Wasn’t That A Party!

Our site (#48) at the RVillage rally in Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, Florida.

Last week, Betty & I joined 700 other RVers at Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak Florida for RVillage’s Rally 2.0.  We had previously attended a small Good Sam rally in our home province of Manitoba, and a regional FMCA rally near Houston, Texas, and very much enjoyed both events. Being relatively new to the RVillage network, and never having attended a large RV gathering, we were somewhat apprehensive as we made the short trip westward from our last campsite at St. Augustine, Florida. Long story short: We had a great time!

RVillage founder, Curtis Coleman, introduces Chris Dunphy & Cherie Ve Ard of Technomadia.

As a fairly private person, I have posted almost nothing on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any of the other social networks (if that is what they are called…).  So prior to the rally, our RVillage profile provided a bare minimum of information about Betty & me. RVillage is a relatively new social network, conceived just a few years ago by Curtis Coleman, founder and current CEO. At a session called “RVillage for Beginners”,  Curtis assuaged our privacy concerns and reviewed a whole range of filters that can be turned on or off on the platform, customizing the information shared about us and the information desired from others. Bottom line, the platform is a very useful tool for connecting with, and staying connected to others who share our passion for RVing.

Marc & Julie Bennett discuss Living The RV Life.

During the four day gathering, a number of workshops were held on topics of interest to RVers: from boondocking with solar; to fire safety while RVing; to managing RV weight; decluttering, downsizing and getting on the road, among many others. A couple of my favourites were “Mobile Internet Fundamentals with Technomadia” presented by Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard, well-known and well-

Graham meets Marc and Julie at their book signing.

respected YouTube personalities who have a wealth of experience keeping in touch while on the road.  Also most inspiring was a presentation by Marc and Julie Bennett of RVLove, telling their story of “Living the RV Life: Your Ultimate Guide To Life On The Road”– their recently published book.

Of course, everyone we met at the rally had a unique story. The park was filled with all shapes and sizes of RVs, carrying licence plates from across the continent, and we loved to hear the adventurous travel stories

Some of our new friends gathered at the firebirds. Creds to Indiana Steve for the great pic.

told with such a wide range of wonderful accents! I guess, in the end, that’s what brought us all together and will keep us connected in future – our wanderlust to see all that we can in the time given to us to travel this earth.

The New Christy Minstrels shared their uplifting songs at the Spirit of the Suwannee.

The Suwannee Music Park reminded Betty & me of the site and vibe of the annual Winnipeg Folk Festival, and it was fitting to finish our last night together listening to the harmonies of the New Christy Minstrels (with former member Curtis Coleman), and enjoying the amazing metal  “Firebird” sculptures that were set ablaze each night of the gathering.

A firebird lights up the night.

Wasn’t that a party? Well yes it was! RVillage Rally 2.0 Spirit Of The Road set our spirits soaring and inspired us to continue adventures on our overlandish odyssey, but now better connected than ever!

Cheers!

This firebird was adorned with keys that glowed as the fire burned.
The 5 sculptural fires warmed all those around. With the available cocktails, everyone left the party with a warm glow. (No driving necessary…)

“Green, green, it’s green they say
On the far side of the hill
Green, green, I’m going away
To where the grass is greener still…

Nah, there ain’t nobody in this whole wide world
Gonna tell me to spend my time
I’m just a good-loving rambling man
Say, buddy, can ya spare me a dime?
Hear me crying, it’s a…
Yeah, I don’t care when the sun goes down
Where I lay my weary head
Green, green valley or rocky road
It’s there I’m gonna make my bed
Easy, now…
To where the grass is greener still
To where the grass is greener still
To where the grass is greener still.”
Songwriters: Barry Mcguire / Randy Lloyd A. Sparks
Green, Green lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Remembering The Settings

Our well-treed site(#22) at Juniper Springs in Ocala National Forest.

If Betty & I were to park our motorhome for an extended period of time, we would set it and forget it, like the commercial says. While we intend to slow down our travels soon, this outstanding overlandish odyssey is constantly taking us through new adventures that require regular adjustments. Today’s post highlights some of the settings required in each new location.

Dangling our feet among the small fish in the crystal clear waters of Juniper Springs.

It’s not quite on the level of an airline pilot, but prior to take-off, and after landing our home-on-wheels at a new campground, we need to work through our check lists. Of course, as Quality Officer for Women’s Health, Betty promoted safe surgery checklists in the hospitals where she worked, so this comes second nature to her. In the camp spot, we need to follow different procedures based on the availability of water, electricity and a sewer connection; whether it is a pull-through or back-in site; and whether it is level, shaded, or congested, to name a few criteria.

