We enjoyed our time in January at Everglades National Park, but there is another part of the Everglades that isn’t visited as much. Shark Valley of Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress Preserve are on the northern end of the Everglades. This part of the Everglades is still inhabited by Native Americans and gives you a much different perspective of the area. One of the things we did was to take an air boat ride. It was the first thing we did in the morning and the timing was fortunate as we had a private tour. We rode with Buffalo Tiger Airboat Tours. Buffalo Tiger is the name of a former tribal elder of the Miccosukee Tribe and his grandson, Eric, was our boat driver and guide. It was a cool morning and most of the alligators were underwater, but Eric would actually call to them with a weird sounding call. He knew where they nested and had named many of them. It was obvious this was more than a job to him. Part of our tour was a visit to one of the hardwood hammock islands where the tribe had lived. Most of the tribe has relocated along Route 41, but they have recreated a typical village home on one of their islands. It was a remarkable tour.
At the Shark Valley Visitor Center we rode our bikes down the 15-mile Scenic Loop, an old railroad right of way. Along the way we saw many alligators sunning themselves along the side of the trail or swimming in borrow pits. We saw the terrain change as we rode past hardwood hammocks with solution holes formed by dissolving limestone and marl prairie wetlands. At the southern end of the trail we climbed the two-story observation tower for a beautiful view of the northern end of the Everglades. Many visitors wonder why the area was called Shark Valley. The Shark River is so named because there are sharks found where it terminates in the Florida Bay. It is a slough (pronounced “slew”) that flows from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay in the Florida Keys, and is bordered by higher ground creating the valley. Granted the high ground is only three feet or so higher than the surface of the river, but that is high in the Everglades.
We made a short stop in Venice, FL to see some of Pat’s high school friends, Lynn and Kay. They have spent time on the Manasota Key during several winters and they showed us around. The next night we joined them to watch Michigan State University in the Big Ten Playoffs.
Our next stop was MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. We planned this stop so we could see our niece, Robin and her family. One thing we didn’t plan on, but was a nice surprise, was that MacDill was hosting Airfest 2014, an air show that involved the whole base and was open to the public. We met Robin and her son, Jeremiah at the flight line and had a wonderful time wandering through the many aircraft, seeing the flyovers, and watching the Air Force demonstration team, the Thunderbirds. The next day we joined them at a local beach and had fun building sand castles, flying kites, and searching for geocaches.
Next we headed for Mississippi. We made a short stop in Pensacola to pick up a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) from Carpenter’s Campers, the RV dealer that worked on our trailer in December. The number of tire problems we have had caused me to evaluate our set up. In December we upgraded to a heavier duty 14 ply tire. Looking ahead to the trip we plan to take to Alaska this summer, we decided that it would be prudent to take the next step and install a TPMS. Once we got to Shields RV Park at the Naval Seabee Base in Gulfport, MS, I installed the system and it gives me a good feeling to know we are maintaining a proper tire pressure while driving down the road.
I officially became a senior citizen this month. We celebrated my 65th birthday by going to the Beau Rivage Casino in Gulfport for a little (very little) gambling and the buffet. It was a fun night although I ate so much I couldn’t even finish my second helping of ice cream 🙂
As we continued our journey westward we stopped for a couple of days in Chicot State Park in Louisiana. There was no special reason for choosing this park other than it was the right distance and seemed like a nice place to spend a couple of days. The park is not exactly “big rig friendly.” Some of the sites were pretty tight with posts for signs and trash cans in the wrong place.
Once we were settled in we explored the Chicot Arboretum and hiked on some of the nature trails. The terrain was certainly a change of pace from Key West and the Everglades! The cypress swamps and lakes were dotted with bald cypress trees and cypress knees. The Arboretum had some interesting displays that helped us to better understand the local environment. I discovered there were several geocaches in the area and Pat and I searched out a couple of them.
We left earlier than normal the next morning. We planned for an overnight stop at a Wal-Mart and hoped to find a place where we could watch Michigan State University in the NCAA Play Offs. We listened to part of the game on internet radio in the truck and stopped at a Chili’s where we were disappointed to watch MSU’s hopes for a win disappear. After a short break we headed to Irving, TX to spend the night at a local Wal-Mart. The next morning we stopped at the National Scouting Museum before heading to the campground in Grapevine, TX.