Mike & Joyces Travel logs

Home ** 2006 Travel Logs**


Places Visited: La Belle, Granny's Grove RV-Park, Seminole Indian Reservation & Billie's Swamp tour


We visited the Seminole Indian Reservation one day. While they have a nice modern museum of Seminole history we bypassed that in favor of Billie's swamp tour and the interrelated facilities found there.


The Chickee like the one on the left is a common Seminole Indian structure. The cabbage palm fronds used to make the roof last around 7-years. Many Chickees do not have sides to allow for maximum movement of air.

There are 30 or so chickees, like the one where Joyce is sitting on the steps, that have sides and are equipped with several cots and a lantern that are rented out to adventuresome souls.






Chickees like these are used for community gatherings. That is why there isn't any cooking facilities in the sleeping chickees Cooking is done in these big chickees Notice the unique furniture. Joyce is sitting on a bench made of cypress logs and a high back chair with arm rests hewn out of a massive cypress log.






Billie's swamp tours offer tours on swamp-buggies or air boats.


The swamp buggies being used at Billie's are converted school busses. Actually, they are constructed on school bus frames and use school bus seats. That is about the only thing from a school bus that I could discern. They are modified to be 4-wheel drive and use tractor tires. The engine is mounted high to keep it dry as are the batteries. Note how high off the ground the seats are. These particular buggies are geared down to where I doubt that they run over 10-mph wide open. Of course the only place we went in this thing that I would consider going over 5-mph was in the parking lot.




This is one of the air boats. They are propelled by big block automobile engines connected to airplane propellers. These boats skim over the water at incredible speeds, they are very noisy and are difficult to control. The props are direct drive so the only way to stop one is to shut off the engine. With the engine in idle the blades are moving and so is the boat. Talk about dicey! You pretty much have to chew tobacco and wear a NASCAR shirt to drive one.






This is the way we we started our hour and one-half swamp buggy ride. Gus was our driver and tour guide. Gus is normally the alligator wrestler but was called upon to drive our swamp buggy today. He was a hoot and you might suspect anyone who wrestles alligators would be. There were big alligators in the water we are crossing. They just lay there watching us. Of course Gus turned off the engine halfway across acting like it was a mechanical problem. That was a hoot. Some of the snowbirds had their eyes on those alligators and were not thinking this was a joke.




This fenced in 10,000 acre preserve has a wide variety of both native and exotic animals. These are American bison or buffalo that once roamed the prairies of Florida before being completely wiped out in the 1800's. They are doing well here on the Seminole Reservation.







These are wild hogs, or wild boars whichever you prefer. They are descendants of domestic hogs brought here by the Spanish in the 1700's and later escapees from settlers. Thousands of them roam over south Florida.






This is a "cracker-cow" a descendant of the small wiry cows introduced to the area by early Spanish settlers.

Can you make out the alligator head barely visible in the weed choked water.







Perhaps these alligators are more visible.








This large male ostrich was charging the swamp buggy. Instead of sticking his head in the sand he galloped up the road to meet our challenge. This is breeding season and he was making sure that we were not intent on taking his "lady-friend". We understood and moved on before he joined us in the swamp buggy.






Airplants, bromeliads were visible throughout our swamp buggy ride through the swamp.











Our guide pointed out these ancient cabbage palms that instead of growing straight up like normal palms have trunks that grow for great distances along the forest floor. The reason for this phenomena is they sprouted deep in a forest where light was difficult to find. These palms grew to the light in the best way they could. Our guide speculated that the palm on the left may be 300 to 500 years old considering how long the trunk is that has creeped for what appears to be 80' to 90' along the forest floor before turning to head up.


February 1 through February 13: Granny's Grove RV-Park La Belle, FL in their overflow area. $16.14 15-amps & water----central dump station, paved interior roads with grass sites in their overflow sites N26° 44.214 W81° 28.449'

As many times as we have visited south Florida we have never made it to the Seminole Indian Reservation. There is no particular reason for avoiding it. I guess it just isn't located near any place. It really isn't. It is located about 90-miles west of Miami and 80-miles east of Naples making it deep in the Everglades. It is a fun drive getting there from La Belle on a series of state and county roads that could be aptly described as farm to city roads. In this area the everglades has been "drained" and made more useful to agriculture. Drainage canals have drained a few inches to a few feet of water off the flat land. Huge cattle operations occupy the landscape like one would expect to see out west. However, down here they really stack the cattle on the land because of the abundance of water. Out west they talk about the number of acres required to support one cow. Down here the question is how many cows are required to keep each acre eaten. Mile after mile of cattle prairie cover the countryside all the way to the horizon. Shallow areas of water dot the landscape as do palm groves, hardwood hammocks and cypress domes. The remainder is prairie. Then up pops an area devoted to sugar cane or vegetable crops.

