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.
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