Swamp Fever

We’ve moved our base of operations ten miles east of Marco Island to Collier-Seminole State Park. While the park doesn’t offer much in the way of a “camping” experience it puts us in easy striking distance for the numerous parks in the Everglades.

The campground is on the western edge of the Everglades nestled up to a mangrove swamp, popular with canoeists and kayakers. The Tamiami Trail (Rt. 41)was developed in the twenties using a technological advancement that made it possible to break up the oolitic limestone that forms the bedrock of the Everglades. Manufactured in Bay City Michigan this dredge was used to break up and pile limestone chunks to create a road connecting the west and east coast of Florida. We took a scenic drive through the Big Cypress Swamp, a loop drive off US 41.

This water teams with life. Hundreds of fish make the surface boil, alligators lurk beneath and birds stalk the fringes – often perched on cypress knees.

Further to the east is Shark Valley In Everglades National Park. Here is a fifteen mile paved bike path which takes you through a “river of grass” bordered by canals thick with alligators. The Everglades NP is the largest nature preserve east of the Mississippi (1.3 million acres).

Seven miles out on the trail is an observation tower. We parked our bikes and walked up the tower. When we returned we met this clever crow who figured out how to work a zipper and snag what was stashed away. He(she) got away with out graham crackers. On the way back to camp we stopped to mail a package.

This building was pressed into service in the 1950’s. Once a shed for irrigation pumps, it is now the post office for Ochopee- and since last fall’s hurricane- the only one in the area with a working scale. In fact this area was hit hard in the last hurricane – you can see evidence of it everywhere.We took a day and drove up to Fort Myers to check out the Edison & Ford Estates. It was a full day of wandering the exhibits and grounds. The estates sit on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River.

Pool AreaOne of Edison’s labs

Then there are the beaches on Marco Island.

Our shelling haul

Part Three-Down by the River

When we travel we don’t linger in one spot for to long. Our reluctance to stay put is a fear of running out of places to explore. That has not been the case here at Myakka River State Park or this part of the Florida coast.We’ve enjoyed visiting with friends, hanging around camp and filling our days with lots of hiking, biking and wildlife viewing.

Apparently vulture poop is quite fertile-This green grass grows under the trees where they roost every evening. It also happens to be right behind our campsite.

Across the road from the park is the Myakka River Wilderness Preserve. Located in the Preserve is Lower Myakka Lake and Deep Hole. Access to Deep Hole is limited to 30 people a day. There’s a 2.2 mile hike to the hole and most of it is through a sunny prairie with the ocassional pine island or oak hammock for shade.

Deep Hole is actually a 130 foot deep sinkhole where alligators converge to enjoy the cool water and sunny shores. It’s quite a sight to see these prehistoric -looking creatures just hanging out. The day we visited, we spotted about 80 alligators and at least as many black headed vultures.

Deep HoleLower Myakka Lake

Sunset over the prairie

This is a cutaway image of a shell midden located on Spanish Point near the town of Osprey. Shell middens are the ancient garbage dumps of the eastern woodland natives.

Spanish Point is a peninsula jutting out through mangroves on Little Sarasota Bay. By all accounts it has been a popular spot for human habitation for thousands of years. This 20 ft high shell midden was excavated in the 1920’s when the property owner needed a space to park his car. Fortunately someone recognized the importance of the site and saved the midden for scientific research. Prehistoric people occupied the site from 5000 years ago – and they abandoned the site about 1000 years ago. Between 1959 and 1962, scientists excavated a burial mound at the site and used carbon 14 dating (a new technology at the time) to determine the age of the artifacts they found.

Bertha Palmer bought 350 acres on Spanish Point in 1910. She saved some of the cottages on the Point and developed gardens as she planned her winter estate. Bertha was an early real estate developer in the Sarasota environs.

What would a trip to Sarasota be without a visit to the circus?

We lucked out with the circus being in town. The acts were unbelievable. It was a magical 2 1/2 hours with feats of daring and strength.

These two brought the house down. They were amazingly agile. But no trip to Florida is complete without plenty of beach time.Beach goon. Nokomis Beach Drum Circle on Casey Key

Two ways to get ready for a sunset

Part Two-Down by the River

We’ve been using Myakka River as a base to explore Sarasota and the surrounding area. Sarasota is home to the Ringling Museum and estate. The museum houses a large art museum as well as a circus museum. We spent two afternoons wandering the grounds.

The Circus Museum houses an immense scale model of the Ringling Circus as it would be set up in the 1930’s. It is the creation of Howard Tibbals and his life’s work. These photos do not do justice to the detail and care that went into creating the model. Must be seen.

Lots vintage posters on display

The grounds of the estate are on Sarasota Bay. The park like setting offers beautiful gardens and art for viewing. David is spending Winter in Sarasota this year.

Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads

Part of the museum’s new Asian wingDetail of Ringling’s home

We met up with Bruce and Loretta to check out Sarasota’s Saturday farmers market. We had a fun morning. Through the miracle of Facebook we connected with a high school classmate that Pat hasn’t seen in thirty years or was it fifty. We spent an afternoon catching up. Pat and ConnieJeffery

The last time we were in this part of Florida was 1980. Needless to say things have changed.

