Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Not All Who Wander Are Lost
January 17, 2017 - Florida Keys

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Everglades National Park

In 1995 we visited Everglades National Park with our kids. At that time, we went to the main visitor center in Homestead, Florida. Last Monday was President's Day, and admission to all National Parks was free. Since the cost of admission to the Everglades is $25, we decided to take advantage of the free day and visit one of the other visitor centers.

We headed east on US Hwy. 41 and soon came to Big Springs National Preserve. Congress created the preserve in 1974 to protect the fresh water's natural flow from the Big Cypress Swamp into the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands. We stopped at the visitor center and watched an informative movie about the preserve. Southwest Florida was in danger of disrupting the natural flow of water if development was allowed to continue unchecked; so conservationists, hunters, land owners and Native Americans helped create the preserve.

As we continued along the highway, we stopped at two boardwalks in the preserve to view alligators and wildlife. The boardwalks are great because you can see the alligators from above and safely get a great view. We saw many alligators. Here are just a few of them.






Our next stop was the Everglades Shark Valley Visitor Center. Many other people had the same idea we did of visiting on the free day. The parking lot was full, and we had to park almost a mile down the road. As we walked along the entrance road, this large alligator was sunning himself on a culvert pipe just a few feet away.


One of the top things to do at this visitor center is the two hour ranger guided tram tour. Luckily, I had called the day before and booked us on the 2 pm tour. The cost was $25, and it was a very informative tour. Lots of people were disappointed that the tours were sold out or that they would have to wait for hours for the next available tour.

While we waited, we watched the movie which was shown outside. It was not the best place to show a movie as many people were hanging around the seating area, but ignoring the movie and talking through the whole thing. Those who wanted to actually watch it, had a lot of noise to contend with. The movie explained a lot about the Everglades wildlife and about the fragile ecosystem. If the Everglades is not carefully protected, Florida could suffer a severe fresh water shortage.

There was a viewing platform along a canal near the visitor center. We saw lots of birds and fish and a few alligators in the canal. There were tons of Florida Gar fish in all the canals we stopped at. They are very large fish. The water is amazingly clear throughout the Everglades. Not at all what you expect in a swamp.


This Black Crowned Night Heron stood totally still for a very long time watching the water.


The Green Heron was hiding in the brush. He sure is beautiful.


We boarded the sold out 2 pm tram and were surrounded by a large group with lots of crying and talking toddlers. Luckily, the speaker system was nice and loud so we could hear the very interesting information the ranger was telling us. I had no idea that the Everglades originally started near Orlando and was 5 million acres. It is now about 1.5 million acres.

We saw plenty of alligators and birds along the way. About 8 miles in, we stopped at the 45 foot observation tower. Kevin commented that the tower looked very similar to the one in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It turns out, they are the same design. It was built around the spiral staircase in the center which was originally a fire tower. You can only go as high as where you see the people. The spiral staircase is closed off.


Here we are with a view of the Everglades behind us. This is the dry season. During the wet season in summer, this area is waist deep with water. All the water in the Everglades comes from rain.


Back on the tram we saw a few rare sights. The first was a wood stork. They had become endangered, but are making a comeback. Kind of an ugly bird.


We also saw a Great White Heron. I didn't know this bird even existed. He had something in his beak.


This Great Blue Heron had caught a Big Mouth Bass. He used his beak as a spear. The tram stopped, we watched him for several minutes to see how he would eat the fish. Apparently, he didn't like being the center of attention as he flew off with his fish.


We also saw this large alligator walking in the grass. How cool is that. I wonder where he was going. The canal was behind him on the other side of the road.


We thoroughly enjoyed our day in the Florida Everglades. The weather has been quite warm lately. Florida is experiencing warmer than average temperatures this winter. They are also in a drought. Today it is raining, which is a good thing for Florida.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Edison and Ford Winter Estates

On Friday we drove to Fort Myers to visit the Edison and Ford Winter Estates which include the winter homes of these famous men, as well as gardens, a laboratory and a museum. There are a couple of different options for tickets. We chose the $25 audio tour which included visiting all of the property and an audio device to listen to narration at twenty stops.

Edison purchased this property on the Caloosahaatchee River in 1885. At that time this area was pretty much a wilderness. It is believed he chose this piece of land because of the bamboo growing there which was used in making filaments for light bulbs. All building materials had to be brought by boat as there were no roads. He built a 3,000 square foot house and named it Seminole Lodge.


His first wife died at the age of 29. Edison brought his second wife Mina to this winter home in 1886 on their honeymoon. She was 20 and he was 39. Edison died in 1931 at the age of 85, so they spent many wonderful winters in Florida with their three children.


There are many beautiful light fixtures in the house. He called them electriliers. There was a cord hanging down from the center with a switch to turn them on and off.


