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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Rainy Day Bibbles

Today is pre-move day here in Ft. Pierce Port St. Lucie KOA.  It's blustery and raining all day, with threat of severe thunderstorms, so we decided to spend the day on indoor projects.  We had a long list of things to do, and all were creative!

First, Kathy had had it with the chaos of her spice drawers.  She has two - one with individual spices, and one with mixed spices we've collected over the years.  Here is the mixed spice drawer before it got the "clean" treatment by Kathy:

The single-spice drawer had other problems.  There was no way to keep the spices in order.  They would slide around and get mixed up.  While Kathy had labeled the lids so she could identify them, they kept getting mixed around, which frustrated finding the one you want.

So Kathy came up with an idea to build a drawer organizer with wooden yardsticks, some little "L" brackets and wood glue.  Application of a handsaw and careful spacing was all it took - oh, yes, and supervision by Baxter:

David wasn't twiddling his thumbs while Kathy was getting spicy.  He wanted to bake some more of his honey oatmeal bread, and he wanted to try out two more veggie sausage recipes.  Here he is working the bread batter:

We had tried three different veggie sausage recipes and decided we liked the base material of Recipe #1 but the taste of Recipe #2.  So we modified Recipe #1 to substitute the spices from Recipe #2. David calls this - surprisingly - "Modified Recipe #1."  It has a base of black rice, oatmeal and sauteed onions.  Recipe #4 has a completely different base:  lentils, quinoa and sauteed onion.  Both were spiced similarly.

All of our projects took all day - measured by the 5 hours it took to make and bake the bread.  But as Happy Hour dawned, we had successfully completed our missions.

Here is Baxter examining and grading Kathy's wood shop project, all completed with the spice jars all lined up in orderly rows:

In this photo, Kathy's newly cleaned and organized mixed-spice drawer shows itself off beneath David's loaves of honey oatmeal bread (hot out of the oven) and a package of veggie sausages to be frozen for future breakfast delight:

Not every day can be beautiful weather for outdoor activities, but we can get lots of productive stuff done if we put our mind to it.

Seeya in Clearwater!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

National Navy Seal Museum

Hi Blog! Today is Thursday, February 26, 2015. Our truck, Great White, wasn't feeling well on the drive up from Miami Everglades Resort. We found a Freightliner Service Center and dropped him off on Tuesday.  We have a little red sports car that we are tooling around in. The Service Center called. GW has a malfunctioning exhaust brake valve. They ordered a new one and we should be able to pick him back up on Friday.

In the meantime, we are trying to make the best of it. We are expecting rain the next few days, so we have a whole list of rainy day activities lined up. First up, the National Navy Seal Museum located in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Fort Pierce was the birthplace of the "Underwater Warrior." Here Kathy learns the humble beginnings of the Scouts and Raiders and Naval Combat Demolition Units that would lead to the Frogmen and later the SEALs.

The different galleries show the evolution of Naval Special Warfare equipment. There were lots of specialized guns, knives and dive equipment. Lieutenant Commander Draper L. Kauffman is considered "The Father of Naval Combat Demolition." He was present at the Japanese surrender in the Philippines. Here is an original, signed copy of the surrender declaration which his family donated to the museum.

The SEALs have been subjects of many movies even before they were officially known as SEALs. Here is the movie poster from The Frogmen.

Hollywood did a good job with costuming. Here is a a real "Frogman" uniform. 

The first two SEAL teams were formed in January 1962 and stationed on both US coasts: Team One at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, in San Diego, California and Team Two at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. To this day, odd numbered teams are stationed in California and even number teams in Virginia. Here is a photo of Kathy's favorite SEAL - A. J. Chegwidden from the CBS Television show JAG.

In August 1993 a four man SEAL sniper team was deployed to Mogadishu to work alongside the Delta Force as part of Task Force Ranger in the search for Somali warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid. They took part in several operations in support of the CIA and Army culminating in the October 3, 1993, 'Battle of Mogadishu' where they were part of the ground convoy raiding the Olympic Hotel. During the operation, two U.S. Blackhawk helicopters were shot down by RPGs and three others were damaged. Some of the wounded survivors were able to evacuate to the compound, but others remained near the crash sites and were isolated. An urban battle ensued throughout the night. Here is one of the Blackhawk Helicopters.

