February 2015 – Homestead, Florida

On Monday we traveled southeast from Lake Okeechobee to our southern most destination for the winter, Homestead, Florida.  The trip down US Highway 27 was great, this major highway being four lane and very little traffic all the way to our turn onto State Highway 997 shy of Miami.  I was certainly glad to stay west of Miami and this highway was perfect.  It was only two lane, but the traffic was not heavy all the way to the Everglades RV Resort which is just off the state highway.  The terrain along the trip was flat, as expected, and consisted of sugar cane, vegetable farms, and cattle ranches the entire trip.  As we were to find out over the next couple of days, this area is actually part of the Everglades which are created when summer rains overflow the banks of Lake Okeechobee beginning the long and slow flow to the coast.  Partly to control flooding, but more to drain the land for agriculture the entire area from Lake Okeechobee to Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve has been drained for agriculture.  There is continual conflict between the farmers in the region and conservationists over the water which today is shunted off in three large canals to the Atlantic and Gulf.  The problem is not just the quantity of water needed for the health of the Everglades (which are severely threatened), but all the quality of water due to the fertilization of the agricultural land, especially the thousand of acres of vegetable farms.  Once we got to the Everglades RV Resort west of Homestead, it was time for “sticker shock”.  We knew it was going to be expensive which is why I only booked for a single week, but a price tag of nearly $500 eliminated over half of our budget for site fees for the month for a single week!  The Resort is very nice with grassy sites, concrete patios, and picnic tables.  Of course all the sites have full hookups and nearly all of them are pull-through, which is still my favorite!  The clubhouse/store/laundry are fantastic.  They have a beautifully manicured activity area with very nice shuffleboard courts, swimming pool, volleyball court, basketball court, and an 18-hole miniature golf course.  I am still not convinced it justifies over $60/night, but it is very conveniently located to the National Parks and the Florida Keys, all of which are close and can be accessed without having to go through any major metropolitan centers, just a huge number of tree and plant nurseries and residential neighborhoods.

Campsite

We did have one problem that had arisen from the truck.  Even though I had it inspected just a few days before, there was a noticeable shimmy that was most noticeable at 45 mph, although you could feel it at any speed.  We looked at the tires on Sunday, before we left but could not see any problems.  We were both nervous the entire trip down to Homestead and even stopped once along the highway to remove some air pressure under the assumption they were over heating.  This did not do any good, but Kal noticed that the left front tire looked rounded on top, instead of flat like the other tires.  Therefore, once we dropped off the RV at the Everglades RV Resort, we went in search of a tire store.  There was a Tire Kingdom store just a few miles down US Highway 1 from where we were and we had them give it a quick look.  It was already getting late in the day, so they did not have time to do anything that day but asked us to drive the truck up to 45 mph and let off the gas to see if the shimmy changed any.  They thought it was likely one of the tires was separating, but it could also be the U-joints.  We agreed to try this out and come by first thing in the morning.

On Tuesday, we were anxious to visit the Everglades National Park, however, we had to drop by Tire Kingdom at 7:30 to check on a tire.  We had not noticed any change in the shimmy by letting off the gas, which meant it was likely a tire.  Their technician took one look at our tires and was convinced the right front tire that Kal had noticed was rounded on the top, was indeed experiencing belt separation.  They did not have any tires of the size we needed in stock and would have to get one from the warehouse, which would be delivered late the following day.  So we had another two days with a questionable tire, but decided to take our chances and headed over to the Everglades.  There is a Welcome Center just outside the formal entrance to the park (where you have to pay your fee) that provided a good overview of the National Park with a short video, a list of ranger led activities at each of the Visitor Centers, and good information about hiking and canoeing opportunities.  At the Welcome Center we started to understand that the Everglades are not at all what I had expected.  I was under the false impression that the Everglades are a huge swamp full of brown stagnant water and mosquitoes.  In actuality, the Everglades is actually a huge slow moving river beginning at Lake Okeechobee and extending all the way south and west to the Gulf.  The drop in elevation is only 8 feet over this distance, which means the water does not have the energy to cut much in the way of rivers.  In addition, the area is geologically young having emerged from the ocean since the last ice age.  Consequently the Everglades is a sea of sawgrass broken up by hardwood hammocks that are a foot or so higher and cypress domes that are a few feet lower in elevation.  The water is crystal clear, except in stagnant areas around the sloughs and cypress domes.  The two seasons at the Everglades are the wet summer and dry winters.  During the winter months when the rainfall is less much of the grass prairie will dry out and the cypress trees will lose their foliage.  Alligators congregate around the sloughs and domes that still have water and even help this along by enlarging the depressions, often called “gator holes”.  The fish, turtles, frogs, etc follow the gators into these holes making a rich and concentrated habitats around the remaining sources of water.  Of course, the birds also congregate around this food source, making the winter months an excellent time to see the wildlife.  I also found it interesting that the water in the grass prairie is very low in nutrients favoring the growth of a blue-green algae complex known as periphyton.  As the prairie dries out in the winter you can see mats of the periphyton covering the ground among the sawgrass providing a moist ecosystem for micro-organisms even during the dry season.  Another good thing about the dry season is the lack of water limits the mosquitoes population to tolerable levels.  We only had an issue once in all of our time in the Everglades and surrounding area.