Is it easier to set up in a full service site, or a boondocking location? One is not necessarily more difficult than the other – just different. Of course, when I’m talking about hardship here, camping in our motorhome is definitely not the same as in a tent. The hard part is remembering which buttons to push at the correct times. Lol.

This picture of the natural springs pool at Juniper Springs is not adjusted. The water sparkles all the way to the bottom.

For instance, the fridge in our motorhome automatically switches from gas to electric, if electric is available. But since we added solar to our roof, we need to manually switch it back to gas if we are boondocking, so it doesn’t drain our batteries. Likewise, if we are boondocking we set our water heater to gas, but run the electric heater if we are plugged into shore power. Regardless of our location, we try to limit the use of electricity,

The Atlantic Ocean view from our table at St. Augustine’s The Reef restaurant.

and have switched to LED lighting, which is still turned off if not in use. Electricity from our solar panels/ batteries also needs to be monitored more closely than 50 amp shore power. We do have longer showers if we are hooked up to a water source, but then have to remember to flush less and conserve water more when we are boondocking. In most locations our generator and solar can provide power to meet our needs almost indefinitely, but our black and grey tanks are only good for a week before we have to find a place to dump them.

St. Augustine’s Lightner Museum was built by Henry Flagler as the Alcazar Hotel. The city is the oldest in America.

These are only a few of the adjustments required when changing locations. This post covers our stops last week, after Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach, to Juniper Springs Recreation Area in Ocala National Forest, to Faver-Dykes State Park near St. Augustine, Florida, prior to travelling to Live Oak for the

Betty prepares our car to leave site #20 at Faver-Dykes State Park, just south of St. Augustine, Florida.

RVillage rally.  By capturing each location in words and pictures, Betty & I are better able to remember the settings for each of these beautiful stops. Hope you can remember where you are at with whatever you are doing also!

Cheers!

St. Augustine’s Flagler College was once the high end Hotel Ponce De Leon, built by Henry Flagler. It was the first to have running water and electricity in every room, installed by Thomas Edison.  A beautiful setting.
In a prominent St. Augustine setting, the Castillo de San Marcos, completed in 1695, replaced nine wooden forts that burnt down. It is the oldest masonry fort in the United States.

We Got Lucky!

Betty, Charlie & I enjoyed a campfire before leaving our site (#4) at Tiger Bay State Forest.

Throughout our adventures, Betty & I have tried to drive a fine balance between planning our itinerary, and being spontaneous. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. With rigid, detailed planning of days and stays, we can miss out on unexpected surprises that call us to sidetrack, learn about and experience new, previously unknown destinations. But by leaving everything to chance we find many of the nicest campsites and campgrounds on our preferred route were booked many months in advance and not available to us. It’s not easy to maintain that balance, but this week we got lucky!

The wide, flat beach (at low tide) at Daytona Beach continues to be a popular spot to drive, park, and play.

Heading slowly northward from the Florida Keys, up the eastern seaboard of the U.S.A., we made few advance bookings. Before leaving Winnipeg in December, Betty & I had snagged a few nights at Manatee Hammock campground in Titusville, in order to facilitate our visit to the Kennedy Space Center. Otherwise, we were open to exploring the Atlantic coast, with fingers crossed that we would find decent accommodations. The three campgrounds where we stayed in the Fort Lauderdale/Palm Beach area were great choices, and we would have enjoyed more time in each.

Betty catches some rays at Daytona Beach this week.

The Bennett Field Campground in Tiger Bay State Forest provided an excellent base camp for us as we explored the Daytona Beach area. Betty & I had been to Daytona Beach when we were much younger – on spring break – and again with our kids when they were still in their teens. We had driven our class C motorhome onto the wide, flat beach and enjoyed the opportunity to play in the sun, sand, and warm waves. But on our first foray into Daytona Beach last week – on one of our few cloudy days – the town seemed very dowdy and run-

It was fun to drive the Smart for miles down Daytona Beach.

down, and all beach access points were closed, with water lapping up the seawall.  It was a big disappointment! However, a couple of days later, the sun was back and so was the beach. We enjoyed a fabulous day driving for miles down the wide, flat beach, and taking time to park and work on our tans with so many others.   This post was going to be called “The Rise & Fall & Rise Again of Daytona Beach”, until our experience today…

Our site last night (#64) at Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area.

