Sunday, February 1, 2009

Everglades and Beyond, Part II

Jan. 25

What a great day with Lon and Gwen! We shanghaied her parents’ car and went sightseeing. The first stop was at the power plant where the manatees hang out in cold weather. The warm water coming from the plant makes the water comfortable for them. There were hundreds of them – some with babies! They float near the top of the water so it easier to get their breaths, so they look like a bunch of stepping stones. We had hoped to swim with them at a spring, but it was a bit chilly and the tour left early in the morning. Maybe in my next life. Visited the #1 beach in the U.S. for 2005 – near St. Petersburg. It was gorgeous with white sand. Quite a few people there, but too cool for swimming. Visited the Greek town near Tarpon Springs and had a nice dinner on the water. This is a working village that harvests ocean sponges. They sold them in every variety and size.

Jan. 26

All good things come to an end and it was time to leave our lovely visit with Lon and Gwen. There is citrus growing in everyone’s yard, so we had wonderful grapefruit and orange juice while there. Got a few grapefruit to go. Spent the night in a national forest fish camp on a river near Tallahassee. There are bears in this area and they had bear crossing signs on the highway. Wished we had seen one. This camp was outside the hamlet of Sopchoppy – how about that for a name?

Jan. 27

Boiled peanuts is a treat sold in the south. In one place they had two crockpots going with them – one Cajun spiced and the other not. Haven’t had the urge to try them yet. They are boiled in the shell, so it will be a messy project to eat them. Soon. Visited St. George Island state park and took a 5-6 mile walk on the beach and through the dunes. These beaches here are gorgeous and there are not many people using them (though it is winter). We see people harvesting oysters in the shallow water from boats. They bring them up with long-poled tong-like tools. Almost every house and lot is for sale here and on St. Joe Peninsula. If you ever wanted to buy an oceanside lot or house, now would be the time. This is called the Forgotten Coast and the gorgeous white sand beaches make you wonder why it has been forgotten.

Jan. 28

Went for a walk on a nature trail and observed a deer at very close range. Since there is no hunting allowed in the state park, she was not afraid. It poured rain for a bit while we are driving and had to pull over. Panama City Beach has a lot of tourists and tons of high-rise condos and hotels. This is the biggest spring break destination currently. This is also called the Redneck Riviera since it is a vacation destination for many in the south. They can have it.
Jan. 29

Florida is experiencing another cold snap – lucky us to be here. The wind blows cold air from the north. Navarre Beach is another area where everything is for sale – lots of businesses, too. The real estate market and economy have been a double whammy for Florida. We took a ferry from Ft. Morgan to Dauphin Island in Alabama so we didn’t have to drive clear around Mobile Bay. The water was very rough and splashed water onto all the cars that were aboard. There are a lot of oil rigs in the bay and beyond. The Mobile City limit sign was on the bridge taking us to land – about a mile still out in the ocean! Maybe they plan on colonizing the ocean some day. We stay in a county park campground which appears to have a lot of long-term residents. Maybe after “the storm” (Katrina) they relaxed their rules to help people out. There are two identical large dome-style tents and one of them has a satellite dish outside.

Jan. 30

It is nice and sunny, but there is a cold wind. We make our way to a military rv park that has a wonderful location of just across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans! The rv park is full, but we are able to stay in the adjacent parking lot for free and can use their bathroom facilities. About 1.5 miles away is the free ferry that takes us to downtown. This is fantastic! We spent a wonderful day exploring New Orleans – Jackson Square, Bourbon Street, walking in the French Quarter.

It is all we have ever pictured it and not too many tourists. There are a lot of mule-powered carriages – no horses. Many street entertainers. Our favorite was a guy singing in a 5-gallon Home Depot orange bucket. Dave tipped him and then he made up a song about us. He was so friendly and happy – a memory we will always have of N.O.

Had warm beignets from Café du Monde. These are French doughnut-like things and were fantastic! They come in a bag with about half a pound of powdered sugar on them. Soon we and the ground were covered with it. We hope they sweep it up and re-use it.

