February 23 – Ochopee, Florida


As the ol’ Willie Nelson song goes, “We are on the road again”. Done with family commitments and now to explore – what is out there I want to see!

The AC man came about 9:15 AM and sure enough a wire had burned out on the panel board. He had the new part – covered by warranty – and we are back up with AC.

On the road again and headed south. Only a 100 mile trip so no hurry. Wanted to ride Tamiami Trail all the way but needed fuel and the Garmin diverted us back to the interstate. After passing Naples we got back on the Tamiami Trail – this road US 41 goes all the way from Tampa and over to Miami – built in 1928 to stop the water from flowing south into the Everglades. Fun to see the original Florida.

This portion of the road was a totally different perspective – two lane road – NO buildings, all swamp and mangroves and water and birds and not much else. Didn’t see any alligators along this portion but again I don’t do a lot of sightseeing while driving.

Did notice a lot of airboats vendors along the road.

Arrived at camp after stopping at the local Visitor’s Center. Drove up and knew we were in trouble. Had a reservation so no turning around. No map – no rules and the guy who showed us our site rode his bicycle. Also no sewer hookup but we are only here 3 days.

Also this seemed to be the headquarters for Skunkape – who knows?

Then we got out of the coach and the mosquitos began to flock all over us. Brenda immediately went back in and I fought those evil bugs constantly to get everything set up.

After sitting in the coach enjoying our “fixed” AC – it is hot outside and buggy, we took the dogs and made an exploration trip. We stopped at Big Cypress National Preserve VC (no movie and stamp yet – as I stayed in the car with the dogs) – to gather data. Also stopped at Everglades NP VC and purchased tickets for a boat ride thru 10,000 Islands for tomorrow.

Did see the USA’s smallest operating post office – it used to be an irrigation shed

Drove thru the cities of Everglade City and Chokoloskee. Saw the Smallwood Store and Museum – did not go inside – very touristy.

Gas prices are extremely high.

Friday – I only know its Friday because the news channel told me, otherwise we are totally lost in time especially in this area.

We left at 9 AM for our boat ride without the dogs. There is no one near our campsite so no one will complain if the dogs bark for a while. Only 5 riders on the boat and we had lots of move around space.

Nice ride into the 10,000 Island portion of the Everglades – along the Gulf Coast. This is the world’s largest mangrove forest. Had a ranger on board giving us the background of the park and how the islands were created and sustained and which bird was which bird. Great learning experience. Saw a variety of birds and some dolphins.  Those are oysters on those mangrove roots.

Boat driver even got a dolphin to follow close to the boat and do some diving.

Saw the movie and got our stamp and finally got to buy a NP magnet – it’s been awhile.

Had lunch at the local fish shop and enjoyed time together and a beer – no breweries in the area.

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Stopped at the Big Cypress Swamp Preserve and saw the movie and got our stamp. This area is known as the Western Everglades and has a major effect on the water quality coming into the Everglades. It was created in 1974 to protect the fresh water flowing from the north into the Everglades. They had manatees along the board walk but we did not see them today.

It was pretty neat along US 41 (Tamiami Trail) that they warned you about animal crossings and even had warning lights that detected animals on the road. Did see a huge Logger Turtle crossing but missed the Panthers and the Gators.

Back to the Everglades NP and took in a ranger talk about turtles in the area. All five kinds of turtles in the Everglades and it’s amazing the number of eggs they lay and how many that do not make it to maturity – 1 in 1000. Good thing those turtles are fertile.

Saturday started out strange – woke up to our swamp being engulfed in fog – kind of spooky.

Did I tell you about the mosquitos – oh they are bad. Met some girls who are tent camping and I asked how they survived the mosquitos and they responded “Deet 40”. I guess I need to stock up because they were enjoying the outside and weren’t swatting bugs.

Today was our day to ride the Shark Valley Trail in the Everglades. Would you believe that Brenda’s bike tire were low and has the skinny stem that I cannot fill up – so off I go to the nearest bike shop – 30 miles away to Marco Island. I get the tires filled and purchased two new tubes with the larger stem and I will change them out at a later day – I did that earlier with my tires too.

Finally we hit the road at 11:30 and got to the Visitor’s Center at 12:15. When we pulled into the entrance cars were backed up waiting to get in – I thought hopefully we will get to park somewhere – we did. It reminded us of Arches NP and the traffic waiting. Got my stamp from that site.

This had to be the best bike trail ever – not for distance or scenery but for animals along the trail. Gators, birds, fish, turtles and more gators, more birds, more fish and more turtles. It was spectacular! And they were all right next to the trail.

Best find was a Roseate Spoonbill.

We made the loop trail of 15 miles and I can guarantee you we saw at least a 100 of each species. No crocodiles though someone said there was one at the observation tower – we didn’t stare long enough.

This is the only location in the world that crocodiles and alligators intermingle. And one of the differences between the two is that the crocodile has a pointed nose and the alligator has a round nose – there are some other differences but that is the one I remember.

Baby gators below

We did climb the observation tower and enjoyed the view from above. Flat ground as far as you could see.

While riding today the bike thermometer hit 92 – sorry cities in the north.

This Shark Valley Trail is a hidden jewel of the park system – something everyone needs to travel – you could take the trip on a tram with a ranger explaining the area and animals, walk or ride your bike.

I did learn that the Everglades is not a swamp, but a collection of various ecosystems ranging from mangrove estuaries and sawgrass prairies to pine forests. The water was very clear.

Home to relax and shower after 3 days covered in Deet.

Sunday we are off to Florida City, Florida but wait – I didn’t get my air boat ride.

We partially packed and I took off to Wooten “World Famous” Airboat and Swamp Buggy rides.

Got with a group of people and we were off on the ride. Enjoyed the venture thru the grasslands – even though they advertise as a trip through the Everglades – never do we get into the official Everglades NP

– who cares I saw 4 alligators and 2 bald eagles –

that were nesting in the area. Also saw many other birds. Ride only lasted ½ hour but it was a great experience to feel the water and grasslands flying by.

Our driver gave us some thrills with spinning the boat in circles and explained some of the things about the area. It was interesting – at this time the water was only about one foot deep.

Quite fascinated by the mangrove forests. They are found where fresh and salt water intermingle. The mangrove forest help stabilize coastal lands, sustain nurseries for marine life, and provide nesting habitat for wading birds. What was most impressive is how they provide the first line of defense against storm winds and surges. How important it is to take care of this wonderful creation.

As part of the ticket you also got an alligator show. Learned a lot about gators especially how to escape an alligator coming after you – glad to have that information with all the gators we have seen the past couple of days. Also got to watch the trainer wrestle the gator – not on my bucket list!

Despite all we did and how bad the mosquitos were – we want to come back as there is so much more to do. We will bring our Deet 40 and take a hike down the many trails.

Returned to the house, fought off a few mosquitos and off we go.

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