Best Place to Take Out-of-towners (2008)
When we want to impress visitors, we show them a slice of Florida the way Juan Ponce de Leon encountered it 500 years ago. The beaches will never be the same, of course, but the Everglades have the same silvery light they always had, the same towering clouds, the tropical birds, and, yes, the glowering gators. Best place to get a feel for it is the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, 17 miles up Snake Road from the Alligator Alley midpoint (Exit 49). First the gators: They're right beside the road, dozing in the shallows that lap against the berm or sunning themselves on the banks. Sometimes they'll even wander onto the two-lane road. Don't be afraid. Alligators are a low-energy, slacker breed who'd rather stay in a sleepy stupor than chase tourists. But don't get overconfident, either — they are carnivores, after all. If you're expecting chickees and bonfires, the reservation may be a bit of a downer. It's more of a modern outpost, with a school, a meeting hall, and a little cafeteria where you can eat fried alligator bits in a rocking chair on a veranda. Best of all is the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum ($6 for adults, $4 for kids), with historical displays and artifacts and a mile-and-a-half boardwalk that takes you right into the wilderness while staying safe from the predators below.