Next we toured Captain Phillips' life boat. On April 12, 2009, in response to a hostage taking incident off of the coast of Somalia by Somalian pirates, three Navy SEALs simultaneously engaged and killed the three pirates who were closely holding the hostage, Captain Richard Phillips, of the freighter ship, the Maersk Alabama. The pirates and their hostage were being towed in a lifeboat approximately 100 yards behind the USS Bainbridge when each of the pirates were killed by a respective sniper with a single shot to the head. 

In the early morning of May 1, 2011 local time, a team of 40 Navy SEALs along with a Belgian Malinois Military Working Dog (Cairo), support by Special Activities Division officers on the ground, killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan about 35 miles from Islamabad in a CIA operation. The Navy SEALs were part of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, previously called "SEAL Team 6". President Barack Obama later confirmed the death of bin Laden, but did not directly mention the involvement of DEVGRU, saying only that a "small team" of Americans undertook the operation to bring down bin Laden. The unprecedented media coverage raised the public profile of the SEAL community, particularly the counter-terrorism specialists commonly known as SEAL Team 6. The Walt Disney Company tried unsuccessfully to trademark the name "SEAL Team 6" the day after the raid. The official name of the military operation was Operation NEPTUNE SPEAR. The model of the compound used in the 60 Minutes documentary was donated by CBS to the Navy SEAL Museum.

Not all missions end well. On September 11, 2012, the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazie, Libya was attacked by a heavily armed group of 125-150 gunmen, whose trucks bore the logo of Ansar al-Sharia, a group of Islamist militants, also known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, working with the local government to manage security in Benghazi. U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service Information Officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors and former Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed during a series of raids, commencing at nightfall and continuing into the next morning. The two former SEALS had voluntarily raced to the compound to help defend the embassy staff, and they paid the ultimate price.  Here the memory of those fallen SEALs is honored.

After finishing our tour inside the museum, it was time to go outside and see the big stuff. While NASA was tasked with putting men on the moon, the Navy was responsible for plucking the astronauts out of the ocean when they fell back to Earth. This link is a directory of U.S. Navy ships used to recover NASA astronauts and spacecraft from human spaceflight missions. This list includes only vessels designated as part of the official naval recovery force. Here are a couple of the practice capsules used by the Navy during the Apollo years.

With the next rain cloud approaching fast, we didn't have a lot of time to climb aboard this boat, shown here with the museum sign in the background:

Don't you think Great White would look good with a set of choppers like this?

Often called the “quiet professionals,” Navy SEALS take on the most dangerous missions, often anonymously, and ask for nothing in return. The National Navy SEAL Museum and Memorial provides a unique view into the world and history of Naval Special Warfare and the heroes who have served.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Paddling the Fort Pierce Inlet

Today is our last day of warm sunshine until we move to Clearwater this coming Sunday, so we decided we'd better take advantage of the kayaking around Ft. Pierce and Port St. Lucie, where we are staying this week.

We found a convenient kayak rental place and put our rental kayaks in on the beach at Ft. Pierce Inlet.  We had to paddle across the inlet to get to the mangrove islands.  Here is a satellite view of the area with our path marked in yellow (our total paddle was 5 miles, which we finished in 3 hours, with lunch):

Kathy leads the way once we get over to the mangrove islands:

This is a typical view we had as we maneuvered from channel to channel among the mangroves:

The boat traffic - both motorboats and fishing - was pretty heavy to the east on Shortys Slough.   Beach condo buildings could be seen in the distance.  With this traffic and the easterly winds, we decided staying in the boat channel wasn't our best option.  Instead, we stayed tight to the banks of the mangrove islands.

