At the Myakka River state park, I officially met the Florida alligator. Oh, sure, I had seen one or two at the other parks. I had taken some pictures already. I knew they were around. At Myakka, they were everywhere. On the banks, in the water under the bridge, around the boat launch, just plain everywhere. I did kayak at Myakka on the giant shallow lake and it was remarkably unpleasant and choppy. I was recommended a spot on the river by another kayaker. He and I were standing on a bridge with four alligators in sight and he said, “You have to paddle down to Deep Water. That’s where all the alligators are. As you come around the bend there, the really big ones will roll off of the beach into the water. I’ve seen them longer than my kayak.” “Oh?” I said, trying to disguise that what I meant by “Oh” was “No way, sucker.”
The only thing that Myakka had more of than alligators was….would you care to guess…go ahead… Vultures. I bet you didn’t guess that. Yes, they were everywhere. On the shore, in the trees, in the air, on the benches, on my truck. Just about any stationary spot would soon have at least one vulture. The park was regularly shooting off a canon to dispel the birds, but it seemed to have little effect. The vultures were so large and their wings so heavy that when they flew, it sounded like someone was shaking out an old braided rug. They did lend a certain je ne sais quoi to the park atmosphere. In my head, I renamed Myakka park as The Park Of Doom.
But, the park trails were beautiful and filled with birds like the giant Sandhill Cranes which I photographed doing some kind of elaborate dance – and here I thought drunken frat boy dances to impress were the worst. The cranes wrapped their necks around each other and opened their wings which had a span of at least five feet. Right impressive. In the end, I think the wooing worked. On the other bird, not on me. The trails wound through marshes, forests, and wetland prairies full of grasses and bushes. And I was surprised several times by the frantic appearances of raccoons and wild pigs.
The Myakka alligators were really quite polite. They stayed away from me if I stayed away from them, though I did see one sign that said “A Magnificent Lab was killed by a gator here. Please don’t let it happen to your dog or child.” There was one path, an unofficial path used by fisherman, that ran quite close to the water and I have to admit, I was nervous on that path. I was very careful about where I stepped and I watched the bank. I saw the largest alligator while hiking that path. He sunned on a small strip of sand a little way into the river. I had to squat down to try to get a picture of him and my hands were shaking just a bit, but the gator wasn’t moving. I took one picture, glanced down at my camera to adjust a dial, looked back up and he was in the water. That quickly. That silently. Watching me. He wasn’t coming toward me, but he was being just as cautious as I was. I very slowly stood up and went the other way. The Park Of Doom. I tell you.
Boring details: the park has miles and miles of beautiful land and trails, and the campground is the ugliest spot imaginable. No brush between campsites and there are roads running on either side of it. Plus, the bathroom generator starts up every 20 minutes or so with a low whirring noise. It is not picturesque.
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