January 28, 2016

Epiphytes, Wildflowers, and Gators!
(At Myakka River State Park)

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This place is a "must see" for visitors to Florida's gulf coast. Myakka River State Park is located about nine miles east of Sarasota. One of the state's largest and oldest parks, it offers excellent hiking trails through various park ecosystems--including wetlands, rare dry prairies, hammocks, and pinelands.

My family visited the park last year in early March. It was a highlight of our time together, and it's funny: We didn't know anything about this place until we researched things to do the day before our visit.

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The first amazing thing I noticed was the Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium antustifolium) surrounding the parking lot. I posted about this plant in May.

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The hiking trails we used were extremely well-maintained and easy to traverse. We covered only a small area, but the park includes about 39 miles of loop trails through shady Live Oak/Palm hammocks, sandy Pine flatwoods, sunny dry prairies, and marshes--all teaming with fascinating plants and wildlife.

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Soon after we entered the park, we headed for the canopy walk.

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Along the way, we walked through a "jungle" of Oaks and Palms.

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Just as I found myself wondering what species of Palm I was seeing ...

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A sign described the differences between Sabal Palms (Sabal palmetto) and Saw Palmettos (Serenoa repens), both native to Florida.

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I think most of these young plants I captured in photos are Sabal Palms.

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This tree had a fascinating growth pattern. I wonder how this happened?

Soon, we reached the canopy walkway, suspended 25 feet above the ground and extending 100 feet through the hammock canopy.

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So awesome!

But before you move to the next photo, I must share a personal story: I'm afraid of heights. I find it extremely difficult to climb open-air towers. Guess what? Part of the canopy walk includes climbing an open-air tower!

I don't have any photos of the climb, because I was hyperventilating and shaking most of the way up. (Here's a great video of what you can expect.)

My family encouraged me all the way ... to the pay-off ...

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Jungle wilderness as far as the eye could see, in every direction! I'm so glad I didn't miss out on this!

Completed in 2000, the canopy/tower walkway was the first public treetop trail in North America. The tower extends to 74 feet above the forest floor.

No photos of the climb back down, but that was much easier (for me). Still so much more to see ...

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This moss really was this bright green!

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Mosses, ferns, lichens, and fungi were everywhere. I found the epiphytes particularly fascinating.

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Just imagine how many life forms were living on this tree trunk!

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Did you see the lizard?

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Of course I had to snap a photo of this colorful mushroom. Based on quick research, I'm guessing it was a poisonous Russula emetica?

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There were several benches along the trails for resting and reflecting.

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And numerous wildflowers, including this Iris, which I believe is a Savanna Iris (I. hexagona var. savannarum).

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And this St. John's-wort, which I think is St. Andrew's-Cross (Hypericum hypericoides).

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Boardwalks stretched through the wetland portions of the trail.

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Easy walking with more benches along the way ...

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Warnings along the trail alerted us that alligators were present, but looking at this scene I never would have guessed danger lurked below the water's surface.

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Judging from the behavior of water fowl, I never would have guessed it either.

In fact, we saw no gators until we began driving out of the park. We noticed numerous parked cars near a bridge over the river, so we stopped to check it out.

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Perfectly pastoral, safe, and innocent, right?

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But, did you see this? Fortunately, I had my optical zoom camera with me ...

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Oh yeah.

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Turns out, I didn't need the telephoto: The gators were all around us in the water and under the bridge!

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They sure blended in to the water's color and its rippled surface.

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I don't recall seeing gators in the wild before: Just one of many reasons our trip to Myakka River State Park was incredible. And I want to go back!

75 comments:

  1. Eeeek to the gators..
    Well done for going up that tower. I know exactly how you felt from climbing up above the chimney on the scaffolding here last year. And yes, it is easier coming down!

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    1. Thanks, I was pleased that I conquered my fears that day--thanks mostly to my daughter (and the others) coaching me all the way up! Your chimney experience did sound similar. The gators were fun to see--we were safe on the bridge and the land. But I wouldn't want to swim there!

