Headin’ South

September, 2018 – Springfield, MO to Gulf Shores, AL We managed to leave Springfield as planned two days after our daughter’s wedding. I was miserable with a cold and I asked Jim to please get me to the beach. I assured him if I was not cured by the time we got there, a good dose of sea and sand would heal me. So we made a beeline for Gulf Shores, Alabama.

We took 6 days to get there, stopping in 4 places along the way. The most interesting stop we made was 2 nights in Little Rock Arkansas. The Downtown Riverside RV Park was in the heart of the city and right on the Arkansas River. The price for our full hookup site was $31 per night per night.

There was a great pedestrian bridge just at the end of the park that you could walk or bike to the south shore where Clinton’s Presidential Library and Park are located.

The Arkansas River Trail runs for 21 miles along the river and if I had felt better there were tons of interesting places we could have biked to from our campsite.

I was starting to feel better by the 2nd day of our visit so we took a walk over that bridge and along the south shore stopping at The Central Arkansas Nature Center where they had lots of great exhibits.

We then continued a short ways to another interesting pedestrian bridge, the Junction Bridge, and then home.

It was about two miles round trip and felt great to be moving again!

Each night the bridges are lit with a light show at the top of every hour.

Once we reached Gulf Shores we had an amazing 4 nights at Gulf State Park. This is definitely one of our favorite parks. Last year around this same time we had a brief stay that was cut short by Hurricane Nate.

I was feeling about 80% when we arrived but one afternoon playing in the ocean and lying on the hot sand and that jumped to 95% cured. Another dose of sea water the next day and I was my old self. I, and I’m sure Jim, was happy to see her!

This is a very bike friendly park so we gratefully unleashed our bikes from their bumper carrier and set them free. There is a network of trails around the park totaling 15 miles that make up the Hugh Branyon Backcountry Trail. All the trails we rode were wide and either paved or most often, wooden boardwalk.

From our site we could bike less than a mile and cross one awesome pedestrian overpass to reach the beach. Our third day there we biked 5 miles total with a swim in the ocean as an intermission.

One of our favorite spots in the park is the pier. Admission to the pier is included in your camp fee. We love watching huge schools of fish darting willy nilly to avoid the predators stalking them from the depths. What is even better is when you actually get to see those predators.

Our first afternoon on the pier we saw a couple sharks and thought that was pretty awesome. We returned one evening to watch the sunset and were thrilled to see several more sharks as well as quite a few rays near the shore. But when I forgot my sunglasses that evening and we went back the next morning, our last, in the vain hope they might still be there, we really hit the mother load.

We saw shark after shark that morning. There was one spot where it was rather shallow and you could see them really well against the sandy bottom. There was a whole gang of sharks weaving in and out of this area so who knows how many there really were but at one point I saw 7 at once! I am pretty sure the majority of the sharks were Blacktip Reef Sharks although we definitely saw at least one nurse shark as well.

We had to leave on Friday morning as the park was full for the weekend. We had a big move to make that day, a whole 18 miles to Big Lagoon State Park just on the other side of the Florida state line. We were just riding out the weekend before moving to another of our favorite beach parks on Sunday.

As is often the case we had to seek a less popular camp for Friday and Saturday nights. Big Lagoon was actually a very pleasant park though: uncrowded, with lots of room to move, and just a few miles drive from the amazing Johnson Beach National Seashore.

Florida! What?!

Goodland, FL – July, 2018 When putting together our summer calendar many months ago we realized we had one three week window where we didn’t have anything going on in Missouri. It was not hard to figure out where we wanted to go. We had a house, a boat, and a car in Florida.

We had been planning on buying a small used car next season so instead we found one before we left. We bought this 2006 Cadillac CTS in April. We got it for a great price and it only had 65,000 miles on it.

It makes it so easy to zip around Marco Island and Naples and to find parking in places our big truck just doesn’t fit. It gets a little better gas mileage and it will help keep the mileage down on the Ford. We hope we got a good enough deal that we’ll be able to resell her in a year or two and recoup most of our investment.

We booked flights on Allegiant Airlines from Springfield to Punta Gorda for $350 total. Then we rented a car for 24 hours on each end of our trip to make the 85 miles drive to our home in Goodland. We were able to rent at the airport and return it in Naples and vice versa. It was $85 one way and $55 the other. Ubers and such would have been over $100 each way.

We enjoyed three wonderful weeks in a place that is starting to feel very much like home. We have officially been Florida residents for some time now and are certain we want to eventually settle somewhere in this state. But for now we are loving this area. And this home, while not our forever home, is still very dear to us.

