The sign at the Midway campground in the everglades warns all the campers that alligators are expected in the pond.

The middle of the swamp

We are in the middle of the swamp. It is swamp for at least forty miles in every direction. To the east, everglades. To the west is the Big Cypress Swamp. Beyond the Big Cypress Swamp is a mangrove swamp called Ten Thousand Islands and the Gulf of Mexico. For the next sixty miles to the south and southwest is Everglades National Park. We are in the middle of the everglades on the Tamiami trail heading west and staying at the Midway campground.

Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park

Tamiami Trail

Cutting across the everglades east to west is the Tamiami Trail. I envisioned that the word Tamiami was a historic name derived from a Seminole Indian word. (Tami thought It was a combo word, Tami-ami, named after her.) She was right, it is a combination word of Tampa and Miami and isn’t historic at all.

I also thought that the trail was a historic route. Nope again. Tamiami Trail is just the name of the road that leads from Miami to Tampa via Fort Myers. It is just a road across the middle of the swamp.

To get enough dirt to make the road the construction crews dug deep ditches on each side of the road all the way across the swamp and piled up the dirt between the ditches to make the road. It wasn’t long before the gators found and began to populate these deepwater ditches.

Shallow Water Swamp

The everglades is a shallow water swamp. There is water nearly everywhere in the everglades. Within a couple of hours after our arrival, we started seeing gators in the ditches along the road.

Another cool picture of the gator floating past the reflections of the clouds.
The water in this gator hole is so calm that the gator floating past us seems to be swimming among the clouds. Because this is winter and water levels are low and thus we are able to take photos of the gator from above water level.

Our new kayaks

To the west of our campsite, the freshwater swamp gradually turns into saltwater. This is where we decided to do the first test drive of our new kayaks. There is a long story about the kayaks that I will share later. I am convinced that they are the best recreational kayaks available.

We are out paddling in our new Hurricane Ultra-light kayaks in the middle of the swamp
On our paddle out we interrupted some locals and had them take our pictures. They had been out paddling since daybreak and even commented how impressed they were with our new kayaks.

We picked the kayaks up in Fort Lauderdale from a very cool kayak/surf shop. At this shop, they specialize in kite surfing. Our kayaks are new models, so new that the guys in the shop hadn’t seen this version before. They are the Hurricane Aquasports Prima 125 Sport ultra-light.

Our new friends also gave us a roll of orange tape. Tami looked at the tape wondering what it was for. I commented to one of the paddlers that I understood. The tape was the bread crumbs so that we might mark our path as we explored the mangrove passages. Just like in the fairy tale we could follow the bread crumb trail back out of the swamp. I mentioned that we would be sure to pull the markers on the way out. He mentioned that the tape comes in real handy when people get lost. The searchers can follow the tape markers leading the way to the disoriented paddlers.

One of the locals also gave us a satellite photo laminated in plastic that showed some of the bigger clearings. The gesture was nice but since all the passages were under the trees, the satellite photo didn’t really help us. The tape however was invaluable.

Mangrove Swamp

We have been paddling among the mangrove trees and different swamps before, both in Everglades National Park and in Key West. Sometimes the path through the mangroves is so narrow that you really can’t call it paddling. Rather, in the mangroves, you sometimes have to go hand over hand through the trees. Nature is very real and very close among the mangroves.

Near the coastline the cypress trees and sawgrass gave way to a huge mangrove swamp.
Near the coastline, cypress trees and sawgrass give way to a huge mangrove swamp. This swamp continues south along most of the Florida coast all the way to Key West.

The tape worked well and we found our way into and back out of the swamp without difficulty. One of the reasons that we picked the mangrove swamp to test our new kayaks was that alligators prefer freshwater swamps. In this area, the water was turning saltier.

When we were paddling in the mangrove swamp at the very south end of Everglades National Park, we were looking for crocodiles. We chose this saltwater location to paddle because this feature tended to separate the gators and crocodiles. Anyway, we were told that gators and crocs don’t like to be in the same areas. Here is a link to that story. Hunting Crocs

Here is the best picture took when we were hunting crocs.
Here is the best croc picture took when we were hunting crocs. Crocs are grey and alligators are black.


As I am sure you anticipated, gators don’t follow the rules and by now, you probably concluded that we came across a gator during our paddle. All true. After calling out gator, I started snapping pictures. Tami was considerably less happy about our luck than I was. Tami quickly connected the dots that this gator was between us and our launch point. She immediately poured on the speed. She didn’t want to get a close view of the gator, she wanted it to be behind her.

Here is a nice shot of a gators head while we were kayaking.
Here is a nice shot of a gator’s head while we were kayaking. Gators, when swimming, when viewed from water level, when you are in a kayak, look remarkably like a log in the water. Unlike logs, they move through the water. Most of the time they seem lazy and are moving slow. They seem to really put on the speed after submerging.

I actually took the next picture before I took the above picture. You can see that Tami was taking the gator sighting seriously. She started from behind me when I called out gator she heard the word as the short version of ready-set-go and as I was fumbling with my camera to get the shot, she was already well out front. So anyway, Tami was almost beyond the gator when I took the above picture.

