Friday, March 9, 2012

South Bay - Florida's Sweetest Place

Sunrise in South Bay, FL, from our RV park

We left the Keys and traveled to South Bay, FL, which is at the southern tip of Lake Okeechobee and the headwaters of the Everglades.  The area is mostly agricultural with sugar cane being one of the largest crops. Geologists estimate the lake was formed 6,000 years ago when ocean waters receded leaving this shallow depression in what is now Florida.  The name Okeechobee means 'big water' and the lake is 135 miles in circumference but only 10-12 feet deep.  The lake was a direct source of water to the Everglades by way of many small tributaries passing out of the lake's southern end.

In the 1920's, a major hurricane struck the area causing a storm surge in the lake which flooded thousands of acres of farm land and killed approximately 2,000 people.  Congress directed the US Army Corps of Engineers to build an earthen levee around the lake's perimeter that is called the Herbert Hoover Dike.

A view of our campground from on top of the dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee.  The lake in the background is on the campground premises and had several alligators in residence. 
A view of the levee from our campground.  Doesn't look like much from this side. 

The boat launch area on the levee. 

The water was beautiful but alligators were everywhere so no swimming is allowed.  

Many of the fishermen use air boats to get through the channels.

This baby was just taking a few zzz's in the sun.

He wasn't alone.......

Florida sugar cane is only grown in this part of Florida. It is a huge crop and one of the largest agricultural crops in Florida.  When we first got to our campground we were surprised to see so much black smoke and fires in the distance but it never seemed to stay around long.  We were lucky enough to come here at the right time of year and got to see sugar cane harvested first hand from atop the levee.  It was amazing!

A field of sugar cane.  Looks alot like weeds.

From the levee it looks more like a crop and you can see the irrigation canals in the fields.

The field is first sprayed with an accelerant.

A tractor drives around the edge of the field and starts the fire that burns the crop.

The fire spreads rapidly burning the leaves and weeds around the stalks.   

It's a very intense fire and the air carries a sweet scent while it is burning.

The fire burns out quickly leaving the smoking remains.

A water truck drives around the burned field spraying water on any areas that are still smoldering.

This is how the field looks afterwards.  The sugar cane crop is now ready for harvest which will begin the next day.

The day after we took these pictures we were out walking the dogs on the levee and they were starting to harvest the crop from the field that had burned yesterday.  We were able to get some extraordinary shots that we didn't expect.

The work begins.  There were five combines in the field cutting the sugar cane and dumping it into moving carts pulled by a tractor alongside the combine.

Coordination is needed by the person driving the tractor to ensure the chopped cane goes into the cart and not on the ground.

Once the carts are filled the cane is hauled out of the field and transferred into open topped semis.

While they were harvesting one field they decided to burn the field next to it.  I'm sure this is everyday work when you are harvesting large crops but to us it looked scary and dangerous.

Hauling the chopped sugar cane out of the field in front of the fire.

As the smoke got heavier it made it harder for the hauling tractors to see where they were going.

The fire is very intense and very close to the equipment..

There is so much smoke the tractors have to stop so they don't drive into the canal.  But after a few minutes the smoke lifted and the work continued.

Once out of the field the chopped sugar cane is tipped into a waiting semi. 

The operation is very efficient and the trucks take the sugar cane to a sugar mill plant in Belle Glade, a small town next to South Bay.  The Florida sugar mills process 17 million tons of sugar cane which creates 2 million tons of raw sugar and 100 million gallons of black strap molasses each year.   

Hauling it into the processing plant. Sugar cane is Florida's most valuable field crop, worth more than the combined value of Florida's corn, soybean, tobacco, and peanut crops.  Only citrus is more important to the economy than sugar cane. 

This is the processing plant in Belle Glade.  At the grinding station the juice is extracted and the fiber residue left from grinding the cane is sent to the boilers as fuel.  Using the fiber as a renewable fuel makes sugar cane processing operations almost self-sufficient.  And the ash from the biomass has a high mineral content so it is returned to the cane field completing a natural cycle.

Some other sights during our stay in South Bay:

A pair of osprey nesting on the levee.

A bald eagle watching us.

The bald eagle and its mate in a tree.  Can you see both of them?

Here's the reason they were watching us...........their baby was close by in its nest.

We took a short trip to a town called Clewiston for lunch and a better look at Lake Okeechobee a few miles away.

You can't even see the other side of the lake it is so large.

A Great Blue Heron..... sitting on the dock of the bay.........

This yacht club on the lake wasn't much to look at.

One of the highlights of Clewiston was the Royal Palm Drive.  You had to be there..............

This is the Clewiston Inn built in 1938 where we had lunch.  President Herbert Hoover stayed here when the dike was officially commemorated.

The main sitting room of the Inn.  It is also known for a wall mural that was completed in 1950. 

The dining room of the Inn.  We got there early and took pictures.  It filled up quickly and Brett commented that we were the youngest people in the place by 15 years.  I think that included the waitresses, too. 

They opened the bar for us so that Brett could take a few pictures of the mural.

And the bar.  Remember, this is a very small town!

And last but never least, a beautiful sunset over the RV park.  Now on to Bradenton.  Peace to all !

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