While we were in the State Forest last week, Betty & I decided to take a look at what options lay ahead. We considered possible Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Host sites, and investigated National and State Parks along our coastal route. Gamble Rogers State Park at Flagler Beach appeared to be in an ideal location, but I guess everyone else agrees. It is a small Florida park with sections on either side of A1A highway. The “riverside campground” backs onto the Intracoastal Waterway, while the “beach campground” backs onto the Atlantic Ocean! It books up months in

We spent the day yesterday at Flagler Beach.

advance, but Betty & I got lucky with site 64 for last night in the riverside campground, and had a great day visiting the beach from there. We had nothing booked for tonight, and hoped to find a spot somewhere in Ocala National Forest, about an hour away.

Prior to leaving, I drove over to the ranger station and asked: “By the way, do you happen to have any cancellations for today?” Well, it turned out that someone in the beach campground had to leave early,

The view of the Atlantic Ocean from our current site (#2) at Gamble Rogers.

and their site would be available. “Would we like it?”  Well, the pictures attached to this post don’t do justice to how beautiful this spot is! The sand in each site is carefully raked by campground hosts, and the sites are complete with 50 amp electrical service and water. Of course, the big pond is also within sight of our site.

So this week Betty & I got lucky. Saying more than that would be tmi for our kids and grandkids, so we’ll just leave it there!

Cheers!

There are only 34 sites on the beach side of Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area.
Today’s beach side site (#2) came with 50 amp elec. service and water for $28..
A great Florida park!
Bet takes the boardwalk over the dunes to the beach.
Bet finds a spot on the beach today. Lucky us!
Betty & I watch the sun set over the Intracoastal Waterway at Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach

Ground Control To Major Tom

Throughout our overlandish odyssey, Betty & I have often camped in spots with little or no light pollution, allowing us to

Preparing to launch.

marvel at the heavens above. We have been thrilled to sit in the warm sun under bright blue skies, and to watch the moon and countless stars at night. Prior posts have captured the transition from day to night, as the sun dips over the horizon. It’s a fabulous perspective on the world around us.

Apparently, the Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building is the largest one storey building by volume. Each star on the flag is 6′ across, and each stripe is wide enough to drive a bus down (if gravity wasn’t an issue. lol)

But this week Betty & I enjoyed another perspective. We vicariously experienced the universe as seen through the eyes of astronauts like Chris Hadfield and Roberta Bondar. As we toured the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, we were able to get up close and personal with the various rockets and space craft used to move beyond the earth’s gravity into the vast worlds above. While we watched the “Journey To Space 3D” in the IMAX theatre, the “Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted”, and travelled beyond the gates by bus to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, I couldn’t help but hum the David Bowie tune – ”Space Oddity” –  immortalized by Chris Hadfield on his space flight:

Ground Control (maybe called Launch Control) is the low windowed building on the left, next to the Vehicle Assembly Building where a rocket is under construction. Once the rocket is launched, responsibility transfers to Mission Control in Houston, Texas.

“Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on

Ground Control to Major Tom
Commencing countdown, engines on
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you…”

The original Launch Control – not a mock-up.
Bet wonders what Bruce Cockburn would do if he had a rocket launcher.
Bet joins a rocket man in a space capsule.
That’s a lot of thrust…
Bet stands next to a part of the Apollo/Saturn V space craft.
It takes an oversized flatbed to move those space craft to the launch site, 3 miles away.
A view of the launch pad, from the Apollo/Saturn V centre.
Same view, zoomed in a little. A Delta IV rocket was scheduled to launch the day after our visit.
VIP launch viewing stands at Kennedy Space Center. Launches can also be seen from Titusville & the Manatee Hammock campground, where we stayed.
Our site (#76) at Brevard County’s Manatee Hammock campground in Titusville, Florida. In the background is the gathering spot at water’s edge, for watching missile launches.
Is that Elton John’s Rocketman?
…the rocket’s red glare…
This baby will out-maneuver the Hummer in your garage any day!
The alligator in this ditch adds another level of security to the Kennedy Space Center.

The pics on this post capture a little of what we saw last week. Perfectionist tendencies would require me to accurately caption what you are seeing, but that would require a little more research, as I’m still a bit vague about the up close difference in appearance between a rocket, a space ship and a missile, all of which we saw. Lol.

“This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today

For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do…”

Hope you can appreciate your perspective on planet earth, wherever you find yourself this week!

Cheers!