SeaOfGrassPeriphyton

The first ranger led talk was at 10:00 at the Royal Palm Visitor Center, about a 15 minute drive into the park, so that was our first stop.  There are two short walks at Royal Palm, the Anhinga Trail along a man made canal and the Gumbo Limbo Trail in a hardwood hammock.  The ranger led talk was along the main portion of the Anhinga Trail that is a paved roadbed constructed by removing limestone from the area alongside the roadbed.  This is the common road building technique used to raise the elevation of the roads in south Florida.  This creates a man made canal next to the road which is a common sight.  It also retains water throughout the dry season providing an excellent attractor to fish, birds, alligators, and other wildlife.  We saw the anhinga bird, also called the snake bird, swimming underwater to catch small fish, as well as, ibis, herons, and egrets.  We did see a few alligators right along the trail in the warm sun, but for alligator viewing, you have to wait until the end of the trail.  Here there is a relatively large pool of water and in excess of 20 alligators laying next to each other filling up the open area.  It was an amazing sight and they were so used to visitors that they did not even notice our presence.  The ranger did an excellent job of talking about the profusion of wildlife we were seeing, which was more concentrated then most zoos I have been to.  The rest of the trail is a boardwalk that circles through the wetlands beside the canal.

RoyalPalmRangerRoyalPalmGatorsAnhingaTrailBoardWalk

After lunch at the Long Pine Key campground in a section of slash pine flatwoods, we hurried on down to the Flamingo Visitor Center about 40 miles through the Everglades to the coast.  We had learned about a ranger led canoe trip when we were at the Welcome Center that we wanted to check into, plus there was another ranger led talk at 1:00.  The drive through the Everglades is amazing!!  You can literally see for miles through the “Sea of Grass” and even though the cypress tree were missing their foliage and looked dead in comparison, it was worth the trip by itself.  As you approach the coast the water begins to turn brackish and you there are mangrove trees along the sloughs, eventually completely covering the landscape.  The multiple root structures of the white and red mangrove holding the trees above the water are so much more impressive seeing live then in pictures and it certainly makes a terrain that would be impossible to traverse on foot, besides the fact that most of it is underwater.  At the Flamingo Visitor Center we first found out about the ranger led canoe trip and were surprised to find out it was totally free!  There first openings were for Friday and Saturday, which were fine with us, and we signed up for the trip on Saturday.  I was surprised that the canoe trip was not along the coast but at Nine Mile Pond, a mangrove swamp back about 10 miles and that the canoe trip started at 7:45 in the morning.  This would be another very early morning on Saturday with an hour drive from the Resort and possibly a cool start to be on the water.  That taken care of, we joined the ranger led walk along the coast to the campgrounds and learned a lot about the history of the Everglades.  Starting with the geological history that formed the Everglades, the most interesting part of the talk was the history of the Indians of the area.  The Calusa Indians were living throughout Florida when the Spaniards first came.  They were fierce warriors and being physically larger than the Spaniards (over 6 feet versus 5 feet average height), kept them at bay for hundreds of years.  However, warfare and disease eventually eliminated the Calusa by the 18th century.  The remaining Indians were incorporated into the Creek Indians that migrated to Florida in the 18th century forming the Seminole tribe.  Most of the Seminoles were removed to Oklahoma and Texas in 1842, although about 200 Seminoles remained hidden in the Everglades.  The Everglades has a long history of being “outside the law” as a place of refuge.  From escaped slaves in the 1800s to war dissidents from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, Flamingo and Everglades City to the West have been a mecca for those escaping society.  Flamingo was a major location for stills and rum running activities during Prohibition in the 1920s, the center for the disastrous period of harvesting of bird plumage for ladies hats that led to the beginning of the Audubon Society, and now part of the Everglades National Park dedicated to the restoration of the Everglades.

