Thursday, February 21, 2013

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park
Flamingo Campground
Feb 14-21, 2013

We left Hobe Sound for the 3.5 hour trip to Flamingo Campground in the Everglades National Park.  It was not a great travel day so we had packed a big bag of patience.  We had blinding rain, traffic, and an accident on the Florida Turnpike before we hit sunny skies and smooth sailing!  In Florida City, we stopped at “Robert is Here”, a local produce stand with every imaginable type of fruit and vegetable including some we had never heard of before!  We picked up some produce, skipped their infamous milkshakes and  got back on the road.  We were anxious to get to our destination.  We got to the front gate of Everglades National Park and drove another 38 miles until we got to Flamingo Campground!  It is a long, long drive!!

We were lucky enough to snag a site next to Gin and Syl and Bill and Nancy.  Yep - we were going to explore the Everglades together!  Between hiking, biking, canoeing, and attending educational programs given by different park rangers, we were going to have a busy week!

Everglades National Park is the first national park especially designated for it's ecosystem.  It's over 1.5 million acres and is the 3rd largest National Park in the lower 48 states.  It has been named an International Biosphere Reserve, World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance.  There are only two other locations in the world that are on all three lists!  

Eco Pond is very close to our campground.  Our first morning here, Dan and I pedaled over to the pond to see what we could see.

Glorious morning glories
And beautiful birds.....

We met up with Gin and Syl and pedaled around the marina.
Florida Bay
And saw this guy….
American Crocodile

Check out those nails!

and those teeth!!
We had a great first day in the Everglades.

Over the course of the next few days, we explored more of the Everglades.  Some by foot, some by car and some by bike!

White Pelicans eating breakfast

small crocodile
During one cool and windy day, we made our own car caravan and headed out to the Royal Palm section of the park and walked quite a few trails including the Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo Trails.  We also managed to snag a few geocaches while we were out and about!

Check out that eye!
Baby Anhingas

Night Heron
Alligator pile!!
Notice the buzzards.  They are all over the place and the park has signs up warning you that they will do damage to your vehicles.  Apparently some of the newer cars use fish oil as a product in the rubber (like on windshield wipers)  and this attracts the buzzards.  The park has bins of tarps that you can put over your car to help prevent damage.  ;-)
HUGE Mahagony tree

Beautiful Bromelids
 A great day was had by all!

We had also made plans to ride (in vehicles!) over to Shark Valley and ride the bike trail.  We set out around 10am and planned on making it to Shark Valley in time to eat a picnic lunch.  However, we ended up taking the not-so-direct scenic route and ended up eating lunch in the car!  ;-)  It was all good, though!

The bike ride was amazing! The weather was perfect!
Pedaling along!
Gators were everywhere!
The gators are so close to the bike path but they don't budge! 

Hmmmm..this would be close enough for me!

Syl checking a gator out
We pedaled about 7 ½ miles and stopped at the Observation Tower.  Bill volunteered to watch our bikes as he is not a fan of heights!  Thanks Bill!
View from the tower
Great scenery
What could they be looking at?

Alligator pile (look closely!)
We finished our bike ride and piled back in the cars.  Nancy and Bill were headed to the store and then back to the campground.  Gin, Syl, Dan and I were going to get dinner….MILKSHAKES! Long story short, we ran into Bill and Nancy out in the middle of nowhere about an hour after we left Shark Valley.  We had all once again taken the “scenic” way back.  We parted ways again and ended up back at the campground a few stops and many hours later.  But our bellies were full of cheeseburgers, milkshakes and Krispy Kreme donuts.  (Yeah - it was a great day!!)

One of the ranger programs that I really wanted to do was the Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail.  Bill, Nancy, Syl and I got up early one morning and headed out.  Now - why did I want to subject myself to paddling with gators once again?  Because I love to be on the water and don’t want my fears to prevent me from missing out on something neat!  :-)
Syl and Nancy
Nancy and Bill
Our guide, Ranger G was fantastic.  We paddled into the mangroves and got to hear a sound that I had never heard before.  The alligators were bellowing.  This is a rather loud, guttural sound that the males make to attract females.   Nancy said that she thought when I heard this sound that I would back paddle the canoe that Syl and I were in and head back to shore.  ;-)  Although I was very nervous and kept scanning left and right (you couldn’t see the gators at this point because the mangroves were so thick), I was not baling on this canoe trip!

Ranger G

Mangroves in the background
Taking pictures behind me!  Syl, Nancy and Bill

We paddled a bit more and even got a chance to see the crocodile that the rangers call “Croczilla"

You can’t tell by the pictures but this guy is HUGE.  I think that Ranger G said something like 14-16 feet long.  His girth is huge and Ranger G says that Croczilla eats small alligators!   I did back paddle some when we were in the open water and getting too close to the alligators and crocodiles for my comfort!  Syl was an amazing canoe partner and I’m glad that she was so patient with me.  Thanks friend!

On one of our last days together in the Everglades, Gin and Syl hosted an ice cream bar night!  It was sooooooooo good.  There were four different types of ice cream, miniature strawberry cupcakes, brownie squares, white cake, butterscotch sauce, chocolate sauce, pineapple topping, strawberry topping, chopped walnuts,  walnuts in syrup, pecans in syrup, sprinkles, maraschino cherries, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, butterscotch chips, heath bar pieces, crushed oreos, sliced bananas, and whipped cream.  (Hope I got everything listed!!)

Our hostesses with the mostestess!
Gin making sure that we have everything!