We saw many houses in the area where we are staying and next to the roads that have a lot of storm damage even though Katrina was 5 years ago. There are still some houses with blue plastic on the roof and houses that are uninhabitable. There are large areas where there are only slabs and front steps left. It is mind boggling to think of all the debris that was hauled out of here.

Jan. 31

The laundry here is convenient, so we manage to gather together a load. We have to take advantage of these facilities when they present themselves. When we travel we don’t do much sorting of darks and lights, so some things come out a slightly different color. We have some more sights to see that we missed yesterday, so took the ferry back to town. Our first stop was to take a trolley to a museum with a lot of outdoor sculpture. It was a great day to be outside and view artwork. Then we got back on the trolley to go to one of the local cemeteries where everyone is planted above ground. Well, the trolley had to stop because there was an accident that was blocking the way. So, we jumped off and walked the rest of the way. I guess if we hadn’t already seen this style of cemetery in Argentina, it would have been more exciting – not so awesome.

So then it was back on the trolley to go to the beautiful Garden District. This is an old area of opulent homes and huge hundreds of years old live oak trees. Whatever storm damage was done here must have been covered by insurance, because we saw little damage. Then it was back to Bourbon Street to the party scene. We decided this must be old people’s paradise because the bands were playing for dancing at 3 pm! You can do your partying and still go to bed early! Since this was Saturday, there are many more people than yesterday. Mardi Gras is close, and they already have some of the bleachers up for the parade. We glimpsed some floats being built and many houses are decorated with wreathes and swags in the official colors – purple, green and gold. It is legal to drink alcohol on the streets, so you can get anything to go. In the evening we ducked into several places representing several genres of music. The country place was fun because they had the mechanical bull riding to watch, but music was recorded. The Cajun place was fantastic – we love that music.

In the place with rap and a dj it was fun to see all the girls dancing in unison on the floor to some of the songs – like line dancing to rap.

Then we were walking by a rock and roll place and they were playing “All Right Now” so had to dance and listen to one of Cheryl’s favorite guitar rifs. What a fun place this is! If you haven’t been here, it would make a great vacation! Took the ferry back to our car and returned to the rv park by 10 pm – aren’t we party animals?!

Feb. 1

Left New Orleans this morning and headed into Cajun country (west and south). In several swampy areas we saw hundreds of white birds together – such a beautiful sight. The Acadian swamp dwellers are slobs and there is trash everywhere – alongside the road and around their houses. We see some of the most meager and dilapidated housing that we have ever seen. This makes the Navajo Reservation look good. Every ancient trailer must end up here and is then used forever. The only coat of paint many houses got was when they were new – 50 years ago. These people would think they had died and gone to heaven if they got a new double-wide. There are probably other places like this in America, but this is the worst we have seen. There is still an unbelievable amount of unrepaired storm damage and there are still downed trees in lots of yards.

In the middle of nowhere, south of Lafayette, is the Tabasco factory. There was a small booth at the entrance where a cute old man collected a dollar from each car entering. Because his booth was on the passenger side (what smartie thought this up?), he has a stick with a clothespin on it that he places through your window. You remove the parking pass and clip a dollar to the pin. They make the Tabasco here that is shipped to 160 countries around the world. We take a tour of the factory – there is a family here from France on the tour! In their store they sell every imaginable Tabasco product – we helped support the store of course. Barbeques at our house will now have a little more kick. We are driving on small roads most of the day through sugarcane fields and very sad poverty and filth. Went to a KOA so we could watch the Super Bowl. The Cardinals put up a good fight, but not good enough. Good commercials, though.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Everglades and Beyond 2009


Can you believe we got all our Christmas decorations, etc. put away and are already on the road? It seemed easier than we thought it would be, because the van was mostly packed with our trip necessities. We need to be in Ft. Lauderdale by Jan. 8 to pick up friends at the airport. Leaving now, we can take our time.

Drove too far this first day – quite a lot of snow on the roads. Went all the way to Chinle, AZ, on the Navajo Reservation. It was very cold, so we slept in our pants, two pairs of socks, fleece jacket, down jacket, hat and Cheryl had two sleeping bags. For sure we did not get cold. Our pee jar froze.


