American Locations 49 – Rock City

The trip is from New River, West Virginia, to Stinking Creek, Tennessee, by way of Long Key, Florida.

 Rock City, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Leaving DeSoto Park early the next morning, we drove north on Rte. 679 to Isla del Sol, where we turned west onto Rte. 682. We took it to Rte. 699 and headed north up the coast. We were in no hurry, as usual, and took the scenic route. But this really wasn’t very scenic, there was too much development. After driving through Clearwater we took the Causeway to the mainland and continued north along the coast on Alt. 19. This was a much nicer drive. Eventually Alt. 19 merged into Hwy. 19, and we continued north. At Weeki Wachee we gave up the sightseeing and turned east on Rte. 90, which took us to I-75. We then headed north at a much greater speed. We stopped for the night in a private campground in northern Florida, then continued north on I-75 out of Florida through Georgia into Tennessee. As you can tell, we were getting anxious by this point to get home. We stopped for the night in another private campground just south of Chattanooga.

Notice the leaves. It was mid-November by this time, we had been on the road for 2 months. We were surprised by how cool it was.

We spent the following day in Chattanooga. First we visited Chickamauga Battlefield.

 

Then we went to Rock City.

This was a place my parents had taken me to as a child, and I was wanting to see it as an adult.

They were decorating for Christmas.

The parts I remembered from my visit as a child were the named rock formations. Such as the fat-man squeezes.

 

And others.

And the swinging bridge.

There was an alternate route. Which my wife took.

I especially remembered the overlook.

You were supposed to be able to see 7 states from there.

It was a rough walk. But there were plenty of places to rest.

At the end of the trail was Fairyland Caverns.

This black-light display hadn’t changed a bit since I had seen it in the 50’s. It was just the way I remembered it.

 

Next Location – Stinking Creek, Tennessee

 

 

American Locations 48 – Fort De Soto 2

The trip is from New River, West Virginia, to Stinking Creek, Tennessee, by way of Long Key, Florida.

 Fort DeSoto County Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

The next day we moved to the worst of our 3 sites. Although you can’t see it, the site was  next to a playground, and the screaming was incessant.

 

It was a gloomy overcast day. We explored the park. There was the beach.

 

 

I don’t know where this excursion boat was from, but if they had free beer no wonder it was so crowded. They must have been going out. If they were coming back, after a cruise with free beer it wouldn’t have been so crowded.

 

We toured the old fort. From the position of the one canon it seems treachery was afoot.

 

There was a fishing pier that extended out into the ocean. Which had free fishing. Apparently the fishing fees had been covered by an endowment from some kindly rich person. Maybe he sponsored the excursion boat, too.

 

There was a scoop of pelicans.

 

And all sorts of birds.

 

We walked out to the end of the pier. There were several dolphins playing.

 

We saw this anhinga drying its wings. They were fun to watch. They’d circle in the air until they spied something in the water they wanted to eat. Then they’d nose-dive, hitting the water at such a high speed you’d think it would knock them silly. Then they’d come up and float on the water while their wings dried. Or got out somewhere to dry them, as this one did.

 

The Sunshine Bridge, that spans Tampa Bay from south of Tampa to St. Petersburg. Although on this day it was very hazy and overcast, not much sunshine.

 

On our third morning we moved to a more agreeable site.

 

It was a much nicer day to roam around the park.

 

Birds were everywhere.

 

 

 

These people looked like they were fishing off a paddle board. Or maybe they were just standing up in a kayak. Either sounds tricky.

 

We found some exotic trees.

 

This is the Sunshine Bridge on a sunny day.

 

A monument to DeSoto.

 

There was a second pier that went into the bay.

 

From which a man caught a small hammerhead shark. He took some pictures, let other people like me take some pictures, then he threw it back in. You are not allowed to fish for sharks.

 

This seemed like a well-staged photo to me. The chairs in the sand at the water’s edge, the beached kayak, the birds in the water. Except it wasn’t staged, we just came upon it while walking around.

 

Some other nice spots.

 

My wife had come to this campground several times with her parents when she was a child and she enjoyed seeing it as an adult. But 3 days was enough.

 

Next Location – Rock City, Chattanooga, Tennessee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Locations 47 – Fort DeSoto

The trip is from New River, West Virginia, to Stinking Creek, Tennessee, by way of Long Key, Florida.

 Fort DeSoto County Park, St. Petersburg, Florida

Later that morning after my feet dried out we left the Big Cyprus campground. We continued west on Hwy. 41. There were sights to stop for along the way.

 

 

 

We stopped at this one place that had a boardwalk that wound deep into the swamp. I wouldn’t have to get my feet wet this time.

