We have crossed another milestone. Two years ago today, on March 1, 2012, we embarked on our new lifestyle of living on the road. One of our many goals was to continue to exercise and be active. Building on what I began last year, and to commemorate our 2nd year of full timing, I have compiled our new set of favorite hike/walk trails. This top ten list covers the trails we explored between March 1, 2013 and Feb 28, 2014. It does not include the dozens of beach walks we took while on the east coast. Although we love long walks on the beach, they tend to be fairly similar and we decided not to try to rate them. Continue reading
We are continuing to meander up the southwest coast of Florida, on our slow northward migration. Our next stop was in the city of Punta Gorda, spanish for “fat point”. It sits at a point where the Peace River meets Charlotte Harbor. On our way there we caught a glimpse of this interesting car. Would you ride in this red wagon? Steve said he would!
Immediately after settling in, we contacted our friends Dave and Sue, John and Pam, and Joe and Judy to make arrangements to get together one more time before we leave Florida. Fortunately they were able to carve some time away from their “busy” retirement schedules to meet us for meals. But more on that later, as Steve and I had some exploring to do around our new home base.
During our walk along the Punta Gorda Harborwalk we discovered the cool Harbor Bridges Mural. It depicts Theodore Roosevelt (who came to Punta Gorda in 1917) and his guide in the foreground with a Manta Ray they had beached. The center of the mural shows Charlotte Harbor, and the sides show the old and new Harbor Bridges. The arrow indicates the locations of Punta Gorda and Gasparilla Island, our points of interest while staying in the area.
Steve and I had been lamenting that our walks here in Florida lacked elevation. The walking/hiking trails are almost completely flat, and we were hoping for some changes in elevation as we walked around scenic Charlotte Harbor. The pathway is quite popular, well maintained and cuts through various city parks.
As we neared the east end of the pathway, it branched out. One path went safely under the bridge and the other lead across it. We followed the one onto the northbound US 41 bridge, and ahead of us was the steepest incline we have seen in months – the bridge itself. Pitiful!
Walking across bridges is obviously not our favorite way to exercise, what with the noise and car emissions. But we walked both of them, and after adding that to our harbor walk we had covered several miles.
The Harbor Bridges (also called the Highway 41 Twin Bridges) cross the Peace River and connect Punta Gorda to Port Charlotte to the north. Our efforts were rewarded with several wildlife sightings – dolphins, jellyfish, stingrays and other fish. Not bad after all!
In another area we saw these feathered friends frolicking and scurrying for food in the the pond at nearby Fishermans Village.
On another day we hauled our bikes to Gasparilla Island, part of a chain of Gulf Coast barrier islands. We paid the $6 causeway toll and a $3 parking fee before beginning our ride from the south end of the island where the restored 1890 lighthouse sits.
From there we followed the Boca Grande bike path, a paved 6.5-mile trail which is credited as Florida’s first rail-trail. It travels the length of the Gulf Coast barrier island. The northern section has a separate jogging/walking path that is privately maintained and beautifully landscaped. We shared the bike path with an ocassional golf cart, which appear to be the preferred mode of local transportation in this upscale area.
On our way back home we stumbled upon a Fishery Market and Restaurant in Placida. We saw fresh-caught fish being unloaded from a boat and taken directly to the market. I was so excited to see not only the various fish, but they also had blue crabs available when we stopped by. I wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity! I got 5 crabs and 3 various kinds of fish for a measly $17! After packing them into our trusty ice chest that never leaves the car, we proceeded to have a fabulous lunch at the Fishery Restaurant. Then we raced home so I could clean my yummy catch in time to have some more for dinner!
One day we hopped on a boat cruise that took us across Charlotte Harbor for Sunday brunch at a place called Burnt Store. Legend says the Trading Post there was burned down by Billy Bowlegs, the leader of an Indian settlement who was pissed off when settlers invaded their territory. The Trading Post was never rebuilt, and the name Burnt Store stuck. The road leading to it – and the one on which we stayed at Gulf View RV Resort (see Steve’s review here) – is Burnt Store Road. Although the boat cruise was relaxing, the brunch was not very good and there was nothing much else to see or do at Burnt Store. However, we were happy to see the migrants just offshore, White Pelicans hanging out on a sandbar. It’s hard to tell in the picture, but these guys are huge – much bigger than a typical brown pelican.
