Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress Preserve, Florida

And one more little adventure from my Florida trip a year ago. I already wrote about a scenic trail in Big Cypress National Preserve, but believe it or not, South Florida has a few more trails that prove that hiking on a flat terrain can be exciting, and here is one of them: Gator Hook trail. Maybe it’s for the better that Florida is not known for hiking, so you can often find the trail all to yourself… and enjoy it ‘as nature intended’, in the buff – as several of us did, lead by Dave from Florida Great Outdoors group.

view 0000 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

We started off early in the morning,

view 0001 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

but by the time we arrived the sun was already pretty high, and it was obvious we’d have a hot day ahead.

view 0003 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

However, there was still dew all over the palm leaves

view 0004 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

and the cypresses.

view 0005 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

We were ready to disrobe right away, but then we heard cars approaching the trailhead, and soon a pretty big group of people arrived. Luckily, they didn’t go far, just to the nearest cypress dome (that is a grove of cypress trees around the swamp waterhole).

view 0006 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

Afterwards, we had the trail to ourselves again.

naturist 0004 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

It was quite dry (for a swamp),

plant 0000 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

but a few puddles were scattered here and there.

view 0008 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

One of them hosted a water moccasin, which was a lot calmer than the ones we saw 2 years ago.

water mocassin 0000 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

This time I was a lot luckier capturing another local reptile – Carolina anole, while he was flashing his brightly colored throat fan.


Besides this unidentified monster everything went quiet,

view 0007 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

and we enjoyed the tranquility of the place.

naturist 0006 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

We also paid attention to the local plants and were hoping to see a blooming orchid.

naturist 0000 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

Some plants were rather typical for a tropical rainforest, like this strangler fig, reminding that South Florida is a tiny outcrop of the tropics in the continental US.

strangler ficus 0000 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

This palm seemed to attempt a similar take-over of another tree, though without strangling roots, it would probably end up just growing next to it.

palm tree 0000 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

There were also quite a few fern species,

fern 0000 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

and the one below had leaves reminiscent of snake skin.

fern 0001 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

Typically for this part of the world, many trees were covered by bromeliads.

naturist 0001 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

Some were blooming,

bromeliad 0000 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

others were already releasing their airborne fruit.

bromeliad 0001 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

… and they provided a cozy habitat for grasshoppers.

grasshopper on bromeliad 0000 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

We also saw a beautiful blue iris,

iris 0000 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

I wish I could capture its sweet smell in the photograph too!

iris 0001 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

Then we found orchids with their fruits already dry and open, so I though it could be too late to see any with flowers…

orchid 0004 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

But then we saw quite a few blooming ones!

orchid 0001 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

Not quite as spectacular as the orchids sold commercially, but it was exciting to see them in the wild. (I think this is a dingy flowered star orchid).

orchid 0002 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

Not sure what kind of plant is this one below, but its tiny flowers were very pretty too.

flower 0000 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

And hanging on it, there was another interesting encounter – a semi-transparent spider. What a way to blend in with the environment!

spider 0000 Gator Hook Trail, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, USA

So did we feel very connected to the natural environment during our naked hike!

canoeing in the Everglades, part 2

naturist 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the naked volleyball tournament at the Lake Come Resort in Florida again, but as much as it was an amazing weekend of fun and games, I don’t have any footage to share (though there was a photo art project – still need to hear what came out of it). Well, I still have some material from my last year’s journey, however. So, here’s a report from a 2-day canoe/kayak trip that we did in the northern Everglades (you can see the trails on our map).

We started off at the Everglades City, and after paddling about two hours in the open water, we got a bit lost in the mangroves… Until I remembered that I had an offline map on my phone that could still use GPS to tell the location (there’s no mobile service). With this delay, we’d need to really rush to make it to the chickee (a platform above water) where we planned to camp overnight, but luckily there was another campsite on our way at the Lopez River, and there was nobody staying.

view 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

It was great to be on the solid land after several hours of paddling against the current! So we decided to camp there, although I wanted my friends to get an experience of camping on a chickee, which Tam and I enjoyed thoroughly.

