Saturday, February 1 – After months of planning, we begin another winter adventure through Florida with the ultimate goal of visiting the Keys. The very cold temperatures accompanied by ice and snow delayed Ed getting the water system ready in the RV. Because he did not run enough antifreeze through the system our water pump was frozen. Fortunately, with the help of our mobile RV service and an electric heater the ice was defrosted and no damage was found. A day prior to this we retrieved our Jeep that had been stranded for three days on Rt. 150, following a multicar pile-up because Jeanne was trying to get to our grandson, Kaeden's, school to pick him up. She didn't quite make it and he and his class had a huge sleep over at school. By the way, four wheel drive does not help on ice. There was no damage to our vehicle and we were on our way to East Bank COE, Bainbridge, GA. We left home around 11 am and drove I-65 to Rt. 231 out of Montgomery toward the East Bank Corp of Engineers CG in Bainbridge, GA on Lake Seminole, a distance of 251 miles. There is a lot of stop and go traffic on 231. We just had to stop at Sikes and Kohn outside Montgomery. We made reservations online to arrive on January 31 at East Bank with a minimum of two nights for $22. As you can see we didn't make it on January 31 so we paid $22 for only one night. This campground is a little out of the way, but situated in a lovely, small campground. We had site B-53, a pull through with water and electric on a concrete pad overlooking the lake. Can't get much better than that! Arrived at 5:40 pm ET. Mileage on Tara was 74,814.6.
First and always stopping at Costco to fill up the gas tank and refrigerator!
Lots of Spanish Moss.
Those little black dots are vultures that live there year round!
Monday, February 3 – We left Manatee Springs SP for Hillsborough River SP in Thonotosassa, FL. It was 136 miles; left at 11:30 am ET arrived at 2:15 pm ET. Here we camped with Harry and Mary Gottwals, friends from Wyoming, for 4 days at a cost of $107.52. We were in site 30 and H & M were in site 29. This is a really nice, typical Florida park with large sites and lots of privacy. This park has lots of trails, bike paths, and boat rental for trips on the Hillsborough River. We would return again.
Harry and Mary were traveling north through Florida. They had a firm offer on their property in Clark, WY and had an offer accepted on a house in Billings, MT. So it was an eventful stop for them. They were also on their way to pick up a new Airstream.
Our new family member, Sassy Cat!
Hillsborough River from the suspension bridge.
They have some very nice hikes here. One was the Baynard Nature Trail. Only one mile, but very nice trail through lush forest and beside the river.
Wednesday, February 5 – Today we drove to Lakeland, Florida about 30 miles away from the CG to the Bigfoot Leveling Systems. Roy took most of the day well past 5:00 pm to complete the job of installing our new leveling system. There was some mix up in the packaging of one of the components. Cost of $4700. Met Bob and Marilyn Ludwig for lunch at “Crispers” in an upscale shopping mall in Lakeland off I-4. That evening we drove back to the park, arriving at around 8:00 pm ET.
Lunch with Bob and Marilyn Ludwig, friends from Haines City, FL.
We were shocked as we walked around this upscale shopping area to find this in the window. Chris Hodges (second from the left) is our pastor back in Birmingham at Church of the Highlands. Way to go Pastor Chris! Wish we could be there!!
Friday, February 7 - Quail Run Campground, Wesley Chapel, Florida, Good Sam's, private, $37.80/night. It was a very nice park with full hook-ups and premium cable. We couldn't extend our stay at Hillsborough River, because they were hosting a huge Seminole War reenactment so we decided to stay 20 miles away at the Quail Run Campground which was only 4 miles from the home of our Alaska friends, Herb and Nancy Gwin who live in San Antonio near Dade City. Spent this evening just visiting and enjoying Herb’s smoked salmon and salmon dip.
The Sandhill cranes are in abundance in the Tampa Bay Golf and Tennis Resort where our friends Herb and Nancy Gwin live.
Herb showing us his "stock".
Herb and Nancy will retire to Florida in a few years. They have a very nice home in the Tampa Bay Golf and Tennis Resort. Too bad it was too cold to get into the pool!
Saturday, February 8 - Ed golfed with Herb and Bob (Herb's brother-in-law) and his grandson at the 9 hole par-three Executive course. It rained a lot during the night and the first part of the day, but didn't dampen the golfer's spirits!! Ed and the boys sure had fun, especially because Ed pared three of the holes. Later that evening, we joined Herb, Nancy, Bob and Penny (Nancy's sister who lives on the other side of the golf course) for a "Can/Am Party" at their clubhouse. Some of the snowbirds there are from Canada. BYO drinks and snacks, DJ and lottery. Jeanne and Herb performed to YMCA music. Ended the evening at Penny’s and Bob’s for a nightcap. We were all out on the dance floor! Tons of fun!