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  2. Great pictures! It was fun to see Florida through your eyes! I've been a few times and the water is amazing and of course, the flora and fauna are so different from what I look at everyday. It's a really beautiful place.......

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the hike. ;-) I agree: Florida now seems like a familiar place, in general. This park, however, was so wild! It gave me an idea of what Florida was like before development. Amazing, but scary, place. I think I'd stick to the coasts. ;-)

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  3. Amazing park. There would also walked and walked, but alligators would be happy not watching. I do not like them and I'm afraid. Regards.

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    1. Hi Giga: The alligators were fun to see. We were safe on the bridge and they didn't come onto the land near the people. They seemed to stay far away on the banks of the river away from the people. I wouldn't want to wander far from the paths, though!

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  4. Dear Beth, I have never even heard of the Myakka River State Park, but it seems definitively worth visiting! I always enjoy seeing palms and the canopy walk is absolutely cool. Like you I am not doing well with heights, so I don't know if I could climb up there, but the views that you get from the canopy walk are truly amazing.
    Seeing alligators in the wild must have been a one of a kind experience, but I would prefer to keep a safe distance to them ;-).
    Warm regards,
    Christina

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    1. Hi Christina: I seem to be braver about physical risks in warmer, calm weather. Most of the time, I'm so frightened of heights I can barely move. This time, it was worth the anxious ascent. The view was incredible! It was fun to see the gators, and they were so close--under the bridge! We were perfectly safe, but it was thrilling!

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  5. Wow - that looks like an incredible park! We went to many state parks when I was a kid, but mainly in the north east, so I've not been to any in Florida. That walking trail is incredible. Just goes to show it's always worthwhile doing a bit of research on things to do when you go somewhere new as you may unearth a previously unknown treasure.

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    1. I seem to remember you saying you camped with your family when you were a kid? Yes, the canopy walk/board walk was fabulous! It was kind of a "let's check out what we can do in the area" situation. I'm glad we found this place, and I hope we can get back there. :)

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  6. what a wonderful place, Beth, I enjoyed the (vicarious) hike, and it's a good thing you didn't go for a swim!

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    1. Yes! Definitely not a great place to go swimming. ;-) I'm glad you enjoyed the hike.

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  7. What a great tour of the park. It is odd to see oaks and palmettos together as I'm so use to seeing the Piedmont hardwoods. The variety of epiphytes is amazing and the blue eyed grasses in bloom is breathtaking! I'll put this on my list of parks to visit.

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    1. It's definitely worth visiting when you're in the area, Karin, and not so terribly far away for you. You're lucky! I suppose it would be an easy weekend trip? Yes, the vegetation was amazing. It was weird to see the Live Oaks and Palms growing so plentifully together.

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  8. It appears you went to a different world. Beautiful scenery and wildlife.

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    1. Yes, it was a different world, Lisa! Wish I could get down there again this winter, but we have another trip planned in March. Thanks!

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  9. We share a fear of heights, but good for you and your family for supporting you--the view is fabulous. Thanks for this tour. I wasn't familiar with this place either. As always, beautiful photos.

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    1. Thanks, I doubt I would have made it to the top without the encouragement! The view was incredible; the photos don't come close to doing it justice. Definitely worth the visit if you're in the area!

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    2. Certainly lots of wild critters are thriving in this area!

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  10. It looks like a wonderful place and your pictures of alligators are most impressive. I am impressed how tick Sisyrinchium antustifolium grow.

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    1. Thanks, Alain. Yes, it's a wonderful park. We only scratched the surface--there's so much more to see there! My heart actually skipped a beat when I saw all that Blue-Eyed Grass! It was a delight to see. :)

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  11. What a great trip! It is so neat to see a totally different type of natural area than what we normally see. Love all those epiphytes! I went to Florida once and we took one of those airboat tours. I must have counted close to 100 alligators in just an hour! Sure not a good place to swim!

