Big Cypress Canoe Tour…

On Friday, while we had been in the Everglades, a ranger from Big Cypress called Vaughn to confirm their reservations on the park hosted canoe tour scheduled for Sunday.   The ranger said that there had been a cancellation, and that Vaughn was welcome to bring the other kids, even tho one canoe would have kids under 18 paddling it, and also that Joel could come and sit in the bottom of Vaughn’s canoe!!!  The friendly ranger, that Vaughn talked to on the phone Friday, would be the one leading the tour on Sunday.   :)  We were pretty excited that everyone that we had hoped would be able to go, would be able to go!
The ranger warned Vaughn that due to low water levels, he wasn’t sure how far out they would be able to explore, and he didn’t know if the tour would last 2 hours or 5 hours!  (how exciting!  the unknown!) LOL!

So, after getting the truck and 5er parked in the Welcoming Center parking lot bright and early Sunday morning, the bigs were off on our last Big Cypress adventure!   And 9:45 a.m. found us in God’s creation instead of church.  The little girls, Caleb, and I spent the day visiting the welcoming center and watching the manatees.  Vaughn and the bigs (Eli, Beth, Jake, Thomas, Daniel, and Joel) were out on the swamp…

The group all met at a nearby boat launch, where Ranger Jonathan gave them a safety briefing.  The ranger talked about wearing your life jacket properly, getting in and out of the canoe safely, and gave animal cautions.   The rest of the group included a couple from Hollywood (FL 😉 ), and a park volunteer and his granddaughter…bisc canoe 009

Everyone was required to wear their life jackets, and it was time to launch those canoes!  bisc canoe 012

Then it was on the water…bisc canoe 016

The ranger was very personable, laid-back, and go-with-the-flow.  The tour was not (or at least did not seem) cookie-cutter, and it seemed that the ranger just took them on a ‘where-ever the journey takes us’ expedition.  Those are our absolute favorite kind of adventures!!!

The area that they paddled through seemed to be a slow-moving river… it would narrow down in some places and the canoes would have to proceed single-file, and in other places it would fan out and the boats could spread out and explore.bisc canoe 026They were surrounded by beauty…Es bisc 169

The group would paddle down the stream…bisc canoe 030 and then stop here and there where the ranger would point out different plants or animals, and talk about them and the park…

Es bisc 214

They saw all sorts of wildlife – and my guys were able to get much closer to the wildlife than when we were in a vehicle or on a boardwalk.  It was much more up-close-and-personal.Es bisc 229The group paddled north first, but they ran into Hydrilla, which is an invasive plant species that can be found growing in water from a few inches deep to 25 feet. bisc canoe 040

Lots of cypress trees around… bisc canoe 044Hydrilla can grow into a deep carpet that’s impossible to paddle through, so when the group got into an exceptionally thick infestation of it, and couldn’t continue farther upstream, the group backtracked and paddled back to the launch point and went under the bridge and southward… bisc canoe 070They saw lots of gators…every time that they came around a corner, or entered a lagoon, it seemed that there were gators!  And they were on the move, not just sunning themselves!bisc canoe 073The channel started to narrow, which meant that all that wildlife on the side of the water was getting closer! bisc canoe 079…and closer… bisc canoe 085When you go on a canoe tour, you are to bring a sack lunch (and water, binos, camera…).  The tours usually eat their lunches, while free floating in their canoes, in a large open area of water.   When the group entered the intended dining area, there was a large gator swimming in it.  Since the park does not want the gators associating people with food (smells and waste), it wouldn’t be in the best interest of the gator for them to eat there – a fed gator is a dead gator (when they associate people with food, and start to approach people for food, the rangers have to put them down).  Because of the gator, the group had to find somewhere else to stop for lunch. bisc canoe 088The ranger took them into a mangrove canopy…bisc canoe 103which was such a treat!  In a mangrove canopy, the trees are so close together that the paddles must be put into the canoes, and the canoe-ees :)  have to propel themselves along by reaching out and grasping the mangrove branches or roots, and pull themselves, and canoe, along… bisc canoe 134…and if you’ve never seen mangroves, they are so fascinating – those small trunk-looking stalks growing out of the water – they aren’t really the trunks of the trees growing up and out of the water, they are the roots of the trees reaching down into the water!  It’s as if the mangroves are on root stilts and sit up above the water!

While eating in the cooling shade of a beautiful mangrove canopy, completely surrounded by close reaching foliage was really neat, the group was in for an even bigger treat!  They saw a two momma alligators with their babies!  Isn’t this so adorable…Es bisc 221…did you click on the gator picture above this one to enlarge it?  If you do, you can see that momma’s babies on the shore – they blend in pretty well with the mud so you have to look close!  The babies from the first momma gator started doing their high-pitched barking as the canoes were passing by, and the momma came off the bank and fake-charged the the last 2 canoes (Eli’s and Vaughn’s), growling and hissing, mouth open!  Vaughn said it wasn’t scary, but it was pretty memorable!

And check out this huge snail that they found sitting on top of some of the Hydrilla!  It’s called an Apple Snail….bisc canoe 215

The tour was my guys favorite part of their park stay (and that is saying a lot!)!  The scenery was incredible, and they said that it was definitely the best way to ‘see the park’.   And my guys were so thankful that they got to see this special part of the park for FIVE hours!  They got an exceptional tour – with seeing lots of wildlife, gorgeous weather, and the unique experience of having lunch in the  mangrove canopy.

My tribe’s consensus on the preserve’s canoe tour?
THAT.WAS.SO.AWESOME!!!bisc canoe 157

So, if you ever get the chance to visit Big Cypress National Preserve, try to get in on the park’s canoe tours!  They are offered twice a week mid-Dec. through the end of March.  For us, it was an incredible chance to see, up close and personal, more of what has become one of our favorite places in the US!

Lilla Rose

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