Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve

Rumination from the Rock and Beyond
It’s “Kiss-met”

Photos by Jory Westberry | Prescribed burns help the environment on the prairie, the foreground grass is recovering and you can see the charred trees farther back and farthest back the untouched prairie. A lightning strike could destroy hundreds of acres.


 

Equestrian camping areas feature pasture to roam and training areas when on your way to a horse show.

I’ve written about Kissimmee Prairie Preserve previously, but it’s now a repeated destination get-away for the healthy natural outdoors with like-minded campers. The best part is that there are different camping designations; family camping with, well, campers, an equestrian area for those who have campers with sections for their horsesand down one of the many hiking trails at some distance is a primitive camping area, and I mean primitive. Walk in and carry all your trash out leaving it as pristine as it was before your backpack landed on the ground. 

The long Easter weekend beckoned with sparkling sunrises, serene sunsets, and a spirituality that ancient oaks with flowing Spanish moss contribute with the sounds of birds and in the distance and the occasional whinny of one of the horses grazing in lush, spacious outdoor pens. A great time to transcend the hectic life, traffic, lines and concerns about contagious contact – not to mention being with family. 

Okay, it’s a bit of a drive from Collier County, but worth it. It’s like the “land forgotten” and unfortunately, with the increasing encroachment of development, it could soon be just a beautiful memory from our lifetime. The Preserve is an expanse of dry prairie that is probably the last undeveloped, massive acreage providing a flashback into early Florida, what it looked like, and where many original inhabitants are still living there (avian, reptiles, and mammals) not to mention the wildflowers that are abundant along your hiking paths. 

I talked to an ole timer, born in the 40’s, who traveled the state in the early 50’s and 60’sWhen we traveled the state to anywhere, basically from south Florida toward the north in the middle of the state, all you would see for miles were tractors and bulldozer ripping out the natural palmettos to create more pastureland for cattle, farming and agriculture,” they explained. “That same acreage is now cattle ranches and miles and miles of citrus groves. This is all not bad. However, the original Florida was beautiful in a way that cattle ranches and citrus groves are not, they’re there to make money and provide food. I think if we’re realistic and fair, we should be able to retain the originality of Florida to show our descendants what Florida was really like in the past.”

 


There are three mega gators in this batch and many more. Sorry, not going closer!


 

There are a variety of hiking trails, some longer than others. There are unique vistas offering a variety of trees like various palms and live oaks covered with Spanish mossepiphytes and tillandsias plus various prairie grasses, vines, and mosses. As you walk on the designated trails, you can spot some narrow trails through the grasses that are perplexing. These aren’t the human-like trails because there’s nothing as obvious as boot prints, just bent grass. More on this mystery later. 

This very small butterfly keeps a close eye on me, but need not worry, I forgot my straw.

There are upland trails, prairie trails and one prairie trail that leads to a marshy trail, which provides habitat for turtles, birds, and multiple alligators of all sizes from small to H-U-G-E. Usually, I like to be more precise with dimensions, but in this case, I wasn’t going any closer than one football field away. I would estimate that giant gator to be about 40 feet long but, I let my phone do the documenting for me. Check out the photos included in this article. I’m surprised they aren’t blurry from my shaking hands, wink! 

Here’s another thing I love about the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve; there are no concessions – it’s pristine. You bring your own food, make your fire on your grill or use your internal camper kitchen, sweep off the picnic table, set up your chairs, pour your drinks and seep into the sublime serenity of the peaceful sunset. You can walk a short distance or stay in your campsite to watch the sunset. We find it’s more intimate and personal to carry the folding chairs to a more secluded spot without any human noises surrounding us and…it is blissful, while you observe the nature of sunset unfold in the silence surrounding you. 

Other things that we did besides hiking and taking photos; looking up the new things discovered, having a mini-scavenger hunt for Easter goodies based on clues, and walk and absorb the natural surroundings with each other pointing out the unique things we observed. For example, my grandson was following a clue to find an Easter surprise and found an amazing painted stone in a cabbage palm tree (see photo). We all had a good time imagining who painted it and why it was placed there for “who” to find it and what were the chances? If you know cabbage palms, you know that they have spiraling indentations where their palm branches extend out from the tree. The branches are either cut off or fall into decay, but the result is the same  triangular shapes moving up the tree that could hide treasures or leaves from the nearby live oak trees. It was easy to hide a chocolate rabbit, but instead he found a painted rock, designed by someone who knows when, that made us enjoy the stone and ponder where it came from and when. The mystery! 

Bottom line, get away, do something different to enrich your soul and expand your intellect and imagination to reach new horizons! 

 


Interpretive signs are strategically located to point out a specific feature of the prairie.

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