Florida Keys

Florida Keys
Florida Keys September 2014

Monday, October 27, 2014

Camping at Kissimmee Prairie State Preserve Park


Date: 10/24/2014 – 10/26/2014

Location: Okeechobee, Fl


We knew after we had camped at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve back in March of this year, that this park is one we’d want to came back to one day. So, several months ago we figured out a weekend in the fall and nearest a new moon to ensure skies good for star gazing. Being one of the darkest sky locations in the state of Florida, this park is a favorite of the astronomy lovers and they were out in force this weekend.

We made note of the best sites when we were here before and lucked out by getting a large site with a nice view.



After we had made our reservations, my brother and sister-in-law decided to join us. Luckily the site right next to us opened up and they were able to grab it. They looked to the east over the prairie.



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Kissimmee Prairie is currently around 54,000 acres in size with plans to increase this as they buy up more of the cattle farms to the north. This park is way out in the boonies and the land is flat with expansive views in most directions.



We had fantastic weather during the weekends camping trip. Highs during the day in the low 80’s and nice and cool at night in the upper 50’s. This weather was just right to do some hiking and we took one of the trails that started at the visitors center. The trail maps do warn you that since this is an area with a lot of wetlands, some of the trails may be blocked by water. And just like the hike we took back in the spring, we did hit several areas that required us to wade our way through.

Here’s Julie trying to find a dry way around, but she was only got so far before she accepted defeat and ended up taking off her hiking boots and sloshing her way ahead.




We eventually made our way around the loop trail and found a picnic table in the shade to relax and have a few snacks.

Here is the GPS track of the hike we took on Saturday morning.


On our two visits to this park, Julie has been on a quest to hike or bike to the Kissimmee River which forms the very west boundary of the park. She spoke with the ranger in the visitor center about biking the Military Trail that makes a relatively straight shot to the river. The ranger encouraged her to take this trail and that we’d surely enjoy it. My brother’s wife had broken her wrist a few weeks ago, so she couldn’t join us on this adventure. Julie, my brother and myself took our bikes on what we thought would be an easy ride through the prairie. It started out on a very nice limestone road, but quickly disintegrated into a road best traveled with a four wheel drive truck or one of the park’s swamp buggies. It was ether soft sand, thick grass or rutted muddy sections. We rode as much as we could, usually trailing Julie by about a quarter mile as we tried our best to get to that darned river. After about 5+ miles we took another look at the GPS and trail maps and realized that we still had several miles to go. As much as we didn’t want to do it, we declared defeat and retreated back to camp. We were a bunch of tired campers when we got back several hours after we started.


The views of the prairie were awesome as we rode along, just too bad that they didn’t have a better surface for biking.



In some of the wetter areas of the prairie there were many fall wild flowers in bloom.




Here’s the GPS track of our torturous bike ride


We did have some clouds and breeze during the days, which kept things cools and very pleasant. Luckily for the astronomy groups who were camped here, it did clear in the evening which made for some great star gazing.

This shot below shows part of the start filled sky looking north. That streak above the tree line in the picture is actually the International Space Station as it sped its’ way across the sky. We each also saw several shooting stars during the night, although Julie struggled (and whined) at times trying to find one!!


With no visible moon and the clear skies, the milky way was easy to see as it arched its’ way across the heavens from the south-east horizon toward the north-west.


We were also able to find some of the constellations like the big dipper pointing to the north star and a few planets, such as Mars and Jupiter made an appearance.

With this being one of the darkest areas of Florida, it’s still not totally free from man made light. This picture below shows some of the light pollution coming from the cities on the east coast of the state.



This state park has a separate camping area for the astronomy buffs who use this as a location for their (expensive!!!) hobby. Here’s a picture of their sites just beyond the visitors center where’s there is room for their rv’s and space for them to set up their large telescopes (the covered objects to the right). It’s quiet during the day, with most them probably sleeping, but comes to life at night. Many of them stay awake all night photographing far off solar systems, star cluster and other hard to comprehend stellar objects.



On Sunday, before we had to pack up and head back home, we all made our way to an area with some ponds to watch the birds take flight as the sun rises. It’s also an area with a good collection of gators. It was a cool morning, so they were slow to get going. But as the sun got a little higher and the air warmed, you could start to hear them. At first is sounded like someone snoring out in the weeds. As we were walking back to our bikes, one large male gator really started to bellow and thrash about and just about scared the @#!% out of us. After we got a safe distance away we watched him for awhile and he would bellow and then get quiet. Then from another area another gator would do the same. It was actually very interesting to watch this behavior which none of us had witnessed before.



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Kissimmee Prairie is a noted location on the Florida Birding Trail. There is constant bird activity around the area and much can be seen right from our campsite.

Here’s a hawk that was perched high in an oak tree by our site and looking around for its’ breakfast.



This Barred Owl cruised through our campsite and landed in a tree not too far from us. It we hadn’t seen it fly by, we would never have seen it as it blends in so well with the tree it landed on.



And my last bird picture is of a Crested Caracara which nest in the park and surrounding areas. This guy (or gal) was one of three that landed in a ditch nearby and was looking for something tasty  to eat.


After our morning walk we spent a short time relaxing before packing up and heading back to reality. We had an awesome weekend of camping and truly enjoyed spending it with Jim and Jo. We hope to plan many more camping trips with them in the future. We do have one more on the books as we will be doing another trip with them in early December for a weekend at Fort de Soto in St. Pete.



Here’s a link to a short YouTube video from this camping trip.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Biking the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge


Date: 10/12 2014

Location: Dixie Mainline Trail, Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge

With the cooling Florida fall weather, we decided to get out on Sunday morning and do another bike ride in the Suwannee National Wildlife Area. This is a continuation of the ride we did back in March which covered the more southern section of this bike trail. The blog post of that trip can be found at this link.

The Dixie Mainline trail is a road that was the former route of a small gauge railway that was built back in the early 1920’s to haul lumber out of the area. It has since been converted to a lime rock road that follows the gulf coast. This trail is also open to motorized vehicles, but in the 3+ hours that we road, we only say two trucks. And there were no others that we saw biking this trail today, so we pretty much has this ride to ourselves.


The road is dirt or crushed lime rock and most areas were very smooth which made for some good biking. Being early fall in Florida, the sides of the roads were covered with wildflowers. 



The majority of the trail winds its’ way through wetlands and swamps. In many places the road is just a few inches higher than the water level.

The Dixie Mainline trail eventually crosses over County Road 151. So, we took a several mile detour and rode down to the town of Horseshoe Beach on the gulf of Mexico. This was a fairly nice small town right on the Gulf of Mexico. We also found a county park right on the water that has several campsites. We may just come back here someday and bring our camper to stay here for a few days.




Here is the GPS track of out 22+ mile ride.

After our ride, we loaded up the bikes on the truck and drover down to Shired Island county park to eat our lunch overlooking the gulf. This county park also has a few campsites, but it doesn’t look like a place we’d camp at. The sites are not well defined and it looks a little rough around the edges,

The park has a short hike from the boat dock area out to an area that had an old Indian shell mound.




And here’s the GPS track of the short hike we did at Shired Island County Park.