Backka to Myakka
OK so Backka isn’t in the dictionary – yet, just remember you heard it here first!
On January 6th, it was time to leave Riverbend Motorcoach Resort and head out to our next destination, a spot we had visited in April, 2015 Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, located approximately 90 miles from Labelle. Good thing it wasn’t that far – by the time we finished scrubbing the pad in prep for our renters who were coming in on the 11th, it was about 2:30 p.m.
Although we sometimes like to avoid the interstates to take the more scenic and interesting back roads, we were pretty tired by the time we hit the road so we opted for a straight, easy peasy drive up I-75.
After an uneventful drive, we arrived at Myakka River State Park (see our campground review) shortly after 4 p.m. We had reserved site #80 for four nights but we weren’t able to get it for the 5 nights we wanted, so for the final night of our stay we moved to site #63, a handicap accessible site located right next to the bath house. Always a bit of a pain moving within a campground, particularly for one night, but not a big deal.
Site #80 was nice and big and an easy back-in but had no vegetation for privacy screening on the patio side (adjacent to site 81). Site #63 was paved and very close to the bath house so no privacy on the drivers side, but the patio side was nicely screened and pleasant. Note that the firepits here on the ADA sites have very high sides so you need to be right on top of it to see the flames.
We loved this park on our first visit – full hookups, lovely setting, plenty of nature and wildlife and lots to do. More often than not an opinion can change with a repeat visit but not so for us this time, Myakka River State Park remains at the top of our list of favorite Florida State Parks. Not surprising that reserving a site here is so difficult.
Fortunately, during this repeat visit, our gears shifted from racing around like maniacs trying to see and do everything to a much slower and more relaxed pace. Another contributing factor to the more relaxed pace was the weather. A few showers, some fog and overcast conditions as a result of a passing cold front kept us from being outdoors on a few days. But not to worry, some beautiful weather was sandwiched in between those not so perfect days, giving us time to revisit those sights of particular interest to us.
First order of business on the day after our arrival was a good breakfast so we headed over to Millie’s Cafe in Sarasota. We had breakfast there last year and really liked it. By the time we arrived there though it was fairly late in the morning so we opted to have lunch instead. I had a Reuben ($7.99) and Rob had Millie’s Special Sandwich which was grilled ham, swiss cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato ($7.79). All sandwiches are served with a choice of German potato salad, a cup of soup, french fries, potato chips or cole slaw. We both had the German potato salad. Everything was delicious.
Back at the park, we just had to visit the Canopy Walkway. The Walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 85 feet through the tree tops above the Myakka Hammock floor, ending in an observation tower rising well above the treetops. So cool. Late afternoon was a perfect time to visit – there was only one other car in the small parking lot (usually totally filled in the late mornings and early afternoons). Because it was late, we didn’t dilly dally looking at all the display signs again about the flora and fauna since we had been there and done that (read all about it in our previous post).
At the end of the walkway, we climbed up the many flights of stairs to the top of the 76 foot high open observation tower. Mixed feelings for me. Loved it because from every vantage point, the beautiful vistas were so lovely, scenic and peaceful, just like the first time. But the height of the tower bothered me a bit at the same time. Feeling it sway slightly in the breeze and from other people walking across the walkway definitely gave me the heebie-jeebies.
On another day we hiked the nature trail next to the Myakka River, the same trail where I almost stepped on an alligator last year (how many times has Rob told this story I wonder?). Trust me, this year I was very mindful of where I was stepping, making sure there were no hungry snaggle toothed behemoths in my path! Fortunately we didn’t bump into any – they were all sunbathing on the other side of the river.
And there was more wildlife except this time not out in nature but in the inner sanctum of our coach. Remember the tree frogs that were on our shed at Riverbend? Well, I guess one of them hitched a ride with us. One night something caught Rob’s eye between the couch and the wall. Thinking it was a misplaced kitty toy, he went to pick it up. Eek he screamed (well, not really) but it did startle him when it jumped out at him. Yikes a tree frog! Sparky was completely intrigued with this new playmate. In fact he was so enthralled weeks later he still searches for it under the valance. I hope the little critter is happy in his new outdoor home in Myakka River State Park.
Another exciting (or so we expected) wildlife adventure was in the cards for us on the day before our departure! A trek to Deep Hole! Near Lower Lake Myakka, this ancient sink hole is touted as being one of the best gator-watching spots in Myakka River State Park, if not the whole state.
