The Lakes Are Dead, the Alligators Are Not!

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Is this Thailand? Cambodia? Vietnam? The landscape here certainly fools your eyes. The water, the mist, the tree roots barely surfacing the dead calm waters; everything around you cries for Asia, but yet, you are in Florida. Yes, the humid, swampy and mosquito-infested land of Disney, NASA and other highly civilized enterprises.

On the west coast of Florida lies the Dead Lakes Recreation Area, located in a small town of 1,800 residents named Wewahitchka, meaning "Water eyes" in the Seminole Indian language. It's in the very beginning of what is called the Florida panhandle, the part of the state boasting two times zones, where the divide lies at the Apalachicola River, home of the famous oysters of the same name.

The two freshwater Dead Lakes offer one of the best sport fishing in the country (who's checking?), with giant bass fish routinely breaking size records. The cypress tree stumps give an eerie look to the waters, and alligators lurk right under the smooth surface, just like they normally do. Formerly a salt water lake, the flooding of the area by the Apalachicola River transformed the area into a fresh water marsh.

The village is also home to the famed Tupelo honey production, where the beehives are placed on platforms in the swamps to keep them above the water line. Framed by magnolia trees, the wildlife of the lakes includes rabbits, turtles, snakes and loud birds of various kinds. A visit by canoe is ideal on the tranquil waters reflecting the sky like mirrors.

Like so many hidden gems in Florida, it's hard to find guides, or any indication for that matter, on many absolutely beautiful locations throughout the state -- and you will find it difficult to even see signs to direct you to them -- but that's why you have me! The Dead Lakes area has two lodges with motel rooms and lakeside cabins, as well as kayak-guided tours. Make sure to bring serious bug protection, and keep arms and legs inside the boat.