After spending a restful week in the Keys, we had a short drive to the Everglades. We opted to stay on the north side of the big 'ol swamp in Big Cypress National Preserve. The national park service runs a couple campgrounds and also have some backcountry camp areas. After thorough research, we decided on Midway Campground. It is literally midway in the preserve on Tamiami Trail Rd. It also has paved sites with electric. Being hot and humid, we definitely wanted electric! The area is definitely perfect for viewing the starry night sky. It was amazingly beautiful! We did keep a watchful eye on the pond in the middle of the campground to ensure none of the "residents" came crawling out to visit.
Our main purpose for spending 3 days in the Everglades was to see alligators in the wild. Once we got setup and the AC pumping to cool down the rig, we drove over to the Oasis Visitor Center, which was just a couple miles down the road. Here we got a better lay of the land, a map, saw numerous alligators in the creek out front sunning themselves and watched a very informative movie on the history of the Everglades and the Preserve. There are 5 different habitats in Big Cypress unlike the vast sea of grass that makes up the Everglades. They are pinelands, hardwood hammocks, prairies, cypress swamps and estuaries. It was really interesting to see all of theses habitats and the different animals and birds in each.
To say this area is remote is an understatement. The preserve makes up 720,000 square miles of vast open land. There is nothing for miles and miles. You are inside the national park service preserve, so plan ahead for gas and food. No restaurants or gas stations nearby.
Our first full day we took the scenic Loop Drive. This is the place to see alligators in the wild as well as a variety of turtles and birds. We saw at least 35 alligators of various sizes and just as many, if not more, turtles. Even one large softshell tortoise laying eggs in the sand on the side of the road! Birds of all sizes, including a very large flock of Egrets that flew out from the trees to lead us down the dirt road!
We took a quick walk through the Cypress swamp and really had to be alert to navigate through all of the cypress knees, Other areas on the hike looked oddly fossilized. It was considered the drier months while we were there, otherwise this trail would have been a swampy hike through about 1-2 ft of water!
Some of the campgrounds were closed due to Covid and ranger led activities were also cancelled but we still were able to get a really good feel of the beauty and history of the Everglades at the visitor centers. On our second full day we headed out to the Nathaniel Reed Visitor Center, the newest center, and enjoyed a walk on the boardwalk before going in to learn more about the area. We then continued on to explore Everglades City and enjoyed a laid back, fresh seafood lunch on the deck of Camelia Street Grill, overlooking Chokoloskee Bay. Amazing what a difference fresh caught seafood makes!!! Yumm!!!! As we drove around the little "city", we could definitely see that the Covid shut down really took a toll on this little town that depended on their winter tourists. Hopefully they bounce back
The next day we started out earlier than normal to try and beat the heat for our trek north. The few days in the Everglades were HOT!!! Temps were in the upper 90's and as we got closer to our overnight stop in Ocala, FL, temps hit 100. Our host were so gracious and had a lovely lake behind the house that they had a row boat we could use but it was just soo hot! It was certainly time to head north!
After our Boondockers Welcome night in Ocala, we set our sights on GA Veterans State Park, in Cordele, GA. We love GA State Parks and this one certainly did not disappoint! In fact, we will be volunteer camp hosts there next spring. We chose a site in the woods loop for this stay and our volunteer spot will be in the lake loop with a beautiful view of the water. The park is nicely kept and is attached to a resort so there is alot of things to do, including a golf course and a SAM Shortline train. We had the opportunity to explore the sprawling grounds on our e-bikes and enjoyed visiting their veterans museum, including the outdoor military vehicles. We even got to have a campfire, the first of the year!
From GA Veterans State Park, it was a short drive over to Columbus, GA, on the way to our next destination. We stopped for lunch and to catch up with dear friends from our GA days! I worked with Rachel back in Georgia many years ago and was there when she met her hubby, Jason. It was soo good to see them again and catch up! Another reason we love our life on the road...we get to see friends and family that are scattered across the country.
After saying our see ya next times, we headed to our Boondockers Welcome stay at The East Estate in Cullman, AL. What a wonderful couple!!! We talked with them for quite some time and we thoroughly enjoyed our evening overlooking their pond in the quite countryside. They love having guests and have thought of everything! We had a level site with 50amp hookup, water, trash cans and even ant treatment incase we saw a fire ant mound near our RV! Another great overnight stay! We've met soo many great fellow RV'ers through Boondockers Welcome. Check it out here!
The next morning we started out early to get to our next destination and our next meet up in Clarksville, IN. It was a long driving day, but so worth it to meet up with Rich & Ginger, who we workamped for in 2018 at their private airstrip on the Ohio River. You can read about the great time we had here. Unfortunately we were having such a great time and lots of laughs that we forgot to get a selfie with them! Oh well, next time!
The following morning we had a short drive up to MorRyde to have our independent suspension checked, an alignment and our bearings repacked. Wow, we had a full house at the factory for our Sunday night stay! There were 6 other RV'ers that pulled in and because of an unexpected drop off by an RV manufacturer who took up the electric hookup spaces, we were scattered all over the employee parking lot. It was a rainy, cold night with temps down near freezing and we were happy to be able to have electric hookups. The next morning we were up and out at 6am to start the RV moving circus. MorRyde is well versed in moving RV's around and soon we were backed in to a service bay and the work began. We were all wrapped up by noon and were on our way north.
