Explore a Different Kind of Corkscrew

In the heart of the Everglades ecosystem, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is home to the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America making it a worthy stop on a cross Florida road trip.

Located 30 minutes east of Naples, The Sanctuary is home to not only a magnificent cypress forest, but a wide variety of plants and animals. Of course, you’ll see alligators and a wide variety of birds.

But, this is also panther habitat so visitors are encouraged to be on the lookout for prints of the endangered cat as well as prints and scat of bobcats and bears. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any of evidence of these mammals.

The 2.25 mile boardwalk winds through the Bald Cypress forest with trees which reach as high as 130 feet and a circumference of up to 25 feet. Their branches are covered with moss, lichens, bromeliads, ferns and even the elusive ghost orchid.

As part of the Florida Birding Trail, songbirds, wading birds, woodpeckers and raptors are visible throughout the trail.

We were even lucky enough to see two young barred owls.

Of course, the cypress trees are the stars, with the Landmark Cypress marked along the trail. Named for environmental heroes, trees bear the names Muir, Roosevelt, Calusa (home of a ghost orchid) and Hemenway, named for Harriet Hemenway who worked tirelessly to convince women not to wear feathered hats.

Three of the Legend Cypress

It’s hard to call a visit to the Corkscrew Swamp a hike. With the numerous stops to view the flora and fauna, take pictures, and learn about the Landmark Cypress, it’s more likely to be a stroll through the forest.

This Audubon Park is open seven days a week from 7:00am to 5:30pm and is well worth the admission price of $14 per person.

Thanks to John for sharing his pictures.


Bigfoot, Smokey and Burt

After hiking along the Columbia River Gorge, we ate lunch under the watchful eyes of the Pacific Northwest’s most famous resident…Bigfoot. Of course, how could I resist a picture with Sasquatch?


The next day, at Mt. Hood, Smokey the Bear stood watch. Time for another picture.


Another Bigfoot in Seattle, Burt of Burt’s Bees, totem pole, pig and prawn meant more pictures.

Then a diver, a ship’s captain, the founder of Fairhaven and a lighthouse keeper.

But my favorite…my face inserted in one of those crazy photo booths…this time showing off a big catch.

IMG_1119You just have to love all the ridiculous picture taking opportunities you find on vacation.


Find Your Park

It’s National Park Week! And while last weekend park admission was free, it’ still a good time to visit one of our country’s more than 400 national parks.

In the past year, we’ve enjoyed these treasures with a trip to the National Mall and the monuments and memorials of our nation’s capital.

IMG_7421Trips to Chickamauga, Appomattox and Ford’s Theater have been a good way to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

Adventures in the Big Cypress Swamp, the Everglades, the Great Smoky Mountains,  Gulf Islands and Canaveral Seashores, Shenandoah and Ocala National Forest.

It’s time to plan for summer visits to more parks…Olympic, San Juan Island, Lewis and Clark and Crater Lake…a good start.

And maybe we can squeeze in a quick trip to one of the National Parks in South Florida. Everglades, Big Cypress Swamp, Biscayne, and the Dry Tortugas are perfect places to spend a spring day in the Florida sunshine. I hear them calling my name.

Find your park and share your story at #FindYourPark.

Deep Creek Adventures

Beginning in the early 1970s, most summers were spent in the mountains of western North Carolina. Camping, hiking, tubing, river trips and escaping the heat of south Florida. In fact, these yearly trips led me to Western Carolina University where I spent my first two years of college life and met my husband of thirty-five years.

Many summers have been spent at our favorite campground, Deep Creek, a part of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. This year Meghan and Jon joined us for a few days of camping in Deep Creek.

Campfires and breakfast cooked on the camp stove are among the highlights of the trip, but without a doubt tubing on the river is what makes Deep Creek a repeat destination. I don’t mean to brag, but I was the only one of the four of us to stay on the tube…Betty Falls proved too much for the others.

Unfortunately, the constant rain shortened our trip, but it was reminiscent of Meghan’s first camping trip to Deep Creek at age 2 months when she was the only dry camper hanging out in the back of our station wagon while the adults huddled under a tarp over the picnic table making the most of a camping trip in the non-stop rain.



As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s like deja vu all over again.”

See Turtles!

Unlike last summer, we didn’t plan this year’s trip to the beach as a turtle adventure; however, to our surprise Manasota Key turned out to be a sea turtle paradise. Upon check in, the woman at the desk pointed out the turtle information in the packet and told us that a turtle recently came ashore during the middle of the day and laid its eggs at the corner of the building in which we’d be staying. It was even difficult to find a place to set up chairs and umbrellas around all of the nests.