 

 

 

Emerging on the west side of Big Cyprus, we turned south on Rte. 29 to Everglades City. This is on the west side of Everglades and was totally wiped out. The hurricane damage was a lot worse here. Even the visitor center was closed. So we didn’t stop, we turned back north up Rte. 29. Skirting the west edge of Big Cyprus, it was another pleasant drive. At first. Once we got away from the preserve, it was the usual development. So we took Rte. 82 northwest over to I-75 and headed north. For some reason our GPS routed us into Tampa onto I-274 and around to St. Petersburg from the north, instead of taking us across the Skyline Bridge from the south, which would have been much simpler, and faster, and less hectic. But eventually we made it to Fort DeSoto Park. They were very busy and only had 3 sites open for the night, and were booked up for the next 2. But they worked with us, moving us from our original site to a cancellation the next night and another cancellation the third night. Our first site was the best. It was on a channel.

 

Once parked, I hardly budged the rest of the night. I was tired from all the driving, and the view was sublime.

 

 

 

A pair of dolphins swam up the channel our site was on then back out. They are so fun to watch. And there was yet another nice sunset.

 

 

 

 

Next Location – Fort DeSoto 2

 

American Locations 46 – Big Cyprus 2

The trip is from New River, West Virginia, to Stinking Creek, Tennessee, by way of Long Key, Florida.

 Big Cyprus National Preserve, Florida

The campground was nearly deserted. There was one other RV and the resident campground host. And 4 alligators. Our site was on the side of a lake and on the edge of the swamp.

Once again, it was like staying in a bird sanctuary.

The campground host said there were 4 alligators staying in the lake.

I hiked all around the lake.

See all the birds by the lake?

I kept walking toward them while snapping pictures, wondering how close they would let me come. As I neared the lake without them taking flight I was so intent with my camera I didn’t see the alligator lurking at the water’s edge. I came within 10 feet or so before I saw him. He was eyeing me.

So I slowly backed off. Last time I walked around not looking where I was going while snapping pictures. That evening we took a stroll around the lake at sundown.

As we approached the only other RV we saw the campground host was there with a park ranger. We learned that the couple had a little dog with them, and an alligator was hanging around their site eyeing their dog. The ranger said there was nothing he could do about the alligator, this was a wild place and not a zoo, so his advice was to keep their dog inside if they didn’t want it eaten. We walked on, but it got dark quickly before we could make it around the lake, so we turned back. Sure enough, the park ranger and campground host were gone and the couple and their dog were inside their camper. But that alligator was still lurking around.

He’d gotten a whiff of that dog and was after a meal. But it was a pretty sunset.

One big drawback to staying here were the no-see-ums. The campground had no hook-ups, so we couldn’t run our air conditioner. It was too hot to close the windows. And these tiny black flying bugs were so small they came right through the screens and swarmed us. It was an infestation. All night long we swatted at them while trying to sleep. The next morning I went for a walk into the swamp. There was a road.

As you can see, it was flooded. But I have waterproof hiking boots. So I set off.

1793_Everglades

1795_Everglades

But the water got so deep it came in over the tops and thoroughly soaked my feet. So I gave it up before going very far. Instead, I walked another circuit of the lake and said good morning to all my friends.

 

Next Location – Fort DeSoto, St. Petersburg, Florida

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Locations 45 – Big Cyprus

The trip is from New River, West Virginia, to Stinking Creek, Tennessee, by way of Long Key, Florida.

 Big Cyprus National Preserve, Florida

 

The next morning we drove north out of Homestead on Rte. 997 to Hwy. 41, then headed west. This road skirts the northern edge of the Everglades and the southern edge of Big Cyprus National Preserve. Which meant it was another incredible drive, one of the best of the trip. Our first stop was Coopertown to take an air boat ride into Everglades.

1683_Everglades

We were entertained while awaiting our boat.

1687_Everglades

1690_Everglades

There were 8 of us on the boat. It was slow-going as we went up the channel that led to the swamp.

1692_Everglades

But the pilot opened up the throttle when we got out into the swamp. You can tell how fast we were going by our wake.

1698_Everglades

But he would slow down at times so we could admire the view.

1700_Everglades

He also took us through channels like this.

1718_Everglades

 

And, of course, to see alligators. He knew where all the alligator holes were.

1706_Everglades

1712_Everglades

After the air boat ride, we continued west on Hwy. 41. There is an irrigation canal that parallels the highway.

1720_Everglades

With Everglades to the south and Big Cyprus to the north, we had plenty to look at.

1723_Everglades

And there were visitor centers along the way to stop at. Where, of course, there were alligators. Notice the sign in the second photo. Is anyone going to harass an alligator? I wouldn’t have thought so before I saw that video of that idiot in Yellowstone harassing a bison.

