EXCELLENT Everglades adventure With Captain Steve in Big Cypress National Preserve.. Wow, did we have fun while on a great back to nature tour. We had a relaxing, informative, and very special swamp adventure. This was our second trip with Captain Steve’s operation. Last year we went for the first time as his very first customers, and we were super excited to return again this year. Read on!
We went for an afternoon swamp buggy tour yesterday with Captain Steve’s Swamp Buggy Adventures. Now mind you I was taking this swamp adventure with my two nieces Kati, Colleen, and with my wife Maureen, also known as “Doc”. Well, Doc is from Queens, NY, a born and bred “city girl”, not exactly what you might call a swamp woman. Kati, 16 is a “Hottie cheerleader” going to school in Naples Florida. Colleen,9 who has a small issue with bugs……..she gets welts just thinking about them, and says she’s a “Tom-boy”, but used to be a princess. How does that work anyway? And me, a small town guy in his mid-50’s from upstate New York, married to the Doc and now we live in Chapel Hill North Carolina. I camped and hunted some when I was younger and I spend time fishing in my kayak whenever possible. We could probably be described as the quintessential tourist group, with a broad spectrum of outdoor likes and dislikes. So I was wondering how we’d like this swamp buggy thing, and we were about to find out.
The plan was to leave at 2:00 PM, with Steve’s best driver Otis, and return after dark. Sounded great to me. Steve even offered to let us use his camping space out there in the woods to cook some “sammie’s” (sandwiches) over the campfire.
Well, after a hurried lunch at home we left to meet Otis at the Concho Billie trailhead off Turner River road. “Otis is a tall drink of water in a cowboy hat” was the only description that I had to go on from Captain Steve. So I’m thinking to myself as we arrive; OK we just drove an hour to get here, so there had better be somebody looking like Otis around ‘cause we’re already way out in the swamp, somewhere down this dirt road, in the middle of Big Cypress National Preserve. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that had just counted 41 alligators just in the last 8 miles along with a dozen or so wading birds and a huge turtle. We had already seen more wildlife than we had expected to see all day.
Sure enough……cowboy hat and all. Otis has sort of that Clint Eastwood feel about him, you know, a little weathered, no wasted words, and a pause before he speaks, but with a certain niceness, like your favorite uncle.
He was full of knowledge about south Florida, the Everglades, and all of the local flora and fauna. We could see that Otis was confident in this element…. the swamp. And that felt really good being that we were heading away from the nearest road and civilization at 4-5 mph, and it was getting swampier by the minute. The buggy, big, tall, rugged and capable is not the picture of automotive excellence. It looks a bit like a cross between a monster truck without the body and a dinosaur. Just big rugged steel frames with the guts all hanging out to see. I loved it. Basic transportation for the swamp. Its functional, and surprisingly comfortable with bench seats for 6.
There we were piled atop the buggy like the Swiss family Robinson about a mile from the nearest road out in the wilderness of south Florida. Its flat. Before we knew it we were driving through 2 feet of water with what appeared to be savannah on both sides. We spotted a Red Shouldered Hawk off to our right. Further on, the terrain is so varied out there that soon we went through a pine forest and then past several Oak heads (slightly higher ground dry enough to support oak trees). It was beautiful to see the changing environment and the vast variety of plant species. By far the predominant tree is the Cypress, tall ones and short ones but they all have a really ancient look when you see thousands of them at once as far as you can see. It looked other-worldly. Otis gave us lots of history surrounding the trees in the area.
New driver! So I’m sitting there enjoying the bright sun and fresh air ride thinking “I wonder what its like to drive a swamp buggy creeping along so high up off the ground, with that lazy bounce and always tilting side to side like the snap roll of my power boat.” That’s when Otis turns around and says how would you like to drive us through this long stretch of deep water. My eyes light up and then I realize that he’s asking my 9 year old niece. Her eyes light up as she’s headed for the driver’s seat. She handled the buggy like a 9 year old pro. I handled my passenger seat also like a pro. Then my older niece Kati took the wheel, making it look easy. I manned the video camera, with daydreams of my own swamp buggy, me dressed in camo and a big dog of some kind at my side. Yeah that’s it, a dog named Linus.
By now I’m noticing all kinds of things around us that we would never have seen anywhere else. Its was sort of like taking a hike and swim through the preserve without leaving the comfort of your seat. The slow creeping speed through the Cypress forest lets you examine things with a level of detail that is unparalleled. You get a real connection with nature much like going hunting. I had the time for more than a passing glance at the natural world. It’s great. And Otis would stop any time we asked and he’s always got a story of bit of history to share. We found the camp after 2 hours of wonderful travel and cooked the “sammies” as planned. We saw some bear tracks, and many more ibis, herons and egrets.
Otis did a 3 point turn with the buggy that involved some lurching back and forth, crashing into the brush and spinning tires in the deep mud, it was great, and we left the campsite at 6:30 PM. The ride back was surreal. With the sun having gone down about an hour earlier the trail back seemed much more perilous. What was a drive through a wildlife park during the day was like a drive through Jurassic Park at night. We plunged into the inky shadows anticipating the surprises that lay ahead in the darkness. The buggy headlights gave us an eerie view ahead down the tree lined trail and some degree of trepidation looking at the water holes that we approached in the night. A big surprise was the temperature drop. Daytime was sunny and 80, now it dark and 60, so we put on our jackets. One of the best parts of the whole trip was a stop out on the prairie to watch the stars. This is the best planetarium around. From horizon to horizon its stars, so many it was hard to find the usual constellations that we know. The Milky Way was brilliant. Colleen counted the shooting stars. We hooted with an owl in the distance and watched another in an oak tree overhead. We stopped to watched 2 alligators in the water, watched 2 Green Legged Night Herons fishing, saw some bats and marveled at the sounds of the night. After an hour and a half trip back to the trailhead we found that old dirt road and my Honda Element stacked up with kayaks looking like just an ordinary car relegated to the pavement.
For a really great outdoor experience and to see the real south Florida find Captain Steve, and ask for that tall drink of water in a cowboy hat as your driver. You won’t be disappointed, and we’ll be back again next year. — Doug Cary, Chapel Hill, North carolina
Thank you so much Captain Steve! We had the most amazing day with you guiding us in Big Cypress. Captain Steve is so passionalte about the area and was very informative. He was happy to stop anywhere we wanted to take pictures or look at anything. We learned so much and had a great time. We would highly recommend Capt. Steve and can't wait to take another tour. — Jennifer Kelly, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Those of you who have not met Captain Steve are in for a treat. Our group really enjoyed the swamp buggy experience, and plan to schedule another trip.
Captain Steve has a wealth of stories about the Everglades and its inhabitants... some of these stories may actually be true!! — David Arch, Oak Brook, IL