Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Into the Everglades

Monday we headed south. It took us a couple of hours to get out of Palm City. First, we needed fuel. Then we needed to restock the larder, so we went to the nearby Publix. While we were there, Hannah caught up with us to say her goodbyes (Sandy and Anna had done so the night before since they had to get up early to go to work). Following that, we drove to a restaurant we knew of and had a hearty breakfast. So it was about two hours after we pulled out of the driveway that we got onto the Turnpike and turned south.

We don’t like freeways, but it was the most logical way to the Everglades. Traffic wasn’t too bad except around a couple of cities, such as Miami. We took the Turnpike to the end, where there was a sign directing us to the Everglades. When we stopped at the Information Center, we were told (incorrectly as it turned out) that the dump station at Flamingo (our destination) may not be open due to a recent storm; so we took her advice and dumped our tanks and filled our water at Long Pine Campground. When we got to the campground at Flamingo, we found that there were ample available spaces — unusual during the season.

In the evening, we took a walk in our shorts and T-shirts. As we passed the heavy vegetation at the edge of the campground we were descended on by hordes of mosquitos. We beat a hasty retreat to the Roadtrek where we spent some time killing the little buggers and leaving blood spots on the walls. Winter is the dry season, and usually light on mosquitos, but this has been an unusual year.

Next day, Tuesday, we had the whole day in the park. This time we dressed in long pants and long-sleeve shirts. We picked up our gear and drove to the main area. We basically spent the whole day there. We decided against taking a hike through the woods and just hung out by the bay, where thanks to a nice breeze there were fewer mosquitoes.

Florida Bay and Gumbo Limbo tree
The place is osprey central. There are nests and birds everywhere. There are other birds aplenty as well. While sitting in the café, enjoying a cold drink, Jean spotted a flock of birds swooping back and forth out in the bay. Shooting them with a long lens and examining the picture, we discovered that they were Skimmers working the sandbar.

We attended a talk on manatees and learned many interesting things about them; such as that they live in sea water but drink fresh water. In fact, during the walk after the talk we found four of them crowded into the marina. They were drinking the runoff from one of the piers that had just been washed down.

We also got a close look at a white morph of a great blue heron. And learned how to tell one from an egret.

Great Blue Heron, White Morph

Later, we also heard a talk about hurricanes and had a long talk with the ranger afterwards. She clued us in on where in the area we might spot some crocodiles (yes, Virginia, there are also crocodiles in Florida).  We managed to spot two. They look like floating sticks, but don’t get near them.

That, along with some ice cream, topped off our day. We headed back to the campground. It only takes a few minutes to get plugged up ready for the night. But I was swamped by mosquitos. Inside the rig we had a killing fest, then turned on the air conditioning (it was warmer away from the bay) and took naps.

Next day (Wednesday) it was time to head north. We were in no hurry to leave, so we got away about 11:05. On the way out we stopped at the pond where we saw a tree full of spoonbills last year. No such luck this year; but there was an alligator slowly swimming by. That was the only gator we saw in a month in Florida!

From here on out it is just clicking off the miles back to the farm. In a few days we will be back to everyday chores and planning our next summer trip to the Great River Road. Join us then.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Palm City

We will be a little over a week in Palm City. It will be relaxing, no travel except around town (and that not in the motorhome). Jean is looking forward to a lot of beach time. The first day we ran some errands and met Anna for lunch. Went out to dinner in the evening. So difficult!

Sunday we slept in while the family went to church. Then beach in the afternoon. It was windy but warm. Jean collected some shells while the rest of us just kicked back. We could see rain all around us, but it missed us.

If it’s Monday, it must be laundry day. Jean and granddaughter Hannah went to a laundromat. They have a washer here, but it is having problems on the spin cycle. They brought the clothes back to dry. I walked to the nearby Publix and got some basics, though not what I originally came for, which they were out of. Spent most of the evening watching Dances with Wolves on TV —  four hours, cut down from two.