We tried to avoid Chicago roads, that are sooo crappy, but had to suffer through the 90/94 connection from IN to IL, where we happily dropped down to I-80. From there we drove west to Hwy 47 north through the very outlying suburbs of Chicago and plenty of cornfields. We found a fairgrounds to camp at in Sandwich. We were going to stay at a Harvest Host but the temps were supposed to be again around freezing, so we opted for having electric hookups. Need that hot cup of coffee on a cold morning! The campground fit the need but the very loud train whistle all through the night made for a rough night.
Since we only had about a 3 hour drive in the morning, we waited for it to warm up and slowly packed up to make our way to our home base in Wisconsin for the next two weeks with family and friends.
Whew, that was quite a post to catch upon our travels! Thanks for hanging in there! Next up is our time in WI.
With a short drive to our destination in the Keys, we took time to visit a local institution for breakfast. The corner drug store has a diner serving up some good breakfast food for the locals. We really like to "live like a local" in our travels to be able to experience the true magic of an area.
After breakfast in Homestead, we hooked up and headed south. We strategically chose a RV resort midway through the keys, near Marathon, at MM 58. This way we could easily explore the north keys and the southern keys since it was a good drive in each direction and there was still some snowbird traffic .
As an added bonus, Grassy Key RV Resort was the best price we found at $72 per night after the 10% Good Sam Discount. What we didn't know is how much we would love this quaint little RV park. We drove past some of the other larger rv parks that others rave about, for quite a bit more, and we were not impressed. This little resort packed a big punch with a great pool and sundeck, spotless laundry and gathering room, sand beach to relax and watch the sunset, designated pet area, surveillance cameras, boat docks and a kayak launch area, not to mention the sites were full hook up with WIFI and cable. We could even see the water from our site.
Sunsets here did not disappoint! After being inland FL for 5 months, we enjoyed the evening show over the water!
While in the Keys we sampled some great food, including fresh shrimp off the boat, scallops, amazing Cuban food and of course, key lime pie! Well, to be honest, we sampled key lime pie a couple times!
We even smoked some ribs with the fresh corn we picked up at the Harvest Host stop in Miami.
One of the things on our To Do list was to check out the FL State Parks in the Keys. We started at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. This park is relatively small on land but includes 70 nautical square miles and extends 3 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. Here we booked a glass bottom boat tour to check out the coral reefs. Unfortunately the day was really windy, which meant that the boat rocked a good bit and it did affect the viewing of the reefs. Some folks needed to go up on deck and get fresh air. They were a little bit green around the gills! It was really cool to see the fish, coral and we even saw a nurse shark and turtle. The ride out to the reef was even a nice tour of the mangroves. Pictures just can't do the reefs justice.
We checked out Bahia Honda State Park another day and took our electric bikes to explore the park. Nice campground, if you can get in! At Bahia you can see the bridge to nowhere that used to be the railroad to the keys and then the Overseas Hwy bridge through the area. This park also has one of the only decent sand type beaches in the keys.
The final state park we visited was Long Key State Park. This is an often overlooked park, but we enjoyed taking the unique hike through the mangroves. We didn't quite know what to think when we approached and inland part of the trail that is affected by high tide, but we preserved... shoes off and keep trudging through!
We also made time to visit some other interesting venues. Right down the road from us was the Dolphin Research Center. This was by no means a Sea World type tourist attraction, but a wonderful research, education and sanctuary for over 25 dolphins, sea lions, exotic birds and iguanas. There were several educational sessions a day that demonstrated the intellect of dolphins, their medical care, and their behavior. It was very interesting and we loved seeing the different personalities of each dolphin. They were really just as interested in looking at you as you were of them. The birds were also really entertaining and were in a lovely Veterans Park area within the center.
We took one entire, long day to visit Key West. Getting there by 9am, we were able to get parking right down on Mallory Square in the old section of Key West. To be honest, most of Key West is just like any other city. Besides the couple highlights we visited, we were a bit underwhelmed. To catch the highlights of the Old Key West area, we jumped on an Old Town Trolley. We were able to see Hemmingway's House, the southermost point, the original Hard Rock and Margaritaville Café and Sloppy Joe's, made famous by Hemmingway. We also took a tour of the Little White House where several presidents spent time and even met with worldwide dignitaries. We then gathered up our courage and did our first parasailing trip. It was beautiful up there. You felt like you were just hanging in one place while the boat zoomed all over the water. It was also jaw dropping to see all the huge multi-million dollar yachts everywhere. It was a long day but we felt like we got a good feel for Key West and all it had to offer.
We really enjoyed relaxing in the Keys for the week and were glad to check the box. It wasn't too busy with tourists and we were able to explore the entire area from Key Largo to Key West.
We are slowly catching up with our posts...finally! Next up...The Everglades Big Cypress National Preserve.
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