3-02-2014 Alexander Springs with Alison

Current Location: Blue Springs State Park Overcast and 58 F High today 76F

DSCN6739When I managed the soil survey project in Sonora, California, I had a delightful young woman from Illinois “detail” into my project for two seasons.  With an emphasis on completing millions of unmapped acres out west, my agency would send folks from other parts of the country to help out with soil survey where they were needed most.  I was lucky enough to get Alison.  I don’t think I have ever known a more vibrant, strong, hard-working, constantly positive, cheery person ever, and that girl could dig a pit faster than any guy on the crew!  We all called her “Scoopy” for the way she handled those shovels

Soil sampling with my crew in Tuolumne County, Alison in the cowboy hat

DSCN0684We had great times together in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, and have remained good friends.  Alison took a promotion to Florida, and I have visited her a few times since that move.  Last year I came to her lovely new home just after her baby boy was born. On this trip I planned specifically to be somewhere near Eustis on a weekend so that we could get together again this year.  Alison’s parents are in Eustis for the winter, so they all decided to drive out to Alexander Springs for an afternoon.

Alison visits_016With warm sunny skies, after some snacks and drinks and visiting, we decided a walk to the springs and a swim was in order.  I wasn’t so sure I was warm enough to swim, even in the 72 degree water, but after watching that little baby laughing and playing in the gorgeous crystal clear pool I decided to join in as well.

I just wish there was some way to show in a photo what it felt like to swim out over the roiling water of the spring.  The pool is very deep, more than 30 feet or so, and deeper into the depths of the cave where I couldn’t see.  It is cobalt blue in the deepest part, and various shades of turquoise and pale blue along the edges where the underwater grasses don’t grow.

Alison visits_040Alison visits_047While Mo visited with Alison’s parents who watched the baby, Alison and I put on snorkel masks and swam across the white sands and dark green grasses to the spring. Then the breathtaking blues opened up below us.  I had no idea, just looking at the spring from the shoreline that it held all this complex rocky reef of blues and crystal water. Of course, since I was swimming, I have no photos to document what for me was an incredibly magic moment.

Floating over a spring emitting 70 million gallons a day of crystalline water is a surprise.  Alison and I both laughed afterward about how hard we were swimming and not getting anywhere.  It was a magnificent moment, and a thrilling end to our last day at Alexander Springs. It was also great that after sharing so many good memories of working together in California, Alison and I had a chance to experience this little bit of magic.

Alison visits_044There are 27 first magnitude fresh water springs in Florida, each of them completely unique, and I have only seen a few.  There are rivers and spring runs to keep a kayaker happy for a very long time, so many that we can’t begin to see them all this time around.  In spite of giving ourselves a month in Florida, we have only scratched the surface of the amazing network of Florida’s fresh water wonders.  Still, many of them are either dark and spooky, or the manatee are there so there is no swimming allowed, or they are completely commercialized and artificial. 

Alexander Springs was an afterthought, a piece of the travel puzzle that wasn’t planned.  I am so grateful for the serendipity that brought us to this beautiful gem of the Ocala National Forest.  Alison visits_030

Up next: Blue Springs State Park, Manatees, and Magic Kayaks, and Sherry and David are our neighbors.

02-26-2014 Key West, a Different Perspective…or Two

Current Location: NAS Key West Sigsbee Campground 78 Degrees F, 87 % humidity

hibiscus in bloom in the truman annexFirst, let me say that this is not a travel blog about Key West.  There are plenty of places to go to read all about the delights and attractions of this historic town.  I am writing about Key West and how I felt about being here.  The history and delights are well documented elsewhere.

I am relaxing in the MoHo this morning under high overcast skies and warm temperatures.  The generator is going again, but the air conditioner isn’t on.  The breezes are lovely, and sufficient for cooling the rig as I write.  I took a morning walk down to the water to check on conditions for a kayak to discover a surface smooth as glass.  Might have been nice to slip those boats in at just that moment, but those little details of living life now and then get in the way of recreating.

