Our friends, Ken & Debbie, are volunteering at Fakahatchee Strand State Park, which is west and south of us, deeper into the Everglades. They were off this past weekend, so extended an invitation for us to come over for a visit. We made plans to spend Saturday with them.
From Immokalee, we headed south on FL-29, through panther country, until we reached the state park, just north of US-41.
The park also has a boardwalk located on US-41, but the main area of the park – including the Visitor Center and volunteer sites – is located on Jane’s Scenic Drive, off FL-29.
We got caught up, met their neighbors/fellow volunteers, and took a tour of the Visitor Center and Shop areas.
After our tour, we loaded up in a park truck with some snacks and water, and followed Jane’s Scenic Drive into the park. 8 miles of the road is accessible by car, through prairie and hammock, with multiple trams (old logging roads) that spur off to the sides. Several of these trams are maintained as hiking trails for visitors.
Fakahatchee is a popular park for swamp walks, viewing orchids and other air plants, and biking and hiking along the scenic drive. There are lots of wildlife opportunities, too, including birds, minks, alligators, and the elusive panther.
It’s been an exceptionally dry winter, so the canals along the side of the road are pretty dry and as a result, there wasn’t much wildlife there. At Gate 12, we entered an area of the park that is not open to vehicles (except park vehicles), but is a popular hiking and biking trail.
It was a pretty narrow trail for the truck, and it’s almost a full time task for the volunteers to keep the trail clear!
One unusual thing about Fakahatchee Strand, is that there are little parcels of privately owned land within the park boundary. One of the more popular parcels is known as the Fakahatchee Hilton, and was our destination.
We spotted a gator right off the side of the porch,
and it turned out that she had about a dozen babies in the pond with her.
They were in the water, and on the banks of the pond, and on a pile of brush in the pond.
We watched them swim around for a while,
and then walked out on the dock to look for gators in the pond out back. There had just been a bicycling group out there, so most of the gators had dispersed, hiding in the weeds surrounding the pond. As we walked out there and watched, they slowly came out of hiding.
This big guy was hanging out by the tree at the end of the dock.
The pond was very scenic,
and probably the most natural alligator habitat we’ve seen. There were dozens out there,
just swimming around and occasionally one would jump up out of the water and dive back in – we weren’t sure if they were hunting for food, or just playing!
There were a few close to us, just lurking in the water,
and one that swam across the pond with his mouth open, getting closer and closer to us.
Debbie thought somebody may have gotten in the habit of feeding him, because he looked like he was looking for us to throw him some food . . . so we got out of there. Those are the alligators that tend to get aggressive, and end up becoming nuisances and unfortunately often have to be removed.
We stopped to get another look at the babies – Momma had moved back into the water,
and she was keeping a close eye on them!
We ate our snacks on the porch, and then took a walk along a path to another small pond where gators like to hang out.
Sure enough, there was a group of gators hanging out on the grass, and probably several more in the water.
We weren’t getting too close because this guy was standing guard!
Tom gave him the stink eye, but he didn’t move!
They were having a nice little gator gathering!
Back on the porch, we were finishing our snacks when a couple of guys arrived in a truck. They were friends of the guy who owned this little parcel of land, planning to camp out in the cabin. This is roughing it pretty good – no utilities at all, and plenty of bugs, snakes, and gators – I definitely wouldn’t stay out there, and I’m not too sure they were going to make it through the night, either. The one guy was from Hawaii, and seemed pretty nervous about the gators.
They had two dogs with them, too, and they immediately ran down the path to the small pond and scattered all the gators – no fear in those dogs! Debbie was worried that they might get the baby gators, and told the guy to keep them away from the water.
We finished up our snacks and said goodbye to the Fakahatchee Hilton.
Back at their volunteer site,
Debbie and I made a tomato salad and cut up a honeydew melon that we had picked up at the Farmers Market in Immokalee, and Ken grilled cheeseburgers.
It was a delicious dinner, and a great way to finish up a fun day. Tom and I wanted to get to Saturday evening mass at Ave Maria on our way back home, so we headed out at 4pm.
Thanks, Debbie & Ken, for a fun day! It was great seeing you guys again! See you down the road!