Our current campsite is nestled in the trees at Tiger Bay State Forest, a short drive west of Daytona Beach.
Our site (#4) is one of only six in the Bennett Field Campground. Each site is approx. an acre in size!
Booked & paid for on-line through “Reserve America”, our beautiful, peaceful site included a good quality picnic table, fire pit, and bbq, for approx. $9./night!

Florida Gold Coast Too

The beach at Fort Lauderdale, across from the motel where we previously stayed.

As often happens, Betty & I took many pictures on the stretch of Florida coast from Miami to West Palm Beach. Here are a few more:

 

A condo across from the Fort Lauderdale beach is available for only $900,000. & up!
This Palm Beach home has its gates open: Welcome!
A number of hedges along A1A were at least 2 stories high!
An attractive hedge arches over the open gate of this Palm Beach home.
Our campsite (#20) at T.Y. Park, Broward County, Florida, centrally located near Fort Lauderdale.

Florida’s Gold Coast

The beach at Fort Lauderdale, as seen through the window of our Smart car. BTW, most of the pics in this post were taken from a moving vehicle…

After exploring the series of small islands that make up the extreme south east corner of the U.S.A., Betty & I have finally turned our home-on-wheels to face the north again. The journey north to Winnipeg is expected to take at least two more months, with the actual date subject to spring forecasts for Manitoba. Call us when the snow is all gone… Lol.

The back of a fully loaded cruise ship, ready to set sail from Miami. Let the adventure begin!

As we bake in southern Florida’s tropical weather, it seems strange to watch the dire predictions and reports of extreme weather in states and provinces to the north.  Next week we will visit Cape Canaveral and learn about space exploration, but already it feels like we are in a different world!

Our large, full service site (A1) at Broward County’s Markham Park Campground, cost us $40./night.

We didn’t make reservations in advance for the Gold Coast portion of Florida, from Miami to West Palm Beach, so

Our Markham Park campsite, just west of Fort Lauderdale, had a view of the local canal.

Betty & I have been dividing our time between three campsites this week. Using each as a base camp, we have been driving up and down the coast, mainly on the small coastal road known as A1A.

The main street leading into Palm Beach is lined with tall palm trees. I guess if they were maple trees they’d have to call the community something else. lol

I use the qualifier “mainly” because The Donald  was at Mar-a-Lago this week in Palm Beach, and the police, secret service, coast guard, and lots of others in and out of uniform, had A1A closed

The entrances to most of the homes along AIA were heavily landscaped, blocking our view. Surprise! Surprise!

from Palm Beach to Southern Blvd.  We were surprised and disappointed that the President didn’t invite us over for lunch, but I guess the police who spoke to us at one of the check-points didn’t pass on our travel schedule. Maybe when we get up to Washington.  Lol.

Approaching the Miami skyline, as we cross the bridge from Miami Beach.

In any event, it was fun to drive past many of the places we have previously visited, or seen in movies or television programs. All those Miami Vice and CSI Miami episodes ran through our minds as we drove past

Betty captured one the smaller boats on the intracoastal waterway near Miami Beach.

the art deco buildings of Miami Beach, and the yacht clubs, golf courses, private homes, and exotic condos from Fort Lauderdale to Boca Raton, to Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, Palm Beach, and all the other beaches in between.  

Our full service site at Palm Beach Traveler Park (site #71) includes a flat gravel parking pad, a concrete patio, and an asphalt driveway.

Our stay on the Gold Coast isn’t over yet, but as we start to head north, Betty & I wonder how long it will really take us to travel from this unreal world, back to the real world again. In the meantime…

Cheers!

We drove past another fully loaded cruise ship at Fort Lauderdale.
Betty & I had to wonder how much of this landscaping was paid for with hedge funds…
Parts of this street were decidedly shady…
It appears there can be many tall tales told along the Gold Coast. Cheers!

Funtastic Florida Keys!

Betty’s iPad is linked to the tv in the front of our home on wheels, allowing me to see our Florida Keys location on Google maps while I drive. It’s a great big gps. lol  BTW, the pegs that prevent the tv from articulating out while driving are sponge paint rollers…
The Atlantic Ocean, as seen from our site (#19) at Curry Hammock State Park.

Well over a year ago, Betty & I began plans for the Florida Keys portion of our overlandish odyssey.  We had previously visited the Keys by car, staying in a small motel in Marathon, Florida, roughly half way between Key Largo and

The campsites at Bahia Honda State Park, as viewed across the glistening turquoise waters.

