In late-January 2023, Anderson Design Group's founder Joel Anderson and his wife Patty (ADG’s bookkeeper) traveled to south Florida to visit old college friends. Back in their college years, Joel and Patty met at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota. Joel graduated in 1986 and married Patty that same year, and the couple moved to Nashville shortly after. But their time together at Ringling was so special, and the friendships formed there were so deep, that the pair travel back to sunny Sarasota almost every year to see their friends (and to escape the winter weather in Nashville).
Of course, no road trip would be complete without a stop at Buc-ee's, the world's most impressively over-marketed convenience store/gas station!
(Buc-ee's is a chain of ginormous gas stations that also boast mammoth food courts and gift shops—with locations in Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee.) If you haven't noticed, Joel has a soft spot for mascots and cheeky roadside Americana!
Joel and Patty brought Sophie, (their standard poodle—and the official ADG mascot.) Sophie really enjoyed her trip to Sarasota, but for obvious reasons that you'll soon see, she was not allowed to go with them to Everglades National Park.
A Day in Everglades National Park
Spanning 2,357 square miles, Everglades National Park is one of the ten largest National Parks on the roster. And because much of the park is marshlands, inland lakes, rivers, and wide prairies of grasslands under about three feet of water, travel into and around the park is limited. That’s why Joel recommends folks take at least 3-4 days to get the full experience, as visitors will need to circumnavigate the park and enter through various visitor centers to see all that the park has to offer. (Thankfully, there are campgrounds, hotels, and short-term vacation rentals dotted along the semi-rural areas near the various park entrances for visitors to find accommodations).
Joel and Patty had just one day to see as much of the park as they could, and they certainly made the best of it! The pair approached Everglades National Park through the Gulf Coast Visit Center, about 2.5 hours south of Sarasota. In this area of the park, visitors can experience the freshwater aspects of the park, which provide visitors with a very different view of plant and animal life than what they’d see in the southern and eastern parts of the park (which are more inundated with salt water and thus create a different ecosystem for different species of plants and animals).
The pair cleverly chose January as the best month to visit Everglades National Park because while the park is often populated by swarms of insects and inundated with heat and humidity, the mild January weather felt comfortable.
To start, Joel and Patty drove from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center to Shark Valley Visitor Center, where they rented bicycles and cycled the Otter Cave Hammock Trail towards the Shark Valley Observation Tower. The 10-foot-wide asphalt trail to the observation tower was dotted with alligators, jet black reptiles sunning themselves just a few feet from Joel, Patty, and dozens of other passersby. Needless to say, there was an adjustment period for Joel and Patty to be so close to such creatures! In addition to alligators, the pair saw cranes, egrets, storks, herons, beautiful water lilies, and other flowering plants.
After the bike ride, Joel and Patty got their Adventure Guide book stamped in the Visitor Center and they stuck a commemorative sticker on the Everglades page. Then they drove two miles from the Shark Valley Visitor Center to Down South Airboat Tours, where they got to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience zooming deep into the marshes of the Everglades on a 90-minute airboat tour.
The airboat tour put Joel and Patty right into the heart of the Everglades, where they sped across endless fields of submerged prairie grasslands. They also navigated through hardwood forests and Cyprus trees, with tree roots plunging deep into the water like knobby knees.
After the airboat brought Joel and Patty back to dry land, Joel insisted on a stop by a roadside attraction that featured fiberglass statues of the infamous Swamp Ape!
Also affectionately called “Skunk Ape,” this creature is the Legend of the Everglades, a Bigfoot-like beast several locals have sworn they’ve seen lurking in the marshlands. The sun was about to set by now, but not before Joel could get some selfies next to Skunk Ape!
Direct from Joel
We got to sit down with Joel briefly to ask him about his takeaways from the trip:
ADG: What was it like getting that close to alligators??
Joel: Patty and I were more alarmed by seeing them than they were by seeing us. The gators are used to humans by now! Although I saw a sign that warned not to bring dogs on the walking trails we were on and to keep a close eye on small children…
ADG: What advice do you have for people headed to the park? Maybe something you know now that you didn’t know before?
Joel: I’m really glad we went in January. The Everglades can be hot, muggy and buggy in any month other than December, January, and February. I’ve heard the mosquitoes can be intense! It’s a great winter park, though. And given that many American National Parks are either closed or under several feet of snow during winter, Everglades gives folks a chance to get out and explore despite the harsh weather in most other parts of the U.S.
ADG: That’s good to know! Any other advice for visitors?
Joel: I can’t recommend the airboats enough. I believe taking an airboat tour is a must if you want to get the full Everglades experience, because airboats are the only way to get deep into the Everglades and see what they really look like. I highly recommend reserving a tour with Down South Airboat Tours. Our guide was super knowledgeable and taught us a lot about the Everglades. We took the 90min tour option, which I recommend. (They offer 60min, 90min, and 120min tour options).
ADG: What stood out most from your trip to the park? What was most inspiring to you about it?
Joel: For years, we’ve been creating Everglades poster art based on our academic research into the park. But none of us had been there yet. I’m always amazed at the difference I see when I immerse myself in a park compared to what I see online when researching that park. And you really do get the best feel for the park on the airboat. The whole park feels like a river of grass. It’s like a freshwater lake that’s sloooooowly moving south. Seeing that happen before my eyes was super inspiring. And there’s so much life teeming around the park. I’ve already got ideas for at least three new pieces of art. I won’t give them away now, but know that they’ll provide unique perspectives of Everglades National Park, perspectives that we have yet to feature in our poster art.
ADG: Sounds incredible, Joel! We look forward to seeing the art that you and the team create!
Joel: I'm looking forward to taking pencil, pen, and paintbrush to paper and getting started!
2023 Should be a Year of Travel
No matter the time of year or the region of the U.S. where you call home, there’s almost certainly a National Park where you can escape for a few days and enjoy the natural beauty embodied in America’s Best Idea. We hope you'll plan a trip to such a place this year, so that you can be inspired by the wonder of the world around you.
Winter and spring is the perfect time to start planning, too! If you need a little inspiration to get you started, the 63 Illustrated National Parks, American Travel, and World Travel collections are full of travel-inspired original illustrations and renderings of some of this world's most iconic destinations.
I hope to see you out there,
Anderson Design Group Staff Writer