Hurricane Nate

Gulf Shores, AL to Crawfordville, FL – October, 2017 We took three days to get to Gulf Shores, Alabama from Missouri. We didn’t watch any news during that time as at each stop we were either too tired to set up the satellite or there were trees blocking its reception. There was not much over the air TV available at any of our stops either.

When we finally reached Gulf State Park Jim set up the satellite and the first news report we heard told us about Hurricane Nate. We had reserved 5 days at this Alabama state park. But it looked like we were only going to get to enjoy two.

The good news was the next day was our anniversary and at least we could stay and enjoy it before leaving the following morning. Exactly one year before we had tried to celebrate our anniversary on the Atlantic coast and had to divert to inland Florida instead and wait out Hurricane Matthew. We’re thinking this is a sign and maybe we should spend future anniversaries in the mountains.

Gulf State Park is huge and it has a lot of new facilities since being rebuilt following the last major hurricane to come this way. There are 25 miles of trails and three large lakes. My sprained ankle was still healing so I wasn’t able to enjoy any long walks.

I reserved what stamina I did have for the beach. The park has 3 miles of beautiful beaches with several access points. The beach is 1 ½ miles from the campground so it’s a perfect ride if you own a bike or it was a short drive for us.

We enjoyed some wave watching and wading since the surf was pretty high. Then we had a lovely lunch beachside at The Gulf. We then headed to the park’s pool in the afternoon for a swim.

The campsites were about $40 per night for full hookups. It was pretty reasonable for all that the park offered. I liked that they didn’t nickel and dime you either. Parking at the beach, swimming in their pool, and access to their pier (which we didn’t have time to see) were all included in your camping fee.

We loved this park and hated to leave. They did refund us our camping fees when we chose to leave on Friday. I believe they shut the park down on Saturday.

We moved north of I10 and east a hundred miles to a camp near the town of Defuniak Springs, Florida. We found a park by a lake with a pool. Sunset King Lake RV Resort was a nice place for $35 per night.

The town of Defuniak Springs was pretty interesting and about a 10 mile drive from camp. It is built around a spring fed lake that they say is perfectly round and exactly one mile across. The town was organized in the 1880’s by the railroad and has an adorable train station.

It became the center of activities for the newly organized Florida Chautauqua Association in 1885. I had never before heard of Chautauqua but learned that it was an adult education movement that was very popular around the end of the 19th century and thru the mid 1920’s. It brought famous speakers and performers to the town each summer and so the well to do built second homes here so that they and their friends could enjoy the festivities.

There are many beautiful, mostly Victorian homes built here. It was a shame I couldn’t yet walk far as we would have really enjoyed walking these streets and seeing the many fine homes. We explored as best we could in the truck.

After our first day of exploring we hunkered down to watch and wait out Hurricane Nate. We were well out of harm’s way but it was still pretty wet. The park had a lot of things blown around, like trash cans and portable awnings, but no real damage.

Our next reservation was at the Florida state park, Topsail Hill Preserve, just east of Destin. We were supposed to go there Sunday and Monday but they shut down for the weekend and refunded our fees. So we finally got back to our planned itinerary on Tuesday when we headed for St. Andrews State Park.

This park is an oasis in the middle of Panama City. You drive through the city and onto the St. Andrews Peninsula and it’s like the city isn’t even there. It’s 1,200 acres of sand, sea, and swamp. The swamp is actually quite beautiful, especially in the morning light.

And there are tons of deer. They are a bit on the puny side. I imagine it’s a tough place to live.

This was the view of the bay from the back of our campsite. We had a tiny private beach and lots of water birds, crabs, and bunnies for neighbors. We loved our three day stay at this gem.

I finally started to be able to walk a bit farther and hobbled down the beach each morning. The sunrises were amazing.

The boating channel just beyond the sea wall was very busy at sunrise and it was neat to watch all the boats race out.

There is long jetty that the fisherman seemed to enjoy despite the signs warning to stay off it.

The seas were still pretty rough our first morning and got calmer as the week wore on. Here is the view of the park’s pier at the end of their beach and Panama City Beach beyond.