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    1. Hi Indie: Yes, it was great fun! We didn't do an airboat ride, but we did consider it! I did take a boat tour with my parents, however, and I plan to post about it in the coming weeks. 100 gators in an hour--wow! I'm sure there were that many in the river near the bridge where we were, but we couldn't see them all. And no, I would not want to swim in this water!

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  12. Hi,
    I love alligators!! I am just fascinated with them. Great photos, I enjoyed reading about your adventure.
    Carla

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    1. Thanks, Carla. I find them fascinating, too. And it wasn't very scary because we were safe on a bridge and a walkway, where it would be nearly impossible for them to reach us. I think some of the other areas where we walked could have been more dangerous if a gator would have come ashore, but that didn't happen while we were there, thankfully! I'm glad you enjoyed the virtual tour.

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  13. Double eek to the Gators, and triple eek to the tree top walk and that tower! I suffer from vertigo too, am most impressed that you made it up there. What a fabulous place to visit - Gators not withstanding...

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    1. Tee hee. Yes, it was quite a personal accomplishment to get to the top of that tower (thanks to my family)! I wasn't afraid of the gators because we were in a place where it would be hard for them to reach us. Still, it was a thrill to see them!

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  14. Similar to the Boomslang (tree snake inspired) trail at Kirstenbosch - but your plants and animals are quite different.
    I much prefer being at a virtual distance from alligators!

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    1. Hi Diana: I've so enjoyed your descriptions of your S. African trails and hikes! If I ever visit your country, I hope to experience some of that. The virtual distance does make it a little less nerve-wracking. ;-) But it was fun to see them, too!

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  15. Wow, this place looks amazing. If I ever make it across the pond, it'll be on the list. Wonderful photos and that climb was definitely worth doing for the view you had.
    I really had to take a second to see that lizard! With the gators as well, it looks like you had a great adventure there. Thanks for sharing it.

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    1. Yes, it IS amazing! I definitely recommend it if you visit Florida. I still can't believe I made it to the top of the tower, but I think I could do it again after doing it once. It's an incredible, awe-inspiring view up there! There are lizards all over Florida, in residential areas, too. I find them entertaining and fascinating. :) You are welcome--I'm glad you enjoyed the virtual hike!

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  16. Florida is another world. The canopy/tower walkway is pretty cool. I bought one little plant of blue-eyed grass last year and it hasn't done much, so I liked your illustration of what it could achieve. Looks great. susie

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    1. Yes, it is! I enjoy Florida in winter. I'm thinking it would be a little too buggy for me in summer--even more than Wisconsin. ;-) Wasn't the field of Blue-Eyed Grass amazing? I'd planned to add it to my garden...guess I'd better get going on planning where to put it.

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  17. I have a few blue-eyed grass plants here. They have grown pretty well so far (stayed evergreen in fact through this winter so far... although nibbled down to the nubs by something (rabbits? deer?). But it's cool to see what they might look like if they naturalize...

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    1. Ah, rabbits eat the Blue-Eyed Grass? Maybe not such a good plant for me. Soooo many rabbits here! Maybe I could try them in a pot.

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  18. How lovely to see the blue eyed grass plants looking natural rather than struggling as they do in my garden.
    Over coming your fear of heights was extremely well worth. A great space to explore and nice to see those gators in their natural habitat. When I was in Florida - visiting the land of Mickey Mouse there was a large one living in the pond/lake near our hotel. We avoided that part of the area completely throughout our stay. I have though handled young crocodiles and although sweet little clones of their parents they can't half snap! So I can imagine the force of those humongous jaws. Great post.

