Monthly Archives: March 2017

FLA Treasure Coast & Space Coast March 23, 2017

Leaving Fort Lauderdale we made our way north to Fort Pierce and settled in at the Savannas Recreation Area.  This is a wonderful St Lucie County campground with full hookups.  It is also another one of the very popular, hard to reserve Florida county parks.  Our campsite backed up to a narrow canal.  A stiff wind during our stay kept away mosquitoes.  There were many signs warning of alligators in the canal but we only saw one during our week stay.  The Savannas area is a popular fishing and kayaking area but it was too windy to get out on the water while we were there.

We enjoyed driving around the Fort Pierce area.  We looked for other possible campgrounds for future visits but didn’t really see anything we liked better than where we were staying.

We did some geocaching and stopped by the old Fort Pierce site.  The fort along the Indian River was built in 1838 as a main supply depot for the army during the Second Seminole War.  It was abandoned in 1842 at the end of the war and burned down the next year.  Nothing left now but some historical markers and a beautiful view.  It is also the site of an ancient burial mound of the Ais Indian tribe who once lived from the Cape Canaveral area to Saint Lucie inlet.IMG_20170329_165323IMG_20170329_165518IMG_20170329_165549

The city of Fort Pierce is very picturesque with lovely views of the water.  It is nicknamed the “Sunrise City” and is a sister city to San Francisco, the “Sunset City”.IMG_20170329_165604

IMG_20170329_160942Last summer while traveling through Pennsylvania we stopped by Shanksville to pay our respects at the site where United Flight 93 crashed on September 11, 2001 due to a terrorist attack.  We noticed on the wall honoring those who died, the name of CeeCee Ross Lyles from Fort Pierce.  She had been a member of the Fort Pierce Police Department before becoming a flight attendant.  We knew there had to be a memorial to her somewhere in Fort Pierce.  We stopped by the Fort Pierce Visitors Center and found out it was just a short walk away.  We found her statue and memorial at a beautiful, peaceful spot overlooking Indian River.

Next we traveled to Vero Beach for a five night stay to visit Bill’s son Sean, Sean’s fiancee Cathy and Bill’s Aunt Charlotte. Always nice to visit with them!


Bill, Sean and Cathy dining near Vero Beach

As we continued traveling north our next stop was one of our favorites, Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral.  Jetty Park is a Brevard County Park campground, extremely popular and rather pricey.  We love this campground because there is an easy, close access to a beautiful beach and we can watch cruise ships depart each day.  It is a great place to watch rocket launches at the Space Center.  We watched a couple of launches when we were there last year but unfortunately none were scheduled while we were here this year.  During our ten day stay we spent time at the beach and enjoyed long walks on the beach, pier and boardwalks.  The beach was beautiful both during the day and at night under the full moon.  Each day we watched cruise ships departing with throngs of excited passengers crowding the decks.IMG_20170410_172254IMG_20170408_134319IMG_20170408_134347IMG_20170407_171947IMG_20170407_172032IMG_20170411_215306IMG_20170411_220646

We learned that on March 10, 1783 the last Continental Naval engagement occurred nearby during our eight-year War for Independence.  The Continental Frigate Alliance inflicted severe damage on the British warship HMS Sybil and then went on to her destination in Rhode Island.IMG_20170407_170355

One day Bill’s college friend Pete and his wife Beth drove over from their home near the gulf coast to spend the day with us.  Bill and Pete reconnected back in January after almost forty years and we have enjoyed seeing them several times during our five and a half months in Florida this winter.  Thanks so much Pete and Beth for making the long drive over to Jetty Park.  Much, much too soon our time in Jetty Park was over.  (Huge sigh)IMG_20170410_172414IMG_20170407_142402IMG_20170407_142552IMG_20170407_142521

Next stop will be Gamble Rogers State Park at Flagler Beach.

Fort Lauderdale, FL March 20, 2017

We left Miami and continued our counter clockwise travel around perimeter of Florida, making the short drive north to the Fort Lauderdale area.  We camped at Markham Park, very popular Broward County park.  After getting all settled in we made the short drive to visit Bill’s cousin Crystal and her family. We drove to Ft Lauderdale Beach to see how it compares to Miami Beach.IMG_20170322_144445IMG_20170322_140420IMG_20170322_140224IMG_20170322_152215

On Tuesday Bill met an old Boy Scout childhood friend for lunch and then did some target practice at the Markham Park rifle range.IMG_20170321_153114IMG_20170321_153111

IMG_20170320_133945The highlight of our visit was on Wednesday when we drove inland ninety minutes to the Seminole Indian Reservation to visit the Billie Swamp Safari.  What an amazing experience!!  We signed up for the day package which included an airboat ride, swamp buggy ride, a critter show and a venomous snake show.IMG_20170320_140112IMG_20170320_140643

