Entertaining Guests

Goodland, FL – February to Mid-March, 2018 We took our last guest to the airport and said goodbye on Tuesday. We had houseguests for 5 of the last 6 weeks. We spent our days planning the next meal, provisioning (keeping gas in the boat, groceries in the house, and beer in the cooler), and boating.

We took a boat trip just about every day we had company. Our neighbor took this picture of us leaving one day.

We usually headed to one of several beaches that are reachable only by boat. But we often fished a bit along the way. I caught my first fish in many years. The catfish aren’t supposed to be good to eat but they sure were fun to catch.

We all caught catfish that day.

Another day the mackerel were hitting. Our buddy, Terry, caught a couple spanish mackerel.

Jim got one too. We didn’t keep them either but we could have.

The dolphins were a real crowd pleaser. Until last week this is the best shot of one I had managed to get.

I finally had my camera at the ready when this pair started playing in our wake. Do you see the second one at the very bottom of the photo?

When the tides cooperated we enjoyed taking our guests on a sunset cruise.

Every sunset here is uniquely stunning.

When we weren’t boating most of our guests were content just hanging out on the dock, enjoying the Florida sunshine.

We cooked copious amounts of food and I think I consumed at least a million calories. A seafood boil (sometimes known as a low country boil or frogmore stew) is one of our favorites and was on each week’s menu. I finally remembered to snap this shot before it was all gone.

We loved every single day of it and all of our guests were dear friends or family whose company we enjoyed immensely. But we are looking forward to the next several weeks of quiet, to eating more reasonably, and getting back into our fitness routines.

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 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 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 our youngest 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 our youngest 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.

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.

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.

Edisto Beach State Park

Edisto Beach, SC – April, 2016 After our chilly weekend at Myrtle Beach a few weeks ago we were watching and waiting for some decent beach weather. Just as the weather was improving, we saw a 3 night opening at Edisto Beach State Park’s beach campground. When we stayed here last fall we had to stay in their Live Oak campground, a half mile up the highway from the beach. We really wanted to return but stay in one of the 75 beach side sites. Edisto Beach State Park is only 50 miles from our property so it was mucho convenient.

Our site, number 58, backed up to the marsh that fills up with water at high tide. The site was near the limit of what we are willing to pay for a campsite. It averaged $58 per night after all fees and had water and electric. But you cannot beat the convenience of walking past a couple rows of campers and over a dune and being on the beach. If one of you gets tired or bored they can just go back home without making the other one leave. If Jim wants to go fishing, there is nothing stopping him.

Last time we were on the east coast Jim saw a guy with a great beach cart that carried all his fishing gear and stuff. He has been looking for one with the right features and price ever since. He finally found exactly what he wanted for about a hundred dollars at Dick’s Sporting Goods near Brownsville, Texas. We have used it a couple times since, to carry our chairs and cooler to a nice riverside spot in Texas and to get our stuff to and from the camp’s laundry. But this was to be the cart’s true beach debut.

The big wheels were a must and worked great even in the loose sand. The cart folds down pretty well but those wheels still take up their fair share of the basement.

Totally worth it though when you can easily haul two chairs, fishing gear, and a cooler past the crowds on the beach and nab a secluded spot to spend the afternoon.

We spent our first full afternoon at the beach; sunning, fishing, generally being lazy. Here is a pic of one of the many beach accesses. We loved the dead tree and yellow flowers.

The next day we loaded up the kayaks and drove a couple miles to where the state park has a boat ramp on Big Bay Creek. From there you can paddle up the creek or out to the mouth of the South Edisto River and on into the ocean. The creek has more of a tide than a current. So our plan was to put in and float upstream with the tide, wait for the tide to turn, and float back with the tide.

It was a wide creek with grassy marsh on both sides. We floated up the creek and were passed by a group of dolphins.

There were at least four of them. We saw quite a bit of them for about a minute but they were fast so it was hard to get any picture at all especially since all I had was my iPhone.

After we floated past the state park’s property there were a dozen or so private docks crowded on one side of the creek, each with a long wooden sidewalk built between it and a big house back in the trees. Many of the docks had impressive boats. After them we had the creek to ourselves again.

We only went about a mile and a half and then tried to stay out of the current and wind that was pushing us upstream and wait for the tide to turn. There was such a strong wind coming up the creek that even when the tide turned and water started flowing toward the ocean the current wasn’t strong enough to counteract the wind. So we ended up having to paddle against it all the way back to the boat dock. We weren’t totally surprised by this outcome and were grateful we hadn’t gotten too far from the takeout. Next time we’d like to float toward the ocean just before low tide and hope the wind and the tide will carry us back to the dock with less effort.

