Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Tram Tour and the 9 Soup Dinner

Thursday January 22, 2015
Highlands Hammock State Park
Sebring, Florida



Just after dawn this morning I bike directly over to the Lieber Trail.  It’s over an hour before the park opens.  No one is here but me.   I walk in very slowly soaking it all in. There are no words for how it feels.  At some point perhaps I’ll do a post of the pictures I took but right now I’ll skip to the afternoon.


EvIMG_4925en though we took the tram tour last time we were here, when we saw it yesterday we decided to take it again.  The cost is $5 a head for the hour long tour which takes you through some restricted areas off limits to the public any other way. 

If nothing else, it’s a nice donation to the Friends of Highlands Hammock who do an amazing number of programs in the park including a Wednesday night pot luck in the recreation hall, a Thursday morning coffee, biscuits and home made jam and a Thursday evening Soup Dinner all in the Rec Hall.  

Since most food is made with meat, oil and sugar we opted to skip the pot luck and David even skipped, with regret, this morning’s biscuits. 

I think next time we’ll just support the Friends, do it all, and then spend the next month cleaning up our act.  LOL

The Friends tram tour tickets are only for sale the day of the tour and the 1:00 sells out pretty quickly after the 8:00 opening of the ranger station.  If there are enough people, they will do a 2:30 tour as well.

Having gotten our tickets first thing, we headed over to the tram pick up point in front of the CCC Museum about which I did a  post last time we were here.  If you are interested you can find it with this link.  I may do a more detailed one this time if that works out.


IMG_4895Kevin was our guide last time and again today.  He took us down the Hammock Road stopping at the homestead to talk about the original white pioneers in this place and the orange groves they planted.  He also stops at the trail head for the Richard Lieber Trail to talk about Lieber who is the father of the Indiana State Park system, one of the first in the nation, and was a consultant to many other state parks as they started up.  When coming to Highlands Hammock he said it was one of the 3 most beautiful places he’d been in.  Pretty high praise.  Of course he discusses this old oak which even though filled with concrete, shrugged off the best intentions of man to put out new growth and continue on to its next 1000 years.  They give 970 as the date of the tree.  How they know that neither I nor anyone else asked.






Now it’s time to turn off the paved Hammock Road and head down a dirt road marked “Restricted Access”.  Luckily it was a warm day and we didn’t have to drive very far before Kevin pointed out the first of several alligators out sunning themselves.

  Of course this was what people had come to see so they all stood up to take a look and get pictures.  That was when I first realized that I’d been on the tram in plenty of time to pick which side I wanted to sit on and I was by the rail but I was on the wrong side.  Always sit on the side where the driver is.  He’ll mostly be pointing out things on that side. 






There were several Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons along the way as well but the folks in front of me were too tall for me to even see them much less take any pictures.  But that’s OK, I’ve seen plenty of them before.  This canal road would be a great hike if it were permitted.  I later asked why it’s restricted and Kevin said because of the cottonmouths.  Hmmmm, on the road?


We did see an anhinga in a tree behind the canal.   I had to get my picture from a distance and quickly before the tall folks could spot him and jump up to get theirs.





My favorite sighting of the afternoon was these two alligators and the brave turtle sitting behind the closer one.  Kevin says turtles aren’t too smart or don’t have good memories about the fact that alligators like them for food.  Not sure about that either.  Isn’t it possible that this turtle either knows he’s too big for these two or knows they have already eaten and won’t need anything for another week?







We saw lots and lots of turtles.  Kevin was calling out cooter and red bellied and yellow bellied sliders all the way down the canal.  I can’t tell my turtles so I have no idea who these are except that they don’t have red bellies.  Wonder how you can tell a red bellied if you can’t see his belly.

This guy just popped up out of the duckweed and struggled to get above it.  It was comical to watch him pull up and then slide down.  He finally made it.









The Friends of Highlands Hammock Soup Dinner is also held in the Recreation Hall off the campground, easy walking distance for us.  It starts at 5:00 and like the potluck last night there is to be music at 6:00.  Since we didn’t attend the potluck, a decision we are regretting, we didn’t hear that music and this is a duo we have heard before and liked so we are looking forward to hearing them again.

We bring our own bowls and spoons but the cashier ranger informs us that the health department will not allow that.  He says we can pour the soup from their styrofoam bowl into our glass one if we like.  But the point for me was to decrease the use of styrofoam.  Oh well…….



The servers are lined up manning what turns out to be the 8 crockpots and warming dishes holding the home made soups.  Seems #9 didn’t show up so we had no bean and ham among our choices.  

The cost is $2 a bowl with saltines provided.  So how to choose among these?   I’m told the Bean with ham has not arrived yet so that makes it a tiny bit easier.   After looking them all over I decide to try something I’ve not had before, the Tortilla.


Here we have the broccoli cheese on the right and the chicken corn chowder on the left.


Chicken Noodle on the right and chili on the left.


From the right these are gumbo, tortilla and vegetable beef.  I guess I neglected to get a picture of the very first one at the top of the table, barley beef.  That was David’s choice.  He’d eaten it before I thought to take the picture.




We eat an early dinner usually so we joined the early crowd at the table.  It’s about 5:30.  Notice David’s bowl is empty and mine is still full.

He actually has 3 bowls of soup.  The beef barley, the gumbo and the vegetable beef.   Do you see a pattern here? 

