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Backpacker Magazine – September 2009
These three treks to life-list phenomena will take you to Bryce Canyon, Florida gator land, and fall foliage in the Texas desert.
America's Largest Gators
Glimpse the only reptile that's survived 200 million years on Earth.
The Wonder These carryovers from the Age of Reptiles are notorious for their bone-crushing bite. They weigh up to 800 pounds and in lightning-fast bursts of speed lunge from the water to snatch prey from the bank. They're known to hunt Florida panthers and even black bears, but their main prey are smaller animals (like young whitetail deer) that they can kill and eat in a single bite. Native only to the United States and China (two species of alligators exist–American and Chinese), there are more than a million gators in Louisiana.
The Way The Nature Conservancy's Cypress Island Preserve, 45 miles west of Baton Rouge, is the local's choice for consistent gator-spotting. Here you'll find old-growth live oaks and cypress dripping with Spanish moss, and the warm water that gators depend on for hunting and nesting. Park in the small lot at the southwest corner of Lake Martin to access the 2.5-mile Levee Trail. Gators are most active at dusk when it's 70°F or warmer. Below that temperature they lose their appetite and are dormant below 55°F. nature.org