DSC_0039Today will be our last in Key West at Sigsbee Campground and we need to make a much needed shopping excursion at the Commissary and the Naval Exchange for some supplies.  In addition, we finally managed to snag an appointment for a haircut for Abby.  (Mo has yet to be successful in this endeavor and her hair is quite lovely with all that wild humidity contributing to her wild curly look)

When we first arrived last weekend, I attempted to find a groomer for Abby, leaving messages as directed.  So far not one groomer has returned my call.  I would imagine that they prefer repeat customers when appointments are at a premium.  Yesterday, however, on our route home from town, in an attempt to avoid the construction on Highway 1, we took a side route.  Lo and Behold!  A small local dog groomer was just closing his doors and we begged for an appointment and got one for 12 noon today.  Hence skipping the morning kayak in favor or an afternoon sojourn on the water.  Hopefully the weather will continue to cooperate.

DSC_0041It is a bit humid, but for me that isn’t intolerable, different for sure, but not intolerable.  We couldn’t be in a better place right now for balmy temperatures and no storms.  Looking at the national weather maps this morning, I saw all the rain hitting the southeast with the Floridian Peninsula completely out of the path of that bright green radar.  Southern Florida seems to be spared for the time being.  We have been sleeping with a very light cover and all the windows open, even the front door, and the Fantastic Fan running.  It is another nice thing about being in a military campground, it feels fairly safe.

I have learned an invaluable lesson on this trip to Key West.  Several lessons actually.  For one, sometimes returning to a location for the second time after an amazing first visit can be a bit of a disappointment.  The second big lesson is that there actually ARE some places that are less fun in motorhome with pets than they were at a delightful little B&B within walking distance to town.  We first spent a short vacation in Key West in 2010, (post here).  At the time, I couldn’t wait to get back with the ‘freedom’ of our own motorhome to enjoy the area and with our bikes and kayaks and snorkel gear along with us.

Key West 001Most people who stay here at Sigsbee ride their bikes to town rather than dealing with the traffic in a car.  For us, a ten mile round trip in the heat isn’t all that exciting, in addition to competing with the crazy traffic that includes all sorts of motor scooters, motor cycles, bicycles, and lots of cars and crowds of people.  We followed John Herr’s advice and found free parking down by the Coast Guard Cutter and walked the mile or so to downtown with Abby on the night we decided to watch the sunset at Mallory Square. 

DSC_0026Our walk was fun, and we took the back routes toward the square before negotiating our way through the heavy crowds toward the famous point for sunset watching.  Getting there an hour early was perfect, since we got a place to sit along the seawall where Abby could rest and be comfortable.  The sunset was interesting, quite lovely part of the time, and then a cloud obscured the horizon as the sun descended and no one seemed to know exactly when to cheer.  I missed that big group chorus to honor the setting sun, but loved watching the sky change and shift.

DSC_0020Our plan included trying to get into the Hog’s Breath Saloon for dinner, one of the few places we could find in town that had a patio for doggie dining.  Once we arrived, however, the crowds and the noise were completely overwhelming and we couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  We walked back toward Whitehead Street, past our favorite old haunt for happy hour, Kelly’s.  I asked if they allowed dogs on the patio, and nope, not an option. 

Giving up on my fantasy of great gulf shrimp for supper, we wangled our way through the traffic and construction back to the base and slipped into Five Guys.  It was our first experience with this burger chain, and it was pretty darn good, although it wasn’t exactly my idea of the kind of food I was hoping for during our time in Key West.

Another lesson, is that number three? that I have learned is that Key West is not necessarily “The Keys”.  The middle keys and upper keys are much more quiet and quaint, with lots of wildlife, trails, secret kayaking coves and beautiful beaches.  Reading back over my own blog I was surprised that I hadn’t remembered that my best meal in the keys was not in Key West, but back on Islamorada.  Karen and Al and several other blogging couples are camping in RV parks at various locations along the Keys, and choose to come to Key West for a day or two of entertainment.

DSC_0038I do know that Randy and Pam and Carol and John love staying at Sigsbee, but maybe that is because they are here for extended stays rather than just a few short days.  Hence the title, two perspectives.  For a long term stay in Key West that is affordable, this is the very best option.  I probably will never return for a short term stay, but that in no way diminishes the excellent experience of other friends who love this place.

I also thought that perhaps our timing was a bit off, and that the folks who love staying here and spending more time are visiting in November, December, and possibly January.  We are here right after President’s Week (did you know that is now a week, not just a long weekend?) and right before Spring Break.  Might have something to do with it as well, so keep that in mind if you want to come to Key West.