Don't ever dare Gin!
So much fun!!

Bill was first in line...

Happy camper!
And another happy camper!

and another!

and another!
Not sure how I missed getting a picture of the bowls that Nancy and I had.  Guess I was too busy enjoying the ice cream.  :-)    We all had sugar highs that night but it was such a fun time!

Our week ended all too quickly and we bid “see you down the road” to our friends.  We know that we will see them soon!

Now we are back in Cedar Key until the end of April.  We’ve spent the past few days getting set back up and catching up with friends.  It’s going to be a busy couple of months filled with RV projects, craft projects, bike rides, boating and who knows what else we can get into!!

Life is good.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


January 31 - February 14, 2013
Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Hobe Sound, FL

Jonathan Dickinson State Park  (shortened to J-DICK!) had been on my “places to visit” list for about a year and we were able to snag a 2 week stay.  It’s on the east coast of Florida, not directly on the beach but close enough!   We stayed in the Pine Grove loop as it’s the most accommodating for big rigs.  The downside to this loop is that it is close to the highway (you can hear traffic almost non-stop) and there is no tree coverage for shade.  But - it has full hook-ups and there are tons of activities to do in the park and in the general area.  And, we were meeting up with friends Gin and Syl and Bill and Nancy.  That’s a recipe for fun!!

Geocaching is VERY popular at this park and all in all, I think that we found about 30 caches during our stay.
Dan and Bill searching for the cache
Nancy keeping watch

A very clever hide in an Altoids tin
Hobe “Mountain” is 86 feet above sea level and has a wonderful observation tower to view the Atlantic Ocean, inter-coastal waterway, and much of the park.  It is also a great place to watch beautiful sunsets.

One day we all packed our lunches and piled into Bill and Nancy’s Tahoe.  We were going to explore the area.  We headed to Jupiter Lighthouse.

It was a bit pricey to go tour the lighthouse so we just admired it from afar.   We headed to a beachfront spot to enjoy our picnic lunch.  Afterwards, we enjoyed the beach a bit….

Such a cute tern
We headed to Blowing Rocks.  Now this is different from the Blowing Rock (in NC!) that I am used to….
It is actually a pressed coquina formation that can increase beach erosion and intensify salt spray.  Erosion causes blow holes and can shoot salt spray 50 feet high.  We didn’t see any spray come close to that but it was a very neat sight to see regardless.

Dan, Nancy, and Syl went to explore one of the paths and Gin, Bill and I sat down at a deck that overlooked the beach.  There were a handful of people on the beach and we heard someone shouting to look in the water.  We turned to see what the commotion was about…..

It was the largest turtle we had ever seen.  We watched it parallel the beach until it was out of sight.  We thought maybe it was a  loggerhead turtle.  After we left Blowing Rocks, we headed to the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge.  We were talking to one of the workers, told her what we saw, and showed her the picture.  She believes that it was not a loggerhead turtle but a leatherback turtle.  These turtles are about the size of a VW Beetle and can be up to 6 feet long and weigh up to 2000 lbs!   She told us that these turtles usually nest in late February and seeing one this early was unusual.  

The refuge had some really nice exhibits including a baby alligator, a baby crocodile, spotted skunk (descented of course!) and a few others.  

We had a great day exploring the area outside of the park!

The Loxahatchee River flows thru Jonathan Dickinson State Park and Bill, Nancy, Dan, and I set out to paddle it one day.
Nancy and Bill

It was a gorgeous day to be on the water.  We saw dozens of osprey and a few alligators.  I am out of my comfort zone with the gators and REALLY don’t like it when they are in the water.  I prefer them to stay on the banks but sometimes they don’t listen to me!  No pictures of alligators this time - I was too busy being a scaredy cat!

We paddled up to Trapper Nelson’s site.  Trapper was a pioneer that homesteaded in the area beginning in the 1930s.  The park offers a guided tour and it was well worth the visit.
It was  really interesting to hear about Trapper’s life and the guide did an excellent job portraying what life was like back in the day.  All of the buildings were built by Trapper and he lived quite a solitary life for the most part.
Trapper's hurricane log
After the tour, we ate our picnic lunch and got a chance to chat with the guide.

He, along with his wife, have volunteered as guides for Trapper Nelson’s site for 4 years.   You could tell that he really enjoys his work-camping gig and I doubt that he will give it up anytime soon.

On the way back, we saw another gator or two and, as we rounded a bend, I heard a noise that I thought I recognized.  I was not sure though and thought maybe it was a gator bellowing.  We rounded the bend and started seeing river grass clippings that were floating.  Yep - manatee!  I like these guys much, much better than the gators!!  They were rather elusive and we only got to see one glimpse but it was enough to put a smile on my face.  

We finished our paddle without incident and called it another great day on the water!

The park rangers at Jonathan Dickinson had recommended that we visit Busch Wildlife Sanctuary if we got the chance.   We had a free day so the six of us piled into the Tahoe and off we went one afternoon.

Dan, Syl, Gin, Nancy, and Bill
The sanctuary is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to the protection and conservation of Florida's wildlife.  The vast majority of the animals at the sanctuary are there due to something that a human (or humans) did to them.  It could have been deliberate (shooting) or accidental (hit with a car).  The staff does try to rehabilitate and release but sometimes that is not possible.
Beautiful butterfly on lantana

Owls are so cool!
We had a great time watching the river otter.  He was all by himself and looked like he wanted to play so, so much.  He decided to pose pretty when we were taking pictures.

Another great afternoon was had by all!