Many have told us how miserable Florida can be in the summer. We often heard how terrible the humidity is and couldn’t help but wonder how much worse it could be than Missouri which is a pretty humid place in the summer. During our stay there is no doubt it was humid. But we didn’t feel the humidity itself was what made it so uncomfortable.

The temperatures weren’t much different than they were in Missouri but in our opinion it’s the sun that makes the difference. This part of Florida is so much closer to the sun than the rest of the country. Unless you are lucky enough to have some cloud cover, the heat can be intense.

As far as working in the yard or exercising outdoors, we had to get those things done by 9am because after that it was just too hot. The only place to be after that was in the air conditioning or on/in the water. Guess where we preferred to be.

We had a great time boating and had our favorite beaches all to ourselves most of the time. The area is not really crowded in the winter but it is downright deserted in the summer.

We saw very few dolphins. I assume they enjoy the cooler waters further out this time of year. The water temp was around 87 degrees.

We had heard the fishing would be better in the summer.  We didn’t have much luck catching anything edible. But we still had fun trying.

We were fishing one day when I saw this Blue Crab swimming across the top of the water. Jim handed me the net and I scooped him up. A quick perusal of the fishing guidelines confirmed we could keep him.

Jim cleaned him and we added him to a shrimp boil we already had planned. We got about a teaspoon of sweet crab meat each and decided that although it was good it wasn’t worth his life or the trouble.

One of our neighbors, who has fished these waters most of his life, said that the red tide is the reason we weren’t catching. We are lucky to have only a little red tide around Goodland but it is really bad not too far up the coast. So it makes sense that it would affect the fishing here.

Another thing people often complain about is the rain during Florida summers. When our daughter spent last summer in Bonita Springs it seemed like it rained from the day we left in May until Irma hit in September. During this visit we had only a couple days where it rained, or threatened rain, all day long.

We woke to thunderstorms one morning and I grabbed a cup of coffee and my camera and headed to the back porch. The view was amazing! Huge thunderclouds and a lighting storm in front of us. The sun was coming up on our left and a full moon was setting to our right.

Unfortunately I failed to capture a lightning bolt. In this picture the light in the clouds to the right is actually lightning but you’ll just have to take my word for it. I finally put my camera down and just enjoyed the splendor.

Another night we were in the midst of a very loud storm and I stepped out the front door and got this image of lightning behind our neighbor’s house.

We did get our share of afternoon showers but generally they were a relief as they brought the temperature down for a short time at least. They did often create some drama in the sky and make for some beautiful sunsets.

It was really cool having this paradise seemingly to ourselves. So many of the houses of our fair weather neighbors were vacant. The guy across the street is a full time resident but he even went on vacation a whole week while we were there.

The ravages of Irma are still apparent on Goodland but they are slowly being erased. On our morning walks we’d occasionally notice a newly vacant lot where once there was a damaged house or trailer.

One sign of the area’s recovery is the reopening of popular restaurant that had been closed because of the hurricane . We had heard great things about The Crabby Lady and were excited to try it. We waited until our last Sunday there and went for an early dinner since they have live music on Sunday afternoons.

The restaurant is on the water and is apparently very popular with boaters. They are the only restaurant on Goodland that serves breakfast and the only one open during the off season. The band was great and we enjoyed our meal immensely. We look forward to many more Sunday Fundays at this establishment when we return.

Topsail Hill Preserve

Santa Rosa Beach, FL – May, 2018 When we passed through this part of Florida last October we were really looking forward to visiting Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. Unfortunately our reservation was summarily cancelled when Hurricane Nate made an unwelcome visit to the area the day before we were scheduled to arrive. Even though it was a little off of our planned route this trip, we decided to make the detour and spend a couple nights there.

We arrived an hour before the park’s 1pm checkout and were told they had not yet confirmed if our site was vacant. They directed us to park in their large day parking area and check back with them in an hour. We parked, had a quick lunch, then unloaded the bikes to have a look around.

The first thing that caught our eye were the numerous little ponds around the campground

and the many lily pads growing in them. Their blooms were quite lovely.

We made a quick tour of the park and confirmed our site was indeed vacant. Then back to the office to check in. Then back to the site to drop off the bikes and a quick walk to collect the camper.

Soon we were set up in our new home and, most importantly, plugged in to the power grid so our AC could work overtime to get our little tin box comfortable. The sites here aren’t overly large but they are big enough and thoughtfully laid out.

The rain that was in that afternoon’s forecast kept getting pushed back so we gratefully took advantage of the beautiful day. After a short rest we donned our bathing suits, threw a couple things in a bag, and headed for the beach. The beach is about a mile from the campground or from the day use parking lot. It is perfect for bicycling to or they have a tram that runs from 9 – 7 daily.