Leisurely driving through the Everglades with eyes attuned to the scenery is rewarded with a wide variety of wildlife especially bird life. Of course alligators are easily seen once you learn where to look and what to look for. Alligators like sharks have been given a bad rap. For the most part they are very scared of humans and will run at any chance of confrontation. Experts say that during the day alligators do not feed and that humans are safe from gators. However, after dark they start feeding and activities that were safe during the day are no longer safe.

The Seminole Indian Reservation isn't much to write home about. From what we saw it consisted of a nice RV-Resort of around 100 RV's mostly wintering snow birds. There was an air strip, a Seminole Indian Museum showcasing the Seminoles storied past. There was a bingo parlor that had been completely and thoroughly destroyed by Hurricane Wilma that roared through this area late in 2005 approximately 6-months ago. Demolition and cleanup of the building has not commenced. It is probably headed to a court of law to determine what went wrong as in assigning responsibility. This bingo parlor was a modern steel building with steel beams and supporting members twisted like pretzels. Was the design bad? Was it steel that was not of the proper quality? Did the contractor not install the required number of supports? In any event what remains of the building is still piled up where the bingo parlor once was.



What remains of that bingo parlor. Steel beams are bent like insignifigant paper clips.






There is also a big time area where motorcycles race around a dirt obstacle course with moguls. Is this called motor cross? The parking lot for this facility looked like it would hold several thousand spectator automobiles. Participants had an equally large parking area.

And finally there is Billie Swamp Tours. That is what we came for. Billie Swamp Tours is a grand tourist enterprise complete with alligator wrestling, Restaurant, Swamp Buggy rides, air boat rides, a small zoo and overnight stays in Chickees. Chickee's are traditional Indian housing consisting of thatched roofs made of cabbage palm fronds. The traditional Indians didn't have sides on their Chickees. However, the Chickees offered for overnight stays do have plywood sides, window and wood floors. Chickees are furnished with cots and a lantern for light ----- no plumbing or kitchen or electricity.

We decided to go on the 1 and ½ hour swamp buggy ride. It was a good choice, being fun, exciting, entertaining and educational. In addition to it being a fun ride on a big wheel, jacked up vehicle around 10' up in the air the scenery/landscape was what it was advertised to be. We traversed water several feet deep that had alligators lazily watching us. The tour guide pretended to have engine problems in the middle of one of these areas. In actuality, all he did was switch the ignition off and start mumbling something about how he had told management to get this problem fixed. It was a cute and effective ruse especially with a load of tourist looking at the alligators with eyes fixed on "lunch" ------- which was us.

Our tour guide was great. He was both knowledgeable and funny. His regular job was alligator wrestler but today he was pressed into duty as a tour guide for our tour.

We saw a plethora of exotic game like buffalo, ostrich, wild boar, and Asian antelope in addition to some "cracker" cows that are descendants of the ones introduced to the Florida Peninsular by the Spanish.

During our ride through the dense swamp our guide identified and explained the different ecosystems and plants that make up a swamp.

From Billie's Swamp Tours we headed west on I-75 aka, Alligator Alley to Everglades City on the northwestern corner of the Everglades just 30-miles south of Naples. Once in Everglades City we dropped by Everglades National Park and took one of their boat rides through the 10,000 islands portion of Everglades National Park. While fun and interesting we did not see nearly as much on this boat ride as we did on the Swamp Buggy Ride.

One day we spent the day exploring Ft Myers Beach and the interesting things located there. On the mainland side of the bridge over Matanzas Pass to Ft Myers Beach we stopped to explore the myriad marine establishments seafood markets, waterfront restaurants, marinas, charter fishing boats, boats that cater to the gambling crowd and boats that make daily runs to Key West.

Until next week just remember how good life is.

Mike & Joyce Hendrix







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