It was HOT last night. Consequently I woke up every couple hours. Though, that meant I got to see the changes in the night sky. It went from totally cloudy to clear. I lucked out and it never rained, so I could keep the rain fly open all night.
The mosquitoes were already swarming the tent at 7:30 am. I tried to go back to sleep, but with temperatures already in the 80’s that wasn’t happening. I decided to make my move. I hustled over to the bathroom, sustaining probably 5 new bites jn the process, and decided to leave. I broke down the tent over the pavement and that seemed to keep a lot if the mosquitoes at bay, stuffed it in my car, and headed out. I quickly made it to West Lake where I stopped for breakfast. This serendipitous stop proved to be excellent…primarily because the bug activity was minimal! I set up my stove and enjoyed oatmeal and coffee while nature watching over the lake. I found another salamander in the bathroom, and then took the short boardwalk trail out onto the lake proper.
The mangroves are really quite fascinating. They grow up out of the water supported by spindly roots and branches (also known as “air roots” since they grow down and out to support these massive trees in hurricane winds!). While shade breeds bugs, out on the open water is is much more pleasant. This relaxing hour gave me more hope for the next few days!
I headed back to Flamingo to try and catch a boat tour of the backcountry. There was an American crocodile sunning herself at the end of the ranger’s doc, so I got some spectacular shots! Then it was to the boat. Right away we saw a baby croc on a rock on the canal’s edge. In typical early parks history, after building the canal in the 50’s to better access Whitewater Bay, it immediately became an ecological disaster. The Parks service plugged up the sea-facing end in the early eighties, and now the canal, though still man-made, is exhibiting a healthy balance of native flora and fauna.
The canal opens onto Coot Lake, named for a native duck-like bird. Earlier incarnations had a docked riverboat here with a casino, but all that remains now are two old mooring markers. We traversed the deepest part of the lake (3.5-4′!), crossed another canal, and entered Whitewater Bay! This inland lake is the second biggest in Florida and features continuous, brackish water all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
The highlight of this adventure was the pod of dolphins that escorted us through the second canal. It was great to see them so close! This tour only was for myself, two Asian women and a little boy. We all made quite the scene while darting all over the boat to follow the dolphins as they swam under and around us. Though I was unable to get a picture, I did see a manatee submerged in the murky waters (murky due to the naturally occurring tannins in decaying mangroves). I think I will try to return tomorrow for the cruise if Florida Bay!
I left the park, stopping at a few other hikes along the way. It got to be 95° so it was toasty. Seeing an almost prehistoric version of Florida, heat, mugginess, bugs, and all, it makes me realize how crazy Florida’s earlier settlers were. Other than the shallow pools of water everywhere, it also really reminded me of my African travels. It is nice to see places that are still so rugged.
A little too rugged for me, so I left the park and checked in at the Econo Lodge. I’ll do two nights here and then head to the hostel for my final night before heading to Key West! I finished the night by finally seeing the Avengers, updated the blog, and to bed!