Boats, Gators and Bombs

Travel Info 11/11/2012:  (Veteran’s Day)  Homestead, Fl – Coopertown, FL (Blast through the Everglades on an Airboat) – Everglades National Park (HM-69 Nike Missile Site) – Cocoa Beach

On Saturday, Pookaverse drove back from Marathon approximately midway through the Florida Keys and back to Homestead. Or was it Florida City? Difficult to tell. An intense days travel on Sunday starting at Homestead in South Florida, taking in an airboat ride through the Florida Everglades and then a return to the Everglades National Park for a tour of a ‘cold war’ historic site. And then a drive of 237 miles to Cocoa Beach to put Rohan in the optimum reentry position for a visit to the Kennedy Space Centre on Monday 12th November.

Coopertown Airboat tours and some of their airboats…your fast , noisy and distinctly environmentally unfriendly entry into the Northern section of the Florida Everglades

There are many ways to experience the Florida Everglades. Pookaverse visited the Everglades National Park ‘proper’ on Saturday – to visit the many self-guided views of the different features that make up the ‘sea of grass’ which ends after a 29-mile drive at the National Park Centre at Flamingo. The story of the conservation effort to preserve this fragile ecosystem is explored in this wiki article.

A spin over a vast expanse… a separate tour disembarks deeper into the Everglades…

It’s all about water. It will always be about the water. And who controls the water in this region is a big political issue. While the ‘players’ deliberate the future of the Florida Everglades returns to UNESCO World Heritage in Danger list  as recently as 2010.

The ride continues down one of the many conduits and channels past hardwood hammocks and startled wading birds.

One of the other ways Pookaverse experienced the Everglades was by using one of the many Airboat tours that sit uneasily outside the National Park – Motor boats are not permitted within the park boundary for obvious reasons.

You can measure the length of an Alligator by counting the number of inches from its snout to its brow…if you want to get that close. A Steve Irwin ‘thumb up it’s arsehole’ will tell you if (lump) it’s a male or (no-lump) it’s a female…if you want to get that close… to an alligator’s arsehole

Pookaverse selected Coopertown boat rides as they claim to have been around for the longest (1945) and the ticket (with a discount coupon easily available) was only $20 per head.

After stumping up the cash and before the tour started there was an opportunity to view several captured Alligators in cages. A few turtles. And a group of snakes.  Alligators are not a protected species outside the boundary of the National Park so are ‘fair game’ for exploitation including display, entertainment or harvesting.

A clutch of tiny ‘gators swim just a few feet from their mother…all less than 10 inches in length

Numbers dwindled in the 1970’s and 1980’s but thanks to the Everglades National Park and several enormous managed sites in the South Florida area their numbers are back in the black owing much to the boom in eco-tourism as a source of revenue rather than tourist’s devouring handbags, purses and other mercantile aphrodisiacs.

Pookaverse was sat in an airboat that could comfortably seat up to 20 passengers on another hot and humid afternoon….in mid-November.  Our guide took us out through at a steady purr through canals of Mangrove and Cypress stalked by Egrets and Heron onto the vast expanse of sawgrass marshes and sloughs that form the body of this particular part of the Everglades ecosystem.

As the turboprop behind the boat powered-up the cotton-wool pads offered on disembarkation proved useful as he swayed the boat. Sometimes travelling sideways at 90 degrees. Demonstrating the maneuverability of the machine and the precariousness of the occupants.

All done for show and expertly handled.

Then a remarkable demonstration. The boat slowed – motor silenced – prop stopped – marooned and drifting through a sawgrass channel of reeds and Bald Cypress trees. The guide let out a few short shouts that sounded like “Hup-hup-hup”. As if on cue,  an Alligator’s head popped up about 7 feet on the Starboard side of the boat where Pookaverse were sat. This behaviour attributed to the innate curiousity of this creature.

