When most of us imagine what the Everglades are like, we think of swamps, alligators, wondrous birds, and an airboat or two. At least that was what we imagined. The closest we found to satisfying our imaginations was the Anhinga Trail, pronounced, “anne-ha-ling-ah”. In fact, we enjoyed the Anhinga Trail so much we walked it three times. Angela and I have been to almost every National Park from coast-to-coast and I don’t think there’s a single trail we walked so much.
Essentially, the trail is a series of boardwalks above swampy wetlands filled with dozens of alligators, fish, and birds. It’s a nature photographer’s paradise. It’s also home to hundreds of buzzards, the kind we met at Myakka River State Park. Jerry even tried to break up a fight between two roughhousing buzzards. He may of failed at his peace mission, but he and Reta really loved the Anhinga Trail. So did we.
Long Pine Key Campground
Both campgrounds in Everglades National Park are dry camping only and first come, first serve. There was a notice in the Flamingo Visitor Center about hookups coming soon, but no date of availability was posted. For now, Everglades National Park is dry camping central, no reservations required.
Driving into Long Pine Key campground, Angela and I were very excited to see not one, not two, not three, but four other truck campers in the campground. Including our camper and the Caldwell’s, there were six truck campers there that night. It looked like a mini truck camper rally. Before preparing dinner and settling in, we went and introduced ourselves to the other truck campers and made more friends. It never fails.
Nike Missile Site
At first blush, you might think the park rangers in the Everglades are launching expensive sneakers into orbit when you read that title. Actually, there’s a Cold War missile facility of critical historical importance in the heart of Everglades National Park. I was born ten years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, but, as the proud son of a history teacher, I know how nearly apocalyptic that event was. And, like my father, I love almost anything to do with history.
The Everglades National Park rangers offer a fantastic tour of the Daniel Beard Center, the location of the Nike Missile Site. The facility is as it was when the government abandoned the missile site. The park ranger presentation was fantastic and the facility was truly amazing. The Nike Missile Site is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in history, our country, and the brave men and women who protect us.
The drive from Long Pine Key campground to Flamingo campground is thirty-eight miles and takes about an hour due to the low speed limit in the National Park. Flamingo is right on Florida Bay at the southern tip of Florida. It’s about as far south as you’re going to get in Florida, short of the Keys.
Boy could we feel the breeze off the water when we arrived. This was the weather we all had envisioned when we set our sights on Florida, truly warm and tropical. When we saw the blue and green water near the Flamingo Visitor Center, we were giddy. I don’t think I’ve ever used the word giddy in TCM before and I wouldn’t throw it around lightly. Let there be no doubt, we were giddy.
Lucky for us, Flamingo had plenty of campsites available and our truck campers were small enough to be allowed in the section closest to the bay. The big motorhomes and towables were sent to another site a few tenths of a mile further from the water. Too bad for them.
Even in mid-January, the temperatures were in the high 70s to low 80s with a touch of humidity. If you like air conditioning when it gets hot, you better have a generator and a lot of propane or gas. They even allow people to camp at Flamingo for free all summer because the conditions are so hot and humid during that season. And that says nothing about the thirsty squadrons of salt water mosquitoes that lie in waiting. Before I get to them, there’s a certain lasagna to discuss.
Angela and I have been truck camping now for five years but we have never used a camper oven. In fact, I have often wondered why truck campers have ovens except for a place to store pots and pans. So I was quite surprised when Angela got the idea that she was going to make one of her delicious lasagnas while we were in the Everglades.
Before I had a chance to ask, “And why are you doing this?” she had bought the ingredients, invited the Caldwells to dinner, and convinced me that Truck Camper Magazine should know how to bake a lasagna in a camper, in the middle of the Everglades, with no hookups. Of course.
With our safety lighter in one hand and the oven manual in the other, Angela stuck her head in the oven and lit the burner. You’re not supposed to stick your head in the oven, but, if you haven’t noticed already, Angela is quite tenacious and wanted to make sure she lit the oven from the right place.
With her life and eyebrows still in tact, Angela closed the now lit oven and began building her lasagna. A few layers of ground turkey, pasta sheets, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, and tomato sauce later, the lasagna went into the oven. In about an hour, a beautiful hot lasagna emerged. She did it. We ate it. Delicious!
That night the camper was rocking. No not that. We had opened the windows to allow for cross ventilation and didn’t notice that the screens had come open, just a little. This wasn’t missed by the nearly bird-sized Everglades’ mosquitoes and they attacked.
The mosquitoes were very difficult to see with the camper lights on but they showed up well with our trusty Northern Lite LED flashlight. Like a searchlight looking for enemy bombers, we scanned the ceiling hunting for the mosquitoes we could hear buzzing, but couldn’t see. When we found one, we would leap into action whacking and slapping madly until the enemy was down. This went on for about half an hour before we realized that our screens were ever so slightly open.
I can only imagine what our camping neighbors must have been thinking with our lights out, flashlight waving around, and all the noise we were making chasing the mosquitoes. Once the screens were closed, we nailed the last mosquito and went to sleep. What a night.