Saturday, November 10, 2012

Day 67 - Highlands Hammock State Park, FL

Sometime between our peaceful 10:30am check-in and this morning, the Boy Scouts invaded!  I don't think I've ever seen so many tents in one place before (except for LL Bean).  Nor have there been so many camp fires in one place since Washington at Valley Forge. There was a veritable platoon of  boys all decked out in their bright yellow t-shirts.  I didn't catch their city or troop number (the buggers are quick) but I did see that "camping is our middle name".  And when not camping they seem to be generally roaming about having a wonderful time of it.  It is always nice to see children enjoying themselves outside.  I will say that a couple of the chaperones might not have been setting the best of wilderness survival examples - I caught them playing with their iPads. 

We took the tandem out for a spin this morning and did the three mile loop drive.  This goes through the heart of the hammock and offers a nice look at the natural surroundings.  We came upon the Old Oak Trail and parked the bike so that we could walk in and have a look.  It is thought that some of the oaks in the park are over a thousand years old and are the oldest in Florida.  I hate to sound disrespectful but this tree was ugly!  It was all gnarled and bent and I don't really think it was even alive anymore. 

Note to self:  Before you go walking in the Florida woods again put on lots of bug spray.  The mosquitoes were vicious and the size of airplanes (I might be exaggerating).  Oh, and they could be harboring encephalitis.  Lovely.

We swatted our way along the rest of the path and returned to biking.  Able to gracefully dodge around lots of other bikers, we were often the object of applause and various positive comments and smiles.  People love seeing a tandem bicycle (even teenagers!).  I heard one little boy tell his mother that he would ride with her on one of those.  I think I have finally gotten past being uncomfortable with all the attention we get while out and about on it.  Now I just smile and give my admirers a royal wave.

Next on the loop we encountered a big open area with orange trees.  This was cleared by the original owner, by hand, with an axe and he planted the orange trees.  I don't see how anybody could clear that much land by hand.  The plants grow faster than you can chop them down.  Side note - oranges are not native to Florida; they were brought here by the Spanish.  There are some interpretive signs in this grove talking about the history of the land ownership and how the area was one of the first Florida State Parks.  The oranges are getting quite orange now.  There were a few on the ground which we picked up and inspected.  They don't seem to be quite ripe yet.  But we did see some orange harvesting happening while we were driving to Sebring from the Orlando area. 

Then we biked on and simply enjoyed being in the shade with the Florida wilderness all around us.  There were several walking paths but without insect repellent I just didn't have the heart for a stroll.  Brett stopped us suddenly at one point.  I heard him say "dogs" but it turned out he had spotted two wild, black pigs.  We watched them until they got nervous having us there and trotted back into the woods.  We passed a couple of walkers who said they had seen the pigs and also an alligator.  Another group had spotted a water moccasin.
I lived in Florida for a time during the early seventies and we have been coming to visit for years.  But until we started staying at the state parks, I don't think that I really have had a good look at a more natural Florida.  I'm glad that I've got the chance to do that now.

Our last stop on our outing was at the Civilian Conservation Corps museum.  This nice little museum documents the daily life and work of CCC volunteers who worked in Florida.  There are many interesting exhibits with various artifacts, photos and recreations.  The ranger told us that she met a 93 year old man visiting there who said he'd worked with the corps.  He took her to one of the exhibits and pointed to himself in one of the photos displayed there.  The ranger said there aren't too many of the volunteers left (they'd mostly be in their nineties) and the park loves to get them as visitors. 

The CCC volunteers were young men between 18-25.  They earned $1 a day ($25 of that was sent home to their families each month).  Many of them came to better conditions in the CCC camps than they had left at home.  The CCC saved many lives.  It was a vacation from poverty for most of them.  Despite the incredibly hard work, most of them gained about 30 pounds while with the corp (Walther Matthau said that he gained 50 pounds).  Many of them also learned to read and write and all of them left with some sort of training for a trade.    FDR asked for 100,000 volunteers and he got 2.5 million. 

There were some startling statistics given.  Florida had a four year head start on The Depression.  A disastrous hurricane swept through in 1926 taking a turn from Palm Beach into the agricultural center of the state full of truck farms and migrant workers.  With 125 mile per hour winds (and no early warning in those days) it kicked up a 30 foot storm surge in Lake Okeechobee that killed 300 people.  Newspaper headlines from the day said "Florida Destroyed!  Florida Destroyed!". 

The ranger suggested that we take the afternoon tram tour but it was sold out.  Those pesky Boy Scouts got all the seats!  We will try again tomorrow. 

The temperature was in the low 70's today so we spent most of the day outside.  With so many campers it was prime people watching.  A couple from Missouri stopped by to chat and swap camping war stories.  They won with the tale of being stuck in sand up to their axles. 

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