We’ve been in Florida for a bit over a month now. I honestly wasn’t that excited to come here. I couldn’t escape the images in my head of tourist traps and Disney. In New Orleans, we knew that we had two choices: East or West. South was a given. The way we saw it, we could winter-out in the desert… or we could head down to Florida. Well, we’d already done New Mexico, and as time drew on, it seemed to make more and more sense to stay east, because we are planning on making a more permanent stop somewhere on this coast in the spring. So we left New Orleans and drove three days to get to Miami.
We drove through the panhandle and saw the incredible blue waters of the gulf, and then on through the horse farms of central Florida. We finally got to the RV Everglades resort just before the New Year.
As soon as we decided on Florida as our January destination, we realized that a lot of other people had already made the same decision, except they had done it 6+ months prior. Every state park on the coast was booked through the winter- a disappointment, but nothing worth getting too upset over. Since we started living in the RV (over 5 months ago!!), I have undergone some serious training in not sweating the small stuff. I am not 100 percent there yet— just ask Jordan—but I know how much this life has changed me already. Tolerance and acceptance are two necessary skills for the nomadic life. But that is another discussion for another post. Because we hadn’t made reservations anywhere, we were left with a handful of options:
1. Find large RV parks that had not sold out yet.
2. Find first come, first serve campgrounds… these were generally in places that called for “roughing it” a bit (dry camping, weather, terrain, etc.)
So our first spot was one of those huge RV parks that still had some availability for a week around New Years. We pulled into the Miami Everglades Resort, a relatively soul sucking place where RV’s are stacked together like dominos and the majority of our neighbors were retiree’s parked for the entire winter. It turns out it wasn’t very close to Miami, but it was fine. We were grateful for the warmth we found as soon as we crossed over Orlando, as well as a place to park with hook-ups while we acclimated ourselves to Florida. We had a somewhat disappointing New Year, as we realized Miami was a bit too far to get to (and back out of) safely and cheaply. We wound up eating Chinese Food— surprisingly REALLY good Chinese Food— and were asleep before midnight.
We were able to check out Miami over the next couple of days, and we also spent a late afternoon in the Everglades. We hadn’t thought much of the National Park, but we thought we would at least cross it off our list. We drove down to the Flamingo visitors center and campground, and immediately knew that we wanted to come back and spend more time there. Better yet, there were plenty of campsites available, as it is fairly off the beaten path.
But first, we had exciting plans. The one reservation we were able to make in Florida was at Leo’s Campground right outside of Key West. We lucked out like crazy as we had called the morning someone had made a cancelation. Key West was a place we really wanted to go… so we were psyched that it worked out.
Soon after the New Year, we packed up our stuff and said a happy goodbye to the Miami Everglades Resort. It took us three hours to get down the Stock Island, the island right outside of Key West where our campground was. The drive down was really exciting, as it is very unique road that gets you down to Key West, up and over the tiny Florida Keys, on long bridges over the beautiful blue water.
We had read about the devastation from Hurricane Irma, so we weren’t entirely caught off guard by the piles and piles of debris that lined the road in the middle keys. Still, it was striking.
We drove through the keys five months after the Hurricane and there was still a lot of work being done to repair the islands. In fact, a lot of the campgrounds in the middle keys were still closed. The devastation was still visible, and given the nature of the Florida Keys, it was easy to imagine how destructive such a storm could be as it rocked through the small keys. By the time we got to Stock Island, the devastation had lessened. It seems Key West was not hit quite as hard as the middle and lower keys. We got to Leo’s campground, backed into the tightest spot we have ever stayed in— we were literally four inches away from the person behind us— made a couple of gin and tonics and then went out to find a sunset.
We spent four nights at Leo’s Campground. We brought the dogs into Key West and found an amazing dog park that we went to every day. It was huge and filled with well behaved dogs. We are still working on socializing Bailey, as he gets weird with dogs that are bigger than him, so it was the perfect place for him to meet more pups. He did great. We found Key West to be amazingly dog friendly! We walked our pups around the town and they have never had so many compliments. A local even gave them the end of his breakfast sandwich.
We did all the Key Westy things… sunset at Mallory Square, a night out on Duvall street, an afternoon at the beach… we road our bikes around the island at sunrise and took our photos next to the southernmost point of the continental US. We tried to squeeze in as much as we could into our few days there, and when it was time to leave we felt like we were ready to move on. We packed a lot into just a few days, and we were exhausted. We were also kind of (read; incredibly) over the crowded RV parks that we had been living in for almost two weeks. After Key West, we knew we had reservations for the second half of January up in Fort Pierce, Florida (on the east coast side)… but we had almost 10 more days to kill.
So we decided to try out the Everglades. We had driven down to the Flamingo Campground already, so we thought we knew what to expect. But the Everglades is a place with secrets, and it does not let you in on them unless you dive deep into the land. It turns out, we had no idea what to expect. We had no idea that on the night we drove the hour into the park, with the January sun fading behind us, that we were beginning one of the most incredible adventures of our whole trip.