The birthday boy, Steve, celebrated his birthday by going to the Muscle Car City Museum after reading Sue and Dave’s recent post about it. He discovered that the museum was right up the street from our RV park. It had an amazing collection of Corvettes, at least one from every year it has been produced. He also salivated over the Camaros, Chevelles and El Caminos, all of which he had worked on and rebuilt in his earlier mechanical life.
Finally, the chance to gather with friends had arrived. We first met up for lunch with Joe and Judy at Ft. Myers, a midway point between Bonita Springs and Punta Gorda. They were so kind to restock us with fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice from Sun Harvest. After our BBQ meal we talked about where we might meet again and said our goodbyes.
Next we drove to Venice, Florida to meet up one more time with Sue and Dave of Belugas Excellent Adventure, and John and Pam of Oh the Places. We had a delicious lunch at Sharkys by the Pier and then walked to the Venice pier and along the beach. Sue introduced us to fossilized shark tooth hunting/collecting.
Sue told us that collecting prehistoric shark’s teeth has been a favorite pastime for visitors and residents of the Venice area for years. They may be black, brown, or gray, depending on the minerals in the soil in which they have been buried. They range in size from one eighth inch to three inches, and on rare occasions larger. Collectors or enthusiasts bring their metal sifter, scoop up a bunch of sand, then dump it on the beach before sifting through for the teeth.
During subsequent walks I have collected some items, but I think only one of them might be a shark’s tooth. Am I right Sue?
After the beach adventure we followed our friends to Snook Haven, where the sign says it all:
After enjoying a refreshment and more talk, the cool people had to split up and be on their way. We vowed to meet again somewhere in this vast land of ours, perhaps this summer. Thank you friends, for hanging out with us – and lets keep in touch!
Next up: A 2nd Anniversary Post of our Top Ten Hikes
On our way out of the Florida Keys, a funny thing happened as we were leaving the RV park. It’s not often that we see another Winnebago Tour motorhome in an RV park – they are not nearly as common as the Tiffin Phaeton model. But on this day as we were about to hook up our car, Steve pulled up next to another Winnebago Tour towing a Honda CR-V like ours. And the other folks were also registered in South Dakota, using the same mail service we do! We enjoyed talking with them for a few minutes before they pulled out just ahead of us, heading to Fort Lauderdale – just as we were!
In addition to birds and beaches, palm trees dominate the scene in Florida, especially in the southern part of the state. Here, palm trees adorn highways, line side streets and are used in landscaping for houses or just as centerpieces. I didn’t pay much attention to these trees until my one time header, taken of a palm in Puerto Rico, got LuAnn’s (Paint Your Landscape) curiosity as to its name.
Her query got me into “research mode”, and I began to focus my camera on palm trees so I could google them to learn more (as if learning about birds isn’t enough for me). I couldn’t find that particular palm from Puerto Rico here in Florida, and as a last resort I contacted the hotel in San Juan to ask about it. Incredibly, they got back to me with complete details about the Fiji Fan Palm Tree. Isn’t it a beautiful one?
You may wonder why I went to such trouble? Well, I was about to finally meet LuAnn. We had been hoping to meet since last year when we were both in Arizona, and again while we were in Ohio. But our paths and schedules just never came together. Fast forward to this winter in Florida, and our stars finally aligned. She and Terry were parked just a few miles from us when we were in Davie, near Fort Lauderdale.
Over wine, good food and LuAnn’s smooth and yummy chocolate pudding dessert, we had a great time talking with her and Terry. This was our first time getting together, yet we felt like we had known each other for a long time and were just catching up. We clicked right away, and there was such a positive vibe between us. LuAnn is reserved, as I’d imagined her to be when reading her introspective posts. She has one of the most well-written blogs encompassing not just their RV travels, but also musings about life, her beautiful poetry, great photography and yummy recipes. Terry is ever the gentleman, outgoing and funny. We all got along so well that we lost track of time! We had a wonderful visit and vowed to meet up again, maybe even to travel together somewhere in the future. They are a delight and we are so glad our paths finally crossed.