At the north end of Shortys Slough, at Jim Island, is a large marina.  We found one backwater where we could just fit our kayaks, and spied some pretty crusted-over boats and an old, wobbly, warpy dock:

Out in the main marina at Jim Islands, the Pelicans put on a display of their formation marching talents:

The mangroves hid some shy Ibis --

-- and a Great White Heron, who, due to crepuscular coincidence, looked like an angelic spirit come to lead us to heaven:

We pulled up in a quiet cove in the mangroves to eat our lunch.  Here's David enjoying his turkey and cheese sandwich and bottle of water:

After lunch, paddling out into the open waters, we enjoyed watching the pelicans fishing.  This fellow is just about to dive in to catch his lunch:

Look closely and you'll see these two pelicans in synchronized diving, going for that school of fish that appeared in front of us:

The heron were out fishing as well.  This one ignored the traffic on the causeway as he skimmed above the water looking for his next meal:

Even the mammals got in on the act!  We spotted several dolphins feeding in the bay.  This fellow was very active, swimming and jumping and diving in circles to corral the fish, who in turn could be seen leaping as much as five feet in the air to avoid being dinner:

We spotted a couple of lazy manatees, poking their noses up above the surface of the water, but we weren't in a position to get photos.  We were just happy to share the sun, wind and water with them as we started our paddle back to our beginning point.  Heading back toward the inlet, we saw this evidence of the strong winds that blow in the Ft. Pierce Inlet.  The winds blow in from the left in the photo below, and cause the trees on this island to be shaped almost as mountains are shaped by glaciers in geologic time:

Our final act was to paddle in a mad dash back across the inlet, fighting the southeasterly winds and waves, to make our beach before being picked up by the kayak rental people.  Here Kathy salutes a successful day on the water!

We expect three or four days of rain beginning tomorrow, so we're glad that we got this paddle in while it was still warm and dry.  When we hit Clearwater, it'll be serial family visits for the entire month of March!

Eddie & George Wake Up in Ft. Pierce...

...and, while Kathy'n'Dave consider downsizing, the Boys dream of upgrading:

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Going Nuts Over the Fruit and Spice Park!

Hi Blog! On Saturday, February 21, 2015, we left the Everglades National Park and headed back to the Miami Everglades Resort. It was lunchtime, so we did a quick check on Yelp and found the Mango Cafe. After slurping down a passion fruit shake (Kathy) and banana shake (Dave), we both enjoyed a whole wheat veggie wrap. As it turns out, the Mango Cafe shares a parking lot with the Fruit and Spice Park. We had heard about this attraction from some fellow campers. Their advice was to take the tour first before sampling the tropical fruits, so we did. We arrived just in time for the 1:30 tour. The tours are 11:00, 1:30 and 3:00.

Here is our tour guide extolling the virtues of the luffa.  Did you know that luffa is classified in the cucumber family. They can be eaten like a vegetable when they are very young. You can see them growing on the trellis behind our guide. They do look like giant cucumbers, but when dried and peeled, you get the loofah scrubbing sponge.

As we continued on our tour, we learned a little history of the park. The Preston B. Bird/ Mary Heinlein, Fruit & Spice Park is the only tropical botanical garden of its kind in the United States. The unique 37-acre public facility is owned and operated by the Miami-Dade County Park and Recreation Open Spaces. The Park's tropical climate can be found nowhere else in the continental U.S. and hosts over 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, and nuts, and other commercially important plant specimens from around the world. Centered around a small lake, there are a number of pools and ponds throughout the park providing water and a place for growing all kinds of pond lilies.

The Park showcases 150 varieties of mango, 75 varieties of bananas, 70 bamboo varieties, and numerous other exotic edibles. The banana flower is very impressive hanging down below a bunch of ripening bananas.

The park has a variety of custard apples - pawpaw, cherimoya, squamosa and sapote. If you have never tried one, you are in for a treat. We had a chance to eat several cherimoya when we visited Peru and Ecuador. Think of vanilla pudding growing on trees and you get the idea.

