North Rim of the Grand Canyon Part 2

North Rim, Arizona – July, 2017 Once we set our sights on returning to the North Rim this year, I started looking at camping options. They were basically booked through the end of the summer but I checked back every now and then to see if there were any cancellations and I finally saw a spot available for two days right after the July 4th holiday. It wasn’t in the national park campground but in the national forest campground just a few miles outside the park’s gate. We would have preferred a longer stay but I continued to check back and never saw another option.

We made good time getting across the country so when we got to our destination a whole day early we decided to boondock our first night. We had thoroughly researched the area through freecampsites.net, the Days End directory available from Escapees, and on Google maps. We had a couple promising locations scouted out.

Our first choice was my favorite because there was a large pullout at the intersection of the gravel road, Forest Road 257, and Highway 89A. We pulled over and walked what turned out to be two roads leading into the woods. There were plenty of options and we chose a lovely site that was far enough from the highway to significantly reduce road noise.

We never saw another camper and the only traffic on the road was a few forest service trucks going by. It was a little hot until the sun went down without electricity, and therefore AC, but we persevered. The only other downside to this campsite was the flies were occasionally thick.

We were eager to explore the area and see how it compared to the way we remembered it. We set off for the Jacob Lake Inn where we spent that fateful night during our first visit over 20 years ago. It was pretty much how we remembered it except the phone booth is now a closet.

We didn’t really plan to visit the rim that afternoon but we were so excited to finally see it that we made the 45 mile drive anyway. The parking areas were almost full in the early afternoon so we parked some distance from the rim. The lodge sure looked different than I remember, mostly it seemed bigger. But a sign out front confirmed the lodge hadn’t been significantly modified since the 1930’s. The only other difference was that we both clearly remember a large parking lot right next to the lodge and there are rental cabins built there now.

We hurried through the lodge and finally got our first look at the Grand Canyon from the North Rim.

We then walked down to the viewpoint below it for a good view of the canyon and an even better view of the lodge.

We followed the path under the lodge to more views. I was surprised to see an abundance of lizards. The winters must get awfully long for these cold blooded fellows.

It was HOT and very crowded so we happily called it a day and headed home to enjoy our private camp site.

The next morning we went for a hike in the national forest while we waited for it to be late enough to move to our reserved campsite. After the heat of the last week’s travels, the cool morning at 7900 feet elevation was welcome. The air smelled strongly of the fresh scent of pine and we had the trail to ourselves.

About a mile from the highway we saw a flock of turkey and a herd of deer grazing in the same area. We also saw several Kaibab Squirrel, a very unusual squirrel that only resides on this plateau. It is black with a white tail and fast. I never could catch one in my camera’s sight so I finally swiped a pic from the internet.

After lunch we moved to the Demotte campground which had no hookups and cost $20 per night. The weather was a little more pleasant over the next two days. It still got a bit warm in the afternoons but cooled down by dinnertime instead of by bedtime as it had our first night in the area.

We jumped up the next morning and made the 18 mile drive to the rim before 8 am. We wanted to explore it while it was still cool and before the crowds arrived. It was around 50 degrees when we left camp so I brought a couple layers. But as the sun rose higher it warmed up fast. I chose to start the hike with a light jacket and I shed that pretty quickly.

We headed out to the main lookout near the lodge, Bright Angel Point. It’s a quarter mile hike with some ups and downs but the view is fabulous. As we’d hoped there was only a trickle of people coming and going at that hour.

We then hiked the rim trail. The 2 mile hike was mostly through the woods and the shade was already a welcome relief at 9 in the morning. There was one good viewpoint along the trail that included a bench under the trees.

We hadn’t had a cell signal since entering the park the day before so when our phones started pinging in our pockets we pulled them out and checked all our media outlets, posted a photo or two, and made sure nobody was missing us. Throughout our visit we only got the occasional cell signal on the edge of the canyon. We often found people hanging out at a beautiful viewpoint and talking on the phone. They were usually talking to the office, poor suckers.