DSC_0040A friend made a comment suggesting that perhaps they could change the policy for the campground and allow fewer people into the sites.  I would hate to see that happen.  If this park became a reservation park, it would end up like all the others in the Keys where it is nearly impossible to find a place to stay.  At least if you drive several thousand miles to experience Key West, it is a given that there will be a place to park at the end of the line, right here at Sigsbee.  That was so reassuring as we drove the long distance to get here.

Key West_050Another great treat was the Atlantic side beach for military personnel inside the gates at Truman Annex.  We drove there yesterday, having learned some side routes to avoid traffic, and settled in to a great shaded table overlooking the turquoise water.  The skies were a bit overcast so the photos didn’t catch the amazing color that I saw as I swam south toward the rocks.  I snorkeled a bit but didn’t see anything, but the water at 78 degrees or so felt fantastic.  The water was clear and clean and beautiful, with no sign of the dreaded Man-o-War jellyfish that could plague the beach later in the season. 

Key West_067Mo sat under the shade and read with Abby, since there was a sign proclaiming no dogs on the beach.  After a time she came down to take a photo of me swimming and took a chance and brought Abby down to cool off.  No one seemed to mind and Abby loved swimming in the warm water as much as I did.

We thought that around 2 would be a good time to once again try the Hog’s Breath Saloon, thinking it was before happy hour and after lunch.  What we didn’t realize was that Key West is a big cruise port, with 1 to 3 ships in port every single day.  Have I been under a rock somewhere to not know this?  Looking back at our photos from our last visit I was right, there were way fewer people on the streets last time than we found this time.  The place was a horror of crowds and weaving our way through the throngs with Abby on leash was not a bit fun.

Key West_074The Hog’s Breath was again jammed and loud and Mo said, “I’ll wait here on the bench while you go find your Key Lime stuff.” I had to get at least a slice of key lime pie and also bought one of those key lime pie slices on a stick covered in chocolate.  No clue if we would get dinner since I didn’t take anything out of the freezer expecting to eat a late afternoon lunch. 

We continued walking along Duval when suddenly a cool, shady path leading back to a quiet restaurant beckoned.  I left Mo on the street, walked back to talk to the waiter, and sure enough, dogs were completely welcome on his patio.  There wasn’t another soul in the place, the birds were singing, the trees shaded the table, and he brought water for Abby.  Our food turned out to be pretty darn good, and I got some nice pink gulf shrimp cooked Cuban style, with Cuban rice and a green salad with fresh fruits added to the classic tomato and cucumber.  We decided that Cuban food was excellent, especially in a shady patio with the dog.

Jungle cafe and barAs I was writing this blog, I had no idea of the name of the place, and had to hunt and hunt using Google Street View to find it.  It is called the Jungle Café, but there are other reviews for another place called Jungle Café that is NOT this place.  Then I did find a review or two, very outdated, that said it was closed.  In case you want to find it, it is right next to the Diamond International just a door or two down from the Smallest Bar on Duval Street.

Key West_073Something else I should comment on: Several people have suggested that we do some of the wonderful things to do here.  The Dry Tortugas are beautiful and remote, and we loved taking that all day boat trip the last time we were here.  We also climbed the charming Key West lighthouse and loved the museum there, and visited the Hemingway House, another great treat.  Didn’t feel we needed to do those things again on this visit.  On this trip, we found the great Higgs Beach Dog Park, a bit of a misnomer because it is a dog park near Higgs Beach, not a beach dog park, but still quite nice for a morning playtime for Abby.  The dog park here at Sigsbee is quite nice as well, although not as shaded.

Key West_062We had parked the car a couple of blocks north of Duval, in front of a lovely old church, no charge and no signs prohibiting parking except for Sunday and Wednesday afternoon. On the way back to the car, I stopped in at my favorite place from the previous visit Pelican Poop Shop to purchase something I had daydreamed about since the last time I was here.  The brilliant turquoise fish sculpture is all wrapped up in bubble wrap so there won’t be a photo till I get back to Rocky Point and hang it in my tropical themed bathroom.  Last time I refused to pay shipping to buy it, so this time I didn’t have to since we had the MoHo along.  Another one of the good things about having our rig along on this visit.