Heading south as fast as we can, we made it to Albuquerque and stayed at a military base where we had been before. These retired military benefits are fantastic. We stayed in their rv park for $6. There is a bit of snow on the ground here in the shade, but it has warmed from yesterday.


Yeah – no more snow! We stopped in a Truth or Consequences NM and went to the downtown Post Office. They were out of postcard stamps! Didn’t want to try a bank – they might be out of money! We have now tried to wash the van at 3 car washes without success (it was very dirty from the first day in the snow). The first two were frozen and we were too tall for the third. Fourth was the charm. Feels much better to not have a filthy vehicle. People like to honk their horns around here – I think many of them may have come from Mexico where it is a national pastime. We are in Texas and it is in the 70’s – wahoo!


Another warm and sunny day in El Paso, though there is a lot of pollution that looks like it is coming from across the border from Juarez. Made our way to Guadalupe National Park which we found out has been a national park since the 60’s – had never heard much about it. Had a wonderful hike for a few miles. This mountain area has Texas’ highest peak at about 8700 ft. We may do that on the way home. We met a man with his late-teen or early 20’s son while on the trail. The dialogue was: How far did you go (them)? To the little sign that said “trail end” (us). We think this is pretty monotonous – same thing over and over (them). Silence (us). Well, some people just need more entertainment than nature can provide. It is incredibly windy here. The campground here is numbered spaces in the parking lot and some people must keep their generators running late and start again early – what are they doing with all that juice? Our needs are simple and our battery and propane tank take care of it all. Not the greatest camping experience.


Saw a big wind farm today – is that what you call it when there are a lot of electric-generating windmills together? We think it is a great idea to make electricity this way – better than polluting the air with coal smoke or making it with nuclear (is this right? – Bush got me confused) reactors when nobody wants to store the by-products. Went to the Junction, TX city park which is on a wide place in the river. They allow overnight camping – we were the only people until later. Deer come down to the river and we see big fish in the water (probably carp). It is very quiet. The deer are not very afraid and they like to munch the grass on the ball field. Happy New Year! We heard a few fireworks at midnight, but it was quite a quiet celebration here.


It is cloudy around San Antonio, but clear and lovely at Corpus Christi and Padre Island. The Padre Island National Seashore is gorgeous. The campground is free, right on the beach and complete with bathrooms and hot showers. This would be a great place to have a beach vacation. The water is gentle with a gently sloping beach – seems like it would be great for kids. There was a deer on the beach! We have never seen this at the ocean before. It was looking for eats – what would that be? It was an amazing sight.


Foggy today, but 66 degrees to start. It was just an hour drive to a naval facility with an rv park. But, they had no tv, so moved on – gotta see the University of Utah whoop Alabama in the Sugar Bowl tonight. Found an rv park in Victoria, TX. Their smaller of two tv rooms also included a laundry and bathrooms. So, we did our laundry, watched the Utes trounce Alabama and had the place all to ourselves. We are so proud of our hometown team!


Texas advertises free wifi in designated rest stops. Too bad it didn’t work at the place we stopped. A good idea though. Nearing Houston we see a lot of signs with damage from the last hurricane in September. Not so much damage visible in trees. Galveston was a different story, though. Still lots of places boarded up with no sign of work going on. There are piles of debris waiting to be hauled off. We can tell it has made a lot of progress, but there is a long way to go. This is a beautiful place with gorgeous beaches and interesting old homes. This would be a nice place for a beach vacation. It is Saturday and they are working on road repairs – there is a lot to do. Today we enter Louisiana – our first time ever in the state! They call themselves America’s wetland. We went to a local campground just across the border. There is a pond – maybe they all have ponds. Lots of mosquitoes. We need to get more repellant. A nice family place. It is in the 80’s.