We were surprised to see a Baobab Tree. We kept looking around for Timon and Pumbaa. The Baobab Tree produces a fruit which has a velvety shell and is about the size of a coconut, weighing about 3 pounds. It has an acidic, tart flavor, described as somewhere between grapefruit, pear, and vanilla. It is not fruit season for the baobab, so we'll have to wait until next time to try some.

One of our favorite trees was the Jackfruit.  The flesh of the jackfruit is starchy and fibrous and is a source of dietary fiber. The flavor is comparable to a combination of apple, pineapple, mango, and banana. It is so flavorful that its taste was used as the source for the flavor of "Juicy Fruit" gum!  The fruits hang within easy reach at the bottom of the tree and they are gigantic.

They are also very photographable. Here is Kathy taking her turn posing with the Jackfruit. These puppies are so heavy, she needed help picking them up.  Dave has no comment on this photo.

The park has been divided into eco zones - Tropical America, Africa, Australia & Pacific, Asia and Mediterranean. The center point for the Mediterranean region was these lovely terraced gardens filled with tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onion herbs and spices. During the tour we chewed on curry leaves - a very mild spice taste. We also got to crush some of the leaves of the bay tree, the fragrant oil of which was used was used to make bay rum, the aroma of which is the basis for Old Spice deodorant and shaving products.

The jackfruit tree might bear the biggest fruit, but the one that got the most comments was the Sausage Tree and here you can see why. It is actually a Kigelia Tree, but the fruit that hangs down like sausage links has earned it the nickname "sausage tree." By the way, the fruit is not eaten by humans. It is too tough. But if you Google "drunk baboons" on YouTube, you can see what happens when the sausage fruit ferments and the baboons eat too much of it.

After the tour, we walked around to get a closer look at all the different fruits and spices. We were heading back to the visitor center to try samples of what was in season, when Dave nearly got hit by a flying canistel. This orange-yellow fruit fell from the sky as we walked by. The park guide says, "If you see fruit on the ground and you know what it is your may eat that fruit within the park - however, not all fruit is edible." Not wanting to risk it, we brought the offending fruit into the visitor center for identification. Our guide was manning the desk and he confirmed it was edible and he happened to have a sample for us to try. It was sweet with the consistency of a cooked sweet potato. We kept our little canistel and ate him for breakfast on Sunday.

You can tell we enjoyed our visit, but David allowed as how he especially enjoyed hunting down all the exotic fruits and spices.  Here he gets into the spirit of the hunt:

We certainly enjoyed exploring the world of tropical fruits and spices and can't wait to try some more. So ends another RV adventure.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Everglades Camping Trip


Everglades National Park is one of our favorite national parks.  It is unique in that it was the first national park so designated primarily because of its unique wildlife, vegetation and ecosystem, rather than because of its geology or landscapes.  That being said, the landscape is sweeping and impressive.  It is the largest wilderness east of the Mississippi and the third largest of the national parks.  The Everglades are a network of wetlands and forests fed by a river flowing 1 mile every 4 days out of Lake Okeechobee, southwest into Florida Bay. The Park is the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America, contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere, is home to 36 threatened or protected species including the Florida panther, the American crocodile, and the West Indian manatee, and supports 350 species of birds, 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish, 40 species of mammals, and 50 species of reptiles.  Freshwater sloughs are perhaps the most common ecosystem associated with Everglades National Park. These drainage channels are characterized by low-lying areas covered in fresh water, flowing at an almost imperceptible 100 feet per day.  Shark River Slough and Taylor Slough are significant features of the park. Sawgrass growing to a length of 6 feet or more, and broad-leafed marsh plants, are so prominent in this region that they gave the Everglades its nickname "River of Grass."  Freshwater marl prairies are the second most common ecosystem in the Everglades.  They are similar to sloughs, but lack the slow movement of surface water.  Instead, water seeps through a calcitic mud called marl. Algae and other microscopic organisms form periphyton, a mushy material reminiscent of wet bread, which attaches to limestone. When it dries it turns into a gray mud.  Hammocks are often the only dry land within the park. They rise several inches above the grass-covered river, and are dominated by diverse plant life consisting of subtropical and tropical trees.  One of the most well known of the hammocks is Mahogany Hammock, home to what may be the largest old-growth mahogany tree surviving in the United States.

