Monday, February 15, 2016

Okeechobee Torry Island

Harvesting sugar cane

Lake Okeechobee is the 2nd largest freshwater lake in the USA – second only to the Beautiful Blue Lake Michigan.  An odd shaped circle, the lake encompasses 730 square miles, is normally 14 feet deep, and has 143 miles of earthen levees around it.  The 30 ft tall levees are rimmed with paths suitable for biking and walking and bird watching.  At the southern end of the lake is Clewiston, then South Bay where we stayed last year and Belle Glade. About 10 miles up the right side is Pahokee.  These small, OLD, agricultural towns are all surrounded by the massive sugar cane farms. As we approached the area from the west there were varying stages of cane growing as far as the eye could see. Some fields, black from being burned were plowed and ready for planting. Some fields were already a foot tall. Some cane was tall, tasseled and drying – ready to be burnt off.  In every direction, rolling black clouds rose above red-hot flames that roared across the dry field.  Huge tractors and combine style equipment were rolling down the still smoking rows and harvesting the latest sweet crop.  Flocks of egrets and ibis followed closely behind, looking for some tasty morsel that may have been uncovered.  Ashes flew everywhere – across the roads and in the towns and even out on the island.
Torry Island campground
Just west of Belle Glade and on the lake side of the tall grassy dike is Torry Island – and the city campground/park that carries the same name. The campground has been here a long time and has improved some since H used to camp here a long time ago but still needs a lot more TLC.  The water is high in the lake and with all the rain the campground is still a bit soggy – besides being surrounded by saw grass and swamp too!  Several canals have been dug to create peninsulas for campsites that allow campers to have their boats at their own site.  Our “train” backed up to one such canal but it is obvious that it had not been cleaned out in a bunch of years!  It’s full of floating weeds, tall reeds, trash and even a 4 ft gator that suns itself on the grassy edge when it is warm enough - just feet from our trailer! 

View from our back window

 Right across the canal from us is just one of the big dams that hold back the water in this expansive lake. This dam and several of the others are still holding back water while the ones that lead to the Caloosahatchee River to the west and the St Lucie canal to the east are wide open.

We’ve oohed and ahhed at several glorious sunsets while we’ve been here. We’ve also hiked a 2-mile path that led over a green steel bridge and thru the swamp to the west of this sunset. We stuck to the center of the dry, mowed path while being alert to the jungle noises that
Port Miayaka lock
kept attacking our ears – chirping & squawking birds of all kinds and other unnerving rustling noises in the tall grasses.  Snakes? Gators?  At one clearing H let out a yelp and jumped back as soon as he saw the large black gator!  Other campers have seen “her” and her 20 babies so we stayed clear of her grassy resting area.  Down the path further we came upon a pair of frolicking otters that chased each other back and forth until they saw/heard us approaching.  Even further down the path was an even larger monster of a gator!  H was ready to turn back but the big fella’ decided to slither off the path and into the dark water, allowing us to pass thru his territory –QUICKLY!

We’ve made even more new friends in our short stay on Torry Island. Janey and Bob are from Michigan and have a trailer that looks like a cousin to ours.  We rode our bikes up on the dike with them and even went out to dinner one evening.  Debi and Jeff are full timers from Ohio!  Bruce and Helen are avid birders from Goshen!

Our week is now complete.  The finishing touch was a “round the lake” trip to the town of Okeechobee on the very northern tip of the lake.  Flea Markets, a humongous fish sandwich lunch at Cowboys (again!) and stops at piers and parks all along the way filled up our Saturday.

On Sunday we’ll finish up with all the tall tales, story swapping, crafting and traveling advice and prepare to move on to Lake Worth and John Prince County Park.