This gator (looks like a log) is pointed right at Tami.
This gator (looks like a log) is pointed right at Tami. Just as she got close, the gator submerged. As you can see, Tami has the angle to put the gator in a tail chase. I’m not sure she slowed down much until we got to our pull-out point.

Back at Camp

As I mentioned we were at the Midway campground in the middle of the swamp. To get enough dry land for camping, the National Park Service dug out this big pond. They used the dirt dug from the pond to build the campground.

The sign at the Midway campground in the everglades warns all the campers that alligators are expected in the pond.
The sign at the Midway campground in the everglades warns all the campers that alligators are expected in the pond.

We really enjoyed the campground. It was perfect in nearly every respect. Still, there was the sign at the edge of the lake warning us not to feed or approach the gators. Every day we saw gators as we drove around exploring but didn’t see any in the pond at our campground.

Our campsite at the Midway campground was very comfortable even though it looks disorganized.
Our campsite at the Midway campground was very comfortable even though it looks disorganized in this picture. Right behind our RV, there was a tangled thicket of bramble that was a little close to the RV but other than that it was great. As you can see by my triangular booster antenna, the campground does not have a strong cell phone signal. The booster and antenna fixed that problem.
As you will see later this sign means business. This is the first one of this type we have seen in a campground.
This is the first sign like this that we have seen in any campground. If you see a gator coming after Fido make sure to let Fido run away. Dogs are much quicker than gators. You should run away too, you are slower than Fido. Gators tire of chasing quickly, unless they are in the water, then they find it sporting.

How to deal with gators

Gators on land do not chase down their prey, instead, they walk up slowly and deliberately inching closer and closer then they cover the last few feet very fast. Nearly every attack on people is caused by the people feeding the gator and getting close. This is high-level stupid.

If the gator is coming for Fido, do not pick Fido up. When you are carrying Fido you are slower than the gator.

We never did see a gator in the pond. By the end of the week, we were convinced that we were not going to see a gator in the campground.

Departing camp

On our last day, as we were packing up a neighbor stopped by to tell us that the resident gator was back. Immediately, I asked Tami if she wanted to go see the gator. She said yes and so we started walking back towards the pond. She was scanning the pond but I already knew that the gator had instead decided to take a nap under one of the RVs only three campsites away. This gator was very large and quite well fed. Perhaps he was hoping that Fido would come out.

Yes this is a real live, large, wild gator under this RV. This kind of thing should be expected when camping in the middle of the swamp.
Yes, this is a real-life, very large, wild gator under this RV. This kind of thing should be expected when camping in the middle of the swamp.

After we got finished packing, the park rangers arrived to try and coax this gator to move from under the RV. It didn’t work. They did get him to move out from under the RV. Then he stopped next to the campfire ring among the camp chairs and wasn’t going further. After all, he was a big gator and they were just skinny rangers.

The rangers tried to coax the gator out from under the RV and all they accomplished was to reposition him among the camp chairs.
I am not too impressed with the ranger’s initial efforts. After this, the gator decided that he would instead move to under a different RV. Gators know, and I know, and now these rangers know, that gators don’t herd well. Nor are they overly impressed by skinny rangers making loud noises. Gators quickly respond to small, yippie dogs, but not in the desired way.

The rest of the camp gator story

After a while, the head gator wrangler (ranger) arrived and took over the operation. We were at the campground exit, dumping our tanks and filling our water tank. Some of our neighbors told us how the rest of the story developed after we left.

At first, the gator wrangler thought that this big gator needed to calm down from the previous stress and yelling, so she gave the gator a time out. After that, she decided that the gator was hot and needed to be doused with some water. This gator was fine with the time out, but it was not pleased with the water splash.

Since reasoning with it wasn’t working they finally decided to force the gator into the water. To do this the rangers use large sheets of plywood to create a barrier on three sides and then advance up to the gator and then they “push” the gator in the direction they want it to go. If everything goes according to plan the gator will see the open side of the barrier and walk, in this case, towards the water. When they object, gators on land thrash horizontally and the plywood prevents injury to the pushers.

Eventually, the rangers pushed this gator foot by foot about fifty yards across the campground, and finally, they pushed it into the water. Even at the water edge, this gator wasn’t interested in cooperating and was still putting up a fight.

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Links to places mentioned in this article.

Everglades National Park

Midway Campground

4 thoughts on “The middle of the swamp”

  1. I have not binge-read the past posts, but to date, this is by far my favorite post. I hinged on every word, picturing each scene. Tamiami Trail explanation was spot on and yet hysterical!
    You are such a gifted storyteller, I enjoy each post. Thank you for allowing me to follow the adventures

  2. I have never audibly said “NOPE!” more times in one blog post than I did in this one. From getting hopelessly lost in mangroves, to kayaking among alligators who suddenly drop below the water’s surface, to alligator squatters hanging out under RVs, Nope! Nope! Nope!


  3. Don’t play fetch with your dog in the water in gator country. It might work once or twice but after a few throws, the dog won’t be coming back.

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