It’s funny that we forgot to talk about the Fiji Fan Palm tree, as there were so many other interesting tales to share. But here are some notable palm trees that I have encountered here in southern Florida. These trees enjoy the warm, humid climate and sandy soils that Florida has to offer. There are thousands of palm tree types but these are the ones I thought worth showing.
Steve and I love all of these palm trees, they just put us in such a fun tropical mood. We’ll miss them and the ocean shoreline that we’ve enjoyed for the past several months, when we begin making our way inland in a few weeks.
Finally, a last look at the Miami skyline with windblown palm trees in the foreground.
I’m glad LuAnn sparked my interest and that I paid more attention to these beautiful trees.
Next up: Punta Gorda, FL
At the very end of the Florida Keys, the last island on the Overseas Highway (US 1) is of course Key West. It sits at the dividing line between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and is surrounded by incredibly clear beautiful water. As usual, a question crossed my mind as I wondered why is this island called Key West? Why not Key South? There are lots of theories, but the plaque below that we saw upon our arrival explained it one way:
It was about a one-hour drive to Key West from our home base near Big Pine Key. Arriving fairly early, we immediately noticed the island was a tourist mecca buzzing with activity – not to mention heavy traffic – as we skirted around several road construction projects. The streets were teeming with bicycles, scooters, cars and the obvious tourists. We learned during our previous visits to cities like Savannah and Charleston that taking a trolley tour is a good way to get your bearings around town, see the city highlights and learn along the way. And so that’s what we did.
During our 90-minute tour, we learned that Key West has known the best of times – being the richest city per capita in the mid 1800’s – mainly due to the business of salvaging ships that had crashed onto the nearby reef. It’s also seen the worst of times, declaring bankruptcy in the 1930’s after the modernization of merchant vessels made salvaging operations no longer necessary.
Bisecting the town is Duval Street, called the “longest main street” because it stretches from coast to coast – from the Atlantic ocean to the Gulf of Mexico 🙂 But here it is known more as party central, with its numerous and diverse bars, clubs and restaurants. However, it was still fairly early when we arrived so things hadn’t kicked into gear yet.
We hopped off the trolley to explore the area on foot. This is when I started to look beyond the usual tourist trap stores selling T-shirts, trinkets and other stuff (not that there’s anything wrong with that) that I noticed whimsical sculptures scattered around town; Banyan and other exotic trees decorated streets and homes, and feral chickens roamed all around the island.
First, the sculpture pieces are life-size bronze statues, which are actually castings of living people, depicting them engaged in day-to-day activities. These were all donated by J. Seward Johnson, and many of his works grace the Key West Lighthouse Museum grounds and other places on the island.
Strolling around Key West, you can’t help but notice the chickens and roosters roaming everywhere. I come from the Philippines, where chickens roaming around like this would be on the dinner table by sunset. But not at Key West. These guys are a popular, colorful sight around town, free to come and go as they please – and they are protected by law. And yes, they seem to know it, strutting around everywhere while preening and annoying folks with the “little gifts” they leave behind.
The trolley tour guide told us the chickens were brought here by the Cubans when they fled their country in the 1950’s, as a result of the Revolution. What we see today are the descendants of the birds that were turned loose in the 1970’s when cockfighting was outlawed. Now they are here for the tourists to enjoy.
Coconut and palm trees definitely bring a tropical vibe to the island. Added to that mix are exotic mature trees dotting the area and adorning homes. These trees help create a natural setting to homes and the island. The building height restriction of 7 floors also keeps the town a bit more quaint.
And just like the other tourists, we walked down to the end of Whitehead street to pose at a landmark. It looked like a giant buoy, but according to our tour guide it is actually a septic tank! Phew! But this colorful septic tank or giant buoy marks the southernmost point of the US. It’s nothing fancy, yet many folks lined up for a picture with it and so did we. We came across another landmark, “Mile 0” at the beginning of US 1 which runs along the east coast and ends all the way up in Maine. I thought it was a cool landmark, so I posed again!
