herons fish along the bank, keeping eyes peeled for darting fish destined to become a tasty lunch.

Stretching out on the boardwalk deck, we open our journals and begin to capture the slough and glades with our watercolors. Some of us begin to understand how to let watercolor guide our creativity, while others are still experimenting. Soon, we all begin to see our art take on the feel of the slough.  

During lunch, under the canopy of the Visitor Center, a ranger, who we recognize from a video we watched in preparation for our trip, shares his extensive knowledge about alligators.  We enjoy his personable style and depth of information.

Too soon, it’s time to head back to the hostel for dinner before setting off to Mahogany Hammock for Celestial Navigation with Captain Kyle who, when not volunteering with us, captains a cargo ship that trades between northern Europe and Canada. Part of his licensing requires him to demonstrate proficiency in celestial navigation, just as navigators have done for thousands of years before GPS…just in case. 

Kyle finds us a spot on the boardwalk where we can see the heavens and emerging stars as twilight falls.  We follow the path of the ecliptic, talking constellations, and stars. We find Polaris and begin to understand why it does not seem to rise and set like the other stars. Our fists teach us how to find our latitude, and we imagine what the sky would look like if we were back in Salem, or at the Equator.

We ask questions and talk about Orion and his dogs, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, using Dubai & Mirach to point us to the North Star. The moon is mischievous tonight, casting too much light for us to see as many navigational stars as we would like, and the planets sleep tonight until just before dawn, when we, in turn, will be fast asleep.

Leslie, Barbara, & Kyle

Day 1: Phoenix Kids Travel to Study

Day 1: Phoenix Kids Travel to Study

Day 1:  Excited and ready to begin their Travel Study adventure in the Everglades,  Phoenix kids rose early this morning, filled with anticipation.

“I imagine flying over rivers and trees of the Everglades. I’m feeling tranquil. I wish I were down there already, witnessing the landscape full of life.” Fiona

“Thriving mangroves surround me as I canoe down the River of Grass. Wading birds fly above me and alligators lurk just below the surface waiting for an unsuspecting bird to fly into their jaws. Alligators are one of my favorite parts of the Everglades, stalking their prey with undying patience.” Liam

“My dream is to learn about most of the animals of the Everglades and to learn about as many animals as I can. I want to meet park rangers because they meet, love, and learn about animals of the Everglades.” Eziah

“I look into great aeolian eyes that seem to burn holes into mine, then, vanish under cool bracken and bromeliads.” Karina D

“I am excited for the bike ride because I just started riding my bike and I got the hang of it.”  Aiden

“Something that caught my eye on the list was canoeing.  At first, I thought NO WAY, but then I realized it might be cool.”  Karina P-Z

“I honestly have not been too excited to go on the trip. I will really miss my dog, no matter how annoying she is.  I guess it could be interesting seeing all the alligators. Even though I would feel uncomfortable around an alligator, at least I would get to study the creature up close.  Who knows? All I know is this could be fun.” Max

“I imagine venturing through the endless sawgrass prairies, the sharp edges biting at my legs.” Arlo

“As I skim through my Everglades itinerary for the very first time, my eyes catch an item far down the list: a 15-mile bike ride.  I am suddenly transported onto my bike, riding through the breathtaking sights of the Everglades.” Alice

“The Everglades is teeming with reptiles.  I’ll keep myself on high alert until I see one with my own eyes.  My sight won’t be limited to reptiles, but I will spot all animals who call the Everglades home.” Charlie

After a full day of plane and van, we enjoy the local cuisine at an open-air Mexican restaurant before heading into the park and venturing out onto the Anhinga Trail.  In the darkness, Taylor Slough embraces us, talking to us as we walk solo along the boardwalk above the water. We hear plops, whistles, chirps, grunts, squawks, splashes, and loudest, the whine and buzzing of hungry mosquitoes welcoming us, their surprise human feast, to the party.

Some of us are excited for our solitary adventure into the darkness, some of us hold back, dreading being alone above the slough.  We see distinct shapes, but no colors. In the end, we find each other, Leslie, and Kyle at the overlook, proud, and relieved to be together again. Before leaving the slough, we scan trees and water with Kyle’s bright light to discover the real inhabitants of the glades; fish gliding silently under lily pads, alligators with shining eyes, and a lonely spider resting on its web that spans from tree to tree.  The ride back to the hostel finds us quiet and ready for bed at the end of our long first day of Phoenix Travel Study.

Leslie, Barbara, & Kyle

Phoenix Kids are Travelling!

Phoenix Kids are Travelling!

It’s official Phoenix Kids are going to (drum emojis) >>> The Everglades!

This is our annual study travel trip, which takes us all over the United States, from Catalina Island in California to the Caribbean, to The Caves in Indiana. Each year has a new destination so that no student ever visits the same place twice. 

We missed the last two years of traveling and are super excited for this crew of 4-8th graders to head into the wilderness of the Everglades. 

This trip is kept a secret from the students…until the big REVEAL. 

In order to find out where they are going, they have to decipher a number of clues, that eventually disclose the longitude and latitude of their travel destination. 

This year they had to decode 15 clues and work as a team to figure it out. The team had to collaborate, read and find each clue together or they were at risk of losing one of their cards.

After some dancing, building, solving puzzles, critical thinking, and some serious teamwork a set of coordinates were revealed and off to Google Earth to figure out their destination.

The energy in the room was electric! 

Have you been to the Florida Everglades before?