Exploring Big Cypress National Preserve, part 1

Everyone has heard of “The Everglades National Park”. But did you know there is another , equally beautiful, tract of land just east of the Everglades called Big Cypress National Preserve? What’s the difference between a national park and a national preserve? Land use is restricted more tightly in a national park, for example you can not legally hunt in most national parks, but you can in national preserves. Big Cypress was the first national preserve, established Oct. 11, 1974.

The concept of a Preserve was born from an exercise in compromise. Everyone saw the importance of protecting the swamp, but many did not want this region merely added to nearby Everglades National Park that was created in the 1940s. Many felt that national parks were managed in a restrictive manner and access to the swamp would be lost. The resulting compromise created a new land management concept – a national preserve. An area that would be protected, but would also allow for specific activities that were described by Congress within the legislation that created the Preserve.”

Steve and I recently spent 10 days exploring Big Cypress. We stayed at Burn Lake Campground which was a perfect jumping off spot for our day trips. There are no services at Burns Lake (electric, water or sewer), perhaps that is why it was so much less crowded than some of the other campgrounds. With only 10 RV sites (sites 1 & 2 are reserved for camp hosts) and 6 tent sites crowding is seldom an issue. Several nights during our stay, we were the only RV in the campground other than the camp hosts.

No matter where you travel within the park, you are guaranteed to see 2 things – alligators and birds!

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Frequently near each other. These wood storks aren’t paying any mind to the alligator on the shore. I don’t know how often a bird becomes a snack but…

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This vulture was more than happy to feast on these alligator remains, while the rest of the flock waited their turn…

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While many of the birds are out in the open and easily seen…

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Others challenge you to find them…

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Some birds strike regal poses for you…

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While others appear to be having a “bad feather” day…

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And speaking of feathers, I loved the way this one was drifting along in the current…

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Some of the other birds we saw…

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But, the most exciting bird encounter we had was at nearby 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Steve and I had been there several days earlier, but wanted to go back for a sunrise view from the observation platform. While the sunrise was beautiful, I didn’t really get any images I thought were spectacular. Not wanting to waste our visit, we walked along the refuge’s Marsh Trail. We stopped for a time to enjoy the peaceful surroundings…

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When to our amazement, an osprey decided to search for breakfast right next to us! The scene went something like this. The osprey flies in, literally, not more than 20 feet over my head…

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Sees something good to eat and prepares to dive…

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Gaining speed…

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I lost sight of him in the brush, but I heard the splash.  Then he re-emerges and flies off with breakfast…

Osprey Hunt-5130Steve and I were stunned to witness this so closely! On our way back to the Jeep, we stopped at the observation platform and I think this picture is perfect. To me it shows what a wide variety of people enjoy the refuge…

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Ok, so about those alligators. There are signs everywhere, warning people not to feed or harass the alligators. In the visitor’s center, they tell you to stay at least 10 feet away from them. That’s it? 10 feet? Hmmm, okay. My picture…

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Sorry, wrong one. My picture…

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And my proof I was 10 feet away…

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We happened upon lots of gators soaking up the sun…

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One of the hardest animals to get any photographs of were the turtles. Yep, the turtles! Nearly every time I would see one, Steve would stop the Jeep and they would disappear into the water. I did manage to get a few images…

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If you are lucky, you might get a chance to see some of the other animals in the preserve. While we did not see any bears or panthers, we did see a few deer off in the distance…

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What else is there to see and do? Stay tuned for Part 2!

Thanks for coming along!

Looking Through the Windshield

Happiness in the rear view mirror didn’t last as long as I planned! We had barely made it out of New Hampshire when the problems started. In a motor home, you can have 2 completely different sets of problems, either of which can leave you on the side of the road. On one hand, you have the mechanical components, the engine, transmission and so on. On the other hand, you have all the same problems you have in your house, the roof, the windows, the plumbing, electrical systems, yada yada yada…

If you saw the last post, you know we are already aware of the fact we need a new roof. We had already taken care of a plumbing issue (the cap on the faucet in the kitchen had to be replaced). Steve fixed a starting issue with our generator. SO, when we left, we were pretty confident we were on our way. Not so fast…literally! Not long after we hit the highway in Vermont, we started noticing a steep decline in speed every time we started up a hill. Since Vermont is nothing but hills/mountains, this quickly became a major problem! At first, I thought it was because we were loaded to the brim and overwieght. Every available inch of space had something in it, so I sat quietly in my seat calculating how long it would take to get to Florida, 1300 miles, at 30mph. After a while, we were climbing hills at 18mph and getting up to 30mph on the downhill side of the hills. Not good! Finally, five hours later, somewhere in the southern part of Connecticut, Steve pulled off on the side of Interstate 95 and changed the fuel filters. It made me glad to have mechanic for a husband, I wouldn’t have thought of it!  Problem solved! Woohoo – 65mph. Since it was getting late, we pulled into a rest area and got a couple hours sleep.

Our first full day on the road started early. With the fuel issue solved, I had high hopes of making good time the rest of the trip….not so fast…literally! Not that again!! Nope, new problem.  Ugh.  Now, Waldo was overheating. We had had this problem before, but we thought it was fixed. Obviously not. We babied Waldo as best we could and finally made it to the outskirts of Roanoke, VA. I have a cool app on my phone called Overnight RV Parking It uses your location to show where verified free overnight parking is available. Or you can search an area using the map. I found a place we could stop for the night and give Waldo a break. Right off the highway was a Gander Mountain that allowed parking. We settled in for the night. There was another family parked near by. They had a dog too! Diesel got to spend some off-leash time playing ball after the store closed. Happy dogs!

We set off in the coolness of the early morning, knowing it would be slow going as long as the engine kept overheating. Most of the day was uneventful. We pulled into every rest area, letting Waldo cool down. The only one happy with this was Diesel because he got to get out and investigate the area. Ok…maybe I didn’t mind too much…

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We’d been pretty lucky with the weather, once out of New England, we were out of the rain. The temps were rising and a cold one was just what I wanted.

Knowing we wouldn’t make it to my dad’s house without stopping again, I began to look for a place to spend the night. I figured how many miles I thought we could make and chose A Big Wheel RV Park in Saint Mary’s, Georgia. A small, quiet park sounded like the perfect place to spend the night. Lucky for us, this is the off season and they had a pull-thru site available. We used our Passport America membership and our spot only cost us $19.

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After getting setup, I cooked our first meal on the road…

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We took Diesel for a nice long walk, ending up near the fishing pond. There was another family there with their bicycles and I was going to let Diesel get a drink until they pointed out the baby alligators. Across the pond was a sign which read “BEWARE Alligators Poisonous Snakes Red Ants” I tried to get a picture of it – not my best shot…

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We debated staying another day, but when we awoke the next morning, the skies opened up and drenched us. Knowing Waldo’s roof didn’t need the ‘bath’, we headed south…

Stay tuned for our Florida adventure…