Holiday in the Hammock

Muffy Clark Gill "Cypress Reflections in Black & White"
After focusing for the last few weeks on art marketing, working with several art organizations and somewhere in between a batik and a portrait commission, I was tired.  My husband and I needed a holiday getaway. As it is snowbird season (a term local Floridians call their visiting guest tourists), I was lucky to book us a campsite at one of my favorite Florida parks and Florida’s oldest state park, Highlands Hammock. We had stayed at the park at Christmas last year and had enjoyed the way campers decorated their campsites and RVs for the holidays.
 
We left home two days before Christmas and headed north about two hours from Naples.  Located in south central Florida, the park is west of the city of Sebring and east of Zolfo Springs. We decided to have lunch in the old cattle town of Arcadia. The main street area is full of antique stores and has a few restaurants. We stopped at the Magnolia Street Seafood and Grill. It occupies the ground floor of the former Plaza Hotel. Built in the 1925 the building had seen better days, but the restaurant was busy as usual and filled with lunch time diners. There is a legend that the restaurant is haunted. I enjoyed their fried clam dinner with its fresh made hush puppies and potato salad. You don’t often find fried clams in Florida and this generous helping was tasty and large enough for a second meal while camping!
 
We arrived at the park just after 2 PM. A new edict from Florida State Park management in Tallahassee wouldn’t allow anyone to check in before three PM, so we went to the Hammock Country Store and bought tickets for the next day’s wildlife tour along with some locally made key lime ice cream. You never know what you will find in a country store.
In the early 1930’s FD Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps(CCC) to provide employment to the locals to help feed their families. The main buildings at the hammock that were built are still in use today with very few changes. One building, the mess hall became the the country store. The other large building became a museum to focus on the work of the CCC. Once we were able to set up camp, we spent the afternoon resting and watching our dog, Mia chase squirrels (the tamed squirrels loved to tease her which drove her crazy). A pleasant cool evening allowed us to enjoy the warmth of a campfire.
 
The next morning we rode our bikes back to the store and got on a crowded tram for our tour. This service operated by the park has been running for years and takes you to places that are normally off limits to visitors. It has always been our favorite activity while visiting the park. Ed, our tram driver has been conducting these tours for three years and is a wealth of knowledge about the history and wildlife of the park. We saw several litters of alligators,

birds, and even a River Otter quickly slipped past us. It was a warm day and alligators and turtles were warming up on the banks of a man made canal the CCC made when the park was created.

When we returned to the store to get our bikes, we also purchased one of their famous sour orange pies-think of a key lime pie that uses sour orange juice instead. That would become our dessert of choice over the next few days.
 
That afternoon Santa Claus visited the campground. Dressed in a beautiful red suit, he was driven around the campground while handing out candy canes to the children.
Christmas Eve came and the campground was aglow with strings of lights. Many campers had lights strung along the awnings of their RVs. It was a beautiful sight!
 
On Christmas Day we did a brief gift exchange and biked to one of the favorite trails that featured a narrow boardwalk into the cypress swamp running along Little Charley Bowlegs Creek. The boardwalk allowed me several of my most favorite photos of the trip:
I am showing several black and white images as I found that I liked their lights and contrasts vs the color versions-the magic of digital photography! We also hiked several other trails that had boardwalks before returning to the store and grabbing a cup of coffee. While we were sipping our coffee an unusual car drove in-it was a 1991 Nissan Figaro. The cute little car was made in limited numbers and only sold in Nissan Cherry stores in Japan. The car looked like it had just come off the showroom floor!
We spent the rest of the day resting, hiking, and biking in the park.
 
The next morning we headed south down US 27, then turned on FL 29 to the city of Labelle. We had an early lunch at the funky and crowded The Log Cabin BBQ-several motorcycle groups were dining there as well. We continued south on 29 to Immokalee and drove past farm fields rapidly being replaced by new developments before returning to Naples. Another nice break!

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