FlamingoRangerFlamingoKalOnBeach

Although we already had a full day in the Park, we took in a couple of the short boardwalks along the road.   The Mahogany Hammock is a very nice boardwalk through a small hardwood hammock.  It is noteworthy due to the very large mahogany trees in the hammock that were somehow missed when most of the mahogany was logged before it became a National Park.  Kal was fortunate to catch a barred owl coming out of its nest in a cavity within one of these large mahogany trees and got some pictures of it sitting on a branch after soaring over her head!!  I got a good view of the natural moat that these hammocks produce around the hammock that protects the hammock from fires during the dry season.  The moat is created from the tannic acid of decaying leaves along the edge of the hammock slowly dissolving the limestone rock and creating a water channel that surround the hammock.  Pretty neat system.

MahoganyKalMahoganyBardOwl

The Pa-hay-okee Overlook is another short boardwalk through the sawgrass prairie to another hardwood hammock with an observation tower.  The tower is just high enough to get above the trees and give a spectacular view of the surrounding sawgrass prairie all the way to the horizon.  After a very enlightening day, we enjoyed a quiet evening in the Resort looking forward to our canoe trip on Saturday.

PaHayOkeeView

Without being able to get the tire fixed until later in the day, we wanted to stay close to the Resort and Biscayne National Park was the obvious choice as it was just 10 miles to the coast due east of our location.  In addition, since we knew that Biscayne National Park is primarily the barrier islands and the reef in Biscayne Bay, we did not expect it would take much time to visit since we don’t have a boat.  As expected there was not much to do at Biscayne especially they had not yet identified a new concessionaire to operate the boat tours to the barrier islands.  This was unfortunate, as we had enjoyed Cumberland Island very much even though we had to pay for a tour boat.  However, it did mean we would be able to get the tire fixed later in the day.  We spent the morning taking in the Visitor Center, which is not much except a few exhibits about the marine life and a short walk leading out into the Bay from the Visitor Center.  I did learn about the history of the park, which is interesting.  As Miami grew the barrier islands south of the city were viewed as prime real estate as early as 1890 when a causeway to the islands was first proposed, but never beyond the proposal stage.  In 1962, billionaire shipping magnate, Daniel Ludwig proposed building an industrial seaport including oil refineries in the bay.  In 1963 Florida Power & Light proposed two oil powered electric plants at Turkey Point.  Early environmentalists headed by the local chapter of the Isaak Walton League tried to head this off by proposing the creation of a National Park.  With the help of Florida Congressman Dante Fascell and Governor Claude Kirk, Jr. the idea gained traction.  After the oil fired electric plants at Turkey Point can online in 1967-68 and it was apparent that the use of the waters of the Bay for cooling was heating up the Bay and killing the reefs the idea gained widespread public support.   In October of 1968 the entire Bay became a National Monument and was expanded to in 1974 and again in 1980 when it became a National Park encompassing nearly all of Biscayne Bay.  The bay and reefs are slowly recovering but are still challenged by the proximity of Miami and expanding urban sprawl all the way south to the Florida Keys.  We also learned about the devastation caused by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 which was a category 4 storm with the eye passing over the southern end of Biscayne National Park.  All the buildings in the Park and barrier islands were destroyed and the park was over 2 years recovering.  Consequently, the Visitor Center is a relatively new building that is beautifully designed.  I also understand that the structures on the barrier islands have not and will not be replaced leaving only hiking trails and primitive camping sites.  We ate lunch at the Visitor Center and then returned to the Resort and checked on the tire.  Unfortunately the truck did not arrive early enough with the tire to get it taken care of that day, so we made an appointment for the first thing in the morning.

