I have wanted to go camping for several months now and finally had a weekend free where I could even think about doing it. I love to camp and if I can take my camera and explore even better. I decided on camping at Trail Lakes Camp Ground in Ochopee, Florida which is a multi-generation family owned business. I have known the family for several years and my son went to school with the current owner. This place is unique as it’s been around for well over 50 years and owned by the same family. Big Cypress has tried to have them removed but they have endured. This particular trip had a goal in mind, my youngest son wanted me to take portrait style photos for him, so I knew I would be using the camera a lot and for this reason I was even more excited about going.
I decided to arrive on Friday evening after work because I wanted a full day on Saturday and didn’t want it interrupted with drive time, even though it only takes an hour to get there I knew I would have plenty of time Friday evening to set up my campsite and eat a bite before dark.
This was a great decision because I was awarded with an amazing night sky. I met up with Tommy after he got off work and we shared a meal at my camp. My son lives on the campground and is a guide for Everglades Adventure Tours which is housed out of Trail Lakes Campground and is run by Jack Shealy who also is now running the campground area. Tommy is a bit of a local legend himself because last April he had an encounter with a ten foot Burmese Python, one of the exotics currently trying to take over the Everglades. Growing up in this area and the son of a biologist, Tommy’s instincts kicked in and he got in the water and grabbed the snake. You can see the video on his website www.phloridaphoto.us
The weather was near perfect for sleeping cool but not cold and the stars! I was also serenaded to sleep by a chorus of frogs, so delightful to hear. I woke up fairly early and planned out my day. Made a quick breakfast and headed out to Turner River Road and HP Williams Park. I saw the usual, alligators, wading birds and tourists. I ventured on down the extremely dusty road toward Wagon Wheel road in hope of encountering a Purple Gallinule and to get a wide vista shot of the Big Cypress Preserve; goal two was achieved, didn’t get the Purple Gallinule as the growth was incredibly heavy. I headed back to my campsite to get a bit of lunch and to see what time Tom would be off work, I then proceeded to take a brief nap in my very warm tent. I awoke and muddled about cleaning my camera until Tommy’s quitting time. A short time later we met up packed our gear and headed off into the Saw Grass prairie in back of the property. Tommy brought several changes of clothes as he wanted to get some different shots in different areas. His first choice was business wear, dress shirt & pants, totally out of place in a swamp, but then again if you knew my son, you’d understand. The contrast of being dressed up and being out in this wild area was actually quite striking and it accented his natural good looks. As we were shooting we had a visitor, whom he thought was secured in the house; his dog Sunny, she had broken free and knew where to find her master, it turned out really well as I was able to get some shots of the two of them. This was a pleasant surprise.
After several scenery and clothing changes we packed our stuff back up headed to his place to see what I captured, (this is the most exciting part for me). I was blown away at the incredible images that came forth on his computer.
I headed off to my camp cut up by the Saw Grass (lives up to its name) and excited for Sunday as we were going to head to the Fakahatchee Strand. After trekking around for a couple of hours I was tired and sleep came quickly.
Sunday morning arrived and I packed up most of my gear back into my car and headed to get Tom. We detoured into Everglades City and had a wonderful breakfast at the Island Café. Then off we headed to the Fakahatchee. My ex-husband, Tommy’s dad is still biologist there and it’s easy to understand why he loves this place, as there is nothing else like it in North America. We drove down Jane’s Scenic Drive heading to our destination with a few stops on the way to look for the illusive Everglades Mink which Tommy was fortunate enough to capture on video and on camera (first person to post it ever on You Tube). We checked the spot and didn’t see any signs of them. We did encounter plenty of Great Egrets, White Ibis, and Snowy Egrets in our path. We also stopped at an Alligator hole and were fortunate enough to see one being quite active. As you can see from the photograph, it was VERY active!
We finally reached our destination of West Main tram and saw a small gathering of people, watching something very intently with cameras in hand. We grabbed our gear and took a look at what they were watching. They were watching an entire family of Everglades Mink, this was my first time ever seeing them even after living there for 13+ years. I was so excited and hopeful that I would be able to capture one on camera. I did, even though it’s only the back of its head I was able to get a decent photo. Not only did I see one I have a photograph to prove it! Even the deer flies we later encountered were unable to dampen my day, it was incredible.
Heading down the hiking path we scouted out a few locations that Tommy was interested in using as his portrait backdrops, we came upon an old cabin and even though the hand scribbled sign said it was a private residence the place looked as if it had not been inhabited for quite some time so we stopped there to get a few photos again with him dressed like a business man. We also moved on and found some other interesting spots to shoot from including him climbing an orange tree.
A few clothing changes later we headed back out, but not before I turned around and for the second time in one day saw another Everglades Mink, we staked it out, but they are so quick and so quiet that neither of us were able to squeeze off a frame. Coming out of the swamp we were tired and hot and ready for ice cream. After making a short trip back to the campground we headed back off to Everglades City to a local shop called Sweet Mayberry’s for some wonderful gelato and a cookie. This little shop is owned by another local whom my boys grew up and spent a lot of time with. Tommy has a lot of his framed photographs in this shop as well as his postcards.
Finishing up our sweet treat we headed out and this is sadly where I had to tell my boy goodbye, as I had to head back home to begin another work week. You can bet I will be heading back down there again soon. It was a great weekend and one I won’t soon forget. So what have you seen from Behind the Lens?