I also found a nice little shop, a bit less crazy than the tourist shops on Duval, that had some nice pastel visors that I wanted.  I found a perfect one for Mo’s birthday, coming up shortly.  She had been looking at my Hell’s Canyon visor with a bit of envy so it was a good present.

sigsbee 004We kayaked from the rocky shore here at the base on our first day, and plan to do so again this afternoon.  That is the other good thing about having our rig, bikes, and kayaks along.  The water is beautiful and clear, but there is a lot of boat traffic that requires vigilance to avoid.  We heard there was a manatee hanging out in the channel we explored the other day but we didn’t see him.  Today we will know what to look for and maybe we will find him.

This has been a difficult post to write, trying to capture the good parts of being here and not let the disappointments overwhelm overshadow the delights.  I am so glad we made it here, and glad we experienced Sigsbee camping, glad we were in the keys when the weather was so awful elsewhere.  Still, I will have a better idea when we get back to Northern Florida and the fresh water springs if my disappointment is directly related to Key West, or if I am possibly just a bit worn down from moving too quickly across the landscape.  However, moving out of Key West tomorrow may not come quickly enough.  I am ready.


2-20 to 2-21- 2014 Midway Campground Big Cypress Preserve

Current: Midway Campground at 5am 71 degrees and some dramatic moonlit clouds overhead

Shark Valley_121After a couple of days at Midway, it is amazing how disconnected I feel.  I woke up at 4 this morning worried.  Worried about the Everglades, worried about the gorgeous fresh water springs in Florida, worried about Sherry and David and where they are going to stay next winter.  Worried about…..whatever.  When I wake up like this, I know it is time to just give it up and get up and write.  But then, I feel as though I am in a bit of a vacuum, no connections, no phone again and no way to check in on the world or my kids or my friends.  I sometimes am appalled at my addiction to that connectivity, to simply reading email or blogs or a text to remind me of the real world and my place in it.  Such a lesson.

My worries about the Everglades are directly related to spending a day dipping into the northern part of the park. With only one day to spend, we decided to follow Sherry and David’s advice and see Shark Valley.  Here at Big Cypress there are some wonderful ranger led activities, but our timing was off.  After seeing all the alligators at the visitor center, both of us were a bit leery of doing our first “alligator” kayak on our own, and checked into the ranger led paddle down the Turner River. 

gators at Big Cypress Visitor CenterWe decided that we would attempt to get an extension for an additional night at Midway in order to participate in the Saturday paddle.  First thing in the morning we drove back to the Oasis Visitor Center to use their phone to see if there was an opening.  Reservations are required on this paddle, and we discovered that even with our own boat there was no room for us. Only ten paddlers are allowed on the river at one time.  The next step would have been to use the visitor center phone to try to snag one of the two remaining campsites at Midway for Saturday night.

This was important because in order to do the paddle, we would have to leave Abby with Jeremy in the rig for the day, and with the heat we would have to have the air conditioning going.  The days are about 86 F or so, but the rigs do heat up even with the windows open and the fan going.  No dry camping for us.  And no Abby on the rivers, since the alligators most often ignore people, but DO perk up a lot if there is a dog around.  Lesson learned.

Shark Valley_020It was all irrelevant anyway, since we couldn’t get a reservation.  So the next step was to figure out when the Shark Valley tram tour was scheduled, again the brochure said “reservations recommended”.  With all the people here in Florida this week, I could only imagine how full that trip could be.  We learned that the route was fifteen miles round trip if we chose to bike it on our own.

Arriving at the Shark Valley Visitor Center to a crowd of people loading up a tram, the thought of two hours with all those folks sounded less and less appealing.  When we went inside to check out the tram information, we were shocked to discover that the cost was $22 for adults and $18 for seniors!  For two hours on a tram???  In fact, we could bike the route at our leisure in that length of time if we didn’t get sidetracked too often.

blue heron 1Be sure to click on this one to make it larger and see the chicks!

