Sunday, February 26, 2012

South Bay

Campground mascot
One of the great things about our journey is we sometimes (often) experience/witness things that we just had no idea happened but is a way of life for people of the region.  Our most recent example is the growth and harvesting of sugar cane.  As luck (?) would have it, it was harvesting time when we were parked in South Bay on the south side of Lake Okeechobee.  We drove through miles and miles of sugar cane fields to get to our campground and that was interesting, but it got more interesting.  After getting settled in our site we were sitting out enjoying a beautiful day and could see a fire off in the distance.  We thought, wow, some poor farm is on fire.  Upon further review of the horizon all around, there were a lot of those plumes of smoke. And then, we noticed the ash drifting down. I learned from our neighbor (a many-year visitor of the park) that they set the sugar cane fields on fire just before cutting in order to burn the dead leaves off for more compact and efficient harvest and hauling.  Interesting, but I must say that after being there for 2 weeks the ash makes a real mess of things. The wind/breeze can gift you with ash from fires miles away, not just close ones.  But, it was a learning experience to see how they set up the fields, burned, and harvested.  We loved the park but were glad to leave the ash hole.
Campground from the dike
Here are a couple of links if you are interested in learning about sugar production including the harvesting of the cane, or just google "sugar cane harvest" for photos and more links.

Our campground near South Bay was right next to the dike that goes all the way around Lake Okeechobee.  There is a walking/biking path all along the top of the dike.  Some of these photos are taken from that path.  The gator lives in the pond in the campground along with a smaller one.  They just lay/swim around and provide photo ops for the campers - not to mention lots of jokes about people keeping an eye on their dogs and cats.

Cane field burn plume

Path on dike - smoke plume in distance

Lake O isn't so open down on this end.
It is more like the start of the Evergades
system (which it is)

Sugar cane from dike

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Everglades and Key West

Gator nap
Grassy waters
We had a great visit to Everglades National Park and the Keys.  We drove the car down from South Bay first to the Everglades.  We drove through the park and stopped at each designated view point.  It was very interesting to learn about the 9 different ecosystems, the Grassy Waters, hammocks, etc.  We saw lots of alligators and a wide variety of birds.  A main learning point about the Everglades is that it is NOT a swamp.  There is no stagnant water.  The water is actually flowing as a long, very wide (8 miles at points), shallow (only a few inches deep in most places), slow river.  Because it is so shallow, grass and trees grow freely in the water making it look like a prairie of grass as you view it at a distance.

Roseate Spoonbill

After staying over night in Florida City we were up early and driving down the keys to Key West.  I thought we would spend more time on bridges.  Although there are 42 bridges to cross, most are fairly short as you hop from "key" to "key".  What is a key versus an island?  Good question, there doesn't seem to be a good, consistent answer to that so I just think of them as one in the same at this point.
Overseas Highway (US 1)

View along Overseas Highw
When we arrived in Key West it was cloudy and 20 degrees below normal with a bonus strong wind blowing out of the north.  The best thing to do then is hop on the Old Town Trolley and see the sights that way.  This plan worked great as later on it cleared up so the sun warmed it up and the wind dropped a little.  Once we started the walking part of our day we visited Sloppy Joe's (where Hemmingway hung out) for a beer and listened to a great pianist performing live, then on to the beginning/end of US 1 for a picture (we'll get to the other end in Maine later this year), the Southernmost point in the US, a beer at the Green Parrot Bar to enjoy live Jazz as we rested, walked along the water front, around old buildings, etc. - our usual M.O. (walking is the best way to see things).  We had a great seafood dinner at Hogfish Bar and Grill (out of the way place where the locals go) and stayed overnight.  The next day (Monday, I took a vacation day) was the drive "home" all the way back to South Bay.

Here are some more Everglades pictures.