It got down right chilly last night. The temperature dropped from around 70 yesterday to near 40 last night. However, that changed fast as soon as the sun came up this morning. We zoomed up to 70 or so by noon. The temperature may have been right but we did nothing to write about other than seeing a flock of black headed parakeets. I did notice that the pool wasn't a popular activity today.
Warm, overcast and drizzling rain describes today. Except for the warm part this would be a typical day in the Pacific Northwest yet we are on the west coast of Florida.
We spent the day planning the next several weeks. When we leave Sarasota we are going to make our way south visiting Ft Myers again, then Bonita Springs, Naples, Everglades City, Homestead and Flamingo. From the Homestead-Flamingo area we may dash down to Key West. We have not decided on that yet. We actually have more things we want to do than we will be able to accomplish in the several weeks we are planning to be in the area. Sadly, some thing will have to wait till next year.
This being Friday Sun N Fun was sponsoring Karaoke again and as usual the performers were outstanding, professional quality. We sat with Ron & Thea, a couple from Indiana that has been performing every night. Thea is every bit a professional. She has a recording contract in Nashville and is in the process of cutting a CD. Who knows-we may see Thea's name in the marquee lights. This was our last karaoke night at Sun N fun and Joyce made the most of it. I am worn out.
The day starts out overcast but warm. No one is complaining. The horseshoe pits are filled to capacity as is shuffleboard and lawn bowling, volleyball and tennis. I suspect the woodworkers, pottery makers, lapidaries and stained glass folks are all in their places also.
I took Joyce to St Armands and Lido Keys today on an island hopping excursion. Sarasota Bay and Ringling Causeway separates St Armands aristocrats from mainland backwoods boors. St Armands is a posh shopping enclave, an elixir for the well healed. With a euphonious name like St Armands you might expect the place to be a bit pompous and you would be spot on. To say that St Armands Circle is well garnished with refined establishments and fine dining in charming eateries would be an understatement.
Joyce & St Armands Circle on Lido Key across the bay from Sarasota
What better way for Joyce and I to experience paradise than to meander through haute shoppes with names like Martha's Vineyard, Antigua, Jolie's, Pagliacci and Les Ciseaux. I kept searching for the place that was giving away the jaguars. Everyone had one but me. I was a bit too timid to ask where they were giving them away. By the way--- do jaguars come in any color other than black?
Joyce chose a cutesy patisserie for lunch; it was just what I was dreaming about, not. As you can see this was Joyce's day. I am proud to say I escaped this entire experience with my plastic completely undamaged-- except for lunch.
Sunday began as a warm overcast day. By the time we got out of church the sun was starting to peak out on occasion. By noon clouds were gone and hordes of grey beards with their finely coiffed counterparts were heading to the pool. Joyce and I joined them for a wonderful afternoon poolside. We love the poolside "Buffetesque-music" and I want to return to Pensacola looking like I have been basking in the sun. No dancing today just good music and sun.
Ain't life great!
This was Super Bowl night. We joined the Super Bowl party here in the park. All I can say is-------------I got my moneys worth. Since I didn't have a dog in the fight I considered it a good game. By the way-my vote for best ad for the night went to the Bud ad with the feisty little dog. If you don't remember that ad you either didn't see it or you are not a man.
Monday, February 2, 2004
Fog so thick you could cut it greeted us this morning. However, by mid-morning it had burned off exposing a super day.
Our plan was to move back to the Ft Myers area (75-miles south of Sarasota). We spent a week in the Ft Myers area before moving to Sarasota now we are going to return and do the things we missed earlier. Joyce called a number of RV-Parks around Ft Myers yesterday (free cell minutes) in order to get an idea of "prices" and availability. We aren't into making reservations and didn't yesterday. We do know that availability in the Ft Myers area and points south is TIGHT --as in no matter what they are "extracting" nearly everyone is full. RV-Parks near Ft Myers and the coast are demanding prices in the range of $40 plus per-day (cheaper by the month). By moving inland 20-miles to places like La Belle rates drop to $30. Passport America is not honored this time of year around here.
Our plan was to call W. P. Franklin COE Park (located a few miles east of Ft Myers) as we neared Ft Myers. While W. P. Franklin COE Park is "fully-reserved" for the winter the reservation system holds back 3-sites for "drop-ins". In other words the reservation system does not reserve 100% of the sites. Adventuresome souls can either drive into the COE Park or call when they are close to see if one of the 3-sites is available. Joyce and I are planning to call when we get close and see if they can fit us in.
