An Ecosafari

I waved goodbye to Gatorland and headed out to find St. Cloud. As I pulled out of the parking lot my cell phone rang. It was Joe. He wanted to know where I was and where I was going. He had seen a news clip in the morning about a Manatee Festival and since I hadn’t seen any manatees at Weekee Wachi State Park, he thought I might be interested. I thanked him and told him I would take it under advisement. Right then I was heading for St. Cloud for an EcoSafari.

I’m new to GPS so I didn’t know where to find the eta. If I’d known I might have been prepared for the length of the drive. Orlando to St. Cloud wasn’t an issue but getting through downtown St Cloud to the Eco Safari was. I drove and drove. I was supposed to be there to check in by 12:45 but that came and went and I was still driving.

I tried to call to let them know I was on my way but they didn’t have a phone listing. I looked on my receipt from the concierge…nothing thereso I even tried  my cell phones 411. They couldn’t find anything either. I alternated between being nervous that I would miss out and angry that I couldn’t reach anyone. Finally I saw a sign and turned down a dirt road which eventually led into a dirt parking lot. I had made it and only about 15 minutes late.

I was supposed to check in at the restaurant. I followed the signs around the veranda to an entry at the back. Once inside a clerk in the gift shop pointed me to a closed-door at the back. I slipped in to see that everyone was watching a movie about the eco-ranch and how it came about. It was a sad story because it was created in a son’s memory. I won’t attempt to give you the whole story because I’d missed half of it but I did arrive in time to get the gist of it.

This Eco-Safari is called Forever Florida. The area consists of 4700 acres of eco-ranch and abuts a conservation area. The land is being preserved the way nature intended. The area boasts 9 distinct Florida ecosystems and an endless array of natural flora and fauna including alligators, black bears, nearly two hundred species of birds and the endangered Florida panther. There was no telling what we would see!

After the movie we all clambered aboard a large swamp buggy for the “Coach Safari”. They also have a “Horse Safari”, Zipline, and a new  Cypress Canopy Cycle. Our very personable drive was also our guide. As we headed out he pointed out the sights and explained the type of terrain and eco system we were covering.

At first it was ranch land with the Florida cattle. They have long”ish” horns. They don’t quite reach long horn status like Texas Long Horns but the curved horns still look pretty sharp. the bloodline is being preserved and can be traced back to the spanish who originally brought them. This was a theme I was to hear  over and over whenever the topic of Florida Cows came up.

Right off the bat we spotted a hawk. The driver said it was a red-shouldered hawk. It was too far away for a picture but we’re off to a good start.

As we left the grounds of the working part of the ranch we saw a mucky, swampy ditch along the side of the road. In that muck we spotted turtles and alligators.

 There were birds in the trees over hanging this little trickle of water. Our driver said “This is Florida and where there is water there will be alligators”.

He was very knowledgable, naming and pointing out all the birds, flowers and even the plants growing in the little ditch.

We saw several Anhinga. At one point we watched one pull its long neck in only to have it shoot out with amazing speed to snag a passing bug. It was like watching a snake strike , not a bird but I guess that’s characteristic of this species.

As we drove along we traveled from swampy to dry and into cypress groves. We saw baby alligators and even white tail deer. No Florida Panthers although we passed markers identifying Florida panther territory.

As we passed through a grassy “savannah” our sharp-eyed guide pointed out a pair of sand hill cranes. It was so hard to see them he had to stop the  swamp buggy so we could watch for the motion as the cranes moved through the tall grasses.

We also passed the trail markers for the Cross Florida Greenway, a hiking trail that runs from the tip of the Florida Keys to the Panhandle. It’s to Florida like the Appalachian Trail trail is to the East Coast.

We made a stop at a cypress grove to walk a board walk.

 Our guide pointed out the cypress knees that grow from the roots of the cypress trees. If these knees get damaged then the tree dies.

No one seems to know why. We could see the waterline from the floods when hurricanes go through and damage to the boardwalk. Florida is in a drought at the moment. It was very apparent once the various water lines were pointed out.

It wasn’t too much longer after we reloaded when we turned back to the ranch. It was an excellent experience. Since I’d been running so far behind I hadn’t had lunch so I ordered one of the all beef hot dogs they offered. The beef was from their cattle and the hot dogs made on their ranch. They were huge and soooo good! I don’t think I have ever tasted a hot dog that was so good. I guess fresh is best. 🙂

After lunch I wandered the grounds with the owner’s permission. Thier only advice…watch out for the alligators in the pond!  As I wandered around I spotted a cat. I hadn’t seen a cat since I left mine at home but as usual during my trips at some point I will run into someone’s cat. And as is usual the cat says hello in it’s cat-ly way and lets me pet him so I can have my “kitty fix”. 🙂

Time to find my way back to Orlando.

If you go…I recommend this trip. It was fun and educational but be sure you have good directions and allow extra time to get there.

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