Ah, how we totally loved this bit of wilderness in the midst of Flori-burbia! Well, guess it’s probably more than a “bit” since Myakka River State Park (our review) is 37,000 acres (58 square miles) and has more than 39 miles of hiking trails. And zillions of alligators (we promise we won’t bore you with our zillions of gator photos)! And lots of wildlife!
On our first day here, as we waited for our site to be ready, we tried to absorb the oodles of information about the park, like the 14 mile round trip drive, 25 Things To Do, Casual Walks & Longer Walks & Bicycle Routes, Facts about Myakka and all sorts of info about the wildlife. As soon as we settled into our site, it was time to explore.
First order of business was to drive partway along the 14 mile round trip park drive, eventually stopping at the boat basin and concession. I had read that the air boat and tram tours fill up quickly especially during Spring Break so we thought we might be able to purchase tickets for the next day. Nope that wasn’t going to work – they don’t sell advance tickets. We were told that it was really busy but if we arrived by 9:00 a.m. the next day when the ticket office opens, tickets would most likely be available for the 10 a.m. boat tour.
On our way back to the coach, we stopped at one of the bridges which was a good viewing point for gators. Yep, there were several of them, lazily basking in the sun. This place was a gator paradise – they were everywhere! After our stay here, I think we’ve seen enough gators to last a lifetime!
The next morning, Wednesday, we were up early (at least for us, lazy louts that we are). Arriving at the ticket office a little before 9:00 a.m., we bought tickets for both the 10:00 a.m. boat tour and the 11:30 a.m. tram tour. Price for each is $12 per person but when you buy a combo, you get one tour at half price so our total cost was $36.
We had about an hour to kill so we walked one of the trails to the boardwalk which led to the weir at the south end of Myakka Lake. As we crossed the parking lot, we were snickering at the “Warning – Vultures May Cause Damage to Vehicles” signs. Apparently vultures can attack rubber and vinyl car parts including windshield wipers, door seals and sunroof seals.
They’re not exactly sure why but according to one study “it is believed by some that these products release some chemical cue that is appealing to the birds through UV or heat degradation, though that has yet to be proven.” Guess it really isn’t anything to snicker about especially if your car is the one under attack! Glad we parked our van in a more sheltered area instead of in the open parking lot! Though during the few times that we were near the parking lot, we never saw a vulture near any car.
Anyway, we eventually arrived at the end of the boardwalk. It was a vulture party – they were along the shore, on the railing, on top of the roof, on the weir, they were everywhere. Such foreboding looking creatures!
Finally we headed back to the tour boarding ramp where there already was a long queue – fortunately this is a nice covered area with seating. And even though it was only 9:30 a.m., tickets for many of the subsequent tours that day were already sold out.
Pleasant day for a boat trip! Our tour guide was quite knowledgeable so we learned a lot of interesting facts about the history of the park and it’s ecosystem. Myakka River is 68 miles long with a twelve mile stretch winding its way through Myakka River State Park. It eventually flows into Charlotte Harbor on the Gulf coast of Florida.
Did I mention the gators? If I didn’t our tour guide sure did – constantly for that matter! He mentioned that because it was a little windy and the gators don’t like the wind, so they might be more difficult to spot. What’s with the wind? Don’t remember the precise details but it makes the protective flaps over their nostrils or ears flutter – must tickle or something!
Between 500-1000 gators live in the Myakka River which at its deepest point was about six feet (during our stay that is, it’s much deeper during the rainy season). They can move pretty quickly on land, supposedly up to 20 mph for a very short period of time. A full-grown alligator that is between 8 and 11 feet could weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Female gators will lay up to 30 eggs in or around the month of June. However, once born, only three out of 100 gators will survive to seven years old, which is their breeding age. Whether a gator is born male or female is determined by temperature, eggs subjected to 90F or higher during portions of the embryonic cycle will be male and those subjected to lower temperatures will be female.