Then while walking taking a walk on our first night, we noticed turtle tracks on the beach and saw a loggerhead returning to the gulf after making a false crawl. Even though we didn’t see any turtles laying eggs, it’s still pretty amazing to see one on the beach lumbering through the sand.

The next day as we headed out to fish from the shore we met Richard, a volunteer with the Coastal Wildlife Club Turtle Patrol. His job that morning was to excavate a nest that hatched three days earlier to take a count of the number of turtles that hatched and to determine if any hatchlings remained in the nest. When I stopped to ask about the excavation, he drafted me as his assistant.

Richard dug out the nest removing the shells as well as the unhatched eggs while I recorded the information in the notebook kept by the volunteers. He unearthed ninety-nine hatched eggs and eleven more that did not hatch and appeared as though they never developed. Before the excavation, Richard said the nests were averaging about 110 eggs, and that’s exactly what we found.

Our final morning on the beach resulted in another day of working with the Turtle Patrol volunteers. On this day, five nests invaded by predators had to be excavated in search of living turtles. In the first nest 19 hatchlings and another eight pipped eggs were removed and relocated to the Turtle Patrol headquarters for observation and release at a later time.

While three of the volunteers took care of the turtles found in the disturbed nests and then protected them with wire to discourage further problems with predators, I joined a fourth volunteer, Adam, checking on the remaining nests and looking for evidence of hatches as well as new nests. We identified two more nests predated by armadillos, two new nests – one a green turtle nest, which is not very common, and one nest that hatched.

What a great way to spend the final day at the beach!


Florida Memory

Postcards are one of my favorite vacation souvenirs. Over the years I’ve used postcards to keep journals of our adventures. Instead of keeping a more traditional journal, I purchase postcards and then record the day’s events on them before mailing to myself.

When I arrive home from vacation the mailbox is overflowing with reminders of our trip and then throughout the next week we continue to receive postcards detailing the daily highlights.

Even now that I’ve switched to the more high tech Postagram version of the traditional postcard, I still enjoy recording vacation memories in this manner.

My love of postcards and the memories they evoke makes Florida Memory a favorite website. A division of library and information services, Florida Memory is a collection of photographs, videos, audio files, and exhibits that connect visitors to Florida’s past. I especially enjoy Florida Memory’s postcard collection since I remember looking through similar cards while vacationing in the Sunshine State years ago.

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/157588
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/163205
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/161075
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/160853
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/163718

These postcards and many others in the collection remind me of trips taken as a child while vacationing in the state that would become our home.




Lake Weir: A Perfect Place for a Mini-Vacation

With all our travels throughout Florida bicycling, fishing, turtle watching, and visiting state parks, it’s good to spend some time relaxing at the lake.

Sitting on the porch. Reading in the hammock. Enjoying a cold drink on the beach at sunset.


Watching the storms roll in.


Skiing (actually serving as the spotter for the skier).

Swimming, fishing, watching the wildlife…what a great way to spend the day.

A day at the lake is a perfect mini-vacation any day of the week!

The Year of the Fox

Meet my new neighbor: Foxy Loxy
Meet my new neighbor: Foxy Loxy

Many a summer’s been spent in quest of wildlife. Last summer was the year of the bat. First stop the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas to witness the nightly fly out. We saw bats in Austin, but not the impressive numbers we expected. No problem. Our next stop…Carlsbad Caverns. The large population of Mexican free-tailed bats, numbering about 500,000, exit the cave at dusk while hundreds of park visitors anxiously await their departure. The Carlsbad bats didn’t disappoint. As the ranger finished his presentation, the bats exited right on cue emitting their distinctive colony chatter…so the summer of bats proved to be success.bat_flight_hristov_415

Yellowstone was the summer of bison and the grizzly. The San Juan Islands in Washington state will be remembered as the summer of the killer whale. On our trip to Acadia National Park, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont we failed in our quest for moose, but a couple of years later, the Grand Tetons satisfied the moose mission when we unexpectedly walked up on a moose. Big horn sheep led us to Glacier National Park, and while we successfully fulfilled that quest, that summer turned in to the summer of the black bear.

Closer to home, we’ve been on the look out for egg laying sea turtles and after numerous failed attempts, we finally joined a guided sea turtle walk in Brevard County. While we listened to a presentation, spotters walked the beach locating sea turtles and radioed back to provide the location of nesting turtles so we could begin our hike. What a great evening…after only a short hike we encountered not one, but two sea turtles laying eggs on the beach. We gathered around a loggerhead and watched her deposit over a hundred eggs, cover the nest, and then struggle back to the sea. In the distance, a leatherback laid its eggs, but because of their protected status, we watched from a distance.

