First stop was Myakka River State Park. This park has a big lake with river inlets that wind through the jungle. I didn't get to explore that area because I had Siena with me, and dogs aren't allowed in canoes. We explored the trails, and our first stop was the canopy suspension bridge and tower. This bridge elevates you above the tree tops, revealing a panorama of....flatness. Pretty much flat jungle. Wasn't all that exciting. In fact, I didn't even snap a picture except for one of the bridge.
After hiking a few loop trails, we took off to our next destination - Highland's Hammock. Two hours northeast of Sarasota, this State Park was similar to Myakka only more compact (jungle-wise) and had distinct swamp areas that I could access by foot. I stopped to take a picture of this little country church on the side of the road. It symbolizes (to me) how life feels here. Simple. Like, you just have to listen to country music while driving around town, because everything here is so UNpretentious - it's quite refreshing.
While hiking through Highland's Hammock, I felt like I was on the set of Gilligan's Island.
Think tropical jungle....
Then think of everything that goes along with tropical jungle during the summer:
SNAKES (in trees)!!!
This place was definitely CREEPY! To intensify things, I was the only one on EVERY trail I went on. And there were plenty of people driving around the park. Maybe I was the only crazy person to actually go INTO the jungle. Who knows...except that every time I stopped to take a picture there were like 50 mosquitoes all over me. And every few feet there were HUGE spiders on their webs, spanning the trail to catch and devour who knows what. It was grossly fascinating - each time I paused to contemplate something, I got the heebie jeebies. I'm pretty sure I hiked those trails in record time.
The best part of all this, however, was walking through the swamp! SO CREEPY!!!! It was very quiet all around, the air heavy and thick, the waters still as could be. Then, there was a rustling in the bushes! And a pair of ibis took off, flapping their white wings like innocent doves praying to God that they wouldn't be eaten alive....by ALLIGATORS!!!! AGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!
That's what my imagination sounded like as I cut through the swamp, eyes darting across the boardwalk to either side of the mysterious pools.
Yeah, I walked that trail pretty fast too. I'm glad I had the dog with me, or else I would have ran. And, to my great disappointment, I didn't see any alligators (thank God).
Equally as adventurous but way less scary was crossing the single-railing catwalk. Siena did a great job. I was hoping she wouldn't see a squirrel and jump off. To my amazement, she stayed very focused and led the way with a loose leash, taking her sweet time. Good girl!
Since I never encountered another human being on one of the trails, I decided to set up my camera on a stump and take a timed shot of myself and the dog, for memories sake.
(Ok, so in the photo above, I'm being swarmed by teeny tiny mosquitoes. As soon as the camera timer went off, I ran yelling and swatting the air. I think I'll go back in winter when there are less mosquitoes)