Monday, December 30, 2013

Shark Valley

There are three areas of Everglades NP, each separated by a significant distance – Flamingo, Shark Valley and Gulf Coast.  I went to the the Gulf Coast area a few years ago when I came to Naples over Spring Break, we won’t be going there this time.  Shark Valley is on the northernmost part of the park and away from the saltwater and slightly higher ground – this means that the terrain is different, the animals are different, but it’s still a lot the same!  At Shark Valley there’s a tram that you can take or you can ride your bike the 15 miles around the road.   We went to Shark Valley and did the tram tour a few years ago and today Dad and I rode our bikes.  Biking is a much better way to experience Shark Valley, but then again it was cloudy most of the day and when it was sunny we were riding into the wind and that made it cooler, I’m sure that on a normal South Florida day with tons of sun & heat it would be miserable. 

When you ride your bike you have to go opposite of the trams so you can see them coming – they don’t make a lot of noise so you can’t hear them coming.   This means you start along the canal which is just crawling with animals – alligators, anhingas, great white egrets, snowy egrets, wood storks, little blue herons, great blue herons, and turtles!  It was a chance for me to learn what birds we were going to see so I could id them as we rode.  We also saw our first alligator.

Can you find it?


Here’s it’s eye:

P1140815There wasn’t much more to see until we got to the Observation Tower about halfway around.    At the tower there was a short trail and you could hike up the observation tower and get a 360 degree view of the “River of Grass”. 



The road we were riding on.


We saw a purple gallinule!


The trams stop at the tower and everyone gets out for 20 minutes then they have to get back on.  If you ride your bike you get to hang out at the tower after all the tram riders have left and it gets really quiet.

The trip back was more exposed and into the wind.  We did get to see more alligators!  Some where very close to the road!

P1080643P1140831This wasn’t even the closest alligator to the road, it was just the closest one I stopped to take a picture of. 

There were plenty of birds though….here’s a wood stork walking along almost on the surface of the spongy stuff (that spongy stuff is some kind of algae that feeds the apple snails and the birds eat the apple snails).

P1140833When we got back to the Visitor Center  we went back to the canal where we’d been this morning.  The sun brought out the alligators!

There are 5 alligators in this picture!

P1140843 I was able to take some great shots of the gators.


Alligator & Little Blue Heron

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There were plenty of birds too!

Great Blue Heron


Great White Egret


Little Blue Heron




Snowy Egret




And even a turtle


After we left Shark Valley we took the Loop Road through the Big Cypress National Preserve.   It was a dirt road for part of it and on one side of the road there was a cypress swamp and the other was more jungle like.  There were gators on one side, not on the other!  There were birds too, but they were hard to see because of the trees and the undergrowth.



There were tons of air plants!


And a few Ibis


With one more stop in Florida, Titusville, my thoughts are beginning to turn to the trip home so today when I had cell phone signal I checked the weather forecast…it’s going to be a rude awakening back in Virginia – Friday’s high is forecast to be 29*!  With the coldest air of the season arriving Saturday!  And, there could be a snowstorm Thursday into Friday!  Fun Times!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Snake Bight Bike Ride

Yesterday when we were at the Visitor Center the Ranger told us about a great bike ride down the Snake Bight Trail (a hiking trail that is open to bikes) to a view of the Florida Bay.  (A bight is bay within a bay) It was only 2 miles from the park road to the Snake Bight overlook so we’d planned to make a loop with the Rowdy Bend trail which was also open to bikes.   We also decided to ride from the campground to give us more miles – it would be about 16 miles round trip. 

Before we left I applied 100% Deet bug repellent to my shoes, pants and shirt! 

The portion on the road was rather boring and over 1/2 of it was what we rode last night.  I was excited about getting off the main road and seeing more of the park.  The trail description had said that the trail went by a canal and you could see alligators and birds and all sorts of stuff.

We reached the parking area and turned off the road and saw that there was a gate across the trail so we got off our bikes to walk them around the gate and instantly the mosquitoes attacked.  It was almost a swarm.  I was swatting left and right.  Dad was frantically trying to get the bug spray out of his backpack. I hadn’t brought any because I felt I’d applied more than enough before I left!  Guess not.  As Dad is spraying himself down again I looked at my leg there were about 10 mosquitoes all biting me on the same place!  He handed me the spray and I sprayed them directly and they died!  I was now coated with Deet – it was even dripping off my helmet! 

Once we got moving though, the mosquitoes weren’t a problem.  Unless you stopped moving, in which case you were fair game and got eaten alive. 

