1/18/2022 Homestead, FL.
This was the extreme traveler’s trip. I had to drive at night after work because I made my reservation with the Flamingo campground for the next day and discovered that the drive was over 10 hours! I drove endlessly down I-10 through Jacksonville to I-95 through St. Augustine (going back). This is one big state! It was exciting to recognize some of the city names from Daytona Beach to every other beach and I was oohing and awing most of the time. When I got to Titusville, where I reserved a spot through Harvest Hosts, I arrived at the American Space Museum, parked in the back parking lot and killed a few hours sleeping. Thank you museum and Harvest Hosts. (It does not look like the pictures on the web site.) Stopped to watch the sun rise at the Veterans Memorial Park, found a great spot for breakfast, Downtown Diner, and headed down I-95 again…
I could go on and on about driving on the Atlantic coast and Florida in general, but I will just say that there are a lot of sport cars here. And they drive like maniacs! Hardly any one uses signals to change lanes and I have to stay very focused on driving. ‘Nough said.
Everglades National Park is at the southern most tip of the state (except for the Keys) and the drive from Titusville took about 5 hours. Getting to the entrance was one thing, and the Flamingo campground is at the very end of the park at the tip of the state. The campground was spacious and I chose a non-electric site because my heater wasn’t needed for a couple of days. Only problem was that the grounds were open and no shade or privacy, and the showers at the non-electric sites just had cold water YIKES. I had to wait for the site to be vacated and went to the marina while I was waiting. At the site, I just set up my chair and made my meals inside. Then I walked around and found the amphitheater and some really cool Eco-tents (glamping) that were right on the beach.
Day 1: The first night I took some star pictures until the clouds came in and enjoyed an hour of star gazing. I was exhausted and slept in spite of the noisy family camping behind my van.
Day 2: Next morning, I headed back to the marina to watch for critters. I saw an alligator the day before and spotted it again on the river side. There’s a dam that separates the fresh water river from the salt water bay. On the bay side, tarpon jump around like they are practicing for the circus and manatees and their babies come in to check us out at the docks. I was so excited to see the manatees, my first ones! A mama came right up to the pier I was standing on and someone behind me called it out to me. She was right by my foot. I get goose bumpy just thinking about it. Birds included American vultures, turkey vultures (S. America) egrets, blue herons, tri-colored herons, and assorted water birds. I hung out at the marina a lot.
MOSQUITOES. I am a mosquito magnet, having a certain blood type that attracts them to me like … I am also allergic to their bites and suffer from a single one. There was a trail at the marina that I started for, but I was swarmed by them and had to turn back. The original visitor center was under construction after hurricane Michael and the temporary one was in the parking lot. (It’s going to be open again this summer.) At the visitor center, I was told that the mosquitoes were aggressive and it had just rained a couple of weeks before so they were out in record numbers (to me, anyway).
So I drove down the only road in the park to find another trail they suggested. It lead to a boardwalk and there was a rumor that a flamingo was spotted there. This time, I was prepared for the battle of insects and looked like I was working in a beehive. I had a mosquito net over met head and hat, a sweater, jeans and knit gloves. I also put on DEET repellant and did by best to swat at them the entire time I walked. They were all over me and I must have gotten 16 bites that morning! However, I’m a trooper and made it to the boardwalk and low and behold, saw 2 flamingoes! When I go back to the visitor center, I mentioned it to the volunteer and she said that she would let the rangers know. How cool is that? That night, I took a short, cold shower and didn’t make a peep and cried in pain as the bites swelled.
Day 3: After driving around the day before, I discovered the other campground that was closer to the entrance, Long Pine Key. There was a trail and I started to walk but ran into a Diamond-back rattle snake. It was about 5 ft. long and slithering in the grass next to the trail. It stopped moving and so did I. I tried to take some pictures, but it started moving again and they were blurry. Then I walked back to the van. A very short hike, indeed!
Long Pine Key had beautiful, secluded camp sites surrounded by foliage and were very private. I fell in love with it and asked to move to that campground that night. They agreed, and I was set for that night. At the marina, I took a 90 minute guided boat tour of the bay and learned about the history of the bay, the critters and the people who started and ruined it all. Restoration is ongoing and progress has been made. Saw a crocodile near the shore! I didn’t know they existed in North America. Hah!
Finally, on day 3, I drove to my camp site and had a lot of choices. The gate attendant showed me a video she took of a 13 ft. gator that had wandered into the tent camp area. Guess they have to warn campers moving forward. I didn’t see it, thankfully. It was a glorious night!
Weird thing about the rainforest here. It was completely wet the next morning, but it didn’t rain. It’s hard to tell whether it rained or was just humid. YUK. Wet season is April to November and dry season is December to March. Who knew?
Will I go back to the Everglades? Not likely, since the dry season is best in January and February, and I went in early December. And, unless you are into fishing, boating, kayaking or other water sports, there’s not much else to do. I love kayaking, but the mosquitoes will keep me away. 3 nights of mosquitoes was more than I could handle.
Note: I drove to Key Largo just to say that I’ve been there, and stopped at the state park to get an annual park pass. Then I drove up the Gulf coast going home and spent the night at my sister’s. This means that I drove around the entire perimeter of Florida in 4 days! That’s a lot of miles. More on that later.