Here's a peek at a few of my Florida campground stopovers. The individual sites in Florida state parks include water and electric hookups, and one, Top Sail in the Panhandle, had hookups for cable TV and a tram that took campers to the beach. (It was formerly a private park, purchased by the state, which, rather than eliminate amenities, simply charges more.) Most of these parks also include reasonably-priced laundry facilities, and they deserve all the awards and accolades bestowed on them.
The state parks require that reservations be made through Reserve America which I absolutely loathe dealing with. But the State of Florida has a slightly different arrangement from California's system: there is no charge to MAKE the reservation; if you later change it or cancel it, however, there is a $10.00 cancellation fee. I could live with that.
St. Joseph Peninsula was my favorite park in the Panhandle.
The evening ritual: congregating on the boardwalk to oooh and aaah at the setting sun ... and inevitably meeting nice people.
A lovely private campground in Homosassa Springs...
The tops of some Pond Cypress "knees" have been shaved by a mower, exposing some interesting patterns.
Why don't you click on this to enlarge it and get a better look at what the inside of a Pond Cypress Knee looks like!
This is the National Park Service's Midway Campground near Shark Valley in the Everglades. I hadn't intended to stay here, but a fatal automobile accident had closed the two-lane road in both directions; reopening the highway wasn't anticipated for HOURS. It was a beautiful spot. Serendipity happens!
Kinda looks like the "low" season, eh? The campground had electrical hookups, and the cost for dottering old women was $10.00 for the night...one of the nicest NPS campgrounds I've ever stayed in. (It eventually did take on a few more customers.)
Sambo was heckled by obstreperous crows that followed him everywhere (that's how I could keep track of him) and eventually chased him back inside. What a pussy cat!
Finally ... entering the Florida Keys. The Keys are composed of islands (called Keys, or in the Bahamas, Cayes), mangrove swamps, tropical hardwood hammocks, sea grass beds, coral reefs, pinelands, safe harbors and open ocean. All of the land features are connected by the Overseas Highway. No WallyWorlds in the Keys; K-Marts and Walgreens have captured the entire market!
The Overseas Highway is two lanes for most of its 128-mile length, with very few opportunities for passing. In some congested areas, the highway temporarily widens to four lanes.
The first state park in the Keys, John Pennecamp Coral Reef, is enormous. It is the first underwater park in the United States and has a dive center, marina, day use areas, the campground, a museum and aquarium, rentals of everything under the sun, several beaches, canoe/kayak trails, the snorkel and glass bottom boat tours to the reef. And the reef itself. The snorkeling was mighty fine. Actually, it was perfect.
The glass bottom boat:
The mangrove highway exit to the reef:
The snorkel boat:
One of the beaches...
I'll show you much more of these interesting reptilian visitors later. This is one of two juveniles (along with one gargantuan adult) that visited daily to forage on the salad buffet in my campsite. Look closely or click to enlarge; he can be found at the lower right in this photo.
Next Stop: Long Key State Park, where, as you can see, I was parked just a few feet from water's edge. It was, however, a looooong walk out to waist-deep water. Sheesh, some people are never satisfied!
Then more snorkeling out of Bahia Honda State Park, another large and popular park. On one side of the campground is the Gulf (or Bay Side); and on the other is the Atlantic Ocean; it's an easy walk from one side to the other. It too has a snorkel boat concession to the reef and even some "outer islands" accessible by boat for intimate picnics.
This is part of what's left of Henry Flagler's overseas railway that linked the entire East coast of Florida, from Jacksonville to Key West. Flagler lived to see the final segment from Biscayne Bay to Key West completed in 1912 but died a year later. It was mostly destroyed during the 1935 Labor Day hurricane and, financially unable to rebuild the railroad, it was sold to the State of Florida to eventually become the foundation for the present Overseas Highway.
A dozen or so premium campsites, no additional charge, are located at water's edge in Bajia Honda as well.
The marina -- compact but accommodates many different-sized vessels.
Ever see a foot-powered kayak? Well, now you have!
I don't know what it is about these creatures -- They find me everywhere!
I am now snuggled down in Curry Hammock State Park, a new, smallish park that could accurately define itself as a botanical garden. Its tropical plantings are labeled and varied, and every dozen feet or so we are reminded to use the pathways. This was taken through my very dirty rear window.
The park is known for its profusion of rockland hammocks, a unique (endangered) habitat found only in the Northern Keys and the Everglades. They are jungle-like dense clumps of shrubs, vines, palms and tropical hardwood trees that grow in areas that are slightly elevated from their surrounding marsh or wetland. These elevated "islands" are known as hammocks.
I didn't visit any of the hammocks in Curry Hammock Park, but did have the opportunity to enter and explore some while visiting the northern section of the Everglades. Hammocks are those isolated islands of vegetation in the background.
They are fascinating ecosystems: the floor is typically uneven because its bedrock is ancient limestone and coral beds; the forest canopy is so thick, an understory is practically non existent, and some of the plants and vines are rootless, attaching themselves to the trees instead (think bromeliads); the tree species are varied and used to include mahogany, now almost completely depleted. The species are sometimes difficult to identify because of the similarity in their elongated leaf structure, and most of them point downward in order to shed water; the Gumbo Limbo (love the name!) is an example and, while unrelated, has a peeling, reddish bark similar to the Madrones found in our Santa Cruz Mountains. A hammock's leaf carpet and the thick overhead canopy work together to control the hammock's climate by reducing heat during the day and limiting heat loss at night. SO! There you are ... all you need to know about the OTHER kind of hammock!
He finally got some air. LOVE watching those hard bodies!
Haven't I seen this guy on TV in some talking-lizard ad? He scurried for safety when I threatened to invade his sunning spot in the middle of the road, then wouldn't stop moving long enough for me to focus and shoot. Some day he'll grow up to be as big as his Pennecamp cousins -- that'll slow him down a bit.
Interesting how each one blends so well with its surroundings. This one hangs out in my campsite and stays out of the road!
What has eight legs and six spines? It's about 3/8" "big"! Can you find it?
Well, it's a "Crab-Like Spiny Orb Weaver" of course. (I did NOT make up that name!)
Its bottom side...
Its top side...
The whole ......
My final stop in the Keys, a repeat visit to John Pennencamp for just a few more days of snorkeling.
Hmmmmm, you're probably wondering. Well, I had never seen mangroves before I arrived here--in fact, had never seen ANY plant flourishing above ground in salt water.