We decided on this visit to camp at the Flamingo Campground for three nights.  Flamingo is the most remote of the visitor centers and campgrounds in the Everglades.  This visitor center was constructed in the 1960's, and one look at the architecture demonstrates that:

The view from the visitor center is tropical, with hundreds of small mangrove islands dotting Florida Bay to the south:

The day we arrived, a front was moving in from the north, bringing strong winds.  You can see that it was a challenge to pitch our cabana.  We had to guy ropes on all sides to keep it from taking flight:

We camped near a huge meadow of salt wort, a plant that attracts beautiful whitish-green butterflies. When we arrived, the butterflies were everywhere, like little fairies filling the sky, or like stars in the Milky Way.  Here, one butterfly is settling onto one of the delicate wildflowers in the meadow:

Many others found our cabana screens welcome shelter from the wind, and found their way inside to perch for extended periods on the screens:

Our campground lay just on the shore of Florida Bay.  A short walk from our campsite, through the tenting area, we could reach the bayshore, where one lone tree was struggling to keep its hold on the marly land:

With the wind came cold weather, but also crisp, clear skies.  The sun was brilliant, even in the late afternoon.  Here is where we pitched our tent, with the butterfly meadow in the background:

A wide variety of recreational and educational opportunities are available at Flamingo, ranging from paddling kayaks or canoes, taking boat tours, participating in ranger-led presentations and walks, hiking, bird-watching and bicycling.  We selected several and the following sections of this blog entry summarize each.


Early Thursday morning, we hustled over to the Visitor Center for an 8:00 am ranger interpretive walk focusing on birds in the Everglades.  We met on the breezeway of the Visitor Center from which we could see hundreds of wading birds occupying a sandbar several hundred yards from shore:

Florida Bay is very shallow - on average 3 to 4 feet.  It is said that a 10 foot tall individual could walk all the way across Florida Bay to Marathon Key - provided s/he could pick his or her legs up out of the mud.

Here, a cormorant doesn't seem to have trouble tramping along the muddy shore:

As our guide, Ranger Christy, pointed out, a wide variety of birds could be found right at the Visitor Center.  Here, two ibis are consorting with the tourists:

As we walked around the grounds, the ranger pointed a red-shouldered hawk, on the lookout for its next meal:

Osprey are ubiquitous.  Even before the ranger walk, we counted over a dozen occupied osprey nests between the campground and the Visitor Center.  However, our ranger had a few secrets to show us. Here, she pointed out an osprey perched in a tree and holding a sea trout it had just caught.  The ranger said that this happens so often that she has grown used to identifying the fish each osprey catches.

Here is one of the osprey nests, high in a Visitor Center tree:

This osprey is one of a pair occupying a nest at the marina, amid the hustle and bustle of tourists renting canoes and kayaks and boarding boat tours:


After lunch on Thursday, we returned to the Visitor Center for a walk led by Ranger Dan, to show us and explain the tropical trees that are found in the Everglades.  The Everglades in particular, and the South Florida coastal areas in general, boast many tropical flora and fauna because the three large bodies of water that surround those areas - the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Okeechobee and the Atlantic Ocean - warm and stabilize the South Florida climate so that it is hospitable to plants and animals that would otherwise inhabit regions closer to the equator.

One of our favorite tropical trees here is the Gumbo Limbo tree.  Ranger Dan likes to argue that the Gumbo Limbo tree killed Ponce de Leon.  The story is complicated, but in brief, the Calusas, a large, war-like tribe of Native Americans who occupied the Everglades area when the Spanish arrived, had learned to draw the pitch of the Gumbo Limbo tree and put it on sticks to catch beautiful songbirds, which they would trade to the native Cubans, 90 miles away across the Florida Strait.  This trade was so significant that the Calusas and the native Cubans formed strong alliances.  The native Cubans, in turn, learned Spanish from their Spanish conquerors.  Ponce de Leon was interested in meeting the Calusa chief in order to find the fabled Fountain of Youth - or maybe even some gold. The Calusas persuaded the native Cubans to convince de Leon that the Calusas would welcome him if he visited them.  He did - and was murdered by the Calusas.  This could only have happened because of the Gumbo Limbo tree.

