Monday, February 24, 2014

The Florida Keys

We have just spent 2 days in the Florida Keys- beautiful.  Many islands, keys, with bridges connecting them one to the other.  The distance between Key Largo, the first of the Keys and Key West, the end of the Keys is just under 100 miles.
Florida Keys

Yesterday we camped in Long Key State Park, right at the waters edge, Atlantic.  Wonderful campground with just 60 spaces and greenery for privacy between each space.  Showers were a wonderful bonus here, since the water is very salty. This campground is about half way between Key Largo and Key West.

Today we spent the day in Key West.  This is the furthest south you can get in the US, before you reach Cuba.  The old historic part of Key West reminded us of the Garden District in New Orleans and even parts of Galveston.  We visited the Harry Truman "Little White House",which he enjoyed visiting many times while president.  Wonderful tour guide with lots of little stories about Harry especially.  Bess did not really like it here, she felt it was too much of a man's world in Key West.

Then off we went to visit the Ernest Hemingway house. Hemingway loved cats and especially 5 fingered ones.  There continue to be the cat descendents of his cats living at the house.  They are everywhere, usually from 45-50 of them living in the house and grounds at any given time.  Again, a wonderful tour guide with lots of stories to share.  Wonderful visit here also.
one of the views from Hemingway balcony

dense vegetation around house, with red flower in tree

cats getting treats from tour guide
Ernest Hemingway home Key West

Cuba is that way!
Tonight we are spending the night in Key Largo, before we head off for 3 days of dry camping in the Everglades.  Seem to be lots of hiking options for us to enjoy.  We will definitely be off line for the next few days.
Regards to all,
Michelle and Fred
Traveling the country so you don't have to!

The Everglades

We started at the top northwest corner of the Everglades, at Everglades City.  We took a 2hour tour out onto the water in the area known by the Indians as" Ten Thousand Islands".  As you go out on the open water, Gulf side and zig zag through some of these 10,000 islands, you quickly realize that this is a very large area and you are barely getting a glimpse of it in the two hours. We saw lots of birds and even some dolphins feeding.  They were quite graceful creatures and usually enjoy interacting with the tourist ( we were told) but the day we were there they just wanted to eat.  For two, the boat trip was $60 and was well worth doing.

Today we were down in the lowest part of the Everglades, in Flamingo.  Here we took a different boat tour into the back channels of the Everglades.  Saw some crocodile, manatee, turtle and many birds again.  We learned about the mangrove trees, 3 varieties: white, red and black.  We also learned there is a highly poisonous tree, Manchineel, which can cause much damage to people thru skin contact or even breathing the air if you try to burn it.  The tree has been eliminated from all trails, unknown how they disposed of it, but it is still found along the water ways.  The cost for two was $64 and again, well worth doing.
Iris in the swamp of the Everglades

Manchineel tree in Everglades
 The Everglades is home to panthers and roads in and around the area are marked to  indicate panther crossing zones.  One such area had signs with lights blinking to indicate that an animal was crossing the road at some point around us.  We did not see any panther activity, but who knows we may see some since we plan on doing some dry camping (no hookups) in the Everglades National Park next week.
So far, the only animal activity I have seen have been some mosquitoes and mostly "no seeums!  I got caught early on 2 nights without bug spray, so my ankles and lower legs are covered in bites.  Oh joy!  The don't seem to like Fred, draw your own conclusions there....
The area outside of the National Park is agricultural and has high water needs.  We saw fields of corn, squashes, tomatoes, onions and probably 50-75 nursery operations.  This is where you come to buy many varieties of palm trees, orchids and many other garden plants.  It was incredible to see so much growing happening here, like a version of the California growing fields, but for the east coast. A beautiful area to drive along.
Regards to all,
Michelle and Fred
Traveling the country so you don't have to!

First impressions of Florida

White, very white, beaches, blue skies and warm.  It is still full of east coast snowbirds, Ohio, New York, Michigan, Ontario, Rhode Island, New Jersey.  In other words, all the places that are still cold and have recently gotten snow. They are staying down here for as long as they can since the winter has been long and very cold for them. This means that we also started to make some reservations in RV parks and state parks through the beginning of next week.
We did 2 important things when we got to a Florida Welcome center- had our glass of free OJ and bought a SunPass.  The SunPass is a windshield decal for pre-pay on Florida toll roads and bridges (of which there are a lot).  You  load it as you go, while maintaining a $10 minimum on the card.  Makes
travel around the state convenient.
For the most part we have been following the Gulf coast of Florida, driving on some really nice roads, highway 98 mainly, with water vistas.  Some areas when we first crossed over into Florida, were full of high rise condos/hotels, tourist shops and such.  But, that all disappeared soon enough and we were driving on roads with forest on both sides of us.  We did not realize that there would be so much greenery here, tall pines and palmettos beneath.  We stopped at one rest stop near Carrabelle and found miles of white sand beach.  Florida is all about white sand beaches!

As we headed closer to Tampa/St Petersburg,the contrast was extreme with just strip mall after strip mall. If you come this way, do not do highway 19, instead stick to I-75 to get around this area.

We are camped tonight at Myakka River State Park-wonderful camping, just a few miles east of Sarasota.  Lots of birds, wild turkeys, white and blue herons, the elusive Roseate Spoonbill........ and in one area 8 gaters enjoying the river.  If you come, you must do the Canopy Walkway.  You climb two wooden towers to a height of 74 feet, which places you above the trees.  It is quite spectacular!

Myakka River State Park
Tomorrow we continue to head south towards the Everglades.

Till soon,
Michelle and Fred
Traveling the country so you don't have to!