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Arriving in South Florida without much of a clue as to what to expect, we headed down Hwy 41 out of Naples towards Big Cypress Nature Preserve.  Most of our time in Big Cypress was spent along route 41.  We started at the visitor center where we found that Big Cypress contained not a single big cypress, they had all been cut down at some point in the past, leaving only smaller trees for present times.  We headed to Monument Lake campground where we set up camp.  Most of the hiking trails in the area are through the muck, with the exception of a few short boardwalk trails.  So we did our hiking on a dirt road, Loop Road.  We drove to a wide spot and set out hiking.  As we hiked the road, impenetrable swamp on either side, we could hear crashing as wildlife took flight or splashes as alligators slid into the water.  Walking along knowing that alligators were only feet away added to the sense of excitement of the hike.  Back on 41, the canal to the north of the road was filled with alligators gathering up the warmth of the sun.  There was an alligator about every 50 feet along the canal, this went on for miles and miles.  There were also numerous shore birds…herons, egrets, anhingas, etc…  My favorite was the Wood Storks, the US’s only native stork. (I will eventually post pictures of them.)
Alligator

We spent two days there then headed over to Cutler Bay (south Miami) to get a room so we could get an early start on our way to the Keys the next day.  We got busted taking two dogs up to our room, this forced us to pay for another room as only one dog per room was allowed, so we forked over $75 for a room that we never ventured into..

The next day we checked out and headed down HWY 1.  It was raining but warm.  It is about 130 miles of bridges and islands to get to Key West.  Along the way we took a couple of small walks and did some window shopping.  As we got near Key West the rain let up and we started running into a lot of traffic.  We made our way to the ‘old down town” area which is the heart of the tourist section.  Since it was Spring Break the area seemed geared to drinking and the youth.  not wanting to shop, we went to the iconic Smokey Joe’s saloon where we found out the original Smokey Joe’s was at the location of Captain Tony’s.  Since this was where Hemingway hung out we went over there, but couldn’t get a drink as the bartender was less-than efficient.  We took a stroll past Hemingway’s house and packed back into the car for the return trip.   The drive back north was much better, no rain and less traffic.  We stopped a few times along the way to play and walk the dogs.  In Key Largo we stopped and had a fancy meal at a place I believe was called Ballyhoos.  I had shrimp with crab stuffing and it was very tasty.  We finished off the meal with a generous piece of Key Lime pie, which was amongst the best pie that I have ever had.

We finished the drive off the keys and got a room in Homestead, a small dumpy sort of place, but they took dogs.  Our plan was to wake up and go to the Everglades which is where our next post will pick up.

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