The park has a lovely protected bay.

One morning we went for a long swim after our walk and had the whole bay to ourselves until about 10 am. We went back that afternoon and snorkeled along the outer edges of the bay where the rocks are piled up to just below the water’s surface. It was fun but awfully crowded.

We vowed to take our snorkels the next morning but on that morning’s walk the beach was littered with tons of large jelly fish.

We finally did snorkel our last morning before we packed up and left. We saw a few jelly fish but were able to swim around them. We enjoyed some large schools of big fish, a few tiny but colorful fish, and one ridiculously large crab.

This park is a pretty special place. We were lucky to have snagged our weekday reservation but we had to get going on Friday. The site was around $30 with electric and water.

It’s often hard to find any place to stay on Friday and Saturday nights when you are in popular areas. We looked for some place along our route where we could wait out the weekend and stumbled across Newport Park, a county park along the St. Marks River. It was 10 miles to the nearest town of Crawfordville.

After lunch we visited the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. There was a $5 fee per car to enter the refuge and during our Friday afternoon visit it was collected via a self-pay station. We drove the 10 mile road through the refuge to get to the St. Mark’s Lighthouse, the second oldest in Florida.

I am not terribly excited by lighthouses. They’re OK but unless you can get inside one and climb it, I only have mild interest in them as interesting subjects to photograph.

I was under the mistaken impression that the light house was open and was a little disappointed when it was not. It did turn out to be an interesting drive through marshlands with lots of birds and one alligator.

The next day we planned to explore more of the area but after a morning trip to Crawfordville for provisions Jim wasn’t feeling well so we spent a quiet day in our weekend refuge. The camp was a good choice even though the sites were laid out a bit chaotically. It was $27 per night for full hookups which was payable by cash or check only.

We pulled out early Sunday morning as we were very excited to get to our next destination. I am equally excited to tell you about it in my next couple posts.

Miami Beach

April, 2017 – Miami, FL I’d been wanting to fit a trip to Miami into our winter itinerary so when our oldest daughter, Carie, expressed an interest in visiting us in Florida Easter weekend I suggested we meet there. She and her beau flew in and we made the 2 hour drive over. It was such an easy drive that our younger daughter, Heather, drove over on her day off.

I wanted to find a place on Miami Beach where we could all stay together but not be too cramped. South Beach is the most popular part of Miami Beach. About 6 miles north is what they call North Beach and accommodations were a lot more reasonable. The area seemed like a better option for a family vacation anyway.

I have surfed sights like VRBO and Airbnb before but I have never actually booked anything through them. They seemed like my only option for finding a rental with a minimum of two bedrooms and two baths. I initially searched for properties around $300 per night as that is about what it would have cost me to book 2 decent hotel rooms in the area.

I found several promising properties but the one that stood out was an apartment on a canal just three blocks from the beach. It had not two but three bedrooms and three full baths? Sound too good to be true? It was.

I messaged the host with a couple questions and they wrote back that the rate was inaccurate and thanks for bringing it to their attention. They then offered it to me for $450 per night but waived the cleaning fee. I initially thought “no way” and moved on to other options.

I messaged several other hosts offering 2 bedroom 2 bath condos in the area. Each time they replied that the units were booked even though the booking sights said they were available. I imagine they have them on several different sights and don’t bother updating all the calendars.

I was getting frustrated with this process. We reconsidered the option of two hotel rooms and did not like what was available. We looked at the three bed/bath unit again and it seemed perfect. I did not like the feeling of being duped by a bait and switch scam but I did want that unit. So I bit the bullet and made the reservation.

It turned out to be a great decision. Even though it was more than advertised it really was worth the price. Having all that space for our family to spread out really made the weekend special. Everyone had their own rooms if they needed a nap or some quiet time.

A full kitchen was great for preparing and enjoying meals together. And there was plenty of space to gather together and visit; the living room, the balcony, and this patio overlooking the canal.

By the way I stole that pic from the host’s website and it is the only one I recognized as actually being from the property we stayed at. We had the entire second story of one of two buildings that were broken up into apartment units. We arrived Thursday night and went to pick up the kids at the airport Friday morning. There was a great view of downtown Miami from the I195 bridge.