Probably playing a significant part in the Alligators aforementioned demise. Possible. A serene action and a low-profile kept in the water. According to the guide, not seeing food on a metal plate just a large object that requires a second glance. An Alligator is capable of  jumping its own body-length, in this case 7-feet, out of the water and into any direction it chooses. Food for thought. If not for the Alligator who bobbed below the surface after 3 minutes of cooing and clicking by the boat party. Pookaverse included.

Kirk Singer former-serving US Marine  explains the topographical outline of the ‘business end’ of the Nike Hercules Missile Site, Everglades National Park, FL

After leaving Coopertown, Pookaverse drove 31 miles back to the Everglades National Park and a special tour of the de-commissioned Nike Hercules Missile Base HM-69. Hastily erected with the apparent consent of the National Park  Service on park land after the Cuban Missile crisis that ran from October 16–28, 1962.

The site is less than 160 miles from the Cuban coast and was created to intercept an air attack from this part of the world either with conventional high-explosives or one of 6 nuclear warheads. The purpose being to detect, identify and explode such an atomic device in front of incoming warplanes and more importantly vaporising their nuclear payloads through an airburst detonation.  Returned to the Park in 1979, this site is now subject to periodic tours offered by the National Park Service that fortunately fell on Veteran’s weekend and therefore Pookaverse was allowed free entry.

Point of no return…a reproduction of the sign that greeted ‘unwanted visitors’. If you got this far you were probably already shot dead. Note the one of 3 sheds that stored the missiles behind the sign

Our guide, Kirk Singer. an ex-Marine pushing seventy but with a bear’s grip of a handshake, took an assorted group of tourist’s, locals and their families firstly to the main command centre and then secondly a quarter-mile drive to the actual bunkers and sheds where the missiles were assembled, maintained and prepared for the beginning of the end of civilisation.

Should such an airburst occur we were told by our excellent guide, then the resulting fallout of such an explosion would drift by the prevailing winds of this region towards Miami. In what was termed then by the policy-makers as ‘acceptable casualties of war’.

The Marine draws back the door on one of this region’s best kept secrets…a deadly handshake for ‘Ivan’ or ‘Miguel’ should they come knocking…

The tour of the shed’s themselves and the presentation of a restored (and decommissioned) Nike Hercules Missile gave a real sense of the terrible purpose and importance of this place and in part the knife-edge that, on the surface, modern society hobbled along between the Berlin blockade (24 June 1948 – 12 May 1949) to the symbolic fall and demolition of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989.

A shell of it’s former self…if you were this close you were probably between the ages of 18 or 23 and wishing you were someplace else…

Into the new ‘king of terror’ of our times – nuclear proliferation. That and the environment. Oh, and don’t forget the exploding population. And the lack of resources. Including water. A swirling covenant of war to be to coalesce. Hopefully not.

Our guide regaled us with stories of the young men who were stationed here during that period. And the way they mitigated the boredom and isolation displaced from civilisation only 19 miles away.

Aldous Huxley author of Brave New World once advocated the siting of a nuclear missile silo at the base of his garden…this could have been the view of his garden shed from his deathbed…shortly before the 200mg of LSD kicked in…

Their conversion of the 4-mile absolutely straight two-lane blacktop access road to the site into a ‘drag strip’ and their effort to hide their ‘hot rod’ in a nearby swamp when the periodic base inspection came around. And then, in one of the many thoughtful readings from a frail but not failing warrior who classified himself as a “trained killer”. Who led over 250 other “trained killers” until 1964. That war is fought by the young.

Just by example. The average age of the men who manned this site in that version of the world on the brink of destroying itself. Just 24.


2 Responses to “Boats, Gators and Bombs”

  1. jose Says:

    Thank you for latest blog, the Everglades sounds amazing, know when to start running Kirk Singer looks a real character.

  2. Thompson Says:

    Really interesting. Didn’t know Kirk and his friends were in the Everglades during the cold war. Will watch Gentle Ben with new eyes from now on.

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