Unlike yesterday, the tent was dry this morning thanks to the foliage overhead. The Data Book showed that the "Black Lagoon", the deepest water in Big Cypress, was a mere tenth of a mile north of Oak Hill Camp. Having taken a moment to summon up my courage, I strode determinedly out of camp and sure enough was soon in knee deep water, surrounded by cypress stands. Needless to say, this was hiking as I had never experienced it before and it seemed as if all my senses were heightened. Not wanting to get lost in the swamp, I proceeded cautiously, seeking out the orange blazes which led me from tree to tree deeper into this unique watery wilderness. The fact is that the water didn't last for long, only half a mile (more or less) before being replaced by mud, which at times was the consistency of wet cement. Tromp. Squish. Slurp. Had to make sure my shoes were tied tight or they would have been sucked right off my feet. I'd much rather have been back in the water because it was easier to walk through. At some point in this mud-bound world I came across a debris field---abandoned clothing, tents, sleeping bags, a couple of packs, a walkie-talkie
and the most curious item, a hiking staff decorated with emblems from at least 30 state or national parks standing upright in the mud along the trail. My mind, working furiously, couldn't help but pose some unanswered questions. Why would people abandon there equipment like this? Had they got into trouble? Were they airlifted out? Did these people make it? As a solo hiker, I had an eerie feeling as I stood there trying to make sense of it all. Alas, this mystery was to remain unsolved.
The trail was a mixed bag the rest of the morning into the early afternoon; sometimes mud, sometimes almost dry, and two other times with calf-deep water. More than once I found myself in the middle of a sea of brown, knee-high grass with cypress domes rising in all directions in the distance. At one point I was being followed by two hawks, their wings outstretched, floating on the air currents fifty feet above me. At least they weren't vultures! Ha. I think they were simply waiting for some nervous rodent to break cover upon my passing so they could swoop down and enjoy an easy meal.
On the final approach to Ivy Camp there was a lovely strand of palms running about 300 meters from north to south off to the right. Much like Oak Hill, Ivy Camp offered a shady area for tents or at this time of day a good place for a lunch break. A cypress dome was also close, a short trail leading from the back of the camp through the trees to the pool. No gators to deal with this time, but water quality was still questionable.
Not long after leaving Ivy Camp I was finally out of the mud. It was a relief to be hiking normally again, but I'd be lying if I said I was happy to be saying goodbye to Big Cypress National Preserve. The truth is that despite the difficulty I thoroughly enjoyed my time there because of the uniqueness of the experience. I mean how often does one have the chance to walk through cypress swamps and share drinking holes with gators? :-) Not often, I'd imagine. For this reason I'd heartily recommend the trek through the preserve to anyone seeking a little adventure.
Anyway, continuing on from this sentimental reflection, the trail had now merged with a swamp buggy road which led to I-75 (Alligator Alley). Passing through a fence, I followed the access road east to the highway rest stop. When I reached the picnic shelters, I dropped my pack and dug out a few granola bars from my food bag. Snack time! One elderly gentleman, either braver or more inquisitive than others at the tables, asked what I had been doing. I don't think he expected my response to be, "Walking through the swamp." He was even more astounded when I told him that this was just the beginning and that I planned to walk the whole of Florida on the National Scenic Trail. Still, a smile was on his lips as he wished me good luck. The other people within earshot could only offer sidewards glances, not sure what to think about such absurdities.
Question time over, I went to the bathroom to wash the mud off my legs and rinse out my socks in the sink. The last thing I did was fill the platypus bladder up with water from the drinking fountain. Although it was cool, it had the distinctive taste of sulphur and in this respect was worse than the "alligator piss" from the cypress domes. Phooey!
The remainder of the day was spent walking Nobles Road looking for wildlife along the canal, which paralleled it on the left. Gators were a common sight and getting a photo of them sunning themselves on the bank wasn't a problem. However, the birds and turtles were a different story. They simply flew away or vanished beneath the green water as I drew near. White ibis, blue heron, wood stork... there was quite a variety.
The camp for the night was just a grassy area at Nobles Homesite. I'm not sure why there was a historic icon next to it on the FTA maps because from my vantage point there was certainly nothing to see except my eyelids as they closed upon another day.
The Black Lagoon
Entering the Dome
Deeper in the Dome
Center of the Dome
Palm Hammock and Cypress Dome
Gator along Nobles Road Canal