First we went on the airboat ride which included earplugs because of the loud noise of the motor. It was fun to fly across the “River of Grass”, slowing down occasionally as the guide pointed out different animals and birds.  It was over far too quickly!20170320_14291320170320_14391220170320_14455720170320_14475720170320_14530920170320_14532320170320_145758

Next up was the Critter Show.  The host was a unique guy, part wise guy and part comedian, but very knowledgeable about the animals.  He picked different people from the audience to come up to handle the animals.  Once you were selected you couldn’t say no and you didn’t know until you got up there what you would have to handle.  I was rather nervous I would be selected to handle a snake.  In that case, no would mean no, and they would have to take me kicking and screaming from the room before I would do it.  Luckily I wasn’t selected to handle the tarantula, snake, skunk, alligator or ferret.20170320_155412

We had a little time before the venomous snake show so we walked around the property and saw a very rare Florida panther, a bobcat, two wolves, otters, a bear, exotic birds, crocodile and many alligators.20170320_15072320170320_18003620170320_17595420170320_18014620170320_18035320170320_180444


Red Tail Hawk sunning


Crested Caracara


Barred Owl


One huge alligator has the name Trump, he was named several years ago.20170320_150929

I can’t believe I agreed to go to the venomous snake show but I thought facing my fears and learning more about them would help.  I told Bill I wanted to sit on the top row far away from the host.  The host was extremely knowledgeable and didn’t expect anyone to come down front so that pressure was off.  He answered lots of questions including several from me such as “how long do you have to get help once you are bitten before you die?”.  I can’t say I loved the show but it was very informative and I was glad I went.20170320_16250220170320_16392120170320_164908

Our last activity of the day was the swamp buggy eco tour where we explored more of the swamp in an elevated buggy to get better views.  We thought the tour would be going more through water but mainly we were on land.  It was quite bumpy and lots of fun!  We saw bison, antelope, zebras and ostriches, including ostrich eggs, just to name a few.  At one point we had to wait for bison to get out of the road, reminding us of our visit to Yellowstone.  We even saw a baby bison, the youngest we have ever seen.20170320_17140520170320_17474920170320_17463020170320_17450120170320_17511120170320_173710

Much too soon the day was over and we left marveling at all we had seen and done in one day.  I would love to go back and do it all over again, even the snake show! We recommend this multi-hour adventure.

Next stop: Fort Pierce, Florida

Miami, FL Part 2 March 4, 2017

IMG_20170316_113049This blog continues with more of our time in Miami.  Even though it was Spring Break time for college students, we decided to drive to Miami Beach.  Rather than taking the interstate or turnpike, we took the scenic route Old Cutler Road.  The drive was beautiful with huge trees including banyan trees as well as azaleas in full bloom.  IMG_20170316_114429IMG_20170316_115547IMG_20170316_115730IMG_20170316_120418IMG_20170316_120715IMG_20170316_120857IMG_20170316_120914IMG_20170316_120940When we entered the Miami Beach city limits we began to see cruise ships and the traffic picked up.  IMG_20170316_125005IMG_20170316_125133We drove down Ocean Drive and as expected it was pretty crazy with throngs of scantily clad college students crowding the restaurants, roadways and beach.  IMG_20170316_132529IMG_20170316_132140IMG_20170316_132218IMG_20170316_132544IMG_20170316_132809We drove to the northern end of Miami Beach where it seemed a little calmer and after only a little time stalking for a spot, we found a parking space.  IMG_20170316_140955IMG_20170316_141031There was a very nice boardwalk sheltered from the sun and we found walking on it much more appealing than the crowded beach in the hot sun.  IMG_20170316_141419IMG_20170316_142346IMG_20170316_144037Pictures sometimes really are worth a thousand words so I will let the pictures do the talking.  One college student from Kentucky managed to get in Bill’s picture.  IMG_20170316_142642He told us he hated going back home to the cold weather the next day.  He said he had had a great time in Miami but had also made some bad decisions.  Sounds like stories I don’t want to know!  Along the boardwalk we passed big hotels including The Fountainebleau, featured in the 1964 James Bond movie “Goldfinger”.PANO_20170316_151621