After our hike we headed home for lunch. Our plan was to take a scenic drive to another part of the park during the heat of the day. When the time came to leave I wasn’t sure I was up for a two hour adventure but I knew it was quite possible we’d never come back this way so I sucked it up and we hit the road.

It was a 23 mile drive to the end of the scenic Cape Royal Road. It was a curvy, narrow road and the speed limit was 30 but curve after curve often necessitated going much slower. There was only light traffic on the road and it was mostly a joy to drive.

We skipped several pulloffs and drove straight to the end of the road. I was primarily interested in seeing something called Angel’s Window. The trail from the parking lot to the viewpoints was less than a mile round trip. There were plenty of people around but it was nowhere near as congested as it was near the lodge in the afternoon.

The views were amazing!

Angel’s Window is in the middle of that bluff. You can see the Colorado River through it if you zoom in.

Further along the path were more stunning views. Of Vishnu Temple…

… and my favorite, Wotan’s Throne.

The views from Cape Royal were way more expansive than at the lodge which was basically the same view from several different vantage points. It was so worth the drive and I’m very glad we didn’t miss it. We thoroughly enjoyed our return to the North Rim and are glad we finally got to actually see it.

Lovers Key State Park

April, 2017 – Fort Myers Beach, FL We were nearing the end of our time in Florida, for this season at least, and there were so many things we hadn’t gotten around to seeing and doing. For one reason or another we had not gone kayaking with our daughter since she arrived, something we expected to do a lot of. And we had not explored a nearby gem of a state park, Lover’s Key. We decided to remedy both those items at the same time one weekday afternoon.

There is a 2.5 mile marked kayak trail through the park’s mangroves. It doesn’t look much different than the area’s rivers.

Even on a weekday it was relatively busy. We set off about the same time as a rowdy group of German twenty-somethings on a variety of water craft; one canoe, a couple paddleboards, and several kayaks. We dawdled a bit until they got out ahead of us.

I discovered this guy drying his wings. I love these creepy looking birds and but I hadn’t gotten a picture of one until now.

Manatee, dolphins, and alligators are wildlife you might spot here. Birds were the only things we saw but we did hear another couple at the launch say they had seen manatee. You’d probably have better luck seeing wildlife earlier in the day.

We later saw this beautiful guy.

If you look at the map of the park it looks like you could just put in and paddle straight to the backside of the beach and walk over to it. Unfortunately that is not the reality here. The put-in drops you into the maze at the middle of this picture.

You could kayak from the mangroves, out into Estero Bay, and eventually out to the ocean and beach. But that would be a very long haul and we had gotten way too late a start to go that far. If your goal is to kayak to a beach you are much better off launching at nearby Big Hickory than here.

We did make it a ways out into Estero Bay. Most of the floats in Florida have a very limited number of places to land so when you find a tiny beach it’s time to stretch your legs. We stopped for a bit then headed back.

Here’s Jim in our new inflatable kayak. When we went kayaking with the kayak club from our RV park, most of those people had this type of kayak. We were impressed with how they handled so we looked into them.

We wanted to try one out for ourselves and see if it might be an alternative to hauling our big kayaks all over the country. This one easily fits in our basement. We also thought it would be great to have 3 kayaks all winter in Florida so we wouldn’t have to rent one when we took our daughter with us.

We found a gently used Sea Eagle 370 on Craigslist and picked it up for only $150. It included deluxe seats which are a must. You can get the same thing on Amazon for about $325 right now. Here’s the view of it from the top.

This Sea Eagle is made for two. In fact, Jim says it handles better when both of us are in it. It carries up to 650 pounds and weighs only 32 pounds.

We are pleased with it so far and plan to keep it. It was perfect for most conditions in Florida and should be great on any lake in the country. We’ll likely use our regular kayaks in Missouri and possibly leave them there for our summer visits.