Another unique tree is the Nickerbean, which bears spiky green pods.  Each pod has two large round seeds, or beans, as Kathy shows in the photo below.  Locals in the Everglades areas would take the beans, which are rubbery when green, and shape them into marbles or dice.  After exposure to the air, the beans harden into a ceramic-like consistency and retain whatever shape they have been molded into.  The hardened beans clack together inside the dried husks of their pods when the wind blows the Nickerbean tree.  Kathy and I were repeatedly taken aback to hear the trees clacking around us in the wind as we walked back to the campground from our ranger walk.

One favorite tree in the Everglades is the Mahogany tree, easily identified by its distinctive pods (shown here in the upper reaches of this tree).  Mahogany, of course, is a prized wood, and the vast majority of the mahogany trees in South Florida were logged off.  Despite the fact that the designation of the Everglades as a national park was intended to protect large stands of old-growth mahogany found there, locals who were disgruntled about being displaced when the park was formed got their revenge by clear-cutting almost all of the mahogany in the Everglades.  Only a few stands of old-growth mahogany survive today in the Everglades, although the Park Service is reintroducing the trees where appropriate.  More on mahogany trees later.

Ranger Dan is a real show-and-tell performer.  One of his favorite schticks is to demonstrate how to make fire using Buttonwood, a tree that is common in the Everglades:

Ranger Dan also introduced us to the Royal Palm - one that we've seen throughout Florida and identified by its long, pendant bunches of seeds or fruit - but which we did not know by name.  In fact, one of the visitor centers in the Everglades is named for the Royal Palm.

Perhaps the most interesting tree story Ranger Dan told us is the sad story of the Cabbage Palm, which has the misfortune of playing host to the evil Strangler Fig.  A local bird poops seeds of the Strangler Fig onto the boughs of the Cabbage Palm, where the seeds can take root.  Once they do, they put forth an innocent looking vinous branch and leaves:

This is the beginning of the end for the unfortunate Cabbage Palm.  Once it takes root, the Strangler Fig starts shooting tendrils down the trunk of its host, until those tendrils take root, and slowly overwhelm the Cabbage Tree. In this photo, you can just make out the dying figure of a Cabbage Tree, surrounded by trunk-like tendrils of the Strangler Fig:


Our alarm rang at 5:45 Friday morning to get us to our paddle tour by 7:45 am at Nine Mile Pond. Ranger Dan (again) led about 20 visitors on a canoe-and-kayak paddle through the mangrove forest in that area.  Nine Mile Pond is unique for being near an ecotone - or margin of two different ecosystems.  In this case, our paddle would take us from the mangrove swamps, or freshwater sloughs, up into the marl prairie.  Here, one of our intrepid paddlers is heading right for an alligator. Luckily, neither party was harmed:

One unexpected and spectacular feature of the mangrove swamps are the varied and colorful epiphytes (some of these are also known as bromeliads), that root and grow on host mangrove trees. Here is one particularly colorful epiphyte we spotted:

Some of our paddling took us across large ponds.  Some of the ponds are large "solution holes," which, like sinkholes, were created when groundwater dissolved the limestone bedrock, creating large depressions where the slow-moving water broadens and deepens.  Other ponds were more mundanely created by humans when prior inhabitants - or the National Park Service as it was improving the park facilities - dug rock from some areas to fill in for roads and other facilities requiring solid, dry ground.  It was a windy day, and we had to paddle hard to make a straight course across the open water.

Crossing into the marl prairie, we stopped for Ranger Dan to lecture us on the source, composition and role that periphyton plays in the wetland ecology:


Having had lunch and rested from our paddle, we decided to bicycle about 6 miles to the trailhead for Snake Bight Trail which, along with the Gumbo Limbo Trail at the Royal Palms Visitor Center, is a rare walk through a mangrove forest.  These are rare because mangrove live in water, and it is rare to find enough solid ground to make such a hike possible.

