It’s been eleven years since our last visit to Grand Teton National Park, and we looked forward to driving through again while we were relatively nearby. Although the crowds and traffic tend to keep us away from the national parks we’ve already visited (we skipped Yellowstone this time), our early arrival kept the crowds away until the early afternoon when we were leaving. Continue reading
Note: Once again I’m slacking off on my blogging, but I have good reasons. We just got back from a wonderful trip to central Europe, and now we’re on our way to Tucson for Steve’s follow-up appointments. I have a lot of writing to catch up on, as well as reading the current status of fellow bloggers.
For now, let me take you back two months to our time in New Mexico where Steve continued his recovery. After a post-treatment follow-up with his oncologist, we were OK’d to finally get out of overheated Tucson. Steve wasn’t yet in top shape to drive Betsy, but we just had to move on. The city life with blaring sirens, traffic, train horns, dust, and impossible heat was getting old. We had to hit the road! Continue reading
Two deep-south states – Texas and Florida – are known for their amazing assemblage of birds and other animals. The “Sister States in Birds”, as they are sometimes called, share many of the same birds – even going so far as to both claim the Northern Mockingbird as their state bird.
Texas gets more western birds, while Florida hosts some Carribbean species and Atlantic sea birds. Both states have extensive birding trails throughout the state, and I’ve seen many birds here that were also present in Florida. But those are just some birding facts; today I’m writing about “human” sisters in birds, Ingrid and I. Continue reading
I promise this is my final (delayed) post covering our trip to the Philippines, then I’ll get back to reality here in southern Texas. To view my previous Philippines stories, check out:
- The wonderful people and places of the Philippines
- Quality time with family in my hometown – Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines
- Days filled with outdoor fun – Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines
- A slice of “2014’s Most Beautiful Island in the World” – Palawan Island
- A river runs through it – Palawan, Philippines
After being amazed and fascinated by what we saw during our exploration of the Subterranean River Tour, we turned our interests above ground. Just down the island from our resort were two natural attractions; the Jungle Trekking Tour and the Mangrove Forest Paddle Tour.
At first we weren’t really interested in doing the Mangrove Paddle Tour, since I grew up with mangrove trees behind my house, and we had already kayaked through mangroves in Florida. We also discovered that we would have to pay an entrance fee and hire a guide to see this one. But it was a beautiful day and we had nothing else to do – why not?
Getting underway, we learned from our guide that these activities are community-based, sustainable eco-tourism projects managed by the area government. Local guides on these tours were former fishermen or farmers who are now employed to help generate income for the community. Just the thought of helping the local economy encouraged us to do both activities.
MANGROVE FOREST TOUR
I immediately became a translator for Steve, as our guide could only describe the tour in Tagalog. It was a quiet and relaxing ride as he slowly paddled us deep into the forest while following the river path. I was impressed as he explained many details of the mangrove forest and why they are protecting it – and more importantly why they are proud to have it in Sabang. The untouched old-growth mangrove trees, especially within an island forest, can rarely be seen these days, so the community is devoted to protecting them.
Since we took the first tour of the day, wild exotic birds could be heard and seen flying overhead, and we were able to spot several snakes sleeping on branches overhanging the river. I recoiled when I saw them, but our guide assured me that they sleep during daytime hours and there was no danger of me being attacked or eaten.
Deeper into the forest, the mangroves stood very high above the forest floor. But what excited me most on this short paddle tour were the colorful little crabs. There were red, blue, white and orange crabs all along the shore. It was just too bad that in my excitement I was unable to focus on these tiny critters.
After the tour, our guide dropped us off at the Jungle Trail trailhead, where a new guide took over. I berated myself halfway through the hike, since I had become one of those people I usually criticize – folks who wear flip-flops while hiking. However, I somehow survived the fairly difficult 6-mile round trip over mountainous terrain.
The trail passed through a lowland forest in the shadow of Mt. St. Paul, and ended where the Underground River tour began.
Our guide pointed out some amazing works of nature as the hike progressed. Tarzan and Jane would have been very happy here among the hundreds of vines that hung all around us.
The trail was quite challenging, and we trekked through several different forest environments. We enjoyed new bird sounds we had never heard. Halfway through the hike we came into a rugged Karst Forest, formed from soil erosion. We noticed some plants that had adapted to the thin and poor soil there, and they seemed to be hanging on for dear life.
Finally, we came upon a swampy ecosystem described as a major provider of several ecological functions. These plants and trees improve water quality as they absorb nutrients and toxins, providing habitat for a variety of animal species.
At the end of the trail we noticed a gathering of people. As we got closer we were happy to find that several Monitor Lizards and monkeys endemic to the park were entertaining the visitors. Of course, they work for food!
