When life gives you lemons, go ride Lemonade!


We had intended to leave Long Key SP early and head to the laundromat to wash the sleeping bag, but we were in for a surprise.  The morning dawned to a thunderstorm.  About 10:00 it quit and started to clear.  We started packing and got the trailer closed and were loading the outside stuff (chairs, table, etc) when it opened up again!  We got soaked!  But it is warm, about 70 F.  So we finished the packing, put on our riding gear and hit the road.  The sun came out and we were mostly dry in an hour.

Our first destination is the Flamingo Campground in the Everglades National Park.  It is about 50 miles from the park entrance on a dead-end road.  The scenery is flat and covered with saw grass and small mounds with trees.

I don't think we have been above 100 feet in elevation since we left San Antonio, TX.  Unless we topped that on some of the bridges that crossed the Intracoastal Waterway.






But in the Everglades NP we crossed what has to be the lowest "pass" in the entire country.  It is a whole THREE feet above sea level!  Most of Florida is a shelf of limestone.  Here it has a rise that splits the southerly water flow to the east and west of a high (?) spot.  It all flows into the Gulf of Florida but not in the same spot.

The campground is huge with the campsites spaced about 100 feet apart with lots of grass and scattered trees.  It was very nice, except that there was no hot water in the bath houses.

There were a lot of vultures in the park and there were warnings at a trail head about them eating the rubber parts of your car.  We didn't have any problem with them other than them taking off from road kill and then not getting enough elevation for me to pass under them.

The water is very shallow all over the thousands of acres comprising the Everglades.  I signed up with the Park Service to take a "Wet Hike", also known as Slogging.  Our guide and three others went to a spot in the Dwarf Cypress forest and walked a hundred yards out and back through the swamp to look at flora and fauna.  We were loaned walking poles, and a good thing too.  The bottom is uneven and slippery.  We got wet to the knees but no deeper.











The most interesting plant was these bromeliads just starting to bloom.  No we didn't see any alligators.

The next day we took a guided hike to one of the tree covered mounds called Mahogany Hammock.  I use the word "mound" loosely.  It is only about a foot above water level.  But it is enough to change the ecology and grow an entirely different set of vegetation than the lower elevations.  I'm talking inches in elevation change not feet.







We did see one wild alligator alongside the road while in the park but when I turned around and stopped to take pictures he went back into the water.  It wasn't until we left and crossed the Everglades just north of the park on the Tamiami Trail that we got to get pictures.  (Notice the bromeliad in the tree.)  The Trail, a two lane highway built in the 30's,  is paralleled by a canal which is where they got the fill to raise the roadbed above water level.  It has been populated by alligators.  We saw dozens of them along its route.  And the water birds of many species live alongside the gators.



We stayed at a private campground in the Big Cypress National Preserve on the northwest corner of the Everglades for two nights.  On the day in-between we rented a canoe and headed out into the Everglades on our own.  We paddled around in the saw grass, mahogany and water channels for a couple of hours.  The wind was blowing and by then our arms and backs were getting sore so we headed back.  We did not see and alligators, just fish and birds.

The next morning we made a quick stop at the nation's smallest Post Office.  It was a storage shed until the original Post office burned in 1953.  This shed was pressed into service and has been so ever since.









Just up the road was another boardwalk.  The Big Cypress Boardwalk that led over half a mile into a stand of old-growth Cypress to a gator pool.  Along the way was this Cypress snag that had been killed by a Strangler Fig.  The fig seed lands on a tree and if it sticks then it starts putting roots down and trunk up.  The roots often encircle the host and squeezes it until it prevents the host from bringing water and nutrients up its trunk.  Here the horizontal bands are the roots and are embedded in the trunk of the Cypress.  The Cypress is broken off near the Y in the fig's trunk.  The fig is still alive and well.




Gators will create open water in a swamp so that they can survive the dry season.  This also provides water for fish, birds and mammals like deer.  These are three juvenile gators about 3 years old.












From here we are on the west coast of Florida and headed north.  We stopped at the Ringling Brothers Circus Museum.  They have some of the original circus items, costumes, posters and memorabilia from its heyday,  This is the human cannonball truck.

But the most amazing item was an over 3000 square foot model of the entire circus as it would be set up in a field.  It was done on the half an inch equals one foot scale.  This makes adult humans about 3" tall.  It included all the behind the scenes items from the cook tent to the barber tent, the animal cages to the blacksmith tent, railroad cars to the parade in costume through the town. And with the big top as the central item in the display.




















This is an overview of the model from an elevated platform.  When you entered you walked along the left side, around the end under me and back along the right side looking in under the painted sky.  Another elevated platform is on the right that looks into the big top.  
















This model was exactingly enacted to look lifelike.  There is a mirror in the back so the horses (in seahorse costumes) and the "mermaid" riders are doubled in this piece of the parade.







The mansion built by the Ringling's in the 20's is also on the site.  It is right on the waterfront of the Gulf of Mexico at Sarasota, FL.  They only lived in it for a few years when Mable Ringling died.  In 1939 it was transferred to the state.

Their favorite city in the world was Venice, Italy and so they built it in the Italianate style.

The Ringling's liked to entertain and held lavish parties while they were here.






It is a handsome building both inside and out.  This is the main living room.  It also had a ball room, a separate room as a tavern and multiple bedrooms on the upper floors.

We will stop and visit the Gainesville chapter of GWRRA, FL1-Y for their monthly dinner meeting and then go on to St. Augustine for the next chapter in our journey.  And we finally got the sleeping bag washed today.