Once again, we were so glad we had our bikes, and plenty of bug juice (some kind of nice lemongrass/citronella/geranium oil I got from the evil KOA), sunscreen, hats, and water.  I had to make the decision about which lens to carry on the bike since there was no way I could manage the whole setup, so I opted for the heavy telephoto.  Once again, I put on the rather hot but extremely handy Cotton Carrier to manage the camera.  Only problem was that the lens would bump into the handlebars whenever I tried to dismount.  I was about as graceful at that as I am getting out of a kayak.  NOT

What a gorgeous ride!  I can’t imagine that we considered going on the tram.  We could travel at our leisure, (except when there were a few groups of rude people who kept stopping and then passing us and then stopping again).  What is with these people that have on spandex on skinny bikes with helmets and don’t bother to warn of their passing?! They were some of those very fit old and snotty people that make me ….can I say what I am thinking here>>>>want to puke.

Anhinga chicks in the nest.Shark Valley_007

Once we got away from the rude bunch, the ride was magnificent.  Fifteen miles of perfectly smooth, perfectly level paved trail is pretty darn sweet when it is surrounded by the magnificent Everglades.  Midway through the ride is the Observation Tower, high above the landscape and the only way other than an airplane to grasp the vast expanse of the River of Grass.

I knew a bit about the problems with the Everglades, but the park brochure lines the whole thing out in one page of very graphic detail.  It is the story of water, our need for it, our abuse of it, our thoughtless expansion of agriculture with its chemicals and runoff, with dams to protect people from natural overflows.  There is no place on the planet, not one place, that is like the Everglades, and we very nearly killed it.  I woke at 4am wondering if it is at all possible to change the outcome, no matter how many people from all over the world are trying to do so.  My 4am thoughts were fairly pessimistic.

I took so many photos of the wood stork, my first sighting of this big crazy looking bird, before I knew about its status as an indicator species reflecting the health of the Glades.  I saw a lot of them yesterday, watching them swing their big bills through the mud to catch fish with a reflexive snap. 

Shark Valley_068After we visited the tower, we continued in the counter clockwise direction recommended by the park signs.  The snotty fit folks were complaining a lot about the wind and chose to return via the straight route rather than continue the loop.  Hooray for us!  The sun was hot and riding with the wind instead of against it was nice as well.  The second half of the loop is much more open, with fewer alligators and mangroves but a wider view of sawgrass prairie.

Shark Valley_094The wider expanse of sawgrass, and more open water with a few mudflats yielded a bright pink surprise.  I hollered at Mo, tried to get off the bike without banging the lens on the handlebars, and got another bazillion photos of the one lonely roseate spoonbill swinging his bill through the mud.  Another mile or so yielded another couple of spoonbills, so I saw three in all.  We were almost completely alone on our return trip since most folks opted to return the other direction.  I have no idea why.  The Observation Tower is at 7 miles, almost halfway around the trail, so why not ride the loop?  We spent just a little under three hours biking the loop.

On our way back to Midway, we opted to take the Loop road from milepost 40 on Highway 41, several miles of back paved road along the mangroves and then several more miles of dirt road through the heart of the bald cypress forest and through several “strands”. Strands are areas of deeper flowing water through the swamp. Blackwater Strand was as beautiful as we were told, and several photographers with monster lenses and big tripods were attempting to capture the magic.

Shark Valley_135Speaking of magic…and photography… on our way back to camp between the visitor center and the campground is the Clyde Butcher Gallery.  Stepping into the lobby of the gallery simply took my breath away.  Clyde Butcher has been hailed as the Ansel Adams of our time.  Long ago I studied B/W photography in college, and the Zone System of exposure developed by Adams was our bible.  It is all about exposure, not manipulation of the image after it is taken.  Of course, with modern day photo tools that are available, I have become lazy.  I shoot  and process, and my old gray scale cards are packed away in a keepsake box somewhere.

Shark Valley_134Looking at Clyde Butcher’s photos, I saw all the amazing detail in the darks and the lights that is the goal of truly good photography.  Just simply breathtaking.  His prints go for hundreds of dollars for a tiny one, and tens of thousands of dollars for the big ones.  I opted for a calendar for $20, and then discovered to my delight that the calendar was focused on the fresh water springs of Northern Florida.  Hence worrying about the springs.  The information in that calendar about the degradation of the gorgeous Florida springs is as disheartening as the brochure information about the Everglades.