It was a jungle out there, and it took us about 4 hours to take it all in. The diversity of flora and fauna amazed us as we trudged along, and it was unlike any other trail we had followed before.
During our early morning walks, the clear pristine beaches beckoned us to stop in wonderment at the works of art created in the sand overnight by the nocturnal critters.
Beach crabs were also fun to watch as they scampered away when we walked by.
And that concludes our awesome vacation in the Philippines. In closing, lets enjoy a local San Miguel beer, which is actually quite good. Cheers!
Next Up: Party time at Port Aransas, Texas!
We were unsure what to expect of the Everglades before our visit here. When I thought of the Everglades, scenes of Miami Vice or CSI Miami (to be a bit more current) on an airboat, or the terrible ValueJet Flight 592 crash that occurred here in 1996, came to mind. My imagination was quickly corrected as we drove through Everglades National Park. Defined by water and seemingly endless prairies, it is certainly not your “typical” park. Consisting of grassy waters, the Everglades is extremely flat, as we saw at Shark Valley. And although it doesn’t seem like this area is in a valley, it is. An elevation change of just 1 ft here makes a huge difference in the ecosystem, and the changes were very obvious as we drove and rode along the roads.
But first, why is this place called the Everglades? When early explorers first viewed the Everglades long ago, they saw large fields of grass. So they began to call it the Ever-Glades: Ever from the word forever & Glades which is an old English word that means a grassy open place.
Since we had already seen a portion of Everglades National Park while biking at Shark Valley, we came to explore further its watery wilderness.
Planning to spend a day in the main park, our friend Judy had suggested that the best way to do so would be to drive all the way to the end of Park Road to Flamingo, 38 miles from the entrance gate. By stopping there and getting familiar with the park along the way, we then had a plan for what we would explore on the way back out. Good suggestion Judy, and also thanks for reminding us to bring our lunch along! Although there is a small cafe that is sometimes open at the Flamingo Visitor Center, you will not find another speck of food anywhere else in this huge park.
Steve and I were wearing shorts and t-shirts, not realizing that recent rains had caused the normally manageable mosquito population to increase. The park ranger warned us that all trails in the area were either “muddy or buggy”, but we followed Bear Lake Trail with the hope of seeing wading birds at the lake. No birds at the lake, and we were pretty much eaten alive by the mosquitoes for our effort. It was an uncomfortable hike through Gumbo Limbo and mangrove trees. The Gumbo Limbo tree is otherwise known as the “tourist tree”, since its peeling red bark looks a lot like a severe sunburn. The hard wood was once used to carve merry -go-round horses and the trees provided rot-proof living fences.
We finally saw a couple of American Crocodiles, and kept our distance from them as they basked in the sun. Unlike alligators, who rarely attack humans and are considered relatively docile if left unprovoked, crocs are more aggressive and likely wouldn’t hesitate to have me for lunch! Their color is lighter, more gray to green, and they have a narrow tapered snout and tend to live in saltier tropical coastal waters. Another difference is that both the lower and upper teeth are visible on a crocodile when its mouth is closed; only the upper teeth are visible on alligators. Alligators are freshwater animals, whereas crocodiles can be found in either fresh or salt water. OK, science lesson complete!
The drive through the scenic park from the Flamingo area toward the entrance gate was quite interesting. We noticed several changes between dense hardwood tropical forest and mangroves…
…to the Dwarf Cypress forests which displayed spindly white trees…
…to the subtropical Slash Pine forest which represented the remains of what once occupied 10 times more of this area.
Following the Pineland Trail, we noticed several trees with odd-colored patches on their trunks. These were lichens which consist of a fungus and an algae living together. They don’t harm the tree, but rather provide a food source for Tree Snails (which were not present that day).
A vast area of the Everglades could be seen from horizon to horizon from the Pa-Hay-okee Overlook.
The Everglades is a wild place to explore and see amazing wildlife. Visitors can camp, hike, take a canoe, boat or kayak trip in a slough, or walk with the park ranger on a birding trek to get a front-seat view of the assemblage of wading birds. Coming here fairly unprepared, we were happy to follow the Anhinga Trail to view birds up close. Making our last stop at the Anhinga Trail (it is located near the entrance gate) gave us plenty of time to hang around and watch these birds doing their thing.
And they were in abundance!
The trail’s namesake – the Anhinga – is a bird that can be seen fishing and sunning itself in the trees beside the trail. There were hundreds of them here!
A visit to the Everglades would be incomplete without riding on an airboat, and this is how I had imagined checking out the area all along. So my niece Lea E. – the ultimate hostess – made sure I got to ride on one. We glided over the river of grass, which took us to an ancient Miccosukee Indian Camp. In the 1800’s, when most of the Miccosukee tribe were removed from the west, a few never surrendered and hid in the Everglades. They kept to themselves there for about 100 years, resisting efforts to assimilated. But after the Tamiami Trail highway was built in 1928, the tribe began to accept many New World concepts.
