We could hear the shrieks up ahead before we even left the kiosk. “I bet they’ve found the mosquitoes!” John said. That’s the main reason that hiking the Royal Palm Hammock Trail is so tough. I remembered coming here to hike in the dead of winter when I checked it out for “50 Hikes in South Florida,” and it wasn’t so bad at all. But on a fall visit to do some photography, I couldn’t make it past the curve in the trail. We covered ourselves in bug spray and headed in.
The royal palm hammock is a special place. This is a tropical forest in the truest sense of the word, and one of the world’s densest concentrations of this native Florida tree most beloved of South Florida landscapers. You see young ones poking up amid a tangle of blolly, gumbo-limbo, and Jamaican dogwood in a forest that feels foreign to those of us who live farther north in Florida. Deep shade envelops you quickly on this walk, as do the clouds of mosquitoes who love the shade. I kept telling John “don’t worry, they’ll let up when we get to the boardwalk,” and indeed they did. But it made looking for Liguus, the native tree snail of the tropical hammock, a bit tough.
On the boardwalk, we found the summer camp group. One of their counselors called out, “can you show these nice people the orchids?” And they did, pointing out the butterfly orchids in bloom. Now those we’re familiar with, but not within the context of a mangrove forest.
Both John and I tend to catch small details, so amid the tangle of white and red mangroves, we’d notice … something. And then check it out. Not just amid the trees, but also on the boardwalk itself.
The Royal Palm Hammock Trail surprises you with changes in perspective around its turns. At the end of a spur trail, an overlook brings you to a vista of typical Everglades habitat in this region.
Around another bend was a Seussian forest of palms, reminding me of the trees that the Lorax tried so hard to save from destruction.
As we left the boardwalk to descend back into the tropical forest, the mosquitoes descended again. But we weren’t about to give up on the tree snails I’d talked up for so long. John pointed to a tree trunk. “Up there!”
And it was. The first of several, in fact. We came away from our walk – brisk through the tropical forest, a stroll on the boardwalk – grateful that we’d visited. For it had been enough years that I’d forgotten that this was among one of Florida’s most beautiful trails.