Besides the dolphins we saw in the creek, we saw a lot more wildlife in general on this trip than we did during our last visit. We saw a huge turtle swimming in the ocean one day. The campground also has some very aggressive raccoons (the squirrels aren’t exactly shy either). This big fella had no problem walking into people’s camps in the middle of the day and rummaging through their things.

We were careful not to leave any trash out but Jim forgot to put his fishing gear away one day and they ate/stole/are wearing his plastic lure and they broke one of his poles, probably trying to get away after getting tangled up. Thankfully he was able to repair it.

When the tide went out the marsh behind our camp became a mud field. We were sitting there one afternoon and realized the whole thing was moving. There were a kazilion crabs about an inch wide, each waiving their little claw at us. How friendly!

The park’s learning center is located near the boat ramp. It’s definitely a must see if you visit. It’s much nicer than we expected. They have a beautiful building with a nice back porch full of rocking chairs.

They also have lots of live snakes, fish, and such in aquariums. Glad this fellow is no longer in that category.

The place has some beautiful murals and displays like this cool boat.

We had a wonderful three days in Edisto Beach and look forward to visiting again.

Myrtle Beach State Park

Myrtle Beach, SC – April, 2016 Myrtle Beach State Park is an island of calm smack dab in the middle of the Grand Strand, an almost uninterrupted stretch of developed beaches that run for 60 miles along the coast of South Carolina. The area attracts millions of visitors every year and has numerous attractions to keep families entertained. This was our first visit to the area so we had no idea what to expect.

We had wanted to get to a beach for a few weeks but couldn’t find any campgrounds that were available and affordable. Spring break was the primary reason. All the state parks were full and the private campgrounds were expensive and not honoring any discounts. I flat refuse to pay $70 for a campsite so we bided our time exploring inland.

With spring break over we looked again to the beach. We found a vacancy at Myrtle Beach State Park a few days out and made a reservation. After taxes and fees it cost around $37 per night for a site with electric and water. It was great to have a nice quiet place to escape to so close to all the things that make this area popular.

We arrived at the state park via a long winding drive full of blooming bushes.

The park has a couple miles of undeveloped beaches.

There are several piers in the area which always make great photo opportunities.

The campground is extremely nice and a short eighth mile walk to the beach. The only thing that broke the quiet was the occasional airplane from the airport next door. Some of them came very low over the beach. This was taken right on the state park border.

Beyond the park’s boundaries, the beaches are lined with one hotel after another.

I can understand why Myrtle Beach is such a popular destination, especially for families. It has practically every type of entertainment you can imagine. There are at least a dozen fantastically designed putt putt golf courses. There are amusement rides scattered all over the city. Ripley’s has 5 major attractions here. I’ve never heard of a Ripley’s Aquarium but we might have to check that out if we make it back here someday.

Broadway at the Beach was a fun place to get a nice walk. It is a large shopping area with lots of interesting stores like the Man Cave Store and Stupid Factory, not your typical mall stores. There are lots of dining and entertainment options as well. The shops, restaurants, and attractions are clustered around a small lake. Even though it was chilly while we were there they still had plenty of takers for the jet boat rides they offered on the lake. Here is one of the jet boats with the science museum in the background.

We were shocked by the number of seafood buffets in area. A little research revealed about a dozen buffets featuring seafood in Myrtle Beach alone. We love seafood and a good seafood buffet is hard to find so we decided to splurge. There were so many options, many with great reviews. Our first couple choices were not open until dinner and we wanted to go out to lunch.

We settled on Seafood World because it was one of the rare one’s that opened at noon and had lots of good reviews. The cost was about the same as other buffets in the area, around $30, but they advertised $5 off before 3pm. After tax and tip it was still over $60. We enjoyed it immensely. The selection was pretty good and most of the food they served was awesome.

All in all we enjoyed our visit to the Myrtle Beach area. We agreed that it’s not really our cup of tea. It’s a little too commercial for our tastes. The fact that the weather was not that great during our stay probably tainted our opinion of it somewhat. We will likely visit again someday but stay at Huntington Beach State Park a little south of Myrtle Beach but still on the Grand Strand. Then we can take a day trip into town if we need some excitement.