IMG_20170318_145633On our last day in the Miami area we visited the Gold Coast Railroad Museum.  The museum is on the site of the former Naval Air Station Richmond, the largest coastline airship base built for World War II.  The museum featured exhibits of passenger cars, locomotives, freight cars and cabooses. IMG_20170318_132935IMG_20170318_140439IMG_20170318_140551IMG_20170318_141914IMG_20170318_144137IMG_20170318_144206IMG_20170318_144838Many of the trains were open to tour and some had exhibits inside on the history of train travel. Our main reason for wanting to visit the museum was to see the Ferdinand Magellan, a National Historic Landmark and the Pullman car built for President Franklin Roosevelt and used by the president beginning in December, 1942.IMG_20170318_134851  IMG_20170318_134817IMG_20170318_133942IMG_20170318_133938IMG_20170318_133823IMG_20170318_134012The train also carried Roosevelt’s body back to Washington after his death. The car has four bedrooms, a dining room and an observation lounge. There is 5/8 inch steel armor plating, three inch bullet proof glass and two escape hatches, one in the ceiling of the observation lounge and the other in the side wall of the shower in the presidential bathroom in the center of the train. IMG_20170318_133959At one time there was a special elevator installed on the platform for Roosevelt’s wheelchair but that was removed after his death.  This train was also the location where Truman held up the famous newspaper headline declaring “Dewey Defeats Truman”.  IMG_20170318_134817(1)IMG_20170318_134024IMG_20170318_134207Four presidents used the train, with the last official use ending in 1954.  Ronald Reagan used the train for one day in 1984 during his presidential campaign as part of a whistle stop tour. Due to extreme deterioration of the interior, tours of the inside have been very limited.  But we asked about seeing the inside and the guide graciously offered to unlock the door and let us walk through.  It was amazing to walk through the car and imagine the history that unfolded there.  The guide told us Roosevelt’s casket was placed on the dining room table and we could visualize presidents waving from the platform. The inside smelled very old and much restoration still needs to be done to preserve this piece of history.  According to the museum’s brochure they are waiting for funding.IMG_20170318_134228

We ended our last day in Miami by having dinner at Casavana, an excellent Cuban restaurant.

From Bill Baggs State Park to Biscayne National Park to touring Miami Beach to historic Gold Coast Railroad Museum, we had a great time in Miami!!

Next stop: Fort Lauderdale

Miami, FL Part 1 March 4, 2017

We reluctantly said farewell to our alligator friends at Big Cypress National Preserve and headed towards Miami.  Fortunately we moved the day before smoke from wildfires blanketed the Big Cypress National Preserve.  We encountered some road construction and then arrived at our destination for the next fifteen days, Larry and Penny Thompson Memorial Park located in South Miami Heights.  This is a large, popular county park located about twenty miles south of downtown Miami.  It is so popular that reservations are very hard to get, as are many parks in southern Florida in the winter.

Our campground, as is all of Miami, is located in a culturally diverse community.  One quickly feels like the minority in this area of south Florida.  Miami has changed quite a bit since it was once called “The Magic City” and was viewed as a winter playground for the rich and famous.  Between 1960 and 2000 the Miami metro area grew by 141%, with a large number being people from Cuba as well as Puerto Rico and many foreign countries.IMG_20170309_142049

IMG_20170309_133654On Wednesday we drove over to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.  We enjoyed the beautiful views located in the park.  Juan Ponce de Leon called the area Cape of Florida when he landed here on his first Spanish expedition to Florida in 1513.  The park is home to a lighthouse built in 1825 and reconstructed in 1846.  It is the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County.  Near the lighthouse is a reconstructed lighthouse keeper’s house, Bill and I enjoyed the nice water views from the rocking chairs on the front porch.00001IMG_00001_BURST20170309121308IMG_20170309_122342IMG_20170309_121046IMG_20170309_120741IMG_20170309_120607

From the Biscayne Bay side of the park, we had views of the remains of what was once Stiltsville, a group of wood shacks built on stilts.  It is believed the first shack was built in 1933 toward the end of Prohibition by Crawfish Eddie Walker.  He built the shack for gambling which was legal a mile offshore.  A few years later two of Eddie’s friends built shacks on stilts and between shipwrecks and channel dredging, more people built stilt shacks.  IMG_20170309_121858IMG_20170309_115328IMG_20170309_115317Newspapers began calling the area “the shacks” or the “Shack Colony” and in the 1940’s and 1950’s it was a popular place for lawyers, bankers and politicians to drink and relax, including Florida Governor LeRoy Collins.  Various social clubs were built on stilts shacks and when rumors of gambling persisted, the clubs were raided in 1949 but no evidence of gambling was ever found.  Crawfish Eddie’s shack was destroyed by Hurricane King in 1950. Most of the remainder structures were damaged by Hurricane Donna in 1960.  In 1965 the state required shack owners to pay $100 annually to lease their “campsites”.  No new construction was permitted, no commercial leases, and no shacks more than 50% damaged could be rebuilt.  In 1980 the area fell within the boundary of Biscayne National Park.  The leases were still honored. At the beginning of 1992 there were fourteen shacks but after Hurricane Andrew struck that same year, only seven remained.  The Stiltsville Trust was formed in 2003 to save the remaining structures with caretakers doing periodic maintenance and park personnel installing hurricane strapping to try to prevent damage from major storms, all in an effort to save the historic structures.  Over the years Stiltsville has been the setting for movies, TV shows and books.

