To The Everglades and Beyond

Our Florida exploration continues southward and we’ve now gone top to bottom. This week we left the beautiful beaches of the panhandle and made our way across the state with one night stops at Ochlockonee River State Park, at a Boondocker’s Welcome site, and at a county park in St. Lucie

Wait, what’s a Boondocker’s Welcome? Well, it’s a membership program where people offer their driveways or land to travelers. We lucked out with our first stay! We “boondocked” with our new friends Steve and Paul at their Leesburg, FL home, which is located within the beautiful retirement community of Arlington Ridge. Their gorgeous new home has an attached RV garage that houses their 45 ft motorhome. They were able to offer us a power and water hook up in addition to a tour of their community and a great dinner at the clubhouse. Steve and Paul have traveled in their RV to all 49 states (guess which one they haven’t visited?) and were a wealth of knowledge. What a great experience!

Along our route we stopped at Biscayne National Park, which is just south of Miami. The park itself is 95% underwater and is best explored with a boat. We checked out the visitor center and took a quick little walk around the area. Next time we’ll have to plan more time here to get out on the water.

We also stopped at the legendary fruit stand Robert is Here. Since the 50s Robert has been selling produce, much of it exotic, and delicious fruit shakes. We bought the largest avocado we’ve ever seen, along with other goodies. Robert rang us up at the register by calculating our bill by hand on the back of a paper sack. Fun stop!

After our one night stands we landed at Long Pine Key Campground inside Everglades National Park and spent three nights experiencing this wild area. On the first day we did two short little walks and immediately saw alligators—like right there!

Our campground was smack-dab in the middle of beautiful wetlands which gave us the “real Everglades” experience. The best part was that there was hardly anyone there, so we had the landscape to ourselves. 

At the Flamingo area, about 30 miles from our campground, our intent was to get on the water. Immediately upon walking into the marina area we saw a giant crocodile swim right next to the docks. Minutes later we were in a kayak in the same area. Luckily by then the croc had moved along! 

During our two hour paddle we enjoyed a cool day in the mangroves with no other crocodile sightings. However, we did spot a baby manatee feeding along the side of the waterway. We followed this cutie for awhile, amazed at how peaceful and gentle he/she was. The orange color is the brackish water filled with organic material. The manatees, also known as sea cows, are actually grey as you can see when they peek out of the water with their cow-like nose. 

Luckily Steve turned around and looked the other direction just in time to see a larger manatee right next to our kayak. Again, peaceful and curious, the big manatee came right up to check us out.  We think we may have unknowingly come between mama and baby but we did our best to keep our distance and respect that this was their home. Check out our video!

My foot is now ready to be back on the bike so we tested it out on the Everglades trails. We didn’t get too far in the mud, but the roads around the campground provided a good surface for a spin.

From the Everglades we proceeded even further south—as far south as you can go in the USA. Stay tuned for our next blog from the Florida Keys and Key West.