That was our plan but as you are well aware plans are just that plans----------and plans are made for changing. As we exited Sun N Fun this morning I noticed that the voltage on the motorhomes chassis battery was lower than normal. Sometimes it is low like that when we first start out since a significant portion of the alternators output is being funneled into recharging batteries. As we rolled south on I-75 the low voltage situation did not improve. Then we got near Venice and traffic on the interstate was at a standstill. We later learned that a tanker truck had collided with a bridge abutment and burst into flames. For the next 30-minutes we crept along I-75 until we found an exit. The only reason any traffic had been moving on I-75 was the vehicles exiting here. Everyone exiting here was headed to US-41 (Tamami Trail) that parallels I-75. We had to travel 6-miles west on this road to get to US-41. The road was a parking lot. The road was not designed for that much traffic and city police were ignoring the horrendous mess. We were on this road for another 30 to 40 minutes. The alternator was still not functioning and I knew it was something that I needed to address.
About this time Joe Ballenger called to let us know that they had arrived in Myakka River State Park this morning. Unfortunately---- we were heading away from them. We had planned to get together for lunch or dinner----that will have to wait. Joe told us that they passed by the burning tanker truck earlier this morning as they drove north on I-75. Joe thinks they must have passed the scene shortly after it happened. They were able to see 60' flames coming out of the tanker and were able to hear small explosions that Joe thought were exploding tires.
We were able to find a shop in Venice that would replace my alternator. Three hours and $278 later we were back on US-41 headed south. During the first hour on US-41 we progressed about 10-blocks. The next hour we got 26-miles down the road. Our minds were foggy, do we fight this traffic now or stop for the night and do it again tomorrow. Neither option seems good. While having the alternator replaced we heard various unsubstantiated reports about what was happening on I-75. One lady said that the state had closed both north and south lanes of I-75 and would have them closed for a week or more. Even though this woman said she heard that report on the radio there are no traffic problems on US 41 in the north bound lanes. That tells me that me that northbound traffic on I-75 has not been diverted, or it was only diverted temporarily.
The state is going to have to put Venice under martial law. I would not be surprised if there was not a shooting this afternoon. Traffic did not start moving until we were 10 miles south of Venice. From what I could see traffic signals in Venice were the problem. We spent over 4-hours traversing about 15 miles through Venice and that was road time not time we spent having the alternator replaced.
We saw demure young girls, with babies strapped in baby seats, boil over and turn into hormone oozing hellions operating UAVs (Urban Assault Vehicles) as Sherman Tanks. Watching a street light turn green 3 to 4 times from the first position at an intersection and not even be able to enter the intersection eventually drove everyone to ignore traffic signals. Every intersection in a 30 mile area was jammed. Crazed emotions were boiling over. No one was making eye contact. Guts and moxie became the norm. Everyone turned into wild infuriated individuals caged in traffic.
We pulled into a Wal-Mart parking lot in Punta Gorda. We had experienced enough for the day and were still 26 miles from Ft Myers. Of course it was after 7PM and we did not have reservations in Ft Myers so pushing on to Ft Myers was no big deal.
What a day!
Tuesday, February 3, 2004
Yesterday was such a disaster. Not only did we have to deal with the motorhomes alternator but that simply horrific traffic jam. We purchased a news paper today so that we could read about yesterday's tanker crash on I-75 that resulted in the horrendous traffic jam. According to the news paper, the crash actually happened shortly before 7 AM in thick fog. It was a one vehicle accident. The tanker truck, carrying 7,000 gallons of volatile fuel, struck a bridge abutment, jackknifed and exploded into flames engulfing both south bound lanes of the bridge. Some reports say the fire raged out of control until after 9AM. Damage to the bridge's deck was so extensive that most or all will have to be replaced.
North bound I-75 traffic was detoured for several hours while south bound lanes will be out of commission for a minimum of 4-weeks and probably longer. Traffic is going to be BAD, BAD, BAD in that area for the remainder of the 2004 winter tourist season.
While boondocking in the Wal-Mart parking lot last night I realized that my house batteries needed to be replaced. My house batteries have been becoming progressively worse over the past two months. I did not want to believe it but there was no denying it any longer. Our first stop today was the Sam's store in Ft. Myers where I purchased two 6-volt golf cart batteries and was on my way in less than an hour.