BayBackToVisitorCenter KalOnBoardwalk

Thursday morning came early again with light rain and a forecast for more throughout the day.  The day started at 7:30 at Tire Kingdom, where they had the tire replaced and ready to go by 8:00.  We once again had the entire day to do something, but the weather was going to be nasty.  So we headed to our other favorite location for entertainment, a casino.  The Miccosukee Resort and Gaming establishment is on the corner of state highway 997 and US Highway 41, just a few miles north of the Resort.  Since we were there mid-morning, it was not very busy and we had an enjoyable morning playing the slot machines.  Once again Kal had managed to spend out her $40 while I was still on my first $20 by lunch time.  We took a break for lunch at the grill in the casino and returned to the tables after Kal got an additional $15 from our stash in the truck.  She ended up only losing $5 of this by the middle of the afternoon and I got lucky near the end of our time on a couple of machines and lost only $10.  While we did not come out winners, it was still a lot of fun for only $55 in losses.  The weather was still on and off rain, so we returned to the Resort to read and relax.

Since the front had gone through, Friday was cool and sunny, a perfect day to visit the Florida Keys.  We did not have an particular objective in mind and did not feel the need to make it all the way to Key West.  I have to admit the Florida Keys are not as developed as I had thought they would be, although it was still a constant stream of traffic along US 1 in both directions throughout the day.  Most of the islands are small and linear with little room besides the road which jumps from one to the other.  Some of the keys have State Parks in them and so just before lunch we pulled into Long Key State Park for a hike and a meal.  Once we got off the highway, the State Park was pleasant with a nice loop trail down to the beach and around an interior pond.  Lunch was at picnic tables along the small beach in the Park.

GregAtTower KalWithCoconut LunchTime

After lunch we debated about whether to continue on or head back, but I wanted to experience the 7 mile bridge from Marathon on Knights Key over to Little Duck Key.  It was the longest bridge in the world when it was built and it is still impressive.  I had thought that it would be long enough to lose all sight of land in the middle of the bridge, which is not true, unfortunately.  You can still see land or at least trees in both directions the whole time.  Another interesting sight was older bridges that still span much of the distance along US 1 in the Keys which are mostly used for fishing bridges if there are not missing sections restricting access.

CalmSea FloridaKey SevenMileBridge

Once we got to Little Duck Key we were at Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge, which Kal was hoping to make when we left that morning.  Even though the Visitor Center is in a strip mall/grocery store, we found out about some hiking trails in the Refuge.  We also found out that the primary purpose of the refuge is to protect the habitat of the Key Deer which is an endangered sub-spieces of white-tailed deer.  While this may not seem all that important, the Key Deer are special due to their size.  Full grown Key Deer are only the size of a medium size dog!!  With hopes of spotting a Key Deer we headed out into the Refuge.  Little Duck Key is a fair sized key with the center high enough above sea level to be primarily a slash pine flatwood, which is different then most of the keys which are basically mangrove swamps.  Being a pine flatwood also implies that there is very dry, except when it rains.  It turns out that the limestone that is the bedrock of all the keys has two layers.  The top layer is somewhat impervious to water creating a freshwater lens that concentrates the rain water into small and medium sized pools and thus supports the Key Deer population.  However, being an island off the coast of Florida it is prone to tropical storms and hurricanes.  Salt water intrusions are deadly for slash pine and there were a lot of dead trees from a recent storm.  As much as we looked, we did not see a Key Deer until we were leaving the Refuge and there was an adult feeding on the side of the road.  Kal got some pictures, but I am not certain you can tell the size of the deer.  It was about the size of a medium sized dog, but was certainly a deer in miniature!  On the way back north out of the Keys, Kal got some great pictures of the shore and colors as the sun was going down.  I missed seeing Key West, especially for the colorful history of the area, but we enjoyed what we did see.

KalOnTrail KeyDeer

Saturday morning started very early as we needed to be on the road by 6:30 in order to be at Nine Mile Pond by 7:30.  We made it with plenty of time to get ready and prep our canoe.  Since we were advised to park our truck on the road to keep the vultures from damaging the rubber seals (it seems they like to chew on them??) I did not have my camera with me to get any pictures and Kal was certainly not going to take her camera.  So, even without pictorial evidence, believe me when I say the experience was AWESOME.  The entire trip lasted just over 3 hours and we traveled about 6 miles.  Most of the time was in narrow channels through the mangrove trees which were fun to steer through.  It is good to know I have not forgotten how to steer a canoe and we didn’t have any problems staying with the group.  The only challenging part was the short-cut from one side of the trail to the other (the whole trail is 9 miles long).  This short-cut was out in the open with a stiff cross wind and water less than a foot deep.  I could not get a good bite with the paddle and ended up pushing off the bottom more often than not.  Consequently, it was difficult to deal with the cross wind and keep us on anything like a straight course.  Thankfully, everyone in the group was having the same problem except for our guide who seemed to have no problem with his one man canoe.  Our ranger did point out a lot of the plants and birds we saw, giving interesting information about the life history.  I especially liked his explanation of the bladderwort that we were paddling through and its importance to the health of the ecosystem, which is very nutrient poor.  He also pointed out a few cattails that are indicative of the changes in the Everglades as more nutrient rich water from the agriculture lands to the north (especially potassium) favors the growth of cattails instead of the sawgrass.  We did see a couple of alligators and surprisingly a large Florida crocodile that are unusual in these fresh water ponds.  It was a great experience and one both of us would seek out in the future.

