When I was a little girl, my Dad used to take my Mom, brother, and I on frequent weekend trips to the Everglades. We had a pull behind camper and there was this dirt road we’d always take which dead-ended on a huge lake. This spot was a frequent stop for weekend campers like us. It was like having a cool secret hideaway. There was no signs or posting showing you the way, you just had to know how to get there.
I remember how we would travel along the Tamiami Trail, the main corridor that literally runs from Miami to Tampa. Once you left the City limits of Miami and West Dade County you entered into a whole different world. Along the Trail there was the tiny town of Cooper City, population 10 and known for their touristy airboat rides and sales of frog legs. The further west you drove you entered into the Miccosukee Indian Reservation and Big Cypress National Preserve. This was before they built their resort and gaming casino in 1983. Along the way there were several places to take airboat tours, watch alligator wrestlers, grab a good old fashion burger, stop by the side of the road to fish, and learn about the Miccosukee culture.
And depending what time you hit the road you needed to mindful of all the alligators (The Tamiami Trail is also known as Alligator Alley). There was always TONS of them crossing the trail or getting a suntan on the shoulder of the road.
There was this one spot along the trail, it was an old abandoned service station with a diner and it had an old airplane mounted on its roof. I think it was called the Oasis. Either way, all I remember is once we passed that station my dad always turned right on the third dirt road, made a left on the second dirt road we came across and then headed straight to the lake.
For most people I would guess that the word Everglades brings up images of alligators battling 30-foot pythons and the cast of Swamp People riding around on airboats hunting the non-native species of snakes out of the wooded swamp. But this was before pythons and other non-native species were dumped in the swamp and messed up the ecosystem.
On some weekends we would hang out with other campers who we got to know well and have family meals together. My dad and others would build a huge BBQ grill with some cinder blocks and metal grills we all kept near the lake. The guys would stay up late at night drinking beer and fishing. Mom and I would clean their catch the next and get it ready for the grill. Someone had built a small wooden ramp that led to a floating pier. My brother and I would swim in the lake around the pier and then lay on the pier and bask in the sun.
All around the lake there were hiking trails and my Dad often took my brother and I on the trails to learn how to forage for edible plants, berries, mushrooms and what not. It’s also along these trails that my Dad taught me how to shoot his rifle.
I don’t recall how old I was, but I do recall the massive bruise it left on my shoulder for almost a month. But I wasn’t much of a hunter back in those days. My Dad and brother were the ones who hunted for whatever was in season during the visit like duck, deer or whatnot. While they hunted I would use my brother’s BB gun and shoot at empty beer and soda cans. I was pretty good at it. I had a small Kodak pocket camera back then and spent a good portion of the day taking photos of the beautiful Blue Heron and White Egrets that always gathered around the swampy waters. It was weekend trips like these that inspired my love for the outdoors and for photography. And the Everglades are so vast that you could explore different dirt roads and see all sorts of wildlife. It’s been many years and the landscape of the Tamiami Trail has changed a lot for sure, but I will always remember our weekends in the swamp fondly.
One day I’d like to try and find that old campsite and crack open a can of beer by the lake and offer up a toast to my Dad.