Monday, February 27, 2017

Fakahatchee Strand State Park

Fire Tower

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.

Fakahatchee Strand

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.

Visitor Center

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,

Momma Gator

and it turned out that she had about a dozen babies in the pond with her.

Baby Alligators


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,

Fakahatchee Hilton

Looking for gators


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.

Another gator

The pond was very scenic,

Gator Pond

and probably the most natural alligator habitat we’ve seen.  There were dozens out there,

Lots of gators 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,

Lazy Gators

and one that swam across the pond with his mouth open, getting closer and closer to us.

He kept getting 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,


Momma staying close to the baby alligators











and she was keeping a close eye on them!

Keeping an eye on her other babies

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.

Walkway to the small pond

Keeping Watch

Sure enough, there was a group of gators hanging out on the grass, and probably several more in the water. 

Crawling out of 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!

Tom giving this guy the stink eye

They were having a nice little gator gathering!

Gator party

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.

Fakahatchee Hilton











Back at their volunteer site,

Debbie & Ken's site

Air Plant and Resurrection Fern


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!

Thanks for inviting us over!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Exploring A1A from Ft. Lauderdale to Palm Beach

Ft. Lauderdale Beach

One of the benefits of our central location in south Florida is that we are within an hour & a half from each coast . . . of course it takes the first hour to get to civilization of any kind . . . I guess that would be the downside!  LOL 



We do try to take one big trip each week, so last Saturday we planned to visit Ft. Lauderdale.  Tom hadn’t been there since he was a kid, and my only visit was one day during a college spring break in Venice, so we were both looking forward to exploring the city and the beach.






From Big Cypress, we took I-75 toward Ft. Lauderdale and got off the highway at the western edge of town.  There’s a Broward County Park – Markham Park – that’s really close to 75, and has a nice campground, so we wanted to check it out.  We paid the $3 weekend fee, and drove through the campground first.

In some of the loops, the sites are pretty tight, but in others they have twice as much space.

Nice campsites

The road that the campground is on ends at a series of mountain bike trails, and on this Saturday morning it was packed – there must have been 100 cars parked along the road and in the small parking lot at the end of the road!  Note to self – stay here during the week – very busy on the weekends!

We drove through the day use area of the park next, and there was a huge Boy Scout Jamboree going on – there were tents everywhere!

Boy Scout Jamboree

A field full of tents











On our way out, we stopped at the office to inquire about volunteering opportunities.  The kid there said that they don’t really use volunteers – plenty of paid employees – but they have one woman as a campground host who’s been there forever, so they just let her keep the job.  No go there . . . it is a nice park, and would be a great stopping point on the way to the Keys, but I wouldn’t plan on spending a long time there.  You can stay as long as you want, but it’s $40/day . . . no weekly or monthly discounted rates!

Rather than getting on the freeway (and getting billed at home for tolls), we opted to take Las Olas Blvd. all the way through town and onto the beach.

Crossing the Inter-coastal, we got our first glimpse of Ft. Lauderdale Beach.

Intercoastal Waterway

We turned onto A1A and looked for a place to park.  The beach parking lots were all full, but we lucked into a metered spot in a small lot right next to the park.

We’ve arrived!

Ft. Lauderdale

We walked along the street first, looking for a place for a quick, inexpensive lunch.

It's changed a lot since my Spring Break days!

I spotted a sign for a small shopping area in the courtyard of one of the bigger hotels, and there was a Subway there – that’ll work!

After lunch, we continued walking until we reached the end of the main commercial area of the beach.

Hotels along the strip

We crossed over to the beach side of the street then, and walked back along the edge of the water.

Ft. Lauderdale Beach

It was a beautiful day at the beach, but it wasn’t too crowded yet . . . the real crowds show up in March.  Right now, it’s mostly Europeans on vacation.  That was evident from the lack of English being spoken!

Quiet Beach - it's not March, yet!

Nice beach day










As we walked back toward the busier area of town, the beach got more crowded.

Interesting Hotel

We sat on the wall and people-watched for a while.

Look closely - could that be Bryce??


I spotted this guy – stretched out in his hammock, music playing, longboard propped against the tree – and I thought if I didn’t know Bryce was up in Michigan, I would have thought it was him!


It was a great day for people-watching!

Enjoying the beach



We got back to the parking lot then, and with the top down on the Jeep, we continued north on A1A, past the condos of North Ft. Lauderdale, and from one prosperous small beach town to another.

Continuing north

We crossed drawbridges,


and passed huge hotels on the beach.

More Hotels

Along the ocean side of the road were magnificent estates,












some hidden by elaborate landscaping,


and most with a yacht parked across the street on the Inter-coastal waterway.  There were plenty of boats out, with people enjoying this beautiful day,

Lots of yachts on the Intercoastal











and no shortage of sports cars, either.


He just realized we were parked next to a Ferrarri











As we got close to Palm Beach, we found a catholic church that was having a 4pm mass, so we decided to take care of that while we were out.  We had some time, so stopped for a quick ice cream cone to tide us over until dinner.

After mass, we continued north, and started seeing signs that A1A was closed at Southern Blvd in Palm Beach.  We drove past some beautiful Palm Beach homes,

Palm Beach

and the Palm Beach Golf Club.

Palm Beach Golf Club











Sure enough, when we reached Southern Blvd, where the Mara Lago Resort is located, the road was closed and we were directed to cross the bridge over the Inter-Coastal Waterway.  We couldn’t get a good look at the resort, but just across the bridge was a small fishing beach where we stopped for some pictures.

I guess this is as close as the news crews can get, too.

Out here with the news guys

We had a decent view of the back of the resort,

Mara Lago

Mar a Lago










and a girl at the beach told us that we had just missed the motorcade coming from the airport – I guess he arrived while we were in church.

We didn’t see a single protester . . . I guess they are being kept further away!  There were boats on the Inter-Coastal, though, and we saw a big Coast Guard ship out on the ocean.

Keeping watch

The detour worked out well for us, since Southern Blvd. turns into Highway 80, which takes us right to Clewiston, where we could pick up County Rd. 835 back to the RV Resort. 

It was a big, 200-mile loop for our Saturday adventure, but we had a nice drive, a delicious dinner in Palm Beach, we went to mass, and stopped at Walmart for some shopping – so it was a pretty full day!

That left Sunday open for relaxing at the pool!!  Smile  Yay!