Key West. On that trip we had seen amazing Florida State Parks that backed onto the Atlantic Ocean. Some had campsites that

One can see why the campground at Bahia Honda State Park is popular.

contained at least one palm, a picnic table, fire pit, and sandy beach. Nirvana! Our goal was to spend two weeks in each park (the maximum allowed), moving up and down the Keys based on availability. This turned out to be wishful thinking!

Crossing one of the 42 bridges that link the Keys to Florida’s mainland. With my polarized sunglasses, the water appeared an even more vibrant turquoise than in these pics.

Reservations for each of the State Parks in the Keys can be made 11 months in advance. I researched the campgrounds and chose preferred sites and dates at each. We were in Quartzsite, Arizona 11 months ago, so I got up before 5 am each morning (yawn) in order to book the sites as they became available at 8 am Florida time. If I clicked on the booking a minute early, the site was available but the message said it was too early to

Betty enjoys our site (#19) at Curry Hammock State Park

reserve. If I clicked 1 second past the hour, the site was already booked by someone else. This happened nearly every day for 3 – 4 weeks, until I realized that I would never have the speedy connection required to beat the competition.  From time to time I checked back, and one day I found one night available at Curry Hammock State Park near Marathon: March 1, 2019. So our Keys adventure was built around that one booking.

Packed into the crowded, popular Boyd’s Campground in Key West. Our site was #197.

Betty & I were able to get into Boyd’s Key West Campground for two nights prior to our Curry Hammock stay, and that gave us a chance to cross

Most of Highway 1 is one lane each way from Key Largo to Key West.

the 42 bridges that lead down to the southern tip of Florida to do some touring around Key West first. We have to say the adventure was amazing, whetting our appetite to return again some day.  Following are a few pictures that help tell the story of our joyous journey:

 

We began our visit to Key West with the mandatory pilgrimage to the home of Ernest Hemingway.
Betty checks out one of the many Hemingway portraits in his living room.
Apparently as he left it, Hemingway’s writing studio is in an adjacent carriage house on the beautiful Key West property.
Our colourful tour guide told the story of Hemingway bringing this urinal home from a bar he frequented. His wife decorated it to try to camouflage it. BTW, he was married 4 times, and the marriages didn’t end well…
Sloppy Joe’s Bar, on popular Duval Street in Key West, was the source of Hemingway’s urinal, and one of his many hang-outs.
Lots of day and night life can be found along Duval Street in Key West.
We chose Duffy’s Steak & Lobster restaurant for some tasty seafood & filet minion.
For another dinner, Betty & I dined al fresco with the roosters at El Meson de Pepes, near Mallory Square. BTW, roosters are ubiquitous in Key West.
Our tapas meal included fried conch balls that were delicious, but the mojo scallops were the best ever!!! Caesar salad was nice and the company was fantastic! lol
After dinner, we joined in the ritual of watching the sun go down at Mallory Square.
Boats of all shapes and sizes joined in the nightly exercise, including a number of floating tiki huts…
The next day, we were finally able to reach our destination – Curry Hammock State Park, near Marathon, Florida.
Snorkeling and kayaking were popular activities at Curry Hammock, with sparkling crystal clear waters.
This was the view of the Atlantic Ocean from our campsite (#19).
A short path lead from the campground to the beach.
Betty & I had this portion of beach to ourselves during our visit.
We spent the day in our chairs, sitting in the bathtub warm water. BTW, there is no wave action along this portion of the Atlantic coast.
Our quiet, soul-restoring day at the beach ended with another amazing sunset, watched from our perches in the Atlantic Ocean.
After our funtastic visit to the Florida Keys, we returned to our Long Pine Key campsite in the Everglades National Park.
Our current site (#3) in Long Pine Key campground. Nice sites are unserviced, which is fine with us, but largely unoccupied.
The abandoned Flagler railway, built over a century ago to link the Keys, is now used for fishing, with breaks to allow ships to pass.

Yes, visiting the sunny, steamy Florida Keys, with

temperatures in the high 80’s f. every day (while the weather back in Winnipeg was well below freezing) was wishful thinking. Betty & I hope that all who wistfully read this might have an opportunity to do their own wishful thinking and enjoy this funtastic sunny tiny tip of Florida some day!

Cheers!

The temp. today was 96.6 f. in our motorhome. That is after I started the a/c, which often runs all night to keep us comfortable.
The “mile 0” marker for Highway 1 can just be seen above a pedestrian’s hat. This is where it all begins – or ends – depending on your perspective. lol

Note: for some reason, some of our best pics (taken in portrait) will not rotate & load. If I figure it out, this post will be updated.    We also ate the Key Lime Pie too fast to get pictures, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. lol                      G.R.