We arrived at the beach to find it fairly busy with families enjoying their Sunday afternoon.

The sand was at a premium but there was plenty of room in the water and all we cared about was getting our saltwater fix. We threw our bag down and plunged right in. The yellow flag was up so there were some pretty good sized waves we had to work our way through. But we finally got out to 4-5 feet of water and just bobbed around for a while.

The water was a deep shade of green and the perfect temperature. The only negative was little green globs of, I don’t know, seaweed? They were everywhere. That’s ok. We persevered long enough for our bodies to soak up their quotient of salt.

Some dark clouds were moving closer and we heard some thunder so we decided we better head for home. I was glad we weren’t stuck waiting on the tram. We jumped on our bikes and made it home just before the clouds let loose.

We were both looking forward to a good ride the next morning. A very popular trail starts across the highway from the park and travels 20 miles along Scenic Hwy 30-A. Unfortunately Jim’s trick knee had pulled one of its shenanigans the day before. He wisely decided he better let it rest.

I took a ride around the park. Primarily I wanted to take the paved trail to Campbell Lake. It was only about 3 miles roundtrip.

The lake is a rare freshwater coastal lake. It’s hard to see in this picture but the other side of the lake is actually a tall sand dune that protects it from the ocean.

The morning was pretty dreary and it was misting the whole ride. I kept hoping it would clear up and I’d get some better light for my photos. It didn’t.

Turns out it was pretty comfortable riding conditions so I kept going. I rode every stretch of pavement in the park, about 5 miles worth. I stopped at the beach and walked down the boardwalk.

The beach was now deserted.

Then I road most of the park again to complete an hour’s worth of morning exercise.

The rest of the day turned out cooler than expected, which was nice. We drove east a ways beside the bike path we had hoped to ride and found it was very congested in places and we probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it anyway (sour grapes anyone?). Jim wanted to visit a bike shop called Big Daddy’s. You can tell they are serious about bikes.

Then we explored the area to the west of the campground. There were tons of retail options in this area. There were high end shopping centers and a huge outlet mall.

Even though we didn’t need anything, roaming some of the strip malls was a good way to get in some walking and we always had a place to duck in out of the heat or the rain, depending on what Mother Nature chose to throw at us from one hour to the next. The easy walking was what Jim’s knee needed to keep it going without further straining it. Hopefully he’ll be back in the saddle by our next stop.

Trouble in Paradise

Panther Key, FL – April, 2018 Ever since we got our boat Jim and I have been saying we wanted to camp out on it or on a deserted beach. We are in our last full month in Florida for this winter and we figured we better get on with it before it got too hot or the rainy season kicked into gear. We chose a weekday just after Easter and made it happen.

We just wanted to sleep under the stars as far away from light pollution as we could, so we planned to go out one afternoon and come back the next morning. We took a tent and an air mattress to sleep on the beach but agreed we could sleep on the boat instead. We left it till we got there to decide. If there had been any other campers on the beach we might have slept on the boat. There weren’t. There was quite a surge where the boat was parked so it probably wouldn’t have been too comfortable.

We kept the meal plan simple. We only had one dinner and one breakfast to worry about so we picked up fried chicken from the grocery store to eat cold and made a pasta salad to accompany it. When dinner time came we were roasting. It was almost 90 degrees and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. That cold dinner tasted better than any hot meal we could have dreamed up. We planned to have cereal for breakfast.

We reached Panther Key, which is about 8 miles from Goodland as the crow flies, around 3. It took us about an hour to get everything we wanted off the boat and the tent set up. It wouldn’t have taken that long but we’d get a little done, stop to drink a cold beverage, and then work a little more. Did I mention it was hot?!

Once we were set up we wandered the beach as far as we could in both directions. Here is Google’s satellite view of Panther Key and the orange arrow shows about where we camped. The beach stretched less than a half mile on either side of our camp.

We walked all the way to the north end of the beach. But we only went a short distance to the south before having to walk out into the surf to get around trees. We hoped to walk all the way to the south end of the key in the morning when the tide was lower.

There were few other visitors to the beach while we were there. We probably saw a half dozen people all afternoon. After 6 we had it completely to ourselves. There were 3 boats we could see anchored offshore for the night.

Around 5:30 we couldn’t wait any longer to dig into that fried chicken. Soon after that, we caved to the enticing shade offered by our tent and the falling sun. We pulled our chairs, and the cooler of course, into its shadow and reveled in the relief from the blazing heat.

