Urban Camping

It’s not cheap to stay in Miami in February. What with all the snowbirds and events like the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. But we were determined to cheer on the Canes baseball team the final weekend in February as they hosted the Gators, without spending a fortune.


With no state park campgrounds in south Dade, John found a county park, Penny and Larry Thompson Campground. The reviews looked good and he remembered his aunt and uncle camping there in the ’60s and ’70s so we decided to give it a try.


For $17 a night (tent site), we paid less for our two night stay at Penny & Larry Thompson Campground than the daily $35 parking fee in Coconut Grove where we usually stay. And with nearly 300 sites, a community center, pool, showers and a laundry, it provided more facilities than we needed.


We set up in the area designated for tents in less than thirty minutes and then we were ready to hit the road for a night of baseball.


The campground is carved out in a residential area, and while it’s a little farther west than we’d like, at such low rates, how can you complain? We won’t be camping here in the summer months, but we’ve already scheduled another three days at Penny & Larry Thompson Park in April.

2 Down; 14 To Go

In January, we checked off the first item in our list 16 in 16 when we attended a Jackson Browne concert. On Monday, February 22nd, we finally found the perfect day for another of the planned events for 2016 when we spent the day in St. Petersburg for a Daycation.

We waited for a warm and sunny February day because our plan was to bike ride the city trails and visit several of the museums. We started the ride on the trail behind the Morean Center for Clay, one of the museums on our list and rode in to the city. I was somewhat reluctant to ride downtown because I “don’t do traffic”. Fortunately, a concrete barrier divided the trail in the city from the traffic. We even had stop lights to make for a smooth flow downtown.

Traveling past Tropicana Field, through downtown, to the bay and then before the end of the day toward Treasure Island until we reached an end of the trail due to construction, our 17 miles on the bike met our goal for the active part of the day.


Parking at the Historic Seaboard Train Station, our first stop was a tour of the Morean Arts Center for Clay.


Here we were surprised to find the center closed on Mondays, but when a staff member realized we’d driven two hours, she permitted us to walk through the facility where artists were working in the shared spaces. Actually, we enjoyed looking at the art outside as much as the displays inside the center.


From the train station we rode our bike downtown to see the Chihuly Collection at another of the Morean Arts Centers located on the city’s waterfront. A 20 foot sculpture located outside the center ushers guests into the building that was specifically designed to display the glasswork. The price of admission includes a docent led tour, but we decided to enjoy on our own instead of traveling from room to room with a crowd.


Next, we stopped for lunch at Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro with margaritas overlooking the water.


We purchased a bundled ticket which included a visit to the Morean Galleries as well as to the Glass Studio and Hot Shop with our ticket to the Chihuly Collection. Unfortunately, the Morean Galleries were in the midst of changing out the exhibit so we saw more cardboard boxes than art. Next time we’ll know to call ahead since this information is not provided on their website.


But while the galleries were a disappointment, the highlight of the trip was the time spent in the Glass Studio and Hot Shop where we sat in bleachers watching David Sturgeon create a piece of glass art with the assistance of the narrator, Jeremiah. For fifty minutes, the glass was shaped, colored, twirled, heated, cooled, heated, cooled, and heated and cooled some more until the piece was completed.


A successful daycation of bicycling and art. Not the first of the year and certainly not the last.

Costs: $106

  • Gas $16 (about 8 gallons at $2/gallon
  • Tickets for Chihuly Collection, Glass Studio and Hot Shop $40 (tickets for two)
  • Lunch $50 (2 margaritas accounted for half this cost)


Lake Apopka Loop Trail: Orange County

A couple of weeks ago we rode the Lake Apopka Loop Trail, a new bicycle trail for us. Starting at Lovell’s Landing, the trail follows the road for a short distance before reaching the crushed stone trail which bordered the lake.


While overcast, the weather was otherwise perfect, cool with light wind. Several reviews of the trail made mention of the need to bring bug spray because of the mosquitoes, but our February ride proved to be bug free.


The bellows of gators could be heard throughout the ride and several of the large creatures laid in wait along the trail’s edge. Not only were signs posted with the traditional Florida alligator warnings, but yellow “In case of emergency” signs were posted at regular intervals as well.


