I have always enjoyed camping and hiking in the wilder parts of Florida, but – as with anyone who has spent much of their life in one place, it’s easy to become desensitized. When I tell my Canadian friends about the palm trees of all sizes that cover the flat landscape and the alligators that dwell in seemingly every puddle of murky water, they respond with wonder, much as I do when they recount their tales of standing beneath a cold, ink-black sky as green and violet Aurora Borealis dance above them. It’s easy to forget just how special the beautiful things around us are. After living in California for a time, I returned to Florida and have been granted new eyes to see the things that others marvel at.
While I still may not stare in awe at every palm tree, I’ve found myself exploring my own backyard more with the renewed enthusiasm of a newcomer. This past weekend Ashley & I headed to Collier-Seminole State Park, a 7,271 diverse area of mangrove swamps, cypress hammocks, pine flatwoods, and even prairie habitats. While the park offers full facility camping, when I’m offered a choice between thousands of acres to explore…or crowding in with 120 campsites jammed into only a few acres, the choice is an easy one to make. A primitive campsite (reservations encouraged since it can only fit 1 group) can be found three miles in along the 6 mile Adventure Trail loop.
The neighboring Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park is famous for being the orchid and bromeliad capital of the continent, with 14 species of bromeliads and 47 species of orchids found within the park. These beautiful plants didn’t get the memo about park boundary lines though, and while Fakahatchee Strand is certainly home to a much more diverse array of flora, Collier-Seminole State Park enjoys its fair share of the epiphytic bounty. Along the trail to the primitive campsite, bromeliads and resurrection ferns adorn the trees. A closer look reveals orchids clinging to the cypress and oak – some at eye level, but many in the branches above, the perfect reminder to always look up! While none that we came across were in bloom, it was still a treat to see these rare plants in their native habitat. When one thinks of wild orchids, images of rainforests and jungles come to mind, and indeed – many of the orchids found in Southwest Florida have Caribbean and even African origins. Their dustlike seeds travel by the trillion from the Caribbean or across the Atlantic, alighting in the trees of Florida. With thousands of acres of habitat, new species are still being encountered.
The photos here were all taken using my Canon T3i, a lightweight DSLR that’s perfect for backpacking. To save space, I brought two lenses — the Canon 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro lens which is a very nice, lightweight macro lens that also takes very sharp landscape photos and the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 wide angle zoom lens, which has surprisingly nice bokeh when used at close range.
by Nick Zantop
Nick spent the early years of his childhood on an island in the Bahamas, where fish and birds and vast stretches of sandy beaches are (or, at least were) more common than humans. A former wildlife handler and science educator, Nick has a passion for adventure, whether it’s snorkeling with sharks off the coast of South Florida, backcountry camping in the deserts of New Mexico, or foraging for plants and mushrooms in the forests of Northern California. More recently, he spends an ever increasing amount of time making sure the virtual wheels of LetsBeWild.com don’t fall off.