1724a_Everglades

1730_Everglades

There were other critters.

1726_Everglades

1727_Everglades

There were 8 campgrounds in Big Cyprus. Only one was open. So we settled down for several days. We hadn’t been able to stay in Everglades, but this was the next best thing.

1735_Everglades

 

Next Location – Big Cyprus 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Locations 44 – Everglades

The trip is from New River, West Virginia, to Stinking Creek, Tennessee, by way of Long Key, Florida.

 Everglades National Park, Florida

Leaving John Pennekamp, we drove north on Hwy. 1 off Key Largo back onto the mainland. In Homestead, we turned west and entered the Everglades National Park. Our first stop was at the visitor center at the east entrance. We walked their extensive boardwalks.

 

1628_Everglades

1630_Everglades

1637_Everglades

There was an alligator hanging around.

1614_Everglades

This ropy brown stuff was flourishing in some of the water.

1615_Everglades

One of the main attractions were the birds.

1621_Everglades

Do you see that dark thing in the water? That’s an anhinga. It’s a diving bird. The boardwalk system at the visitor center is named after them – The Anhinga Trail. They dive for fish, then surface and float on the water while spreading their wings to dry the feathers.

1629_Everglades

We learned from a ranger that the campground at Flamingo was closed from extensive hurricane damage. The visitor center there was also closed. But the view was as great as ever.

1642_Everglades

1645_Everglades

1648_Everglades

On the way back east we stopped several times to look around or take a short hike.

1652_everglades

1660_Everglades

1664_Everglades

1671_Everglades

1674_Everglades

Since the campgrounds in the park were closed due to hurricane damage, late that afternoon we left the park and drove back into Homestead to find a private campground.

We meet a lot of fellow campers on our trips, campers are a companionable lot. We met a man and his son there from a northern state. His wife was an insurance adjuster, and she was on a 6-month assignment filing claims for hurricane damage. Her husband was a construction worker who wasn’t working at the time, it was the off-season for construction work where they came from. Their son transferred to a local school. They had rented a large trailer and set it up in this park to live in. The father and son were having a ball, while the mother worked 12-hour days. We never did meet her. Her husband said she always came in very late. While he and his son were floating in the campground pool.

 

Next Location – Big Cypress National Preserve

 

American Locations 43 – John Pennekamp 2

The trip is from New River, West Virginia, to Stinking Creek, Tennessee, by way of Long Key, Florida.

 John Pennekamp State Park, Florida

 

The next morning we got an early start. We drove south on Hwy. 1. Since the glass bottom boat at Pennekamp had been damaged in the hurricane, we stopped to see about a ticket for a cruise on a commercial boat. Where the actual boat used to film the movie “The African Queen” was docked.

1553_Florida Keys

We continued south through the Keys. Where we saw a lot of clean-up from the hurricane still going on.

1556_Florida Keys

1557_Florida Keys

But the Keys are beautiful no matter what.

1561_Florida Keys

 

1568_Florida Keys

We found a good-sized iguana.

1563_Florida Keys

We crossed from Key Largo onto Plantation Key.

1565_Florida Keys

Where the water was just as beautiful.

1570_Florida Keys

At Long Key State Park we learned from a ranger the damage was more extensive further south, and many places weren’t open. This state park was completely closed, not even open for day use. So we decided to turn back. We had driven all the way to Key West 24 years ago and had fond memories, so we had no desire to see it all torn up. Long Key State Park was as far away from home that we got on this trip, from here on we would be getting closer to home rather than farther.

So we returned for the afternoon glass bottom boat cruise. As you can see in the photo, our boat was moored next to The African Queen.

1571_Glass bottom boat

I hadn’t been on a glass bottom boat since I was a kid. We have done a lot of snorkeling in the Caribbean, but the water here was too choppy. I’ve tried that in Mexico before, and it’s such a struggle trying to stay oriented in a rough surf it’s exhausting and frustrating. So we took the boat instead. There were a lot of pelicans hanging around the dock.

1573_glass b ottom boat

It was fun cruising out.

1577_glass bottom boat

1580_glass bottom boat

We saw more birds when we reached open water.

1586_glass bottom boat

The water was beautiful as we approached the reef.

1589_glass bottom boat

This was the view from inside the boat. The glass was really clean, but it’s just not the same as snorkeling.

1596_glass bottom boat

We motored around the reef for about a half-hour, then it was back to land.

1603_glass bottom boat

And past some beautiful homes.

1604_glass bottom boat

We drove back to our campground then for another relaxing night.

 

Next Location – Everglades National Park, Florida