As for Lover’s Key State Park, it was a great park with a lot more to offer than just the kayak trail. There were hiking and biking trails and you could walk or take a tram to what we are told is an incredible beach. We didn’t have time to visit again before we left Florida but it will be high on out priority list if we return.

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.

A Renaissance Fair

April, 2017 – Tampa, FL We attended one small renaissance fair many years ago. So when our daughter showed an interest in going to one of Florida’s large renaissance fairs we were completely on board. The nearest one was in Tampa. The Bay Area Renaissance Festival has been held each year since 1979.

The event takes place on 7 consecutive weekends and we put off our visit to the very last day, April 2nd. Since the fair is only held on Saturday and Sunday and our daughter generally works weekends she finally had to ask for a day off in order for us to attend. She got a Sunday off and I babysit Monday mornings, so we made the 2 ½ hour drive up on a Sunday morning, took in the fair, and drove back Sunday evening.

We arrived just before lunch. I had no idea what to expect and thought maybe the last day of the event would be a bit lame. I was shocked to see the numbers of cars trying to get into the free parking area. They were backed up way down a busy street.

Once we were directed to a parking spot, it was a short walk to the entrance gate. The tickets were around $20 each which I didn’t think was unreasonable. It turned out to be a very good value.

Once inside we headed straight to the main event. There was a jousting match taking place center stage. It was fun to watch but it was incredibly hot with all available shade already occupied. I didn’t even think to get any pictures. We watched about 10 minutes before seeking a reprieve from the sun.

Most of the rest of the grounds had ample shade and it was a pleasant day to wander the 100 plus merchants booths. We ogled all sorts of odd merchandise you just don’t see every day; chains, leather goods, corsets. There were also lots of beautiful artistic pieces from glass, metal, paper, about anything you can think of. It was hard but we all refrained from making any purchases.

The actors wandering the grounds were one of the best parts. Hands down this guy was our favorite.

There were plenty of scarier characters as well, such as the Pewter Pirate.

This big fellow was magnificent and his handler was beautiful as well.

I loved these guys and was somewhat disappointed I didn’t make it to their bird show.

It was hard to find your way around and the map they gave you was pretty useless. We finally quit trying to figure it out and just wandered and enjoyed what we came across. There are 12 stages so there were a lot of entertainment options. These musicians were a lot of fun.

The Harmless Danger Juggling Show was even better.

He did finally let go of the wall and ride the unicycle quite well.

We really enjoyed the festival and would definitely like to attend another large fair like this one in the future. We learned a few things from the experience. I think we’d enjoy the next one even more.

This particular fair was incredibly dusty. Everyone’s feet were covered with soot. So I wouldn’t recommend flip flops, or in my case, a pair of brand new sneakers.

They didn’t search our bags as we expected so we would take a half dozen bottles of water and some snacks next time. I also wouldn’t forget sunscreen again. And I’d make sure everyone in the party had sunglasses.

It would have been nice to stay nearby so we didn’t spend the day dreading the drive home. I’d love to find one that would allow us to camp in the parking lot. A few adult beverage might have made the experience even better.

Sitting

Bonita Springs, FL – January – April, 2017 Since we planned to spend a full six months in one location this winter, Jim and I agreed that it would be wasteful not to try and earn some money. A little extra jingle in your pocket is always nice. We could use the money to supplement our entertainment budget this year and hopefully save a little too.

One of our goals is to explore options for supplementing our income while impacting our lifestyle the least. We want to look beyond the obvious camp hosting, beet farming, Amazon gigs that we’ve all heard about. If you recall, my last experiment in money making was substitute teaching last spring. I hope to find something I enjoy more and that also pays better.

One thing I wanted to try was childcare or possibly senior care. I know it doesn’t sound like the path to a windfall but it can actually pay pretty well these days if you work directly for the client. I was familiar with the Care.com website as I’d used it to hire help in the past. So I decided to create a profile as a caregiver and give it a shot.

