On Wednesday, we drove from the park in Orlando down to the Big Cypress National Preserve. The drive took a long time – there are tons of stoplights if you take 27 straight south instead of heading over to one of the coasts for the interstates. It also didn’t help that when we stopped for lunch, it ended up taking about an hour and a half! LOL! We pulled into a Walmart parking lot for lunch, and Vaughn went out to add some oil to the truck. He didn’t come back in for the longest time, so I went out to see what he was up to; there was a sheriff parked in front of the truck! I suppose that he has stopped to make sure we weren’t staying there/broke down, but those 2 ended up talking kayaking for a very long time! They had a great chat about kayaking the Peace River; the officer had kayaked it while it was flooded, and they had boated up to one of the Peace River Thousand Trails campground picnic tables for lunch.
Between Orlando and BCNP, the change in landscape was incredible. It is so beautiful down here!!!When you are getting close to the preserve, you drive through an area that is a Panther preserve – at one point in time there were only about 15 Florida Panthers left here, now there are over 100. In an effort to protect the panthers from crossing the road (and possibly getting hit), the road is fenced on both sides…
and every few miles you will drive over a bridge – only the bridge isn’t over water, it’s a pathway under the road so that the animals (including panthers) can safely cross over to other areas.
We didn’t stop at any of the visitor’s centers that first day. I pulled into the first campground, and was met by a camp host who was quite stuck on the the ‘size’ of my ‘group’-and that was just the ones with me!…we are used to people being surprised by how many of us there are, but we don’t care to stick around where we are not wanted – it wouldn’t matter how well behaved the kids are, they can never be good enough when a ranger/host is sure they are going to be hoodlums! It wasn’t the campground that we wanted to stay in anyway, and I was glad! The second campground has electricity, and they had some openings, so we decided to stay there. The camp hosts were cheerful, helpful, and super friendly. They didn’t blink an eye when Vaughn said how many were in our ‘group’ (tho we don’t care about surprised blinking, it’s the twitching that makes us nervous…. ).We pulled into our campsite, with quite an audience (it’s a quiet campground with not much excitement! LOL!) - the sites are long enough that we don’t have to unhook the truck, but the sites are also 90 degrees from the road, and very thin; there is a palm tree on either side of the pad, and the sites are quite close together. Vaughn had a neighbor come over later and ask if he was a truck driver, “when I saw you pull up, I said there ain’t no way he’s gonna get that big rig in that site, and then you backed it right in!”. The whole park is friendly, and they wave and smile. It’s a great atmosphere; I really believe that the hosts set the mood when they meet everyone at the gate.
We had the sweetest neighbors – they remarked how nice it was to see kids down here, and that we reminded them of their grands.
While we are absolutely loving Big Cypress, it is so very still down here. There are the usual, quiet, nighttime noises of frogs and bugs, but otherwise, you go outside and it is silent - you can hear a truck coming down the nearby road for miles. The first morning, Vaughn got to talking to our neighbors, and they cheerfully (hope it was genuine!) said that it was just like being back home. Their grands have 2 bedrooms upstairs that they use when they come to visit, and in the mornings, G&G can tell when the kids are up by the thump, thump, thump of little feet across the floor. Apparently, they could tell when our little ones were up by the thump, thump, thump of little feet across our floor! ROFL!
On Thursday, we got up and went to check out the park. Our first stop was the nearby Oasis Visitor’s Center. We watched the film on the park, got Jr. Ranger booklets, bought a bumper sticker, then went out to check out the gators!There is so much wildlife out here! There were cute little lizards sunning themselves every few feet on the boardwalk…These birds are one of our favorites; they can be seen all along the canal that lines the main road through the park. They stand like this for a long time waiting for their feathers to dry out after a dip in the water after fish…
There were so many gators, and oodles of little fish in the water, that we wondered if the park stocked the fish to keep so many alligators here in front of the v.c..But checking out our favorite part of the park, the canal, I think that there are just a lot of gators all along here!