After meeting Heather at the apartment and getting everyone settled in we headed out to explore. Wynwood Walls was once a dilapidated warehouse district that has been transformed into an art district focused on graffiti and street art.

At the center is the official outside gallery which is free. Each piece is amazing and the scale is breathtaking.

It is an awesome place to get your picture taken.

For many blocks around the streets and storefronts are lined with murals. There are lots of restaurants, quaint shops, and coffee shops.

If you come to Miami do not miss this place. And bring your camera.

The next day Heather had to go back home to work so the four of us set out to visit South Beach. We did not want to mess with parking so we headed out on foot with maps of the free trolley system. We had to walk three quarters of a mile to the nearest trolley stop and then take two trolleys to get to South Beach. It was a great way to see the area without worrying about traffic. We got off around 17th Street and endeavored to walk to 1st street seeing as many of the beautiful Art Deco buildings as we could.

At 14th Street wandered closer to the beach and walked Ocean Drive where it seems practically every building is historic.

We made it all the way to 5th Street when our stomachs started controlling our actions and even though the street was lined with restaurants they just weren’t speaking to us. The kids called us an Uber and it whisked us back to our neighborhood.

There we enjoyed lunch at a local Cuban restaurant that had been recommended to us by our host. Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine was very good and gave us the stamina to make the walk home which was almost a mile. All in all we had walked about 5 miles that day so we spent the rest of the weekend with our feet up, enjoying our canal view, simple food, and good company.

Bonita and Barefoot Beaches

Bonita Springs, FL – October, 2016-February, 2017  We are loving our winter home here in Bonita Springs, Florida. It is a lovely community and the weather has been pretty spectacular. I don’t want to brag about the weather too much just yet. Winter is not yet over!

We haven’t spent as much time at the beach as we originally thought we would but we still try to get to a beach about once a week. The water got as cold as the mid 60’s in January but on hotter days we still enjoy a dip. It has started climbing and is almost 70 now.

The closest beach to our home is Bonita Beach just 6 miles from our door. There is a large parking lot there which charges $2 per hour. This lot is often full by noon.

You can drive past the lot and there are a dozen or so beach accesses with a few free parking spaces each scattered along the two mile length of the beach. They actually have some spaces large enough for our truck. We can usually find free parking on weekday mornings.

The first day we visited this beach was the day after our arrival in town and the day of the hurricane. There were a lot of dead fish washed up on the beach and not yet knowing much about local conditions my first impression was that the seas were so rough they had beached all these fish where they then died.

I later realized the red tide had killed them and the rough seas may have washed a larger number than usual up on the beach. It was sad but also really cool to be able to see so many different kinds of fish, like this ocean catfish…

and this needlefish.

But the coolest was a baby bonnethead shark.

We came back a few days later for another walk. The smell was so bad we only stayed a short while. We returned to our truck by way of the sidewalk where the smell wasn’t as strong. We enjoyed the greenery in front of the fancy beach houses.

 

And the many quirky mailboxes.

I imagine it would have smelled on our first visit except there was such a strong wind. We were grateful that there was no sign of the red tide when we visited Vanderbuilt Beach during our time in Naples. When we returned to Bonita Beach at the end of October the red tide had moved north and the beaches were again pleasant.

The beach we visit most often is only a couple miles further drive. The Barefoot Beach State Park Preserve is really an extension of Bonita Beach. But the name changes as you travel south and enter a different county and eventually, the protected lands of the preserve.

The primary reason we prefer Barefoot is the ample parking. It costs $8 per car to enter the park or I believe non-residents can buy a parking sticker that is good all over Collier County for around $60. We were lucky enough to have someone lend us their parking pass for the season. They had bought one for a week-long vacation in September and weren’t visiting again until spring.

Barefoot Beach is generally a little less crowded than Bonita Beach. If you are willing to traipse a little ways down the beach from the parking access point you can usually snag a good chunk of beach for yourself. And once you get away from the crowds it’s a nice fishing spot as well.