It appeared to us that the trail existed because someone had dredged a slough or canal on either side to build up the ground for the trail.  However, this had to have been constructed long ago, because thick mangrove forest had had a chance to grow up (or return) in the area.  Here is a view of a typical slough in the mangrove forest.  In this case, the water was a golden brown, probably because it was not free-flowing.  We found that, almost universally, the water in mangrove forests is crystal clear. We understand this is because the mangroves assist in filtering the waters they live in.

We spotted an unique inhabitant:  a cactus!

There were plenty of bromeliads, including this one, that was bigger than Kathy!

Our destination on this hike was Snake Bight's tidal flats, where we saw shorebirds feeding in the mud left by the receding tide.  A bight is a bay of a bay, and in this case, Snake Bight is a bay of Florida Bay.


Just an eighth of a mile or so from our campground is what was probably the site of the most prolific flocks of wading birds that we saw in the Flamingo area, including a sizeable number of Roseate Spoonbills.  Here, one of those pink and rosy fellows swoops across Eco Pond, ignoring the snapping of tourists' shutters:

Eco Pond is prolific because it bears much of the bacterial and other microscopic life that feeds bugs and small fish - which in turn feed the birds.  The pond can do this because - ironically - it was formerly a sludge pond used by the Park Service as outflow of water that came out of its local sewage treatment facility.  Over the years, the muds build up bacteria that have supported wonderful diversity of wildlife.  Never mind that faint odor that can arise occasionally from the pond.

We were able to stroll around Eco Pond just before sunset, and captured this small but roseate sunset to the west:


If you're still awake, you may recall that the Everglades is home to the only remaining old growth stands of mahogany in the United States.  One of these - and what may be the largest mahogany tree in the U.S. - is located at Mahogany Hammock.  A hammock is a raised area of ground - possibly only a few inches higher than the surrounding wet prairie - that is sufficiently dry to support cypress, fir trees (pines or noble fir, for example) or, if higher and drier, hardwood trees such as mahogany.

We woke up on Saturday (no alarm - Yay!) and, after a leisurely coffee and breakfast, packed up camp and started home.  We did, however, have a few stops to make on the 45-mile drive out of the park.

One was Mahogay Hammock.  Here is our first glimpse of Mahogany Hammock, across the boardwalk, with one lone pine tree standing sentinel at the gate:

The hammock is an island in a River of Grass, and the scenery can be dramatic:

Another dramatic panoram is formed by the Dwarf Cypress that spread across the prairie.  These are cypress trees, stunted by lack of water, that have gone dormant and lost their leaves in order to survive drought conditions.  They paint stark, wintry brushstrokes across the landscape

More closely, there is just as much dramatic beauty.  Here, an epiphyte is growing on a dormant Dwarf Cypress and giving forth a bright red flower:

After witnessing these beauties, we continued in search of our goal:  the elusive "largest Mahogany Tree," which Kathy wanted desperately to hug.

Finally, we reached our goal.  Here it was:  the largest Mahogany tree!  Kathy stretched out her arms in an affectionate gesture.  But the tree was shy and would not approach to be embraced.  Besides, there was a boardwalk barrier between them, and, oh yes, the tree was too big to get her arms around. Oh, well, but at least she found it!

Don't lose heart.  Just around the next bend in the boardwalk, Kathy found another Mahogany tree that was much more huggable, and evidently more willing to be embraced:

Thus satisfied, we turned our truck back up across the Everglades prairie toward our home campground.  We thought back on the camping trip and felt that it had been everything we'd hoped for.  Well, perhaps not quite because it was chilly and windy - but, hey, maybe MORE than we hoped for because the result was that we no mosquitoes!  So we would call this a VERY successful camping trip.

With this, we wave the Everglades a fond farewell, until some future year when we can return, perhaps with our own kayaks so that we can paddle more deeply into those mangrove sloughs and marl prairie waters.