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Fish and other water-loving animals glide just beneath the surface of water that plunges 98 feet deep. Florida royal palms and patches of cypress trees adorn the shoreline. Big blocks of limestone, characteristic of Florida's karst topography, line the circumference. Deep Lake is one of Florida's sinkholes and one of just a few in Southern Florida. Occupying only 1.7 surface acres, the sinkhole is tucked away in the Fakahatchee Strand, a narrow stretch of swampy forest in the 729,000-acre Big Cypress National Preserve.
The South region of Florida is dominated by the state's Everglades wetland system, formed over thousands of years by the course of water flowing from the north. An area rich in diversity, the South region is a paradise for nature enthusiasts and adventurers alike. Less than an hour from Miami and 30 miles north of the Everglades National Park and its 10,000 islands, Deep Lake is a hidden treasure.
Although the Big Cypress has remained a wilderness largely untouched, in history it has served as a home to Native Americans. Its sheltering canopies provided refuge to both Seminoles running from American troops, and black slaves running for freedom. In the 1900s, timber and train companies paved tramways that were later abandoned and left to overgrow. These pathways are still clear and available to hikers who find that hiking through Cypress often turns into high adventure, cutting paths through swamp water that can be waist deep.
Other outdoor options include guided canoe trips through various areas of the preserve, the 11-mile Janes Scenic Drive, and the 2000-foot boardwalk that provides opportunities for wildlife viewing and nature study. Guided hikes through the swamps, plants and trees will enliven your experience with facts and information about the unique ecology and history of the area. A guided hike to Deep Lake is offered by Fakahatchee Park and is probably the best way to find the lake. As you hike your way to Deep Lake, you will quickly discover what makes the preserve the most diverse of the Everglades. In wet forests, mangroves, royal palms, bald cypresses, bromeliads, ferns and orchids grow unhindered. Here in the Fakahatchee swamps, amid one of the largest royal palm and bald cypress forests in the world, are 44 species of native orchids and 14 species of native bromeliads. There are more species of native orchids in the 75,000-acre park than there are anywhere else in the United States and Canada.
While you trek along, perhaps you will come across signs or witness sightings of the Florida panther, white-tailed deer, black bear, raccoons, opossums, alligators, and the Everglades mink. Hundreds of birds can be seen feeding, nesting, or performing their curious mating rituals near Deep Lake. Birdwatchers look out for ducks, sandhill cranes, roseate spoonbills, bald eagles, osprey, red-shouldered hawks, turkeys, owls, vultures and more.
You might be surprised to find that in the thick of the swampy strand, Deep Lake is the main feature of what is actually a ghost town. An abandoned cottage, railway and grapefruit farm are the only remnants of human enterprise in the area and mark the arrival of Barron Collier, one of Florida's best known entrepreneurs and land developers. An abandoned prison is also at the site and only adds to the so-called ghostliness of the town. If anything, these structures left standing empty only serve to affirm that the rules of the wilderness govern here.
If you are a true adventurer, then your heart will quicken as you bend over in your swamp boots to look closely at one of those magical flowers, the orchids. The royal palms will look majestic with their fingered palm leaves reaching towards the sky. You will be delighted to see the water, surrounded by cypresses blanketed in Spanish moss. And as you contemplate its depth, you will also contemplate Deep Lake's value as the alligators take their sauntering laps around it and the white ibis swoop down for their fish meal. If you are a true adventurer, then a journey to and from Deep Lake will bring you a mix of experiences to savor and remember. The sights, sounds, the excitement and the calm; the splendor of the pristine wild.
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