The main road through the park has a natural looking canal that runs the length of it – the canal is our favorite place about southern Florida so far – it is overgrown, full of gators, and teeming with wading birds…We would love to just drive along it about 10 miles an hour, to check it out better, but the road is a highway, and cars zip along well past the posted speed limit. It’s not the safest place to take a leisurely drive, and the littles cannot walk along it with the road right there.
After we stopped at the Oasis V.C., we drove down to the main welcoming center. Neither places are very big at all, and the rangers apparently do not like their jobs very much because they were uniformly grumpy. Except for the volunteer at the welcoming center – she was over the top happy – especially as she was telling my kids how manatees used to be land-dwelling creatures and that some of them turned into elephants, and others decided they wanted to live in the water, and how our hands and manatee flippers are so alike and that maybe our destiny is to become aquatic someday too! (seriously!) - and the entire time she is animatedly telling my littles this garbage, she is fakey-smiley and refused to look at the big kids or us. That, of course, sparked a, “if an artist/designer/builder has a favorite design, are they going to use it only once? Of course not, they are going to use it over and over – the thought that God would only use details/designs only once in all of creation, is ludicrous” discussion…
Everyone (park affiliated) that we have run into down here, that we have talked to to any extent, is a committed evolutionist and seems to be uniformly irritated by the human race – visitors to the park in particular, and not just us. It’s a little weird, and totally jaded. Personally, I look around and see the beauty of this area, the interwoven lifecycles and how everything relies on everything else for nature to continue, and the incredibly variety and abundance of life, and I can’t see anything but God. The thought that people can look at all this and say that it all just happened, from nothing, by chance, is completely irrational.
While we were at the welcome center, we asked to sign up for a canoe tour and a swamp walk. There is only one lady that registers people for those, and she was out of the office when we were there, so we had our names added to the waiting/call list. At the time that we signed up, there were 4 open canoes (2 people to a canoe), and no-one on the list before us wanted the same date. We had hoped to get 3 canoes for Dad/Daniel, Eli/Thomas, Beth/Jake, and then Joel could sit in the bottom of one of them… The lady finally called us back hours later, at about 6pm, and said some remark about people bringing out paid tours and hogging all the canoes (meaning us), and that there were only 2 canoes left. Vaughn patiently tried to explain that these were our minor birth children (not the neigbors, not the boy scout troop, and certainly not a local tour group). She finally agreed to let us have the ‘last 2 canoes’, and put some of the kids on a waiting list for cancellations. She said tho, that no-one that wasn’t an adult (for her, 18), could row a canoe and keep up – that basically, Beth and Jake (17 and 15), who practically live in kayaks all summer, would not be able to steer a canoe (have before), but that some city slicker never in a boat before, could, just because they were a year older. I can see if this is a park rule, but it really seemed that she was making things up as she went… The Everglades also offers a canoe tour, but their minimum age is 14 (so it isn’t a liability issue); that tour is a 3 hour drive away, so we were really hoping to do it here. This lady also said that Joel couldn’t sit in the middle of the canoes because then the canoe would weigh too much (but she didn’t see us, nor ask how much we weighed).
Unfortunately, this was also the same person that we had to sign up for swamp walks with. She said that they only allow 6 people from the same group on a swamp walk, but that she would (generously, mind you) allow 7 of us to attend the walk (these are ranger led, with no real limits on group numbers – we also picked a day with only 2 other people signed up).
After our visit to the welcoming center, we took a drive on a side-road. There are a couple of gravel roads through the preserve – the preserve does have some private residences, and allows hunting and off-roading (no quads down here, they are all swamp buggies – I’ll have to get a picture – they are full of character! LOL!)
The terrain is varied, between swamps, ponds, sawgrass fields, and forest.
After our drive, it was back to the campground. The campground is situated in an oval around a long pond. In the pond are 4 resident gators, and lots of fish. The kids have been practicing their catch and release skills…
Big Cypress is one of our most favorite, ever, National Parks! While we will make an effort to steer clear of the staff here (never wanted to do that before), we are still loving our visit – there is so much wild beauty to explore here! I’ll be sure to share the park with you by posting oodles of pictures over the next week or so!