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Fish Eating Creek and Gatorama represent the best of Old Florida

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Fish Eating Creek Outpost Campground near Palmdale off Highway 27 is a getaway to Old Florida. Surrounded by ranches and sugar cane, and just north of Highway 29, you have to want to be in this neck of the woods to stop here. Located on the slowly-wandering Fish Eating Creek, fishing for bream, bass, crappie (specks) and catfish as well as kayaking and canoeing are popular here. Swimming or floating on spring-fed Depot Lake is possible, and a walk along the 1.3-mile Knobby Knee Trail – part of the Florida Birding Trail – are enjoyable ways to spend a day.

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Gatorama (www.gatorama.com), a roadside attraction begun in 1957 by Cecil Clemmons, allows up-close views of several species of alligators and crocodiles, and a few other animals. While it will set you back some dollars, the 15-acre park and alligator breeding site is a quirky taste of Old Florida as well.

Single and double kayak and canoe rentals are available at the campground. A half-hour paddle one way may be all the further paddlers will travel – unless they want to walk their boats because the creek narrows to waters too low to navigate. This happened to us in late November. On the other hand, when water levels are high, excursions in trucks to a drop off point eight miles away is offered, and paddlers can happily navigate back to the starting point, all the while going with the creek’s flow.

Along Fish Eating Creek, alligators from five feet to 15 feet, swim along or sunbathe onshore. They tend to stay away from paddlers, as long as humans steer clear of them. The quieter you are, the more wildlife you will see. A dozen turtles from babies to adults, also sunbathed on branches or slipped into the water upon sensing our presence.

Herons of various colors, egrets, turkey vultures and smaller birds such as cardinals and gnatcatchers may be seen. Raccoons and a deer may be visible from time to time. Owls hooted at night and were a noisy bunch when they chose to be!

Along the loop walking trail, a couple scenic viewing areas are especially good for birders with binoculars, among the knobby cypress knees. One morning, herons were numerous and a blue heron harassed a white heron, while another blue heron merely watched the squabble perched in a tree. The next afternoon in the same pastoral spot, not one bird could be seen in a tree, flying or creekside.

Depending on the time of year, purple flowers in bloom can spruce up a creek pond with splashes of color, while air plants and Spanish moss dangle overhead.

A visit of a couple of hours at Gatorama,bought by David and Marietta Thielen in 1986 and now owned by their daughter, Patty Register, and her husband Allen, is best timed around the two-per-day alligator and crocodile feeding shows. Opening at 10 a.m., the first show is at 11:45 a.m. An employee holds pieces of raw chicken above the seemingly pre-historic creatures and they use their strong tails to propel themselves upward to grab the meat. The brave gent tells a little about the history of Gatorama and the differences between crocodiles and alligators, from snout shape to color, from tongue to teeth. What’s especially significant is the bite force of the creatures; they have the strongest bite force of any species, 3,000 pounds of pressure, with the second strongest, a particular hyena, coming in second with half the bite force, he said.

Next, visitors have the chance to hold a three-year-old, two-foot-long alligator – after the employee has taped the mouth shut with electrical tape. Children to adults are welcome to hold the animal with hands placed under the body and tail and pose for personal photos.

In addition to crocodiles and alligators, visitors may enjoy turtles and tortoises, colorful peacocks, kinkajous, bobcats and panthers. The beautiful panthers are playful one year, three-month old brothers. They are entertaining to watch and listen to. They “meow” a certain way, far from a roar.

For more information about the Fish Eating Creek campground, visit http://www.fisheatingcreekoutpost.com/. And, enjoy my slide slow of a taste of Old Florida.

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