We headed out of St. Petersburg and kept going further south on the Gulf coast of Florida. We drove about 3 hours to the town of Ft. Myers Beach, about an hour north of Naples. We arrived at the Gulf Waters RV Park, and checked into site #855 on a private little lake. This was another great resort, tennis and pickle ball courts, a big clubhouse with a pool off to one side, and the best part of all – huge wide sites to park on. We set up and headed over to the beach, across the only bridge in and out of the area, and it took some time with all the traffic. We pulled over and took some pictures, walked on the white powdery sand, I got my Florida fishing license at the local marina, then we decided to head home and make tacos for New Years Eve. A quiet night in sounded pretty good. We made it up to 11:00PM, and that was it, not bad for us!
The next day we wandered back to the beach, and after searching for parking for 45 minutes, finally found a free spot in a city lot, as it was New Years Day. We went out to the beach and it was crazy how many people were out enjoying the sun, it was only 78 degrees! Grabbed a beer for a walk on the beach and then went to a little hole in the wall bar for more beverages and some food. We hung out and people watched for a while, then it was time to get back to the MoHo for the Rose Bowl and some real food – Chicken Wings! We enjoyed the days’ college football bowl games and turned in early. This area would be a great place to spend more time, but we were on a schedule to get to our next spot.
The next morning, we left Ft. Myers Beach and headed to Everglades City, about a 2 1/2 hour drive, just the kind of distance I like! Along the drive, we were surprised by a road sign we saw frequently, “Warning – Panther crossing.” We have all seen the deer signs and elk crossing signs, but Panthers? We did not see any along the route, but it did peak our interest. We arrived at the Everglades Isle RV Resort around noon. When we pull in to most parks, we stop at the front to check, as we did here. We went into the office, and immediately realized this was not your average RV park. The office was just a tiny little corner of the massive clubhouse. After checking in, getting the MoHo set up, we wandered the grounds of the park. The clubhouse had it all; a full service bar, open nightly for happy hour at 4:30PM, nice shower facilities with complimentary towels, free laundry, a well-equipped gym, a movie theater and a nice little spa. The outdoor pool and hot tub were just off the main clubhouse, and there was a small mini service bar out there as well and a boat ramp. This place was top of the line. We returned to the MoHo and our site was perfect. We faced the Barron River, just 10 feet from the front of the rig. There were airboats coming and going up and down the river constantly, and tons of pelicans everywhere. Our site was one of the best we have stayed in yet. Plenty of room; very deep so we could set up anywhere on the pad and not feel too cramped, and very wide so we could put out our Dream Turf – the artificial grass we carry along with us. The only problem we could find here, were the No-see-ums. If you haven’t experienced these before, they are like mosquitos but worse because you can’t see them. Their bites turn into little red spots and they itch like crazy. We both got our fair share of bites. We relaxed for the afternoon and headed up to happy hour at 4:30PM and we were greeted by the bartender Sandy. She was staying just a couple sites down from us, and was working her first night behind the bar by herself, and she was perfect. We enjoyed getting to know her each night at happy hour and hope to meet up with her and her husband Gene this summer in NY. We headed back to the MoHo for dinner and catching up on some college football games.
The next day we decided to take an airboat ride with Speedy’s. We got on board, and the driver took us back into the Mangroves, which are the main foliage here in this part of the Everglades. We meandered slowly through the tight, little, narrow passageways. Each turn it seemed like the route was getting tighter, but the captain knew his way. Then, he decided he had given us enough time to get used to the feel and sound, and he finally hit the throttle, and we are suddenly whizzing through the Mangroves! We emptied out into an open area and the captain did a full 180 and we stop on a dime! OK, now this was what we were expecting. We sped in and out of the Mangroves and grasslands for the rest of the one-hour tour, and then returned to the dock. It was pretty windy and cold, so no alligator sightings unfortunately. We headed back to the MoHo, headed up to happy hour and ended the night with dinner in the quiet comfort of our home.