Bob and Penny enjoying the night.
Nancy and her sister Penny
Sunday, February 9 - We drove south on I-75 for 196 miles to Collier-Seminole SP below Naples off Hwy 41 (Tamiami Trail) about 3.25 hrs. We had reserved site 38 for five nights but decided to stay just four nights for a net cost of $96.80 ($24.20/night). This state park is more rustic and laid out in no certain fashion. Because of shared utilities your neighbor is parked pretty close so not much privacy. We backed into our site but had to string utilities under the RV to hook up. With advice from a park employee we drove to Goodland to the Old Marco Lodge Crab House for dinner. There was a huge party going on in Goodland so very little parking. The Lodge was lots of fun. We sat outside and enjoyed live music and the sunshine.
Our new friends, Werner and Miriam from France were camping across from us. They invited us to visit them near Nice in Vence. We may just take them up on their offer.
Lunch at Camelia Street Grill. Very good!
Big Cypress National Preserve, Mangrove Wilderness Boat Tour
Bill and Lucy Motts live in Bonita Springs. We were happy that they were able to camp with us and show us around the Everglades.
The Turner River was absolutely beautiful at every turn. Huge Mangrove trees lined the river.
Monday, February 10 - We were joined by Bill and Lucy Motts who winter in Bonita Springs. It was nice camping with them because they know the area and traveled with us on some venues they had done before. Bill drove us to Everglades City today to visit the Big Cypress National Preserve where we took the Mangrove Wilderness Boat Tour, a six passenger boat into the mangrove forest up the Turner River at a cost of 84.80 for two. Very cool. Lots of birds and a couple of alligators sunning in the dark rich soil in the cave of mangrove trees covering the river. At times, we had to lean in because the foliage was so close. Worth doing. Lunch was at the Camellia Street Grill in Everglades City. We also drove through Chokoloskee. Everglades City and Chokoloskee are little towns are in a time warp. Nothing has changed in many decades.
Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Learning and Reserve
Yep, they got some really big mosquitoes in the Everglades!!
Tuesday, February 11 - The next day we visited the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Learning and Reserve at 100 Taver Road in Naples, FL. A huge building houses hands-on displays for children, and adults alike. You will find a variety of information on the foliage and birds in the area. The one mile walk is on shell, recently added by the boy scouts. Here we took a picture of Jeanne with a giant mosquito art figure above her head. There was a display of aquatic animals and several short walks throughout the preserve. This evening, we returned with Bill and Lucy to dinner at the Old Marco Lodge Crab House.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary run by the Audubon
Wednesday, February 12 – Bill and Lucy accompanied us to one of their favorites, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary run by the Audubon and located north of Bonita Springs a little more than an hour from the campground. The boardwalk was 2.25 miles where we viewed many species of birds, some nesting, and several alligators, one was about 14 inches long and we were told it was 2 years old. Knowledgeable park guides were located along the way to point out interesting animals or plants providing numerous picture opportunities.
Hwy 41 across the Everglades - Shark Valley, Everglades National Park
The parking lot down to Shark Valley was full so we took our bikes off the car and biked the .5 miles or so. Keep in mind that we were in quite a rush to get down to Long Key State Park and set up the RV.
Thursday, February 13 - This was a very busy day. We left this morning for Long Key State Park located down Rt. 1 about 155 miles for one night at a cost of $43.00. Bill gave us some hints on what to see along Rt. 41 in the Everglades. One of our stops was at the Oasis, an alligator viewing area run by the National Park Service. This site had a boardwalk along the canal built at an alligator “hole.” There were several very large specimens just sunning or swimming in the area. Pretty impressive. Further on our drive we stopped at Shark Valley, another development run by the Park Service that had a 15 mile walk and bike path along a canal loaded with birds and alligators. The parking lot was full so we parked on Rt. 41 with other RVs and cars and used our bikes to access the park. We soon realized we were spending a lot of time here and had to move on.
