Visiting Florida's state parks and beyond in our Roadtrek. This is how we saw it all. Hopefully, the posts will give you some useful information. Questions and comments are welcome.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Return to Florida's Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

A little north of Okeechobee, off SR 66, lies this vast prairie. 54,000+ acres.  More a preserve than a state park it is a great place for camping, hiking, biking and horseback riding (bring your own) in addition to birding and astronomy.  Yep, astronomy. This is Florida's first Dark Sky state park. Miles of open sky with no light pollution.

We are returning here after a great time four months ago. Stayed in the same site, #5, as it is very level compacted sand and shell base and mostly shaded all day.

The first thing different we noticed entering the family loop is the absence of firewood in the rack. We were told by the ranger signing us in there is a fire ban for the whole county. There is no firewood for sale or allowed in the fire pits.

The second difference is camping on the astronomy pad. I had never seen camping here in previous visits. And, these five sites are now part of the site reservation system.  Vehicles are limited to 17 feet, so it pretty much means tenting. There is still room for the astronomy buffs to take up station to view the open skies.  By the way, that's one of the swamp buggies used for tours in the preserve.

One reason we returned was to take another swamp buggy tour. This time in the morning, in a different season. They only operate on weekends Nov-Mar.  Call ahead for reservations.  Anyway, here we go toward Military Trail.

This is the dry prairie, mostly grasses and few trees and little water.  Right now it is very dry. Normally you see a lot of small birds that nest, hide and feed among the grass and deer foraging.  Because it is so dry they were scarce, having moved to different areas of the preserve seeking water.

And you have the wet prairie. Greener, different vegetation and inhabitants.  You are more apt to see gators, snakes, turtles in the wet prairie.

In the distance is the origin of the preserve's 7-mile slough. Very little water right now in this slough that travels through the prairie to the Kissimmee River. When there is abundant water the slough is a very active swamp.

 Another view of the wet prairie.

As we motored down the trail in the prairie we saw several Meadow Larks. Mostly flushed from the dry side.

Approaching one of several hammocks in the prairie.  Years ago the prairie was cattle country.  The prairie was vast with no references to divide up land among cattle owners. So, trees were planted as markers. 

We turned into one of the areas that was once a herdsmen campsite. Here you see the result along the road of wild pigs doing their thing. Strong noses. Do a lot of damage to the prairie.

In the campsite area remains of fences and supplies used by the herdsmen can be found. 

This area is near a popular hiking trail and the park has provided a few benches and fire pit for the hikers.  Also, in other hammocks group camping is allowed. No vehicles, though. Everything must be carried in. Now, if you had a horse or two......

Leaving the hammock we headed into a wet area with a bit more water than we saw before.

A lot more water. Was surprised to see this much as it is so dry right now.

Big wheel keeps on turnin'.

At a section of the 7-mile slough where it intersects with Peavine Road.  Huge metal culverts pass the water under the road.  But, I've been here when it actually spills over the road.

But, this time the water is low and the gators are here to laze on the bank and occasionally go into the water to wet the hide. The water attracts several other creatures. Notably turtles and birds. There were 10 gators on the beach and two in the water on this side of the road.  A heron and two immature Ibises search for food.  And, are careful not to become food.

This gator just caught a snack wrapped in grass. A black snake. He didn't stay visible too long.  Not sharing.

On the other side of the road there were 8 gators and a few more birds seeking food.

A Heron stalks the water's edge.

Immature Ibis flies in.


Couldn't tell if this one has spotted something interesting, or the wind is getting the better of him on the branch. Teetering back and forth.

Great White Heron lurking.


Tri-colored heron.

Tri-colored Heron and a Wood Stork.

Green Heron.

It's fascinating to watch the Wood Stork hunt for a morsel. It uses one foot to stir up the mud bottom while keeping that beak ready to grab anything that gets stirred up.

And, of course, there were a bunch of turtles. What's that eyeing them?

 As we departed the area we spotted this Striped Crayfish snake. Short and stubby. He slowly headed for the grass. Once in the grassy shoulder he quickly picked up the pace.

There is some color in the prairie.  These flowers dotted an otherwise brown grassed prairie.  We think November is the best time to visit.

Myrtleleaf St. John's-Wort

Rosey Camphorweed?

Oakleaf Fleabane

Leavenworth's Tickseed

Purple Thistle

Near the campground is a .7 mile nature loop in the hammock.

Our guide along Kilpatrick Hammock Trail. The trail starts out as dirt road, but changes to a path for most of the loop.

Glistening in the sun.

 There are two short bridges over a normally filled creek.  Very dry this visit. And we saw no deer which usually feed around the campground and this trail. Again, searching for water and food elsewhere.

We ventured away from the trail to see the adjacent prairie and did see two doe taking a break. They spotted us, but figured we weren't a threat, I guess.

The small creek the bridges cross is non-existent this trip due to drought.

Another example. The creek normally runs along the right of the trail. Dry now.

Butterflies we saw along the trail.

Phaon Crescent

A pair of White Peacock.

Palamedes Swallowtail

Phaon Crescent

And, finally. Had to put this in here.  Washboard entrance road. The wheelbase and wheel diameter on my bike fit the low and high points exactly.  The resulting slow speed ride was comical. Up and down without porpoising. Straight up, straight down. Go fast and you had a rough ride.  Felt like I had oval wheels in perfect sync.  OK, maybe it was the heat.  Must drink more water.

Good night in the campsite.