I did finally land a sweet gig but several things limited the availability of jobs for me. First, I was honest about only being in Florida for the winter. Many people, even those just wanting a sitter for one night, hope to find someone that they can call on again and count on year round.

Second, I was only willing to work a few days a week at most and required at least three days off in a row every week. There were many jobs for a few hours a day, like after school care, that paid well for 3 or 4 hours of your time but 5 days a week was too much of a commitment. There were also a lot of senior care jobs that wanted you to check in on someone a few hours a day, four or five days a week.

Finally, I wasn’t willing to use our truck to any great extent. I didn’t consider any jobs that required a commute of over 10 miles. I also wouldn’t transport clients. Can you imagine my big truck in a school pickup line? And it is too tall to comfortably transport the elderly.

I applied for a handful of positions, and either was politely declined, or more often never got a response at all. I was contacted by several people looking for care but each time it did not meet my criteria so I politely passed. It’s kind of like dating, looking for the right match, and trying to not let the rejection get to you.

Finally in December I received a message from a couple looking for a nanny for an infant two days a week. The job was only 3 miles from our door. It sounded perfect. I went on an interview and accepted the job.

They needed childcare while one of the parents attended college classes. I agreed to stay in Bonita Springs an extra month until the semester ended. This was not much of sacrifice as we are enjoying our time here very much.

I’m almost exactly halfway through the assignment and I absolutely love it. The couple I work for is extremely nice. All they ask is that I give their child my undivided attention.

When the baby takes a nap I usually clean. They said I didn’t have to do anything but wash bottles and put baby laundry away if I had time. But I don’t feel right doing nothing while the baby sleeps.

Caring for the baby is a joy. I make a couple bottles and spoon baby food into a pudgy little mouth. Mostly I read books, play with blocks and toys, and sing silly songs. We have fun!

Now the important part: What does it pay? I’m getting $15 per hour. I am bringing home double what I did substitute teaching.

I did agree to be 1099’d at the end of the year. This means that I will have to pay self-employment tax on this income. So I will net $12.75 per hour. Not bad for doing something that I love.

I think this experience was a complete success. I expect to get a good recommendation on Care.com from the clients when I’m done. That will help enormously the next time I’m looking for work.

There is a tremendous need for elder care and I will definitely consider that as well. It might not be as fun as playing with a baby but I know it can be rewarding. I put myself through college providing housekeeping and companionship for the elderly.

I definitely think there is potential here for making money in our future. If we had some unexpected expenses and needed to drop anchor somewhere and make hay, I would consider this type of work over, say a retail job. It offers more flexibility and more earnings. I really like that this is something I could do into old age. As long as I am in good health there is no reason I can’t care for others.

So you may wonder what Jim is up to while I am working. Is he a kept man? Far from it! Let’s just say Jim is not sitting on his arse. I will share that story when it is finished.

Dog Beach

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

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

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

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

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

The pure joy they exude is infectious!

Dog Beach is all about making friends.

And getting to know them better.

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

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

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

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

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.

Atlantic Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naples

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

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

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

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

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

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

This state park is another good sunset spot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Digs

Bonita Springs, FL – October, 2016 We are excited to be settled in Florida for the entire winter. Bonita Springs is a lovely area with tons going for it. It is about 30 miles north of the most southern point you can inhabit on the gulf side. This is the entrance to our park.

We have planned for some time to spend this winter in Florida. We started looking at campgrounds early last year and were a little concerned about the price and availability of sites, especially during December, January, and February. Our initial searches led us to believe we might not be able to afford this dream.

As early as last July RV sites in every state park we looked at in southern Florida were already booked solid through April 2017. We hadn’t found any campgrounds anywhere near where we wanted to be with a January rate below $1,200 and many were more than double that amount. We had hoped to tour the state spending about a month in each location.