The preserve is home to the Gopher Tortoise and they are plentiful. We usually see them near the parking lot or from the boardwalk.

Collecting shells is very popular on both these beaches.

I prefer to collect pictures of shells.

And other interesting things we encounter on our beach walks. Like this jellyfish. Am I the only one that sees a tiny alien trapped inside?

Dog Beach

Fort Myers Beach, FL – December, 2016 Our youngest daughter, Heather, has moved to Florida. We are very excited to have her here and have been enjoying spending time with her and our grand-doggy Sasha.

Heather loves the beach and she adores her dog, so we couldn’t wait to take them to Dog Beach.  It’s a beach just for our four legged friends and the people who love them. It is located 10 miles from our campsite. It has a Fort Myers Beach address but it is just as close to Bonita Springs. It is on Lovers Key right between the two towns.

We have now visited twice and had an absolute ball both times. We met some very nice people and some downright adorable dogs. This old girl was used for breeding and gave birth to 54 puppies before her current owner adopted her.

Sasha has shown absolutely no love for the water up until now. Heather has taken her to beaches before and she enjoyed the sand but hated the waves.  She has shown an equal aversion to rivers and lakes.  But she has had very positive experiences at Dog Beach.

For one thing there are no waves. The beach is in an inlet so it is protected. It is also very shallow water, one to two feet depending on the tide. The dogs are so much fun to watch!

The pure joy they exude is infectious!

Dog Beach is all about making friends.

And getting to know them better.

When one throws a toy at Dog Beach it is understood that it may not be your dog that retrieves it.

A young fellow showed up with an old dog and a wake board and I was very curious if the dog would be riding it. They went all the way to the other end of the beach so I got out my camera to spy on them. I couldn’t believe when I actually got some pics of a dog riding the wake board.

It was only upon closer inspection of the pictures after I got home that I realized it wasn’t his dog on the wakeboard. His dog is the black one watching while a random dog hopped on his owner’s wakeboard! He rode it like a pro though! The young man rode it the rest of the time.

We will be making many more trips to Dog Beach. If you are a dog lover you should definitely check it out if you visit the area whether you have a dog along or not.

Atlantic Coast

Satellite Beach, FL – November, 2016 There are a lot of places we plan to visit while wintering in Florida. But our number one travel priority was rescheduling a visit to the east coast to visit my aunt and cousins there. We had scratched our scheduled visit at the beginning of October due to the unwelcome arrival of Hurricane Matthew.

We enjoyed three relaxing days filled with fun, food, and plenty of socializing. We stayed in an inexpensive hotel near the beach that we only saw to sleep at night or for brief rests between social calls. Satellite Beach is on a barrier island just south of Cape Canaveral and across from Melbourne on the mainland.

Our first full day in town we were treated to an awesome jeep ride down the A1A through the towns of Indialantic, Melbourne Beach, and all the way to Sebastian Inlet. We had originally planned to camp near the inlet at the county’s Long Point Park. We made a loop through the campground and agreed we definitely want to spend some time there on a future visit.

While in the park we saw these odd looking birds. There were several following a guy with a 5 gallon bucket around. I assume he had bait in there. A brief internet search turned up the name Wood Stork for the creatures.

On our return trip we detoured over to the inland side of the island in places. A lot of docks on this side were damaged by the hurricane.

One of my cousins lives on a canal that connects to the Banana River. Though it is called a river it is really one of two brackish lagoons between them and the mainland. The second is called the Indian River.

The canal is a great place to fish and watch for wildlife. They called it a manatee highway, since manatees travel up the canal every morning and back out to the river every evening.  Apparently the highway gets a ton of traffic when the temperatures fall.  Jim did see a manatee from their dock but I missed it.

We borrowed their tandem kayak one afternoon and Jim paddled us to up to where the canal ends. We traveled under a couple streets. They often site manatees in these ponds and people would stop on the sidewalk to look for them. But we only saw a couple turtles there.

When we reached the end the canal was about 30 feet wide and we were surrounded by homes and dilapidated boats. We waited quietly for a few minutes and then heard a watery exhalation to our right. We turned quickly to see a snout disappearing below water. We watched that spot in the water expectantly only to hear another behind us.