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    1. I did a double-take when I saw that field of Blue-Eyed Grass. Couldn't believe what I was seeing! Thanks for the encouragement. It was scary to climb the tower, but I'm glad I did. Crocodiles! Wow! For some reason they scare me more than alligators. But the main thing is, I'd rather observe both of them from afar. ;-)

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  19. Amazing! I hate heights, too, but made myself climb the vertical metal ladder into the lighthouse lens tower on Raspberry Island in Lake Superior.

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    1. Good for you! A couple of times I've been unable to make the climb on a similar tower at Peninsula State Park. And there's another scary one at Potawatomi State Park in southern Door County. For some reason, I'm braver when the temps are warmer and there's no breeze.

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  20. That is so neat that they've constructed a "canopy walk"! sorry it wasn't much fun :-( but I'm glad you took a photo from the top.

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    1. Yes, the canopy walk is nifty! Actually, it was extreme fun after I made it to the top--such a wonderful sense of accomplishment, and the view was amazing! I was worried about dropping my camera. There's that strange sense of dreading the edge, but being drawn to it at the same time!

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  21. Thank you for braving the canopy walk. In a state without a whole lot of natural elevation, it was nice to see the forest from above.

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    1. Hi Les: You are welcome! I suppose this park isn't too far for you to make a brief trip sometime. Next time you're down near Sarasota, check it out!

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  22. I can understand why this is a must see...just that field of Blue-Eyed Grass had me wanting to visit. Like you that climb would be a problem....I can actually climb up. It is the climb down that paralyzes me....but that view is worth the climb.

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    1. Yes, definitely a good day activity during a Florida visit! We loved it! In fact, I think this was my favorite day of the whole trip. Interesting--I sorta felt that once I'd climbed up, any progress back was closer to the comfort of earth. ;-)

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  23. Good for you for braving that open air tower! What a beautiful and interesting place and it sounds like you and your family had a great time there. Gators? Yikes!

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    1. Yes, I was proud of my accomplishment, but the family helped me do it. It's a really cool place. The gators were nifty! We were on a bridge and walkway area--difficult for the gators to reach us.

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  24. This is truly Florida! Looks stunning and somehow similar to places i Málaga South of Spain. How brave to be so near to alligators!!! it must have been scary! One place to visit, for sure! Thanks

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    1. Yes, I definitely recommend it if you visit central Florida! Interesting that it reminds you of Malaga. Spain sounds incredibly diverse in its landscapes and ecosystems! The alligators were amazing to see, and I felt safe because we were on a bridge and a walkway.

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  25. What a fantastic place, I'm so glad to know about it now. I have never been to Florida (except for a work meeting in Orlando, which hardly counts), if I ever go I will put this park on my list of things to see. I also have a fear of heights, so I can appreciate your accomplishment.

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    1. Oh, you'd enjoy Florida, Jason. So many amazing plants, and I was surprised by how many are ones that grow well in the Midwest--a couple of months later! Yeah, the tower was my biggest accomplishment. Definitely a thrill once I made it to the top!

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  26. Thanks for the tour Beth - I very much enjoyed 'walking' through this range of environments - struck by the seeming paradox of co-existence of Oaks and Palms. Heights hold fears for me too (like stairs in lighthouses that tighten the higher they go!)so bravo - worth that view. Recognise some of those epiphytes as those sold as air plants stuck to shells etc which fail to thrive in my hands - they look so much better in their own environs. Gators blend so well - now I understand that rippled skin!

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    1. You are welcome, Laura. Yes, I've been in the types of tightening staircases you mention, and I find those difficult, too. I passed on the steps up to St. Paul's tower when we were in London, while the rest of the family was brave. I haven't had much luck with air plants either, but I like them. We were so thrilled to see the gators before we exited the park!

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  27. What a gorgeous place! And all the plants are so very different from what we see here in the Midwest. That's what I enjoyed when I used to visit Arizona: seeing such different plant life. I would have been hyperventilating right along with you on that climb up the tower, if someone could have even gotten me to get on it:) And the alligators would have sent me scrambling farther ashore!

