Florida cracker refers to original colonial-era English and American pioneer settlers of the remote back country of southern Florida, and their descendants. The first of these arrived in 1763 when Spain traded Florida to Great Britain. They cleared the land, created cattle and horse ranches and thrived under incredibly difficult conditions - before the era of air conditioning, bug repellent and other modern conveniences that make life in southern Florida bearable. The problem is, that by doing so, they cleared this "dry prairie" of all its natural vegetation and wildlife.
Myakka River State Park, one of Florida's oldest and largest parks, was established to preserve some of the original wild prairie as defined on the park's website:
"Dry Prairies are large native grass and shrublands occurring on very flat terrain interspersed with scattered cypress domes and strands, bayheads, isolated freshwater marshes, and hardwood hammocks. This community is characterized by many species of grasses, sedges, herbs, and shrubs, including saw palmetto, fetterbush, staggerbush, tar flower, gallberry, blueberry, wiregrass, carpet grasses, and various bluestems. The largest areas of these treeless plains historically occurred just north of Lake Okeechobee. In central and south Florida, palmetto prairies, which consist of former pine flatwoods where the overstory trees have been thinned or removed, are also included in this category. These sites contain highly scattered pines that cover less than 10 to 15 percent of an area."
On the way over to the park from Avon Park we quickly drove through a land populated by vast tracts of citrus trees and into an area of very large cattle and horse ranches. And wide open spaces. Cracker country. Quite unexpected in over crowded Florida.
Then as we followed the signs to the entrance to the park we entered a hammock (click on photo to enlarge):
A beautiful, cool forest of oak and palm trees.
The park offers many opportunities to explore and discover a Florida from days gone by. There are miles of hiking trails, a guided tram ride, a 1 hour trip on an air boat, bikes, canoes and kayaks for rent. As Tara can no longer walk very far we really appreciated the fact that we could drive through the entire park making stops for short hikes to see its main features.
First stop was at a bridge crossing the Myakka River where alligators were basking in the sun. This big guy was right beside the bridge - walk in and pet him if you dare.
The river was full of them - very well disguised:
And its banks were lined with them:
Locals tell us that alligators can run at 35 miles per hour for 50 feet. However, they can only run in a straight line so zig zag to avoid them. I think I will stay 50 feet away.
After spending some time with the alligators (so to speak), we hiked in to the Canopy Walkway. This walkway is built 100 feet through the treetops and allow visitors to view the hammock forest from above.
At the end of the walkway is a 75 foot tower:
Which we climbed for a spectacular view of the forest and prairie beyond.:
Next was the birdwalk, a boardwalk that allows you to walk out into the marsh to view the birds of the area:
There are a lot of native birds unfamiliar to us;:
Here is a closeup of the list:
The air boat ride looked like fun but out of the question for us as Tara was with us:
Tomorrow, Jan 4 we are leaving Tara with a dog sitting service and going on an air boat nature tour. Really looking forward to that.