We have killed all the mosquitoes inside the van, but hundreds of them are hanging on the screens hoping to get in. I want to be somewhere warm with no mosquitoes. On the way to this campground we see some very shacky houses that look like they should be bulldozed rather than being lived in. One place did have a dog duplex, though, sided in siding to match the house. At the campground last night we heard a conversation that indicated that part of the family had come without insect repellant. I don’t think I would ever be without it here. Saw a couple wearing tall rubber boots (Wellington-type). Hope that was for the swamp and not the snakes I heard the kids talking about.

There is a lot of swamp next to the road – must have been difficult to build the freeway. They are advertising homemade boudin and cracklins around here. I think cracklins is fried pork rinds or something, but have never heard of boudin. I get the impression it comes from a pig. The Baton Rouge country station not only plays popular country like we hear in Utah, but also local Cajun music – love it! Around Baton Rouge we see a lot of tarps still on roofs from the latest hurricane on September 1. Dave’s first time to see the might Mississippi River and it is foggy, so not a very good view.

Then we are in Mississippi! Our second state we have never been in before in two days! MS definitely has the fanciest welcome center at the border we have ever seen. It is a huge building on a huge piece of ground and they even give you free drinks! Gotta love these people. We see quite a few very tall billboards – raised I guess to get over the tall pine trees. The pines here are not like we are used to in the west, but very skinny and very tall.

Drove through Biloxi on the coast. There is still quite a bit of damage being repaired – from the Sept. 1 hurricane I suppose. This part of the country sure has taken a beating in the last few years. We are staying at a military rv park in Biloxi. This is so much better than last night in Louisiana – very few mosquitoes and not so humid.

Jan. 5

Very foggy today so can’t really see much scenery. Today we traverse the lower small piece of Alabama – only about 40 miles. It seems like when Alabama was made a state that Florida and Louisiana must have grudgingly given them a port and small ocean access (just conjecture). It is a good thing we were not long in Alabama, because they are football crazy and our team beat theirs in the Sugar Bowl. Our friend Roy called to see if we were still alive since we have Utah license plates. Anyway, this was our third new state. Stopped in a state park past TallahasseeSuwannee River State Park. This is the same river immortalized by Stephen Foster and Al Jolsen – “Suwannee, how I love ya, how I love ya, my dear old Suwannee…” It is one of those typical tropical rivers that is the color of tea. Not real sure what he saw in it to inspire songs (also, remember “Way down upon the Suwannee River, far, far away…”? Must have been a girl involved…Beautiful facilities in this state campground – full hookups (which we don’t use) and new bathroom/shower house – all for $16 a night. They boast that their state parks have won awards. We are believers if they are like this.

Jan. 6

Took a nice loop hike along and around the Suwannee. Maybe it looks better in the summer when everything is leafed out. Drove through Jacksonville. This is the country’s largest city by area – 840 square miles. Only Anchorage is larger. It is 80 degrees – feels like heaven. Made our way to St. Augustine – our country’s oldest city, dating from the 1500’s. We did our own walking tour of the historic area. The residential areas are so charming, with narrow streets and historic homes. The old fort guarding the bay dates from the 1700’s, with walls 14 feet thick at the base. Went to Anastasia State Park on the ocean.

Balanced Rock on Suwannee River

Jan. 7

No recollection of this day. I keep little notes in a small notebook to jog my memory of each day. Unfortunately, somewhere on the canoe trip it got wet and obliterated my notes. We worked our way closer to Ft. Lauderdale.

Jan. 8

Made our way to Ft. Lauderdale. Uncle Vic was the first to arrive at the airport. The flight of Doug, Jim and Roy was delayed a bit, but eventually we collected all our chicks. Having everyone plus their duffels in our van was comical, but everyone fit. We went to the nearest Super Walmart, because we needed to purchase a plastic tub and water jugs for each canoe – they offered to rent you these with the canoes, but it was cheaper just to buy and then give away at the end. The guys that came on the planes also needed to get food for the trip. After this was accomplished, we made our way to Chokoloskee Island at the entrance to the Everglades where we had camp spaces reserved. Finally, about midnight I think, we got to bed – thoroughly exhausted.