A goal for this summer is to witness sea turtle hatchlings emerge from the nest; but in the meantime, the summer 0f 2013 has already become the year of the fox. And this from the comfort of my home. In the 25+ years we’ve lived here, I’ve heard people say they’ve seen a red fox in the neighborhood on a couple of occasions but during the past month it seems everyone has a story of a fox sighting. I’d felt a little left out until two weeks ago when John and I were in the front yard and noticed a fox crossing the street a few houses down with what looked like a squirrel in its mouth. Finally, I had my own fox story. But then two days later, while working at the kitchen table on the computer a fox sauntered across the front yard. Unbelievable! But this truly is the year of the fox because on Sunday as we drove to church both John and Meghan saw a fox a couple of blocks from home. And then on our way home from church, a red fox calmly laid in a yard down the street…even allowing me to take its picture before running down the road.

My goal for the summer is still to see the sea turtles hatching; but if that doesn’t happen, I know this will be remembered as the summer of the red fox!

Ok, I know no one will believe this, but while I was writing this a red fox ran across the front yard again! How many foxes have infiltrated our neighborhood?




Vacation Preparation

School’s out at the end of the week so I’m in the vacation mood. When the end of school countdown begins I start itching to get away, but getting away means preparation; and not just making reservations, getting the car serviced, and looking through brochures and websites for ways to make your get away special, but preparing to leave your house unattended. Whether you’re leaving for a few days or a couple of weeks, it’s important to get your house ready for your time away. Here’s my must do list:

1. Check that all garbage has been taken out. Look everywhere for potatoes that may be hiding. On two occasions we’ve returned to the smell of rotting potatoes so you don’t want to overlook potatoes.

2. Run the dishwasher.  You don’t want to leave dirty dishes to draw bugs while you’re away. Better yet, wash and unload the dishes.

3. Don’t turn off the AC, but do adjust the temperature. Mold or mildew can grow in a relatively short time in a hot, closed up house. Better to turn the thermometer to 80°-82°.

4. Flush all of the toilets. I know this sounds like a given, but you don’t want a surprise when you return, and it’s best to leave the lid open.

5. Stop all deliveries. Either have someone pick up your mail or arrange for the post office to hold delivery until your return. If you’re expecting a package, make sure you ask a friend to pick it up so it doesn’t sit on the porch announcing to all the house is empty.

6. Check the windows to make sure they are all closed and locked.

7. Unplug small appliances, electronics, and chargers. This is a good way to protect them in case of a power surge while you’re away, and you’ll also save a little money on your electric bill.

8. Ask a friend to check on the house every couple of days while you’re away in case there are unexpected deliveries, flyers taped to your door, or neighborhood papers left in your driveway. Don’t forget to leave them a key to the house.

9. Set timers or leave on lights to make your house look lived in. Lights and even radios can give the appearance that you’re at home. This is the reason we always leave on the light in the hall bathroom. Leaving it on every night establishes a pattern, and couldn’t someone be in there at any hour? A couple of timers are worth the money.

In addition, if you have alarms don’t forget to set them, make sure the grass has been recently mowed, and check that everything in the yard has been put away and secured. If you are leaving a car behind, lock it (and remove the garage door opener) or better yet park the car in the garage. I recently read a tip that suggested you unplug the electric door opener to the garage so it can’t be opened while you’re away…not something I’ve ever had to worry about since I’ve never had a garage!

And you know I always think it’s a good idea to wash all the clothes and clean the house before an extended time away. It sure feels good to come home to a clean house with fresh sheets on the bed!

Looks like you’ve got another “to do” list! Prepare the house for your vacation.



Resuscitating Silver Springs


I’m looking forward to the new state park at Silver Springs. As a child, my family visited Silver Springs on a family vacation to the Sunshine State. In fact, I still have the photo we purchased of my family on the Jungle Cruise (funny how I remembered it as the Glass Bottom Boat). Parents, brother, sister, grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins all visiting the park together. I also found a picture of John’s family taken on the Glass Bottom Boat at Silver Springs. Both pictures were taken in the 1960s at a time when the park was famous not only for its crystal clear water and glass bottom boats, but for the television shows and movies filmed on the river.

Over the years we’ve visited and taken our children to the park and even swam in the springs one summer in the 1990s. Yearly passes provided fun days on the river, strolling through the park, and eating ice cream while sitting in rocking chairs overlooking the water, but recent years haven’t been good to the park. Overpriced admission. Short hours. Unpredictable schedule. The result…too few visitors to enable the management company to properly maintain the facility.

Joining the Florida State Park system provides an opportunity to bring back the park as an attraction noted for its natural beauty. Concentrating on hiking and bicycling trails, canoeing and kayaking, and restoring the park as an environmentally friendly facility is something to celebrate. Let’s hope that next year at this time, as we celebrate Earth Day 2014, the state park at Silver Springs is on the way to recovery as a place focused on the real Florida.