When we finished our Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2010 my mom came up to Maine and spent a few days with us tooling around the state with us. We stayed in Bar Harbor a couple of days and visited Acadia National Park just briefly with a hike up Cadillac Mountain to watch the sun set. I know that we barely saw what this national park had to offer and for that I am sorry because I have no idea when we will go back to Maine.
Chris and I went to Big Bend with four of our college friends during spring break in 2000. Oh boy, what a road trip that was! We left in the middle of the night because it is a haul to get out there. This was before everyone even had a basic cell phone so while Chris had a cell phone at that time (I think!) our friends did not, or if they did we did not think to get their number! We didn’t even make it out of Houston before we were separated—Chris veered off to take one route through town and our friends veered off for another route! In our car, we figured we would all just keep on going and we’d meet up once we got there. Not quite. Chris, Rosemarie, and I made it out to the park entrance where we had to stay just outside the park at a private campground for the first night because, either we didn’t have reservations for that night or there weren’t spots available inside the park, I can’t quite remember that. We drove to several of the visitors centers in the park hoping we’d run into our friends and didn’t see them. Eventually we found a pay phone and tried calling back to campus and the dorms but no one answered. We must have ran out of change by then so I called my parents, who at the time had a toll free number that they had gotten when I had gone to Summer School at Sea to central and south America two years before. I had my parents call and leave messages for our friends letting them know where we were staying. That’s all we could do was hope they got the message and they would find us. Ah, the pre-cell phone era!
The next morning our friends showed up! They had driven a few hours down I-10 beyond Houston but worried we’d turned around so they drove back to Galveston! They eventually did get the messages left on the voicemail in the dorms and decided to head back to the park! When folks nowadays say things like “We did just fine without cellphones at one point in time”…well, yes, we did, but they sure would have alleviated a headache in this situation! Once we we were all together we got inside the park and got our tent site. This was before I was really into plants and knowing a lot about my surroundings so while I was paying attention I didn’t really absorb it all. It was beautiful; we went on some wonderful hikes, and we paid the Mexicans working the boats on the river to take us across the Rio Grande where we hoofed it down a dirt road to a very poor border town where we walked around for a bit. Ah, pre 9/11 days! You can’t do that anymore!
Dare I go on for days about this park? It is the NPS park I spent the most time in during my years in Florida. Most people are familiar with Everglades NP (a few bullets down below) and have no idea what Big Cypress is all about. For starters, it is a Preserve not a Park. Preserve is also a bit of a misnomer because while it might conjure up preservation in the conservation sense, it is more of a preservation of various uses, uses that include oil and gas exploration, tribal, off-road vehicles, and hunting. And yes, environmental conservation at the same time. The oil and gas aspect is currently under fire right now because of exploration activities that are being permitted. It’s a hard notion to wrap your head around in an area like that but it’s going to take some congressional work to change the uses of the park. Ok, I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole…so let’s focus on my experiences out there.
The Big Thicket is also a Preserve and is considered one of the most biologically diverse parks as it is located on a ecological zone change, where southeastern forests start meeting the plains and western frontier. It also has many uses other than ecologic conservation. The same oil and gas, tribal, ORV, and hunting uses also apply here. Of note, the last ivory billed woodpecker sighting was in the Big Thicket region!
My first encounter with this park was in college. Kind of the same thing as Big Bend, while I was paying attention I wasn’t paying attention. We visited the Pitcher Plant Bog for my wetlands lab in college on one of our field trips but at the time had no comprehension of where I was going and how to appreciate it. I remember it being drizzly and grey the day we went out there. It wasn’t until I returned back to Texas in 2010 and drove by the area that I realized where I was and could even place that I’d been there before. Prior to that it was a fuzzy memory I could conjure up but with little meaning to me.
I’ve spent a good portion of time on the Beaumont and adajcent units and a little bit of time on the other units of this preserve. Being as we are only a few hours away from the preserve I suspect we will visit frequently as Forest grows up.
This park is a little different in that it is not very accessible unless you have a boat. Sure, there’s a visitors center on the mainland and some areas of the park that are on the mainland, but most of the park is incorporated within Biscayne Bay or islands in the bay. I only visited the park once for a snorkeling trip with my former coworkers and I don’t even think I have photos! The trip was great and I can imagine the park would be a lot more fun with a kayak or a boat!
When people mention the Everglades and Florida together they are definitely thinking of this park. In reality the Everglades are much larger than just this park. I saw a lot of the northern end of the park via US 41 but rarely did we venture down into the southern end of the park, mostly because it was kind of a haul to get there! While there are a few hiking trails, most of the park is best seen by kayak or canoe on any of the paddling trails. One thing I do regret was never paddling the 10,000 islands. It was on my to-do list but I never scratched it off. Summers in Everglades National Park can be brutal due to mosquitoes. Chris and I attempted to go find some orchids once when they were blooming in the summer and we didn’t get very far before I had enough of the thousands of insect bodies bouncing off of me. I had Deet on (you don’t go there without Deet…forget the alternative sprays!) as well as long sleeves but that wasn’t enough. Chris continued on until he’d had enough and he went back another time to see the orchids.
My visit to Glacier was very brief and kind of spur-of-the-moment. I was heading to Polson on the south side of Flathead Lake for a work trip and had planned to fly into Missoula. After I’d bought my tickets my dad informed me he was going to be flying to Kalispell for a one day work trip and that was on the north side of Flathead Lake! So, I flew into Missoula, drove the hour to Polson where I checked into my hotel and then got back in the car and drove another hour to Kalispell to meet my dad and drive over to West Glacier for a few hours that afternoon. Good thing it was June and the sun didn’t set until late! It’s too bad I hadn’t flown into Kalispell because we could have spent much more time in Glacier! Going-to-the-sun road was closed not far after Lake McDonald which limited us to what was open at lower elevations that time of year. For just dipping my feet in, the trip was worth all of that driving after a flight!