As a travel writer for this magazine, I’ve spent 15 years traveling the South, from Delaware to Texas and especially Florida. There’s nowhere that leaves me awestruck the way this exotic place does. This spongy, flat land holds a world of mysterious beauty--panthers and alligators and ghost orchids and 350 bird species, including the white ibis (pictured). It’s a national treasure, one of the South’s last wild places. Here are the five things that keep me coming back, year after year, and how to best explore the real Everglades. Visit just once, and you’ll discover your own reasons to return.