When our tummies told us it was time for lunch, we skipped the seafood this time and went to El Meson de Pepe, a family-owned and operated authentic Cuban Restaurant. And we weren’t disappointed. Steve got the Cayo Hueso Cuban Mix, a traditional Cuban sandwich with trimmings – while I went with the Tostones Rellenos. It was four stuffed green plantains, filled with roast pork, picadillo, ropa vieja, and seafood creole. The verdict? Delicious!
And of course a visit to Key West would not be complete without a slice of Key Lime pie – a culinary staple for any visitor on the island. Yum!
To quench our thirst after walking all around the island, we stopped at the Southernmost Cafe and Bar for a refreshing Rum Runner.
All roads in Key West lead to Mallory Square, where crowds gather for the sunset celebrations. But it had already been a long day for us, and we knew the sunset shots at our nearby state park would be just as fabulous, and without the crowds.
Our trip to the Keys was brief, but walking the island was the best way for us to see and experience it, and we covered it pretty well. Now we can check that one off the list!
On Valentine’s day, Steve and I went back to Bahia Honda State Park for our last hike and last sunset. But our day got exciting before we even left the RV park. At the entrance we saw a vendor who sells fresh fish on Fridays, even calling her kiosk “Seafood Friday”. It turned out the woman was from Ninilchik, Alaska, where she lives and fishes during the summer. Then she brings down her awesome smoked products and winters in Florida, where she sells fresh local fish. Folks coming down this way should try to stop at Sunshine Key RV Resort on a Friday, just to buy her extremely fresh and reasonably-priced fish. Since we had been to Ninilchik, we stopped and chatted about her little town in Alaska. And look what I bought for dinner!
After our walk that afternoon, we got a quick visit from our new friends – Vic and Pam of Travelin’ in the Big EZ. They happened to be just a few miles from us, staying across the Seven Mile Bridge in Marathon. It was a too-short hello, and I forgot to snap a picture posing with them. Hopefully next time we’ll have a happy hour with them somewhere.
Finally, our last sunsets at the Keys.
And when we turned around to go back to the car, we got a moonrise too!
Next up: Friends and Palms
Just down the road from the Everglades is the island chain called the Florida Keys – also known as America’s tropical paradise. Because there are so many islands (1,700 in all) within the Florida Keys, they are often divided into regions with each presenting its own version of island paradise. On our way there, an obvious question was triggered, why is it called the Florida Keys? We learned that the Spanish called these chains of islands “keys” from the Spanish word “cayos”, meaning “small islands.” Today we know them as the Florida Keys and they are connected by 42 bridges.
Our scenic drive on the Overseas Highway (also known as US 1) combined multiple water views – Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west – and natural wonders with their history along the way. We crossed the longest and most famous Seven-Mile Bridge, which is 35,716 feet long.
Paralleling the Seven-Mile Bridge on our right was the previous automobile bridge, now a National Historic Site and being used as a fishing pier.
Our next stop was in the subgroup of islands called Lower Keys, which is anchored by Big Pine Key – our home base for a week. Among the Keys, the Lower Keys is the largest. It’s a laid-back area, perfect for viewing wildlife and a bit of history. We checked out an area that showed extensive impact from the storm surge created by Hurricane Wilma in 2005. That surge resulted in a widespread “salt-kill” of pine trees throughout Big Pine Key.
When driving there, we watched our speed as the limit is strictly enforced to protect the Key Deer. The Lower Keys area is the location of the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge, where these cute little guys are protected.
The Key Deer is the smallest sub-species of the Virginia white-tailed deer, standing only about 2 feet tall. Their population is very low and under threat of extinction due to human interaction, which is why they are listed as endangered. Folks around here take their Key Deer seriously!
Another nearby refuge was the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, created in 1938 to protect habitat for the Great White Heron and other migratory birds. Lucky for me, it’s only here in the Florida Keys that you can find this beautiful white color-phase of Great Blue Herons, the Great White Heron. At first I thought it was a Great Egret, but a closer look at its pale legs told me otherwise. I’m sure all of my birding friends will be jealous of my only-in-the-Keys experience 🙂
and for comparison I got a good shot of a Great Egret while at the Everglades.
