Dec, 2014: The Florida Everglades

Our original plan from the time we left Connecticut was to take our time travelling southward, eventually reaching Florida for our winter hibernation. I believed it would be an easy matter to keep an updated blog as we travelled. As anyone who is reading my blog can see, it is easier said than done. Although we made a couple of more stops before stepping into Florida, please allow me to bypass those stops and bring everyone up to date with our adventures in Florida.

From the time we crossed over the border into Florida it would be another five hours of driving before we reached our first Florida destination, the Everglades. We were doing our best to stay off the interstates, travelling the less crowded intrastate routes. By so doing, we were able to get a sense of the true nature of the land and its people. For anyone who is taking their time travelling this great and beautiful country, I would highly recommend staying off the interstates as much as possible.

What we have found in our travels southward is that much of the land and the towns we drove through and stopped in, at least along the eastern edge, is mostly poor and underdeveloped. Charleston and Savannah are two cities that offer a lot in their historical districts, yet, as with most cities, the neighborhoods that the tourists bypass are mostly run down, old, and tired. The outlying counties are mostly agricultural with homes that are typically doublewide trailers with very little upkeep. Whereas the Northeast is highly industrialized, the south is mostly farmland. I mean small plots of farm land and farms that can go on for miles and miles before you even see the main gate, never mind the boundary line. Farms are either mega industrial or small dirt farms. At least that is the impression we had.

Because of the distance between campgrounds, we sometimes would take an overnight in a motel and a real bed. Such was the case in Florida when we chose an inexpensive motel to stay the night. Come morning we took advantage of the complimentary breakfast. Next to our table were three gentlemen wearing what we easterners would call cowboy hats. Being neighborly, I asked if they were travelling through from Texas. The two younger fellas looked at me with a bit of scorn as the older fella politely informed me that they are native Floridians and that the first cowboys in America actually came from Florida. That Florida had more cattle, more horses, more cowboys than Texas would ever have. Gus then went on to say how his daddy and his granddaddy, and great-granddaddy helped settle this land. I must admit, Gus looked every bit like one would imagine a cowboy to look: straight-backed, lean, and tall. All 6’5” of him. The one outstanding characteristic of this man was his genuine, easy-going confidence and politeness. Not once did he speak to Ana without using ‘Mamn’ in the beginning and at the end of his statements. I do believe Ana was actually falling for this fella. Gus left us with such a favorable impression and good feeling. When I think of the people that made this country great, I will always think back to Gus and his forebears.

Gus and Ana.  A true cowboy from head to toe.
Gus and Ana. A true cowboy from head to toe.

Well, we finally reached the Everglades and the campground known as ‘Flamingo’. I am aware of two two main entrances to the Everglades and we chose the southern entrance. The Everglades National Park is big. I mean big. We entered the main gate and still had 38 miles to reach our campsite. The border town to the Glades, at least this part of it, is Homestead. A small, southern city with a Walmart

Just had to get in e 'Walmart Shopper'.
Just had to get in the ‘Walmart Shopper’.

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and all the other various big box stores on the outer rim of the town center.  But, if you want to get fresh fruit and vegetables and a real flavor of this neck of the woods, then you must stop by ‘Robert’s is Here’ produce, a family run produce stand. A get out of the car and stretch your legs treat that you will not want to miss. All types of native fruits and vege’s in this near tropical paradise, along with its southern hospitality and friendliness.

Robert's is Here.  A very well known stop just before the Everglades southern entrance.
Robert’s is Here. A very well known stop just before the Everglades southern entrance.

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FLAMINGO CAMPGROUND

Well, after 38 miles of undisturbed Everglades wilderness we finally arrived at Flamingo. A campground along the edge of the gulf where the Glades meets the sea. We set up our campsite and, riding our bikes, checked out the immediate surroundings. There’s a marina at the Flamingo where you can rent out kayaks, canoes, and/or be a passenger on a river boat. There is never a lack of things to do and to explore. Ana and I were anxious to check out the manmade channel that starts at the marina and meanders to Bear lake. The channel was created to ensure  management and control of the waters that the Everglades are so dependent on to ensure its survival.

Well, I must say, taking the canoe down the channel did not disappoint. I mean, if you ever wanted to see wildlife in its natural state, in particular the crocodiles and alligators, then this is a trip you must take. A teaching moment here: this is the one place in the world where fresh water alligators and salt water crocodiles will co-exist. The crocs will have an olive/grayish color and both upper and lower teeth will be on display from their pointed snouts, whereas, the gators, which are more blackish in color, will only display their upper row of teeth from their more blunted snouts.

Gators and Crocs in their natural habitat
Gators and Crocs in their natural habitat

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Many of these pics wee taken no more than 10 feet away.
Many of these pics wee taken no more than 10 feet away.

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Seeing your first gator or croc is a defining moment. Especially when you are in their wading pool and there is nothing between you and them. To my pleasant surprise, whether in the water or sunning themselves on the shore, they do not move much at all. You might even think that they are not the real thing and that they are replicas placed there by the park rangers. That is, until they do move and when they do, there is no mistaking their intention. That heavy, lumbering body moves like greased lightning and if they decide to fight ya, there is no escaping. Fortunately, they would rather take flight than fight. “Thank you Lord”.

There are many out of the way water trails you can kayak to your heart’s content. Nine mile pond and Coot Bay are two bodies of water that Ana and I explored with nothing  short of amazement and awe. The natural beauty and bio diversity of the mangrove swamps is simply breath-catching. If you visit the Everglades you must leave the road and get out onto the waterways and hiking trails. This is the only way you will experience the essence and magic of the glades. Be sure to do this early in the day because if you lose sight of your markers that are placed by the park rangers you can easily get lost and spend the night where you do not want to be. You will truly be in the heart of a watery jungle and you will get lost without those markers.

The water trails
The water trails

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Aside from the crocs and gators there is such a beautiful diversity of birds. Birds that I have only seen in books and magazines. White Pelican, Brown Pelican, Roseate Spoonbill, Red-throated loon, Brown Booby, Great Cormorant, Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, White Ibis, Wood Duck, Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, American Coot, and so many others. Beautiful, beyond beautiful.

So many different species, so many pictures.  So hard to decide what pictures to include.
So many different species, so many pictures. So hard to decide what pictures to include.

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As I had mentioned on a previous blog, one of the more memorable experiences are the people you meet.  Our camping neighbors are a couple from Washington state who save up their dollars to travel each year during the winter months.  Tom and Gerry are two of the most down to earth people you will ever meet.  One evening we all gathered together and played some Christmas tunes as we spent Christmas Eve in the Everglades.  I on my harmonica, Gerry on her flute, Tom on the guitar, and Ana playing the bongos.  Maybe not ready for primetime, but it was magical nonetheless.  Thank you Tom and Gerry for making our time there special.

Tom and Gerry from Washington state.
Tom and Gerry from Washington state.

When I am asked what campground I enjoyed the most I will easily say the Everglades. Just remember, you must get out on the water and explore the trails if you want to experience the true beauty of the Everglades.

After our two weeks in the Everglades we packed up and set out for the very long drive to the Florida Panhandle and the shores of Pensacola.  See you soon.

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3 thoughts on “Dec, 2014: The Florida Everglades”

    1. The credit must go to Ana’s photography regarding the Spoonbill and most of the other shots. I was busy fighting off the gators and gnats so that she could take such awesome shots. HA!

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