We realized we better get serious about making reservations around July. We had made plans to meet some friends during their vacation to Naples, Florida at the end of October so we started by looking for a place to stay for a couple weeks around their visit where we felt safe leaving the camper while we hung out at their vacation home rental.

While researching all the local options Jim discovered Bonita Lakes RV Resort. Their monthly rate in October and November is just $568 plus metered electric. We inquired and they said they’d have no trouble accommodating us from October 15th to November 15th.

With that decision made we started looking for our second stop. We quickly felt overwhelmed and gave up for a while. In the meantime we read every bit of information we could find on Bonita Lakes and were looking forward to our visit.

While perusing their website we noticed that although their high season rates are $1,285 per month, if you commit to a 6 month rental it is only $676 per month plus electric. While that was a ways over our monthly budget for lot rent it was close enough that we could make some adjustments and pull it off.

We were not optimistic about them having sites still available during their peak season. We crossed our fingers and gave them a call. As luck would have it they had a cancellation just before we reached them and they were happy to give us that site.

As you know we arrived a little early, just ahead of the hurricane so we have been here exactly 30 days as of this posting. We have been incredibly happy with our choice. The park has exceeded our expectations in every regard.

I didn’t expect a fitness area but they have several nice machines and all of my favorites: an elliptical, a treadmill, and a recumbent bike. More often than not, I’ve been starting my days off in this room with a 30-50 minute workout.

The pool is our favorite spot. We can use it 24 hours a day and it’s heated to 85 degrees. Swimming and stretching in the pool is an amazing way to kick start your day. We have watched the sun come up from this spot on several occasions.

We have yet to share the pool with another soul before noon. I also haven’t seen anyone else use the fitness equipment so far. The park will get more crowded over the coming months and I’m sure that will change but it’s been just awesome so far.

There have been so many pleasant surprises since our arrival. They have pretty decent Wi-Fi throughout the park. They have easy, single stream recycling so all recyclables go in one dumpster. The park staff even picks up your trash and recyclables at your curb every morning. We don’t always use that service but it is really nice to know we can.

They also have two full kitchens at our disposal. They have several full size refrigerators we can use in a pinch. And the residents are welcome to take all the ice they make.

The park is a very nice size, just under 200 sites. A lot of people leave their trailers on their sites year round and just drive down for the winter. So it’s sometimes hard to tell if a site is occupied or not but I’m guessing at least half the sites are currently occupied and more people are arriving daily.

The park is a mix of travel trailers, park models, single wides, and even one double wide. But despite the close quarters everyone works hard at keeping it as neat and tidy as possible. Here is one of the older, more colorful residences with some newer rigs making up the rest of the row.

There is a nice lake at the back of the park with an island in the middle. They say there is normally an alligator or two roaming the lake and the canal that runs down one side of the park. Apparently no-one has sighted them yet this fall and they are generally very shy.

The management and staff here are just amazing. They are the nicest, most accommodating people we have ever met. We asked them for advice on where to find a certain tool to buy and they took us to their toolshed and loaned us what we needed.

They don’t have any activities during the summer but Halloween was the kickoff of their season and the beginning of their activities. They hosted a big Halloween BBQ potluck. We ate dinner at 4 and they had a live band from 5-7. These are our kind of hours!

The November activity calendar is packed. We’ve already joined the kayak club for their first weekly outing. We found a domino game on Wednesday nights. And we are looking forward to learning some new games. Apparently a bean bag toss league is one of the most popular events in the park.

We are looking forward to exploring the state from our new digs. There is plenty to keep us busy all winter within an hour of our door. But we plan to make several trips to other areas of the state. We can get to almost every place we hope to visit in 4 hours or less.

We probably won’t be taking the 5th wheel. It was a tight squeeze getting it into its current spot and it’s only going to get more snug as the park fills up. So we will have to get creative with our travel plans and budget. But we’ll figure it out and we’ll fill you in on it when we do.