Shark Valley_136Our campground at Midway is quite lovely, with grassy open sites and paved RV pads.  There is only electricity at the site, but a dump station and fresh water are available in the campground.  Until recently, this campground was first come first served, with folks lining up early in the morning for a spot.  Thanks to Sherry, I learned about the recent change to reservations required, and three weeks ago snagged our spot.  Good thing!  The campground had been full every night. 

Today we will begin the journey south toward Key West, crossing the long bridges with views of gorgeous turquoise water on our way to Sigsbee Field to camp.  I think this Military Family Camp in Key West is probably one of the greatest benefits of Mo’s military service. (She may disagree, of course, because I am sure she has other benefits that mean more to her, such as retirement and health care.  Ha!)  Without the ability to camp at Sigsbee Field, we wouldn’t be visiting the Keys, much less Key West.

Shark Valley_010We know that we will be dry camping at Sigsbee, with hookup sites in a rotational system that we won’t be there long enough to get.  We will be loading up on water and fuel to run the generator for the five days we will be camping there.  Usually the temperatures in Key West are moderated by the surrounding water, so we hope that it won’t be as hot as it has been here.

John and Carol gave us lots of tips about camping at Sigsbee, about where to go near the campground, and where to park in town for free since we do have Abby and can’t bike that far with her any more.  Next on our buying list is one of those baby carrier biking things that Mo can pull behind her bike so that Abby can go along.  She does so well with the leash and the bike, but only lasts for a short distance now.  Don’t want to wear the old girl out before her time.

Shark Valley_104On another note, reading comments from the last couple of blogs, folks are repeating a refrain, “Think I won’t come to Florida ever”.  Or to that effect.  Just gotta say here, saying “Florida” in one big catch all, is a bit like saying you didn’t like  the California desert so you won’t ever visit Mt Shasta.  Florida is a large state with all sorts of variety and there is a huge difference between north and south, east and west , Gulf and Atlantic.  Being from the west, I understand how different a state can be from one part to another. 

I suppose states in the midwest and east are probably fairly uniform throughout.  Not here.  I would probably not return to southern Florida, even though it is one of the more unique environmShark Valley_032ents in our country.

I might still return to northern Florida someday.  I love the springs and rivers even more than the beaches.  Remember all those wide open roads with no cars that we traveled earlier this month?  Remember all those state parks where we had no problem finding reservations? Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water when thinking of Florida because of what I have said about southern Florida.


2-19-2014 John and Carol share J.N.Ding Darling NWR with us

Currently: Midway Campground at Big Cypress Preserve  71F at six AM and no internet

sunrise at the KOAThe sunrise at our KOA campground was incredible, so I was definitely frustrated that I could find no open sky to actually photograph it!  Giant motorhomes were everywhere and even walking to the end of the campground yielded nothing. 

I had been in contact with Carol and John, of “Our Trip Around the Sun”, since last summer when I first knew when we would be near Sanibel Island.  They are NWR volunteers who suffered through a summer season at the J.N. Ding Darling NWR and as a result were considered and selected for the primo winter positions.  John does heavy maintenance and Carol is responsible for several administrative duties, in addition to giving talks about the alligators and crocodile in the park.

we meet Carol as she is giving her alligator talk at Ding DarlingWe knew Carol’s talk was at 11AM so planned our morning route with enough time to arrive at the park an hour early so that we could see the beautiful Visitor Center before meeting Carol.  Oops.  We knew there would be traffic, but didn’t plan for the congestion to be as bad as it was.  Even with our 8:30 AM departure, it was just a bit after 11 when we walked up to the kiosk where Carol was beginning her talk.

Still makes me smile to remember how warmly Carol greeted us, she seemed genuinely delighted to have us there.  Her talk was wonderful, and I learned more about the Florida alligators and the salt water loving croc that lives at Ding Darling.  Carol is deservedly proud to be working at this primo refuge and does a great job sharing her knowledge about it.