Following the canoe trip we ate lunch West Lake where there are restrooms, picnic tables, and a nice boardwalk through the mangrove trees along the lake.  The boardwalk actually extends out into the lake about 100 feet so you can get a good view of the mangrove covered shoreline and birds.

WestLakeKalOverWaterWestLakeKalOnBoardwalk

After traveling on south to Flamingo, we took a short walk around Eco-Pond which is an old water treatment pond that now is a haven for a lot of birds and other animals.  After the walk we were treated to watching an osprey up close eating a fish it had caught.  We had seen a few osprey (we think they were osprey) flying around, but this was our first opportunity to see one up close in the wild.  On the way back we took another chance at the Mahogany Hammock to see if we could catch the Barred Owl again (no luck).

EcoPondKalFlamingoOsprey

We stopped along the road to get a picture at the Rock Reef Pass, which is a linear limestone outcrop that has a lot of small pools for the a forest of dwarf bald cypress.  We thought it was funny since this “pass” is only 3 feet about sea level.

RockReefPassGreg

We took a drive out to the Nike Missile Site which was established following the Cuban Missile Crisis, completed in 1964 to house the Nike-Hercules missiles.  These missiles were anti-ballistic missiles to protect Miami from any Cuban missile threat.  This site is the western most site ringing Miami at the time.  It was closed in 1979 when it was turned over to the Park.  Unfortunately, the only way to see the site is by the daily tours given by the National Park earlier in the day, so all we could see were the buildings behind a fence and some earthen berms that we guessed enclosed the below ground silos.  We were disappointed, so we decided to take one more short hike and headed back to the Royal Palm Visitor Center.  Besides the Anhinga Trail we had taken earlier in the week, there is also the Gumbo Limbo Trial through a sub-tropical hammock.  This trail was a show place for the Everglades back in the 60s and 70s before it was nearly destroyed in a hurricane.  Today it is still a nice walk through a much younger forest.

GumboLimboKal

Sunday was spent on chores around the RV and getting everything ready to move west towards Naples.

 

January 2015 – Lake Okeechobee, Florida

Now that we were back on our Monday to Monday schedule it was time to move on to our next destination.  Besides the weather had been chilly the last few days, so it was time to go further south (I guess).  In any case, our destination was Lake Okeechobee in south central Florida.  This is the largest fresh water lake in the continental United States outside the Great Lakes and we were interested in seeing what that meant.  The drive was a little less than 3 hours (especially with stops along the way at the rest areas) with much of it along I-95, so it was uneventful.  The weather got steadily warmer the further south we went, although it was very windy with gusts around 40 mph from the west so it was hitting us broadside.  Even though we could tell it was blowing the RV did not sway or pull us around.  It is good to know that we can take a crosswind with no problem.   As we traveled inland, the terrain of central Florida is a lot different than along the coast.  Most of the land has been drained over the years and are used to grow oranges, sugar cane, vegetables, and especially cattle.  Consequently, there are not as many trees as I expected, but wide open country.  We pulled into M RV Resort on the west side of the Lake around 2 in the afternoon to sunny skies and a wicked wind.  The Resort is about 5 miles from Moore Haven, which is a small town, along US 27 and is out in the country with cattle ranches on all sides.  There are not a lot of trees in the Resort and the sites are close together, although there is a concrete patio and full hookups at each site.  I recall the problems I had making reservations in Florida back in December, so it was surprising to find out that there are over 40 spots open when we pulled in.  I suspect that nearly all of the residents of the Resort are either snowbirds from Canada or the mid-west and northeast or full timers such as ourselves.  We have heard a lot of French from the Canadians this week!  Consequently, there is a community atmosphere to the Resort and we have gotten to know our neighbors, even though we spent most of our time seeing the countryside.  While it was very windy that first day, the weather settled down for the rest of the week with plenty of sunshine and temperatures eventually in the 70s every day.  I can certainly see why everyone comes to Florida for the winter, as if there was any doubt.

