Gulf Islands National Seashore: 12/28 – 12/31

It rained for most of our time in Southern Florida which was considered unusual since it was dry season.  We had maybe four nice days out of the 17 days we were there.  On the day that we left Markham State Park, we had to wait for the rain to subside.

As we travelled west and then north on 75, the rain continued.  We drove several hours and stopped at Ocala Sun RV Resort for the night. It appeared that perhaps the rain was finally going to stop.

Ocala Resort is a rather large, newly renovated RV resort located just west of Hwy 75 not far from the pan handle and Hwy 40 which heads west.  It seemed like a good place to stop driving and call it a day. Unfortunately, for a reason unbeknownst to me, I was having difficulty falling asleep.  I got out of bed and sat up reading on the couch.  My cough would still prevail.  I finally got up to get some honey and lemon.  As I reached for the handle of the refrigerator, I was eye level and only about ten inches from a rather large frog that was hanging out of the side of our fridge.  Well, I SCREAMED bloody murder.  Scott jumped out of bed not knowing why I was losing it.  I couldn’t speak but merely pointed toward the now hopping creature.  He didn’t tell me at the time that he didn’t want to touch it because a lot of tree frogs have poisonous skin. He also didn’t tell me that it was most likely the same frog that had taken up rent on our picnic table back at Markham Park in Weston.

I recall the day that Scott told me we had a new pet living outside of the trailer, but I wasn’t interested in frogman.  Now, in the middle of the night, I just wanted him to get it OUT OF MY HOUSE and fast.  Scott turned toward me with a pointed figure and yelled at me to STOP screaming.  I was so stunned that not only did I stop screaming, but I also stopped coughing.  LOL. You cannot make this stuff up.  He finally caught the frog in Tupperware, and tossed him out the door.  Then, I became obsessed with cleaning the areas that our ex-pet had travelled upon.  I was completely grossed out, but I was no longer coughing.  Finally, I went to bed and slept. 

Back in May of 2018 when we began full-timing, I recall telling Scott that if we found any creature in our trailer, I would be leaving for good.  We both had to be conscious of not leaving the screen door open so that the scary creatures would stay outside in their habitat and not enter ours. I think that during our first 20 months on the road, we had only a couple of flies, a few moths, and two beetles find their way into our home.  It wasn’t a big deal, as I was more concerned with reptiles making an unwelcome visit.  So, here we were with a frog freaking me out in the middle of the night.  I was half asleep, not feeling well, and certainly not expecting to see what I saw without any warning.  I chose to hang around and not leave.  

Sorry for the sidebar about the frog, but it was a pretty significant event in my opinion.  It could have been a game changer…but lucky for Scott, it wasn’t.

The next morning, we headed west on Route 40 towards Gulf Shores National Seashore.  This National Park is a two-state, 160-mile park that offers many recreational opportunities and beautiful white, sandy beaches.  We chose Fort Pickens which is south of Pensacola Bay in Florida.  Years ago, Pensacola Bay had been chosen as the site for a navy yard, a depot, mainland and island forts, a naval timber reserve and more.  It’s Third System masonry forts represents over 200 years of innovation in military design, materials weapons, and strategy aimed to fortify major US harbors after the War of 1812.  Interestingly enough, it was also the reason why it was abandoned decades later.  Of the nearly 200 forts recommended nationwide, only 42 were built.  Today, the park preserves five sites.  

It had finally stopped raining as we drove over the Pensacola Bay Bridge, Route 98, to Gulf Breeze Island. 

Then, we crossed over Santa Rosa Sound and onto Fort Pickens Road.  As we drove west, the GPS map reminded us that we were on a very narrow piece of land with water on both sides.  

When we arrived at the Fort Pickens Campground Registration, there was a long line.  Scott wanted to watch the sunset, but he needed to wait on line.  So, I snuck outside to catch a last peak for the day.  Just look at that white sand!

Scott soon joined me and took a short video with my camera.

