Life at the Running Y

Life at the Running Y
Life at the Running Y

Sunday, February 23, 2014

2-20 to 2-21- 2014 Midway Campground Big Cypress Preserve

Current: Midway Campground at 5am 71 degrees and some dramatic moonlit clouds overhead

Shark Valley_121After a couple of days at Midway, it is amazing how disconnected I feel.  I woke up at 4 this morning worried.  Worried about the Everglades, worried about the gorgeous fresh water springs in Florida, worried about Sherry and David and where they are going to stay next winter.  Worried about…..whatever.  When I wake up like this, I know it is time to just give it up and get up and write.  But then, I feel as though I am in a bit of a vacuum, no connections, no phone again and no way to check in on the world or my kids or my friends.  I sometimes am appalled at my addiction to that connectivity, to simply reading email or blogs or a text to remind me of the real world and my place in it.  Such a lesson.

My worries about the Everglades are directly related to spending a day dipping into the northern part of the park. With only one day to spend, we decided to follow Sherry and David’s advice and see Shark Valley.  Here at Big Cypress there are some wonderful ranger led activities, but our timing was off.  After seeing all the alligators at the visitor center, both of us were a bit leery of doing our first “alligator” kayak on our own, and checked into the ranger led paddle down the Turner River. 

gators at Big Cypress Visitor CenterWe decided that we would attempt to get an extension for an additional night at Midway in order to participate in the Saturday paddle.  First thing in the morning we drove back to the Oasis Visitor Center to use their phone to see if there was an opening.  Reservations are required on this paddle, and we discovered that even with our own boat there was no room for us. Only ten paddlers are allowed on the river at one time.  The next step would have been to use the visitor center phone to try to snag one of the two remaining campsites at Midway for Saturday night.

This was important because in order to do the paddle, we would have to leave Abby with Jeremy in the rig for the day, and with the heat we would have to have the air conditioning going.  The days are about 86 F or so, but the rigs do heat up even with the windows open and the fan going.  No dry camping for us.  And no Abby on the rivers, since the alligators most often ignore people, but DO perk up a lot if there is a dog around.  Lesson learned.

Shark Valley_020It was all irrelevant anyway, since we couldn’t get a reservation.  So the next step was to figure out when the Shark Valley tram tour was scheduled, again the brochure said “reservations recommended”.  With all the people here in Florida this week, I could only imagine how full that trip could be.  We learned that the route was fifteen miles round trip if we chose to bike it on our own.

Arriving at the Shark Valley Visitor Center to a crowd of people loading up a tram, the thought of two hours with all those folks sounded less and less appealing.  When we went inside to check out the tram information, we were shocked to discover that the cost was $22 for adults and $18 for seniors!  For two hours on a tram???  In fact, we could bike the route at our leisure in that length of time if we didn’t get sidetracked too often.

blue heron 1Be sure to click on this one to make it larger and see the chicks!

Once again, we were so glad we had our bikes, and plenty of bug juice (some kind of nice lemongrass/citronella/geranium oil I got from the evil KOA), sunscreen, hats, and water.  I had to make the decision about which lens to carry on the bike since there was no way I could manage the whole setup, so I opted for the heavy telephoto.  Once again, I put on the rather hot but extremely handy Cotton Carrier to manage the camera.  Only problem was that the lens would bump into the handlebars whenever I tried to dismount.  I was about as graceful at that as I am getting out of a kayak.  NOT

What a gorgeous ride!  I can’t imagine that we considered going on the tram.  We could travel at our leisure, (except when there were a few groups of rude people who kept stopping and then passing us and then stopping again).  What is with these people that have on spandex on skinny bikes with helmets and don’t bother to warn of their passing?! They were some of those very fit old and snotty people that make me ….can I say what I am thinking here>>>>want to puke.

Anhinga chicks in the nest.Shark Valley_007

Once we got away from the rude bunch, the ride was magnificent.  Fifteen miles of perfectly smooth, perfectly level paved trail is pretty darn sweet when it is surrounded by the magnificent Everglades.  Midway through the ride is the Observation Tower, high above the landscape and the only way other than an airplane to grasp the vast expanse of the River of Grass.

I knew a bit about the problems with the Everglades, but the park brochure lines the whole thing out in one page of very graphic detail.  It is the story of water, our need for it, our abuse of it, our thoughtless expansion of agriculture with its chemicals and runoff, with dams to protect people from natural overflows.  There is no place on the planet, not one place, that is like the Everglades, and we very nearly killed it.  I woke at 4am wondering if it is at all possible to change the outcome, no matter how many people from all over the world are trying to do so.  My 4am thoughts were fairly pessimistic.

I took so many photos of the wood stork, my first sighting of this big crazy looking bird, before I knew about its status as an indicator species reflecting the health of the Glades.  I saw a lot of them yesterday, watching them swing their big bills through the mud to catch fish with a reflexive snap. 