Jan. 9

The ranger office opened at 8 a.m., so we felt we had to be there by 7:30 in case people were in line for permits. Can you believe that you cannot arrange your itinerary in advance? This is a crazy system. There were two guys there ahead of us, but they didn’t affect our choices. We did not get a permit for all the inside areas of the Everglades (more of the swamp and mangrove areas). After 3 days we would head to the coast and its beach camp areas. They assured us we would have a good time and survive – hope so. Spent the rest of the day doing day trips and short walks like the rest of the tourists. Saw our first alligators sunning themselves on the banks. There are so many beautiful birds here. The guys got a hotel room for one last night. Dave and I slept in our van in the parking lot, though with the top not popped because we weren’t supposed to be there.

Jan. 10

Loaded and launched the canoes by about 9 a.m. and we were off! It very soon struck us – what were we thinking?? This paddling a loaded canoe is hard work. We had to go 16 miles this first day – across numerous large bays in this inland waterway. The wind was blowing against us and we often ran into very shallow areas where our paddles hit bottom. These waterways are affected by the tides. When we finally arrived at our camp (Watson Place), we were exhausted. This camp is on property formerly occupied by Mr. Watson and his plantation. It is said that he murdered several of his workers and that their spirits haunt this site.

Lo and behold, there were some local guys there with a power boat that had been fishing. Jim and Bob (we called them collectively Jim-Bob)met us with an ice cold Tecate! This was fantastic since we had no coolers or ice with us. Then, they cooked a large trout they had caught and gave it to us to share! What hospitality! Plus, they had some advice as to our route for part of our trip. However, I am still thinking that Dave and I needed to head back the next day – this was going to be too much for over 100 miles. Slept well.

Jan. 11

Not as sore as expected, so maybe we will give this a try for one more day and not turn back. However, the further in we go, the further it is to turn back. So today we have smooth water and beautiful paddling. Got to our camp, Lostman 5, early afternoon. It is a beautiful, sunny day and we have a lovely, relaxing afternoon. Our campsite today is on platforms on the ground – the ground is wet around us.

Jan. 12

We see tons of alligators today – too many to count. A couple of times they jump into the water from the bank near our canoe and startle us. They are not aggressive and only do this because they are scared of us. We skipped the camp where we were supposed to be (Rodgers River chickee) and went on (are we crazy?). This river leads to the ocean and after 18.5 miles we are on the beach for the night. We have a wonderful beach campfire that warms us and prolongs conversation.

Dave's homemade mudwalkers - didn't work

No-seeums were thick, so we put our headnets on. Made it difficult to drink, though.

Jan. 13

To get back on our campsite schedule, we only paddle up the coast for about half a mile to Highland Beach in the afternoon. As soon as we got there, the wind started blowing big time. The tents wanted to blow away without someone in them. We cooked and ate in our tent and then had a long evening of reading. There was a little rain, but the gale-force winds do not abate all night.

Jan. 14

We are awakened at 6:30 am by people that had been camping up the beach – they are already paddling by us. As we look at the flat water, we decide we need to hit the water also before it gets rough. The tide is out, so we have to drag the boats into the water and haul our stuff out quite a ways. No breakfast, no teeth brushing – we are out in 45 minutes. The water gets rough anyway and we are paddling through whitecaps. This is the travel we wanted to avoid. We make it the 7 miles to our camp (Graveyard). We are on the beach, but we approach the camp through a small creek. This is another beautiful sunny day which we enjoy relaxing and exploring this area of many downed trees. Another wonderful campfire tonight keeps us up to marvel at the clear sky and stars.

Jan. 15

Today we start by crossing a 4-mile bay mouth (Ponce de Leon) that is sometimes treacherous. It starts out quite calm, but soon turns to whitecaps. We head closer to shore to offer a bit more safety or at least the perception of safety. Stopped at our Northwest Cape campsite and took a long walk on the beach. There are no others camping here and we have this undisturbed, wild beach to ourselves.

Jan. 16

We stopped for a rest and a beach walk in the afternoon. Came upon a coin that was quite corroded. We were sure we had found a Spanish doubloon or something else valuable. But, alas, it was a U.S. coin that had obviously been there for a long time. But, wait, here is another and another and another. After we had found 6-8 coins, didn’t see any more on the surface. Why would these be here? We should have dug around to see if we could find more, but it was time to leave. We went slightly past our designated campsite of Middle Cape. And of course, we were again battling headwinds.

