Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sanibel Island and Steelers

We left the Keys and moved up to the Tamiami RV Park in North Fort Myers. We are in the mode of just waiting for the weather to get a little warmer so we can hit the road. We like this area and think that if you want any chance of staying warm all winter in Florida you can not go much farther north than this line of latitude. Even at that, it can still get pretty cool but it is much better than the area around Tampa and Orlando. We did explore a couple of places in the area but mostly just took it easy. A friend told us we might be able to see Florida panthers at the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest, so we drove there one day near dusk. We saw a few birds but no panthers, which we realize are very evasive. The area is still worth a visit for the birds and an up close look at native grasslands and forest. Above are a flock of Sandhill cranes and a white heron.
Another day we drove to Sanibel Island that is famous for the large variety of seashells that can be found there. We were told the best shelling spots change daily depending on the direction of the wind and waves. We found a few neat shells among this huge pile. We will have to be better prepared the next time with a net to fish shells out of the water before they get on shore where everyone gets to pick through them.
A couple of unique trees. The trunk of the palm is totally wrapped up by the other tree.
The Sanibel Lighthouse is typical of many Florida lights with a small round tower in the middle and the super structure of metal on the outside. Look carefully and you can see an osprey near the top.
A must see for birders on Sanibel is the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. You can canoe and kayak, walk the trails or ride your bike or drive the Wildlife Drive. We drove and stopped many times and saw a large variety of wildlife. Top is a roseate spoonbill, a small heron, an anhinga drying its wings and an osprey picking up a fish. Middle is an osprey nest with two birds and another heron. Bottom are white pelicans with several other waders and two horseshoe crabs. We also witnessed several jumping mullet although we were unable to capture a pic.
I know, I say it to much but seeing friends along the road is one of the great things about this lifestyle. I had connected with Janet Scariot, a woman I taught with who now lives on Sanibel with her husband John. We made plans to meet at The Great White Grill, a local Steelers bar, to have dinner and cheer on the Steelers with others from the Steelers Nation. We had a great evening of fun and catching up that was topped off with the Steelers cancelling the Jets flight to Dallas.
Top center I celebrate the win. Top right is Janet's dad.
Bottom left Janet and John, middle the crowd cheers, right Nanc with the Great White Grill owner, John. Sorry I did not get a good picture of Janet and her dad dancing to the Steelers polka to celebrate the win. It's a real Burgh thing. We have seen signs of the Steelers Nation all over the country and it was great watching the game with real Pittsburgh fans.
GO STEELERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Topless in the Keys!!!!

We moved only 35 miles south in the Keys to Jolly Roger Travel Park in Marathon where we stayed three years ago. This is a Passport America park that gives the discount for up to five days even in the high season. The weather continues to be great with warm sunny days and comfortable nights. We drove to Key West twice to visit 07 mates Joe and Marcia Jones who have spent a lot of time there and served as excellent tour guides. They even showed us how to go topless down Duval Street and we both have to admit it is the only way to see this crazy laid back place.
The sunsets continue to be fabulous. We could not get to Mallory Square as it was closed for Friday Night Boxing but Joe got us on to the Navy base pier to enjoy this sunset. You could take a million pictures of the Keys' sunsets and every one would be different and more beautiful then the others.
Joe and Marcia sitting on the bumper of their "topless" jeep. As I said, this is a great way to see Duval Street and the rest of Key West.
Jim and Nanc (fully clothed) at the Southern most point of the US. We have been on US 1 from northern Maine to mile post 0 in Key West during the last year. If it gets cold here you have to put pontoons on the rig and go 90 miles to Cuba for warmer weather.
Once again we took advantage of the bike trail and rode a portion of the old Seven Mile Bridge. The bridge was built between 1908 and 1912 as part of Flagler's plan to build a railway to Key West for a faster way to transport goods north. The railway was wiped out in a 1935 hurricane and was then modified and used for auto traffic until 1982. It is really narrow and I would not want to drive the motorhome across it.
Left is the new Seven Mile Bridge. You can see the old railway rails that were used for the railing when the old bridge was modified for auto use. The trees in the middle are on Pigeon Key that was a camp for the rail workers.
To all our friends up north who are tired of shoveling this winter you may want to call the number on the sign on top of this truck as the guy offers "Free Snow Removal".
We visited the Dolphin Research Center just down the road from the Jolly Roger. This is where Flipper was trained for the TV show and it is a great place to get up close and personal with the dolphins. We just did the general admission and it was very interesting. You can walk among the various pens and see dolphins performing different tricks. There are several programs available from Meet a Dolphin to Swim with a Dolphin to being a Trainer for a Day and range from $25.00 to $650.00. Above are the dolphins and one of the sea lions performing and a family in the water with a dolphin. Below are two short videos. The Dolphin Research Center is a must see if you are in the Keys.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sun Soaked Keys

We had a great week at the Elks Lodge in Tavernier in the Northern Keys. This was the first time we have stayed at an Elks and this one is a real winner. There are only eleven sites but nine of them have a great view of the gulf. The weather was fantastic so we just kicked back and enjoyed checking out the area. All the people staying here were very friendly and we spent a lot of time just swapping travel stories. We got together most days at the tiki hut for happy hour and sunsets.

