Myakka River State Park

The next stop on our adventures in Florida was a trip to Myakka River State Park where I was assured I’d all the alligators I’d ever wanted to see… from a safe distance! Crow’s family also alluded to the famous “canopy walk”–somehow a walk among the trees, though how one did this, I couldn’t even venture to guess. It sounded very exciting so of course I was game to go.

So the four of us–me, Crow, Crow’s dad, and his dad’s girlfriend Doris–stuffed ourselves into the *Camaro* and took off on a beautiful sunny afternoon for Myakka. We decided to take the guided airboat tour on Upper Myakka Lake to see up close the wild life in its own environment. As if specifically for our benefit, an alligator sat sunning itself from the opposite bank as we loaded onto a boat. They had a name for him–I’ve forgotten what it was. He didn’t seem to be much perturbed by the presence of our boat.

The alligator who greeted us at the boat dock.

As the boat moved slowly onto the water, the tour guide indicated that there were a great number of alligators (again, I’m bad at remembering numbers, details), and asked us where we thought these alligators were, if we were only seeing a few along the shores? Ha! I could not help but imagine the alligators unseen sitting at the bottom of the riverbed at any given time. Kind of made me think/hope/pray the boat was pretty sturdy and no one was going to have to get out and push any time soon!

An airboat tour taking departing from the dock.

Due to the shallowness of the lake during the dry season (winter, spring), we couldn’t get too close to the opposite shore. However, you could see a bunch of alligators sunbathing themselves while many exotic birds just walked among them (according to our tour guide, alligators don’t find birds very tasty–not enough meat and all feathers–so they leave them alone). More exciting, though, was the two times an alligator surfaced right next to the boat. It was kind of eerie–just this snout and the hump of the back rising from the stillness of the water in silence. It didn’t seemed very phased. Just popped up as if to assure us of its presence, and then it was gone again.

An alligator surfaces to alert us of his/her presence.

Ominous creature greets us with a wry hello.

Alligator says, "Hello, tasty tourists! Throw me a leg!"

It wasn’t just alligators that prominently inhabited the lake, though. Birds and water fowl of various kinds could be found grazing the shores, swimming in the waters, or flying around. We saw bald eagles flying over head. Geese, egrets, blue herons. Most fascinating was a breed of bird called the anhinga, also called “snake bird” because, submerging itself under water to hunt for food, when it surfaces, only it’s long neck can be seen hovering above the water like a snake about to attack. I was really fascinated by this bird because it kind of reminded me, in smaller scale, of the drawings and blurred photographs of the alleged Loch Ness Monster. Watching that s-shaped head pop out of the water randomly here and there, I could see how one could build a mythology of a mysterious monster that lives under the sea. Although, I have to admit, I thought the bird was quite cute.

An anhinga (snake bird) comes up for air like a miniature version of a legendary sea creature.

Other water fowl of Upper Myakka Lake.

Wild pigs also live in Myakka, though we weren’t lucky enough to see these ourselves. The tour guide said a herd of pigs had been at the lake shore earlier that day and the prior tour had gotten to see them. That’s the thing with wild life–they come and go as they please without any regard for us humans who may want to observe them! Oh well. There certainly wasn’t a lack of other wild life to observe and appreciate.

If herons and alligators can co-exist, why can't elephants and donkeys?

After the boat tour, we ate lunch outside beneath the shelter of the little cafe/gift shop by the lake. It was one of those nice, breezy days in which you just feel happy to be alive. I was fascinated by the swampy marshland of palm trees, moss, and fern plants. I couldn’t help but make comparisons in my head to the state parks with which I’m familiar back home. How different and unique Florida seems to me. The tropics are always fascinating in their variety and the vivid colors of its flowers and animals.

Also, though we have blue herons back home, I’ve often spent long minutes trying to spot one. They just aren’t as visible as they were that day in Myakka. I was continuously surprised and thrilled by the amount of wildlife that was visible for us to see without effort (and none of it caged or corralled just for show!).