Having a park volunteer offer to do a tour is a genuine treat.  Carol was laughing because she knew I wanted to see spoonbills and she was all worried that she wouldn’t manage it until she saw the spoonbills on my blog that Judy found for me.  Phew…no more pressure!KOA and Ding_045

We didn’t see spoonbills, but Carol took us around the wildlife drive, knowing the right places to stop to see the birds.  Carol is a “real” birder, and when I only watched a bird for a few minutes and gave up on getting the proper pose she laughed and said, “Well, you aren’t a “real” birder yet, but you are close”.  Ha!

snowy egretWe laughed and talked and walked and shared bird sightings until the afternoon got a bit too warm and the birds all went under cover.  Carol invited us to do the same at her shady patio with drinks and snacks while we waited for John to get off work.  Before long, John joined us on the patio and we all decided that a trip to the beach was in order.

tri colored heronKOA and Ding_056There are several beaches on Sanibel and they picked the one they thought would have the best parking and the least crowding. The beach was lovely, with soft sand and gentle lapping waves, and enough space between chairs and umbrellas that we found a nice place to sit and walk and let Abby swim. KOA and Ding_070 KOA and Ding_076

Of course, the highlight of the day was something other than the refuge OR the birds OR the beach.  Insisting that only tourists tried to leave the island before dark, Carol invited us to what she called a “simple” dinner of roast pork loin, (which John cooked to perfection on the grill), roasted potatoes, and fresh salad with ice cream for dessert.  With some tasty wine and delightful conversation we lingered long past dark enjoying their company and hospitality.Great friends, great dinner, great day


02-18-2014 Schizophrenic Days, Meeting Sherry and David was great, the KOA and Florida Traffic not so much.

Currently: Midway Campground at Big Cypress Preserve  71F at six AM and no internet

Hard to get a photo from the rig of the skywayWe have been in this magical land of Florida heaven for so long now I almost forgot why people say they never want to come to Florida.  Some who have been here say they will never come back.  Others who have never been here have an image of the state that fits perfectly what we experienced on Tuesday morning when we left our idyllic waterfront campsite at Fort De Soto.

When drying to a crisp in western winters, I sometimes think it might be nice to have a bit of humidity.  In some ways it IS nice.  My feet are not cracking, my fingernails are not shredded, and my hair is…well..can you say fluffy?  Not sure that is a good thing, however, but it feels good.

up on the Sunshine SkywayWhat I forget about humidity, however, is the smell.  Whatever smells that are assaulting your senses are multiplied.  Both inside and outside the MoHo we are often overcome with funny smells.  I used an entire can of rug spray cleaner to freshen up the rig (Resolve spray works great for traveling!)  I also was extremely happy to get our bedding dried out.  I forgot about that clammy bedding thing that happens in high humidity. 

I am laughing to myself thinking of all those readers out west who think Florida travels are just insane, especially those who read my blog who are high and dry out boondocking somewhere in Arizona.  Still, it is worth it, maybe a bit like traveling in a third world country.  There are lots of strange smells and lots of weird traffic, but I wouldn’t miss doing it for the world.

Sarasota reflections on this building were funWe left Fort DeSoto around 8 on a gorgeous sunny morning.  Loved crossing the Sunshine Skyway, but it is surprising how unimpressive it seems when driving.  I could see most of Mullet Key below us, and could see a great kayaking spot on the eastern edge of the island that would have been perfect for bridge views.  Sorry Karen, we never made it over there for sunrise or sunset photos.  You have some breathtaking shots of that view that I could never duplicate.  We had no clouds around to make the skies interesting.

Neither of us had slept well the previous night because we were worried about Abby.  She was unable to urinate, and at more than 12 years old it could have been anything, even too much swimming in sea water, or so we thought.  I found a veterinarian on the internet, hoped the reviews were good, and chose one that was south of Bradenton, just beyond the main part of the city.

Sarasota iconic statue, from the MoHo in heavy trafficIt turned out to be a good choice.  At first, they said they had no openings, but when I explained our situation a bit more they suggested that we get a urine sample and wait, for what could be up to three or four hours.  Have you ever wondered how you get a urine sample from a female dog?  Nope, me either.  However, running around behind Abby with a little wheeled gizmo with a plastic tray was interesting.  It worked.  Abby didn’t have an infection, but she did have crystals, and possible kidney stones.  With antibiotics, an anti inflammatory, and some special food, we were happy that our four hour stop was fruitful.  At the moment, Abby seems fine, but will have to be checked again in a couple of weeks.