There is an artist by the name of Clyde Butcher famous for his black and white photographs of the Everglades, Cuba and other locations in the US. His original Big Cypress Gallery is located along Tamiami Trail at Ochopee, Fl. We stopped and bought ourselves a picture and frame and a print of the Tetons for a friend's 80th birthday. We wanted the artist to sign both prints, but he wasn’t there. He was giving a talk at a hotel in Isledorata, a Key along our route. So we rushed to Long Key Park, hooked up, and returned north to the hotel where we paid for appetizers and drinks and listened to a talk on the artist’s recent trip to Cuba and the book of photographs he published from the trip. The talk turned out to be an awareness raiser for an everglades conservancy group. We had Clyde Butcher sign both prints that night.
View from our living room in the motor home at Long Key SP.
All of the sites are back-ins at this small park and are situated directly on the Atlantic Ocean. We didn’t have much time to experience the setting since the wind was blowing and it was a little chilly. We noticed that the beach was narrow with lots of sea grass. We learned that it is against the law to remove it, not sure why. This park had the best bathhouse and rest rooms we have ever encountered in our travels, new and very clean. It is hard to get a reservation here, but it was a great setting.
Friday, February 14 – We left Long Key SP heading to Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key (MM37). We stayed in site 27 for 7 nights and added 2 nights at site 2, that's 9 days for $387. This is also a really nice park with a lot of facilities, biking, hiking, boating, snorkeling, and fishing. We had arranged to fly back this evening to Birmingham to celebrate Bob Kreisberg’s 80th birthday. Jeanne went on to board our cat in Marathon and I went to the campground to set up.
Once we were settled in at Bahia Honda State Park on Long Pine Key, we headed into Key West to use the only laundromat on the Keys, a true "antique" laundry. The building and machines were old and located in a rundown area. Most of the patrons were black or Cuban. Washer cost $5. Jeanne took lots of pictures to remember this adventure. We continued from there to the airport where we hung out until our plane left at 7:15 pm. It was fortunate that we made these plans since Jeanne’s dad had fallen while taking a walk and was taken by ambulance to St. Vincent’s East Hospital today.
We arrived in Birmingham at 10:50 pm, rented a car and had a good night’s sleep in our own bed.
Saturday, February 15 - We slept a little late! We had lunch with our nephew, Adam Bailey and his family from Gulfport, MS. His wife Dusty is in the military and they are leaving for Turkey on March 31, 2014. It was good to visit with them. We visited Jeanne's dad in the hospital. He took a fall the day before and almost bled to death before someone found him. Another reason he needs to be in assisted living. Then we attended the birthday party for our dear friend, Bob Kreisberg.
Five of Bob's six kids were present for his 80th birthday. He really enjoyed visiting with his family and friends. Ginger, his wife, had two of her girls there. She put the party together and did a fabulous job!
Sunday, February 16 - We flew back to Key West with another long layover in Miami. We arrived at 6:15 pm, but didn't make it back to our home on wheels until about 9:00 pm ET. We stopped for dinner at Springer's Bar and Grill in Big Pine Key, Fl. Atmosphere was great, but dinner wasn't that good. Should have stopped at the Square Grouper!!
Monday, February 17 - Now our vacation begins, again...almost! We stopped for lunch, then picked up our cat from the boarder. We decided to stay a few more days here at Bahia Honda so we went on the website and eventually refreshed my screen enough times to find two more days. Yeah! We then went shopping for food and at lunch at the Sunset Grille in Marathon, FL. Got back to the motorhome and took a bike ride up to the bridge where we watched the sunset. It was a good day.
Tuesday, February 18 - We took a walk to other parts of the campground and got caught up on this blog. We needed this day to rest!
Wednesday, February 19 – This was our first glimpse at Key West. And we did every touristy thing we could find to do. There are a couple of parking lots conveniently located that for $20 allowed us to park all day and come and go as we pleased. Mickey Davis (who installed our carpet at home) has been to Key West many times and shared several recommendations of must sees with us. We had lunch at the Conch Republic Seafood restaurant.
We went snorkeling with Fury Adventures in Key West for $71.73. Although the boat ride and crew were nice, the snorkeling was awful. The female captain made the decision not to go to the reef that day because of the swells. We didn’t see anything at the spot where we finally anchored. No coral or fish. But the margaritas on the way back were a nice touch.
It was fun to see the Fascination docked at Key West. We were on the maiden voyage to the Bahama's in 1993.
This was before snorkeling.
This was after. Margarita in hand.
Ed looking dapper!
These little guys are everywhere. But not quite as many as we have seen in Hawaii!
Late in the day we caught the Couch Train that drove around the downtown area stopping at few places so we could access the sights. Because it was so late, our tickets were also good the next day.