Tuesday, Hannah had off so we went to the McKee Botanical Garden. This is in Vero Beach and is a marvelous place. It is mostly set up like a jungle, with lots of palms and bamboo, along with some other trees.

The main part of the spring bloom was over, but there were still a lot of different water lilies and several orchids.

There was also sculpture. The greatest number of them were made of Legos. I liked the hummingbird.

There was also a sculpture made of glass balls set in the middle of a pond (one suspects to keep people from messing with it).

We could have spent the whole day there, but we had to pick up Anna after work. She took us directly to the beach (which she does frequently after work). Not as windy today, Jean took her usual walk, looking for interesting shells. The rest of us sat back and snacked. There were occasional surfers, but otherwise it was a slow day at the beach.

Wednesday we went to Hannah’s shop for haircuts. She does good work. Afterwards we found a place for breakfast — Eggs Benedict --- oh the life of the idle rich! We did walk a loop down to the river and back. Slow day.

Jumping to Friday, Sandy had off so he drove us round a little and looked at the scenery. This is Florida’s east coast, so there is a lot of water around.

St. Lucie Lagoon

We all went out for diner. Since it was St. Patrick’s Day, we went to a Greek restaurant to avoid the crowds. Lots of food — we brought home enough to feed us another day at least.

Saturday is the day after St. Patrick’s, but that was when the parade was. Went in to Port St. Lucie for the parade. There were a good number of bagpipes, but they were Scottish pipes, not Irish.

 Besides the usual marching bands and governmental units, there were a number of local ethnic societies.

Often, the spectators are as interesting as the marchers.

Back at the ranch we relaxed some more and ate some of the Greek leftovers for dinner.

Sunday began with laundry. Then we walked to the nearby Publix to see if they had some of Gene’s lotion in the pharmacy. The pharmacy was closed. On the way home we came upon the pair of sandhill cranes that they call “the neighbors” because they hang out just down the street.

 In the afternoon we went to the beach. Being Sunday and warm, the beach was crowded. We managed to score a parking place quickly, and found a good place to set up our chairs. Anna set up her umbrella, but she had some trouble because it was a little windy.

Lots of people, but no real surf. Some boys were riding the shore break on boogie boards, but with a north wind, there was nothing offshore for regular boards.  Jean took a walk along the beach, looking for shells; but the beach was picked pretty clean. About 2:30 the wind shifted to northeast and increased. It also became cooler. I assumed that a mild cold front had just passed.

After a while, we picked up our gear and went to a nearby Publix for bathroom breaks and snacks. We went to nearby House of Refuge Beach for another quick look for shells. When we got there the water came up to the rocks, so we had a small area to look in. We found some nice shells up next to the rocks.

On the way back to the house we stopped at the creek they call Manatee Creek. Sure enough, there were four manatees just hanging out.

This was the longest we stayed in Palm City. It appears that our water and holding tanks will hold out for that long, at least when we spent most of the time in the house. Useful knowledge. Tomorrow we head out for a short trip to the Everglades.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Into the cities

Time to leave the more rural part of Florida and plunge into the citified Gulf coast. We ease into it by visiting Jean’s sister-in-law Chris in Seffner (an exurb of Tampa). We arrived about 10:00 and had a nice, long visit. Jean caught up on all the doings of that part of the family’ since the last time we visited a couple of years ago.

Then it was off to lunch. We went to a favorite Greek restaurant, where we had Greek salads all around. Even though we ordered the smaller sizes, we weren’t able to finish them. Jean and I were surprised to discover that the greens were on top of a potato salad. This was followed by a move to Plant City, where the Strawberry Festival was going on. We went to one of Chris’s favorite farms and got delicious strawberry shortcakes.

After some more visiting, it was time to leave. We immediately plunged into a solid stream of traffic, and went to a large (very large) mall since Jean still needed to pick up a couple of more birthday gifts. By the time that was accomplished, it was dark out and we had no idea of where we were going to stay in this urban place.

