A Walk On The Wild (And Buggy) Side – Everglades National Park, FL
We’re finally on the road again! After almost 3 months sitting still the jacks are up and “the beast” is once again wheeling! It feels good and freeing, and yet a tad strange at the same time. Even after 7 years on the road I’m still amazed at the fact that we live and travel full-time in this big metal container, and whenever we sit still for a while I almost forget it.
You see when you’re not moving you fall back into “regular” life, the kind of life you lived before you got on the road. It feels relaxing and easy and oh-so very familiar. In fact if you’ve been hard-core traveling for a while (like we did last year) it might even come as a huge relief.
“So, this is what regular life is like? Yes, I remember this…It’s nice.”
Then, once the initial travel stress has worn off and life has started to become almost predictable again, you begin to get that travel itch again. It’s a restless feeling, a feeling that either you should get rid of the rig and settle down permanently or just get going. So your mind wanders and you dream and you plan…
“We could go there. Oh and explore this….Oh and how about that?!”
Then finally the day comes when you’re back on the road. You lift those jacks and move and you almost feel like a “newbie” again. It’s a little daunting, a little exciting, and you feel a little rusty at this whole RVing thing.
“Where is it I put away all this stuff again?”
The first day we move after a long stop it takes almost an hour to get everything ready, which is twice what it usually takes when we’re in the “RV groove”. It’s such a strange phenomenon. But after a mere few hours it all comes rushing back and we’re fully back in travel mode. The road is our destination, the horizon our vista and endless adventures are ahead.
“Yeah, this feels good and THIS is why we RV….!”
There is no doubt we LOVE this lifestyle, but as with all things in life that are unknown, not all destinations are what you expect them to be, and not all adventures end up with rainbows and unicorns. Our first stop of 2017 was going to be wild, in a few good ways, but also in a rather bad way that would drive us almost insane and force us to cut our visit to only a few days.
We were headed to Flamingo Campground (review coming), a teeny blip of man-made in the enormous desolation of raw wilderness that is the Florida Everglades. The forecast called for heat, high humidity and a heavy rainstorm, none of which really scared us. After all we’re a self-sufficient “beast” with the luxury of space, practically unlimited self-generated power and (thankfully) no leaks so we’re pretty much ready for anything, right?
But there was a small thing, a minor little buzzing irritation that we thought we were prepared for, but clearly weren’t. Yes, in our grand naivety we had dismissed the flesh-eating monster that is the Everglades mosquito and neither hard-core DEET, nor Permethrin-treated clothes nor full window-netting could save us from their insatiable thirst.
Now, as a prelim to all this I should give you a little history. You see I’m no newbie to skeeters. I grew up in Asia, I’ve backpacked in the Amazonian Rainforest and my pasty-delicious white skin is like a Universal Lighthouse to all the blood-sucking creatures of the world. I’ve seen my share of mosquitoes and not just in a “I’m a wimpy Scandinavian” kind of way, but in a “I’ve been to the rainforest swamp” kind of way. I’ve seen the hoards, I’ve faced the armies and I have survived….
But clearly I’ve never been to the Florida Everglades.
The mosquitoes here are not just ferocious they are hysterical, and that is the formal description taken directly from the certified, National-Park-approved Mosquito Meter that is so helpfully posted at the Visitor Center. Of course that’s assuming the swarms of little demons that you encountered on your way over to the Visitor Center didn’t already alert you to that fact. As an added bonus there are over 30 different species of the flying pests. So, we’re talking billions of buzzing, flying, blood-sucking culicidae all waiting for unsuspecting tourists to show up. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet and YOU are the main course!
So as you see my dear blog readers, this place is not for the faint of skin. But it’s not usually this bad either…
For the most part the “dry season” of winter is supposed to be the best of times to visit the Everglades. Generally the weather is nice and cool, there’s not much rain and the mozzies are usually pretty subdued. But this has been an unusually hot winter and it’s changed everything.
On our first fine afternoon in camp I was bicycling like an insane woman, one-armed of course (because the other arm was desperately swatting clouds of buzzing fiends from my delicious pasty white face) when I happened across the camphost. I stopped for a few minutes to allow nature to feast and ask him if the mosquitoes were particularly bad today.
