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Fakahatchee Strand-

Janes Scenic Drive

The sun was just peeking over the horizon as we traveled down State Road 29 towards Copeland from Interstate 75 southwest of Naples, Florida . We were already in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, part of the Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida, and looking for our turnoff. This area of Florida is well known only to a few and the Fakahatchee to fewer still. Soon we spotted the sign and headed west on Janes Memorial Scenic Drive.

The paved road turned north and we passed through an outlying edge of Copeland, heading for a forestry tower at the Preserve Administrative Office. Ahead the road was unpaved - hard-packed, as Floridian's refer to the composition of shell and crushed rock  - and in the dawn light, looked foreboding. We slowed to a crawl and nervously questioned the merits of an early morning ride along Janes Scenic Drive. Not a soul around to question, nor a sign to read, we slowly pushed ahead into the day's adventure. 

The sun quickly burned off the early morning fog and cloud cover, rapidly increasing our range of sight. After riding for a few miles on "washboard", the road smoothed out as we were leaving an open prairie, heading to the woodlands. Here the road is a dirt path, barely 2 lanes wide with trees on either side and a small drainage canal running along the roadside. We have made our trip in the early Spring, the driest time in South Florida, so the canal is only spotted with water holes. No matter, the Cypress strand is beautiful and we feel peaceful in the quiet of the forest.

We ride along at a slow pace, wanting to catch a glimpse of some hidden wildlife, some everlasting memory. Studying the trees as we ride, we see enormous air plants, orchid-type plants which attach themselves to trees but do no harm to the landlord. Some are in bloom, showing vivid red spikes from hundreds of yards away. Native Royal Palm trees spring up here and there with Sabal Palms, lending a very tropical feeling to our tour. Our persistence pays off as we begin to spot some small birds: Warblers, Blackbirds, Egrets and Red-shouldered Hawks, even a Sharp-shinned Hawk (we think) although it was flying too fast for a good identification or a picture. We can see and hear Woodpeckers but many of the small birds are fast into the bushes as the car approaches. We see a swallow-tailed kite flying acrobatically in the distance and wait for it to land closer to us. It perches in a distant hammock and we negatively discuss clamoring through the swamp for a better view. We push on down the trail, deeper into the forest and it rewards us with beautiful scenes of water holes, plants and animal life.

We were not the only ones to have scheduled a visit to this area today and we wave as we drive past the other nature lovers. Some are in caravans, heading for the meeting place of their guided, walking swamp tour, and we wonder if we have the "right stuff" to hike through the swamp. There is plenty to experience along the drive, though, and we are enjoying every minute. Soon we find, through openings in the brush and trees just to the side of the road, small ponds lined with rock. Juvenile-sized alligators are floating in the water and fish seem to be jumping everywhere. Back behind the ponds we can hear birds singing and not another sound. It's moments like this we'll keep with us when we return to civilization. That's later, of course, as we press ahead to the end of Janes Memorial Scenic Drive.

Janes Scenic Drive ends at a pretty canal and clearing at the southern entrance to Picayune Strand Wildlife Management Area. There were some Cattle Egrets and Tricolored Herons walking across the water looking for a meal. Well, it's not exactly "walking on water", it's walking on water plants. The growth is so thick that the birds can stroll from one side to the other. Turtles seemed to love it though because the water was filled with them.

Picayune Strand is a curious place. Platted for housing once upon a time, miles of paved streets and canals cut in already, this former development was one of the Florida "swampland-for-sale" schemes that never made it. The state has a program underway currently to buy this land and restore it to its former natural use. If you venture in, leave a trail of breadcrumbs behind. The paved  streets are long and not marked and it can get dicey if you venture onto the unpaved roads. We noticed vultures circling overhead incessantly the day we were there... (looking for cars that no longer moved...?).

Janes Memorial Scenic Drive, an 11 mile drive on an old Cypress logging trail through the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve is an exciting and adventurous trip. Known as the Orchid Capital of North America for its dense concentrations of orchids, it also is known for the largest mixed hardwood and palm forest on earth. On the drive, you can park your car and venture on foot down some of the old logging trails. You may encounter deer, raccoons, snakes (poisonous and non-poisonous varieties), wild turkeys, alligators, otters, black bears, bobcats and the endangered,  protected and rare Florida Panther. It is not advisable for the uninitiated to venture far off trail. On and off the trail you will surely encounter many bird species. For summer sojourns bring plenty of mosquito repellant.

 

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ARTICLES

 

Janes Memorial Scenic Drive

 

Pond along Janes Drive

 

Royal Palms grow wild

 

Gators in the pool

 

The Sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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