The problem once we were moving was the spider webs.  I was in front and every few feet I’d hit a web and scream!  When you are riding a bike you can’t swat at the webs once you hit them or you wreck your bike!  Especially on an “off road” trail where there are roots and logs and all sorts of stuff on the ground!

The trail at first was wide and smooth and soon it became overgrown with sawgrass and the trail was narrow and harder to navigate.   It was in here where we decided that we weren’t going to try Rowdy Bend – the Ranger had told us that it was probably overgrown and if the “cleared” trail was a mess then that one probably was worse. 

Soon the sawgrass thinned and the trail opened up…into a mud flat!  Slippery, thick, hard to ride through mud.  Luckily this section was only a few feet long before we hit the boardwalk at the end of the trail. 

It was low tide and we could see a bunch of birds!







We applied more Deet before we headed back! The ride back went fast and soon we were back at the road, with only a few more mosquito bites.   Despite the bugs, it was a pretty trail…we didn’t get very many pictures because if you stopped you risked your life!

P1080621P1080622P1080625   The canal  was neat looking and I’m sure there were interesting things in it, but there was no way to look and ride and you couldn’t stop.  I have no idea how anyone hikes that trail!

On our way back to the campground we stopped at the Marina where Mom had seen the crocodile yesterday to see if we could see it.  Sure enough, he/she was hanging out just where Mom had said.  I didn’t get a very good picture.

P1140809We were about a 1/2 mile from the campground when it started to rain.   The rain continued for over an hour!  This worked for us though… I had chores to do so I could be ready to leave and I needed another shower to wash off the Deet (when I did wash my hair the Deet flowed right off my head and into my eyes!  I rinsed it out quickly but, seriously…how much Deet does one need?  And, despite being covered in Deet, I’m *still* covered with bites! ugh!).  We got kicked out of the campground at 12:15 (checkout was 12) and made our way back to Homestead. 

I saw this sign on the way and and had to get a picture of it on the way out…

P1140812Elevation: 3 ft!  WOW.  Such a difference from this summer in Colorado when we were over 12K ft! 

On the way out we had to make one last stop at Robert is Here!  One last Key Lime Milkshake fix! YUM!  While we were in line we were chatting with the person behind us – he’d moved to Homestead about a year ago from Frederick, MD.  He’d graduated from West Springfield!

After milkshakes it was time to head to Big Cypress to Midway campground.  Tomorrow we are biking Shark Valley.  Along US 41 there’s a canal and there were tons of birds and probably alligators – very distracting to try and drive and look at the birds and try and distinguish logs from alligators.  I missed the turn to the campground and went to the Visitor Center where they have several alligators hanging out so got some pictures.  Also walked maybe a 1/4 mile on the Florida National Scenic Trail!

Edited to add: When I went to bed I surveyed the mosquito bite situation – I had over 20 bites on my upper arms and lower legs, then on the backs of each of my thighs there was a solid section of wall to wall bites – you can’t distinguish one from another!  They go from mid-thigh to  where I was sitting on my bike seat.  Then there’s a line of more bug bites right along my waist on my back!  It reminds me of something that might happen to someone in a Carl Hiaasen book!   And it makes me wonder just how many mosquito bites a person can sustain before it becomes a big issue!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trip

The Everglades is a neat place!  I’m sure that my enjoyment of it is greatly enhanced by the fact that it’s been cloudy, breezy and cool and the mosquitoes, while plentiful, are less than in other seasons.  There are tons of animals, interesting birds and the geography is totally unlike other places I’ve been!

Our first item on the agenda today was to visit the Flamingo Visitor Center and ask the Rangers a million questions about kayaking, rentals, biking, etc.  We determined that we’d like to go boating today and that my inflatable kayak was simply not appropriate for the Everglades.  First, there’s the obvious concern – alligators.  You don’t want an alligator chomping down on your inflatable kayak (yes, it happened and it made the news, the gal had to hang into the mangroves, there is no dry land anywhere around here, with an angry alligator at her feet, luckily the gal’s cell phone worked and she called for help.).   The other issues that I hadn’t considered were wind & tides.  

We were able to rent a canoe and canoe the Nine Mile Pond Canoe trail.  It’s called Nine Mile Pond because it’s nine miles from Coot Bay to the pond and the ranger station was was at Coot Bay.  The canoe trail is 5 miles long and starts in the lake and then goes through the swamp, marked by PVC pipes that stick up and are numbered.  If it weren’t for those markers you’d never make it out of the swamp, it all looks the same.   There was promise of seeing alligators, crocodiles, and plenty of birds!

There is very little dry land out there – lots and lots of water!  In places it looks like there is dry land, but it’s just an illusion – there’s spongy stuff on the top that makes it look solid.  Some parts of the trail were grassy and open, others were tight with mangroves.  A kayak would be a much better vessel for this type of trip – the canoe was not very maneuverable!