After we got settled, we walked down to the beach.  It was only a five minute walk from our campsite.  It was now 5:43 p.m.

The next morning, Scott got up early to catch the sunrise.  

The sun was shining but the temperature had fallen from yesterday.  It was 45 degrees overnight and by early morning, it was still chilly. 

Scott got busy working on the trailer while I happily read my book inside the trailer.

My talented husband!

By late morning, the temperature had risen to 61 degrees and the sun was shining!  Since it wasn’t exactly swimming weather, we got our bikes and went for a ride.  Fort Pickens is the park’s largest fort.  It has been partially restored and reveals how its construction has developed over time. 

After walking around the fort, we got back on our bikes and came to a small, wooden bridge where we could observe the quiet marshes and birds.  

We made our way back out to the main road and onto the shore. The sun felt warm on our skin, but not warm enough for me to go for a swim.

I found a happy spot.

You know who had no issues with the cold air coupled with cold water.

Time to dry off.

The following morning, New Year’s Eve Day, we took a morning walk to the beach. It was another beautiful morning.

What appeared to be a straight path to the water, ended up being a drop off of about 30 feet.

Here we would find a beautiful crane looking for breakfast.

We both would love the opportunity to go back to these beaches in warmer weather.  I now have another repeat location on my list of places to see. Now it was time to exit Florida.

Everglades National Park: 12/14/19

“Everglades National Park is an American national park that protects the southern twenty percent of the original Everglades in Florida. The park is the largest tropical wilderness in the United States, and the largest wilderness of any kind east of the Mississippis River. An average of one million people visit the park each year. Everglades is the third-largest national park in the contiguous United States after Death Valley and Yellowstone. Most national parks preserve unique geographic features; Everglades National Park was the first created to protect a fragile ecosystem. The Everglades are a network of wetlands and forests fed by a river flowing 0.25 miles (0.40 km) per day out of Lake Okeechobee, southwest into Florida Bay. The park is the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America and contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. Thirty-six threatened or protected species inhabit the park, including the Florida panther, the American crocodile, and the West Indian manatee, along with 350 species of birds, 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish, 40 species of mammals, and 50 species of reptiles.”

Who knew? I was aware of the fact that my sister’s home in Weston, Florida, was built on the Everglades. In the twenty years that she has lived there, I went to visit dozens of times. Yet, I never once went to the National Park. My biggest fear is that of alligators. Route 75 (also known as Alligator Alley) runs west out of Weston to Naples. Take one guess why they call it Alligator Alley. We continued west on 75 to Route 29 South to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center. After watching a few historical movies, we took a break on the water’s edge enjoying the view. We wondered if we were looking at one of the Ten Thousand Islands, a chain of islands and mangrove islets off the coast of southwest Florida, between Cape Romano and the mouth of the Lostman’s River.

Mangrove or Island?

We went back north and then headed east on Tamiami Trail (Route 41) and entered Big Cypress National Preserve.

Big Cypress National Preserve is a United States National Preserve located in South Florida about 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of Miami on the Atlantic coastal plain. Unlike the vast sea of grass that makes up the Everglades, Big Cypress has five primary habitats: Hardwood hammocks, Pineland, Prairies, Cypress swamps, and Estuaries. The Preserve is open all year, but the Visitor Centers are closed on December 25. From December through April, rangers lead programs including swamp walks, canoe tours, talks and amphitheater programs. Recreation options include bird watching, wildflower viewing, bicycling, canoeing, hunting and off-road vehicle explorations. There are several parks with boardwalk trails along Tamiami Trail. We stopped at Ochopee first and chatted with a friendly ranger.

It would be here that we would see our first alligator!

I needed to mail some postcards, so we made a quick stop at the post office.

All this walking was making us hungry. There was one restaurant in the area. It was both bizarre and yummy.

Drinks are self served

Our next stop was H.P. Williams Roadside Park.

We took a short walk and snapped a few pictures of our friends below us.

Aren’t they cute?