With the continuing gorgeous – albeit a bit humid – weather, we planned our activities for this stop. There was no shortage of things to do in this area. The nearby Bahia Honda State Park has extensive sandy beaches and beautiful waters for snorkeling, plus unusual plants and history. Riding our bikes and then walking through the park, we came across the Old Bahia Honda Bridge, which was originally part of the Overseas Railroad. Also called the “railroad that went to the sea”, it was built at great expense by Henry Flagler and completed in 1912. One of the connecting links which joined Key West to Miami, the over-the-sea railroad was short-lived as a category 5 hurricane wiped it out in 1935. Only skeletal sections of it remain standing today.
We followed a trail onto part of the bridge that is accessible from the park. When we got there we were rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the islands and the state park.
With our history lesson concluded, we began to get more active. We cruised along the state park’s 3.5 miles on our bikes, then added a few more miles as we rode along US 1 to and from our RV park.
While in the state park, we also walked along the Silver Palm Trail. It looped through a hammock, mangrove area and the beach, where a mosquito found and bit me. I hate those pesky critters! The park is home to one of the largest remaining stands of Silver Palms in the U.S.
We also enjoyed the colorful butterflies at the Wings and Waves Butterfly garden. But I failed to encounter the “Miami Blue,” described as a small brightly colored butterfly, which lives only in Florida 😦
In the park, we also walked on what is boasted to be one of the best beaches in the Keys. Well, the crystal blue waters were certainly inviting and the white sand was very soft to walk on, compared to many other beaches we have explored lately.
A few more pictures of our activities:
We usually don’t make RV park reservations six months in advance, for doing so can mess up our flexibility (we call it “jello planning”) as we travel along. But we were forewarned that snow birders from the northeast flock to Florida during the winter and parks fill up fast. Now, six months later, we arrived at Lake Monroe, Florida for a month’s stay at Town And Country RV Resort.
We learned long ago not to be fooled by the “resort” designation, as it is often misused to make a park or campground sound like what it isn’t. We chose this park for its proximity to Orlando Int’l Airport, from which we’ll be departing for our vacation.
This place is not exactly the stuff you write home about. In fact, the campground has been sold to a developer and in its place will be homes which will be constructed next year. No wonder the park is not crowded; on the contrary we’ve seen several of the “perms” packing and moving elsewhere. We feel bad for them, as many of them live in structures that cannot be moved and will have to start over. But to our advantage there are fewer campers, no crowds, less noise and spacious surroundings. We’ve kept ourselves busy – I with my household chores and reading, while Steve does maintenance and minor repairs.
We have a great site, an end spot under a huge oak tree with a canal view 🙂 (site #9). The local “feathered residents” are so welcoming as they check us out daily – early in the morning, around noon and again in the early evening – showing off their plumage.
As you may know, Florida is teeming with birds and I don’t have to walk far from our site to observe these waterfowl quarry for food in the canal next to our site.
The weather here during the past week has been astounding – 80’s during the day and mid-60’s at night – as we leave our windows open while we sleep. This, while most of the nation is suffering such a cold snap. We almost feel guilty! Our friend Marcy advised us that a “National Hate Florida Day” has been designated because of our fantastic weather break.
For our exercise, we drove to the nearby Lake Monroe Wildlife Conservation Area to tackle their yellow, red and blue blaze trails. We went there twice and never encountered another human during our long walks (although we did chat with several cows). Is that cool or what!
The city of Sanford was only 10 miles away, so on another day we loaded up the bikes after deciding to ride along their “Riverwalk” – thinking it would be a nice a long path. Well, it was actually quite short, but we enjoyed riding its length several times while checking out the abundant waterfowl that seemed quite comfortable in this urban setting.
Armed with a tip from Steve’s barber, we took another trip to a more promising bike path at Big Tree Park, which follows the Cross Seminole Trail. Before our ride, we walked down the park’s boardwalk to see “The Senator”, an approximately 3,500 year old Bald Cypress Tree that was lost to an arson fire in January of 2012. Steve angrily commented that he hoped whoever did that would himself burn when the time came.