 

A Hot Week In Naples!

A boat sails past our Boondocker campsite near LaBelle, Florida

Betty & I ended our last posting with a certain uncertainty. We knew we would continue south to the Florida Keys, but still had just over a week before our Key West reservations. Given the noted issues in finding a place in a hot rv market, where might we find ourselves? (not psychologically or spiritually, but geographically speaking. Lol.)

Our campsite at Picayune Strand State Forest. I was able to try out my new golf clubs without hitting other campers. lol.

You might remember that we met Heath last summer at his Boondockers Welcome site on Prince Edward Island. As often happens when we compare notes about places to see and things to do, Heath told us about an out-of-the-way state forest campground in Florida, hosted by a wonderful couple named Orville & Arlene.  It took us a while to find Picayune Strand State Forest, just east of Naples, Florida, but when we did, we were in for a pleasant surprise!

Bet & Charlie chill on a scorching hot day at Picayune.

On the site of the original “buy swampland in Florida” scam, the state has reclaimed a large tract of land, returning it to its natural wild tropical condition. Picayune Strand State Forest campground is a small unserviced park down a back gravel road, which served us just fine! With the sun shining down on us all week – temperatures in the high 80s f (low 30s c) – our solar panels worked their magic to keep us in power. About

A notice board provides info. on local activities.

80’ from our campsite were a series of faucets providing non-potable water for horses that came to visit. When the horses were not there, we were able to run our hose over to provide water for our toilet & shower.  At $10./night, we spent a great 8 days at this site.  Orville & Arlene were wonderful hosts, and it was fun to meet the other campers, including Americans from colder northern states, and Canadians from Ontario & Quebec.

Bet chills at the beautiful Bonita Springs beach on a hot February day.

Within driving distance were a number of beaches, and we explored them all, from Bonita Beach in the north, to Naples Pier and Marco Island to the south. It was interesting to drive down the coastal roads, checking out the elaborate homes and landscaping of properties both backing onto the Gulf, and on the many inland waterways throughout Naples.

Today we drove through Big Cyprus National Park, and are now in the Long Pine Key campground of Everglades National Park. Our “America The Beautiful” pass is still valid, and we are set up in a gorgeous site for $18.

The amazing pipe organ at Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church, visited this past Sunday in Naples. BTW, the message focussed on Luke 6:27 – 38 about loving your enemies – building bridges, not fences.

Tomorrow we expect to make the drive over the 42 bridges that span the islands from Key Largo to Key West. The forecast calls for more hot sunny days, so I guess this might be the place to find ourselves psychologically, spiritually, AND geographically. Lol.

Cheers!

Our current site (#108) at Long Pine Key Campground in Everglades National Park.
A Naples beach, with the pier in the background.
Another view down the Bonita Springs beach, looking toward Naples on a hot February day.

Addendum:  As mentioned, Picayune Strand was the site of the infamous “swampland in Florida” scam, perpetrated by an unscrupulous real estate developer who promised to make that portion of the state great for its inhabitants by “draining the swamp” and “creating the largest subdivision in the world”. In a brochure published by the Florida Forest Service we read:

Potential buyers were shown the land from the air during dry season, and many lots were sold to people who never saw their land from the ground. Few homes were built in the subdivision named “Golden Gate Estates” due to the lack of electricity and high summer water levels.”

The plans looked great at first glance, but lacked the necessary depth of study to ensure a balanced sustainable approach for the land and all of its inhabitants.

The article goes on to describe the adverse effect on the ecosystem created by the unscrupulous flim flam man, and the years of effort required to restore the environment that was damaged by this scam artist. Aren’t we all glad to have learned an important lesson from this little piece of history? lol

Lost & Found In A Tropical Paradise

The front yard of our host’s palm farm on Pine Island.

After Betty & I said good bye to our family at Disney World, we were hoping for a little beach time on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Since we didn’t have any reservations, we just hoped to find a quiet spot once we got there. Well, it turned out that a lot of other snowbirds had the same idea, and beach/camping spots were few and far between. Whenever we thought we had found a good spot, it turned out we were wrong. For a while at least…

Betty & I needed a beach rescue, after our Disney visit. lol

We continued west from Orlando to Tampa, over to Clearwater & up the coast road past Dunedin, to Crystal Beach. After finding nothing but congestion, we turned south to St. Petersburg, and as we were starting to lose sunlight, we bit the bullet & checked into the KOA there at $126./night – ouch! The next morning we headed south to Bradenton and crossed over to the coastal road by Bradenton Beach, following this scenic route through beautiful Sarasota, and then back to the mainland. All of the state parks we checked were full, but we thought we’d have luck at an Army Corp of Engineers park east of Fort Myers.

