Awoke just after dawn as I wanted to take the Scenic Loop back towards Shark Valley Visitor’s Centre, and I didn’t know how busy it would get. Unfounded concern. Didn’t pass (or get passed) by a single car. So quiet and peaceful. Also, a bit nippy, which might be why I didn’t see any alligators. Lots of birds, though, and the scenery itself would have been worth the detour.
|Some of the biggest air plants I’ve seen|
|Not sure if this is a good sign of things ahead!|
|Midway point – nice of them to let you know.|
Overall, I’d say it was a very pleasant drive. There are some mixed reviews out there about the Scenic Loop. Seems that some people expect a bit of a Disney-esque ride, teeming with wildlife that presents itself on queue. Not the case. This is definitely just nature (really wonderful nature, but it behaves as it wishes). I was trying to figure out if I could safely complete it in the RV, and I can report that there were no issues whatsoever. The road condition, although packed dirt, was very driveable. There were no areas where I felt the need to duck going under tree branches, and there were a few places where I could have managed a 3-point (or 16-point!) turn to reverse direction if I truly felt I couldn’t go on. There is this little warning at the start, though:
|Last Chance Turn Around|
If you drive from west to east as I did, you emerge through the actual Miccosukee Indian village, not the tourist area. The road becomes paved, but the speed limit remains very slow. I did pass a primitive campground that allows RVs – Mitchell Landing – part of the Big Cypress system. Really need to remember to broaden my site searches now that I have a fully-contained unit. If I’d had one more night down here I would certainly have given this “wild” camping area a try.
Joining US 41 again, I headed east about 2 miles. During this very brief section of the journey, one of my cupboards flew open and a gallon mason jar of kefir burst forth. Kefir, for those that haven’t had the pleasure, is a delicious, healthy, slightly carbonated, fermented beverage which, in my case, is made with a sugar/fruit/water mix (as opposed to the more traditional milk-based kefir). The jar didn’t break, but did somehow manage to pop open (it had been completely sealed with the regular mason jar lid). In the 2 or so miles to Shark Valley, that stuff went all over the place. Big sticky mess. I did the best I could to mop it up, and have since dismantled everything in the coach from about 2inches off the floor on down, cleaned, scrubbed, and sealed wherever possible! Will help both ways now – keeping any future spills contained & keeping little critters from entering around the storage compartments. Lesson learned – SECURE the cabinets!!
|Shark Valley – found another one!|
Shark Valley has a bit of a parking situation. As in, they don’t have much. Got down to the entry gate, and the ranger told me I’d have to park on Tamiami Trail. There were a handful of school buses present, which may have been the reason for the lack of space. Guess RVers don’t often venture to this section of the park. Undeterred, I somehow negotiated my way around the big yellow obstacles and found a dirt spot off the main road. I wasn’t sure what I was going to be able to see here, as I didn’t want to take the 15 mile tram ride down to the observation tower (good thing, as every tram seemed to be overflowing with school children). There were two short trails within a mile of the Visitor Centre, so I opted to give those a shot.
The first, the Bobcat Boardwalk, was very short and very close to the building. Pleasant enough, though, and probably peaceful when classes aren’t in session! The second trail was about a half mile down the tram path. The Otter Cave Hammock Trail. Interesting to walk through another type of ecosystem, but the group of kids I was following turned back halfway through and I probably should have taken their cue!
|They aren’t kidding!|
|Slippery? More like a bog walk!|
I made it through, and my shoes and cuffs eventually dried out!
Had a bit of fun back at the Visitor Centre imagining what all the kids thought of the facilities:
|Looks a bit odd…|
|Oh! Now I understand “pit toilet”!|
Stopped in at the Miccosukee Indian Village (tourist side) for a quick peek. I didn’t have time to do either the Village tour or the Airboat ride, so there was really very little to see or do. I’ve heard that they have a number of different festivals throughout the year. That’s probably the best time to visit. I did, however, try some of the “traditional” fry bread from the restaurant. No complaints!
|Just chillin’. Soaking up the sunshine!|
|They’re building the backroads for me!!|
There were a decent number of birds around. I could have sworn that I saw the tail end of a Snail Kite departing just as I pulled up to one section. There was a distinct band of white on the tail, which is supposed to be the giveaway. Thing is, the Snail Kite is like the Holy Grail for birders in these parts, and I doubt I would have been that lucky on my first visit. And I didn’t get a picture – no proof, so it didn’t happen!
Hitting the third leg of the loop brought my full attention back onto the road. Washboarded almost the entire way. Couldn’t really turn around, as, well, the road behind me wasn’t technically there! Persevered. Jostled & rattled, but in one piece. Now to secure lodging for the evening…
Stopped in at Trail Lakes Campground to see if they had any sites available for the night. Success! I booked and paid, then headed out to find supper. Without a tow vehicle, I need to take care of as much of the driving as possible before heading into the campgrounds.
The Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Centre was just ahead on the left. Stopped in there, and sauntered along the boardwalk after being told the manatees were in the area. There were quite a few of them enjoying the warm waters, but, unfortunately, manatees do not photograph very well from above on a cloudy day! Managed to snap this pic of a snout coming up for air:
I wanted to stop by the Everglades’ Florida Bay Visitor Centre, and thought I might be able to find something to eat down that way. Turns out, Everglades City is where the stone crab harvest comes in. A plan! I set off down CR 29 to see what I could find. First stop, the Visitor Centre to log the stamp in the passport before they closed. Very different feel to the east side of the park. This section is far more water-oriented, which meant there wasn’t much for me to do. Some informative displays inside, and some sweeping bay views outside:
Escaped from the sudden rainshower (sunny skies above – the rain must have been blowing in from quite a distance), and decided to swing down to Chokoloskee Island and the Smallwood Store. Built in 1906 as the post office and general store, Smallwood is now operated as a museum by the original shopkeeper’s granddaughter. The lovely smell of old wood was worth the visit itself, but all of the displays and products on the shelves as they were when the store closed made it a can’t miss! I met a lovely old lab named Lucy, and ended up purchasing a DVD on Totch Brown, the “Everglades Outlaw”…will let you know what he got up to!
Knowing I wanted to get back to the campground before dark, I set about finding some stone crab claws in Everglades City. First stop – Camellia Street Grill. They have a Beetle out front…enough said! Unfortunately, they were out of stone crab! I decided on a slice of key lime pie, then drove up the street to City Seafood. Success! Lots of claw sizes to choose from – I went with a pound of the medium, since I don’t mind a bit of picking, and the honey mustard dipping sauce was a great addition.
Got back to Trail Lakes right at 5pm. They are the type of campground that has a fella on an ATV who leads you right to your site. Probably something to do with the number of tourists in rentals that come through! Very helpful – put me in an easy to access site and helped me back up to the power and water. I got set up just before the all-night drizzle started to fall.
|If anyone is looking for a unique camping experience, these raised cabins look intriguing!|
Spent some time scrubbing the inside of the RV (kefir incident…see above!), then settled down to enjoy my stone crab claws. Dilemma. The nice lady at the counter had suggested the end of a butter knife to free the delicious meat. No go. I tried that, then moved on to a pair of pliers. Nope. Gaining access to those things is tougher than getting in to Fort Knox! After a bit of scheming, I realised I’d thrown a hammer into the underside storage compartment, because, well, why not! Never know when a hammer will come in handy. So, “**BANG**BASH**BOOM**” Dinner served! Hope I didn’t alarm the neighbours too much!
A bit of a recap map:
48in366: 2016-01-11 on Roadtrippers