Campsite Sunset

Tuesday was Kal’s day to catch up with the laundry and normally I try to clean while she is doing this.  However, it was time to take the truck in for an oil change and maintenance check, so we found a BG garage in nearby LaBelle, Florida.  So while Kal did the laundry, I drove about 25 miles to LaBelle to spend the day at Jack’s Garage.  Fortunately, their mechanic, Greg (I never did meet any Jack) was able to get right to the truck with only about a 15 minute wait, so they were done in about an hour and half.  The truck checked out fine and we are ready for another 5000 miles.  I also found a grocery store while I was in town and managed to not spend all day as I expected.  By then Kal had easily completed the laundry and we spent the evening getting to know some of our neighbors from Canada, Ohio, and New York.

I wanted to have a day to just play after dealing with the truck on Tuesday, so about 10 on Wednesday morning we drove back to Ogeechobee, Florida to check out the Seminole Casino on the Brighton Reservation.  It is a relatively small casino on the reservation, but was still quite busy in the middle of the day thanks to all the snow birds staying in the RV parks all around the lake, especially just outside of Ogeechobee.  After a couple of hours I had lost my initial $20 and Kal had already gone through her $40 for the day.  So we took a break and got lunch in the Casino, after which I relented and let Kal have another $20 from our cache so we could play some more.  It took longer, but Kal still managed to lose all of her money (plus $10 she had in her pocket).  However, I got real lucky on the last machine we played and won over $70 on their bonus feature.  I quickly cashed in and we left the casino only down around $40.  We did enjoy ourselves and look forward to our next opportunity.

Finally, on Thursday it was time to check out Lake Ogeechobee.  First, Kal wanted to try out the game of Petanque.  I believe this game is similar to bocci ball, but the French Canadians called it Petanque.  It is played on a small gravel court with wooden sideboards.  Players are split into two teams with two metal balls apiece.  The game starts with the throw of the “piggy” (a small red ball) out onto the court.  Then the first player of a team throws one of their metal balls as close to the piggy as they can.  Then the first player of the other team tries to get their ball to land closer to the piggy.  If they do, then the play switches back to the first team.  If not, then they try with their second ball.  If this is still not the closest ball to the piggy, then the next player for the team throws their first ball.  This continues until they get a ball closer than the opponents.  Once this happens, the play switches to the other team.  Once the entire team has thrown all their balls without getting one closer, then the other team finishes out their balls trying to score more points.  Of course, the piggy can get hit in which case it can change the game completely or you can hit other balls moving them around.  You score a point for your team for every ball that is closer than the closest of the opposing team and the game continues until a score of 13 is reached.  Kal really enjoyed the game and was welcomed by the other players who loaned her a couple of balls to play along.

PetanqueThrowing PetanqueBalls

After Kal finished her game we loaded up into the truck and took off for Lake Ogeechobee. It turns out that they have built an earthen dike all around the lake to control flooding from tropical storms, which drowned hundreds of people back in the 1930s.  They do have a walking/bike path along the top of the dike, but for the most part you can’t see anything from the road except for the top of the dike.  We asked our neighbors in the Resort about places we could go to see the lake and it turns out there are not a lot of places to do this.  Most people would have a boat for this purpose, although I suppose the most popular reason is for fishing?  There is public access and a viewing pier in the town of Ogeechobee, so we once again headed north around the west side of the lake.  As I expected, you can’t really see the Lake from the shore since much of it is very shallow and is really a large expansive wetland.  However, we enjoyed a nice picnic lunch while watching the birds.  We walked out on the viewing pier, but even though it was a better view from higher up, you still could not see what I would call a lake.  Kal got a few pictures of some unusual birds we saw and another visitor pointed out a small alligator in the rushes along the shore.  On our way back we stopped at another public access point at Lakeport, Florida which had a wooden platform that was much higher above the lake.  We could finally see what I would call a lake in the distance, but the surrounding area was still a very large wetland.  Don’t get me wrong.  This is what I expected to see and it was beautiful with a lot of birds and crystal clear water.  We stopped one more time on our way south where we could access the dike and walked along the dike for about a half mile and back.  Even from this vantage point it was difficult to see any expanse of water.  Lake Ogeechobee is very large, being over 200 miles in circumference and the other side of the lake may be very different, but I doubt it.

