Next morning I was up pretty early. Took a wander through the campground with a bit more daylight than was around at my arrival. Very misty this morning – there is a lake just off to the right of my site.
Packing up was just as easy as my arrival – open the blinds! Pulled away, and checked in with the ranger on the way out. The fella from the night before had left a note, so the pleasant lady was expecting me, and told me that she’d take care of transferring over the reservation from Flamingo – I didn’t owe a thing. Got a good look at the front of the RV – yuck! Will need to figure out a way to clean the windscreen quickly and efficiently at the campsites if I want to get a good view out of the window!
I decided to hit up the Royal Palm area of the park first. That’s the location of the very popular Anhinga Trail, and if I could cover it before most people drove in for the day I’d be happy. Pulling in to the car park I noticed something rather odd. The few cars that were present appeared to have been there for quite some time:
Walking towards the trailhead, the real reason for the tarps was revealed.
There weren’t enough tarps in the pile for me to cover the RV, and I have no idea how I would have attached them, anyway! I’d parked in full sun, far away from any trees, and well removed from the venue of vultures (yup, googled that one!) at the front end of the lot. They’d already found their first victim.
I started off on the Anhinga Trail (which is actually a boardwalk), joining the small flock of birdwatchers & photographers that had been out since the pre-dawn hours.
|Sweeping vistas at the start of the boardwalk|
|Blue skies and dewy webs|
|Shallow water – crystal clear|
|Blue sky reflections & a lilypad-hopping, breakfast-seeking gallinule|
|First Everglades gator! Can you spot him?!|
|Right in the middle!|
As I headed back towards the Royal Palm Visitor Centre/Gift Shop, the rest of the tourists were starting to arrive. These chaps were getting a disproportionate amount of attention!
The Gumbo Limbo trail also starts at Royal Palm. Another short trail, this one is often passed over, and I wanted to give it a shot. After reading some warnings, I sprayed down really, really well with bug spray and headed out. Completely different from the Anhinga Trail, the Gumbo Limbo heads through a dense hammock of namesake trees. After about five steps, I could hear the mosquitoes closing in. They formed an all-encompassing swarm around me, staying at a range of around 6 inches. Every few seconds, one of them would brave the bug spray and dive in for a bite. Didn’t see much of the trail, and didn’t manage to take a single picture, but I MADE IT!! Funny thing – I had no idea it was a loop trail, and almost turned back right at the end. Finished the excruciating .4 miles in record time, and emerged, arms flailing, back into civilisation. Regained my composure, smiled at everyone in the suddenly very crowded car park, and headed into the gift shop. Hoped to find an “I survived the Gumbo Limbo” shirt, but settled for a purchase of a new National Parks Passport (I’m going to be collecting as many stamps as possible). Also found a little token of the Everglades/Anhinga Trail for $1. Intriguing. Started another collection right then – oops! There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason behind which parks do or do not have tokens, but for $1 a piece I’ve added these to the short list of collectibles for the trip. I’ve got limited room, so I MUST exercise some sort of control.
After exiting the gift shop, I started to meander back to the RV. I noticed I was walking alongside a few boy scouts from a large group that had arrived. They were walking with some purpose, cameras at the ready. Their object of interest quickly became apparent:
Sure enough, the vultures had found the RV. Not surprising, given the amount of unprotected rubber on the roof. After giving the scouts a few milliseconds to take pictures, and thanking them for the offer of shooing the intruders away, I put my recently acquired passport inside. No movement from the birds. I shooed from ground level. Nothing. I started to climb the ladder, and the little bugger on the far left just started pulling harder and faster at the rubber seal on the back cap. At the top of the ladder, the birds flew off, but returned immediately as I descended. Right, only one thing left to do (since I didn’t have the necessary equipment to enact the scout-recommended BB-Gun method of vulture removal). I bid the lads a good day, hopped in, and left with as quick a start as I deemed National Park acceptable. Success!