From Sam's we headed to the only RV-Park in the Ft Myers area with rates under $30. A quick swing through the park was enough to send us on down the road. Close your eyes and visualize the worst sight you could imagine in what calls itself an RV-Park. If you visualized a pit bull tied in every yard, mildew and moss growing on units, refrigerators and other appliances under awnings----you may be approaching what we saw. I remember the guy on the phone telling Joyce "I don't know why we aren't charging more for our spaces". After seeing the place we know "why" but didn't stop to clue him in.
We ended up back at Grandma's Grove RV-Park in La Belle in an overflow site. We are thankful that Grandma's Grove has these overflow sites.
Wednesday, February 4, 2004
This was a picture perfect day. The sun was shining not a cloud in the sky with the temperature reaching the low 80s. It can't get any better.
In the Saturn we headed south from La Belle on US-29 to Corkscrew Swamp. Corkscrew Audubon Swamp is located 40-miles south of La Belle outside the small town of Immokalee. It is a special place and this trip was one of the highlights of our trip. As always, when we head into new territory, Joyce and I are looking for suitable RV-Parks and boondocking sites. We are traveling 20-miles inland. RV-Parks along the coast are demanding and getting $40 plus for RV-sites, we were hoping to find something cheaper away from the coast.
For those of you interested we found the "Seminole Casino" in Immokalee. Like other Casinos this one has a large paved parking lot and welcomes RV'ers. RV'ers can't spend the winter in that parking lot but spending a few nights is fine according to Casino representatives.
The drive down US-29 was an interesting mix of cattle ranches, citrus groves and truck farms. The land is extremely flat and for the most part a prairie not forest. We were able to see an occasional live oak hammock or cypress dome, other than those small, scattered wooded areas prairies dominated.
Immokalee is a small farming community. Most of the restaurants, bars and grocery stores catered to a Latin community. When I say catered I mean everything from the name of the establishment to the advertising was Spanish.
Corkscrew Audubon Swamp is located 18-miles southwest of Immokalee. It has a storied history, preserves an ancient old-growth cypress forest, maintains a necessary watershed and protects an important rookery for many of South Florida's wading birds.
At the end of the 1800's, plume hunters slaughtered hundreds of thousands of egrets and herons for the sake of fashion. In 1896, milliners were paying $32.00 an ounce-twice the price of gold at the time-for egret plumes to adorn ladies' hats. Hunts took place during breeding season when the birds' showy feathers were at their finest. This decimated the adult population and all but wiped out the next generation.
Great Egret and Great Blue Heron in Corkscrew Audubon Swamp
In the same year, 1896, a Boston society matron learned of the birds' plight. She began a campaign to boycott feathered hats and get legislation passed to protect wading birds. That was the initial action of the fledgling Audubon Society, the first nationwide, grass roots conservation organization in the country. The Society's efforts to save the plume birds launched many further actions that helped preserve Corkscrew Swamp, one of the few remaining functional parts of the greater South Florida ecosystem.
In the 1930's Corkscrew Swamp faced a different threat. Lumbermen began logging bald cypress trees because the trunks were knot free and the wood was highly resistant to rot. Lumber companies built railroads on levees to haul the huge logs out of the swamp. Once the railroads came in, there wasn't much stopping the harvest of all South Florida's cypress.
In 1952, logging began at the southern end of Corkscrew Swamp. Because this was the largest remaining stand of unlogged old-growth cypress forest, concerned citizens and a coalition of organizations including the National Audubon Society joined forces to save it. Thanks to cooperation of the lumber companies that owned the land and the generous support of donors nation-wide, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was established in 1954 with 2,880 acres of prime cypress swamp. It is larger now but I can't locate the current size in acres.
Wood Stork and Ball Moss in Corkscrew Audubon Swamp
A unique, two and a half-mile boardwalk trail winds through wet prairies, saw-grass, pinelands, marshes and the world's largest remaining subtropical old-growth bald cypress forest. The different habitats showcase a wide variety of flora and fauna. We saw barred owls, nesting red shouldered hawks, warblers, pileated woodpeckers, nesting wood storks, and a wide variety of herons and egrets. Corkscrew Sanctuary claims to house the largest colony of wood storks in the US, at least they winter and nest in the sanctuary. Trees in the swamp are festooned with bromeliads. Some of the bald cypress trees have begun to sprout new growth as have swamp maples. I know some of you will have a hard time thinking spring has sprung but down here the process has begun.
