Monroe Station Loop Road, Florida

morningWell, we’ve been on the road for about two and half weeks, and this the first time I’ve taken the time, to sit down and write something, mostly because we’ve had so much stinking fun. I figure the best place to start with is today, which turned out to be a really neat touring day. Today’s the day the blizzard of 2015 was supposed to cripple the New York Metropolitan area, but in typical meteorological outcomes, New Jersey got possibly 6 to 8 inches of snow, while all my relatives on the East End of Long Island were last count buried under 28 inches of snow, and as of this time, it’s still snowing. This puts me in the untenable position of writing about what a great time I had in southern Florida, under clear blue skies, 70° weather, wearing a short sleeve shirt and jaunting about in a pair of shorts.

I know they all love me, so all write anyway. Sunrise came today at 7:19 AM, and we missed it, and didn’t mind it at all. After a quick breakfast of cereal, we prepared the RV for travel today and started our stops. One of the stops was at the camp host, Jim, who recommended a really good book. He said he would attempt to locate the book, so I can take a look at it, while we were here, but it was determined to be in the realm of unobtainable, unavailable, safe places.

Being footloose and fancy free, still means that you have to take care of some sort of business. So there was little bill writing this morning, and we went off to find the smallest Post Office in the United States, which just happened to be about 10 miles down the road.

alligatorFor whatever reason, Louise and I decided to start counting the alligators we saw sunning themselves in the ditch, on the north side of the road. We were excited when we saw six, but by the time we got to the post office, we had counted thirty one. Typically, when we arrived at the Post Office, it was closed. The Post Office at Ochopee, Florida, is in a building that was formerly an irrigation pipe shed. The main post office and general store for Ochopee burned down in 1953, and the postmaster moved the post office to the building as a stopgap measure, and it’s still in use. We had apparently arrived at the lunch break, which runs from 10 AM to noon. We are were not put off by the fact that it was closed, so we posed for pictures, acted goofy, mailed our letters and headed off to the next office

We visited the Kirby Storter roadside park the year before, and I was mightily impressed. The Park is really just the large parking lot with a pit toilet, but the real attraction is the one mile-long boardwalk out into the Cypress strand. As we started the trail, there were two distinct groups. One, a group of retired school teachers from Milwaukee, and the second, a tour group led by a local, professional, eco tour group. I asked the eco tour group leader if we could listen, he agreed, we had a great time. It turned out the group he was leading was from Switzerland. I initially thought they were from Germany, as they were chattering away in German. I felt sorry for the poor guide, as he kept on talking, and there were no questions. I believe that the Swiss students had a good command of the English language, but you couldn’t tell that by listening to them.

The strand, this year, had far less water than last. Last year we saw no alligators, this year we saw two off a ways from the boardwalk, close near the road. Either the great white heron I took pictures of last year was at the same location, or his cousin is filling in for him while he is someplace else. They were very few birds at the strand, and although we are a month earlier than we were last year, several of the Cypress trees were pushing out new green growth.

pondThe group of retired school teachers from Milwaukee where a pip and almost as wild, I think, as the students they had retired from. I asked one how long she’d been retired, and she replied to long, to which her companion just laughed and said not long enough. Nothing like solidarity in a traveling group. They all had been associated with some form of physical education at the secondary school, and told me that they were staying in Naples next to a golf course. I asked them if they played any golf, figuring that physical education teachers would have a round of golf in at the very beginning of their trip, but they said they were too darned busy, and the next round of golf they would play would be in Milwaukee sometime in June. Fun people.

After we left the strand, Louise and I passed by the Monument Lake campground where we spent the night before and zipped off to Monroe Station just down the road. Monroe Station is the beginning of a 24 mile drive through the lower portion of the Big Cypress National Preserve. It passes through three Cypress strands, the Monroe Strand the Gator Hook Strand and the Sweetwater Strand. Of the three, the Gator Hook Strand probably is the nicest. LunchWe stopped for lunch on a bridge where there were two crystal clear pools of water on each side of the road. Traveling in an RV is just dandy. We had a delicious lunch of cheese steak and onion sandwich on toast. Having a portable power source at all times is a beautiful thing. I had been concerned last year about traveling down this road after talking to the Rangers at the Oasis Visitor Center, but it was only the beginning of the road on and the end of the road that was wash boardy. The center of the drive was flat, dry, and mostly sandy, with moderate sized gravel where the traffic passed by. There one or two occasions where a tree was within 2 feet of the top of the RV, but nothing that we had to worry about.

gator strandThere were lots of birds, couple of great vistas, considering we were inside the Cypress strand, a whole bunch of all kinds of birds, and then at the very end, sort of like a prize, were massive alligators, about six, piled up on top of each other, on the other side of the water. We saw one or two thereafter, but it was a nice cap to a very interesting drive. I would highly recommend it, and if/when were in Florida again, I think we will travel it again. The trail dumps you out in the vicinity of Pinecrest Florida, which appears to be populated by bunch of Seminole Indians. Judging by the sturdily built concrete houses, really nice cars, very large generators in the backyard, they seem to be doing better than most all the Indians we’ve seen throughout the United States, which is very neat.

alligator_CrewWe were back at the campsite about 3:30 PM, which is a first for us. We both really liked the leisurely start to the day, the general wanderings we had, the discoveries we made, and the return to our campsite at a civil hour. We will have to keep this up in the future. We have a spot right near the lake, and I took the opportunity to park the RV no more than 10 feet from the edge of the water. The only problem with this, is that on this evening, I had difficulty placing the right number of boards under the proper tires. It took about 20 minutes to get everything squared away, which is like it was back in the old days when I had no clue what I was doing. Some, of course, will say I still don’t have any idea what I’m doing, but I’m going to continue to do it

We are still trying out new things on this trip, even after traveling on and off for two years. After relaxing a little, with an adult beverage, I decided that it was too windy to root around in the storage area where the gas grill is kept and decided to use the microwave instead. The microwave in the RV is a cool unit that is all metal inside, bakes, grills, cooks automatically, and to my surprise actually works. Last night we cooked a steak in the microwave, and it came out perfectly done, nice and juicy. I’m a purist when it comes to grilling meat, and normally I would laugh at anybody who cooks a steak in the microwave, but I have to tell you it was easy and tasted really good. So tonight we cooked barbecued pork chops in the microwave, and they came out really good too, both to my surprise and pleasure.

The end of the evening has been filled with showers, filing pictures,, and getting back to writing. There were too many cool things in the last two and half weeks not to write down, so I intend to fill as much of the past as I can, without impinging on our fun. So, tomorrow it’s off to the Everglades for little fun in the sun at the Long Pine Key Campground. I’m looking forward to seeing the camp hosts again, they were and are wonderful people, and the National Park Ranger who mans the booth. It should be like old home week.