We witnessed a scary and crazy alligator demonstration at the Indian Village, watching in awe as a tribesman kissed, wrestled and taunted an alligator. No volunteers from the audience for this one!
The Everglades, or the grassy waters, or the river of grass, is truly a unique place. We looked very closely and saw thousands of naturally beautiful things that are there – other than the birds! Having experienced and enjoyed the Everglades, I now have a new visual that no longer includes scenes from Miami Vice or CSI Miami.
Next up: Going to the Keys, baby!
Our January stay at Bonita Springs went by too quickly. The next thing we knew the slides were coming in and the jacks were coming up, and off we went. On the move again, we headed even further south to “The Glades”, the Everglades that is. Shark Valley lies in the heart of the “True Everglades”, or river of grass, that stretches 100 miles from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico. We were told that bicycling is a wonderful way to view the Everglades at our own pace. And there is no better place to bike than at Shark Valley, which is part of Everglades National Park.
Since wildlife abounds here, I thought it would be a great way to spend my birthday. So we loaded up the bikes and headed out to Shark Valley bright and early, knowing it would be a hot day. The 15-mile paved road was completely level and gave us a perfect opportunity to enjoy the wildlife. I was excited to find out which animals or birds would turn out to greet me and wish me a happy birthday!
Ok, you won’t see any sharks here and I was not expecting to. Shark Valley is in a very wide, very gradual, low-lying valley. The shark reference comes from the Shark River. The mouth of this river is at the Gulf of Mexico, and the Shark River Slough is the main source of fresh water for this part of the Everglades. If you were to venture along the river far enough toward the gulf, you would indeed encounter sharks – they just never make it up to the Everglades. Instead, the alligators bask in the sun along the river, or at the bicycle parking, or near photographers.
An observation tower at the halfway point provided panoramic views and we enjoyed the tranquil vistas of the Everglades, extending outward 20 miles in all directions.
Along the route we met several trams – another way to enjoy the area. The tram tour offers a two-hour open air guided commentary, and sightings from experts which gives folks the Everglades experience.
Several wood storks can be seen along the route. These birds are listed as an endangered species, as its decline is the result of vast environmental threats that exist in the area. The human disruption of the water cycles affects the crucial feeding and nesting conditions for wildlife. When human water management upsets the natural wetlands cycles, wood storks fail to nest successfully. There were 5000 nesting wood storks in the ’60’s, now only 500 remain.
Some flowers thrive in these watery environments:
Besides the many alligators lining up along the trail to greet me, other wildlife also came out to say hello.
It took us about three hours to complete the loop as we made many stops to look around, and of course I took dozens of pictures of, you guessed it….birds! And nature’s best birthday gift was the presence of the various species of Herons. I could not have asked for more!
For those of you planning to come this way, be sure to stop by Shark Valley. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy the Everglades and view wildlife in their natural habitat – this is not a zoo!
And to cap a wonderful day with nature, my niece Lea E. took us out for a fabulous dinner at Red Fish Grill Seafood Restaurant. It was located inside Matheson Hammock Park, right on the coast. With a unique setting amongst the coconut trees, it was a perfect ending to a perfect birthday.
Next up: More fun in the Everglades!
Exploring Alaska on our first year of full-timing was considered ambitious and brave by some of our friends. But we’re so glad we did it! The experience taught us so much in a very short time. We learned to navigate tight spaces, deal with rough roads, make due with minimal utilities and live in remote campgrounds with like-minded adventurers. We have synchronized to perfection our tasks of moving in and out of tight sites and hooking and unhooking the tow. We feel more than ready to live on the road full time from now on.
The road to Alaska via British Columbia and the Yukon Territory in Canada can not be taken lightly. No matter how many long hours and hundreds of miles of driving, you will never get tired of the endless views of incredible scenery. Coupled with the scenic drive are unavoidable road hazards; unending road repairs with lovely female road workers waving at you, frost heaves, dips, gravel breaks and so on. These hazards were realities that we were prepared for and dealt with as part of the experience.
As much as we tried to cover most of Alaska, it is just not possible. Alaska is immense and super-sized; we covered only a fourth of it. Mountains are higher (Mt. Mckinley aka Denali) and parks larger (Wrangell-Elias National Park). Check these stats: Alaska is 2.3 times larger than Texas and the size of Texas, California and Montana combined. It’s home to the biggest this, the highest that and the most of these – with less than a million residents (about 700,000) enjoying all of it.
And the fishing – oh yeah! To all my fishermen/women friends, this is the place to be excited about the fish. I don’t fish, but I hooked a Halibut here. As long as you know how to navigate the complicated fishing regulations, you’re in for the tastiest and freshest Salmon and Halibut you’ve ever had. Fishing is well managed here, and its monitored to support subsistence living for Alaskan residents.