At the four mile mark, we stopped for lunch at the picnic pavilion located near the old pump house before continuing another five miles down the path.


The trail provided great views of Lake Apopka, Florida’s fourth largest lake which is rebounding after being poisoned by pesticides. Not only can alligators be found in abundance. The area is known as a birding destination.

In fact, the 4th Annual Lake Apopka Wildlife Festival Birdapalooza was held in early February, and while we saw a variety of birds, most were camera shy making it hard to photograph many. But there was no shortage of birders with binoculars, check lists and cameras with massive lenses…the tools of the Birdapalooza crowd.


The most interesting find on the ride was the skeleton of a large gator just feet from the trail. Can’t help but wonder what happened to this big guy.


The Lake Apopka Loop Trail was a nice, although rough, 15 mile out and back trail, but there’s talk of connecting it to the West Orange Trail which would make it possible to ride around the 50 square mile lake. That would be quite a ride.

Sawgrass Island Preserve

Unfortunately, due to illness, I was unable to accompany John on a first time ride at the Sawgrass Island Preserve last week. We’ve passed this trail numerous times on our trips to visit one of our daughters in Orlando, but only recently stopped to get a quick look in anticipation of a ride later in the week.


In the parking area, a sign indicates the trail can be used by hikers, cyclists and horseback riders. The trail travels to Lake Yale, located south of SR 42 about ten miles from Weirsdale, and according to John is well used by those on horseback making in less than a desirable surface for bike riding.


Nevertheless, he said he would return to Sawgrass Island Preserve on foot, especially near dawn or sunset as it appears to be a prime location for observing wildlife. And of course, since the area is also part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, birdwatchers may also enjoy hiking in the trail.


Sorry I missed the ride, but I can see an early morning hike on the horizon.

Obelisk Love

Obelisk:  a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape at the top

Twenty-five obelisks, painted by local artists, adorn the streets of St. Augustine as part of the city’s 450th anniversary celebration.


The piece located at the base of the Bridge of Lions included some of St. Augustine’s most recognizable symbols.


Replicas of the 30-foot Monumento de la Constitución, the art is on display throughout the historic district in St. Augustine.


While on a scavenger hunt for the art, I realized I’d overlooked the many obelisks that have always been a part of St. Augustine.


In fact, I even found one in the cemetery.


Standing 8 1/2 feet tall, the obelisks are done in a variety of styles.

Painted, covered in mirrors even obelisks displayed upside down.


The artwork represents the values found on the constitution monument: democracy, human rights, freedom and compassion.


Sometimes these values are in written form and on other pieces they’re represented visually.


Created by YarnBombJax.com covered an obelisk in yarn to recognize the involvement of Kat Twine in St. Augustine’s Civil Rights movement. Their description of their work:

Intertwined across our obelisk are reminders that our FREEDOM is not free; that our HUMAN RIGHTS are a privilege; that our COMPASSION is synonymous with servitude; and that our DEMOCRACY is divided by house. Using unexpected colors, textures, and patterns we have elevated these four values and imbued then with a sense of surrealism.


My favorite was located at The Cathedral Bascilica of St. Augustine. As the artist, Kevin Curry says about this obelisk:

That which we hold in the palm of our hand can have monumental consequences.


This public art will be on display through the end of the month so it’s not too late to make a trip to the nation’s oldest city or at least click here to see all 25 obelisks.


14 Down: Mission Accomplished

Well before sunrise on December 29th we started the day driving to Pete’s Pier in Crystal River to swim with the manatees, the final adventure on our 14 in 14 list. This was not our first attempt to swim with the manatee this year. A visit to Blue Springs in March found manatee in the spring area but swimming was prohibited. Then in July we swam in the springs in Crystal River where I hoped we’d by lucky and find a couple of manatee so I wouldn’t have to brave the cold later in the year, but they were not cooperative.


Since the only way I could possibly get in the water in December was with a wet suit, we decided to break down and pay to go with a charter company which turned out to be a great decision! Not only are wet suits included in the price, we didn’t have to trailer the boat for an hour on a foggy morning and we didn’t have to do battle to find a place to anchor the boat and then leave it unattended while we ventured back to Three Sisters Springs.