The Legacy Trail is a newer rails to trails bike path that runs between Sarasota and Venice with a side trail along the Intercostal Waterway to Caspersen Beach.

We made a quick stop in Venice to get silly.

But wait!!!–We still have another week in this area so watch for another post from West-central Florida.

Down By The River

After a lovely stay near the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay we’ve moved south and inland to Myakka River State Park. Site 13, Big Flats Campground

We were happy to get a spot at this popular campground. There are lots of birds here but by far the most common are Black Vultures.

It turns out that Site 13 backs up to a stand of palms where they come nightly to roost. Every night at sundown they swarm into the tops of the palms to settle in for the night. The real issue here is they stink. At times it feels like we’re camping next to a chicken coop. But, there’s lots to do and we don’t spend a great deal of time in camp.

Fortunately, there are lots of other birds and wildlife in the park. Sandhill Crane

Black-crowned Night-Heron (juvenile) And lots of these

A large prairie-river system dominates the park.

There’s plenty to do in and around the park. In the park there is birding, biking, hiking and a canopy walk.

The Park is situated near Sarasota, Siesta Key and Venice. Our plans include a visit to each of these areas.

We decided to take a drive and spend the day on Siesta Key. The beach here has been rated best beach in Florida based on the sand quality. It’s very fine and white and draws a lot of people to the beach.

We’ll be here for one more week. The adventure continues…

Holding Down the Fort-part two

When we travel we tend not to linger in one spot to long. We’ve been at Fort De Soto ten days which has allowed us to more fully explore the area and connect with old friends and family.Bruce & Loretta with Pat

We connected with some former Rochesterians who have taken up residence in Bradenton. We spent a lovely afternoon touring the area with a stop in Sarasota.

The beaches, the bike paths and birds make an extended stay at Fort De Soto worthwhile.

Pat’s brother Mike and his wife Donna came over to camp with their grandson Maddox.

Being at the beach doesn’t get old and we’ll miss walking the beaches at Fort De Soto and watching the sun set on the Gulf of Mexico.

We are getting ready to move down the coast to Myakka River State Park just south of Sarasota. We won’t be on the Gulf but we have a new area to explore.

Holding Down the Fort – part one

Part of the mortar battery that defended Fort De Soto. The Fort was built on the Gulf of Mexico after the US entered into the Spanish American War.

The Fort is part of a larger park that includes a campground. We’ve been here before and love the beaches and the biking as well as easy access to St. Petersburg and Tampa.

This is South Beach on Tampa Bay. At the southern most end of the beach you can observe a number of nesting Osprey. A four mile ride takes you to the more popular North Beach on the Gulf of Mexico.

This long expanse of beach is great for hunting for shells, people watching and birding. Our haul. We saw these fishermen as we walked the beach.

Having easy access to Tampa and St. Petersburg opens up lots of restaurant and museum options. We love ramen and when we travel we always check out the local ramen offerings. We found a winner in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa with Ichicoro Ramen. St. Petersburg has a number of world class museums, a Dali Museum, the Chihuly Collection and the Florida Holocaust Museum. Our first stop was the Chihuly Collection that is part of the Morean Art Center.

We then spent an emotional two hours in the Florida Holocaust Museum. We’ve not been to a Holocaust museum before. A very powerful experience. They had one of the cattle cars used to transport Jews to concentration camps in Poland(120 people per car). The rails that it sets on come from the Treblinka Concentration Camp. We were struck by the timeline of events from 1933 through 1939. It was chilling to realize how civil rights were stripped in a slow and steady progression until the final solution. It was a somber reminder of the need to remain vigilant to any erosion of our rights — but the stories of resistance and survival were inspiring.

Country Living

This is our first visit to Alafia River State Park about 40 minutes east of Tampa. It’s a small quiet campground with an abundance of bird life and miles of mountain bike trails. Site 25

The river and ponds support a wide variety of water birds. Every evening a couple hundred egrets gather in the reeds across this pond. It’s quite a sight to see them arrive and leave each day.

Florida is basically a flat state but it has a surprisingly challenging trail system. This park is a former phosphate mine that created new landforms when they excavated the phosphate. A branch of the Alafia River runs through it and several small ponds developed after the mine disrupted the area. The trails are built and maintained by volunteers from the Swamp Mountain Bike Club.

So far we have mostly stuck to the easy trails but Shelly tried a more challenging one today and will try a few more.

A familiar reminder that we’re in Florida.

A day in Ybor City

Ybor City is a section of Tampa known for it’s cigar producing past. Today it draws people to the area for its restaurants and cigar cafes.

In its heyday, worker social clubs dominated the city’s social and political life.

A wonderful Cuban bakery. Highly recommended.

The area around Centennial Park supports a large population of feral roosters and hens.

A pretender to the throne of the Plant City Strawberry King.