Tropical palms, including these coconut-laden trees, are plentiful in this area of Florida.

On arrival at W.P. Franklin North we found a beautiful little campground with a vacant spot. Unfortunately when we checked, the spot was reserved, and all current occupants had made their reservations six months in advance. No spontaneity here! Our gps and free campground directory told us that a Walmart 18 miles away allowed overnight parking. But when we arrived it was signed for no overnight parking, so we were on the road again.  Fortunately, we found a large rest area on I75, south of Fort Myers, and spent a night there reconnoitring.

Our campsite on the Pine Island palm farm. WOW!

When we checked the Boondockers Welcome site, we found a palm tree farm on Pine Island, west of Cape Coral, that allowed us to stay for 5 nights. We also found an acreage east of Fort Myers, near LaBelle, Florida, that agreed to a 2 night stay following that. We have found both to be tropical paradises!

Mike & Deb’s front yard Tiki hut…

Mike and Deb have a palm farm at the end of a quiet road in Bokeelia, Florida. It was the perfect spot to relax and unwind after our Disney visit, and Mike turned out to be an amazingly gracious host. He described all the exotic plants and palms on his property (I should have taken better notes. Lol), and we used this island get-away as our base camp to go exploring.

Mike & Betty explore the wonders of this controlled jungle property.

In addition to driving up and down the island, on Mike’s recommendation we headed up the coast to Siesta Beach, just south of Sarasota. Having visited many great beaches around North America, we took the claim of this being the #1 beach in the USA with a grain of salt (or sand – lol) until we got there. The beach is wide and long, covered in talcum

Betty & I find a beach day at U.S.A’s #1 beach.

powder fine white sand. The adjacent free parking lot was huge, and the beach access easy, even for those with mobility issues. We reviewed the criteria for the #1 rating, and fully agreed that it is not just local hype. What a great find!

From Pine Island we headed about one hour east to Larry’s Boondocker Welcome site near

Betty is out watching the river go by at Larry’s wonderful boondockers property. I will be joining her shortly…

LaBelle, Florida. It is a beautiful acreage backing onto a river that serves as an inland waterway connection between the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. It has been fun to watch the nearby bridge open and ships make the east or westbound passage along this quiet waterway.  Last night we sat around a campfire near the water’s edge with our host and other campers, swapping tales about our adventures. Today our thermostat is reading 87f, and Betty is out under a nearby tree, enjoying the light tropical breeze. As soon as I finish this post, the stunning views, fresh air and sunshine will lure me out also.

The driveway on Larry’s acreage leads to our quiet get-away. What a great spot with a fabulous host!

Betty & I still don’t know where we will go from here. We may get lost in Florida again, but for now we have found a little piece of tropical paradise, and are fully enjoying it!

Cheers!

Another view of our Pine Island camp spot.
A flower blooms in January on Mike & Deb’s palm farm.
Apple bananas grow on the palm farm.
Colourful poinsettia grow outside at Mike & Deb’s.
Fallen coconuts litter the ground adjacent to Mike & Deb’s palm farm.
Betty & I enjoyed dinner from Yoder’s Amish Restaurant in Sarasota, after our beach day. We went for take-out, as you can see the line-up to get into this popular spot.
Looking up the Siesta Key Beach.
Another view down the Siesta beach
Looking to join this future monarch butterfly, as we fly away from this warm & cozy spot. lol

Disney – A Real Unreal Experience!

Entering a magic world!

Is it real, or is it fake? While that is the question most asked about political news these days, our family has been constantly challenged this week to understand what we are seeing and experiencing. We are in Disney World! (And it’s hard to tell the difference between here and Washington, D.C. lol)

Hanging out with Mickey:
Betty, Georgia, Valerie, Kevin, Isabella & Graham

One might think that, as we get older, we become more calloused and jaded. But as Betty & I shared the Disney experience with our daughter Valerie, her husband Kevin, and our two wonderful granddaughters – Isabella & Georgia – we found this imaginary world to be quite the wondrous ride – both literally and figuratively.

Betty & Georgia on the monorail.

