Monday, January 30, 2012

Strolling through some Lee County Parks…

Zebra Longwing Butterfly

We really like the park we are staying in here at Seminole RV Campground but e really miss how much closer we were to things at Bonita Beach RV Resort. Having said that if we were to ever return to this area we would likely go back  to Bonita Lake RV Resort if they don’t price us out of the market. Parks in Southwest Florida are very expensive and we have heard that many if not most of them plan to raise rates another 100.00 next year.

Slash Pine Flatwoods   2012-01-29 Lee County Parks 002  Bald Eagle

One thing about our new location is that it allowed the opportunity to discover places north and east of Fort Myers. With that in mind we took off for a drive heading east to check out some of Lee Counties Parks. The only drawback to visiting Lee County Parks is that there is a charge for parking… no charge for entering but we haven’t been many places that charge for park access in any fashion must less parking.

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However, for $1.00 per hour parking it allows us to explore some of the lands that were bought by Lee COE Franklin ParkCounty and set aside as natural preserves through their conservation 20/20 program. And looking over their list of preserves shows that Lee County has spent a considerable sum in purchasing and now maintaining these preserves. So the parking fee is at least well spent.

We visited two of these preserves over the last few days. The first one, the Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve, is less than five miles from the park we are in and offers some short hikes on their of boardwalk and nature trails. The trail consists of what is called the “old Florida” vegetation with a mix of densely populated Live Oaks, Palms, and Sawtooth Palmetto. Stretches of the trail take you to spots overlooking the marsh on the banks of the Caloosahatchee river.

red fruits    Caloosahatchee River

The second park we visited, Caloosahatchee Regional Park, is a larger park with more extensive trails for hiking and biking. With over 768 acres of pine SawPalmetto frondflatwoods, scrub oak, cypress swamps and oak hammocks similar to Caloosahatchee Creeks Preserve it made for a nicer long walk. Spurs along these trails  will take you to spots overlooking the the Caloosahatchee river.

We also made a quick stop to check out the RV facilities available at the COE park W. P. Franklin North near Alva, Florida. This park only has a 30 sites but they are very nicely appointed and all have views of the Caloosahatchee river. This would be a great spot to spend a few days to a week just relaxing near the river. While there we spotted a beautiful bald eagle on a tree top just across the river and we were told by the staff that it had a nest very nearby. How cool that would be to watch an eagle from your backyard…

We hope to visit more of Lee Counties Parks since they offer nice hiking trails and opportunity for observing nature in the lands being preserved… But our next journey will be north to explore Venice Beach.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pine Island, Florida…

2012-01-24 Pine Island Florida 007

We are finally getting settled in here in North Fort Myers and I have even become reacquainted with the toilet pedal in order to flush – why is there no handle in an RV toilet? We are slowly getting used to being back in an RV park and not in a neighborhood in a sticks and bricks house…. We are glad to be back in our home even though we miss the house with the pool in Key West.

2012-01-24 Pine Island Florida 006Weather here has been grand and as a result we headed out in the CRV towards the ocean and found a new place to explore called Pine Island. There is no real reason for one to drive there since they pretty much deter visitors from coming to the island since there is no beach access or anywhere you can park to just check things out. We haven't seen so many “no trespassing” and “no parking” signs since we left the Florida Keys!

2012-01-24 Pine Island Florida 001Nonetheless Pine Island has something to offer the visitor who is willing to drive around and take in the sights that you are allowed to trespass on… Not really sure what they are hiding here on this island but it has its own beauty and points of interest. At the north end of the island is Bocilla Island Seaport.

2012-01-24 Pine Island Florida 002You are not really allowed to park anywhere there but there is a restaurant with parking that we borrowed for a short walk around the north end of the island… It reminded us a bit of the Keys with the water’s shallowness and its blue/green hues. Throw in a few no trespassing signs and a few no parking signs and we almost felt like we hadn’t even left the keys.

Nonetheless our walk on the north end was very rewarding as we watched the fishermen try their best to catch a wily sheepshead fish or the brown pelicans taking their best shot at spearing an  unsuspecting fish There were also other tourists checking out the area, vacationers looking for their best sunning spots and locals checking us out and wondering what we were up to…

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SO if in the area you might enjoy the drive to the north end of the island… the south end has less to offer, other than some interesting dining spots and one intriguing bar and grill.  There is also a Florida Preserve stretching from north to south that may offer an interesting hiking/biking opportunity through the “real Florida”. We feel like you may only need to go to Pine Island once as perhaps that is enough. There is however, a small town when you first enter Pine Island called Matlacha. While driving through it, it looks like a place that has promise for shopping for a few knickknacks and there might even be a hidden gem eatery there…

Monday, January 23, 2012

Shark Valley–Everglades National Park…

Great Blue Heron - forked tongue

We left Key West, Florida bright and early Sunday morning and were on the road north by 7:30 am. We wanted to leave early enough to visit Shark Valley in the Everglades National Park. We had heard about a wonderful bike ride there and American Alligatorsince we had brought our bikes along, we decided to  enjoy a nice ride on an exquisitely warm, sunny day.

