Saturday, February 4, 2012

February 4, 2012 - Orange Blossom Special-the Final Post from South Florida

To hear Vassar Clements and other great fiddlers play the Orange Blossom Special at the Grand Ole Opry, click here. To hear Roy Clark (on guitar) and Johnny Cash's version, click here. Or for a recent (2010) Roy Clark performance, showing that he still has the chops, click here.

Saturday morning and no conference or meetings for Kevin, so we picked up the car and headed west. Out of Miami Beach, past the docked cruise ships, through the city of Miami, past the airport, and before you know it, we're in the country. That is to say we are driving west through swamp land that is part of the greater Everglades region. As we pass what I assume (correctly) will be the last strip mall for miles and miles, I ask Kevin if he intends to stop for breakfast. Of course, he replies, and I wonder where in this river of grass are we going to find a place to eat. Silly me, the Miccosukee Indians have a large casino/resort out in the middle of nowhere, and they serve one fine breakfast buffet--at less than $8.00 each, it was easily the cheapest meal we had in Florida.

After breakfast, and back in the car, we continued west, thinking first that we would be visiting Everglades National Park, but instead pulled into the visitors' center for the Big Cypress National Preserve. At the visitors' center, we walked out on the boardwalk, leaving the indoor sales display for later. The boardwalk fronts a waterway that was chalk full of egrets, cormorants, gators, and fish. I overhead someone ask if the gators were kept there as a display, but the ranger assured us all that they are, indeed, wild animals and can come and go as they please. Someone else asked about the fish, and the ranger replied that they were mostly oscars. OK, I thought oscars lived in fish tanks, but apparently they're quite happy in south Florida being gator food.

Eat at Lulu's Bait Shack
Oasis Visitor Center, Big Cypress National Preserve

Off the boardwalk and back at the center, we saw the most colorful bird yet. A fellow wearing a shirt advertising Lulu's Bait Shack was feeding what I have to call a parrot. In doing my research, it would appear to be a Scarlet Macaw, but if any of my loyal readers would like to confirm or contest that guess, please let me know. The man was quite happy to talk about his bird, but I wanted to learn more about Big Cypress, so we went inside.

I'm still kicking myself in that one of the items for sale in the center was a large, folding, laminated and waterproof guide to the birds of South Florida. It was only $8.00, but I left it on the rack, which left me wondering what I was seeing all the rest of the day. We did speak with one of the rangers, a retired Seattlite who spends his winters in south Florida. He handed us some maps, and marked several places he thought we'd like to see.

By now it was warm enough that when we got back in the car, we put the top down. It remained down for the rest of the day--even through the rain shower we experienced in Fort Lauderdale. I've owned convertibles since 1980, and I've learned that in case of rain, you have two choices, neither one very good. First, assuming you have the room to do so, you can pull over and put the top up. Of course this means that you're standing still in the rain, and likely to get very wet. Second, you can just drive through the storm and hope that your speed and the wind blowing past the car will carry the rain drops over your head. That's exactly what Kevin and I did in Fort Lauderdale.

They're so cute when they're small
Kirby Storter Roadside Park, Big Cypress National Preserve

But first, we were still in Big Cypress, and had lots of things to see. Our next stop after leaving the Oasis Visitors' Center was Kirby Storter Roadside Park where a half-mile long boardwalk takes you deep into the swamp. Along the way I caught an egret, a couple of ibes (that's the preferred plural of "ibis," or so I'm told), a wood stork, and a young gator. Not much else for that one-mile round trip.

H.P. Williams Roadside Park had a much shorter boardwalk, but a lot more birds. I caught sight of a female anhinga drying her wings, a great blue heron, a little blue heron (I didn't even know there were such things), another wood stork, and a few cormorants. All seemed quite happy having their portraits done, but the anhinga was so camouflaged that I could barely make her out upon reviewing my photos.

Little Blue Heron, H.P. Williams Roadside Park
Big Cypress National Preserve

We had been warned that there was a seafood festival at Everglades City, a few miles south of US 41 (our route) on Florida 29, and sure enough, as we approached the junction, traffic became much heavier, especially the traffic in the onc0ming lane, heading down from Naples. Everglades City had been our original destination, but seeing all the visitors heading that way, we decided to pass on whatever wonders their seafood festival might hold, and head on to Naples.

While Kevin bought pepsi and chocolate at a Naples convenience store, I tried out my new geocaching app and found that there was a cache just behind the store. Try as I might, however, I couldn't find the camouflaged film can holding the cache, so it was back on the road for us. The road this time was Interstate 75, also known as Alligator Alley in this part of Florida. We crossed the peninsula from Naples to Fort Lauderdale, a distance of about 100 miles, getting caught in the afore-mentioned rain.

We missed our turn in Fort Lauderdale, much to TomTom's dismay, but the trusty GPS unit quickly recovered and got us back on track, this time heading toward Haulover Beach. A quick, if late, lunch at KFC, and we were back on the beach, Kevin clothed, me not, and talking to the same fellow from North Carolina we had visited with the day before. All told we spent a little over an hour on the beach, then as even the volleyball players were packing up, we took our leave, heading back to our final night at the Island House.

Our flight home departed Miami International at 7 am, Sunday, so we were up by 4, dressed, packed, and in the car by 5, arriving in plenty of time to turn in the car, get our boarding passes, clear security, and then wait for our flight to be called. The way home involved three flights. The first leg took us from Miami to JFK in New York on board a 737. A little over an hour after landing in New York, we departed on a Canadair jet bound for Minneapolis, where we had a four hour layover before boarding an Embraer jet heading home. Note that each plane was significantly smaller than the one preceding it. We arrived at home in Missoula without incident at 7:00 p.m. (9:00 pm Eastern Time), or fourteen hours after we first boarded the 737, and seventeen hours since we'd gotten out of bed. It was a long day, and one in which I took no pictures. I suppose I could have grabbed the camera in any one of the terminals, but there wasn't much to see out the plane windows.

Wood Stork, H.P. Williams Roadside Park
Big Cypress National Preserve

All told it was a good trip, but my it's a fur piece from Missoula, Montana to Miami Beach, Florida. Would I do it again? You betcha! But first I want my legs to heal from the cramped seating in the planes. And if New York is the city that never sleeps, I'm convinced that Miami Beach is the city that doesn't want anyone else to sleep either. There were people on the streets at all hours of the day or night, and most of them seemed to be carrying loud music with them--at least that's what it sounded like to me as I lay awake in the Island House watching the hours click by on the clock.

And the Orange Blossom Special? The things you learn on the internet. According to the National Park Service's website for Big Cypress National Preserve:
Ervin T. Rouse (1917-1981) wrote one of the most popular fiddling tunes of all time..."Orange Blossom Special"...about the luxury train from Orlando to Miami. He was a resident of the Loop Road area and a friend of the Seminoles.

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