Jan. 17

This is the day we take out at Flamingo. Another day of headwinds and currents. We took a passage between two small islands and ended up slogging through knee-deep mud and pulling our boats through. It is a beautiful sunny day, though. This 100+ miles has been a challenge, so we feel we accomplished a mighty feat. The scenery and wildlife has been magnificent, but we are sure glad to be off the water. We have to wait several hours, but eventually the people arrive with our van and the trailer to take the canoes back to Chokoloskee. A couple of rooms in Florida City give us much-needed showers and laundry facilities. Dinner was stone crab claws which are delicious. They are only available a few months of the year. The crabs are caught and one claw removed. They are then returned to the ocean where the claw is regenerated within a year. So nice to sleep in a real bed.

Jan. 18

Drove down the Florida Keys highway. This connects the small islands known collectively as The Keys. There is one 7-mile bridge over water. It is over 100 miles to the end – Key West. We watch the sunset in Mallory Square where there are buskers performing their acts, margaritas on tap and lots of people. A cruise ship takes off. We visit the local funky bars – Captain Tony’s (much-loved hangout of Jimmy Buffett), the Hogsbreath Saloon and more. Key West is an interesting place, though super touristy. There is a monument indicating the southernmost point in the Continental U.S. We camp in an rv park on Marathon Keys while Doug, Jim and Roy hotel-it nearby.

Jan. 19

Wanted to snorkel on Key Largo at a wonderful reef there, but the sunny morning turned cloudy, breezy and cool, so decided to forego it. Stopped to look at the bar where they claim part of the movie “Key Largo” was filmed. OK, so to plan B – we headed to Miami. Some of us have never been there. Went to funky South Beach and found a hostel in a 100-year old Spanish-style building. We got a 6-bunk room with bath, so we are not in with strangers. Took a cab to Little Havana and had Cuban food for dinner at Versailles. Took the buses back because the cab was so expensive.

Jan. 20

Explored the Art Deco area of South Beach. These colorful buildings date from the 1930’s. Walked on the beautiful beach and the Lincoln pedestrian mall. Went back to the hostel tv room to watch the presidential inauguration and speeches. What a hopeful day this is for America! Fantastic dinner at the Italian restaurant across the street. Our street is closed in the evening is only for pedestrians.

Jan. 21

Drove to the old historic Fontainbleau Hotel in Miami Beach. There are so many high rise buildings along the beach for miles. The water is that beautiful turquoise color, though the beach is quite narrow. So glad to finally see Miami Beach, but probably don’t need to return. Walked the nice riverwalk in Ft. Lauderdale. At lunch can you believe that an elementary school chum of Cheryl’s was there and recognized me? She lives in SLC now. Small world, eh? We parted ways with Doug, Jim and Roy who stayed at the Airport Marriott tonight due to a 6 a.m. flight in the morning. We and Uncle Vic make our way to a County park campground by a lake.

Jan. 22

Finally could sort through all our stuff and reorganize the van. Dropped Vic at the airport about noon and now we are on the road again! We heard that Florida has experienced the coldest temps in the last 6-7 years in the past few days. Lucky us to be here for that. We have been wearing our coats a lot. Drove to Lake Okeechobee to camp next to a canal that leads to the lake. Even though we drove next to the lake for many miles, we never saw it. It is surrounded by a high manmade berm. This started out as a natural lake we think, but now must be one of the dumbest lakes around.

Jan. 23

Today we drive through thousands of orange trees – some still loaded. At a juice factory there are hundreds of huge trucks full of oranges waiting to be squeezed. We learn that many crops in Florida have been frozen during the cold snap. We arrive at Zephyrhills, northeast of Tampa, to visit our friends Lon & Gwen who are helping relatives here for the winter. They are staying in a nice mobile home and we get our own bedroom. So good to see them again and to catch up on their lives.

Jan. 24

The weather has warmed up again – yay!