Looking to make a visit to the everglades we decided to drive over to the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve. It's abour an hour drive from here on the Tamiami Trail. We traveled south to Naples and then east on Highway 41 about 10.5 miles to a signed boardwalk parking area. We pulled into the gravel lot beside a small pond.
From the lot we took a trail leading to the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. The short (0.15 miles) trail had a donation station where visitors can make a financial donation to the Friends of the Fakahatchee.Beyond the trail lies the boardwalk built through a dense swamp forest.. The 2,200 foot boardwalk is located in the middle of a remnant virgin cypress forest that was spared from logging in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The walk was mostly shaded even in the middle of winter as it meandered in dappled light through large, centuries old, bald cypress.
The boardwalk is being continually repaired so visitors should be prepared for some loose boards and some possible workers maintaining it. We also noticed a few mosquitos but they weren’t too bad for the hike. We slowly ambled along the boardwalk which ended at an observation platform. Along the way we saw some stragler figs extracting their slow torture.
We took in the sights and sounds of the wooded swamp. There were several interpretive signs along the boardwalk providing information about the various plants and animals we might encounter. We kept our eyes peeled trying to find some birds or alligators. There is also a large Eagle's nest visible from the boardwalk but we did not see any eagles in or near it. Although we didn’t see much on this trip we have seen quite a lot on this boardwalk in the past. At the observation platform we saw a few Ibis and a Snowy Egret trying its luck at catching some of the Mosquito Fish in the water below the platform.
We returned by retracing our steps back along the boardwalk until back at the pond near the parking lot. We walked around the pond where we spotted one fairly large alligator and as we walked around the pond we saw some baby alligators. There were about 10 in all and they were all over the pond once we got our “gater eyes” adjusted to spot them. They sure were cute little guys but we didn’t dawdle too long as we knew momma was nearby and probably wouldn’t appreciate us getting too close to the youngsters.
After leaving the hike we drove a little further northeast until we found the Janes Scenic Drive (JSD). Fortunately in the past the State of Florida took over these lands where remnants of the logging era can still be seen by all the tram roads such as the JSD. The JSD winds its way through the Fakahatchee Strand. For those wanting a real Florida experience ranger guided swamp walks are offered taking adventurers through the swamp –Though we didn't do it I'm sure they prepare to get very wet and muddy!
The JSD winds along for about 12 miles until it connects with the back entrance to Picayune State Forest. It is a pretty narrow dirt road with plenty of pot holes some of which require careful maneuvering to keep from bottoming out. As we drove through the heart of the swamp forest we spotted lots of birds and a few alligators but were hoping to get lucky and see a black bear or the elusive black panthers. Both of the species are occasionally seen on the JSD.
Along the drive we saw lots of royal palms, cabbage palms, ash trees, and the poisonous pond apple. Large stands of pickerelweed and alligator flag could be seen in the more open water areas of the swamp. Bromeliads are seen all along the drive and adorn many of the leafless trees. One of our most common bromeliads is the Cardinal Air Plant or wild pine (Tillandsia fasciculata). This bromeliad has dark green-gray leaves and is common on cypress or oak trees. Occasionally we saw some displaying their bright red florescence.
As we meandered through this pristine forest in the swamp we passed by lots of ferns and spotted many varieties of butterflies. We even heard a great horned owl “hooting” in the dark depths of the wooded swamp. We found a picnic table to stop at next to a pond teeming with jumping fish to enjoy our picnic lunch. Ospreys soared overhead awaiting the perfect time to drop from the sky speed hitting the water with a splash in the hope of retrieving something good to eat.
After lunch and continuing our drive we reached the end of the road where we found ourselves unable to exit due to some deep water blocking our way. So we simply headed back along the narrow and very bumpy road. On the return trip we spotted a doe and her new born fawn. We stopped and watched the doe clean her new baby and then we slowly drove on by letting them slowly escape into the thick underbrush. After 11 miles of bumping along we were glad to be back on blacktop and headed home. Today offered up another nice day trip during our winter stay here in Florida…