In Saturday’s blog, I mentioned that I had never seen an alligator in the wild. Always ready to offer suggestions and ideas, a lot of readers either posted comments or sent e-mails giving me tips on places where I could expect to find an alligator.
Several of you recommended the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, just a couple of miles from downtown Titusville. It turned out to be the perfect place to cross seeing an alligator off of my bucket list. Located next to the John F. Kennedy Space Center, the wildlife refuge covers 140,000 acres, providing habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals.
Yesterday, Tim and Ann Moran took us on a driving tour of the Refuge. Our first stop was the Visitor Center, where I got my National Park Passport stamped, and we checked out the exhibits on the Refuge and the area’s flora and fauna. I told a nice lady on duty in the Visitor Center that I was on a mission to see an alligator, and she gave us a map and some tips of places where we could expect to see plenty of alligators.
Her first suggestion was the Black Point Wildlife Drive, a seven mile loop that winds past wetlands, and includes a viewing area and restrooms. We had only driven a half mile or so before I spotted my first alligator in the wild, a small fellow maybe four feet long, lounging in the water of a shallow canal. I was thrilled, and we all piled out of Tim’s Jeep Cherokee and started snapping pictures. Very cool!
However, that was apparently the only alligator anywhere on the loop drive. We saw lots of birds, from egrets to herons, and plenty of fish jumping out of the water, but no more gators.
From there, we drove down Kennedy Parkway, a paved two lane road that ended at the Space Center. My friend from the Visitor Center said it was another good place to spot alligators, but we didn’t see any in spite of carefully scanning the banks of the channels and ponds as we drove by. I was disappointed, but what the heck, my goal was to see an alligator in the wild, and I had accomplished that, so it was a good day.
The final place the lady had marked on my map was the Bio Lab Road, a narrow six mile long dirt road sandwiched between the wide Intercoastal Waterway and a series of canals and brackish ponds. The south end of the road, where we turned onto it, was close to Playalinda Beach, one of a handful of beaches in Florida that allows nude sunbathing. Miss Terry shot me a look that let me know that was one thing I would not be scratching off my bucket list anytime soon!
We hit the jackpot on Bio Lab Road. Ann quickly spotted a large gator sunning itself on the bank of a canal, and again we all piled out of the Jeep to take pictures. Only a couple of hundred feet down the road, Terry saw the next alligator, another impressive specimen.
For the entire length of the road, we saw one alligator after another, either sunning themselves on the bank, swimming in the water, or submerged, with just their heads out of the water.
The alligators seemed to pretty much ignore us, and we were glad we had the canals between the alligators and us, though most of the canals were only a few feet wide, and I know gators can move pretty fast when they want to.
We were very careful to watch on both sides of the road, so that nothing slipped up behind us while we were looking the other way. Matted down areas in the grass showed us where the giant reptiles traveled. At one point Tim and Terry had climbed back into his Jeep, but Ann and I were still snapping away with our cameras when we heard a very loud splash in the water right behind us. We both jerked our heads around, then locked eyes, and made it back to the Jeep in record time!
So now I have seen an alligator in the wild. In fact, I have seen a lot of alligators in the wild. We lost count somewhere around ten of the creatures, but I’d say we saw at least fifteen, maybe twenty. And of course, as anyone who has spent much time in the outdoors will tell you, for every wild animal you see, there are plenty more that saw you and just kept still until you passed by.
Okay, scratch that one off the bucket list. Now where was that nude beach again? Anybody got some suntan lotion?
While I was off chasing alligators, Bad Nick was home writing a new Bad Nick Blog titled Stepping Up To The Plate. Check it out and leave a comment.
Thought For The Day – Experience is the result of a non-fatal mistake.
Playalinda Beach does not exactly allow nude sunbathing but for as long as I have lived here (50 years) the north part of Playalinda has been for those who prefer to be a-natural. Several times the various authorities have tried to stop it but to no avail. So the clothing folks stay south and the non-clothed go north. Live and let live!!!!!
Playalinda is “THE BEST BEACH” in Florida. It has NO buildings. It is part of the Canaveral Seashores Park. There are wooden bridge crossovers and just natural sand beach as far as the eye can see. Real Florida. Last time I was there it had a $3 parking fee. Well worth the expense. It is open all year except when there are launches. So if you are visiting our area it’s a real chance to see Florida beaches as opposed to commercialized Cocoa Beach.
Patsy and I are going to spend six weeks touring Florida in Jan/Feb, and I am ‘stealing’ ideas from your blog. I just added this refuge and a couple of days ago, I picked up two of your recommended dining places. We are also going to spend 3 days at TGO, including a Tiffin party on Feb 6. Check out the email I sent to you today…… an interesting “flashlight”!!
You probably saw your fill of alligators in the wild the other day. But….. if you want to see more in very unique settings, I have a couple suggestions – both in the Everglades National Park. If you go into the east entrance to the park from Homestead, you can meander along the Anhinga Trail (pretty close to the entrance). It is a raised boardwalk where you can see alligators swimming in the water below you and more tropical birds than you can imagine. Watch out for the black buzzards in the parking area. We shooed them away from a parked car where they were eating the rubber lining around the doors.
Another VERY COOL experience is at the Shark Valley entrance, just off the Tamiami Trail. The draw here is a fifteen mile (you don’t have to go that far) paved bike trail that soon takes you into the middle of nowhere. It is something that my wife and I will never forget. We did the entire fifteen miles, much to Dianne’s chagrin, but you don’t have to go the entire way. We saw more alligators sunning themselves along the trail than you can imagine. They just looked at us as we quickly pedaled by – glad they were sleepy. You can rent bikes at the entrance or bring your own. If you don’t want to ride a bike, you can pay a fee and ride a tram, or walk along the trail. Many of the gators and birds congregate at the very beginning of the trail.
I feel like I know you real well after several years of traveling with you via blog and GJ. You and Terry really ought to visit the nude beach. I am SURE you will find yourself joining in and wondering why you didn’t do this years ago. Re Terry’s reluctance–most women have to be almost dragged to a nude venue, but they seem to have an epithiny there and are the ones who push their partner to return often. That has been my personal experiemce with my late wife and a several girl friends. None have not wanted to return once they tried it.
Most nudist venues have no overt sexual activity==almost like a naked Sunday school picnic. Playlinda is clothing optional. Go in your bathing suits and do what comes naturally–try taking your suits off when in the water.
You two are adventurous souls. You have nothing to loose by going (even if you keep your bathing suits on) and you may discover another activity that is very compatible with the RV lifestyle.