After some trolling around on our cell phones, I scored a site at a large campground called Happy Traveler in Thonotosassa. This was one of the few around that have someone available for check-in after 5:00, so we considered ourselves lucky.

Next day (Wednesday) we wanted to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit in St. Petersburg. Jean had directions to the Dali Museum, so we plunged into the traffic through Tampa and across the
Bay. We managed to score a parking place on the street in St. Pete and walked to the museum ($40 with all available discounts). The Kahlo exhibit was small but very well done with paintings, sketches, and photographs. There was a complimentary audio tour available which was quite complete. One got a good sense of her life as well as analysis of much of her art. Unfortunately, the parking meter didn’t give us enough time to also take in the reproduction of Frida’s garden.

Then we drove through heavy traffic to Anna Maria Island (west of Bradenton). The island is long and narrow with lots of development. We finally found a parking lot next to the beach, so Jean got her beach fix for the day. We continued down the island toward Sarasota. Along the way we passed Coquina Park. That is a nice-looking park with lots more parking. We even saw several RVs parked together, which made us wonder if there was camping in the park. We need to check this out the next time we are in the area.

Back on the mainland, we went through heavy traffic until we got to the Cracker Barrel in Venice. This one was much easier to find.

Jean had one more place she wanted to see before we were due at her son, Sandy’s, house in Palm City (on the east coast). So we plunged back into the traffic heading for Sanibel Island. This has the reputation of being one of the best shelling beaches in the country. Being confused about the relation of Sanibel to Captiva, we took the “wrong” road up the island. The one we took went mostly through the residential part of the island. It was an interesting road, but there was no beach access. We eventually were back on the main road and shortly found Bowman Beach, the one we were looking for.

We bought an hour-and-a-half of parking and headed out the beach. Surprise, surprise, it was crowded. We were later informed that this is Spring Break season. I set up a chair and relaxed while Jean walked the tide line, looking for shells.

A photographer and a couple of models showed up and did a swimming suit photo shoot. I tried getting some shots of pelicans fishing, but was too far away. Eventually Jean showed up with her finds.

On the way out we stopped in a parking lot for some quick lunch in the Roadtrek. Talking with a native, we found out that Sanibel and Captiva were once one island. Then a storm cut the island in half, so now they are two islands. After lunch it was time to head east. Getting off the island and through Fort Myers was miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic. I could say I spent a week one day in Fort Myers.

When we finally got clear of the mess, we headed for Lake Okeechobee. Driving through the farm country we saw mile after mile of sugar cane in all stages of growth. We ended up in a county campground in South Bay that has to be one of the best we have ever stayed in.

The facilities were very good, and we both took showers. Then, to prepare for spending time in Sandy’s driveway, I filled the fresh water and dumped the holding tanks. All set, we headed east for Palm City.

We went about half way around Lake Okeechobee before turning east. When we got into the urban area, Jean needed one more thing. We pulled into a shopping center that had a Dollar General so she could put the finishing touches on a couple of birthday presents. Meanwhile, I caught up with a couple of chores. We had lunch in a Mexican restaurant, where we were serenaded during our meal. Jean then talked (in Spanish) with the musician for some time. We were about the only people in at that time of day so he had time to converse.

Finally we were off to Sandy’s house. I managed to back us in the right place on the first try. It helps to know the drill. We will be spending some time here. All about it in the next installment.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Big Bend of Florida

March 2, Thursday. We left Helens and headed east toward Florida. We had gotten a reservation at St. Andrews State Park about 180 miles away. We are now on the panhandle of Florida, called the “Forgotten Coast.” While there are plenty of visitors, it is nothing like the area further south. Still, we only got a couple of days in the park because there was a cancellation; these sites reserve up eleven months in advance.

The park is sandy and wooded, and the sites are reasonably spaced. Next day it was cool and windy, but we decided to walk to the camp store to see if they could mail a couple of letters for us — bills that Jean needed to pay. Unfortunately, they couldn’t. It was a longer distance than it looked on the camp map, so we decided not to continue on to the beach. We went back to the rig, took naps, and kicked back for the rest of the day. That’s a good thing, too.

