Florida: Big Cypress to Key West

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.

Florida Vacation: Getting There

I had a rider from Craigslist set up to go, but I was getting weird vibes from him…so I backed out.  Then, as luck would have it, I was unable to line up another rider.

So after a long work day, I threw the dogs in the van and we pulled out of Berkeley at 10 PM.  We made it as far as Fernley NV that night where I had to stop for a four hour nap and we were on our way again.  Driving across I-80, Eastern Nevada was as picturesque as I have ever seen it.  We stopped shortly before the Utah border to let the dogs play in the snow, which they enjoyed as usual.  Then across Utah and into Wyoming.  When we were about half way across Wyoming the wind picked up and started blowing the snow.  Traffic would run over the blowing snow flattening it into black ice.  It was dark and going was slow.  There were numerous wrecks, mostly trucks, two spun out in front of me.  A hundred miles took over 3 hours, still we managed to make it a 1000 miles in 20 hours (including our nap).  We took another nap somewhere near Cheyenne.  After this 4 hour nap we were on the road long before sun up.  Driving through the dark with the wind and sliver moon was a really nice experience.  We eventually left Wyoming behind as we entered Nebraska.  Nebraska is long and it took most of the day.  As we were leaving I-80 to drop south toward I-70 it started to rain.  The rain would be our companion for three days, and i find it tiring to drive in the rain.

We got to Columbia in time for dinner Friday March 12.  I had driven 2000 miles in 40 hours by myself.  I was tired when I left home and still managed to pull it off.  I find it to be a good feeling to push the limits of endurance and win.  Spent the evening and left for the South the following morning.  Mike seemed happy to hit the road and we accepted the rain, as what else can you do?

We made it as far as Murfreesboro Tennesee that night where we got a room and relaxed.  Two nights sleep had me feeling almost normal again.  We got up the next morning and continued South.  We decided to drive straight through the night to get to our destination.  The next morning found us exploring the swamps of Southern Florida.  (continued soon)