Dropped into the Hog’s Breath. Our son-in-law Brian moved to Key West right out of college and worked here at the Hog's Breath. Unfortunately, we missed the sunset at Mallory square tonight. We left and drove up to MM 22 and had dinner at the Square Grouper on our way back to Bahia Honda. Long wait, but well worth it. It is one of the best restaurants in the keys!
Thursday, February 20 – Returned to Key West for a second day and parked at the same location. We walked and took the train again to tour the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum of ship wreak artifacts located on Greene Street, Truman’s Little White House on Front Street, Hemingway’s house and the Hog’s Breath again where we talked with a bartender who remembered son-in-law Brian. We returned to Mallory Square in time to enjoy a drink at the Sunset Bar. Great pictures. Hugh crowd celebrating the sunset, music, dancing. Last we drove to Fort Zachary Taylor to take pictures of where Brian lived while working at the Hog’s Breath. We finally arrived back at the campground satisfied that we had done Key West.
Lunch at El Meson De Pepe, an authentic Cuban restaurant recommended by Mikey Davis. Cuban sandwich and black bean soup were wonderful.
Mel Fisher Museum - A collection of contents from two 17th century shipwrecks that were recently recovered off the coast of Florida. Crockery, cannons, silver and gold on display, as well as jewelry. You can actually buy some of the jewelry in the store there at a very elevated cost! But we thought it was well worth the admission price of $12.
Ficus tree. I think it is located on Whitehead St.
Miscellaneous Pictures from the Conch Train
St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Duval Street.
St. Paul's hosts many weddings.
You probably figured out that this sign sits across the street from the beginning of US 1.
This was taken from the wrap around back porch. The lighthouse, which was on the water at one time, now sits very far inland.
Urinal from Sloppy Joe's Bar under the urn.
Hemmingway's office was in a building behind the main house, over the pool house.
The pool. As the story goes, Hemmingway went off on a trip and when he got home one of his wives put a pool in for the whopping sum of $20,000. He was so mad that he threw a penny at her stating now she had his last red cent. The penny landed in wet concrete and is still there today.
One of the many six toed cats that live on the property.
A view of the lighthouse and museum.
Can you see the school bell?
Mallory Square Sunset Celebration - A few of our favorites
Live music on the Sunset Pier!
This is the house our son-in-law Brian Gregory rented when he moved to Key West after college. It is on the same street as Fort Zachary Taylor's entrance.
Friday, February 21 – Moved the RV to site 2. Today was all about relaxing. Took a walk up to the bridge to watch the sunset.
Saturday, February 22 – Went snorkeling with the Coral Reef Park Company a concessionaires group out of Bahia Honda State Park. They took us to Looe Key. Probably 40 passengers on board. It was a very nice spot, a coral reef with a good variety of fish. Someone even saw a barracuda. We bought two snorkels, don't like sharing! Many people got sea sick on this trip. We would definitely do it again!
SO many people got seas sick and it was only 40 minutes out!
Afterward, we showered and went to lunch, then on to see the little Key Deer, a protected population of 600 to 750 deer unique to the keys. Jeanne got pictures of several including a buck. Along the way we stopped at the Blue Hole and saw ducks and turtles, but the alligators were hiding.
The Key Deer are very small. No bigger than our grand-dog, Maggie, a black lab.
In celebration of our wonderful trip to the keys, we decided to go back to the Square Grouper at MM22 for dinner. We had a wonderful meal and a piece of the best key lime pie we had ever eaten. A perfect ending to our trip!
Sunday, February 23 – We departed up Rt. 1 to Markham Park, a Broward County park located in Sunrise, Florida. The cost was $42.40. When we arrived the park was very crowded with a weekend day crowd. This park is located in a residential area. Campsite was on dirt and grass and our picnic table, concrete slab and utilities were all on the same side. It was a large park with lots of macadam roads for hiking and biking. Bathrooms were poor to average. Tonight we did laundry, ate a breakfast-dinner at Denny’s and lost our way trying to get back to the laundromat.
Monday, February 24 – We drove back to Big Foot Leveling for Roy to correct an electrical problem in our system. He worked at least an hour and, based on his recommendation, we left about 5:15pm for Sandlan RV Park about 10 miles away. We stayed here for one night at $42.
Tuesday, February 25 – In the early afternoon we headed over to Bob and Marilyn Ludwig’s house in Haines City, FL. They live in the Grenelefe Golf community. We parked overnight in their driveway.