We ended up seeing at least three manatees who seemed to be playing with us. No matter where we concentrated our attention and the camera’s lens they always popped up in the opposite direction. Over the course of a 10 minute encounter we caught a glimpse of their snouts over and over but their backs only a handful of times.

The water was murky so we couldn’t see a thing below the surface. I finally got one pretty decent shot. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and are optimistic we will have more encounters with these wonderful creatures this winter.

Since I knew we’d see plenty of sunsets over the gulf the rest of the winter, I hoped to catch a couple sunrises while on the east coast. Our first morning we chose breakfast over the sunrise and took a long walk on the beach afterward.

We had to be careful not to step on the crabs which were almost impossible to see against the sand. We only noticed them when they scurried for cover to get out of the way of our gigantic feet.

There were lots of signs of the hurricane here as well. There were uprooted trees and many of the accesses to the beach and steps to private homes and businesses were damaged.

Our second morning we managed to sleep in and missed another sunrise. On the morning we planned to leave we were up early and ready to hit the road. We grabbed a cup of coffee and stopped at the beach on our way out of town. When we arrived there were two lovers and one yoga enthusiast waiting for the spectacle.

Over the next 20 minutes as the day arrived so did many more spectators the most famous of which was this guy.

If we had any doubts that we had indeed stumbled upon Santa’s summer home they were squelched when a pair of young ladies walked by and exclaimed “look Santa’s here again”. I’m sure he is a local celebrity. We were all finally rewarded for our patience with the most glorious of sunrises.

Naples

Naples, FL – October, 2016 Soon after getting settled at our winter RV park it was time to pack up and head a whole 10 miles south to hang out with our friends. This was the third time we had rented the same beach house in North Naples. Our friend’s relatives own the property and we are grateful to benefit from the family discount.

We all adore the house and love the location in the well know neighborhood of Naples Park. The house is three bedrooms and two and a half baths. It is spacious, beautifully furnished, and best of all has a heated pool.

We enjoyed just over a week’s visit with one couple. Another couple that has joined us on previous visits said they couldn’t come but at the last minute they changed their minds and flew down for the weekend. We all had fun as always and got caught up on everything we had missed in the 3 months since we left Missouri.

The nearest beach to the house is called Vanderbilt Beach. It is a near perfect beach with soft sand and waste deep water for a long way out. This beach is close to neighborhoods, condos, and hotels so it is generally bustling.

The big event every day is sunset. They are just beautiful here. Since our visit was before the time change we often ate before 5:30 then made a beeline for the beach to catch the show.

Only a mile farther from the house was the Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park. This beach gets a little narrow at high tide but it is a nice alternative to Vanderbilt and not quite as crowded. It’s always interesting to see what’s been washed up on the beach.

This state park is another good sunset spot.

There is a dead tree there that people have loaded with shells which looks pretty cool.

Jim and I don’t go to bars often but one notable exception is a dive near the Naples house that we simply must visit each time we are in town with our friends. Jim’s favorite T is from there and seems to sum up their outlook.

The bar is called the North Naples Country Club. The name is meant in jest as it is far from sophisticated. Just our kind of place!

The best part is it’s within walking distance of the rental house. It’s a fun, friendly place if you are ever in the vicinity. And the food ain’t bad either.

One of our favorite places to visit is in downtown Naples. The Naples Pier is an enjoyable, free place to kill an hour or two.

It is a free fishing pier so with or without a fishing license you can fish here to your heart’s content. If you hang around a little while you will likely encounter your fair share of interesting characters. You may overhear some colorful language and you will almost definitely note some distinct regional and foreign accents.

Many people, primarily older gentlemen, come here almost daily to fish and maybe share a fish story or two. Most of the fishermen are more than happy to offer advice on techniques, bait, and such. There are a few that are tightlipped and maybe a little grouchy, but very few.

The pier is also a great place to observe nature. You are almost guaranteed to see dolphins.

There are usually schools of bait fish around the pylons and if you are lucky you might see tarpon working them into a frenzy. I have also seen ray and jellyfish and we once saw a fisherman pull in a little blacktip shark!