Shark Valley_068After we visited the tower, we continued in the counter clockwise direction recommended by the park signs.  The snotty fit folks were complaining a lot about the wind and chose to return via the straight route rather than continue the loop.  Hooray for us!  The sun was hot and riding with the wind instead of against it was nice as well.  The second half of the loop is much more open, with fewer alligators and mangroves but a wider view of sawgrass prairie.

Shark Valley_094The wider expanse of sawgrass, and more open water with a few mudflats yielded a bright pink surprise.  I hollered at Mo, tried to get off the bike without banging the lens on the handlebars, and got another bazillion photos of the one lonely roseate spoonbill swinging his bill through the mud.  Another mile or so yielded another couple of spoonbills, so I saw three in all.  We were almost completely alone on our return trip since most folks opted to return the other direction.  I have no idea why.  The Observation Tower is at 7 miles, almost halfway around the trail, so why not ride the loop?  We spent just a little under three hours biking the loop.

On our way back to Midway, we opted to take the Loop road from milepost 40 on Highway 41, several miles of back paved road along the mangroves and then several more miles of dirt road through the heart of the bald cypress forest and through several “strands”. Strands are areas of deeper flowing water through the swamp. Blackwater Strand was as beautiful as we were told, and several photographers with monster lenses and big tripods were attempting to capture the magic.

Shark Valley_135Speaking of magic…and photography… on our way back to camp between the visitor center and the campground is the Clyde Butcher Gallery.  Stepping into the lobby of the gallery simply took my breath away.  Clyde Butcher has been hailed as the Ansel Adams of our time.  Long ago I studied B/W photography in college, and the Zone System of exposure developed by Adams was our bible.  It is all about exposure, not manipulation of the image after it is taken.  Of course, with modern day photo tools that are available, I have become lazy.  I shoot  and process, and my old gray scale cards are packed away in a keepsake box somewhere.

Shark Valley_134Looking at Clyde Butcher’s photos, I saw all the amazing detail in the darks and the lights that is the goal of truly good photography.  Just simply breathtaking.  His prints go for hundreds of dollars for a tiny one, and tens of thousands of dollars for the big ones.  I opted for a calendar for $20, and then discovered to my delight that the calendar was focused on the fresh water springs of Northern Florida.  Hence worrying about the springs.  The information in that calendar about the degradation of the gorgeous Florida springs is as disheartening as the brochure information about the Everglades.

Shark Valley_136Our campground at Midway is quite lovely, with grassy open sites and paved RV pads.  There is only electricity at the site, but a dump station and fresh water are available in the campground.  Until recently, this campground was first come first served, with folks lining up early in the morning for a spot.  Thanks to Sherry, I learned about the recent change to reservations required, and three weeks ago snagged our spot.  Good thing!  The campground had been full every night. 

Today we will begin the journey south toward Key West, crossing the long bridges with views of gorgeous turquoise water on our way to Sigsbee Field to camp.  I think this Military Family Camp in Key West is probably one of the greatest benefits of Mo’s military service. (She may disagree, of course, because I am sure she has other benefits that mean more to her, such as retirement and health care.  Ha!)  Without the ability to camp at Sigsbee Field, we wouldn’t be visiting the Keys, much less Key West.

Shark Valley_010We know that we will be dry camping at Sigsbee, with hookup sites in a rotational system that we won’t be there long enough to get.  We will be loading up on water and fuel to run the generator for the five days we will be camping there.  Usually the temperatures in Key West are moderated by the surrounding water, so we hope that it won’t be as hot as it has been here.

John and Carol gave us lots of tips about camping at Sigsbee, about where to go near the campground, and where to park in town for free since we do have Abby and can’t bike that far with her any more.  Next on our buying list is one of those baby carrier biking things that Mo can pull behind her bike so that Abby can go along.  She does so well with the leash and the bike, but only lasts for a short distance now.  Don’t want to wear the old girl out before her time.

Shark Valley_104On another note, reading comments from the last couple of blogs, folks are repeating a refrain, “Think I won’t come to Florida ever”.  Or to that effect.  Just gotta say here, saying “Florida” in one big catch all, is a bit like saying you didn’t like  the California desert so you won’t ever visit Mt Shasta.  Florida is a large state with all sorts of variety and there is a huge difference between north and south, east and west , Gulf and Atlantic.  Being from the west, I understand how different a state can be from one part to another. 

I suppose states in the midwest and east are probably fairly uniform throughout.  Not here.  I would probably not return to southern Florida, even though it is one of the more unique environmShark Valley_032ents in our country.

I might still return to northern Florida someday.  I love the springs and rivers even more than the beaches.  Remember all those wide open roads with no cars that we traveled earlier this month?  Remember all those state parks where we had no problem finding reservations? Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water when thinking of Florida because of what I have said about southern Florida.