Our next stop after lunch was the bird walk. A long board walk takes you into the middle of the marshy shore to get a better view of the birds. I guess during wet season, more of the ground beneath the board walk is filled in with water and, according to the tour guide from the boat, you may see a lot of alligators sunning themselves. We didn’t see any alligators, but again, lots of birds.

The board walk bird walk. Disappointingly devoid of alligators.

One of the highlights of Myakka River State Park is the canopy walk. It turns out this is a suspension bridge 25 feet in the air through the forest canopy. After crossing the bridge, you climb the steps up to a tower that gives you a view of the entire forest from 74 feet! I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle this part. I’ve been on a few fire towers in the past and have not had the most comfortable experience because it would sway and bend in the breeze. I’m not too good with vertigo. (My entry about our Groundhog Day adventure will shed further light on this as we did try to climb a fire tower there. But those are details for another day.)

Mars Girl on canopy bridge at Myakka.

Crow, Crow Dad, and Doris on canopy bridge.

It turns out that while the tour at Myakka did sway a little in the breeze and from the movement of others climbing the ladder, it was nothing near what I remembered from my frightening experience at the Pennsylvania high point (Mt. Davis) from a decade before. So I felt safe enough up there to relax and enjoy the view.

Canopy from above.

Which… as you can see… was quite extraordinary….

Panoramic view above the canopy. (This is my first attempt at using panoramic mode on Crow's camera. You can see the imperfect line in the middle right of the picture. I got quite better at it n later adventures.)

A distant body of water… Some poofy Florida clouds…

View from the tower.

Trees, trees, and more trees!

Tree tops as seen from the canopy tower at Myakka.

Oh, hey, wait… that’s not a view!

Crow and Mars Girl atop the tower.

We actually stayed up there for quite a bit–several small groups of people cycled through in the time we stood observing the view. I like sweeping landscapes. Thus, the long neglected lust for mountain climbing.

We finally walked down the steps to solid ground.

“Heidi! Heidi!” I heard someone calling my given name as I exited the tower at the bottom. I instinctively looked up and noticed a three people on a bench playing with a little wiener dog that was scampering between them. Oh, no, not again.

“Um, is your dog named Heidi?” I asked tentatively, trying not to reveal how miffed I was. This, of course, coming from someone who named her cats Nicki, Tanya, and Cleo–all real people names.

“Why, yes,” replied the lady in the group.

I scoffed. “That’s my name.”

I had a dog treat (note: organic, all natural) in my pocket, given to me earlier in the day by Crow’s aunt. I asked if I could give the dog a treat. They consented and I so I tossed Heidi the biscuit. Were I a dog, I’d want some folk to do the same, I suppose. This wasn’t the first dog named Heidi I’d met; it would undoubtedly not be my last either. (Ha, ha, I get it. Dachshund. German. Heidi. But may I suggest that if you get a German breed of dog, you try something less youthful and pretty? Perhaps Helga? Birget? No offense to any Helgas and Birgets out there…)

Canopy tower from below.

On the way out of the park, we stopped at a bridge along the main route in and out of the park to watch (and photograph) more alligators and birds. I got pretty good at spotting those snake birds–each time I saw one pop its head out of the water, I was a bit thrilled. I guess this is how birders feel. The alligators, of course, were just as ominous as ever, which made them somewhat endearing to me. Hey, the tour guide on the boat said that they generally don’t find adult humans a meal unless people start feeding them. So maybe it’s time we stop the hate for these ferocious reptiles now. They just want to live like everyone else… is that so wrong?

View from the bridge exiting the park.

Anyway, I think we spent over four hours at the park. I probably could have spent a lot more. It was definitely a great way to spend a sunny afternoon. I’d love to go back again. Maybe try the tram tour. I have to admit I am somewhat curious about the wilderness portion of the park. But I’m probably not yet ready to wake up next to an alligator in my tent… Not so sure I want to test the truth of the tour guide’s claim that alligators have no interest in eating me.

See ya later, alligators!

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