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The birds were singing in the sunset rays, and everything seemed perfect.

singing bird 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

But then came no-see-ums (sandflies), and our evening was cut short, as we retreated to the tents after the dinner. Though we still enjoyed the full moon, and it was peculiar to see a lot of locomotion in the river as the night came – it must have been a spawning season for some fish.

Next day, we continued paddling upstream, seeing quite a bit of wildlife around us.

ibis 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

Well, if ibises is nothing special for Florida, the next encounter was truly exciting – a sawfish!

I noticed it next to my kayak and called the canoe crew to come to see it. It stayed still, but I was a bit shocked by its strange appearance, so it took me a few more seconds to reach out for my GoPro to take an underwater shot… by which time it left :-/

sawfish 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

It’s probably rarer to see sawfish than manatees, and the ranger station even asks to report their sightings. After this, spotting an osprey nest didn’t seem like a big deal at all.

osprey nest 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

Then we reached the chickee where we were supposed to stay overnight, had lunch there and shot some videos, a few seconds of which became a part of our promo for the NuDance class with damoN.

After that, we decided to split, as I wanted to return by a different route, but the canoe crew wanted “to stay on the safe side” and took the same way back. In the end, it wasn’t a good idea for them, as that route went a lot more through the open water, and the day was windy – so they gladly took an offer of a ranger passing by on a motorboat who gave them a lift. I myself went in a kayak via Turner River and then a canal along the bridge/road to Chokoloskee. My highlight was a little diversion that I took there in a narrow canal on the side.

view 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

This allowed me to see the dense mangrove forest from the inside.

view 0002 Everglades, Florida, USA

So, this trip was from the opposite side of the Everglades of where Tam and I had a 4-day adventure in 2014. I hope to do the whole canoe trail through the Everglades some day – still need to see what’s between the two areas I’ve visited.

canoeing in the Everglades

You might have been surprised to hear about a hiking trail in South Florida in my previous blogpost, but did you know that you could go canoeing in the Everglades for a week or so without seeing any settlements? That is the largest continuous mangrove forest in western hemisphere for you! On our latest trip to Florida, Tam and I didn’t have quite as much time, but we ventured out to explore the southern part of the Everglades National Park for 3 days on a canoe. That’s where the “river of grass” I was talking about in my previous post meets the sea, but at this point it is no longer dominated by sawgrass but mangroves, a unique group of trees that can grow in brackish and even sea water (I wrote more about them previously). The canoe trail goes from Flamingo Visitor Center in the south to Everglades city, and there are multiple campgrounds along the way. As you may wonder how one would be able to camp in the mangroves, it’s better to reveal the solution right away – chickee.

naturist 0003 Everglades, Florida, USA

These are simple above-water wooden structures consisting of raised floor and roof adapted from Seminole (local Native American tribe) design; porta-potty is an important modern addition, though. As we didn’t have time to do the whole trail, we just planned our route based on availability of chickees in the vicinity of Flamingo visitor center. It turned out to be a good idea to arrive in the afternoon the day before, so we could reserve our spot on chickees and have 3 full days of canoeing. We were told that it would take about 6 hours of paddling to get to the nearest chickee, in Hells Bay, but rarely people did paddle there all the way from Flamingo and preferred to be rather dropped off at a closer location, from which they could use another path. We were happy to do all the way by canoe though, that was why we came there for. It’s worth noting that the campground at Flamingo has the best kind of grass for camping, it felt very comfortable to sleep even without any mats. The night was pretty cold (by South Florida standards!), the first cold night of this winter, but the forecast looked promising for the next days. The morning was much warmer indeed, but there were some rain clouds around. Tam and I rented a canoe, and Peter, who could only stay for a day, got a single kayak. We also bought a very detailed map of the area, which is a must if you plan a trip like this. People at boat rental sounded a bit surprised that we were going to paddle to Hells Bay from there, but we trusted the park ranger who said we would be able to do it. Off we went, and it started raining. Luckily, I was clever enough to take my waterproof bike pannier “Ortlieb”, where we could store the essentials. Our food provision  consisted of dried cretan barley bread, banana bread, nuts and a box of tropical fruits that we bought at “Robert is here” farmer market.

