After all of our problems in Key West, it was wonderful to pull into a wide open, drive through electric site at Flamingo campground in Everglades National Park. Flamingo CG is located at the southernmost area of the Everglades (about 35 miles from the entrance near Florida City) on Florida Bay. Most of the sites are unserviced and available on a first come – first served basis. Electric sites (tank water) must be reserved on Recreation.gov. Even in late January which is high season, there were plenty of unserviced sites available. Don’t let the statement that only cold water showers are available deter you. While our loop had only cold showers we learned after two days that solar powered hot water showers were available in Loop A just a quick walk or bike ride away. Plan ahead when you come here and have a full tank of gas and all of your groceries. It’s a long way back out although we drove the road many times. However watch your speed on this long drive as rangers patrol and are quick to pull you over (voice of experience.)
Neither of us had been to the Everglades before and didn’t know what to expect. I was so apprehensive about another bout with biting bugs, snakes and other swamp creatures that I’d made overlapping reservations in case we needed to get out. Nothing could have prepared us for how beautiful this area is. We absolutely loved it! So much so that we cancelled our other reservations and extended our stay from 7 days to 11 days. That meant moving from the electric site to an unserviced one but with our generators it was no problem. We already had mosquito hats. When we saw mosquito net jackets for sale at the marina store we bought them, just in case. Winter is definitely the time to go to avoid the bug problem. We heard that some evenings at the amphitheater were bad for bugs but the nights we went it was breezy and no problem at all.
There are many free Ranger led activities and talks so be sure to pick up a schedule at the Flamingo Visitor Center. We were lucky enough to start our stay off with a talk about manatees. Even though they are nicknamed sea cows their closest relative is the elephant. We joined a 5 hour bird walk during which we saw 41 different species and thanks to a huge flock of coots, an estimated 5,200 birds. We started at the Anhinga Trail. If you do nothing else, do visit this boardwalk trail along Taylor Slough. Take care and follow the directions to vulture-proof your vehicle and cover it with a free tarp. The black vultures in this area attack the rubber around windshields and have been known to pull mirrors off cars. We saw herons, a bittern, a phoebe, purple gallinule, anhinga, wood storks, alligators, a crocodile, spider lilies and even a glimpse of a white crowned pigeon.
The Flamingo area is all about water. If you don’t have a boat or kayak/canoe they can be rented at the marina. We did paddle trips on Coot Bay, Florida Bay and Nine Mile Pond. Our first time on Nine Mile Pond was with a Ranger. Later in the week we went with some new RV friends, Donna and Jack from Buffalo, NY. There is a marked water trail through mangrove thickets and marsh areas. On trip #1 I was desperate for a bathroom break as I landed when someone called from shore “I don’t think you want to get out there.” My boat was about 4′ from a large gator tail! I said “thanks” and found another spot. When I returned after driving 5 miles to the nearest toilet, Steve was sitting on a picnic table. We put the boats up and headed home. The next day he said “Did you pick up my camera yesterday?” It was nowhere to be found. PANIC! We checked Lost and Found. No camera. We went back to the pond. No camera. We asked a few people if they’d seen it. NO CAMERA. Then we spotted an outfitter’s van. We asked him. YES! He had picked it up and taken it to his office until he had time to turn it in at the Visitors Center. So we followed him back and retrieved not only Steve’s camera but our paddles and our life jackets. How do you spell relief???? With all the bad news in the world it is really nice to know that good, honest people are not an extinct species. We certainly keep our guardian angel busy!
On one of our trips out of the park we stopped at a local market called Robert Is Here. As the story goes, when Robert (owner) was about five years old he set up a stand on the street corner to sell some veggies from his family’s garden. Cars came and went but no one stopped. He was too small to be easily seen. The next day his Dad made a sign and placed it above the stand, ROBERT IS HERE with an arrow pointing down. Robert sold all the veggies that day. The name stuck and the stand has been a busy place ever since. You can get huge milk shakes in many flavors (we had key lime), buy tropical fruits and fresh veggies or shop for gourmet items.
While kayaking on Florida Bay, Steve took some great pictures of a pelican colony and shorebirds. We also took a short boardwalk hike through Mahogany Hammock where we found some interesting lichen and wood patterns we’ve turned into orbs. We’ll end now with our favorite photo of the whole trip. A too cute for words tree frog.