Florida Everglades

After spending an overnight at the Faded Glory Bistro Harvest Hosts, we stayed for two weeks at the Ortona South Army Corp of Engineers campground. This park is firmly seated in the “out in the middle of nowhere” South Florida on the Northern side of the everglades. This park is about 20 minutes from LaBelle and 30 minutes from Clewiston, Florida.

The park is about an hour north of the Everglades National Park and the more fun Big Cypress National Preserve. Jason could have lost a leg to an alligator in the everglades and Barb gets a close up look of a big critter alongside the road.

We were also about 75 minutes from Fort Meyers, we finished some “big city” errands and were blessed with a chance to meet up with some RV friends from Wisconsin.

Ortona South – Army Corp of Engineers Campground

Check-In: Nov 3, 2019; Check-Out: Nov 17, 2019; Site #33

Gates are locked at sunset and open at 7AM! So plan your arrival!
Site 33 at Ortona South COE (Army Corp of Engineers) Campground when pulled “windshield in” was perfect to watch the locks operate.
Notice: finding the driveway to this campground is absolutely insane because of the lack of proper signage, especially complicated by the construction that is occurring on the highway around the entry.  You will seem like you have entered a ranch, marked by the ranch’s branch on a cornerstone at the driveway.  You will not be able to see the RV park for several miles, several curves and what seems like a ranch’s pasture. There are no markers on this road anywhere until you reach the gates.  A few brown tent signs and some arrows would do wonders!  Check out the Google Satellite view in advance, it is actually accurate.

Ortona South COE Campground is a beautifully manicured park on the Caloosahatchie River and is part of the locks system that connects the Gulf of Mexico with the Atlantic Ocean.  The locks are very active all week long and lock through kayaks through huge million-dollar yachts.  There are two main loops split by a beautiful little creek fed from a dam also on the property.

Each loop has a river facing sites and pasture facing sites. We scoured the Google Satellite images to see which sites would have a good view and which would not, just because it is on the riverside doesn’t mean it has a good view. The first two sites in the South loop are not really facing the river, they are turned more inland and looking at a parking lot for day use visitors. Site 33 where we were at had a great view out of our windshield, after pulling in and not backing in, of the locks and the lock operation. We had a few people using our water spigot to fill their buckets while fishing on the dock.

Many beautiful sunsets over the Ortona South COE campground.

AT&T Cell Service

Down 15.55
Up 4.39
Ping 242.00
Jitter 120.18
Antenna No
Boosted No
Test # 367
Timestamp 2019-11-03 14:18:55

Verizon Cell Service

Service was actually OK, the upload failed but throughout the week it was OK.

Down 15.91
Up 0.00
Ping 83.60
Jitter 16.24
Antenna No
Boosted Yes
Test # 378
Timestamp 2019-11-15 05:49:16

Dining Around

Cafe Tropical, Clewiston, Florida (Cuban): we had a good experience and a not so good experience.  The mango shakes were amazing though!

Log Cabin Bar B Que, LaBelle, Florida (American, BBQ): we had dinner and breakfast here, both were good but were not “excellent” by any means.  You get free ice cream and soup with your dinner, their claim to fame.

 

Big Cypress National Preserve

That’s a big one! Alongside the road in the Big Cypress National Preserve south of Monroe Station on the scenic drive. The NW half of the drive is great to see wildlife including this critter.

About an hour south of the campground is the Big Cypress National Preserve, which is part of the overall Florida everglades but is outside the national park. According to the park staff, a national preserve grants more flexibility than a national park in the way it manages the resources.  We checked out some of the campgrounds, made some notes for future visits including some speed tests.

Jason was standing on culvert when this little guy breached out of the water to grab a fish at Jason’s feet, then it retreated across the pond. Just south of Monroe Station in the Big Cypress National Preserve

Ultimately we owe thanks to Solo Travel Girl for the plan to check out the scenic drive from Monroe Station and to go south. The first half (northwest end) is mostly gravel roads and numerous culverts and bridges with water alongside the roads. You can really get up and close with nature along this portion of the trail. The Saturday we did this the education center was closed. The southwest end of the loop is mostly asphalt and residential in nature, put your focus and time in the first half.

We lost track of the number of alligators we saw on this drive. Jason could have easily lost a leg to the one alligator who was fishing and with the big guy, Barb spotted we didn’t dare get out of the Jeep nearby as he could have easily reached us in one big lunge. Nature is close up and personal along this drive, not manufactured like was our favorite drive at Lake Apopka.

You may want to pack a lunch when visiting the everglades. There are some restaurants, but they are far between. There are not many concessions at the visitor centers either, a set of vending machines at Shark Valley. You will be on the Miccosukee from time to time as you drive through the area and the Miccosukee Restaurant is very good.

Grilled Steak in Pan Friend Bread at the Miccosukee Restaurant, between the Big Cypress scenic loop and the Shark Valley visitor center.

Everglades National Park

The Shark Valley Tram Tours is a great way to learn about the park and get out to the observation tower. Even though we stopped to see baby gators, the scenic drive loop is far more beautiful and closer to nature.

The western visitor center is in the “Shark Valley” area and if you visit you need to either plan to walk long distances, bike or take the Shark Valley Tram. We came across the tram at just the right time as the last one of the day was loading. The tram takes you on a loop out into the park and you will have some time on the observation tower. The observation tower gives you perspective on just one part of a vast area like the everglades. By definition, the park is in a “valley” and you from the tower see that the everglades are not just a flat lake, there is indeed some hills and “swampy” areas pepper throughout.

The observation tower at the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park is built on the site of an oil exploration site.
Looking out over the everlades from the Shark Valley observation tower in Everglades National Park

Next?

We are headed East to Fort Lauderdale, positioning ourselves so that we can check out the Florida Keys and to check out more new areas neither of us has ever been to before.

There are numerous marketing names for the coasts of Florida, you need to know these to understand what a “local” is talking about! (Original map source unknown)
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