Saturday, January 26, 2008

Everglades National Park

Sawgrass and Pine Forest
Anhinga Nest with Chicks
Green Heron
While this picture doesn't do it justice if you click it to enlarge it you should be able to find six species of birds as well as several gators.

Great Blue Heron

After leaving the Keys we went to Homestead to have a continuing slideout problem worked on. The tech was able to find and correct a short so, hopefully, this will take care of the problem. We then spent two days in the Everglades. We went to several ranger talks including one that was a seven mile bike ride on back country trails. The area is very flat and very small changes in elevation affect the type of plants that grow. The lowest areas are sawgrass that are dry at this time of year and turn into a "river of grass" during the wet season. With an elevation increase of less than a foot pine trees grow, with another foot cypress trees begin and just a bit higher hard woods like mahogany appear. Anywhere we saw the least bit of water the wildlife was unbelievable with many gators and a large variety of birds. On one walk we saw three different birds using different strategies to capture and eat small fish.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Still Keyed Up

Yankee Freedom II
Captain Rick & Salty
Frigate birds
Clear Water

Fort Jefferson
Dr. Mudd's Cell

Cuban Refugee Boats
Mallory Square Sunset

Yesterday we had another fantastic experience. We took the ferry, Yankee Freedom II, 70 miles into the Gulf of Mexico to Dry Tortugas National Park. The crew on the ferry was great including Captain Rick's dog, Salty. The park is the site of Fort Jefferson, the largest brick structure in the Western Hemisphere and a nature reserve for birds and coral reefs. The fort, built with 2000 arches, was constructed over a 20 year period to protect US shipping interests between the gulf and the Atlantic. It never received all of the 450 cannons it was designed for because new parrot cannons made it obsolete before it was fully armed. During the Civil War it remained in the hands of the North and was used for northern prisoners who were put to work completing the fort. It continued as a prison after the war and housed those charged in Lincoln's assassination including Dr. Samuel Mudd who had treated John Wilkes Booth's broken leg. Following the tour we went snorkeling and saw many fish and a variety of coral. We could not believe how clear the water was, you could easily see 15 or 20 feet down. This was the first time either of us had snorkeled and we both had a great time seeing this unique ecosystem. Recently Dry Tortugas has become a favorite landing spot for Cuban refugees escaping to freedom. US policy is that if they make it to dry land they are allowed to stay, but if they are captured at sea they are returned to Cuba. Since July over 1400 have made it safely to Dry Tortugas in small boats that are barely seaworthy. We ended the day watching the sunset from Mallory Square.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Keys

Highway 1
Georgie's Addiction

Southern Most Point
Little White House
Mallory Square

Hemingway's House & Studio

Sloppy at Joe's

After a couple days in Miami we drove US 1, the "over the sea highway," into the Florida Keys. The road follows the path of the Florida East Coast Railway that was built by Henry Flagler (see post 12/22/07) to take advantage of the opening of the Panama Canal in the early 1900's. We also had a personal mail delivery from Tom and Georgie who enjoyed fantastic sunny and 80 degree weather during their visit. Unfortunately, during their visit Georgie developed an addiction. We took a tour of Key West and walked the streets of the city. The city is a great place for just perusing with interesting architecture, events and people. We saw the most southern point, mile 0 on Highway 1, sunsets, the Little White House, Mallory Square and the lighthouse. We also toured Hemingway's House where he lived when he wrote several of his early novels and became famous for his work. The grounds of the house is the home to 47 six toed cats. We ate at Sloppy Joe's a place where many ideas for Hemingway's stories came from as he drank and talked to the locals. As we sat in Sloppy Joe's the band kind of summed up the Key West experience with this statement. "I'd rather be here drinking a beer then freezing my a-- off up north." We couldn't agree more!!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Fantasy of Flight

Seversky P-35 under restoration
Before restoration
Flight demonstration
Biplane ride
Navy Corsair
P-51 Mustang
Interior B-17
B-24 Liberator
Today we toured Kermit Weeks' Fantasy of Flight, the world's largest private collection of vintage aircraft, all of which have been restored to flying condition. The collection includes planes that are totally done as well as others that are in various stages of completion in the restoration shop. There are stunt, commercial and military planes many of which were flown to the site by Kermit Weeks himself. There is a immersion environments room that walks you through a display of flight from the balloon to WWII under combat conditions. This includes a B-17 bomber you can board. I was amazed at how small this plane was and at how little protection was provided for the crew. They had a demonstration flight in a piper reconnaissance plane that is capable of flying at such low speeds that in a head wind it can actually hover. Rides in a biplane or a balloon are also available.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Chillin in Frost(y)proof

We are still relaxing in Frostproof a town where the post office has 4,000 deliveries in the summer and 12,000 after the snowbirds arrive. We rang in the new year with Bill and Judy and several of their family and friends. The 31st was also Bill's birthday so they let him draw the winning ticket for a 50/50 raffle and he picked his own number (lucky guy). After New Year's Day we had three days of very cool weather with one night where Frostproof did not live up to its name. The temperature got down to 29 degrees and the orange groves in the area had to water down trees to protect the fruit that was not ready to pick. The good news is that the forecast now calls for temps in the 80's. We drove to nearby Lake Wales and visited the Bok Sanctuary Nature Preserve, a 250 acre park. To see the sanctuary we had to climb Iron Mountain the highest point in Florida at 324 feet above sea level. (Look out Everest.) The preserve which contains a large variety of native Florida flora was the creation of Edward Bok, a Dutch immigrant, who was the editor of Ladies Home Journal. The grounds were designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted Jr. who also worked on the Biltmore in North Carolina, many of the park lands in Washington, DC and the Colombian Exhibition in Chicago, just to name a few. There is a 205 foot carillon at the top of the mountain where they have recitals several times a day.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008