Does wandering around nearly 80,000 acres of a Cypress Swamp sound like a good time? Guided swamp buggy rides through the Babcock Wilderness Adventures grounds begins with face-to-face encounters with ten foot long alligators. Immerse yourself in the four separate Eco-systems which comprise this section of Punta Gorda. Experience the offerings of the nature preserve while viewing pristine forests which haven’t changed since the Seminole Indians roamed the area.
An afternoon spend at this Florida attraction flawlessly combines both nature and education. If you are traveling with children, they will be having so much fun they won’t even realize they are participating in an outdoor learning scenario. While “gator” spotting is the most exciting aspect of the tour, it is far from the only “must see” experience. A tour guide spins a running narrative as you wind over dirt roads and across narrow waterways in an open-air buggy.
Tour the Working Ranch
Babcock Wilderness Adventure is a working ranch which produces sod pallets, “Cracker” cattle and even boasts one of the largest alligator farms in North America. Before a baby alligator comes aboard the swamp buggy, the guide shares the intricacies of alligator breeding and the dangerous task of counting “gator” eggs inside a nest. Unlike many facilities which allow visitors to handle small alligators, the youthful reptiles you will touch at Babcock do not have their mouths taped shut. Yes, their teeth are sharp and even a one and a half foot long alligator could take off a finger. But, unless feeling threatened alligators rarely open their strong jaws in anger. Rarely does not mean never, so pay attention to the guide when she tells you not to go poking your extremities near the creature’s nostrils.
See Native Wildlife
As you move along on the tour do not become startled when a loud grunting noise breaks the solitude of the swamp. Wild boar also call the preserve home and waddle as fast as their chubby legs will carry them after the swamp buggies. Similar in manner to dogs running when they hear the treat bag jingle, the attempt to muscle their way into the buggy for kernels of corn the guides carry along the route. What began as a necessity to distract the families of wild boar who came to close to visitors exiting the swamp buggy has become an all too familiar habit for the animals. The guides don’t miss a beat when describing a particular Eco-system’s contributions while nudging the boar off the buggy steps and tossing corn kernels over their shoulder.
Inside the Swamp
When you cross over an intentionally flooded railroad bridge you nearly at eye level with alligators swimming and basking in the murky waterway. The experience is both unnerving and thrilling at the same time. Feel like you are playing a game of “Where’s Waldo” while attempting to spot the reptiles camouflaged among a field of lily pads. While working your way to the wooden footbridge for a walking tour of the swamp you will notice strings of telegraph wires above your head. The old poles and communication bearing wires are the only semblance of the somewhat modern world you will find on the tour. An abandoned section of telegraph wires were once the longest stretch of telegraph wires in the United States. View the honey producing Palmetto Palm Trees, densely grouped Cypress Trees and the odd yet attractive Cypress “knees.”Visiting the bobcat habitat is also an exciting aspect of the tour. The bobcats were rescued from their former owners and a small residential enclosure and delight in playing with their toys and roaming freely among their new environment.
The swamp tour closes with a drive-by viewing of the cattle ranch headquarters. The wranglers still ride the grounds on horseback and prefer to be called cattle hunters rather than cowboys. The small Cracker cattle are raised on the ranch and then shipped around the world to buyers. A structure built in the late 1800’s and one utilized as a company store, doctor’s office and bunk house now houses the cattle hunters business office. According to local lore, the company doctor/dentist offered cradle to the grave care for workers and their families for a fee of $.40 per month. Railroad cars which were used to ship cattle and supplies to the Crescent B Ranch were often left sitting in the open field near the company office. A need for quick and sturdy shelter for the cow hunters prompted what may have been the first mobile home community in the “Sunshine State.” Company workers carved out doors and windows and use the discarded train cars and make-shift homes while wrangling cattle for the ranch until through the early 1900’s.
Gift Shop and Museum
The swamp buggy weaves along a trail back to the main entrance as your experience draws to a close. Before leaving the ranch make sure to take a tour of the small on-site museum. Relics over a hundred years old and photos from movies filmed at the facility offer a glimpse back into history. Sean Connery had a near tragic encounter with an alligator while filming a motion picture at Babcock during the late 1990’s. When he unwittingly wandered a bit to close to an egg nest, a nine foot long female alligator let him know in no uncertain terms that celebrity or not, he needed to back find a new spot to smile for the cameras.
A gift shop provides all the typical fare, but you can also dip your toe into the realm of Agri-tourism by purchasing honey and jams made harvested by hand from trees and plants grown at the Crescent B Ranch. Plan on spending at least two hours to thoroughly investigate everything this family friendly attraction has to offer.