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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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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