I headed for the main Visitor Centre at the entrance to the park. Once there, I watched a very well-produced short video with some amazing aerial footage, wandered around the deck looking (unsuccessfully) for gators, and purchased an even bigger National Park Passport (the Explorer Pack) once I realised that the regular edition didn’t have near enough room for the number of stamps I’m hoping to amass. I also climbed on top of the RV – the vultures had picked off the duct tape holding down my weBoost antenna, which was now sliding slowly towards the awning. Managed to fix that, and made a mental note to ask Camping World for a little help with re-sealing the worst pecked-at areas. Wonder if vulture damage is covered under the warranty?!
Heading back into the park, I needed to pay the entry fee. I happily purchased my annual pass, and smiled broadly as the nice ranger told me to have fun with it this year. You betcha!!
Decided to brave the sharp beaks one more time back at Royal Palm in order to secure a passport stamp in the new book. 3 minutes in and out, and 4 of those darn things found the RV. No further damage to report, though. I diverted down the very straight, very long Research Road to visit the Nike Missile Base – HM69.
Haunting…that’s the best way I can describe the drive out there. So straight, so long, so quiet. Nobody else around. I wasn’t even sure that it was open, but the gates weren’t shut, so I pulled on through. There was a couple on motorbikes quietly taking in one of the bunkers. I drove past slowly (she liked my RV, I liked her bike), and came around the corner to find an open bunker.
There were two volunteers setting up a bit of a cookout for lunch. The few of us visitors that had made the trek out (a mismatched bunch – a dad with his two kids, the couple on bikes, another couple in a rental…) were all speaking in whispers. The site remains pretty much as it was when it closed in the late 1970s, and it still has an aura about it that demands a silent respect. I could not imagine what it was like to be stationed out here – so desolate, so isolated, and lacking so very much in the shade department! There was a donation jar, which I happily added to, and a surprise passport stamp station (not found on the list at the official website), where I gleefully (in a quiet, respectful way) added #3 to my collection.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of a leisurely drive down State Road 9336 to Flamingo (taking in the changing landscapes), securing a non-electric spot at the campground, and sauntering around the visitor centre (staying in the a/c and out of mosquito territory).
They weren’t kidding with this one:
It was January, and “Horrible”! To me, that makes it “Hysterical”, but the rangers said no, I should have been here back in November. There’s a reason they sell head-covering mosquito nets and don’t recommend that you book more than one night at the campground!
The campground was really lovely, even with all the buzzing. There were so many people in rental RVs (Cruise America has a very distinct vehicle wrap on all of their units – you absolutely cannot miss them)…I wish they could have had a more genuine campground experience. Very few people were hanging around outside their campers, and even fewer were building campfires. Anytime someone opened their door, however briefly, you could hear periodic “bangs” and “claps” for the next 20 minutes as they attempted to exterminate the unwanted guests that had found a way inside!
|Site 64, all the way at the very back|
|Lovely sunset, but the clouds rolled in shortly thereafter|
Later, after dark, I battled the mosquitos to attend a Ranger Talk at the amphitheatre (I drove the .8 miles, I just couldn’t handle the thought of walking through all those bugs!). Although he was supposed to cover the stars and couldn’t (due to the cloudy conditions), he gave a nice talk and slideshow on some of the lesser-known parks in the system. Very helpful!
By the time I hit the sack, I felt like I had been soaking in bug repellent all day. I also discovered that, with the fans on and the windows open (couldn’t use the a/c – no shore power), the netting was of an inadequate gauge to keep out the itty bitty gnats that were obviously also present in Flamingo. I slept on top of the covers, wearing the same repellent-coated clothes that had protected me all day. It worked (and boy, did the shower the next morning feel great), but I made one mistake. I took off my shoes. The mosquitoes that I did not manage to squash before bed thanked me by biting my ankles THROUGH my socks. Vicious things.