January 16, 2016 Everglades N.P.

IMG_20151214_104921First, a quick catch up.  Since our last posting we have really been on the go.
We spent eight days in Jacksonville at Kathryn Hanna City Park.  While in Jacksonville we visited my Uncle Bill and Aunt Peggy and were able to spend time with their daughters, granddaughter and three adorable great grandchildren.  It is always a real treat to visit my Jacksonville family.  They are always so gracious, welcoming and fun.  You haven’t truly lived until you experience one of their Sunday family dinners.20151207_163828
Bill grew up in Jacksonville Beach so while we were there we were able to catch up with several of his good friends.  Old friends are such a treasure!  We enjoyed some of the area Christmas decorations.
It was hard to leave family and friends behind but our next stop was St Augustine for a short stay.  The Spaniards created the City of St Augustine 450 years ago (1565), making it the oldest settlement in America, not to be confused with the settlement of Jamestown (1607), the oldest English settlement in America. We didn’t have enough time to explore and do the town justice so it is on our list of places to visit again.  Since it was December we were able to enjoy all the white lights and Christmas decorations, especially beautiful at night!  We enjoyed dinner with Bill’s ex boss Robert and his lovely wife Donna.IMG_20151210_193736IMG_20151210_205706~2
Flagler Beach was next on the list where we stayed at Gamble Rogers State Park.  Wow we loved this park on the Atlantic Ocean.  The state park has done a nice job of providing several boardwalks leading down to the water.  We enjoyed walking on the beach.  We can never get too much beach time!!
After a short stay in Titusville we arrived in Vero Beach for a week long stay over Christmas.  We were so happy to spend time with Bill’s son Sean and his girlfriend Cathy.  We enjoyed some beach time on Christmas Day.  Notice Santa relaxing on the beach after a busy night.  He was still wearing his Santa hat!IMG_20151225_142835
New Years found us in Clearwater, the area we lived in before beginning our grand adventure.  We caught up with friends and some of Bill’s former coworkers.  We were thrilled to spend New Years Eve with our friends Ben, Anne, Denise and Ralph at their annual party.  During the party we launched Chinese lanterns after making New Years wishes. Yes, good friends are truly a treasure!20151231_230834
20160104_103510January found us in southwest Florida in Fort Myers.  What a beautiful area along the Gulf of Mexico!  We liked our RV park even though it was crowded and tight.  We had great neighbors and hope to return next year to the same spot.  The beaches are beautiful and there is a trolley which you can ride from the campground to the beach for 75 cents.  What a bargain, especially considering parking at the beach is expensive and limited.  While there we had a bad storm and our cell phones shrieked with weather alerts of tornado warnings.  Bill monitored the storm on the local TV station. The weatherman I used to watch for years on the local tv station in Charlottesville is now the chief senior weatherman in Fort Myers.  We found out the next day that a tornado touched down about four miles from our campground.  This weather is unusual for Florida in January.  Thanks a lot El Nino!  While in Fort Myers we drove north to meet Bill’s cousin Shirley, her husband Jim, and two of their friends for dinner.IMG_20160108_194024~2
We reluctantly left Fort Myers and headed to a campground near Miami.  Our main reason for stopping here was to visit my cousin Duane.  IMG_20160113_194602~2We hadn’t seen each other in almost five years and I was beyond excited to see him.  We made the short drive to Coral Gables to meet him for dinner.  The time went by much too quickly.  There is never enough time to spend with family and friends!
IMG_20160119_104730Well, you are caught up on our travels and now on to the subject of this blog, Everglades National Park.  We had reservations at Flamingo Campground at the very tip end of the park.  Once you enter the park entrance it is 37 miles to the campground.  From the time we left Miami until we reached the campground we drove through torrential rain with poor visibility.  Thanks again, El Nino!
We stopped at the Visitors Center at the entrance of the park.  We put on our rain gear and splashed our way to the door.  They had nice displays and we saw a movie about the park.  Our national park system throughout the United States sure has great and informational movies.  We always come away impressed!
The movie said many people think of the Everglades as looking like a swamp, and I was one of them.  It is actually mostly grasslands along with jungle like tropical hardwood hammock, massive mahogany trees, mangrove trees and subtropical pine forest.  It is the only place in the world where both alligators and crocodiles live.  The park was established in 1934 to protect the fragile ecosystem and was dedicated by President Truman in 1947.  At 1.5 million acres it is the third largest national park, the largest tropical wilderness in the U.S. and the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere.  It is the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America and home to 36 threatened or protected species including the Florida panther, the American crocodile and the West Indian manatee.
With the heavy rain we were glad to arrive at our campsite.  Once we left the Visitors Center near the park entrance we lost all cell phone service.  Flamingo Campground has electric sites but no water or sewer at each site.
Since neither of us had ever seen a crocodile in its natural habitat, we were biting at the bit to see one.  The Ranger told us there were “over a million alligators in the Everglades but only about four thousand crocodiles”.  We didn’t think our odds of seeing one was very good but we got a tip that there were two over behind the marina store.  So we hopped in the car and made the short drive to check it out.  First we saw some manatees near the parking lot in a little docking area of the marina.  IMG_20160116_114740IMG_20160116_115414They sure are shy, quick and hard to photograph.  It didn’t help that the water was murky.  We were still on a crocodile hunt.  We saw a huge osprey nest with one lone bird peeking out of the top.  IMG_20160116_120538We walked around the back of the marina store looking in the water but saw nothing.  Suddenly we glanced on the bank and there were two huge crocodiles basking in the sun.  What joy!  The area near them was blocked off so we had to settle for some long distance shots and help from the zoom lens.IMG_20160116_120255
IMG_20160118_155728Another day we drove almost back to the park entrance to walk the Anhinga Trail which we were told was the best place to see alligators.  We only saw four, including this beauty who was completely oblivious to the people around him.  He appeared to be sleeping with his eyes open or playing possum, waiting to pounce when someone turned their back.  One older lady near me commented on how cute he was.  I would have to agree!IMG_20160118_162039~2IMG_20160118_155714
We were told that usually winter in the Everglades is the dry season and it is usually possible to see alligators by the dozens on the banks and even in the roadways.  Thanks to El Nino it has been a very cool, wet winter and alligator sightings are way down.  Sigh.
One fear I had when in the Everglades was encountering snakes.  Bill can’t understand why I have no fear of alligators but am terrified of snakes.  I have read stories of people who buy pythons for pets and when they  get too big or they tire of caring for them, they release them in the Everglades.  It has become a real problem and hunters come to hunt them.  I have seen the pictures of the 200+ pound pythons in the Everglades.  I am happy to report I left the Everglades without seeing a single snake.  But boy was I careful where I walked!
IMG_20160118_153018IMG_20160118_150815One surprise was to discover that Everglades National Park houses one of the best preserved relics of the Cold War in Florida.  The historic Nike Hercules Missile Base, dubbed HM-69, remains virtually the same as when its use was terminated in 1979.  The missile base was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1964 at the height of the Cold War, immediately following the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.  The United States Army chose this strategic site within Everglades National Park because of its location 160 miles from the Cuban coast.
The missile site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.  Bill took a 90 minute tour of the site conducted by a  park ranger. IMG_20160118_153334IMG_20160118_143836IMG_20160118_150656 IMG_20160116_141924Since we arrived in Florida the mosquitoes and especially the no-see-ums have just about eaten me alive.  Bill found a solution at the Everglades gift shop.
Our next stop is a week long stay at Big Pine Key, about thirty miles north of Key West.

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