The Everglades

January 19 – 24, 2017

After our week long boondock at Miccosuki Casino visiting Miami and Shark Valley, our next stop was Long Pine Key Campground off the main road in Everglades National Park.  This first come first served (FCFS) campground has no services at the sites, but with a dump station and newly installed shower houses, it was perfect for us.  We were advised to arrive in the morning to be sure to get a spot so we moved south from Miccosukee to nearby Homestead FL the night before. 

We loved our week long stay at the Everglades! We loved seeing all the alligators, trudging through knee-deep water in the Cypress Dome, and learning about about the ecology of the “river of grass”

Our neighbour at Jekyll Island back in November had told us we could overnight in the Home Depot parking lot to get to the Everglades early for an FCFS spot. However at about 5:30pm, a police officer knocked on our RV and told us we couldn’t stay here overnight! We found out they used to allow overnight parking, but stopped because a few people left a lot of garbage etc. James asked if we could stay if we got permission from the store manager and the officer said that would be fine. We were going to buy materials to repair the canoe anyways, and obtained the required permission. Our takeaway: the police can’t kick you out if the business says you can stay! We stocked up for the week with fruits and veggies from one of the many farmer’s stands along the road from Miccosukee to Homestead, a huge agricultural area just east of the Everglades.

We arrived at Long Pine Key Campground early and had our pick of sites, setting up on a south facing site and tilting our panels to maximize our solar. 

Our campsite at Long Pine Key campground

Unfortunately, “Gator Bait” Sadie couldn’t come with us anywhere in the park due to the alligators! Our first night we jumped in to a ranger guided walk after dark on the Anhinga Trail with boardwalks over an extensive lily pad pond full of gators.  We were amazed to actually see a gator try to grab the gar (fish) who swam tantalizingly close.  The next night we went back ourselves and actually watched a gator crunch it’s prey: were they bird bones or a turtle carapace?  We couldn’t tell.

Photo of the pond from the boardwalk on the Anhinga Trail at night. You can find alligators by shining your flashlight and looking for small orange reflections from their eyes.
We spotted this guy floating along waiting for some fish or other potential food. Alligators snap quickly and suddenly with their mouths to catch their prey.
This guy was hiding out by the mangrove trees.

We put our canoe in on shallow Florida Bay at Flamingo Visitor’s area. Even with light winds, it was a bit too choppy to go far. We pulled out and put in up the road at Noble Hammock, a canoe loop though winding mangroves.  If it weren’t for the 125 poles marking the water trail, we would have become hopelessly lost. It was hard work paddling the endless turns but we were rewarded with sightings of splashing gar dodging our canoe.

Alligators like to take lots of naps in the sun. Like cats! This photo was taken on the Anhinga Trail.
Canoeing through the Noble Hammock (actually a watery mangrove maze!). One could easily get lost forever in here.
We also canoed Nine Mile Pond and came across a large 13′ crocodile the rangers have affectionately named, “Croczilla.” Crocodiles are not common in Florida and live in saltwater. The large ones can even eat alligators!

 

The highlight of our stay in the Everglades however was the amazing ranger led Slough Slog, a walk through a water drenched forest of cypress trees called a cypress dome.  Wading though water up to our knees single file in a small group, we accessed a surreal and vibrant ecosystem, with towering cypress trees, epiphytes such as air plants and orchids, barred owls guarding their nest, plus herons, gnatcatchers, flickers, and warblers overhead.  Below the water, in addition to fishes, alligators and water snakes were surely present but naturally swam away as our line approached. 

A big water moccasin slithered across our path!

 

 

We saw a both sides of a double rainbow on the way back from the slough slog, however by the time we stopped for a photo, it had mostly dissipated.

In retrospect if we could do this over again, we would’ve done an airboat tour during our week long stint at Miccosukee, and visit the Coral Castle while we were in Homestead.

Here’s a short video of some of the activities we did: Slough slog, watching the stars, alligator spotting at night, and canoeing beside Croczilla at the Nine Mile Pond.

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