Our next stop was at Kirby Storter Roadside Park where we enjoyed a long walk along another boardwalk. Since it was winter’s dry season, you could tell how high the water level had been during the wet season.

Cypress Swamp

We got back in the truck and continued east to Loop Road, otherwise known as County Road 94. It is 24 miles long and is south of the current path of Tamiami Trail. The rangers at the Visitor’s Center had suggested we take a ride on this unpaved road. It was quiet and magical as we drove for miles, stopping to catch photos of gators and birds.

Brave, isn’t he? I took my pictures from the truck!

We exited the park at the Tamiami Ranger Station located on the southeast side. Scott would return for an overnight solo kayak trip on December 20. Before he left, I wanted to know his EXACT plan. I wasn’t thrilled about his solo journey, but I knew I would have high anxiety if I joined him. He entered Everglades National Park via Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center from the east and traveled to Flamingo Visitor Center to obtain his overnight permit. He parked at Hells Bay Canoe Trail, and planned to sleep in a lean to on Pearl Bay Chickee Island. He saw one group of four people along the way, and he was able to get some footage with his GoPro.

After two hours paddling through the mangroves, he stopped to take a quick break. As he got back into the water, the kayak flipped over and he lost his drinking water. It was a quick but difficult decision to abort this journey. After all, there would be no place to get fresh water. Needless to say, this is EXACTLY why I wouldn’t go with him. There are gators in those waters…even though he never saw any.

Florida – “The Sunshine State”: 12/10 – 12/28/19

On the morning of Tuesday, 12/10, we took 278W out of Hilton Head Island to 95S to 4W towards Orlando. We passed briefly through Georgia, and took a moment to stop at a Rest Area. It was a hot, beautiful day.

It wasn’t long before we would enter The Sunshine State.

We wanted to break up the driving from Hilton Head to Fort Lauderdale, so we stopped at about the half way mark. We found an RV Park in Orlando to spend the night.

That evening, we met my friend Lori’s daughter, Tracey, and her husband, Joe, at a restaurant in Windermere – Signature Lakes. It was a gorgeous night, and it was great to spend it talking with friends.

When we were getting ready to leave the next morning, we saw a little friend in our yard. I wasn’t quite sure what it was at first. Can you identify it?

We arrived at our home for the next 17 days within five hours.

This beautiful state park is located just outside of Weston, and only a 15 minute drive to my sister’s home. We had site C6 that abutted a canal. Truth be told, we didn’t see ONE gator in the park while we were here. This was a fear that I had during the entire stay, and it never materialized.

This 666-acre park features 11 miles of bike trails plus model airplane field and lakes for jet skiing. It has a popular doggie park (Markham Barkham), playgrounds, tennis courts, 18-hole frisbee golf course, picnic areas, and an outdoor fitness area. It also has a shooting range for skeet, pistols, and archery. While we were there, we watched a RC (remote control) Boat competition. Unfortunately, it rained A LOT during our stay. It rained just about every night, and the mountain bike trails were closed the entire time due to the muddy conditions that were created. We did, however, take a ride along the canal on one of our last days there. We were able to get a view of our campsite from the opposite direction.

Besides being in Florida to celebrate Christmas with family, we also got to be a part of some special events and reconnect with old friends.

My nephew, Cody, graduated from University of Miami on 12/12/19.
Lunch and at the Boatyard in Fort Lauderdale for my sister, Rosie’s, birthday on 12/15/19.
Prime Time Bar & Grill in Weston for my brother-in-law, Dean’s, birthday 12/18/19.
My dearest Lipton friend, Debi, in her home.
Playing tourists in Jupiter.
Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum
A wee bit windy on top.
Gorgeous eastern view from the top.
The Spirit of Lauderdale Sunset Catamaran Cruise on 12/26/19.

And finally, the only picture that I have of all of us…and my phone was on Portrait. Oops. I would have preferred to have my family in focus and my face blurry. LOL

During this visit, Scott and I visited Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. A separate blog will detail this event.

Next, we will head north in Florida to the white, sandy beaches in the panhandle.