Friday, December 19, 2014

How to Stick Out Like a Sore Thumb...

...Drive an F350 dually to Weston, Florida.

Bill and I drove over to meet Bill's brother, Jon, and his wife, Ale, for lunch at Duffy's Sports Grill at Weston Town Center.  As we were looking for a parking spot that could accommodate our truck, we couldn't help but notice we were surrounded by BMWs, Mercedes, Lexus and even a Maserati.  We also  couldn't help but notice the looks we received from the folks driving the BMWs, Mercedes, Lexus and Maserati.  I'm glad we had removed the bikes from the roof, or no telling what kind of looks we would have gotten.

We had a nice lunch with Jon and Ale and a good visit at their home afterwards.  Jon is recently retired and has a beautiful home with lovely gardens all around.  They are in the midst of redoing the kitchen.  Nice to visit, but Bill and I are so glad we are not homeowners with all that entails.

On another occasion, Bill and I were back in Naples having dinner with his sister, Mary, cousin Dick, and his partner, Doug.  We all haven't been together in about 8 years.  What fun!  Thank goodness  it was a noisy restaurant or we may have been asked to leave due to our laughing so loudly.

Tonight is our last night in the swamp.  Mary is coming by after work to spend the night with us, so she can see us close up and hook up the rig tomorrow morning.  Bill will grill a rack of ribs for supper, and then we'll relax by a campfire.  Mary says she feels like she's going to Girl Scout camp.

Bill and I have thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the swamp…alligators, birds and family.  What could be better?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Enjoying Family and the Swamp

Bill and I are taking advantage of south Florida's beautiful weather and getting out as much as we can.  On Sunday, we spent the day in Naples, visiting with Bill's sister, Mary.  We drove over and went to church with her and then she showed us her new house.  Well, she's been in the house for almost two years, but it's new since we last visited.

She has a beautiful home, and while I enjoyed visiting with Mary, I enjoyed visiting our furniture as well.  When Bill and I hit the road in 2000, we gave most of our furniture to Mary.  The furniture is beautiful mahogany pieces that have been in the family for years.  It was so nice to see them being used and taken care of.

Monday was a day for a bike ride.  We did the 15-mile loop ride in the Shark Valley area of Everglades National Park.  It was a blast! We saw lots of wildlife, mostly alligators and birds.  It does appear that we beat most of the snowbirds (the real birds…not people) to south Florida because we didn't see a lot of variety.  But it was great to be out in the warm sun, wearing shorts even.

You can see how flat the trail was…perfect for us beginners!

Biking with gators alongside the trail was something new for us.  Believe me, we were more interested in them than they were of us.

At one point, we parked the bikes to take a short walk down one of the trails along the bike path.
However, we didn't get very far.  I must say, this is the first time we've had to turn around due to a gator on the trail…now, bison on the trail, that's another story.
As we enjoyed our snack, we watched this crow trying to open the pack on this bike.  I guess we could have scared him off, but it was fun watching him unzip the pack.  He never got it all the way open, gave up and flew away.

This was a special sighting…baby alligators.  Mom was close by, so we didn't get too close.

After our bike ride, we took the "loop" road back home.  This road is a mostly dirt road that leaves Hwy 41 and goes through Big Cypress Preserve before connecting back to Hwy 41, about 25 miles later.  Again, we saw lots of wildlife.

This was our favorite shot of the day…otters!  Otters are one of my all-time favorite critters, and we never expected to see them here in the swamp.
And I don't think I need to explain this last picture…..

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Yes, Florida Does Have Bears

On Friday, Bill and I took a 5 mile hike in Wekiwa Springs State Park.  We had taken notice of the bulletin board about black bears in the area, but I wondered what are the chances of seeing a bear…in central Florida of all places.  

Well, apparently, the chances were pretty good!  About one mile into the hike we see a black bear about 100 feet off the trail.  He was staring at us, and we were staring at him.  As soon as Bill yelled, "Hey, bear, get out of here," the bear meandered off into the woods.  It all happened too fast to get any pictures, but it was very cool.

A little later we came upon a few deer, and, yes, I was able to get a picture.
On Saturday we headed to Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida.  We finally found the warm weather!  75 sunny degrees! 

We actually sat out for a while, grilled burgers, and enjoyed a pretty sunset.
We are staying in Midway Campground, which has special meaning for us.  We stayed in this same campground on February 12, 2000, our first night as full timers…almost 15 years ago!  Wow!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Social Butterflies

Social butterflies isn't a term I would normally use to describe Bill and me.  Don't get me wrong…we enjoy our friends but usually in small doses.  Since arriving in central Florida, we have been running like crazy…but that's a good thing.

We arrived to Apopka, Florida on Monday and are in a nice site in another beautiful Florida state park, Wekiwa Springs State Park.  We were surprised to find we had full hook-ups.  When I was checking site availability on-line a few days before our arrival, there was just one site available that could accommodate our rig for the days we wanted, so I snagged it, not realizing it had a sewer hook-up, in addition to the normal water and electric.
We were also surprised to find a tent in our site.  Since this campground takes site specific reservations, the rangers couldn't simply move folks around and open up a site for us.  (We do this all the time in Yellowstone.)  Eventually, the rangers removed the tent, and we moved in.  We spoke with the rangers later, and it appears the tent was simply abandoned, as no one ever claimed it.  (This happens in Yellowstone, too.)