It took us about an hour to go through the first canal, and somewhere midway I took off my shorts, as they got soaked in the rain and didn’t serve any purpose. When we reached the first area with open water – Coot Bay, Peter decided to head back to Flamingo. The rain was losing power and turned into a calm warm drizzle. Then I briefly saw a fin sticking out of water, and I was quite speechless, as it was very close to us and I couldn’t figure out whether it was a shark or a dolphin. But not for too long – we heard a sound of deep exhale and saw another fin, it was clearly a dolphin. We followed it for a while and saw that there were a few more closer to the shore. We even saw one jumping out of water in a distance. Then three of them were swimming towards the channel where we had to go too. It was amazing to see dolphins so close and hear how they breathed, thanks to quietness around.

dolphins 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

After that, we went through another, even bigger, Whitewater Bay and then East River. We enjoyed navigational aspect of canoeing both in the open water and narrow winding river. Overall, it took us just 4.5 hours to reach Hells Bay chickee from Flamingo, but we weren’t the only ones to arrive. Just when we entered Hells Bay, we saw a group of 5 canoes with 10 people  approaching the chickee too. They docked all at one side and we took the other. I was still naked and decided to give it a try – I really didn’t want to put on my wet shorts. I noticed a couple of stares and put on my sarong for a while, but it didn’t hold well while we were pitching the tent. One guy from the group came to us though, and asked me to put on some clothes in a semi-awkward semi-appologetic manner, explaining his request by the presence of “college girls”. Later he came back not but once but twice, as he wanted to stay on friendly terms with us. It turned out they were from Outward Bound School, and he said he and his fellow instructor were personally cool with nudity but the girls apparently weren’t; we didn’t feel like having a lengthy discussion as to whether girls of college age should be familiar with male anatomy and why the mere sight of a naked man doing random things like pitching a tent should be seen in any way offensive. On the second time, he gave us a compass; we had one too, but his was more convenient to use with the map. He gave us a couple of navigation tips too. Before the darkness fell, we went on a short trip to explore the surroundings and saw an alligator swimming not too far from the chickee.

alligator 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

Three more people came to the chickee in the evening, but apparently there was a mistake with reservations, as  such chickees are not meant for more than 12 people. Luckily those guys seemed to know the area and didn’t mind to go further to another chickee.

As we went to sleep, we realized that it was a big mistake not to bring any kind of padding to put under sleeping bags… Chickee floor is hard wood, and it’s not something I’m used to when I go camping, so it didn’t even occur in my head to bring something soft… Somehow, we managed to sleep well, probably due to tiredness from paddling, and by the time we woke up, the Outward Bound School team had already left. We started the day with planning out the route, Tam definitely liked to work with our new compass.

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There were just a few clouds,

view 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

but one of them did produce a short rain.

naturist 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

It remained very warm, and we just enjoyed the sound of rain and the view of the bay from under the roof of the chickee.

view 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

As the sun came out, we gave it a proper salutation 🙂

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We definitely needed some good stretching, and partner exercises worked great for us.

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We were almost sad to say good-by to our first chickee, but we knew we had a great day ahead.

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We stopped by for lunch at another chickee, in Lane Bay, and then continued our way towards Whitewater Bay. We noticed that for some reason one bank of the channel had smaller and younger mangrove trees than the other.

mangrove 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

When we entered the Whitewater Bay, it was much more difficult to paddle due to wind and currents. It was also more difficult to navigate with few landmarks around. But at least the day was a perfect combination of clouds and sun.

view 0002 Everglades, Florida, USA

We didn’t see that many birds to our surprise (apparently, there are some bird colonies further up north of the Whitewater Bay), but there still was some variety.

great egret 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

A great heron let us approach it pretty close.

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We saw quite a few american ibises but those were a lot warier. I managed to snap some nice shots of their profiles, though.

american white ibis 0001 Everglades, Florida, USAamerican white ibis 0002 Everglades, Florida, USA

We also saw ospreys by their nests

osprey 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

One pair seemed to be happy: they were sitting together in the nest watching sunset,

osprey 0002 Everglades, Florida, USAosprey 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

whereas the other pair seemed to go through some issues, as one them was out of the nest and they looked in different directions. Well, I’m just making things up, but it’d be nice if could observe their behavior longer.

