As an insatiably curious world traveler who rarely visits the same place twice, it’s odd to have the sort of connection that keeps drawing me back to Sanibel Island, Florida over and over again.
I’ve been there at least 15 times since my first visit in the early ’90s. I know the island so well that I can recall its changes over the last two decades– the massive Australian pines that were felled by Hurricane Charley in 2004, the old drawbridge that used to cause long waits when crossing the Causeway from the mainland, and old school businesses (R.I.P. McT’s) that have gradually been replaced with newer, flashier establishments.
When I first started going to Sanibel, I was shocked and amazed to discover that you could usually count on seeing Alligators in the tiny swamp right next to the historic Bailey’s shopping center, which was opened in the late 1800s. You’d most often spot them lurking in the middle of the water, still as statues, their foreboding eyes watching for prey. But occasionally you’d see them right along the bank, less than 20 yards from the movie theater parking lot.
I’ve heard stories of people being caught feeding them, of small dogs snatched from their owners as they walked along the shore, and of gators being moved deeper into the swamp to avoid human contact. I haven’t seen gators in the swamp for years. But I still visit the area every time I’m in Sanibel Island, because you never know where wildlife may turn up.
And so it was that I found myself walking along the fringe of the swamp on a recent evening. I was looking for gators right around sunset when I saw this Turtle surface in the water about 15 yards away. As he stared at me, this big orange Flame Skimmer Dragonfly landed right on his head. I snapped the photo with my 500mm lens, and before I could click the shutter a second time he was gone.
It was a perfect moment of serendipity: Not the Alligator I’d hoped for, but a reminder that Nature adapts to change and brings with it sweet surprises if you keep eyes and mind open. –Bret Love
Our trip to Sanibel Island was hosted by the Lee County Visitors Bureau. But we will never compromise our obligation to our readers. Our opinions remain our own.
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Around this time 10 years ago my life was a shambled mess.
I was 35 years old, and coming out of an emotional divorce after a 12-year marriage. I had an amazing 3-year-old daughter I only saw about 30% of the time. I was in a torturous, on-again/off-again, long-distance relationship with a Canadian woman whose custody agreement ensured she’d lose her kids if she left Toronto, while I’d lose mine if I left Atlanta. My freelance writing career was in such a pitiful state, I barely qualified for a mortgage. And, what was worse, I saw no light at the end of the tunnel to suggest these things might eventually improve.
So I did what any depressed, despondent, divorced single dad might do in similar circumstances: I charged gas, food and hotel rooms to my already overburdened credit card so that I could take my toddler to the beach. Specifically, to my favorite beach in the world, in Sanibel Island, Florida.
(The following is a guest post from Brock Delinski of Our Favorite Adventure, who is also a gear consultant and coaches people preparing for adventures and long distance hikes. You can sign up for his free newsletter here. If you’re a blogger interested in guest posting, please email Editor-In-Chief Bret Love at GreenGlobalTravel@gmail.com.)
Hiking the John Muir Trail is many things to many people, but just about everyone who has done it will agree that it is among the finest hikes in the USA. For nature lovers, the JMT has it all, from soaring mountain passes to quaint valleys that give you that last-person-on-Earth sort of feeling. Hiking the JMT is one of those experiences that ultimately lingers with you long after you’ve hung up your hiking boots.
(The following is a guest post by National Geographic Photographer Peter Essick, who was recently named named one of the 40 most influential nature photographers in the world by Outdoor Photography Magazine. Essick has traveled extensively over the last two decades, making photographs that move beyond mere documentation to reveal in careful compositions the human impact of development as well as the enduring power of the land. Essick has photographed stories on many environmental issues, including climate change, high-tech trash, nuclear waste and freshwater. In his most recent book, The Ansel Adams Wilderness, Essick pays tribute to Ansel Adams and the craggy Sierra Nevada wilderness area.)
With poetic words and foresight, the U.S. Congress passed the Wilderness Act of 1964 establishing a system to preserve some of America’s most wild places. The act said, “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The act was a victory for conservationists and was the first time in U.S. history that legislation was enacted not to promote resource development but to protect some land in its natural state.
Ansel Adams was one person who had fought for wilderness, using his camera as a tool to show his love of the High Sierra mountain range. Upon his death in 1984, Congress paid Adams the ultimate tribute by renaming the Minaret Wilderness for him. It was in this region that Adams first developed his love of nature and began to master the craft of black and white landscape photography. Adams did his photography while working for the Sierra Club helping with the logistics of their month-long summer outings.
Recently, I went back to this wilderness area with my camera to photograph this beautiful landscape. I wanted to pay homage to Adams and the work he did many years ago, but I also wanted to find my own interpretation. My hope is that these photographs will celebrate the wild lands and wild American spirit of those who fought to save them. It has not even been a century since Adams carried his view camera on burro to photograph the High Sierra wilderness. In the world of nature, that was only yesterday. –text & photos by Peter Essick
We’re not even in the water yet, but already my heart is pounding in my chest.
I’m on a boat about 2 hours from Cancun, on the perimeter of a circle of dozens of other boats filled with eager tourists. Like my 12-year-old daughter and I, they’re all here for a singular purpose: The once-in-a-lifetime experience of Swimming with Whale Sharks, the largest known fish species in the world.
Though the glare of the morning sun on the water is nearly blinding, the 35-foot, 20,000-pound whale sharks aren’t difficult to spot. In fact, their hulking forms are everywhere we look, swimming in slow, lazy circles to filter-feed on krill and plankton at the surface, seemingly oblivious to our presence. Thankfully, our captain stays far away from the other boats, so that when one of these gentle giants swims near we will have them all to ourselves.
As he brings the boat to a halt, a massive whale shark swims straight for us. He looks as wide as a VW Beetle, and as long as a school bus, gliding effortlessly with his mouth wide open. At the last second his spotted form swerves past us, changing directions surprisingly quickly with a mere flip of his tail. I’m 6’2″ and built like a linebacker, but suddenly even I feel very small by comparison.