In 1910 Edison had one of the first residential pools in Southwest Florida built on his estate. It was built using Edison Portland Cement, one of  his inventions, and included a bath house, tea house, and diving platforms.


Henry Ford was the chief engineer at the Edison power company in Detroit. The two men became friends and eventually business partners. In 1916, Ford bought the adjoining property in Fort Myers and built his own winter home. He named it The Mangoes because of the many mango trees growing there.


Edison, Ford and their friend Harvey Firestone spent years as business partners trying to find the best plants as a natural source to produce rubber in the United States. Edison had a large botanical garden on his winter estate where they grew many plants that might produce quality rubber. Over 17,000 plant samples were tested. In the end, they found that the weed goldenrod was the best source of latex sap for rubber. Here are the three amigos, with Ford on the left, Edison in the middle, and Firestone on the right.


This banyan tree was planted as a sapling in 1927. It's canopy now covers over an acre and is considered one of the largest in the continental United States.


There is also a huge rubber tree on the property near the river. Weddings are held at this beautiful location. You can see it was set up for a wedding for the weekend.


Edison had a large lab on the property. He worked tirelessly creating new inventions throughout his entire life. He holds the record for being the only person to have at least one patent granted for 65 years in a row. In total, he had 1,093 patents. He said his favorite invention was the phonograph.


This was his study.


The museum portion of the property was very interesting. In 1929 General Electric produced a 50,000 watt light bulb for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Edison incandescent lamp. In 1954 GE produced a 75,000 watt bulb to celebrate the 75th anniversary. Kevin was kind enough to stand between the two for size perspective. The 50,000 watt is on the left, 75,000 watt on the right. Those were some big light bulbs.


We spent about three hours at the estates and then headed to Manatee Park in Fort Myers. In 1957 a power plant was built with a canal for run off water from the plant. The water is quite warm and began attracting manatees to the canal in the winter when the Gulf temps were too cool for them. As a result, Manatee park was built across the road from the power plant for visitors to come and see the manatees. Free programs are held twice a day with information about them.


We were able to listen to part of the program and found out some interesting facts about these huge mammals. However, the Gulf is pretty warm this winter, so we didn't get to see any manatees. The only wildlife we saw was this lone egret.


The only manatee we saw was this pirate version.


On the way home, traffic came to a stop on I-75, and we could see black smoke ahead. This taxi was what was causing the backup. Wow, we've never seen a car on fire like that. Sure hope everyone was safe!


Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Sanibel Island

I like to collect seashells, so I was very excited when I read online that Sanibel Island is one of the best shelling locations in Florida. Low tide is supposed to be the best time, so last Wednesday we drove a little over an hour so I could try my luck at low tide. I had also read that Bowman's Beach was one of the best spots. We paid the $6 toll to cross the bridge onto the island and then paid $8 to park at the beach for two hours.


Traffic was already pretty busy at 9:30 am and there were bicycle riders and pedestrians everywhere. As we walked from the parking lot at Bowman's Beach to the shore, we crossed a bridge over a river or canal. This bird was sleeping in the bushes. I think it's a night heron. That's pretty cool!


I had read online that the beach will be covered in shells, and to be sure and wear shoes to walk on them so you don't cut your feet. Here's one of the pictures I saw online of what the beach should look like.


Here's what it actually looked like. I had no problem whatsoever walking without shoes, as it was mostly sand. You can imagine my disappointment.



I spoke to some ladies who come to the island every year, and they said this year was not a good shelling year for some reason. Just my luck. Also, "professional" shellers come out a dawn every day to get the best shells to sell in the tourist shops. I did find some okay shells, but nothing like I was hoping for. Some of the ones in the picture below are pieces of larger shells. Many of the shells on the beach were broken. Oh well.


These sandpipers were a hoot to watch. They must eat something that is washed up by the waves. They just keep running back and forth with the waves, pecking at the sand for a few seconds until the next wave arrives. They are definitely getting their exercise.


I also saw this huge jellyfish washed up on shore. It was the size of a large dinner plate.


After the disappointing outing at the beach, we drove all the way to the end of Sanibel Island and then crossed over to Captiva Island. There were some gorgeous homes overlooking the water along the way.

So, our venture to Sanibel Island was enjoyable and picturesque, but overall a disappointment because of the lack of shells and the cost of the bridge and parking. It's one of those tourist places you hear so much about. Now we can say "been there, done that, don't need to go back".

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Golf in Naples

We've been enjoying our stay in Naples, spending our time swimming, biking and visiting with friends. Kevin and Ralph wanted to play some golf, so we did some research online and using the app Golf Now. We discovered that golf in Naples is quite pricey.

We found a Hot Deal on Golf Now for 18 holes with a cart at an executive course for $38 plus about $5 in fees and taxes. One thing about Florida is they sure know how to tax tourists. No wonder they don't have any state income tax. Since the price wasn't too bad, I agreed to golf too. I admit it, I don't like to pay too much to golf.