We also saw dolphins again, they passed by us very close.

view 0003 Everglades, Florida, USA

As the clouds turned white, we finally saw that Whitewater Bay deserved its name. After that, we went through another channel, Joe River, and then entered its smaller branch that was supposed to bring us to the next chickee.

view 0004 Everglades, Florida, USA

Our timing was just perfect,

view 0005 Everglades, Florida, USA

a beautiful sunset view opened before us, and then we saw the chickee. We arrived just as the sun touched horizon.

chickee 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

We still had enough time to pitch our tent in light, but then mosquitos became quite brutal despite the repellent.

view 0006 Everglades, Florida, USA

This didn’t last too long, luckily, mosquitos mostly disappeared after nightfall. We saw an amazing starry sky. We also heard familiar breathing sound close to our chickee but we didn’t see any fins sticking out of the water. So, my guess was that it might have been a manatee, which Florida is famous for but are not easy to spot in the wild. By the way, we were quite annoyed to see some speeding motorboats despite the signs warning about manatees. And even more so, it was annoying to hear how far their noise travels in otherwise amazingly tranquil environment. Here is another paradox for you, how come something like a speedboat is allowed in this national park, despite it is known to be hurtful to the endangered species the park is meant to protect, whereas something as innocent as a sight a naked human wouldn’t be accepted… These were some topics we talked about before we had our early night sleep; again on the hard floor, but we seemed to be getting accustomed to it.  We heard alligators or crocodiles grunting at night, so my first thought in the morning was to go around the bay and try to see any.

mangrove 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

It was a nice quiet morning, mangrove trees with their white trunks reflected beautifully in the still dark water.

mangrove 0002 Everglades, Florida, USA

When we approached the place from where we thought the grunting was coming from at night,

naturist 0006 Everglades, Florida, USA

we indeed saw a middle-size alligator! It was looking at us for while but dived when we approached closer.

alligator 0001 Everglades, Florida, USA

When we got back to the chickee, we saw a few juvenile needlefish – mangroves are important fish nurseries after all.

juvenile needlefish 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

We didn’t linger much after breakfast, as we had a full day of paddling back to Flamingo and we didn’t know how the wind and currents would be. On the way to Whitewater Bay, we went through another smaller channel where we were supposed to see marshes according to the map. However, both banks seemed to be entirely taken over by mangrove trees. This must be a recent change, as those were small trees.

mangrove 0003 Everglades, Florida, USA

The weather was just perfect again. We saw rain somewhere afar, but it didn’t come to us.

view 0007 Everglades, Florida, USA

Despite the wind, we were doing very well in terms of timing, so when we reached Coot Bay, I thought we should divert to Mud Lake, as it was connected by a very narrow channel, which sounded like fun to go through.

naturist 0007 Everglades, Florida, USA

The sign saying “No motorboats” sounded promising. This was a path similar to the narrow kayak trail I took in Yucatan last year, but mangroves were much bigger here. It was quite a lot of fun to maneuver in this channel, challenging our coordination,

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while we had to watch out for low branches

naturist 0011 Everglades, Florida, USA

and mosquitos at the same time. As mosquitos couldn’t reach us in the open water, they must have felt lucky that we decided to go deep into the mangrove forest.

mangrove 0004 Everglades, Florida, USA

We managed to pass through the channel quite fast and were rewarded with seeing the particularly peaceful Mud Lake with several herons ashore and young alligators swimming at the surface.

naturist 0010 Everglades, Florida, USA

As we came back to the main route, we were still naked, but when a couple of tour boats were passing by we covered with shorts to avoid possible confrontation. But we couldn’t really complain, as the previous day we spent naked entirely, and on that day we did 14 out of 15 miles of canoeing in the buff! Sadly, but our naked adventure was over. People at canoe rental seemed to be surprised that we made it 😀

We were happy to have a warm meal at the restaurant in Flamingo, although we both agreed that our self-proclaimed ‘eat like a bird diet’, consisting of mainly fruits and nuts, was just fine and we didn’t get tired of it in three days. Now that I think of it, this was more like our ancestral ‘monkey diet’, no wonder it worked well for us. What we were really looking forward to was sleeping on that amazing soft grass of Flamingo campground! During night, the temperature plummeted as a result of the infamous polar vortex which brought freezing temperatures down to central Florida. It wasn’t quite as cold in South Florida, which hardly ever gets freezing temperatures being at the tip of the tropical climate zone, but even 15˚C  felt chilling after the previous three hot days. Wind was more of a problem though, as we had to cycle about 45 miles to Florida city. Because of the constant  headwind, what could be a pleasant leisurely ride of 3.5h across the flat plane of the Everglades, turned into an exhausting 5h trip that felt like a never-ending uphill.