Thursday, Jean got up and washed her hair in the galley sink. After breakfast, I topped off the water tank (it was pretty low). We dumped the holding tanks on the way out. At the boat ramp we stopped and looked over an old turpentine still. This was a large, building-size operation.

Turpentine still

 Then we drove to the beach. Crossing over the dune, we were startled by the green color of the water. Similar to the shores in Greece, the water was different shades of green depending on the depth.

We took a short walk, then it was off to find a post office. It turned out to be quite a few miles west, the wrong way. She posted her letters and we were finally on our way. Other stops included getting groceries at a Piggly Wiggly, and a lunch stop in Apalachicola (now back in the Eastern time zone). This was in a restaurant we ate at the last time we were on the panhandle. Are we developing favorite stops in faraway places?

We found a county park in Newport where we could get a primitive camping spot (20 amp electric only) for the princely sum of $11, and laid our heads down for the night.

We are now around the corner and heading down the Big Bend of Florida. This is a pretty, rural part of Florida. Not much tourist activity, which is the way we like it. We took a flyer on a side trip to see if there is a beach there. We drove many miles through the woods on a two-lane road, passing through an unexpectedly large town with lots of boats —all on canals. We finally came to the town of Keaton Beach.

Keaton Beach

The beach is small and had just a few people on it: one woman sitting on the beach, a man and a boy, and two people paddling kayaks offshore. Talking to some locals, we were told it is the biggest beach in the area. On the panhandle there are miles-long, white sand beaches. In the bend of Florida, beaches are rare. (Further south you find lots of long beaches again.)

Later, we talked with the couple from the kayaks. They’re just starting a long trip around the country with a travel trailer. Back on the road, Jean found a spot in a KOA in Old Town, FL.

Next day, we chatted with neighbors for a while, then headed out. Our first destination was Manatee Springs State Park. This was a short distance as the crow flies but about an hour by road. Manatee Spring is a deep, large-volume spring that feeds a short creek that empties into the Suwanee River. There is a boardwalk through a dense cedar swamp to the mouth of the creek where there were about eight manatees and several kayaks milling about them. There were also lots of vultures resting in some trees, and a large number of ibis in an adjacent tree.

Some of the manatees in the river

After a while a motorboat race came roaring down the river (it was Sunday) and spooked all the birds. The vultures circled a while and went back into their trees. The ibis flew back and forth in a flock a few times, and settled into a tree farther up the creek.

Next we drove to Cedar Key. The town was larger than I remembered it, but the beach was smaller and busier than the one at Keaton. We sat at the beach for a while and just people-watched. There were a couple of cruising boats anchored off-shore (one a catamaran). After a while we walked along the old waterfront, and stopped for lunch. The town was very crowded, so we had to wait a while but it was worth it.

Cedar Key

About 3:30 we left and headed inland to a KOA. On the way out of Cedar Key we spotted a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the marsh.

Monday started off by doing laundry. All went well until we found that I had failed to press the “start” button on one of the driers. They don’t automatically start when you put in your quarters like the washers do. The end result was we were pushed right up to the checkout time of 12:00.

We drove back to the coast (we were about 30 miles inland) and followed a county road which paralleled the coast but some distance inland. We eventually ended up at a park in Bayport, where we had lunch overlooking the Gulf. Then we watched a Windrider 16 come in. We later talked with the owner.

Finally, we headed for Seffner and its Cracker Barrel. There is a good sign which you can see for a mile on the freeway, but when you exit, there is no clue as to where the restaurant is. It is well-hidden, as is the sign from the local streets.  We drove around for a while, going back and forth, until we finally put the address into the GPS, which gave us wrong directions. Finally, I tried a road that looked like it was the wrong way and it led to the place. This is not the first time we have had that experience with Cracker Barrel. Anyway, we got a good supper and a good night’s sleep

Tomorrow we go in to Seffner and find Jean’s sister-in-law and start the next chapter.