Instead, we eased into the not so cold water and spent nearly two hours enjoying the spring and the gentle giants resting in the area.


As our “captain” talked about the warmer than usual weather pushing the manatee back out to the open water away from the spring coupled with the sight of hundreds of brightly colored noodles with snorkelers from more than two dozen tour boats already in the spring, I thought the day was going to be a bust…a 5:00 wake up, cold water, a lot of people, no manatee…that sounded like  wasted time and money.

Fortunately, only about 30 minutes into our trip one of the tour companies starting rounding up their group taking well over half of the people out of the spring making for a more pleasant experience.

In fact, the six critters in the spring had stationed themselves in a manner that enabled the the humans to cluster in small groups of six to ten swimmers making it possible to get up close and enjoy the time in the water.

We only swam (actually floated) with six manatee, but a cow and calf made up one pair and there was a pregnant cow which is expected to give birth any day now according to the preserve volunteer. Now that would be a sight to see!


What a wonderful way to end 2014! (And thanks to my wonderful underwater photographer and husband for capturing these images of the manatee.)


We’ve lived only an hour from Crystal River for over 35 years. I have to ask myself what took so long?


Mr. Martin was Wrong

I very clearly remember the first day of my high school Biology class. As Mr. Martin distributed textbooks, he directed us to look at the photographs displayed on the introduction page to unit one. About a dozen photographs of various ecosystems in the United States were pictured and he asked us about the location of each.

The Redwood forest, the Rocky Mountains, the rocky coast of Maine, and brightly colored trees of a deciduous forest in the southeast were among the pictures on the two page spread. And then there was a picture similar to the one below…palm trees, tall grass, blue sky with lots of clouds.

IMG_3511The picture was a typical Florida scene. It could have been taken in Crystal River or even the Everglades or hundreds of other wetland communities in the state. And here’s where Mr. Martin was wrong. He said the ecosystem from Florida was the ugliest and least desirable.

Maybe he was trying to initiate a debate, but it was the first day of school. No one took the bait. Mr. Martin’s statement went unchallenged, but he was wrong. The Florida wetlands pictured were a little piece of paradise.

A Garden and a Beach!

At Washington Oaks Gardens State Park you can start the day on the nearly deserted beach soaking up the sun, catching some waves, fishing in the surf, or just walking down the unique coquina rock shoreline. Better than Daytona or St. Augustine or Jacksonville, the beaches along the Flagler County coast are less crowded and the have a little more character.

After some time at the beach cross A1A and stroll through the formal gardens at the park.

IMG_3375Named for a previous owner and distant relative of President George Washington, the property was developed by Owen Young as a winter residence and his wife Louise Powis Clark developed the park’s formal gardens and citrus grove. She’s also responsible for donating the land to the state of Florida with the provision that the gardens be kept and maintained.


In addition to the formal gardens, there are trails for walking and biking and an interpretative exhibit.

Sit out in the shade and watch the boats in the Matanzas River or fish from the seawall.

IMG_1588_2Washington Oaks Gardens State Park is another great place to enjoy the Florida of yesteryear.

Create a Floridagram

So what’s a Floridagram? A professionally narrated story added to your Florida photos that can be emailed to friends or family.

It’s easy to create a 15 second slide show in just three steps:

  1. Upload 3 – 5 photos.
  2. Choose from one of ten prerecorded narrations.
  3. Email your creation to yourself and then share it with others on Facebook, Twitter, by email, or by using the link provided.

With titles like Beach Days, Nature, Princess Makeover, and Road Trip, it’s not difficult to find one that matches your pictures. And for me, the most difficult part: choosing only 5 pictures!

Click here to see my Floridagram and if you create one of your own, share it with me by including the link in the comments section below.


Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

IMG_3984Located along Sarasota Bay, a visit to the fourteen acre Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is sure to delight plant lovers. The gardens at Selby have the distinction of having the best collection of epiphytes in the world. The bromeliads, ferns, orchids as well as other members of the epiphyte family are prominently displayed through the garden.









IMG_3979811 S Palm Ave, Sarasota, FL 34236

The Gardens are open 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM; seven days a week with the exception of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve.

Selby Gardens Intro – HQ Version from SelbyGardens on Vimeo.