“Oh no” he answered quite seriously, his voice muffled a bit by the 1/2 inch thick head-to-toe netting that covered his body “they’re actually quite good today. You should have been here in December”
Apparently this has been the worst mosquito season they’ve seen in the Park in 20 years. And the few clouds of critters we were seeing today were just a sample of what had been on offer all season. Like I said, we thought we knew what we were getting into, but we didn’t know know.
So, with all that WHY would we even come here??!
Well there’s a reason, and it wasn’t just to subject ourselves to the buffet of nature’s carnivores. No, it was to experience Florida’s wildest, to immerse ourselves in the depths of nature and to basically just get “out there”. And when you find yourself on the East Coast, this is just about as wild as it gets.
I talked a bit about the Everglades when I covered Miami a few posts ago, but for those who might have forgotten I’ll refresh it here. The Everglades is really quite an astonishing place. When you look at a map it’s that HUGE, enormous green bit at the very southern tip of Florida. It’s the largest sub-tropical wilderness in the United States and just 20% of it (a mere 1,509,000 acres (6,110 km2) is protected as part of the Everglades National Park.
It’s a complex system of multiple interdependent ecosystems that include cypress swamps, the estuarine mangrove forests of the Ten Thousand Islands, tropical hardwood hammocks, pine rockland, and the marine environment of Florida Bay. This amazing natural network supports over 350 bird species, a slew of reptiles, amphibians & insects and one of the most endangered animals in the USA, the Florida panther. Plus, because of the unique mix of water in it’s most southern section (where the fresh water of Florida Bay meets the salt water of the Gulf of Mexico), it’s the only place in the world you can see both Alligators and American Crocodiles in the same place. Frikkin awesome!
The Flamingo Visitor Center is the most remote visitor center in the Park, over 38 miles drive from the Southern Entrance and as far as you can go by wheels in the Everglades. It has the added bonus of a large on-site campground (accessible to any-sized RV) so once you get yourself down there you’ll be right in the midst of the wildest of the wild, with the pleasant breeze of the Florida Bay on one side and the wetlands on the other. You can walk or bike endless trails, go bird-watching on one of the many lakes, take part in one of the Ranger-guides tours, or get on the water with a kayak/canoe (tons of canoe trails here!) or in one of the Park-Sanctioned boat-trips. Honestly, if it weren’t for the mosquitoes this would be a nature-lovers paradise!
But alas, the little blood-sucking monsters cannot be ignored, and we made it exactly 3 nights before we reached our limit and called it quits. During that brief time we enjoyed a bike-ride along Guy Bradley trail (from the the campground to the Visitors Center), a spectacular sunset (although I suffered at least 50 bites for it) and a very pleasant boat-tour into the Backcountry ($35/person and totally worth it!), but the hoards of mozzies meant we couldn’t really spend any other time outdoors. We were miserable, the pets were miserable and it just wasn’t worth the suffering to stay.
It was fascinating to see Florida’s wildest, and if it ever gets cold enough to dampen those monsters you can bet your solar pants we’ll be back down here to explore further. We may well return, but we’ll call ahead on that skeeter meter before we ever do so again 🙂
Visitor Notes: Entry fee to Florida Everglades National Park is $25 (good for 7 days) or FREE with the National Parks Pass. It’s 38 miles from the Southern Entrance to the Flamingo Visitors Center so plan accordingly. There’s a small store, but no real groceries or gas down there. If you want to hire a canoe/kayak or take one of the boat tours at the Flamingo Visitor Center you’ll need to pay an extra fee. Also be ready for mosquitoes (!!!) by bringing bug spray or pre-treating your clothes with Permethrin. Mozzies are sometimes OK in winter, but can be BAD, BAD, BAD in warmer weather -> you can always call ahead for exact current conditions.
Paw Notes: Dogs are allowed in the campground and on the nice trail between Camp and the Visitors Center (Guy Bradley Trail), but are not allowed inside buildings or on ANY other hiking trails inside the National Park. Also, do not take doggie near or into the water either on the Bay or by the Visitors Center (due to Crocodiles & Alligators). It’s simply not safe.SPONSORED LINK:
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