Driving north through the Florida Keys is always enjoyable as you travel over many bridges offering views of expansive blue water. The water, with many different hues stretches from horizon to horizon only interrupted by mottes of mangroves and occasional sail boats. It is about 120 miles from Key West to when you finally leave the Keys and enter the town of Homestead Florida. With no traffic on this sunny morning we made the 120 miles in little less than 3 hours.

Purple Gallinule

Gassing up in Homestead since fuel is more expensive on the Keys we continued on towards the Everglades National Park. A visit to the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Sharon and alligatorWe saw the sign to Shark Valley and as is typical on weekends, the park’s parking lot was already full and cars were parked along the state highway. We found a spot and parked, took the bikes off of the bike rack and rode to the pay station where we flashed our Nation Parks Pass, saving us the $5.00 per head entry fee.

The bike trail is a 15 mile paved road with no hills to climb or rough terrain to traverse making for a nice 2 or 3 hour ride. We know this now after having done the loop but when we first arrived we planned to ride 1-2 hours around what I recalled was a 6 mile loop… ooops!!!

Great Blue Heron Observation TowerTricolored Heron

The first half of the loop was teeming with various birds and oodles of alligators. We stopped for many photo opportunities but eventually made it to an observation tower just short of halfway on the loop trail. It was then that I began to suspect the bike trail was closer to 9 miles… Not to be deterred we went up the tower to look over the expanse that is the Everglades…

Baby GatorWe continued on the trail which I assumed to be about the same distance as the first part only to discover it wasn’t as it meandered back and forth along the marsh lands. The first half of the trail had been a straight shot to the tower so as time passed we both started to get a bit tired and cranky. Because we didn’t eat lunch before we began the ride, this may have attributed to some of the crankiness along with the extra 3-4 miles of unplanned riding we undertook…


Nonetheless we made our way back and our CRV was still waiting for us so we loaded the bikes and continued down the road for the final three hours to Seminole RV Campground. We got our motorhome out of storage and took it over to site 65 to set up our home. We will stay here for one month and then slowly trek onward toward the western USA… We both might need the time to recover from the long day it took getting here…

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Our Mini Vacation in the Keys is about to end…

Sailing Regatta

Today is our last day in the Florida Keys on this “’mini vacation”. We have really enjoyed the house we are staying in near Key West. It has been especially fun to spend time in our mini vacation villa by the sea…

Brown PelicanTomorrow we will leave the Florida Keys and head north to Seminole RV Campground in North Fort Myers. It has been fun living in a “real house” for the last couple of weeks even though it took some getting used to… For example, it took me about three days to stop trying to use the foot peg to flush the toilets here and we both almost got lost in the king sized bed and huge shower stalls. Sharon enjoyed the full sized kitchen and the dishwasher. That being said, it will also be nice to get back to our RV – our home!!!

What we will miss most when we leave will be the the swimming pool, the palm trees, and the blue water… Sharon will also miss the relaxation of the long, hot baths she enjoyed each evening..

Sailing Regatta

Some of our favorite things we did while here in the Keys:Higgs Beach

  • Best Happy Hour outside of Key West – Hogfish Bar and Grill
  • Best Happy Hour in Key West – Boat House Bar
  • Best local food establishment in Key West – Mr. Z’s
  • Best Beach – Higgs Beach
  • Best Happy Hour Menu – Boat House Bar
  • Best Street to Walk – Duval Street, Key West
  • Best Event to Watch/Photograph - Key West Race Week
  • Best Biking – Anywhere in Key West
  • Best People Watching – 100 to 300 block of Duval when cruise ships are in
  • Best Bartender – Patty Wacker at the Hogfish Bar and Grill
  • Most fun event – Key West Seafood Festival

Sailing Regatta

We really enjoyed lounging in and around the heated pool as well as the comforts Green Iguanaof the larger spaces the house offered during our stay. Combined with attending several different local happy hours and engaging in conversations with various people at each of the bars made for some wonderful and memorable experiences… We can’t really thank our friends Jerry and Kathleen enough for allowing us to stay in their beautiful home in Key West…

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Could We Live in Key West?

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2012-1-14 KW Seafood Fest 028Last June we spent a month down in the southern part of the Florida Keys at Bluewater Key RV Resort (near mile marker 14). Now for the last two weeks we are staying near mile marker 5 in January less than a mile from Key West. Based upon these two short stays – one in summer and one in winter – I feel we have a pretty good sense of what it would be like to live in Key West.