About 40′ feet away is the Senator’s sister tree – “Lady Liberty” – another Bald Cypress Tree estimated at approximately 2,000 years old.
The Cross Seminole Trail was not one of our favorites, because a large section of it ran through residential areas and paralleled a heavy traffic road. But part of it was nice as it passed through 3 miles of Big Tree Park and over U.S. Highway17/92 via a large overpass. The signage was a bit confusing and we ended up stopping after 10 miles.
I know it seems like we are running around all the time, but yes we do take a break now and then to just sit around or read while waiting for our feathered friends to come and visit us.
I still have a post to write about our exciting visit to the Kennedy Space Center, but I’m running out of time. By the time you read this Steve and I will be on our way to San Juan, Puerto Rico to hang out for a few days before hopping on a Royal Caribbean liner for a seven-day cruise in the southern Caribbean. Steve calls this “a vacation from our vacation”, for he will not have to drive Betsy during this trip. We’ll be back a few days before Christmas – happy holidays to all of you!
Lastly, just for laughs this holiday season, somebody does not know their spanish…
Next up: Touring the Kennedy Space Center, FL
We were so looking forward to the next destination, our home base near Savannah, GA. And we were not disappointed as we settled in at Fort McAllister State Historic Park, less than an hour’s drive from the city. The weather forecast for the next few days said cloudy, a little rain and maybe some wind. We hoped for better, but didn’t mind too much since our site #11, (check out our header) was just what we were looking for, after being in too many crowded campgrounds lately. This park was nestled among giant live oaks and beautiful salt marshes on Savage Island. Since it’s off-season we had practically the whole place to ourselves, and the weather actually turned out much nicer than predicted. Yeah! Continue reading
What do bloggers do when they meet? Well, they eat, drink, talk and have a ball – especially when they happen to land at the same RV park! And that’s exactly what we have been doing here. Heading toward North Myrtle Beach, we learned that Dave and Sue of Beluga’s Excellent Adventures were already settled in at Briarcliff RV Campground. Then we discovered that John and Pam of Oh the Places would be arriving at the same campground the day after we got there. None of us planned it that way, it just happened! Following each other’s blogs helped us to track our movements, and – viola! – we all ended up here at the same time. Now, how cool is that?
This was our first time meeting Dave and Sue, and their very well-behaved black beauties, Lewis and Sasha. We had met John and Pam earlier this summer at Lake Erie, NY. Both couples have been on the road longer than us and had lots of stories to tell and experiences to share. There were a lot of laughs as we got caught up on our adventures.
Good times with good friends was the main affair here. Happy hour in the afternoon…
…and dinner in the evening at the excellent restaurants that were just a short walk away. All we needed were hungry tummies and the gate combination – “lower, middle, top”, according to Dave. We had themed dinners – seafood night first, then Italian and finally pizza. I forgot to bring my camera to our unexpected family-style Italian dinner. That doesn’t happen very often!
Each night, Steve and I arrived home with full tummies – oink, oink! We don’t normally go out for dinner so often, but we had a blast enjoying good meals with our friends at these excellent restaurants.
Just like the Outer Banks in North Carolina, Myrtle Beach is pretty quiet this time of the year. And to quote one of the servers we talked with, “it’s boring here now”. Wasn’t a problem for us! Unlike at the OBX, we had to drive just over a mile to access the beach here. But parking wasn’t an issue, and it was free. So, we made the most of our time, hanging out at the beach whenever the weather permitted.
I want to take a moment to thank all of you who have asked about my family in the Philippines after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated my country. Mom and the rest of my family in Cebu are safe and out of danger. However, as of this post we are still unable to contact my nieces and nephews who live in the province of Leyte, which bore the brunt of the powerful storm. We’re praying for them as we wait for communications to come back up.
Update: As of today Nov 11, the fourth day after the storm we finally heard from my nieces and nephews. They are all alive, safe but are now homeless. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers.
Next up: Charleston, here we come!