We enjoyed a nice picnic lunch where we were visited by some new friends.IMG_20170309_135934 20170309_125255 (1) We then went down to the beach and enjoyed dipping our toes in the Atlantic Ocean.  We enjoyed the views of Miami during the drive over and back.IMG_20170309_133405IMG_20170309_131840

IMG_20170315_142949Another day we drove to Biscayne National Park.  This park is located thirty-five miles south of Miami International Airport, twenty-one miles east of the Everglades, and is the northernmost part of the Florida Keys.  IMG_20170315_143542First established as a monument in 1968 and later as a national park in 1980, it is made up of 181,500 acres, with only 5% of the park land.  The other 95% of the park is submerged or made up of small islands only accessible by boat.  It is a paradise of crystal clear aquamarine waters and lush seabeds.  It is composed of the longest stretch of mangrove forest on Florida’s east coast and part of the world’s third longest coral reef tract.  We drove to the land part of the park at Convoy Point and visited the Dante Farrell Visitors Center where we saw an excellent film on the park’s ecosystems.  We walked along the boardwalk where we saw a stingray, barracuda, schools of fish and views of a distant Miami.IMG_20170315_152222

In the next blog we will continue our explorations of Miami.

Big Cypress National Preserve & Shark Valley, March 1, 2017

20170228_131237We left Wauchula after a sixteen day stay and headed south to Big Cypress National Preserve.  As we got closer to our campground we began counting alligators in the canals alongside the road.  We arrived for a four night stay at Midway Campground in the Big Cypress National Preserve, a nice campground arranged around a small lake.  The campground has electric sites with water and a dump station nearby.IMG_20170301_113459IMG_20170301_113759IMG_20170301_114137

Big Cypress National Preserve was the first national preserve in the National Park System.  It is a 729,000 acre wilderness of cypress swamps, prairies and wooded regions.  It is home to a multitude of wildlife including bobcats and the Florida panther.

IMG_20170301_141843On Thursday we visited the Oasis Visitor Center with a boardwalk viewing area where we saw many alligators.   We drove down through Everglades City to Chokoloskee with beautiful water views.  On the way back to the campground we went on a sixteen mile scenic drive looking for alligators.  It took a couple hours to drive the sixteen miles since the road was gravel and like a washboard in many places.  It was very dusty and made quite a mess of the car!  In the beginning we didn’t see many alligators and as we neared the end of the drive we thought we had wasted our time.  But the last few miles were loaded with alligators sunbathing and lounging on the banks and along the side of the road.  They really didn’t seem to be bothered with us and ignored us.  A park ranger told us they are most active at night.  It appears they do most of their hunting and eating at night.  During the day they are lazy and sleep while basking in the sun.  Final alligator total for this  day was 66.IMG_20170301_155837IMG_20170301_155557

Friday we had reservations to ride the tram at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. First of all, Shark Valley does not have sharks.  It is predominantly a fresh water sawgrass prairie that floods each year to become a shallow thirty mile wide river.  This water flows south into the Shark River which was named for the bull sharks found at the mouth of the river.  Shark Valley lies between two higher ridges making the area a valley.  So because it is a valley that flows into the Shark River, it is called Shark Valley.IMG_20170303_093246IMG_20170303_111331IMG_20170303_103215

The first thing we did at Shark Valley was ride the tram.  For $19 each we had a two hour, fifteen mile tram ride around Shark Valley guided by a park ranger.  We saw many alligators, turtles and just as many birds, including an egret nest with two babies.  IMG_20170303_115259We rode by some baby alligators and didn’t have a chance to really see them, so after the ride was over we walked a mile back to get a better view.  The mother was guarding her babies so we were afraid to get too close.  Since this is the dry season, many of the alligators were sunning themselves on the banks, sometime right at the edge of the roadway.IMG_20170303_124234IMG_20170303_124351IMG_20170303_124402

After leaving Shark Valley we took a different scenic drive home.  We didn’t see many alligators, but the final alligator count for Shark Valley and the scenic drive was 106!IMG_20170303_122149IMG_20170303_122709IMG_20170303_141311IMG_20170303_141330

We certainly enjoyed our time in this area.  Next stop: Miami.