Alligator Alley – Everglades, FL

A beautiful fiery sunset at Monument Lake campground in Big Cypress Working our way down the west coast of Florida, our next destination was Big Cypress, at the northern end of the Everglades. We went from Sarasota, land of Trader Joe’s and mega RV parks and a Target on every freeway exit, to Big Cypress. Here, there’s one stop light and one gas station and the post office is just a little building on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. There’s a waterway running along the side of the one road in and out of the place filled with lily pads and flocks of white birds and, of course, alligators. They don’t call this place “Alligator Alley” for nothin’, folks. We stopped at the Visitor’s Center at the entrance to Big Cypress. It’s a nice building with RV parking, friendly rangers, a great selection of non-cheesy souvenirs, bug spray, postcards, and snacks. Out back is a little boardwalk along a canal where we saw (insert excited gasp here): MANATEES! I have been waiting to see manatees in the wild forever! And yes, we saw some from very far away at the Manatee Viewing Center outside of Tampa, but they were so far away we couldn’t even see their bodies under the water, just the occasional piece of their back popping out of the water for a sec. On this boardwalk at Big Cypress, we could look down directly into the water through the mangroves where there were at least ten or so manatees just hanging out. It was really cool to see the shapes of their bodies directly under the water. Manatee in the wild!
We were kinda taking a crapshoot heading down to Big Cypress on a Friday. Even snowbirds want to stay in the Everglades on the weekends. We ended up camping at Monument Lake, one of the four campgrounds in Big Cypress. Of these four campgrounds, Midway campground is the only one with hook-ups, so we were officially dry camping at Monument Lake. When we arrived around noon the campground host told us he had two spots left and we could have one. The campground only had about thirty spots around the lake. Guess what else was there? Monument Lake is home to four alligators. We saw at least two of them multiple times. We decided the first night there to cook hot dogs outside on the grill. Our Moho camped at Monument Lake We set up our camping chairs around the picnic table and were enjoying the outdoors while the sun was setting and started to pack stuff up to head inside for the night. Chris and I both noticed something floating toward our area. I don’t know what it is about Zephyr that makes alligators want to eat him, but sure enough as Zeph and I jumped inside the Moho, that alligator came cruising up to where we were. Chris stayed outside to see if our new friend was going to come up the three foot bank from the lake to really check us out. Thankfully he stayed in the water (that we saw).
There’s a bug down here that the locals call “no-see-ums.” They are very small and hard to see, and they bite like mosquitoes. Apparently in the summer down here they are unbearable. Right now, in February, they make you aware of their presence too. I currently have about ten bites to prove it. Bug spray is a must down here. We had on some natural bug spray and still got bit! Zeph has only gotten one on his face. I guess for all the alligators that want to eat him, there are very few bugs that are interested, and I’m happy about that. These bites ITCH – for three to four days. I guess I’ll have to break out the deet (for me anyways, not using that stuff on the kid) if it gets too out of control.
Chris really wanted to go on an airboat tour. I was all for it, as long as Zeph would be safe on the boat. We pulled into a little lot on the side of the main road with a sign advertising “Everglades Private Airboat Tours.” The people who ran the place were super friendly and we knew by the crowd of people waiting to go on boats that the place must be legit. airboats at the dock We got on what I thought was a small airboat that held nine passengers total on three rows of seats. Our captain started our tour by taking us around the little canal directly off of their dock, showing us some of the alligators that had been hanging out that day. The biggest one we saw was probably ten feet or so. Then he started flying us through the mangroves down pathways just wide enough for the boat. This route was obviously well-traveled by the airboat tour company, but I still have no idea how we didn’t get lost. Every turn looked the same and some corners we turned were so sharp you couldn’t even see the path ahead until you were on it. And those of you that have ridden on an airboat know that those suckers are LOUD! This didn’t sit too well with Zeph when the captain started going really fast and the boat got louder. Poor boy… he cried his eyes out for about five minutes. None of the other passengers could hear him because of the noise from the boat. As soon as the captain slowed down we could distract Zeph with looking for “ayi-gatows” as he calls them. He got used to the noise and we had a great little ride. At the end, back in the office, Chris held a real live two year old alligator and Zeph held a mini plastic alligator toy next to him.
Part of the reason all the campgrounds at Big Cypress were so full was because of an annual seafood fest in the nearby town of Everglades City. Our next door neighbors at Monument Lake told us about the event and we decided on our way back from our airboat ride to check it out. I was expecting… I don’t know. Maybe a little boardwalk with a few booths of seafood, like a chili cook-off or something that was no big deal. I guess my first indicator that this was gonna be a bit of a bigger deal than that was the fact that people came out to the campgrounds to go to the festival. When we got there, parking was crazy and the seafood fest was like a full-on fair! Fair rides, tons of booths selling hats and jewelry and frozen lemonade and… seafood! So much seafood. Crab legs, shrimp, lobster, fish and everything in between. Even fried alligator tail, although I’m not sure if that counts as seafood. I’m not a big fan of seafood myself, so I opted for a pulled pork sandwich from a Texas bbq booth. We walked around, looking at the crowd of increasingly drunk and rowdy people, and decided that it wasn’t really our type of environment with our toddler in tow. I think we were there an hour or so. Seemed like a fun festival for the kid-free types.
After two nights at Monument Lake we decided to head south and try our luck finding a spot in the Keys. Luck was with us this time… more on that next time!

  • Ron

    Holy alligator Bateman ! I,m amazed and soooo happy you guys are enjoying so many wonderful things .
    It just makes me feel good.

    Popsh

  • Allie

    Love the pic of both of them with their alligators!

  • Laura Glynn

    Aren’t manatees the best? Jim and I got to see them a couple of years ago and it was the best. Note: If you see a vehicle (preferably a trailer) on the side of the road advertising “BOILED PEANUTS” all I can say is “STOP THE CAR UNCLE FRED” They are a joy and delight to eat. Get either the regular or cajun if you like things a bit spicy. No kidding – it’s a local must. Have fun and let me know!

    • zephyrsunrise

      Thanks Laura! We are long gone from there so we missed out:(