The Tillandsia family of Bromeliads represents the greatest number of air plants in the swamp. When you gaze into the trees they look full of bird nests. Some are nests but most "nests" are either orchids or these air plants. Air plants absorb moisture and nutrition from the air. Their root system is for support only.
Bald cypress trees drop their needles in the winter and appear "bald" until spring, now you know how its sobriquet "bald cypress" came to be. The older and larger bald cypress trees in Corkscrew Swamp are 500 to 600 years old. The old-growth cypress trees at Corkscrew comprise the largest and oldest virgin bald cypress forest in North America. While this may be the "largest old-growth" cypress forest in North America they are not the largest individual cypress trees. We have seen many larger cypress trees in other places. Texas has gigantic bald cypress trees that line river banks throughout the hill country. Another larger individual bald cypress tree "Old Methuselah" is located in De Leon Springs State Park near the small Central Florida town of De Leon Springs.
The Audubon welcome center at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a real educational experience. The main building displays an impressive collection of photographs (landscapes, sunsets, flora and fauna) taken in and around Corkscrew Swamp. In addition they have a totally awesome multidimensional diorama. This diorama is the best or one of the best we have seen. The media artists that put these dioramas together are really talented. This particular diorama was in a dimly lit theatre with multiple layers of screens surrounding you in a 180-degree arch. You could see through each screen unless something was painted on it. The use of lights and these multiple screens each with paintings on them gave exceptional depth perception to the diorama. The diorama also incorporated sounds recorded in the swamp. As the sound of a bull-frog echoes through the swamp a small spotlight would highlight a bullfrog, then slowly switch to an alligator, barred owl, stork or heron as the recording changes. By the use of different screens and spotlights the diorama changes seasons. It is totally awesome. Don't miss this display if you visit Corkscrew Swamp.
Thursday, February 5, 2004
Low temperatures last night only dropped to around 70 with humidity in the 90% range. That is not good sleeping weather. Today featured a cloudless sky and high temperatures around 83.
We located another boondocking site in Alva today. On State Road 80 about 16-miles east of Ft Myers (at the community of Alva) is the Alva Country Diner. The diner has an extremely large parking area in back of the restaurant you can use overnight. This place would only be good for one or two nights not a place to spend the winter. Needless to say, dining in the restaurant would also be appropriate.
We had a full day. Our first stop was with Babcock Wilderness Adventures. Babcock is an operating ranch, logging company, mining operation, truck farm and sod farm in addition to operating an Eco-Tour. The Babcock property encompasses 120 square miles (twice the size of Washington DC). Our tour was taking place on a 90,000 acre portion of the property known as the Crescent B Ranch. We were loaded on big swamp buggies for our ride around the ranch, across a small river, and through a cypress swamp. The buggy ride was fun, the guide informative and we saw some interesting flora & fauna. Large alligators were abundant as were many varieties of wading birds.
Joyce and the Eco-Tour vehicle at Babcock Wilderness Adventures
We did lunch in Ft Myers at the "Farmers Market Restaurant" located on Edison Street next to the farmers Market. This is one of the better places to eat we have found on this trip. If you like good country cooking this place is about as good as it gets.
After lunch we visited the Calusa Nature Center on Ortiz Avenue in Ft Myers. This was a really nice facility designed to educate. They maintain a live reptile center that displays most of the major Florida reptiles. It was an impressive live display featuring a 10' alligator, 5' cottonmouth moccasin and 6' diamond back rattle snake. They had many other snakes and turtles but those were the "impressive" ones.
Butterfly at the Butterfly House in Ft Myers
A butterfly house allows visitors to enter a screened garden overflowing with native butterflies and flowering plants. Visitors were educated on the life stages of butterflies and moths. Eggs and caterpillars were displayed munching on host plants. Visitors could view the chrysalis where caterpillars are undergoing their magical metamorphosis into butterflies. These live displays are designed for children but are nonetheless intriguing to adults as well.
Butterfly at the Butterfly House in Ft Myers
In another section the Nature Center maintains an aviary for injured birds of prey. We arrived in time to follow one of the staff on her rounds as she fed these birds and some of the animals. The Nature Center was providing food and shelter to eagles, hawks, caracara, owls and vultures in addition to a bob cat, opossum and raccoon.
A nature walk through a swamp (on a board walk) was also educational.
Joyce and I are
ecologically savvy about the function of a swap in the environment
yet we dutifully read each of the educational displays along the trail.
We considered this as reinforcement.
Until next time remember how good life is.
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Until next time remember how good life is.