Saturday, January 7, 2012

Everglades National Park

After our crazy few days getting to southern Florida we were thrilled to find a respite in the Everglades National Park. If you have some time - get comfortable - I have a lot of pictures for this post, after all we spent a week at the Long Pine Key Campground.

As mentioned in our last post we arrived at the campground in the dark, which isn't our usual way - actually I think this is the first time it has happened. I was humbled for sure since during the summer when a camper comes in late I wonder why they are not more organized. Well - I have to eat those words now - right!

It was very strange driving in so late and we weren't even sure how far we would get in since there is a $10 fee to enter the the National Park. The park is also 11 miles west of the city of Homestead with agriculture between the two. We were driving in the dark, going left, going right, going right - if it weren't for the signs we would have wondered if we were on the right road.

Anyway, we came to the Visitor's Center and pulled in. It didn't give us much info on the boards and so we continued. Further ahead we came upon the entrance gate and building - surprisingly one gate was open - we drove on in. Five miles or so down the road was a sign for the Campground so we turned left - after another mile or so we came to the very quiet - albeit busy - campground. 

We FINALLY found a spot - sort of backed in well - and went to sleep!

Of course when you come into a place in the dark it is always fun the next morning to see what it looks like. The Long Pine Key Campground is very nice with a combination of trees and taller and smaller plants. As a result most of the 100 or so sites are quite private. There are no hook ups but restrooms for a fair price of $16/night.

Site #99 at the Long Pine Key Campground.

For the next seven days we enjoyed site #99. We were considering moving down to the Flamingo Campground a few days later but upon hearing from someone in the know - that it wasn't as nice, had no trees and had wayyyyyy more mosquitoes - we decided to stay put. 

Just off of our Key West experience we were now a little more willing to take someone else's advice.

We spent most of our time lounging around and going for walks around the campground - it has a great small lake/large pond to walk around.  We went for at least 2 good walks a day which certainly helped us de-stress.

Beautiful sunsets at the Everglades.

We even attended one of the Ranger Programs. Everyday we passed through the amphitheater and so we told Cassia in two days we would take her to a movie about Smokey Bear. We were stretching the truth just a bit since the program was entitled "Smokey Bear was he right?" But we figured he'd be in there somewhere.

So on New Year's Eve in the Everglades National Park sitting at the amphitheater we learned about the role fire plays in our natural areas. The Ranger is at the Everglades in the winter and Yellowstone in the summer and has been full timing for 8 years - ex military. It was very interesting - not a movie but a slide show - and thankfully one had Smokey Bear on it so enough to keep Cassia interested.

We left our site every few days to either see something else or to pick up supplies from Homestead. Boy were we ever glad when we returned from the mayhem.

Robert is Here is a fruit stand on the trip between the Park and Homestead. We stopped in to buy some fruit and to visit the little zoo in back. We purchased some interesting and exotic fruit - two of which we are still waiting to eat. We wish we had written down the names! We ate one that looks like a potato, has the texture and colour of a pear but tastes like brown sugar - very rich. A second fruit was the size of a small orange but with a hard skin - green. Inside you eat seeds surrounded by a goopy substance with the flavour of orange concentrate. So fun eating new fruits!

Cassia on the tractor - one of her favourite things to do.

A second business just before the Everglades Park is the Gator Grill. How can we be in alligator territory and not try some. I have had it before but Derek was very curious.

We shared the Gator Basket which included shucked grilled alligator with a cream sauce, coleslaw and fries. It was a bit steep at $9.35 but now Derek knows that yes - alligator is pretty good but tastes much like chicken.

About as close as Cassia would come to the alligator.

The Everglades National Park of course also offers many places to immerse yourself in the landscape. Near to us was the Royal Palm with the  Gumbo Limbo and the Anhinga Trails.

Gumbo Limbo is a tree - with a beautiful red brown trunk.

We thoroughly enjoyed the Gumbo Limbo trail - we were on it alone and it was a nice respite from the hot sun. The Anhinga Trail is THE trail to see the birds and alligators - up close! VERY close.

We are not bird people so to speak - I know lots of Snowbirds are birders - can't blame them at this time of year. On the other hand, I do appreciate the birds when I see them even though I don't know what they are. 

Since it was early morning and just warming up many of the birds had their wings open like this guy.

Lots of grasses which we enjoy - the seed heads were making a popping sound.

Derek and Cassia seeing what there was to see UNDER the boardwalk - two peas in a pond!

Lots of turtles - can you see him?

A closer look.

Derek took this great shot - guess I should let him have the camera more often.

As we were strolling along I was slightly ahead of Derek and Cassia. I was looking out at the water when a lady beside me pointed to the alligator surfacing just below us.


A once in a lifetime moment - I am so glad I had my camera ready!

I've never thought of alligators as beautiful but this is quite poetic isn't it?

As I followed him along he crossed paths with a rather large turtle.

Hmmm - well Cassia did seem larger if it came to it. Probably don't try this at home.

We saw probably at least a few dozen alligators along the boardwalk trail either on the shore or on the water. This guy was lapping up all the attention he was getting.

This was our second encounter with alligators. You can see the really BIG ones we walked by at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge in Texas back during our 2008 Tour here.

Towards the end of the trail as we were heading back we came across a small group of people watching this bird. He had just caught his breakfast and was attempting to eat it with us and - more importantly a group of vultures watching him. It was a second once in a lifetime moment.

As we watched, the poor guy got the fish caught on his beak - perhaps we were all making him nervous. I think all of us AND the Turkey vultures were holding our breaths.

The vultures moving in....

Success! It took a good 5 minutes or so but he got it in - I missed the picture because I was just so happy watching - but this is a picture of the fish going down. 

Over the week we also met some really great people. Thanks to the Rangers at the gatehouse - Levi, Cindy and Dallas who we had numerous conversations with. By the way - we HIGHLY recommend the Long Pine Key Campground for it's cleanliness and friendly, hospitable and informative Rangers. 

We also spent some time with Brian and Suzanna from Hollywood just between Miami and Fort Lauderdale - they were out for a few days of camping with their son Sable and daughter Mimi. Mimi is just a bit older then Cassia and so we visited so the kids could play or well for Cassia to eat all their food - yikes! 

Just before we left we met Charlie from Alabama touring around on his Harley. Obviously Derek struck up a conversation with him as he was making coffee in the bathroom - someone as in love with his coffee as we are! We visited with Charlie a bit swapping camping locations around Florida - and trying to convince him to come see us in BC sometime.

And so that was our time in the Everglades National Park. Well worth the trip to Southern Florida! In the end we didn't make it down to Flamingo even for the day, and we didn't go on all the trails. 

We are ok with that.

We no longer need to see 'the end' of something and were content to just see what we could see close by. Our last night there was down right cold - almost freezing. Thankfully our battery still had enough charge to run our furnace that night and so we stayed warmish.

On Wednesday morning we headed out  - a bit sad to leave.

Thanks for visiting!


Today's Interesting Link: Here is a link to the National Wildlife Federation to learn more about the threats to the Everglades. Sadly, as with many areas the Park is at risk and is actually 'on life support'. It is threatened by Regional Growth, Fire and most importantly I think by the Water Flow. You can also learn more at the National Parks Conservation Association.

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