view 0008 Everglades, Florida, USA

This part was no longer naked, of course, but it’s worth mentioning that on one of our brief stops, at Nine Mile Pond, we were almost eaten by saw a huge alligator,alligator 0003 Everglades, Florida, USA

which we noticed in the last moment… It seemed to be sleeping.

alligator 0002 Everglades, Florida, USA

I wonder if those black vultures noticed it too, as they were coming very close to it, but we didn’t have time to wait and see…

american black vultures & alligator 0000 Everglades, Florida, USA

Actually, we had a chance to eat some alligator meat as we stopped at Gator Grill diner after exiting the Everglades, but I went for local frog legs instead and they were amazing (Tam had a veggie burger). We definitely would love to make another similar trip and do the whole canoe trail perhaps. Let’s see who eats whom next time 😉

Well, after making this joke, I feel I need to refer to some of the comments made to my blogpost about hiking in the Everglades:


Wow… I could never venture to a place that had snakes alligators, and many other creatures that could KILL me, much less naked! Good on you, and awesome pictures! Thanks for sharing!

My reply was:

… thanks for your comments about my bravery, but here is some food for thought for you. So, you say you “would never venture to a place that had… many… creatures that could KILL” you, but I’m pretty sure you drive or at the very least cross streets where others drive. How many people did die from cars in Florida? 2500-3500 per year between 2005-2009. Now, how many people did die from alligators? Between 2000 and 2007, there were 0-3 fatal alligator attacks per year, and none at all between 2007-2014 so far! In the whole of US, on average 5 people per year die because of snake bites. Of course, you could argue that a lot more people drive cars than wrestle with alligators, but nevertheless these numbers show that many more people suffer from cars than from alligators, and yet it’s only the latter that scare you!

And sadly, in the end of our vacation in Florida, well in the ‘safety’ of Miami urban jungle, I only confirmed the statistics with my own example – I was hit and run over by a car, but luckily not with a fatal result, or even, at least as it seems now, any lifelong injuries. I have a few fractures but they are supposed to heal fast… So, I don’t think I’ll stop hiking or canoeing anytime soon, just like I’ll continue move around in big cities such as my current hometown New York.

Scenic trail in Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

naturist 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

South Florida is one the most popular tourist destinations, but it’s not known for its hiking. In this blogpost, I invite you to join me on a scenic trail that proves that hiking in South Florida is exciting even though it’s as flat as it gets.

Florida trail view 0003 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

This 8-mile section of Florida trail goes through various landscapes of Big Cypress National Preserve. About a year ago, I went to Florida with my sister, and we stayed at the same CouchSurfing hosts, as in my first visit to Florida with Joe; Peter already knew we would love the idea of hiking in the swamp, so he got in touch with his friend Dave from Florida Great Outdoors group. Dave was an excellent guide, he knew every corner of the trail and told us a lot about the wildlife, of which we saw plenty!

cormorant 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Just on the way to the southern trailhead, we saw various birds, from a cormorant with a fresh catch to great egrets wading between cypresses.

great egret 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Dave knew that we were unlikely to encounter too many other hikers, so, almost immediately after the start of the trail and getting ourselves familiar with its rules, we got naked. Given the muddiness of the trail and hot weather, it was clearly the best way to go!

Florida trail view 0002 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

In the beginning (coming from the South), the most typical landscape is grassland with a few scattered cypress trees. But unlike prairie or savannah, this grassland is flooded, with water levels varying throughout the year and depending on weather conditions. On this trail, we could really see why the Everglades are called the “river of grass” (the whole southern part of Florida practically represents a giant swamped slow-moving river). Besides the sawgrass marsh, we also went through the pine forest and cypress swamp. On the photo below, you can actually see the so-called cypress dome in the background. It is formed when pond cypress trees grow higher in the center than on the edges of the swamp, which can happen due to various reasons.