GregAtLake KalAtLake   Lake2 Lake1 BirdsAtlake

For Friday, Kal had read on the internet about some Indian mounds at a state park towards Ft. Myers, so we decided to check it out.  We drove to Alva, Florida where the state park was suppose to be, but all we found was Caloosahatchee Regional Park, which is a community park outside of Ft. Myers.  The trail map they had did not say anything about Indian mounds and we never did find them.  We did enjoy a couple of hikes along the Caloosahatchee River before lunch and in the slash pine flatwoods after lunch.  In all, we hiked for about 3.5 miles along some easy trails, saw a lot of pretty scenery, and took a lot of great pictures.  Especially with the weather in the low 70s and plenty of sunshine, it was a perfect day even without any Indian mounds.

GregInWoods GregAtRiver KalAndSlashPine

Wanting to give Kal one more chance to see an Indian Mound we headed out on Saturday to the Big Cypress Semiole Indian Reservation to the south.  Our destination was the Ah-Tah-Ti-Ki Seminole Museum.  Once again there were no Indian mounds, but the museum was great.  If you ever in the area and are interested in the history and culture of the Seminole Indians, you have to visit this museum.  Beginning with a very well done film about the Seminole Indians, I am beginning to understand their history.  I did not know they were originally part of the Creek Nation in northern Alabama and Georgia.  Having been forced out by Europeans under the auspices of England, they migrated to northern Florida where the native Indian tribes of the area had been wiped out by slavery and disease from hundreds of years of colonization by the Spaniards.  During the colonial years, the Seminoles had good relations with the English and Spanish and raised vast cattle herds in northern and central Florida, mostly for trade.  In the early 19th century the U.S. Army made numerous incursions into Spanish territory to recapture runaway slaves, which became known as the Black Seminoles.  In 1819, Spain ceded Florida to the US in return for any claims the US had in Texas.  This brought additional settlers to Florida and in the 1823 Treaty of Moultrie Creek, the US seized over 43 million acres in Florida in exchange for a 4 million acre reservation in central and southern Florida.  However, in the 1832 Treaty of Payne’s Landing the Seminoles were to be moved to a reservation in Oklahoma.  Thus began the Second Seminole War in 1835.  Although most of the Seminoles were eventually killed or captured and moved to Oklahoma, but many moved deeper into the Everglades from which is was nearly impossible to remove them.  Today, these Seminole Indians that never surrendered to the US make up three reservations in Florida.  This museum commemorates their history and culture with many very well done exhibits.  There is also a boardwalk through a cypress bowl that is about a mile long.  The boardwalk is very well done and meanders through the swamp with interesting interpretive signs about every 10 feet.  About half way around the boardwalk they have created a “campsite” that has a few covered pavilions and firepits for presentations and ceremonies throughout the year.  They have also set up working areas for local artisans to create and sell their products.  Unfortunately, January is not a busy time of year for tourists to the museum, so there was only a single artisan making a basket while we were there.  This would certainly be a great place to spend some time during the summer months.

GregInMuseum KalAtLunch KalOnBoardwalk

After enjoying the day at the museum, we decided we did not really want to go back to the Resort yet, especially when there was another Seminole Casino about 30 miles to the West.  So we headed over to the Immokalee Casino to see if I could continue my winning streak.  This casino is considerably larger than the one in Brighton with numerous card games in addition to the slot machines that we spend all our time at.  It also has a large hotel as part of the casino.  Over the next hour and a half, Kal had once again lost although she did have more luck and was only down $20.  In that time, my luck had certainly held since I had won a couple of big bonuses and cashed in $55 over my initial $20.  We had dinner in the casino and decided to play some more.  After another couple of hours, Kal had again lost her $20, but I had made another $15, so in combination we came out ahead by just over $25.  Not a bad night and after a great day we were back in our RV by 9:00.

Sunday was a day to get ready to move further south again, so Kal went and did laundry again, since we are going to be very busy playing tourist next week.  I got the RV cleaned finally since it had been three weeks since it had been cleaned.  I also got started on this blog while we enjoyed a great afternoon with a light southerly breeze and temperatures near 80 degrees.  I feel a little bit guilty enjoying this weather when I think of all my friends and family dealing with another winter, but only just a little bit!!!