The next morning I headed down to the bait and tackle shops in town. I had been fishing off the dock in front of the MoHo when I have had time, and I was needing to replace some gear and find out how and what to use locally. (All my fishing gear is based on the trout/salmon fishing in the Northwest, not what is used here in Florida). I returned and headed out on the dock, and just had a relaxing morning, and yes I did catch a couple Sheepshead. That day was cool, and the forecast was spot on, as the rains started around 11:00AM and it poured most of the rest of the day. We did a few chores around the MoHo, Traci got a massage at the spa, and then we headed to happy hour to watch the early NFL playoff game in the clubhouse. We headed to a local restaurant for dinner. Everglades City has about a dozen restaurants, and we were getting lots of info from our fellow RV park neighbors on what was good. Well, we missed that night, dinner was not worth finishing, let alone bring any leftovers home, oh well.
Sunday we woke and it was much better weather. We relaxed in the AM and headed to a Cuban restaurant for lunch, just down the road in the next little town of Chokoloskee, another recommendation. For the afternoon, we opted for a drive one our neighbors had told us about to see some alligators. We turned off Hwy 41 onto Turner River Road. There was a viewing dock set up for people to watch for alligators, birds, etc. We walked out on the dock, and there was not much to be seen, except for a ton of fish in a little wetland. (The Barron River we were staying on is very dark in color, as it mixes with the tides and the Mangrove leaves. These leaves stain the water a brown color, much like a tea bag, and it never is clear to see into). It was nice to see into some water, and actually see the fish swimming and all the plant life. We walked the length of the dock and thought we could see a small alligator off in the distance, but were not sure. Across the road about 50 yards, there were a few people making a bit of noise, so I headed over to see what was going on. Low and behold, there was a gator over there. I peered down to the area people were pointing, and this dude was huge! I would guess it was 13-14 feet in length, and that is no fish tale! (One lady nearby said she was a lifelong Floridian and had not seen one that big ever!) I positioned myself around the monster for some great pictures, keeping a safe distance, using the comfort of a bridge to view him sunning himself in the warm afternoon heat. We returned to the car and headed north on Turner Road. Alongside the road was a canal/river. We saw hundreds of gators, dozens of turtles, and all sorts of huge birds. Many of the animals were just sitting on the rivers edge, as if they were posing for us, pretty amazing how much wildlife was here. We completed the 17-18 mile drive and headed back to the RV park, a great side trip and can only thank our fellow RV park neighbors for the inside tip.
The next day, I did some fishing for a couple hours, Traci relaxed at home getting some of her to-do’s done and then we headed out for the afternoon. We never used the kayaks here, as the Barron River had some serious current, and we had talked to another couple that had actually become trapped by the current and not able to return to there vehicle. They had to flag someone down to help get them back to their car, so we decided to stay off the water. We went to the Everglades National Park and took a guided boat tour of the 10,000-island area, just between the coast and the Gulf of Mexico. The captain and narrator gave us a lot of good information on the water/landscape. We got all the way through and out to the gulf, and were greeted by several dolphins feeding and playing. This was a great way to see this area, especially if you do not have your own boat. We returned to town, and headed to a late lunch/early dinner. We went to Camellias, another local place recommended by our neighbors. This was the best meal we had in town, by a long shot. We both were craving hamburgers, and they were prepared perfectly. Washed the food down with some ice cold beers and it was a great ending to the day…talk about a “cheeseburger in paradise!” We returned to the RV park, and headed up for our last happy hour. It turned out to be the busiest night yet and we stayed for a couple hours, chatting with the rest of the RV park guests that came up that night. We headed back to the MoHo and turned in early as we were heading to Key West tomorrow for the next 15 days, one of our most anticipated destinations on our journey!
p.s. Traci & I want to wish you all a Happy New Year! May 2014 be a great one!