Every Tuesday night their neighbors get together for a cocktail party and appetizers. We met Bob’s brother Paul and a number of their good friends. Then the group headed to dinner at Melonies Restaurant in Dundee, Fl. Melonie usually serves only breakfast and lunch but opened tonight for dinner for this group. She also entertained us with a couple of songs. A very nice visit.
Marilyn raises orchids.
Melonie serenading us.
Wednesday, February 26 – Bob was off to play golf this morning so we said our goodbyes and headed toward Mike and Elizabeth Coachman’s home. We met Mike and Elizabeth through our Lazy Daze Caravan Club. They truly live in the middle of nowhere (by choice) on a dirt road on about 57 acres. They completed this rustic house to include many of their rocks, antiques and other treasures they had accumulated on their many trips. Elizabeth has her studio in one loft and Mike has his office in another. Mike gave us the grand tour on his four wheeler through the woods and wet lands. Telling us about cows, wild hogs, alligators, cranes and turkeys that occupied his land. He showed Ed throughout his sheds, they talked about installing his black tank cleaning system and explained the log splitter. They had promised the man they bought the property from that he could stay there. However, he is now very sick and probably won’t return. They had a double concrete RV site with electric, water, and sewer located a short distance from their house. This is where we stayed overnight. That evening we ate at the Mykonos II Family Restaurant in Brooksville, FL. Mike is former policeman whose interest in communications led him to establish a sophisticated communication and surveillance system for his department. He is very mechanical and after going through his metal building I have to assume he could build or repair anything. Elizabeth is an accomplished artist working in several mediums, also a retire pathologist. They have some very interesting paintings and prints in their home and have a wealth of artist friends.
Mike and Elizabeth Coachman.
Our site on this rainy night!
Mike has an awesome machine shop.
Lots of amenities!
And monster trucks!!
This is their beautiful house.
This is Elizabeth's studio loft. She showed me some of her very impressive artwork.
Stained glass front door.
The top of this beautiful dining table was once designated as a front door for this house.
Elizabeth plays Joplin on this beautiful grand piano.
The rocks in this circle were collected by Mike and Elizabeth on their travels. Very nice addition to the fireplace.
We had a great visit and Mike was very sincere when he asked us to return. We probably will to visit with and learn more about this very interesting couple.
Thursday, February 27 – We drove to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Micanopy, Florida. This was a very nice park with walking and biking trails, a couple of lakes and many "beware of alligator" signs. We stay in site 46. We didn’t stay long enough to see everything. The park has water and electric and the bathhouse were old but very clean. Would stay again.
Friday, February 28 – We drove back to the COE East Bank CG about 205 miles north. This is the CG we stayed in our first night out and again we stayed at pull-through site 53 with electric and water for $11.
Really?? Is this how we need to walk our dogs??
Saturday, March 1 – Left for Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in the Florida Panhandle about 115 miles drive. Found out that Jeanne's brother and sister-in-law, Jim and Marian, were going to be at their RV about 6 miles away at Miramar Beach. They came over and we ate at the Seagrove Market.
Me and Marian cutting up.
"I kissed a girl and I liked it...."
My favorite handsome brother, Jim.
Sunday, March 2 – Spent most of the afternoon at the beach with Jim and Marian. A great day with sunshine and temperatures in the 70s. Ate at Louis Louis on Hwy 98, close to 30A.
Monday, March 3 – Cold, today so we went to Jim’s and Marian’s RV at Miramar Beach for a throw together dinner.
Tuesday, March 4 – Very cold today. Visited the Verizon store and then to the Silver Sands Outlets. We ate an early dinner at Goatfeather’s Restaurant at Blue Mountain Beach. It was one of the worst dinners we ever had. We have been disappointed here several times. Not sure why we return. Won't again!
Wednesday, March 5 – Rained most of the night. It is chilly and today as we are completing our blog. We drove to Seagrove Market for lunch. They always have the best grouper sandwiches! We stopped at Goatfeathers Fish Market in Seagrove to pick up steamed for dinner and fresh shrimp for later. It is a sister to the Goatfeathers at Blue Mountain Beach, but we love the seafood market here. And usually buy fish to take home from this market. We returned to the RV to try to finish the blog and pack up for our return home tomorrow.
Thursday, March 6 - Today we drove in the rain most of the day. We arrived about 1:30 pm. Just in time to pick up our grandson from school. Nothing better. We are always happy to leave home and happy to get home.