Spring in Sarasota FL + Bryce Canyon’s Night Skies – in Trailer Life

We are very proud to announce that the March 2017 issue of Trailer Life Magazine features our article about beautiful Sarasota, Florida, plus a back page column about hiking Bryce Canyon National Park under the stars.

Sarasota's Three-Ring Circus Trailer Life Magazine

Trailer Life Magazine, March 2017
Text by Emily Fagan, Photos by Emily & Mark Fagan

Sarasota, Florida, is a fabulous place to visit in April, and we enjoyed five wonderful weeks there. For RVers that are heading north these days from the hotter parts of southern Florida, a stopover in Sarasota is a true delight.

Venice Beach Sarasota Florida

Venice Beach just south of Sarasota, Florida.

We have been fortunate to visit tropical beaches all over the world, most recently in Thailand but also in many parts of southern Mexico, Hawaii and the Caribbean. Frankly, not one of them has sand that is quite as pure white and fluffy soft as Siesta Beach in Sarasota. It is the texture of confectioner’s sugar! And the turquoise water is ever so inviting too.

Siesta Beach Sarasota Florida

Siesta Beach — Where the sand is like confectioner’s sugar!

But what surprised us was the many other things Sarasota has to offer. A century ago it was just a small fishing village, but the Ringling Brothers decided to settle in the town and make it the home base for their circus, and that changed it forever.

The Ringling mansion Sarasota Florida

The Ringling – Former home of the founders of the circus

Now, The Ringling is a fabulous museum that offers so much for tourists to see that you can get a three day pass — and you need it if you want to see it all.

Ringling Mansion Ca-Dzan Sarasota Florida copy

Ornamentation galore!

The Ringling estate’s mansion is a phenomenal building that is loaded with decorative arches, fanciful cornices, and an altogether fairy tale type of air.

Tourists at The Ringling mansion Sarasota Florida

The Ringling is a “do not miss” Sarasota excursion!

Out front there is a fabulous and enormous rock tile deck that looks out on Sarasota Bay. Standing there I tried to imagine what it was like back in the day when John and Mabel Ringling held parties there. Oh my!

Tile deck at The Ringling mansion Sarasota Florida

Even the deck is absolutely stunning, with inlaid colorful stone tiles.

The Ringling also has a museum that houses the stunning collection of European art that John Ringling collected. Mondays are “free admission day,” and when we got inside we were blown away by this immense art collection.

The Ringling Art Museum Sarasota Florida

The Ringling art museum is free on Mondays and is home to a stunning collection of European masters.

Out back there is a rose garden that was the pride and joy of Mabel Ringling as well as a gargantuan banyan tree.

Banyan tree The Ringling gardens Sarasota Florida

Out back we found a massive banyan tree shading a very cool bar!

Sarasota is one place where it would take a whole season of outings to run out of things to do. One excursion we really enjoyed was going to Jungle Gardens.

This is a zoo of sorts whose welcoming committee is a flock of pink flamingos who go out of their way to say, “Hello!”

Flamingo and photographer Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

At Jungle Gardens they hire pink flamingos to be the greeters!

They are extremely friendly birds, and even though they had plenty of natural spaces to stand around and do their flamingo thing in the water and under the tropical trees, one flamingo took a particular liking to Mark and rubbed his beak all over him!

Flamingo Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

True love… for the flamingo at least!

Jungle Gardens also has a wonderful bird show, and we were delighted by the antics of the various parrots. One parrot, a 79 year old cockatoo named Snowflake, was a seasoned professional when it came to performing. He was so old that he had appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show before I was born!

He can still do great tricks, though, and we watched him ride a bike on a tightrope while a buddy macaw perched on a swing and went for a free ride below him.

Snowflake rides a unicycle with Andy riding underneath copy

Snowflake’s still got it at 79 years old!

There are lots of parks in the Sarasota area, and we got a huge kick out of watching native birds fishing, swimming and flying by us in some of these parks.

Great Blue Heron Sarasota Florida

The native wild birds are a sight to behold in many parks around town.

Sandhill cranes like Sarasota as much as people do, and to our utter delight and complete surprise, a pair of sandhill cranes had a nest with two eggs near a pond at a strip mall.

Sandhill crane with chick in nest Sarasota Florida

A sandhilll crane mom checks on her brand new chick.

