Over the Thanksgiving holiday I took some much needed time off. After a full summer and a busy start to our concert season along with weddings, portraits and other work, I was ready to unplug and get back to nature.
My go to place as I’ve posted in the past is in the Everglades. I love to camp and I took four full days to step out of the digital world and relax. I did do some posting to Facebook, but instead of worrying about my status, I took camera in hand and stepped out into the swamp.
Because of the cooler temperatures (great for camping), the alligators were in abundance along the road of Jane’s Scenic Drive in the Fakahatchee Strand, and on the trails my son and I walked, (check out his website: Phloridaphoto.us He even decided to get a bit more up close and personal with a gator lying on the path we were walking.
I stopped and photographed him, photographing the alligator. I just could not bring myself to be that close to something that large with huge teeth. As my son walked past him, Mr. Gator lifted his head and rumbled that deep throaty sound as a warning to let him know he may be a bit too close. I had the same experience as I hung out the car door to get a rather large alligator hanging out on the road we were driving.
We also went out two nights in a row to capture the Milky Way, however during the hours we were there, the sky have cloud cover in the general vicinity. We did capture the sky at night and this photograph shows Miami glowing in the distance as the International Space Station does a fly over (I have an app on my phone called Sky Guide that allows me to track this).
Overall it was a wonderful relaxing long weekend, with friends, family and my camera.
I am really fortunate that I have lived in one of the prettiest places in North America, the Florida Everglades. I am also fortunate that my son Tommy is a guide in the ‘Glades and I get to visit. This past Friday I had that opportunity, but not only did I have the pleasure, but I was able to take someone with me (a new friend) who had this trip on her bucket list. Linda, is a friend of a friend and one of my future clients as well. Her son is getting married to our mutual friend’s daughter in July and my son Tommy and I are honored to be photographing the wedding as a team.
I picked Linda up from a location our friend and I agreed upon and our adventure began. As we drove along we were able to get acquainted and I really enjoyed her company. She is a school teacher from the north and for her being down here this time of year was a real treat, considering her home was blanketed in snow and still quite cold. She was enjoying our 80 degree sunny weather.
Linda wasn’t sure what to expect and of course didn’t know where exactly she was being taken, which I think added to her excitement. We arrived at Everglades Adventure Tours in Ochopee, Florida and while waiting for our tour guide Tommy (my son) we looked around the eclectic gift shop. Linda found a few things she wanted to purchase including an alligator head and a postcard of a photo my son took. She decided to wait until our return to make her gift purchases.
Tommy loaded us up and our driver took us to our destination; a place I had never been even with living down in that area. I had heard about it, but never took a trip. Generally our three hour tour would have been on the Turner River, however due to low water the river is closed for commercial use. I’m sort of glad it was. Donna Drive turned out to be a mecca of photographic opportunity. I am always proud to listen to my youngest son, do what he loves which is the interpretation of his home. This young man has quite a history of his own and being only 27 years old has had many wonderful adventures which include kayaking the Mississippi River (54 days) and again in a canoe for 500 miles. He also wrestled a python that was spotted in what he considers his home while on a tour; of which the video went viral. If you Google ‘Tommy Owen Python’ you should find a plethora of links to view that video. He makes his mother very proud.
As we were traveling, (the great thing about this trip is the clients don’t have to do any paddling) and this particular trip was an actual photo safari. As soon as I sat down in our boat I took out my camera, I didn’t want to miss any opportunity and Linda followed suit. It was a gorgeous warm day with a slight breeze and as we entered the river/canal we were greeted by a beautiful blue sky with wonderful white puffy clouds, picture perfect.
We were on the lookout for birds, the possible alligator and any other creature who calls the Florida Everglades home. After about an hour on the water, we came upon a flat marsh area; one of many habitats within this community. Looking at it, you would think it would be dry and easily accessible. Linda was thrilled to be able to add this to her day and we all got a good laugh as we realized, this area was not “dry”, but actually quite wet and if we didn’t step in the grass areas we were going to sink, sometimes up to our knees! Linda was the first to go down, as I turned around to get a photo of her, guess who also fell? Me! We both had a good laugh and Tommy who had Linda’s camera, caught it all.
I was able to get a couple of photos of Linda “sitting” in the mud after I made my way back to a standing position. We walked around a bit more and then decided to work our way back to the boat. What fun! The most amazing thing, this so called mud really isn’t mud, not in the dirt sense of the word, but a mixture of peat like plant material that has decayed and built up layers in the water. Getting out of it we realized we were not dirty.
Our wonderful guide headed back out and took us in another direction into different habitat. We went through a couple of Mangrove tunnels then back out onto the Sawgrass areas where we finally saw an alligator.
Heading back in Linda said the trip far exceeded her expectations and she too had a camera full of photos. One of her goals on the trip was to get some tips and tricks in using her camera. She was happily snapping away and using her manual settings on her camera by the end of the tour. Teaching other’s to use their camera is something I truly enjoy.
Our day was not quite finished. After making her purchases in the Swamp Ape Headquarters gift shop, Linda, Tommy & I then headed over to Joanie’s Blue Crab Café, you simply can’t miss this opportunity. The food is very good, but the atmosphere can’t be duplicated. This little roadside café has been featured in the Disney movie ‘Gone Fishin’ with Danny Glover & Joe Pesci. You could spend hours simply looking at all the things in this place. I love the notice posted upon the wall behind the cash register that says “if you want fast food, keep driving”, kind of sums it all up. Joanie wasn’t there and was sorry I missed her this trip. For anyone reading this, you must stop if you are in the Ochopee area.
After dropping Tommy off back at Trail Lakes Camp Ground we said our goodbyes to him and Linda and I headed back, but not before we made a stop at the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk at the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve Park. We were able to see two young eaglets in the Bald Eagles nest which is viewable from the boardwalk, and had some gorgeous birds greet us at the end of the alligator pond. There was also a nice large alligator at the entrance to the boardwalk.
All in all it was an incredible day and I’m always reminded of the wonderful area we live in and the diversity of wildlife we can possibly encounter each and every day if we simply open our eyes and look. I am fortunate because I have a child who lives and works in this beautiful area and I can visit and go out as often as I can with him. If you are ever in the area of Ochopee, Florida please visit Trail Lakes Campground/Skunk Ape Headquarters/Everglades Adventure Tours and tell them Tommy’s mom sent you. Take a guided tour with Tommy and you will be glad you did. The uniqueness of this tour makes it well worth the money. It’s a private tour, which means only your party is with the guide, you don’t have to paddle, your guide will do it for you. Take your camera because you will be able to capture your trip without worry of getting wet, and make sure you tell your story on Trip Advisor. For more information please visit www.evergladesadventuretours.com and Tommy Owen’s website at http://www.phloridaphoto.us/