Remember that one of our quests in this lifestyle of full timing in an RV was to seek out potential places that we could put our roots down into. Since leaving Texas we have come across a few promising spots but none as intriguing as we have found here in Key West.

So what are the pros and cons of living in Key West?

2012-1-14 KW Seafood Fest 010PROS

  • weather, weather, weather,always tropical
  • sun and palm trees everywhere
  • blue water that is always warm enough to get in
  • the locals we have engaged are real interesting and friendly people
  • great year round fishing and seafood harvesting
  • there is a regional airport nearby


  • 2012-1-14 KW Seafood Fest 005hurricanes, obviously 
  • lack of opportunities to earn any income if needed
  • very expensive cost of living (especially real estate)
  • no major medical facilities nearby
  • too many cruise ships clogging up the the downtown area
  • difficult for family members to visit (although they will more likely visit here than if we retired much closer to them)2012-1-14 KW Seafood Fest 031

Although we love the Florida Keys and really love being here near the Key West area we are not real sure we could live down here full time. It not just the cons above that tells us that it is something else.

What else could it be?

It is as simple as this, with as much partying as the conchs do here in the Florida Keys we are pretty sure our livers could never handle it… so our quest will continue…

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Key West Seafood Festival…

2012-1-14 KW Seafood Fest 045With a cold front blowing through there was a lot of talk about it being the coldest day of the year down here in Key West. But if this is the coldest day of the year we have found the spot to be in mid-January. The high temperature 2012-1-14 KW Seafood Fest 023only reached 70F today and the jeans and jackets were out.

Seventy is not cold by any stretch but with the 20 mph winds blowing off the water it did make it a bit chilly. Not to be dissuaded we planned to hit the 7th annual Seafood Festival in downtown Key West to see what it was all about. Since it was expected that the traffic would be chaotic near the festival we chose to ride our bikes the 3 miles to Bayview Park.

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With the wind behind us the ride was easy however this only meant it would be a more difficult ride heading back to the house in the headwinds. Traffic was pretty crazy but we found our way to the festival and locked up the bikes on a sign post. There was no charge for admission and the only charge we saw was for parking at five dollars. We just love FREE ADMISSION when on a budget…

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Bayview Park was lined with tents set up by vendors comprised of local artists selling colorful Key West inspired art along with jewelry, soaps, tiki hut signage and t-shirts. On the back side of the park were the locals selling lot of delicious local seafood. Only seafood harvested by members of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association was available here and included Key West pink shrimp, grilled lobster, fried clams, smoked fish dip, conch served several ways, and delicious stone crab!

2012-1-14 KW Seafood Fest 026They also had booths from the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary, Fish & Wildlife, U.S. Coast Guard etc… set up to educate the masses about many thing sea related. There was even a salt water touch tank, manned by marine scientists that would answer any questions. 

We had a blast enjoying the sights, the people watching and the live entertainment at the grandstand. Lots of colorful locals, or Conchs as they like to be called, were in attendance. With the tourists trying to blend it people watching was the highlight of the day. If you are here in January bring your keesters down to Bayview Park and enjoy the Seafood Festival it was laid back and lots of fun!

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Friday, January 13, 2012

A Key West stroll…

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2012-01-09 Keys Bike Ride 005I knew Sharon was starting to get a little better this morning since her color looked  a lot better. After breakfast we lounged around all morning in the pool until I asked her if she would be interested in going for a walk in Key West to do a little people watching (always fun in the city). She said yes and surprised me by wanting to do a long walk so I knew she was feeling quite a bit better.

We drove the 6 miles into town and parked in one of the non-resident (free) Mangroveparking spots on Southard Street.  We headed towards Duval Street and then walked the full length of Duval taking small diversions off this main drag as we saw fit. We stopped for a while at the southernmost beach at the east end of Duval and just listened to the sound of the waves coming ashore while watching the assorted sun worshipers.

There was another Carnival mega liner cruise ship in port so there was a lot of good people watching – cruisers make the best people watching. After a couple of 2012-01-09 Keys Bike Ride 009hours of walking and sitting Sharon decided she was fit enough to visit our favorite haunt at the Hogfish Bar and Grill for happy hour.

As always we had a blast at the Hogfish and tried one of the happy hour food items while there – a shrimp quesadilla. It was fabulous and we would definitely order another and probably will before we leave the Keys. After having a little too much fun we headed home.

The next morning was a repeat of yesterdays but we found a treat sitting in the outdoor refrigerator. It 2012-01-09 Keys Bike Ride 019appeared as if our friendly neighbor dropped off a couple pounds of stone crab claws for our enjoyment. After 8-10 minutes of boiling water followed by an ice bath these claws were ready to eat. And eat we did – deliciously sweet and flaky fresh crabmeat topping off our salad made a terrific lunch. Still lots of leftover crab may mean another crab dish is in our future…

Yes it was another great day in Key West…