Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park: Where the Wild Things Are

We recently camped at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in south central Florida. This is probably the most remote state park in the Florida State Park System. It is known for having one of the darkest night skies in Florida as well as harboring the largest remaining stretch of Florida dry prairie within it's 54,000 acres.
It's another 6 miles to the campground from the main gate
Often, I like to write a review of places we visit. But here I will instead, attempt to share an experience during our stay that exemplifies the uniqueness of this park.

To set the stage, take a look at the picture below. It was taken at the edge of the campground. Note the flat mostly treeless expanse and the deer quietly grazing amongst the shrubs. Now imagine sitting on top of the picnic table in the foreground. The sun has set behind you and the starry sky begins to shine forth.
As dusk descends, your eyes are attuned to the heavens. Knowing this is a stargazers paradise, you stare at the sky in expectation. You note the position of the stars - the Big Dipper to your left and the Hunter at your back. Jupiter and Venus shine forth above you. The darkness deepens and you are surprised to find your eyes drawn, not up, but down to the earth. The prairie has come alive with lights of its own. You grab the binoculars for closer inspection; thousands - nay - tens of thousands of fireflies flit here and there in their chaotic celebration of the night. Beautiful. Unexpected. This magical scene is transformed when a red moon peaks out on the horizon to commence it's sacred march across the heavens. As the minutes pass, the prairie is peaceful as it basks in the brightening glow of a full moon. The hypnotic sound of insects begins to lull you - slumber calls you, you whose life is ruled by the light of day. Suddenly, another sound carries across the prairie. Wild and eerie. The howling of coyote - high pitched yelps of pups meld with the solemn call of their guardians. Then all grows quiet again. Realization sinks in. The signs of life seen in the day - those tracks in the mud: turkey, raccoon, deer, hog and "dog" - indicate an exciting night life. Somewhere out there, in the darkness is movement, activity - life governed by the night. The moon has climbed higher in the sky keeping it's own time like the round face of a clock. Once again, coyote call out as if their voices toll the hour. This night life goes on... until dawn.

Prairie life. It is not easy to see in the light of day, but at night the mystical sights and wild sounds leave no doubt - the prairie is alive and wild things thrive there.
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