Koreshan State Historic Site

Bonita Springs, FL – March, 2017 We had a cold front come through the middle of March and while much of the rest of the country wrestled with winter weather of the white variety, we enjoyed a break from the heat of our Florida winter. On a perfect day with a high of 75 degrees, a slight breeze, and a mostly cloudy sky we chose to visit the state park closest to where we are staying, Koreshan State Historic Site.

The Koreshans were a religious sect that started in New York State around 1880 and spread across the country with chapters in Chicago and San Francisco. They moved their headquarters to Estero, Florida in 1894 to avoid religious persecution. They planned to build a grand city here, a new Jerusalem, built on the principals of community property and celibacy.

At the center of their beliefs was the conviction that the universe existed inside a giant, hollow sphere with the sun and the moon in its center. Here is a representation of the way they saw the universe.

They stayed in tents for several years until they could get their homes built. They never quite accomplished the great city they had planned but they did eventually build a very nice compound. The arts were very important in their society and the entertainment hall was the center of their social lives.

It’s a beautiful, well preserved building.

There were seven prominent women who ran many of the group’s businesses. They lived in this beautiful home.

There were 7 bedrooms which served as the lady’s offices as well.

There was no need for a kitchen as all meals were communal. The woodwork in the home was amazing.

The founder of the religion, Dr. Cyrus R. Reed, had a pretty awesome home as well. I never did find an explanation for the round addition on the side.

Not every member of the sect lived in such luxury. But even their shacks weren’t all that bad.

They were a self-sufficient society with a bakery…

and a woodshop.

These were just a couple of the multitude of businesses operated on their members’ behalves.

They had some extraordinary gardens planned.

But the bridges they built stand out the most.

We enjoyed a nature trail along the Estero River which borders the property and were surprised how clear the water is. We were pleased when we could see a manatee approaching from quite a distance.

The bamboo along the nature trail was awesome. It made a nice wind chime like sound on a windy day.

Koreshan was a great place to spend an afternoon. Admission was only $5 per carload. They have a lot of demonstrations and events. We will likely time a future visit with one of these and/or bring our kayaks with to float the beautiful, clear river. The prior occupants were very interesting to learn about, the property was beautiful, and the walk along the river was entertaining.

We took our daughter and grand-doggy, Sasha, with and the park was very dog friendly.  Of course Sasha wasn’t allowed in any buildings so we took turns looking in them.  We also drove through the campground on our way out.  The sites were nice but close together with only a thin line of vegetation separating them.  But compared to the postage stamp we are renting in our commercial park they were huge.

The whole day we couldn’t help exclaiming often how great the weather was and how pleasant it was to have a break from the hot days we’ve experienced most of this season. We would never complain about the heat but this was a nice intermission from it and was really appreciated. We enjoyed a couple more days of cool weather before the hot days returned.

Girl’s Day in the City

Tampa, FL – February, 2017 Our daughter planned to visit the Tampa area for the day.  I asked to join her and Jim chose to stay home. So we enjoyed a fun girl’s outing. This was her trip so she set the itinerary and I just went along for the ride.

It’s a two hour drive to Tampa from Bonita Springs. We rocked out the whole way there, taking turns controlling the playlist. We arrived at our first stop about 11.

Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center is near Apollo Beach on the Tampa Bay. The salt water used to cool their equipment is discharged into a canal and the manatees congregate there, especially on colder days. They have built a very nice nature center devoted to these gentle giants and it is totally free.

Of course, the primary draw is the manatee viewing decks across the canal from the power plant.

We were there on a fairly warm day so there weren’t a huge number of manatees in the water. We spotted at least 6 but they were a good ways away so they were just large, gray bodies just under the surface of the water. A couple of times people asked, “do you see anything?” and we pointed them out.

We were not surprised that this was the best manatee siting we had. There were several sculptures and murals.

The highlight of our visit here was their ray exhibit. They had a shallow pool with about 20 rays swimming around. There were several different variety of rays.

You could put your hand in the water and they would swim under it and let you “pet” them. They had glass windows in the side which made for great pictures except for the reflections. You can see the playground behind me in the above photo.

Since this was a girl’s day it had to include some shopping so we stopped by the Westfield Brandon Mall. It was an extremely nice indoor mall with just about every store you could desire. We enjoyed a nice walk and lunch in the food court.

Next on the agenda was a stop at Ybor City just northeast of downtown Tampa. Ybor is a historic Latin neighborhood and a National Historic Landmark District which began in 1886 when a large cigar factory relocated from Key West. We found a parking lot and walked the main drag, East 7th Avenue.