Nine Mile Pond – where we launched the canoe.  The canoe trail starts all the way at the other end of the pond – you have to go against the wind!  I was quite glad I wasn’t in the Sea Eagle, which is basically a giant balloon!

P1140777One of the many mangrove hammocks.  These were sometimes very narrow and usually we had to pull ourselves along since the paddles wouldn’t go in!

P1140779 P1140780


The stuff floating on the surface near the tip of the canoe is spongy stuff that gives the illusion of solid ground when you look at it.



  There were bunches of air plants in every tree!  Made me think of my friend Andy!  He used to have a whole bunch of air plants! P1140788

We did not see much of the promised wildlife.  We saw one Great Blue Heron, a Little Blue Heron, and the top of an alligator.  We never would have seen the gator if it wasn’t for someone coming from the other direction pointing it out.  I saw the top of his head before he sunk to the bottom.  The other guy told us not to paddle over the gator, but Dad couldn’t see where it had been and it made me wonder how many alligators we paddled over and hadn’t realized! 

After we made it back to Nine Mile Pond and put the canoe away we headed back to the campground and stopped at West Lake.  There was a canoe trail there too, as well as a 1/2 mile boardwalk.  Dad and I walked the boardwalk which went through a dry mangrove hammock and went out over the lake.  West Lake is a big lake! 

After we returned the canoe paddles and the key to unlock it and got back to the campground we got on our bikes and rode back to Mrazek Pond to see what animals were out at sunset.  We saw a Roseate Spoonbill! They are pretty cool!  There were also a ton of ducks, a couple anhingas, and some other birds.  Soon it was dark and we were getting eaten alive by mosquitoes so we put the bikes on the car (Mom had driven from the campground so we could ride back) and headed back for dinner. 

Tomorrow Dad and I are going to do a bike ride in the morning and then we will drive to Midway campground in Big Cypress National Preserve so we can go to Shark Valley on Monday. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Everglades NP – Flamingo

I left the KOA around 10 to head back to the mainland!  The drive back up the Overseas Highway was nice, sunny at 1st and then it started raining – pouring – then sunny, finally settling on cloudy. There was a ton of traffic coming onto the Keys so I think we timed it just right. 

I was able to locate Card Sound Road this time and took it around to RT 1.  That was a nice drive!  Lots of FL scenery, which, while not really all that exciting, is better than cars and stores and stuff! 

Once I got to Homestead I had some errands to run – Publix for Club Soda, fuel for the RV and Robert Is Here for OJ, bananas and a milkshake.  The key Lime Milkshake was better than the Key Lime pie we’d had on Duval Street last night!  Definitely going to have to stop on the way out for another!

I was almost into the park when Mom texted that they were just now passing Robert’s, where was I?  If I’d known they were so close I could have shared that milkshake with Dad (it was HUGE and yes I ate every bite!).  We met up at the Visitor Center and Dad took the car off and we drove to the Royal Palms area so we could walk the Anhinga Trail.

Anhinga’s are birds that live in the Everglades and they were out in abundance tonight!  They are easily confused with the cormorants though.  The Anhinga Trail is mostly boardwalk over the pond and swamp and there are tons of birds, plants, alligators, and tourists.  We managed to get there during a ranger program so there were extra tourists.  There were 2 gators – one that I couldn’t see because there were too many people and the other I wasn’t convinced it was a gator – thought maybe it was a rock.  The trail was a nice way to stretch my legs though!

Apparently vultures are a problem around here:







White bird (might be a heron…)


Great Blue Heron


Air plants


River of Grass


Alligator?  (I don’t think so…but it’s sure close!)



Since I finished the trail before Mom and Dad did I walked the Gumbo-Limbo trail, which was an entirely different trail, though a hardwood hammock – it was very jungle-like!

By now it was after 4 and we still had an hour to drive to get to the Flamingo campground at the end of the road so we headed off down the road.  It was a long way down here, but it was a pretty drive! It was raining when we left the visitor center and soon after there was a rainbow way off in the distance, I wasn’t able to get a good picture of it.  The grass of the Everglades looks like the prairie or the African Savannah – I kinda expected to see a giraffe or elephant or something.   The sun was going down and the clouds made it pretty!

When we arrived at the campground I went for a quick bike ride to check the place out before it got dark, I only had about 10 minutes and I had to go really fast to avoid the mosquitoes but it was nice.  It’s very cool here & doesn’t seem as humid as it was in the Keys. 

We have the whole day tomorrow here – we’ll probably go kayaking or biking or walking…we’ll see!