Naples Beach stretches as far as you can see on either side of the pier.

And if you get bored with all that there’s shopping, restaurants, and more shopping within a few blocks. If we are there on a Saturday we enjoy a stroll through the farmers’ market. It’s a little high end for us with lots of food vendors (who spends $15 on lunch at a farmers’ market?) but colorful and entertaining just the same.

My girlfriends and I were lucky enough to run into this guy out shopping with his friends.

He even let us hold this one who was quite a ham.

Naples is quite large and I know it has a whole lot more to offer. Since it’s so close to our home for this winter, we are looking forward to discovering more of this great town.

Pictured Rocks and Mooching at a Casino

Menominee to Munising, MI – August, 2016 We made our way into Michigan’s upper peninsula and stopped at J.W. Wells State Park. We snagged a lakeside site so our kitchen window looked out over Lake Michigan. It was a lovely place to relax for a couple days.

The next day we hauled the kayaks 20 feet to our beach and set off. We were shocked by how clear the water was. You could see the rocky bottom well after the water was over our heads.

On the left of the pic are some of the lakeside sites just up from ours. The arrow points to where we paddled to, the mouth of Cedar River, two miles away. We took a break on the beach before paddling back.

Jim bought a one day fishing license online for a reasonable $10. He had a few nibbles but finally on the way back he landed this good size bass. It was at least 12 inches. I was close enough to get a picture of his catch before he released it.

Everyone kept saying the sunrises were not to be missed. Each day seemed to dawn overcast and I never was blown away.

The campground was extremely nice and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. The cost for the electric site was a reasonable $20 a night but we did also pony up $31 for a state park annual pass rather than pay the $8 per day park use fee. We expect to visit enough Michigan State Parks to come out ahead.

We were looking forward to our next stop and I was especially looking forward to saving some money on camping fees. I had read that just outside the town of Munising where we were headed was a casino with free electricity. I was so in.

We arrived before noon and had our pick of the 8 sites. Even though the marked spaces weren’t much bigger than standard parking spaces we were able to hang off the edge of the parking lot and mostly fit even with our slides out. Later that day a tiny Airstream moved in to the right of us and they were the perfect sized neighbor.

The next morning we had lots of neighbors but most cleared out pretty early and the next evening it filled up again. Our intel was correct, the sites were free and there was no registration or restrictions of any kind on their use. Sure it was crowded but we were busy sightseeing all day and I was sure ecstatic to save the $28 per night I would have spent at the next cheapest alternative.

The main draw here was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, 42 miles of scenic shoreline on Lake Superior. There were also many beautiful waterfalls both in the national park and around Munising. First we visited the waterfalls nearest town. Both were just short walks from their parking areas.

I didn’t even notice the stacked rocks in this photo of Wagner Falls until I got it on the computer.

Next up was Munising Falls.

We also visited Sand Point just outside of town. It was a lovely beach with a view of the adorable East Channel Lighthouse across South Bay on Grand Island.

Then we headed out to explore Pictured Rocks. The most scenic spot that is easily viewed from land is Miners Castle. It is also closest to town so it was very crowded.

There was also a nice view from there of a good stretch of the shoreline. The local outfitters rent kayaks from Miners Beach below and lead trips out to the castle and back.

Next stop was Miners Falls.

It is a long drive between points of interest in this park. It was a 35 mile drive to our next stop, a walk along Twelve Mile Beach. Another 9 miles brought us to the Log Slide overlook where we had this beautiful view of Au Sable Light Station.

I would have loved to hike to it. But it is a 3 mile hike one way from the nearest access point and we had a pretty full day already. We would have come back to do it the next day if it hadn’t been such a long drive.

Our last stop was at Sable Falls 7 miles further.

And a short walk beyond that is a beach covered in beautiful multicolored stones.

From there it was an hour drive back to our parking lot with the free air conditioning. We had every intention of staying a third day and night to kayak either at Sand Point or Miners Beach. Even though the next day was the warmest of our visit it also turned out to be the windiest whipping the water into a frenzy. So we scratched that plan and departed for another adventure.