The group from the Elks at the Zane Grey Lounge.
The first night we arrived we were invited to go to the Zane Grey Lounge where, on Wednesdays, they have free appetizers during happy hour. The photo above was taken on our last night staying at the Elks when several of the group again decided to go. The lounge is located in the World Wide Sportsman that is a Bass Pro Shop totally dedicated to fishing and clothing. This store is worth a visit by itself.
On display at the World Wide Sportsman is the Pilar, a restored sister ship of Ernest Hemingway's Pilar. Hemingway's ship is in Cuba where it was docked when Castro took over the government. It is believed that Hemingway fished from this ship and then had a similar one built for himself.
The weather was so warm I was able to take a swim in the warm clear gulf water.
We explored the area on our bikes. There is a great bike trail along much of US 1 going down the Keys. Bottom is a pic of a unique housing development in Islamorado where there is a runway and planes can be parked under the homes.
We continue to see the great diversity of wildlife in Florida. Here are a tarpon, tri-colored heron, iguana, osprey, woodpecker and white heron. Florida is a great place to see many different species.
We enjoyed several wonderful sunsets here and by the name of the beer on tap they are a common occurrence. Each of these four and the new pic at the top of the blog were taken on different days. It is very easy to get into "island" mode here in the Keys.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

$$$$$Jupiter Island$$$$$

We finished up our stay at Jupiter with a boat ride on the Manatee Queen to see many of the huge homes on Jupiter Island. We had driven the length of the island but couldn't see the biggest homes behind the high landscaping. As you drive down the road many of the homes have the owner's name at the end of their driveway. From the number of times we saw this sign, the Service family owns a lot of property on the island. Jupiter Island has the highest real estate value for private homes of any place in the US with a median value of $2,064,687 for the less than 700 homes and condos. It is the winter escape of the super rich and famous and several capitalists, some whose names we did not recognize. Among the few names you should know are entertainers Celine Dion and Alan Jackson; golfers Greg Norman, Nick Price and Tiger Woods and capitalist Marshall Fields who all live there for at least part of the year. Some guy named Bill Gates is building a place there to escape the cold dreary Washington winters. Many of the homes are way over the top with Tiger's being worth over $200,000,000. It really makes me happy that Congress continued the tax breaks for the wealthy so they have enough money to get out of the cold Northern climes. However, some of these rich folks are not spending that tax savings on paying their help, as income info on the island shows four families making less than $15,000 a year. So much for trickle down economics.
Here we are celebrating the new year with a great meal. We were really glad we could spend so much time with Jack and ML. We look forward to returning in the future. Did I tell you we played euchre and the guys won all three times?
Driving on to the north end of Jupiter Island you pass under these beautiful banyan trees. I'm sure they spend more on landscaping here than what is budgeted to run many cities in the US.
Here is Captain Brian of the Manatee Queen. Left is a treasure hunting boat and pieces of eight that Brian wears. He offered to sell me that coin and other treasures that have been found in wrecks near here.
Much of the island has red mangrove growing along the shore. These are a few of the birds we saw including an osprey carrying a fish.
Top is all you can see of Tiger's house. Click here for an article and aerial view. Bottom is the home of Greg Norman. About 25 % of the residents are foreign born.
A few more of the homes.
The house top left has a revolving dining and bed room. Bottom left is a more modest home that is worth a couple million. Top right is the construction of Bill Gates home and bottom right is the home of Marshall Fields.
The sunset shines on Jupiter Island. The house on the left was the modest home of Canonsburg's Perry Como.
The Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse. We climbed it on our last visit and it is a worthwhile stop. The tree is one huge banyan. We really like the Jupiter area and would consider it for longer stays if we could find a reasonably priced place to stay.
We decided it was time to get that iceberg off the top of the blog and show a spectacular tropical sunset.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Florida is Hot

We are having a great visit with Jack and Mary Lou. We have gotten together for meals, movies, games and shows. On Christmas Eve we had a wonderful dinner at the Cafe Chardonnay followed by an Italian Christmas with Nanc's lasagna and manicotti. We went to see The King's Speech, a very good movie. The weather has been about perfect with temps in the range where we don't need the heater, the AC or even a fan. On Christmas Day we did the pool and hot tub thing under sunny Florida skies. We played euchre three evenings and I am happy to report that the guys reigned supreme all three times. Nanc and ML played Scrabble, Dominoes and Upwards while Jack and I solved all the current political issues and kept up to date with football, basketball and hockey. On New Year's Eve we dined at the Kee Grill and went to see the Capitol Steps. We have heard them many times but this is the first time we have seen them live. It was a great show and they poked fun of everyone from Obama to John Beohner. They did a routine called Lirty Dies that went after Wiger Toods, Parah Salin and oeveral sthers. If you get a chance to see the Steps it is a very entertaining show that is always changing to keep up with current events.
We had a great Christmas Eve dinner at the Cafe Chardonnay.
Can you believe this is Christmas Day?
Florida is suffering from a long drought and we have seen several wildfires. This one near Jonathon Dickinson State Park burned for two days.
Sandhill cranes by the RV. A couple of days after this pic was taken they returned and were squawking and jumping up and down. What a great sight.
A beautiful Florida sunset.