He declares them all to be excellent but that the gumbo is his favorite.  I vote for the gumbo too.  Since it was labeled spicy, the server was kind enough to put just a taste in my bowl so I could try it before deciding.  It was delicious so she filled my bowl.  If I’d had room for a 3rd bowl it would have been the gumbo.   The tortilla was very good though too salty for my taste.  I think I’ll look up the recipe and see if I can make it vegan style with a lot less salt.







Aiden and Christine who call themselves Friction Farm perform to great approval. Music to eat by or just to listen to.  They call themselves a modern folk duo.  You might call them part timers. 

They quit their high profile high stress jobs and went on the road as musicians.  We saw them at Sebastian Inlet which has concerts at its campground stage.   They seem to do Florida in the winter and have a home base in South Carolina.  Maybe you’ve seen them if you’ve been in state parks in the southeast.

Their latest album, I Read Your Book, in which all the songs they wrote are based on books they had read over the course of a year, was appealing to me as a bibliophile. They play an acoustic guitar and a bass.  Their voices sing lovely blended harmonies with thought provoking lyrics.    The acoustics in the building proved to be very good which was a bit surprising with the high ceilings and large space.  If you ever get the chance, give them a listen.





When I step outside to head home, the little sliver of a new moon is shining brightly in the sky.  What a beauty. 







I follow it all the way back through the pines and the palms to Winnona who looks quite content sitting under her tall pine and a sliver of a moon.







Highlands Hammock has a lot to recommend it.


  1. I was going to say I've seen many copperheads along the roads in Kentucky, but you said coppermouth, didn't you. I would have a difficult time choosing the soup I wanted. They all sound good, except I don't eat much "spicy" anymore so would probably skip the gumbo.

    1. Great job of finding a typo Gypsy. That should have been cottonmouths so thanks for pointing it out. Not sure they are out of the water and on the road was my thought.

  2. Kudos to Kevin for a most informative tram tour! Not only does he share the natural and cultural history, but he is also a great spotter for wildlife and will greatly enhance your experience of this wonderful place.

  3. You certainly are getting your monies worth out of Highlands Hammock SP! Not to mention some great soups to top it all off! :c)

  4. When I read Nine Soups in your title. . .it threw me for a sec. . .glad to know it was at a potluck. . .LOL!

    I am understanding more, and more why you chose to return to this park. . .what a beautiful place!

  5. I'd want a mini-cup of each soup just to taste. Those alligators hold still enough to be statues. Love the moon shots.

  6. Those moon shots are quite serene.

    The first gator you feature today looks quite alert!

  7. I saw your post and wondered how that cold front missed you! We had good day after the storm passed us at 5 am, headed your way. Then I checked your date and see it was Thursday. Trees are dated by growth rings and of course that wonderful isotope Carbon 14. Things changed after 1945 and the a bomb, but hey that's their problem. I agree nice moon with the palms.

  8. Not many ministries to be had around here with clouds and fog so I'm more than happy to share yours. Soup potlucks are the best!

  9. Not many moon shots...... I hate auto correct!

  10. We saw the sliver of moon out our side window last night as well. What a nice tour you got from a great guide as it sounds. I'm not sure which soup I would have chosen, but I love chili!

  11. Great Tour and the 9 soup dinner just sealed the deal... we need to get to Highlands Hammock!! Love your last photo:o))

  12. Regardless the size, how the heck does the gator digest the turtle shell? I need to watch more Nat Geo! When I rule the world, there will be special seating for us short people. It could be awhile...... I'm surprised there wasn't a vegan soup option and that only one had no meat, still I would probably like all of them :-) That tall pine looks enchanted in the moonlight.

  13. Always surprises me that there are so few vegan options anywhere! They could have at least made one with so many to choose from, and we are meeting more and more people who are vegan now for health reasons. Ah well, we just avoid things like that and make our own food for pot lucks when we go them.
    Love the moon shots!

  14. I love the Florida State parks program that supports performances by traveling musicians -- we've met a few in our travels and it was great fun to hear them perform at the campground. Gorgeous moon shots! The soup potluck looks like fun, but too bad they wouldn't let you use your own bowls. Wish they would just ban styrofoam -- that nasty stuff takes more than 500 years to break down, if ever!

  15. Looks like it was a good tour again! Great turtle pictures. I thought places would stop with the Styrofoam...there are so many alternatives now. I don't see how using your own bowls would be any issue for someone else if they pour carefully. Good looking soup and gorgeous moon!

  16. This is an excellent tram tour. It was in the "restricted area" that we saw the mother and five babies, as well as, a two year old. After our tram tour we walked back to get photos of the mom and babies.

    I love soup! What a great idea. They all sound yummy. How nice that music was included!

    Love that moon photo that actually shows the the shadow of the whole moon:)

  17. The soup dinner is a cool idea. Especially in these cooler days :-).

  18. I'm with the others on the soup dinner being such a cool idea. We love soup and have been eating a lot of it! At $2 a bowl, that could get expensive! LOL! And I'm also with you about how they determine the age of things and spout those numbers off. Every time I hear something like that, I'm grateful for the information and the research that goes into it, but part of me still says, "how can they possibly know that for sure?"

  19. That soup dinner is a wonderful idea! I love good home made soup and I think I'll have to make a pot today. It's the perfect weather for it :)


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