Glaciers, glaciers everywhere! There are approximately 100,000 glaciers here, with only about 600 named. We never got tired of gawking at them, hiking to them (Portage and Exit Glaciers), driving to them (Mendenhall Glacier), flying over them (Kennicott, Root Glaciers, Grewingk Glacier), landing on them (Mt. Mckinley) and sailing to them (Knik, Aialik, Holgate, Meares glaciers). Many time we just drove by them while enjoying their beauty (Matanuska Glacier). They were always unbelievably pristine and beautiful.
Wildlife, yes. Alaska is where the wild things are! Wildflowers adorned highways, mountains and homes, wild animals roamed around and across roads. Birds chirped and/or just hung around, tart but tasty wild berries grew everywhere. We never got tired of enjoying all of these things in their natural habitats.
Hiking and biking trails galore. They were all there for the taking, with scenic views and often some wild animals along the route.
Alaskans live in a different frame of mind. They are relaxed, hardworking, resourceful and rugged. They are surrounded by such beauty, yet they thrive in the harsh nature of their environment. We hung out with two couples – Wilma/Randy and Gemma/Steve – who had lived there for two decades. Amazing people! Are we planning to go back to Alaska? We can’t wait!
Our trip stats:
Arrival in Canada, start of trip = 5/30/12
Departure from Canada, end of trip = 9/17/12
Miles traveled (including 410 on inland passage ferry) = 5,722
Miles driven in Alaska = 1949
Miles driven in Canada = 3773
Days of trip = 110
Days in Alaska = 73
Days in Canada = 37
Gallons of diesel burned = 648
Border crossings between U.S. and Canada = 8
Campgrounds/RV parks visited = 37
Animals squashed while driving = 1 squirrel and 2 birds of unknown species (obviously not fast enough flyers). We had some close road encounters with moose, deer and a couple of bears, but fortunately they didn’t get together with Betsy.
For those planning a driving adventure into Alaska, here are some must-haves:
- Milepost – it beats a GPS hands-down. Order one in March for the latest version.
Passports- you are going in and out of Canada, whether by ferry or driving.
Be prepared for sticker shock; e.g. Halibut and Chips $16-$21 (but worth it), lemons $1.79 each.
For RV’rs, the campground /RV parks are just that, nothing fancy – live with it.
A spirit of adventure and plenty of patience. You don’t want to rush this trip!
A word of advice and caution to be given those intending to visit Alaska…If you are old, go by all means, but if you are young, wait. The scenery of Alaska is much grander than anything else of its kind in the world, and it is not wise to dull one’s capacity for enjoyment by seeing the finest first. –Henry Gannet, Harriman Alaska Expedition 1899.
Between now and when we reach the end of the Alaska Highway at Delta Junction in Alaska we will be describing most of the blogs with reference to a historical mile marker. This is because we are traveling through an intriguing history of the highway and mile markers are ingrained in its history. Most importantly, our tool or tour guide in this adventure is the the MilePost. It is a an inch thick book that provides mile-by-mile descriptions of the highways and byways of the north and tells you of campgrounds, food and lodging, gas, turn outs, litter bins and warns you of steep grades, wildlife and more. So if you are planning a trip to Alaska and Northern Canada, get yourself an updated Milepost which comes out every March.
Our drive was again ushered with vista after vista one after another and we are seeing green hills and forests as far as the eyes can see and every turn we made. Simply beautiful !
The road was good so far except for the 4 mile stretch with loose gravel starting at mile 227. Overall the highway is clearly marked for any hazards on the road and or any constructions going on.
We arrived at Mile 162, where we spent the night after three hours of mountain driving. This is also a historical marker as this is where one of the first wooden bridges was completed, the Sikanni Chief River Bridge. It was significant, since the 300 foot wooden bridge was completed in 84 hours. Unfortunately the bridge burnt down in 1992 and has been replaced.
The following day we left for Fort Nelson which is located at historical mile 300 and spent the night there. We explored the Ft Nelson Heritage Museum, a must if you are in the area. The museum was started by Marl Brown in 1957 and now has grown big with impressive collections of pioneer artifacts, highway construction displays, vintage autos and much more. This is also the location of the Alaska Highway Veterans and Builders monument, a commemoration of the workers who helped build the Alaska Highway.
Now we are leaving for Muncho Lake and the next blog will be dependent on internet access. So far we had been lucky with good wifi connection. Have a great Sunday.
RV Parks we stayed in:
Mile 162 – Sikanni Chief River RV Park; along the river and quiet
Mile 300- Triple G Hideaway RV Park; along the road very noisy with singing tent campers next door.