Fakahatchee Strand-ed

I love to visit nature preserves and parks, especially here in Florida where you may encounter all manner of wildlife – from exotic birds to alligators and more. What I’m not so fond of is that some park websites make it next to impossible to find where they are located. Take Fakahatchee Strand Preserve. In the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the Everglades, there exists a park called Fakahatchee Strand, which supposedly is home to a magnificent boardwalk. Folks have seen gators and even the elusive Florida panther at Fakahatchee by walking this boardwalk.

Angie’s mom is visiting from Texas and has always wanted to visit the Everglades so we thought, why not? Let’s take her to Fakahatchee Strand. We left home at 10 AM on Sunday morning. Seven hours later we returned; the only alligator having seen was the stuffed one we picked up at The Shell Factory on the way home. If you know anything at all about the Everglades, not seeing a gator means one of two things: you had your eyes closed or you were lost. Since we had our eyes open, you can fill in the rest.

There is a sign off Tamiami Trail showing where to turn to get to the preserve. We took it and found what seemed to be the entrance to some kind of park. To the left was a lake and what looked to be someone’s mobile home, complete with a No Trespassing sign. To the right was a dirt road.

When faced with two diverging paths, what’s that old saying? Take the one less traveled. Yep, that’s what we did. We bounced along a rutted and muddy road for 10 miles before we came upon another car. They asked what was in the direction from which we came. I asked what was in the direction we were headed. I should have known we were in trouble when the backseat passengers all started laughing…hysterically. But no, we continued on. Surely the boardwalk was just a little further up, I reasoned.

Soon a lone picnic table appeared by the side of the road. Starving and wanting to get my bearings, I stopped. I’m not sure if it was fear of panthers or mosquitoes but no one got out of the car. So I drove on…for what seemed like hours, until we came to a road that might have led us out of the wilderness and back to civilization. It was closed. The entire road was closed!

When faced with an obstacle in one’s path, what does one do? Go around it. Except in this case, I thought going around might be a bad move. And turning around would admit defeat. So I drove on some more. That’s when I noticed my worse nightmare. No, not the panther. The temperature gauge on the truck was in the red. We were overheating.

For fifteen minutes, we sat silently in the truck on the side of this dirt road surrounded only by scrub pines and grass. Waiting. Hoping against hope that someone who knew how to get out of this mess would miraculously appear with a map and directions – or our phones would get a signal. (At this point, the GPS was useless. No matter what we put in, she directed us to go back to the road that was closed.) Finally, I saw a cloud of dust approaching. I turned on our blinking hazard lights. And what do you think happened? The oversized Jeep with 4 passengers, 2 coolers, and a dozen fishing poles blew by us as if we were invisible. They didn’t even wave!

I restarted the truck (no air conditioner this time) and drove in the direction the Jeep was headed. If they were fishing here, surely they knew the way home. Soon we came upon a worker on fire patrol who was kind enough to give us directions to get out. He even told us to have a nice day. Nice day??

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Gator sighting

I can’t say that I like being lost but I’m very proud of the fact that none of us panicked, not even when the truck started to overheat. We just drove on, eating our picnic inside the truck as it bounced along the bumpy road. I guess I’ve learned over the years that lost is a relative term. If you got into the mess, there’s surely a way to get out – even if you have to turn around. And besides, the best memories are made off life’s beaten path. Just ask Angie’s mom. I know she’ll never forget the day we took her to the Everglades.