Florida trail view 0004 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Our first encounter with an animal on the trail was a snail.

snail 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

There were many dragonflies

Halloween Pennant dragonfly 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

and grasshoppers,

grasshopper 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USAgrasshopper 0001 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

one of which devoured on a flower 🙂

Speaking of flowers, maybe we were lucky with the season, but there were quite a few plants blooming:

white star sedge (a sawgrass species),

White Star Sedge 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA



and marsh roses (Sabatia) – pink

marsh rose (Sabatia) 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USAmarsh rose (Sabatia) 0001 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

and light-blue.

marsh rose (Sabatia) 0003 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Bromelias were blooming too,

bromelia 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

but even when they weren’t, they served as a nice decoration on cypress and pine trees.

bromelia 0001 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

At some point, palm trees appeared more frequently between the pines, but we could tell that the first one wasn’t in the best condition… which made me look like a giant next to it.

naturist 0007 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

That’s where we saw some Carolina anoles too. I was too slow with my camera and only got one hiding in a hole in the tree and missed how it changed colors while moving across different surfaces (for this ability, they are nicknamed american chameleons).

carolina anole 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Midway, pine and palm forest got denser and we stepped on solid soil for the first time in a couple of hours. This is also the only place on the trail that is suitable for camping; we had our lunch break there.

naturist 0002 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

We couldn’t rest for too long, however, and soon followed the trail further through the swamped cypress forest.

Florida trail view 0001 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

When we reached the cypress dome, we could see how the tallest pond cypress trees indeed surrounded the central pond, with many tropical understory plants mingled between them.

naturist 0003 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

We almost missed our second reptile encounter, a snapping turtle, as it was well-concealed in the mud. Being much better protected than a lizard, it didn’t feel the need to run away from us but looked cautiously; considering the name of the species, we didn’t approach it too close though.

common snapping turtle 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Then there was a stretch of the trail that went through fern thickets taller than human.

naturist 0001 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

And some open water again, where we could see the odd cypress ‘knees’ (I saw many more of those in the Mississippi swamps near New Orleans).

naturist 0006 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Usually, I don’t post pictures of people in clothes due to the nature of this blog, but my sister deserves a credit because later on this trip she did get naked in a public place for the first time in her life (at Haulover beach), and here in the swamp she looked pretty cool and odd at the same time in her white night dress (she thought if she didn’t get naked she should wear the lightest thing she had…)

naturist 0005 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

The rest of us were content with our naked attire… As you can see on these photos, the cypress forest after the dome became more flooded, and the rest of the trail we hiked in ankle-deep water, which actually felt nice.

naturist 0004 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Then, we had our third reptile encounter, or actually two but of the same species.

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This was a venomous snake, water moccasin. They are territorial and feel safe with their venom-filled fangs, so they didn’t show a sign of retreat, but thankfully they did show their warning display. So we just stood there and looked at each other for a few minutes, and who knows who of us was more scared… Well, there is no use for them to bite humans unless attacked, so I guess we could call it mutual respect.

Water Moccasin 0002 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

It also provided enough time for taking pictures 😉

Water Moccasin 0001 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Soon after that, we could hear the noise of Tamiami road; it didn’t make sense to put on clothes in the end of the trail just to make it dirty, as it was still muddy, but that’s what we had to do.

In the pond by the visitor center,  we had our fourth reptile encounter. A group of american alligators were sunbathing and just waiting to be photographed.

american alligator 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Thus, we saw representatives of the major groups of reptiles on one trail!

wood stork 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

And as a bonus, while picking up the car, we saw some more wading birds: wood stork (above) and great blue heron (below).

great blue heron 0000 Big Cypress Preserve, Florida, USA

Florida doesn’t really need much publicity for tourism with its climate, beaches, festivals and Disney World, and it probably has more nudist colonies than any other state, but there is definitely more to it! This trail was perfect to discover Florida’s wild side and see the “river of grass” that it really is. Next, we’ll show you the place where this river meets the sea.

PS Keep in mind that Big Cypress National Preserve is also a home to black bears and  elusive Florida panthers (a subspecies of cougar)!