The area is primarily an entertainment district now, so it probably really comes alive after dark. But it was still a great stop with interesting architecture, some funky little stores, and a fun atmosphere. It reminded me of Beale Street in Memphis or The Loop in St. Louis. Cigars are still a big part of the culture here. There were a couple bars with quite a few people sitting outside smoking cigars.

By this time it was 4 o’clock so it was time to make our way to our primary destination for the day, the Dali Museum in nearby St. Petersburg. Every Thursday evening at 5 they offer $10 admission to this famous art museum and my budget conscious daughter was determined that was the only time to see it.

The building itself was amazing with strange bubbles of glass protruding from the concrete structure. We explored the outside until 5. This beautiful tree appears to be adorned with ribbon but they are actually peoples’ admission bracelets tied to it.

Once inside a grand circular staircase led you to the galleries upstairs then continued its spiral to the ceiling.

We first visited the Frida Kahlo exhibit which is on display until mid-April. It was a large exhibit with over 60 pieces including her paintings and personal photos. Her art is definitely odd and sometimes disturbing and based on the descriptions of her in the gallery, so was she. The gallery was extremely crowded so we moved on to the permanent exhibit of Salvador Dali’s work and life.

Considered a surrealist, his works were strange but I found them beautiful as well.

The best part of the visit was when my daughter dragged me into a little room I never would have noticed. They had a virtual reality exhibit which allowed you to go inside Dali’s work. Luckily there were only a couple people in front of us in line and two people could go at a time.

In less than 10 minutes we were seated side by side in chairs that swiveled 180 degrees and had the headsets strapped to our noggins. We had 3 minutes to virtually wander through a desert landscape with two towers and a herd of extremely long-legged elephants.

We experienced the same landscape but chose different paths through it. I was thrust to the edge of a crumbling balcony at the top of a tower. It was startling and I couldn’t get back to the relative safety of the stairs fast enough. Both of us enjoyed watching the herd of elephants walking practically right over us.

We saw everything we wanted in the museum within an hour. It was a great experience made better by the reduced admission. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much if I’d paid $25 to see it.

We rounded up our girl’s day with breakfast at Waffle House as soon as we got outside of the city. Then we made the long trip home.

Everglades Wonder Gardens

Bonita Springs, FL- January, 2017 There is an old roadside attraction located just down the street from our campground. In 1936 the Piper brothers opened The Reptile Garden beside the then new Tamiami Trail. This road is now called Old Highway 41 and the attraction was renamed the Everglades Wonder Gardens somewhere along the way. The Piper family closed the attraction in 2013 and a not for profit organization, with financial assistance from the city of Bonita Springs, purchased and reopened it.

We visited mid-day and mid-week so it wasn’t very crowded, maybe a dozen other guests were there. There were plenty of plants, some very pretty like this sea grape, but despite the name the gardens were not the highlight.

They have a lot of birds and the ones that talked were especially entertaining. Many were real hams.

They had plenty of beautiful birds as well, like this cute little duck.

One highlight of our visit was the flamingos. It was fun to watch the strange way they eat, turning their heads up-side down to swallow.

We watched that couple peacefully for a bit. But when another couple joined them the feathers really flew.

Four was definitely a crowd.

This pair wins the prize as the oddest couple. Apparently they’ve been roommates for many, many years.

There were many peacocks roaming the grounds.

There were a lot of reptile exhibits as well but it’s not always easy to get a picture of their guests under glass.

The stars are definitely the alligators. This baby is apparently adopted.

The alligators are generally in a large enclosure with a swinging bridge for visitors to walk over. We were a little disappointed that this exhibit was closed and is being rebuilt. But they don’t seem to mind their temporary digs.

They are all smiles.

We would definitely recommend anyone visiting this area to check out this Florida institution. The tickets are $12 per person but knowing that the money is going exclusively for the care of the animals and to make improvements to their habitats makes the price easier to swallow. We also highly recommend the Twisted Tangle Café next door. We stopped by for a snack after our visit and thoroughly enjoyed our appetizers and visiting with the owner.

Blastoff!!

Cape Canaveral, FL – December, 2016 Jim has always had a strong desire to visit the Space Coast. As a child of the 60’s the space race looms large in his earliest memories. Although we vacationed near there several times over the years, we never made the time to stop. Visiting Kennedy Space Center was at the top of our to do list while wintering in Florida.

We were all snuggled into our campsite at Bonita Lakes RV Resort and had decided our 5th wheel wasn’t going anywhere for a while. So Jim had been investigating getting a small rig to make short trips around the state. He found a truck and topper for sale nearby and after thorough investigation decided to buy it.

We have often thought that such a rig would be perfect for a trip to Alaska, or to Mexico. So this is an opportunity to see if we could really live in such a small space for any length of time. In the meantime, it is perfect for tootling around Florida and we’ll decide what to do with it at the end of the season.