First of all, Florida’s Disney complex is huge! Expressways channelled Betty & me from Sherwood Forest RV Resort in Kissimmee, Florida to each of the four parks we attended: Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, and Epcot. On “days off” we also visited Disney Springs shopping area and Port Orleans Resort Riverside, the Disney hotel complex where our kids & grandkids stayed.  Once at each park, we either took a tram, elevated train, or boat to get to and from the

Isabella & Graham on the monorail.

actual attractions. Thousands of visitors make their way to and through each of the parks each day, and Disney has the people-moving business down to a science – extremely well organized and efficient!

 

Approaching the Tower of Terror.

At Hollywood Studios the Penner family used “fast passes” to reduce wait times for rides such as the Tower of Terror and the Rock ‘n Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith.

 

Recovering from the Rock ‘n Roller Coaster ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shooting an Indiana Jones movie scene.

We all enjoyed watching the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, and meeting up with Star Wars characters, among other attractions.

Chewbacca meets Georgia. (Georgia is the one on the right. lol)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Performers representing the various continents enlivened the experience.

At Animal Kingdom we took the Kilimanjaro Safari ride through the lush African savanna, viewing such exotic animals as giraffes,

Giraffes stroll through the long grass.

 

 

 

Lyin’ around.

elephants, lions  and wildebeests along the way.  We also visited Asia, Discovery Island, and

Grazing wildebeests in Animal Kingdom.

Pandora- the World of Avatar.  The Penners road a speeding train through the Himalayan Mountains and down Mt. Everest, while Betty & I watched from a safe

The Penner Family visits Mt. Everest.

distance. The day ended with another great fireworks display over Discovery River.

Fireworks over Discovery River.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entering the Magic Kingdom.

In the Magic Kingdom, we walked down Main Street, U.S.A. to the Disney castle that we all watched on TV Sunday nights, back in the

Betty takes a walk down Main Street, U.S.A.

day…  During our visit we were greeted by Disney characters, and took in a couple of

Everyone loves a parade!

parades down Main Street.

Mickey & Minnie on Main Street.

We attended a hilarious show called “Monsters Laugh Floor” and I was (un)lucky enough to be singled out on screen on a number of

I was “that guy”…

occasions as ‘that guy’. After visiting Frontierland, Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland, we stayed around for the most spectacular fireworks display ever!

The Disney castle was constantly transformed by the various images projected onto it.

 

 

 

 

The best fireworks display ever!!! Nothing but WOWs

 

 

 

 

 

We all had a ball at Epcot.

 

 

 

At Epcot, we toured Future World West, including a train ride through the Living With The Land Presentation, showing an

Innovative methods were used to grow a wide variety of vegetables and fruits.

amazing variety of fruits and vegetables grown in controlled, ideal, sustainable conditions.

Bananas grow in a greenhouse.

 

 

In Future World East we experienced a lift off and trip to Mars in Mission: Space, and rode the Chevrolet Test Track, checking out recent cars produced by that company.

Valerie & Graham take a test ride.

We passed Canada, had lunch in the United Kingdom, walked through Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, and Italy (among others). We ate dinner in Japan and watched the evening fireworks from France. Another astounding adventure in this unreal world!

Isabella & Georgia get goofy.

 

 

As a special treat, we all had brunch with some of the most famous Disney cast members, and finished up with arcade games in Valerie & Kevin’s hotel. 

 

Brunch with Chef Mickey!

 

 

 

 

 

Georgia tests her motorcycle skills at the arcade.

Throughout Disney World, we saw real people dressed up and acting like cartoon characters. And we saw “lifelike” animated robotics imitating humans. In one park, the exotic animals were all real, while in another they looked, sounded, and acted real, but were fake. Wherever we went, we were surrounded by lush tropical vegetation. How much was real, and how much was fake? We

Valerie visits the mammoth tree of life.

couldn’t tell! In all parks we were issued 3D glasses for some of the presentations, which not only brought the screen images to life, but were accompanied by rain/mist/spit (whatever the intended moisture), vibrating

A realistic robotic elephant approaches our boat.

seats, and smells that made the experience far more realistic. Some theatres also included real and/or robotic characters, just to further confuse our senses.

 

For sure, Disney World is a fantasy land. But we saw real people of every age, culture, and ethnicity laughing, hugging and enjoying family time in this environment. Maybe it’s the kind of fantasy world in which we should all aspire to live more often…

Cheers!

Self-explanatory sticker at the Laugh Floor…