The past three days, we have met friends for lunch and dinner…all over central Florida, from Titusville to Leesburg to Winter Garden.  Mostly these have been Yellowstone friends, so I've decided to start calling central Florida "Yellowstone East."  It was great seeing everyone, and we hope to see some of them again in Yellowstone next summer.

During one of our free afternoons, Bill and I took a bike ride around the park.  Sure enough, we saw a bunch of turkeys, just like I read about in the park reviews.

And here is the spring for which the park is named.  Swimming is allowed, and there were a few folks splashing around, but it was too chilly for either of us.

With all of our socializing over, we will have Friday to ourselves.  I'm sure we'll find something to get into.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Murrells Inlet, SC - Part 2

I love visiting an area where we have friends who are willing to share their local knowledge.  It sure saves time on researching to find what to do in the area.

On Friday Linda and Lenny came by and we did a bike ride from the park.  Our first stop was at a "castle" called Atalaya.  Atalaya, which means watchtower in Spanish, was the winter home of industrialist and philanthropist Archer Huntington and his wife, the sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington.  It was built in 1931 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Archer Huntington was the son of Arabella Huntington and railroad magnate and industrialist Collis P. Huntington. Archer inherited his fortune, and some say he never worked a day in his life.  They like to say the father earned all the money, and the son spent it all.  However, we are all benefactors of his wealth.  

When he built Atalaya in 1931, he hired local folks and kept them employed during the great depression.  He founded The Hispanic Society of America in New York City, in addition to Brookgreen Gardens, which lies across the street from Atalaya.  The land where Huntington Beach State Park is located was once part of his plantation.

Atalaya was built with no blue prints and is very, shall I say, unique.

After visiting Atalaya, we continued our bike ride, heading south out of the park.

Of course I had to stop along the way and take a few pictures.
Here's Bill, Lenny, and Linda, waiting patiently while I took the pictures.

 After our bike ride, we had a delicious seafood dinner at Gulfstream Cafe in Garden Beach, SC and then came back to our site for a nice campfire.

On Saturday we had planned to take our bikes to Georgetown and ride through the historic district.  

Well, it turns out Georgetown was having its Christmas parade on Saturday, so instead of riding bikes, we watched a Christmas parade.  But before the parade we had some time to kill, so we took a stroll along the riverfront.

And then we headed back to main street for the parade.  I haven't been to a small town parade in several years.  It was a lot of fun and lasted about 1 1/2 hours.  It seems all the locals turned out.  Here are a few pictures.

 Of course there were a few high school marching bands:
But I have to admit, we were all surprised to see a back hoe in a Christmas parade.
And, of course, it wouldn't be a Christmas parade without Santa and Mrs. Claus, riding on a United States Coast Guard boat, no less.
 After the parade, it was lunch time along the water front.

Before heading back home, we walked to a shrimp market to get some fresh shrimp for dinner.  Here are a couple of pictures made on the way:

 Bill and I had a very busy and very enjoyable visit to Murrells Inlet, thanks to our friends, Lenny and Linda.  There is so much to see and do in this area, we could have stayed all winter!  We will definitely return!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Murrells Inlet, South Carolina

Bill and I are now in Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, SC. Once again, we have a great site with lots of room.   On this trip, we are trying as much as possible to avoid privately-owned RV parks.  We much prefer to have a little room around us than to be packed in like sardines.

Yesterday morning, Bill and I went for a nice bike ride.  There is a paved bike trail that borders the state park, and we ended up doing about 10 miles.  
We saw lots of cool birds, but no alligators.  I guess it's too chilly for the gators to be out.

 Our main reason for stopping in this area is to visit Yellowstone friends, Lenny and Linda.  Bill and I have worked with them the past two summers at Canyon Campground.  They came by and we went for a walk along the beach.

After dinner, the four of us went to Brookgreen Gardens' Christmas celebration, "Nights of a Thousand Candles."  Brookgreen Gardens has a beautiful collection of American sculptures in an outdoor setting.  For Christmas, they decorate with candles and lights and have local entertainment in tents around the park.  Thankfully the temperature was perfect and the crowds were manageable.  I'm sure it will get more crowded as we approach Christmas.

We got there just in time to see the lighting of the Christmas tree.
And there were lights and candles everywhere.  According to the brochure, the number of candles used in the 9-day event are 54,000 votives, 1,500 pillars & 4,500 tea candles.  In addition there are 500,000 mini lights and 350,000 LED lights.  It creates a truly magical experience.
 If visiting "Nights of a Thousand Candles" doesn't get you in the Christmas spirit, I don't know what will.  

If you happen to find yourself in the Murrells Inlet/Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina, be sure to visit Brookgreen Gardens.  It is definitely a one-of-a-kind place, even if it's not the Christmas season.

One other thing…Huntington Beach State Park is across the highway from Brookgreen Gardens, making it very convenient.