As luck would have it there was a rocket launch scheduled for the week following our acquisition and we decided the four hour trip would make the perfect maiden voyage for our new toy. I found Jetty Park Campground about 15 miles from the launch site where we could view the launch from camp. I reserved a full hookup site for $50 per night so we could test all the systems and flush out the tanks.

We arrived in camp just after lunch on the day of the launch. We got set up, finally got everything put away in the camper, and took a walk around. It appeared everyone was getting ready to watch the launch across the inlet. There were campsites directly beside the inlet where people could watch from their front yard but they weren’t electric. Day visitors were able to park their cars right along the water and many were claiming a spot.

The launch was scheduled for between 6:30 and 7:30 so we went back to the rig and had dinner, then grabbed a cocktail and walked back around 6. We found a nice curb to sit on and waited, enjoying the carnival atmosphere of the crowd.

Right on time at the beginning of its launch window we saw a bright glow from behind the hill across the water. Everyone chorused “Here it comes!” or some such variation of this statement.

Then there was a large, silent ball of light rising into the sky.

It seemed forever but was probably around 60 seconds before we heard the roar. It wasn’t earth shattering but it was impressive.

In my final shot of the rocket you can see the smoke trail. The camera magnified all the available light including the helicopters flying around. And I had forgotten my tripod which I keep in the other truck so it’s a little shaky. But it is still my favorite pic.

Then the rocket disappeared into the heavens. The crowd quietly dispersed and we made the short walk home.

On Friday we planned to visit the Kennedy Space Center. We made it out of camp around 9 am. It is really weird taking your home with you on every single outing. We were about half way there when Jim realized he should have grabbed a heavier shirt. Then he laughed at himself when he remembered the closet was still 10 feet behind him.

Not 5 minutes later, I was mentally kicking myself for forgetting my camera until it dawned on me that it was in the cabinet above the couch a few feet to my rear. This will take some getting used to! But I think I’m really going to like it.

By the time we got parked, bought the standard one day tickets for $50 each, and made our way through security it was around 9:45. We decided to take the bus tour first as there was only a small line and they started at 10. So after a 10 minute wait we got on the first bus of the day.

The bus drives you around the property for about an hour. The bus driver gives you a lot of information and there are TVs that deliver even more. You get to see an awful lot from your comfortable bus seat, like the massive assembly building.

And gigantic equipment for moving the rockets to and from the launch pads.

And of course the launch pads themselves are colossal.

I’m running out of synonyms for really, really big so I’ll give that a rest.

After your ride they drop you off at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Here you are treated to a history of the moon-landing era. This takes place in several rooms with large screens culminating in a re-creation of the Apollo 8 launch complete with rocket noise and rumbling seats. These are the actual consoles the ground team used.

Afterward you exit into a massive room with this rocket dominating it.

And you are free to explore the many exhibits at your leisure, like the Apollo 14 capsule.

We found the perfect spot to enjoy the lunch we’d packed.

Whenever you are ready you can catch a a bus for a short ride back to the main visitor complex. We then chose to visit the shuttle building, the home of space shuttle Atlantis. We entered the building and were funneled to a line, thankfully short in our case. After a 5 minute wait we were ushered into one theatre and then another where we were educated on the history of the space shuttle program.

Then we were set free to explore the rest of the building. Atlantis, hanging above it all, is breathtaking.

There were a multitude of displays here, astronaut training simulators, and a memorial to the Challenger and Columbia crews. I really wanted to do the Shuttle Launch Experience, the closest thing to a ride offered at the space center. But I didn’t want it bad enough to wait in line for 45 minutes.

Finally we took a stroll through the Rocket Garden.

There is so much more included in the basic admission including two IMAX films and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. But we were satisfied with our first visit and decided to save them for another time. Our visit was moving, inspirational, and nostalgic. We will definitely be back!

Sandsculpting

November, 2016 – Fort Myers Beach, FL Several people in the trailer park had mentioned the sand sculpture competition in nearby Fort Myers Beach and claimed it was a good value and not to be missed. We kept putting off going until we were trying to decide what to do one Sunday afternoon and realized the 9 day event ended in 3 hours. It was just 15 miles away so we jumped in the truck and headed over.

The 30th Annual American Sandsculpting Championship was held from the Friday before Thanksgiving to the Sunday following it. We had driven through Fort Myers Beach on a weekend day soon after arriving in Florida and it had been a zoo. So we were grateful that the event included free parking and shuttle to the event from nearby Lover’s Key.

Since it was already 3 when we arrived at the parking area most of the bus passengers were returning to their cars. A bus was unloading a large group when we arrived. We ended up getting a private ride without a wait. We walked onto the plain white bus and were surprised to find it was quite the party bus. We rode to Fort Myers Beach in style.

