Before leaving South Bay, Fl we received an invitation from our friend George to make a visit before we headed farther north. We quickly accepted and looked forward to missing some of the regular sugar cane field burn offs, which had increasing come closer to the campground.
We had a good visit in Miami, with George preparing a great meal and inviting our old friends the Randall’s and another couple which provided for lively dinner conversation. It was a very pleasant stay!
The day after our return from Miami, we headed to Wauchula, FL for a week in the Thousand Trails Resort on the Peace River. Since we have explored most of the area on our visit south in the fall, we have mainly relaxed and did some work around the motorhome. One thing we did not do on the previous visit was to hunt for fossilized shark teeth in the river. This part of the river is well known for these prehistoric artifacts. So today, we performed our first dig in the river. Keeping one eye out for the snakes and alligators, we proceeded to dig and shift thru likely looking areas based on the advice received from those in the park that have been successful. We, in fact, like many of the gold miners of the past, did find what we were looking for, but failed to find any really large specimens. But we can say that we have done it.
Currently we are camped at the South Bay County Campground on the south side of Lake Okeechobee near South Bay, FL. This is a very nice park with good sites and full hook ups and sits immediately behind the lake. Lake Okeechobee is the second largest lake wholly in the USA and world renowned for its fishing. The lake was once much larger, but like the Everglades, was cut back by man’s need for land for agriculture and development. In 1928 a hurricane busted the existing dykes flooding the land and killing over 2000 people. The U S Army corps of Engineers built new and bigger barriers and an extensive flood control system that regulates the water levels to meet the demands of many, often conflicting, water needs.
We wanted to see the area and were not sure what to expect. The first surprise was the fact that this huge lake can only be seen from limited locations due to the huge dykes completely surrounding the lake. The lake is bounded by a series of canals and locks and the Intracoastal Waterway runs thru it.
The surrounding area was also a surprise. The major crop here is sugar cane and there are vast fields all around the lake and instead of military convoys occasionally seen on the interstates, here you can be trapped by large convoys of sugarcane vehicles. The poor condition of the towns surrounding the lake and the apparent poverty of the inhabitants was a shock. This was all the more apparent after spending weeks in the affluent area of Naples. As we drove thru the extremely depressing housing areas, we could not help but compare these sights to the places we observed in Belize and Honduras.
Even the tourist brochures seemed at a loss to come up with real attractions. We wanted to see the historic district of one town touted as a beautifully restored area. After driving around for twenty minutes, Anneke asked at the library about the described area and was told that it was the run down building in the immediate area.
Anneke had located via her research a real local’s restaurant on the north side of the lake at a small marina and campground. We had a completely fried lunch of catfish, hushpuppies and fries. It was good!
Finally, we took a real side road in the cane fields to find Uncle Joe’s campground and fish camp. This location was used in WWII as an internment camp for German prisoners and has been a campground/fish camp ever since. We also confirmed that our motorhome would not fit in there.
Our last excursion in the area was Shark Valley, a part of the Everglades National Park. This area is really about the alligators and other wildlife that can be seen close up by riding a tram around the 15 mile path, riding your bike or an all day hike. We opted for the bike ride. Before you get very far from the welcome center, you learn how close a look you can get. Some of the alligators are actually on the path. We learned from a ranger that there has been only one attack recently. That was when a biker had the poor judgment to lose control of the bike on the path and actually fell on the alligator, who in turn responded the only way it knew how.
The ride out to the observation tower, which is roughly at the halfway point from the parking area, allowed us to see lots of wildlife at a very close range. It was also a good workout and we were glad to reach the tower. In this area we found lots of additional wildlife and a great view over the everglades.
The ride back was with the wind at our back and we moved along smoothly. We once had to dodge a large snake moving quickly across the path. I apologize about not having a picture of this creature, but for some reason that did not come to mind quickly enough. As we neared the welcome center there was a good size alligator lying nearly on the road and as we passed by suddenly jumped up and started moving in our direction. Keeping the bike between me and it, I did manage to get a few good shots before I headed in one direction and it in another.
On the return trip, we did stop at the smallest post office in the USA which has been in continuous use since 1953 when the general store with post office in the area burned down. Now in addition to serving the local populace including a number of Seminole Indian villages, it also does a good business in selling post cards of the post office to tourists with the special postmark.
We moved to south of Naples, in part to be closer to the Everglades. This vast area of unique environment is less than half of its original size. It has been decimated by the land barons and government agencies that either failed to realize it’s important to the ecosystem or just were overcome by greed. Based on recent actions of folks in leadership positions, you can make your own judgments. About 30 years ago, it was realized that the Everglades were essential to the survival of South Florida and finally action was taken to preserve what was left. The Everglades remain on life support today, but is holding steady. It is truly a special environment that should be seen firsthand.
We visited Everglades City and the town of Chockoloskee. These were among the first white settlements in the Everglades. In Chockoloskee, you can visit the first store that traded with the Seminole Indians. Tom Smallwood made a name for himself in this area conducting fair trade with the natives. Today it is part store and part museum to the local history. Here you can get the flavor of how it was here in the early years of white settlement. You read how the local citizens settled their own law enforcement concerns. It was found that a Mr. Watson, a successful cane farmer, was killing his local workers on pay day instead of paying them, so the locals called a meeting with him and promptly killed him.
The drive along highway 41 between Naples and Miami can be called Alligator alley and literally hundreds of the creatures can be seen in the waterways alongside the road. We also stopped at the Big Cypress Bend boardwalk to enjoy the walk among the Cypress Trees and see the local wildlife. Of course the visit would not be complete without a few alligators.