Our tee time was at 1:30 pm on another beautiful day. Ralph ended up with another golfer as a partner. It was a bit windy and humid, but not too bad until a rain cloud found us. We ended up with about five minutes of rain on the 12th hole. The course was a par 62 (a regular course is par 72). It was in decent shape and plenty challenging enough.

Here we are with Ralph.


There were some really funny looking squirrels on the course. They looked like a cross between a red squirrel and a raccoon.


I'm always surprised when I see a pelican up in a tree. Usually, they are on the ground or on the water.


On Sunday we went to the condo Al and Joan are staying at and had a great time with Al and Joan, Ralph and Ann, and Dick and Wanda. It's been several years since we've all been together, so it was a treat to enjoy the day together. We played pickle ball, swam in the pool, and enjoyed a great meal together.

The biggest excitement of the day was trying to get a small gecko out of the enclosed patio. Joan tried sweeping it out, but that didn't work. She said she had tried grabbing it by its tail, but it got away. Kevin was sure surprised when he was able to grab it by the tail, but the tail came off in his hand. He dropped it, and the tail kept moving for a few minutes. The gecko retreated to the corner. That poor guy was not having a good day.

Tonight we are meeting Al and Joan and Dick and Wanda at Outback Steakhouse for a valentine's dinner. Kevin and I have plans to go to Sanibel Island and the Ford and Edison museum in Fort Myers later in the week.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Naples Florida Boat Sightseeing Tour

As we were leaving Fort Pierce, the sun was shining through the pine needles on our site. It made for a very pretty picture.


Our drive to Naples along I-75 across south Florida was quite interesting. This stretch is known as Alligator Alley. I saw at least two dozen alligators along the canals and lots of birds. We arrived at Rock Creek RV Resort, checked in and were escorted to our site. This RV park is very nicely maintained with beautiful landscaping. Sites are paved, but very tight. It feels like everyone got in here with a shoe horn. There is a pool and rec hall with some scheduled activities, but nothing else.

The park is right next to Naples Municipal airport which makes for some noise, but not too bad. Last weekend they had a fly-in event with old military planes. There is a covered platform where people can watch the planes land and take off and even hear them talk to the control tower. Pretty interesting. Here are some planes we saw last weekend. Naples seems to be an area with many wealthy people, so there are lots of small planes using this airport. Some of the corporate jets are pretty large.



We met a nice man named Phil here in the park who takes people on bike rides around Naples. He seems to know every path and back road to get around on bikes. We've done two rides with him from 8 to 12 miles, and have seen lots of different areas. Phil knows a great deal about the Naples area. Such a nice guy to voluntarily do these bike rides.

Yesterday was a beautiful day for a boat trip. I had booked a 1.5 hour scenic ride through Pure Naples using Groupon, allowing us to enjoy the trip for half price. We sailed through Naples Bay and out into the Gulf for a little bit. Our guide told us about some of the history of Naples and talked about the many expensive homes we were seeing.

This house used to belong to Steven Spielberg. These communities on the water are not gated, so most of the mansions are not owned by celebrities, but rather business owners who are not easily recognized by the public.


Here's a new build for only $22.6 million. Can you see the for sale sign on the lawn? Only about 12 percent of these homes are occupied full time. Most of them are only used 2 to 4 weeks out of the year by the owners, but have full time staffs year round to care for them. A whole world we cannot relate to.


One of the homes had a 130 foot yacht parked at the dock. Everyone needs one of those. The name on the ship says a lot about the owner in my opinion.


This one is owned by the people who own the Play-Doh company.


This is the most expensive home in Port Royale, the most exclusive area of Naples. It is assessed at $50 million and has a 30,000 square foot main house and a 10,000 square foot guest house. Property taxes are $450,000 a year. It's owned by the owner of the seventh largest investment firm in the country. I forgot the name of it.


These people also own two more 30,000 square foot homes across the channel because they have 13 children and 90 grand and great grandchildren so need those extra houses.

Of course, yachts need a place to park. The private marina can help you with that. Slips are not rented, but rather sold at a cost of $500,000 to over $1 million. That's just the parking spot, not including the cost of the ship.


If you can't afford one of those boat slips, there are boat parking garages available. You can see a boat being put into the water with a large fork lift in the picture below. In the background are the storage buildings with several floors of stored boats.


There were quite a few unoccupied islands along the way covered in mangrove trees. They grow in salt water and are only found in tropical areas.


We enjoyed our boat tour and even saw several dolphin along the way. They were too quick to get a picture.

We've been enjoying visiting with our friends Ralph and Ann, Al and Joan and Dick and Wanda while we're here. The weather has been awesome, and we are often found in the pool in the afternoon. Today Kevin, Ralph and I are going golfing. Most courses in Naples are very expensive, but we found an executive course on Golf Now for an acceptable price. We'll see how it goes.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!