Turtle or tortoise? If you want to get technical, all tortoises are turtles, meaning they belong to the order Testudines. However, not all turtles are tortoises. Tortoises are land animals, and they can’t swim. Though there are land turtles that are not tortoises, like wood turtles and box turtles. Are you confused yet? An easy way to tell the difference is to look at their feet. Tortoise feet look a bit like elephant feet, which is interesting because they’re called “elephantine.” That just means they’re columnar and not webbed like turtles’ back feet are. Turtles’ front feet are like flippers. Tortoises’ are not.
If you hike near water in Florida, chances are pretty good you’re going to see an alligator at some point. Those of us who are on the trails a lot are used to it, but it can be scary if you haven’t had much experience sharing the trails with these reptiles. Something that’s important to remember is that a healthy, wild alligator will most likely want nothing to do with you; so the best course of action is to just ignore them and let them go on their way. Alligator attacks in Florida are extremely rare. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission there have only been twenty-four fatal alligator attacks in Florida since 1973. Statistically, you’re more likely to be killed by a cow than you are an alligator.
When everything was shut down for a Covid-19, I decided it was a good time to check out some local birding hot spots. Ollie’s Pond is one of those places I put off going to because I didn’t think it would be all that exciting. It’s just a big pond in the middle of a neighborhood. My expectations were pretty low. I was pleasantly surprised! The first time I went, I saw seventeen species of birds. Not a huge number, but it was a fun variety. Yesterday, there weren’t quite as many birds, but the few I did see were pretty exciting. There were black-necked stilts, white pelicans, and a roseate spoonbill, along with the usual suspects like red-winged blackbirds and osprey.
A trip through Florida’s Big Bend area and into the panhandle is like a trip back in time. Urban sprawl has yet to infect this remote area of the state. Taking a drive across the 220 mile long Big Bend Scenic Byway will take you through miles of longleaf pine forests and along fabulously undeveloped white, sandy coastline. I didn’t know before I went, but apparently a detailed brochure exists to help you navigate this incredible highway and really take in all it has to offer. It can be found here: http://www.floridabigbendscenicbyway.org/sites/default/files/media/docs/Byway-Guide-20120319.pdf
A drive down the scenic byway is one of many things we did while we were in the area. We visited several state parks within a couple of hours of Ochlockonee, but here we’ll focus on this one incredible state park. I realized I was pronouncing it all wrong when a kind ranger gave me a tip to say it right. He said it’s O-Clock-Knee. Now you know.
Welcome to Ochlockonee! Driving down route 319 near the tiny town of Sopchoppy, you’ll end up here at the park. If you’re planning to camp here for awhile, it may be helpful to know that the nearest Walmart is about forty minutes away in Crawfordville. The nearest store is a Dollar General, about fifteen minutes away. There really is nothing around here!
You could drive around the state looking for brown signs indicating scenic areas and parks, or you could check out some of this info I’ve gathered here for you. I’ve spent an awful lot of time seeking out some of the best (in my opinion) places for exploring nature in Florida. This is not a list of every specific place to explore, but a list of ways for you to find those places for yourself and go explore. There are a lot of great resources available for finding things to do. It’s not always easy to find those resources though. This is a list of some of my favorites. I hope you’ll find this compilation helpful.
It was pretty easy deciding which place I wanted to share first. I have a lot of favorites, but my absolute favorite is easily Corkscrew Swamp. Cypress swamps are my favorite, and this place has the largest old growth bald cypress forest in the world. It’s also home to one of the largest nesting colonies of endangered wood storks in the U.S.