We continued south toward our surprise destination for the day.  I emailed Sherry, of “In the Direction of our Dreams”, letting her know that we were going to be passing by their camp at Oscar Sherer State Park and asked if a meeting was possible.  Sherry made several suggestions and with a final email we agreed to meet at the beach just a couple of miles from their campground and right off Highway 41 on our route.

visiting Sherry and DavidPerfect!  Except when Florida traffic settles in.  Shortly before we arrived at the beach location, I got a quick phone call from Sherry saying, “We are at the beach, all parking lots are full, and we can’t find a spot to park, much less a spot for the MoHo.”  We agreed to meet them at the picnic ground inside the state park instead.  They were amazed at the heavy traffic, the intense congestion at the beach, and said they had never seen it quite as bad on a weekday during mid day. 

The minute we turned east on the State Park road, we could have been in a different world, the “real” Florida.  The park was lovely, and we met at the picnic ground.  It is always amazing to meet people that have been correspondence friends for a long time and to find that they are exactly as you imagined. 

SherryIt was wonderful walking the nature trail and sharing stories of things we have in common.  They were great trail guides, telling us all about the park and their travels, and sharing some ideas about some of our planned future travel locations where they have spent a great deal of time.  If anyone knows Florida state parks well, it is Sherry.  With so much time in Florida, Sherry is especially frustrated with the difficulty in getting reservations even a year in advance.  She also repeatedly talked about how crowded things seem to be this year.  Maybe everyone came south because of the Polar Plunge events?

DavidA couple of hours flew by and we needed to get on down the road.  Abby seemed to be feeling better already after her walk and her meds so that was a relief. 

When I said that Fort DeSoto was our most expensive campground on the trip, I completely forgot about the Big Pine Island KOA.  I wanted to visit Sanibel Island and even with many months in advance, I could find no reservations that were anywhere nearby that were even close to a reasonable cost.  The one campground on Sanibel, Periwinkle, does not allow dogs in the campground.  We found a few others on the beach near Fort Myers, but they were more than $100 per night, and all the nearby state parks were fully booked back last summer when I tried to get a reservation.

Oscar Sherer State ParkI finally booked the KOA at $52 per night for the two nights we had to be there.  What isn’t shown in the fine print however, are all the Florida taxes and fees that boosted our stay to a whopping $62 per night.  Just plain crazy, and another reason why traveling in Florida might not be something to do very often.  Throw in all the tolls on roads and bridges, and the high cost of food and the taxes on everything, and it becomes a very expensive adventure.  Sheesh!

We arrived at the KOA just before sunset, in time to get set up with our full hookups before dark.  It was rather frightening, actually, to see the big rig bedroom slide just a very few feet from our back bedroom window.  I sort of freaked out at first as we drove down the long rows of sardine packed rigs.  It felt a bit like a refuge camp. Now THIS is what they mean when they talk about a Snowbird Park?  The minute we got hooked up, we turned on the air conditioning, closed up all the windows, put up all the shades and were snug and safe in our little home.1-JPEGS

Sleeping was interesting, though, because of course the window needed to be open and Mo was wakened at three am by sewer smells.  Who knows, it wasn’t ours, but there are so many people packed into such a small space I can’t imagine how the sewage is managed. Remember what I said about the smells?

peering between sites to see the sunriseI will say that our initial reaction to the park was moderated a bit before we left.  These kinds of parks do have their place.  Watching CNN the morning we left, there was an interesting story by Sanjay Gupta discussing loneliness in people and how it contributes to premature death even more than obesity. 

We noticed that most of the people in the park were more on the elderly side, and when the sun rose, people were out walking and talking to their neighbors and visiting everywhere.  I don’t imagine that very many of them are lonely. 

The park is now an Encore/1000 Trails park that has a KOA franchise.  About 100 residents are full time, and a couple hundred are seasonal, staying from 2 to 6 months every year. 

fishing pond at the KOA on Big Pine IslandThe park was filled with huge rigs, park models, and campers with everything in between.  Many folks had gardens and lots of yard art.  The laundry was large and nice and not ridiculously expensive.  The cable was OK, the Verizon signal had the best reception I have had on the entire trip.  The swimming pool was large and well kept, there are a couple of reflective ponds and I guess fishing is the biggest recreational activity, other than talking to your neighbor.

The park served its purpose for us and we did get to visit Sanibel. 

Next:  A long planned and eagerly anticipated visit with John and Carol of “Our Trip Around the Sun” at J.N. Ding Darling NWR