Before we knew it (about an hour), our guide ran out of gator facts (well, not really, but our hour was up), the tour was over and we were back on shore. Since people were already sitting on board the tram, located at the end of the parking lot, we quickly made our way over so we could snag good seats. Another interesting tour although our tour guide was a little more robotic in his delivery of the facts than our guide on the air boat.
Leaving the paved roads behind, the tram turned on to the Powerline path which follows an old railroad line built in the 1920’s. Once again we saw a few alligators and birds and learned how the pastures where cattle once grazed have slowly disappeared because settlers stopped the natural fires from burning. These fires were necessary for the good health of the pastures. Along the way we transitioned from the Prairie Hammock with its Sabal (Cabbage) Palms and Live Oaks that can tolerate flooding, up to higher ground harboring Palmettos, pines and other life that is not tolerant of flooding. The elevation change was all but imperceptible except for the plant growth. We also learned how to tell a young cabbage palm from a palmetto, its really quite easy if you know what to look for.
Then we heard about Bertha Palmer, a progressive business woman who bought land and developed a cattle ranch in what is now Myakka River State Park which she named Meadow Sweet Pastures in 1910. In 1934 the first acquisition of over 17,000 acres of land were purchased by the National Park Service from the Palmer family. Our tour guide pointed out the approximate location of her ranch house and the now overgrown pastures.
Along the way our guide pointed out the evidence of rooting damage done by feral pigs along the side of the trail. He explained that pigs were not native to Florida but had been brought over by the Spaniards in 1539. Rather than cage them, they were allowed to run wild. Population control has become a major issue – a single female can have as many as 24 piglets in a single year (yikes that’s a lot of piggies). Not only do they carry diseases that are transmittable to people and domestic or wild animals, the rooting damages soil and leads to erosion and habitat change. The park encourages the humane removal of the pigs to the tune of about 1500 per year and this still barely puts a dent in the population and resultant damage. We didn’t see any on our tour but we did see a family, mom and dad and three piglets, grazing near one of the bridges a few days later.
After the tour was over, we drove to the Log Pavilion which was built by the Civilian Corps (CCC) in 1933. There is a very nice nature trail that winds it’s way along the river. Numerous young artists were sitting on the banks of the river, trying to capture its beauty on canvas. More gators!
So check out this big boy above. As we were walking along the trail on the way back, we saw something a short distance away next to a log on the ground. Suddenly it moved! Yikes it was a gator! A big one too! Not to worry though, he had no interest in us and quickly headed for the water. By the time we got the camera in position this is all we could capture.
It was still early so we took a drive along North Drive, out to the Birdwalk boardwalk which stretches out over a portion of the far northeast side of Upper Myakka Lake. Another couple was out on the platform and they quickly pointed out a male and female sandhill crane with a baby. How cute! After spending some time there watching the family, we headed back to the campground.
We did venture out of the park one morning for breakfast at Millie’s Cafe which was about 20 minute drive away . What a cute restaurant! It was located in a business plaza but the inside looked like the interior of a house. We both had our usual breakfasts (can you guess?) which were very good – definitely would return here again.
This is a little bit off the subject but at a local Publix supermarket, we found some oysters (not local but from Washington state). Just had to try the Jalapeno Bacon and Cheddar oysters that I mentioned in an earlier post. Delish although next time I would adjust the amount of Greek seasoning (recipe called for 1 tbsp) as they were way, way too salty. But definitely a keeper!
On another afternoon, we went up to the Outpost to have a late lunch at the Pink Gator Cafe. It wasn’t really a lunch just snacks – we shared an order of alligator bites ($12) served with homemade chips and jalapeno poppers ($5). Poppers were okay but the alligator bites which sort of taste like chicken were chewy and tough. Not sure if that is how they usually are or if the prep here was poor. Very disappointing especially considering the price of them.
We did have one more adventure but I’ll cover that in a separate post.