We hid in the shade for the better part of an hour. When the sun got lower, the temperature dropped precipitously, and we pulled our chairs back to the water’s edge for the big show.

We had the perfect location for a brilliant sunset. It was spectacular and the colors were incredibly intense. With so few clouds in the sky, however, it was far from our most photogenic sunset.

It was also remarkably swift, seeming to have only just started sinking before disappearing altogether. Some of the best colors were reflected in the sky to the north where two of the three boats within sight were anchored.

The third boat, a sailboat, was on the Western horizon, seemingly in the thick of the setting sun.

Right before last light you could see a few puffy clouds in the sunset and Venus rising to the right of it.

Next came the part of the evening we were really there for. In a very short time the stars started appearing and within the hour the sky was covered. The moon wasn’t scheduled to rise until after midnight so we had plenty of stargazing time.

It wasn’t in the same league as some of the most memorable nightscapes we’ve encountered, like our Colorado River float or boondock at Flaming Gorge, but considering how little effort it took to get here it was a pretty spectacular view. We could see the glow of both Marco Island and of Naples in the distance so if we go even further away from civilization next time the view will get even better. Sadly I wasn’t successful at getting any pictures.

We stared and ooohhhed and aaahhed until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore and then we retired to our tent. We both thought that after all that sun, water, and wind we would have no choice but to sleep like the dead. Wrong! Even compared to other nights we’ve spent in a tent and on an air mattress, this had to be one of the most uncomfortable.

Our biggest concern had been being hot while we slept so I didn’t bring enough covers. The sea breeze was constant and pretty chilly. We weren’t too cold, just uncomfortable. When the moon did rise it was unbelievably bright in there. And of course the air mattress deflated throughout the night.

Around 5 am Jim had had enough and he crawled out of the tent and started collecting firewood. I joined him as soon as he got the fire started and it kept us toasty until the sun came up.

It was about then that Jim realized that the boat had drifted in the night and we had a problem.

We had a rear anchor on her and a line from her bow tied to a tree on the island. Her anchor hadn’t held and so she had drifted south and closer to shore. She was only just stuck. If we had paid attention and caught it as soon as we awoke we probably could have corrected the problem. But we mistakenly thought the tide was still coming in so if she looked a little high in the water the tide would soon lift her. When Jim realized the tide had turned and was going out, he became alarmed.

We jumped in and tried everything we knew to get her into deeper water: rocking her, using a limb for leverage, adding the power of the motor. It was a no go. We were good and stuck and the next high tide wouldn’t be until 4 that afternoon.

We could stay all day. We had enough snacks and water. But 8 more hours in the blazing sun did not sound like a very good time.

Our boat insurance with Progressive includes a towing endorsement called Sign and Glide. We decided to give it a try. We called their 800 number and they dispatched a Seatow boat which reached us in about 45 minutes. In that time though the water dropped another foot and there was no way he could get our Bella off the sand bar.

We had spent that time packing everything up. We asked the captain, Eric, if he’d give us a ride back to civilization and then bring us back with him at high tide to pick her up. It turned out he was our neighbor and docks his boat at the other end of our canal. He agreed, so we locked Bella up, made sure her rear anchor was really, really secure, and abandoned ship.

He dropped us off on our dock and we drug our tails into the house. I made a big breakfast and then we took a much needed nap. We spent the afternoon puttering around the house trying not to worry about our girl out there all alone.

A little before he was supposed to pick us up at 3 the captain text that he was on a call in Everglades City and might be a little late picking us up. Everglades City is about the same distance as Goodland from Panther Key but in the opposite direction. So he would be going right past Bella to come back and get us in Goodland. We suggested that if he wasn’t towing a boat on his way back, maybe he could just get Bella and tow her home. He said he would.

So we waited, and waited, AND waited. About 7 Bella finally made it safely home. A different Seatow captain brought her and put her right in her slip. We spoke to him briefly and the gist was Eric was tied up on calls, he asked this guy (who turned out to be his father) to go get her and said he could pick us up if he wanted. He said the water had turned rough and if we had gone we would have been miserable and very wet so he did it alone.

We were ecstatic to have her back. She was a big salty mess, but she was home with no damage. We were extremely grateful to Progressive’s Sign and Glide team who checked in with us throughout the day and to both Seatow captains.

So what’s the take away from this experience? 1st: We need a better anchor or anchoring system before we take Bella out for another overnight. Jim has had his eye on something for a while and this will probably seal the deal. 2nd: We really didn’t know if a free towing endorsement on our boat policy would offer very reliable service when we needed it. So it’s reassuring to know they have our back.

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?