The bus dropped us off in front of Wyndham Garden Hotel and we walked through their parking lot to the beach where we did have to wait in a short line to pony up $7 each for admission. Then we were in.

There were dozens of sand sculptures spread over a couple acres. There were many holiday themed sculptures.

And several variations on the classic sand castle.

There were also quite a few aquatic themed pieces.

And even one that made a social statement. That’s a TV he’s watching.

I’m not sure what this guy had to say.

Or this one. No more monkeies jumping on the bed is my only guess!?

It was impossible to get a pic of the centerpiece of the show without someone posing it front of it.

When we tired of the sand art there were some unique booths to browse through. Here was my favorite piece of merchandise which is very fitting for a couple of my friends. You know who you are.

On the way out we were treated to this character. I’m not sure how much rum it would take to let that creepy looking guy hug me but she seemed to have found the right amount.

It only took about an hour to see everything we wanted. It turned out to be a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I’d recommend anyone see such a competition at least once if they have the opportunity.

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.

Hershey

Hershey, PA – September, 2016 When we started making tentative plans for this northeast loop many months ago Jim asked if America’s Largest RV Show could be on the itinerary. The show is hosted by the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Association and held in Hershey each September. A quick internet search for the show dates and a glance at the map and I assured him it could be done.

We planned to attend the show the first day, Wednesday. This also happened to be Senior Day. As is our M.O., we arrived 30 minutes before the gates opened. We parked in the huge lot which was free for this event and joined a long line waiting to get in.

Jim’s been 55 almost a year and we’ve only had a few occasions when we’ve benefited from a senior discount that was defined as 55+. For some reason Jim is not nearly as tickled as I am when we save money by being lumped in this category. Even though their website says the senior only qualifies for one half price ticket, they let him buy both our tickets so we got in for $5 each.

The day was forecast to be very hot so we chose to visit the outside exhibitors first. This included acres and acres of every conceivable type of RV, open for perusal. We spent hours checking out a sampling of all types of RVs, from tricked out motorhomes going for half a million to micro tow behinds for less than ten grand.

We thought about what changes we could make to our own home to make it more accommodating. We also seriously considered what type of rig we’d want next if it became necessary to replace ours. We mostly just enjoy poking around in open houses and this was a chance to do so on a micro scale mega times.

There are exciting ideas being incorporated into new RVs. Our favorites were in storage capacity. This Momentum 5th wheel by Grand Design had a feature that definitely made it our favorite even though at 41′ it was longer than we’d ever consider towing and more money than we would pay. It had a rear bedroom that was raised so that there was a small garage in the rear under the bed. This storage area would be large enough for our scooter and kayaks, or someone’s 4 wheeler or golf cart.

About noon we finally headed inside, hot and tired. The Giant Arena had displays all around the hallway at ground level and then filling up the entire court. There were plenty of interesting products and services available and we enjoyed checking them out for a couple hours.

I was prepared to be underwhelmed by this event as I had been somewhat disappointed by Quartzite’s RV show. Instead I was blown away. If I was planning to replace an RV within the year, I would try to make it to this show before making a decision on a model. The selection just couldn’t be beat and they were all ready to deal.

While we were in Hershey we had to visit Hershey’s Chocolate World. It was free so what they heck.

Mostly it was a large store with every product Hershey sells in one place. They had some free samples including products that weren’t yet for sale anywhere else. But the highlight was an animated ride taking you through their process of manufacturing products including talking farm animals.

We then visited downtown Hershey and walked around. It made for a nice stroll as there are plenty of cool old buildings. The street was lined with kiss-shaped street lights.

Jim really wanted to visit the Gettysburg battlefield an hour away. We looked into stopping there a night or two after leaving Hershey but couldn’t find a good, reasonably priced camping option. So I lobbied for a day trip instead.

The park was free but the museum and film were not. So we skipped them. We picked up a map at the visitor center and checked out the limited number of free exhibits they did have. Then we headed out on the self-guided driving tour.

The drive was pleasant and there was plenty to see. It was a lovely area.

And the cornfields and split rail fencing took you back in time.

There were numbered stops that corresponded to the map and took you through the 3 day battle. But primarily there were monuments, some 1,400 of them, scattered all over the place.

There were several larger ones, the most impressive being the Pennsylvania Memorial.

During our time in the area we chose to stay at PA Dutch Country RV Resort. It was 15 miles from Hershey but the closer ones were too expensive or booked. Dutch Country is a Thousand Trails property but our Thousand Trails pass does not cover this zone so we booked it through Passport America for $26 per day full hookups. It was a nice park except it was very poorly laid out and many sites were incredibly uneven front to back so I can’t say I’d go back.