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    1. It is a thrill to travel to different places, isn't it Rose? It makes our beautiful Midwestern plants that much more treasured when we get back. :) I was surprised at how many plants thrive in both Florida and Wisconsin -- albeit many weeks later in the growing season!

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  28. What a great walk through the treetops, Beth. I've never heard about this park so the next time I get to Florida, I'll try to see it. Looks amazing!

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    1. Hi Pat: Yes, it was a fun day! I'd definitely recommend it. We didn't cover the entire park, but the canopy walk, tower, and the modest hiking we did were certainly enjoyable. A wonderful way to spend an early March day!

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  29. Congratulations to you for conquering your fear and make it to the top of the tower, lovely photos and also I enjoyed the video in the link you had, what a lovely place to visit! When I was reading on through your post I was comparing it to Kew Gardens and the Treetop Walkway there and I was thinking that a lot of the surrounding garden looked similar to Kew too – until I got to the bit about the alligators - I laughed out loud! There are fortunately no alligators in London’s parks :-) Good you could keep on a safe distance!

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    1. Thanks, Helene. It was a great feeling of accomplishment since the acrophobia can be crippling. I almost feel like I need to crawl my way up, I'm so afraid. We never made it to the Treetop Walkway at Kew! I hope to get back there someday, and I'll definitely check it out! The alligators were fascinating, but I wouldn't want to stand too close to them in an unprotected place!

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  30. A whole different landscape there. Wildlife too with the gators. Very nice boardwalk to. I hope my comment makes it through. For some reason I think my comments have been not accepted. I have been reading though.

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    1. Hi Donna: Your comment came through. Yes, it does seem like an entirely different world! This is a fabulous park to visit, and we only covered a small part of it.

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  31. Wonderful memories of great family time! The moss covered tree is one of my favorite pictures. No head for heights myself and no amount of encouragement would have got me onto that canopy walkway -- you're very brave. P. x

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    1. Thanks, Pam. Yes, it was a special day. I don't know if I was brave, but I didn't want to miss out. And the family helped me to conquer my fears. :)

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    1. Thank you, Rajiv. And thanks for stopping by!

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  33. It pays to be brave! Bravo! It is on my bucket list now for sure. Thanks for the brilliant tour.

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Linda. Yes, I definitely recommend it next time you visit Florida's Gulf Coast.

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  34. Fantastic! I can't believe I have never heard of this park, and I live in a neighboring state. Now I really want to go there. I am glad you had the courage to make that climb. It always feels good to conquer our fears, and you had a tremendous reward for your efforts.

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    1. I agree: It does feel fabulous to conquer fears, especially when the reward is so beautiful and awe-inspiring. The photos can't really do it justice. Yes, you are fortunate to live so close. I definitely recommend a visit to this park!

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  35. What a cool place! I'm afraid of heights, too, so I would have been hyperventilating right behind you! But the climb was definitely worth it. :) Wild alligators! Yikes!!

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    1. Yes, it's a beautiful park and it was the best day of the trip last year. What's better than adventures with the family? :) If you ever visit, the climb is worth it. I couldn't look down as I was going up, but once I was up there, it was OK.

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  36. Glad you got to see alligators on your trip! I bet the wading birds are very vigilant and also take not of when the alligators last fed.

    All of the blue-eyed grass is beautiful. It grows wild here but not in profusion like that.

    I've always wanted to take a winter/early spring trip to Florida for birding. It looks like a tropical paradise.

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    1. Yes, it was fun, and great to get some close-up views of the gators! I love the Blue-Eyed Grass! I've been meaning to add some to my garden--just trying to figure out the best place for it! I highly recommend Florida in February and March. I spent a few weeks there last winter and loved it! I was glad to get back home, though!

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  37. Sounds like an interesting place to visit -- and more than once.

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    1. Yes, it was great fun! I'm missing the warmth this February, since I decided to stick around Wisconsin for the Winter. But this has been a comfortable winter, so that helps. ;-)

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