Only 30 people are allowed to visit Deep Hole per day and a permit is required which must be obtained at the park office. During peak times lines of hopeful hikers form before the registration office even opens each day at 8:00 a.m. so we were not able to obtain one last April. But on Monday after we moved to our new site and stopped by the registration office around noon to pick up a new campsite pass for our van, we were shocked to learn that permits were still available. Beautiful, cool day, a perfect day for a walk. Perhaps it is easier on Monday to get a permit, most folks have left the park on Sunday and new arrivals can’t check in until 3:00 pm?
Ignore the fact that last April, I had made the comment that we had seen enough gators to last us a lifetime. Perhaps a senior moment caused me to totally forget that statement – we were eagerly anticipating seeing hundreds of them. Numerous blog posts and articles including this one by the local Herald Tribune had set our expectations of what we would see.
So off we went. Deep Hole is located on the south (opposite) side of SR72 so it was just a short ride from the campground to the designated parking area. Very easy, 2.2 mile walk (one way) on a dirt trail, actually a road in the midst of the wilderness preserve. Flat prairie lands with lots of scrub, palmettos here and there, a few palms, an occasional pine tree and scattered wet lands. Although the literature promised wildlife – feral pigs, panthers, bobcats, deer and eagles, besides a large Osprey nest the only wildlife we saw were a few birds including vultures and crows. But we still had our hopes to see something really interesting (but not scary).
This was true wilderness. No display signs, no facilities, no benches to rest our weary feet, no other tourists (well, we did see two other couples before our trek was done, each returning to the parking lot). The road seemed to go on and on and on but finally there was a sign pointing the way to Deep Hole. Woo hoo, almost there! Then suddenly the trail ended and we were there.
Huh? Surely this isn’t the sink hole? Did we take a wrong turn? Not likely, there were no turns to take! So totally different than what we expected. As we walked towards the body of water on a carpet of dried weeds and undergrowth, it looked just like any other small lake or pond, certainly didn’t look like a sink hole. And where was the congregation (not the church type – that’s what a bunch of gators is called) of alligators?
Instead there were lots of birds – pelicans, ibis, roseate spoonbills and many others. Pretty I must admit. And off in a distance with binoculars we could see one or two gators. Well, this sure was disappointing! We lingered for awhile, soaking in the peacefulness of our surroundings, the stillness occasionally interrupted by the honking and other calls of the wading birds and the thundering whoosh of their wings as they took flight or as new residents came in for a landing. Yes, it was quite nice.
Since it was getting late, we finally left, heading back the way we came after stopping to sit on a fallen tree to give our tired feet a short rest. After walking a short distance, we hooked a right along a short trail that led to the banks of the Lower Myakka Lake to see what the lake had to offer. Pretty but no gators or birds here either. Oh well.
It seemed like a very, very long walk back to the parking lot. Although it was relatively cool out, the sun was hot and the shady spots were pretty infrequent but finally our tired feet arrived at the van. One of the instructions we received that morning was to be sure to return our permit before dusk. If you don’t, a search party will be sent out to look for you, not something anyone wants to happen. As we drove through the gate entrance into the park, we handed our permit to the park ranger. When she asked if we had seen anything interesting, our reply of Pelicans, Roseate Spoonbills and 2 or 3 alligators probably conveyed a bit of disappointment. She explained that this season was wetter than normal and it would be like that until things dried up more. Toward the end of February and into March will be the time to actually see the sink hole and the promised hundreds of gators. Drats, lousy timing on our part! Maybe the fact that it was a Monday had nothing to do with the fact that permits were available, perhaps others knew that it wasn’t a good time to hike to Deep Hole.
No we didn’t get to delve into the inner depths of the sink hole and no we didn’t see the water aswim with hundreds of gators and no, we didn’t get to see a lot of wildlife. But despite all that it was a spectacular day for a walk. And the best part, I clocked 14,000 steps (woo hoo!) so overall it was an awesome(but exhausting) day!
That wraps up another wonderful stay at Myakka River State Park!
Nice nature pics. And of Rob and Kitty.
Sorry that Deep Hole wasn’t better. I’ve been there many times, kayaking, not hiking. Each time I was leading a group and everyone was excited and astonished at what they saw. It can be exciting as the approach from the state park is shown in your photo on the right side of the hole. We approach from Lower Lake through those quite small openings. You can see nothing of the spot until you glide through the opening. Then BAM, one day we counted 75 lined up in the wooded shore, all right next to each other. It really can be a magical experience.
Wow, sounds awesome Don! Thanks for the encouragement. Next time we are there we’ll be sure to try again!