Before we begin if you haven’t read WHY WE DISAPPEARED go back and look at this post. Things will make a lot more sense to you. As we found ourselves cycling back and forth to the Ft. Myers/Naples area for repairs we had to cancel reservations. Finding new places was a challenge because this was peak season. All of the state parks and COE campgrounds were booked. Finally we were able to get a site at Midway Campground in Big Cypress National Preserve for 10 days, exactly the length of time we needed until our last repair. As it turned out this stop would become one of our favorite places. To think we almost had passed it by. A silver lining to an otherwise terrible time.
Midway Campground is located on the Tamiami Trail, US 41, between Miami and Naples. The sites are set overlooking a small pond and are electric with tank water. The odd thing about it is while there are public restrooms there are no showers. To make our water last we used portable jugs for everyday supply, restrooms except at night and “Navy” showers. It worked just fine. The weather in early March was great. Spring was coming and over the period we were there the Cardinal bromeliads hanging on the trees burst into bloom. Big Cypress became a national park site when concerned citizens fought plans to build the world’s largest jet port here in the 1960s. It sits on the western edge of the Everglades.
If we thought we saw birds at Flamingo CG, that was only a prelude to Big Cypress and two other Everglades areas; Shark Valley and Ten Thousand Islands. Birds, bromeliads, orchids, alligators, manatees, flying fish and cypress swamps made this a photographers dream. The two parks have joined together to promote the “Get Outdoors” program. They have the Tamiami Triathalon. This is not a race but a series of three activities you do at your own schedule. To get credit for each segment you check in at the appropriate Visitor Center before and after and get them to sign off on your participation form. The Tamiami Triathalon consists of a 15 mile bike ride at Shark Valley, a 6 mile kayak paddle at Ten Thousand Islands and a 5 mile hike on the Florida Trail from Big Cypress. We did it! Not bad for two mid-sixties folks, huh?
We took the tram tour at Shark Valley first and learned a lot. A few days later we biked the trail while decked out with cameras, camel backs and tripods tied to our bike frames. We saw a Limpkin eating an Apple Snail, Roseate Spoonbills, egrets, anhingas, many types of heron and baby gators.
The next day we took a Ranger led swamp walk at Big Cypress and were treated to a gorgeous wild, Cow Horn orchid in bloom. This was a very special treat as these orchids only bloom this profusely every three or so years. They have become increasingly rare due to poaching. The water came to Steve’s knees but it was thigh high on Chari. Our whole group was well over 55. No rocking chairs for these Baby Boomers.
We did more than the required paddle trip by going on a Ranger led paddle trip from Ten Thousand Islands. Just beautiful! You felt as if you were on a Caribbean vacation. Combine that with stopping to buy fresh from the boat seafood and you have a perfect day.
One evening we located the roosting spot for several thousand birds. Most of them were ibis with a few egrets and vultures. They flew in by groups of 30-50 for almost an hour. At first the squawking was deafening. As evening settled into night, the noise began to lessen. By nightfall it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. If you think this was some secret place, you’re wrong. It was right along the main highway. Cars rushing by not knowing what they were missing. A real National Geographic moment.
It was just the stop to chase our worries away… until…
While we were in Naples getting the truck repaired a storm developed with high winds. When we got back our screen house was damaged beyond repair. The awning had withstood the wind. The next day shortly after breakfast Steve was outside dismantling the screen house when I heard “Come here and help” in an I need you NOW tone. Wind had come up again and this time forced the arm of the awning out of the track! With difficulty we got it back in place. However we were afraid it might pop loose while traveling so we secured it with a rope.
The planned repair was done in Ft. Myers. Rather than wait for yet more parts we made the decision to go to Plan B and head “home” to North Carolina for the awning repair.
So long, Florida!! We’ll be back but not for quite a while.