On the day that they were due to hatch a large group of fascinated birders and photographers gathered near the nest and began to watch the arrival of the baby chicks through huge telephoto lenses and binoculars.

Sandhill chick and egg in nest Sarasota Florida

“Yawn…It was a lot of work getting out of that egg!”

This little guy was absolutely adorable.

Sandhill crane with chick in nest Sarasota Florida


And the first little one was soon joined by its sibling while the parents pushed the egg shells aside.

Two sandhill cranes in nest Sarasota Florida

“Are you my brother?!”

Sarasota has lots of quirky charm, and there is a mascot that adorns many homes and businesses around town. Nicknamed the Tube Dude, this guy can be seen holding a toothbrush in front of the dentist’s office, wearing a baker’s hat in front of the bakery and sitting in a Kayak at the local surf and kayak shop. What fun!

The Tube Dude in Sarasota Florida

The Tube Dude at a coffee shop with a water bowl for his dog.

Trailer Life has posted our article on their website and you can read it here:

Sarasota’s Three-Ring Circus – Trailer Life Magazine, March 2017

Flipping to the back of the March issue, there is a photo of a wonderfully starry night taken from the Mossy Cove trail at Bryce Canyon National Park. We spent quite a bit of time at Bryce Canyon last summer, which gave us a chance to get out on the trails in the dark several times.

Stars over Fairytale Canyon Bryce Canyon National Park

Hiking Bryce Canyon under the stars is very rewarding.

It is a little eerie hiking in the pitch dark with a flashlight, but we managed not to fall over the edge and we saw some really cool skies.

Fairy Tale Canyon Bryce Canyon National Park Night Stars


Bryce Canyon doesn’t have super dark skies, so there is always a big of a glow on the horizon from nearby towns, but even so, the stars jumped out of the heavens.

Fairy Tale Hike Bryce Canyon National Park Night Stars

We ventured out into Fairytale Canyon

We were there fairly late in the season, in September, so catching the Milky Way was a little tricky as we had to get out into Bryce Canyon’s amphitheater of hoodoos in order to look back up towards the rim to see it. But we caught it sailing across the sky on several occaisions between 3:00 and 5:30 in the morning.

Milky Way Bryce Canyon National Park Fairytale Canyon

The Milky Way is easiest to see in late spring and early summer.

Milky Way and tree silhouette Bryce Canyon National Park


Milky Way Bryce Canyon National Park


Of course, we stayed out so long on these crazy midnight hikes that by the time we got back to our trailer the morning sky was just beginning to lighten into rich shades of blue. And sure enough, there was the Orion constellation hanging over our rig!

Orion constellation over RV Utah

Orion sails high above our trailer.

Trailer Life is an excellent magazine, and we were subscribers for years before we became writers and photographers for them. Whether you are a new RVer or have many years under your belt, if you own a towable RV like we do, you might enjoy subscribing for a year. You can subscribe to Trailer Life here:

Trailer Life Subscription

It’s not expensive, and what I like is that it is professionally edited by terrific editors and it is professionally laid out by a graphic artist which gives it a polish in the print edition that just doesn’t exist online, whether on magazine websites or on folksy blogs like this one.

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Interested in visiting Sarasota? Here are our blog posts from our stay there:

More Blog Posts from Florida

Curious about Bryce Canyon and/or Hiking Under the Stars? Check out these posts:

Night Skies in Waterton Lakes + All Night Timelapse of the Milky Way07/31/16

    A Few of the Other Articles We’ve Published in Trailer Life:

    Trailer Life Articles by Emily & Mark Fagan

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    A Summer RV Road Trip on Florida’s Northern Gulf Coast

    The July 2016 issue of Motorhome Magazine features our story about taking an RV roadtrip along the seashore at the top of the Sunshine State. It’s called Jewels of Florida’s Northern Gulf Coast.

    Jewels of Florida's Northern Gulf Coast Trailer Life Magazine July 2016

    Motorhome Magazine – July 2016
    Article: Emily Fagan, Photos: Emily & Mark Fagan

    We have ventured to the northern part of Florida several times during our years of RVing, and we have enjoyed it immensely.

    Most seasonal and full-time RVers think of Florida as a warm destination and a good place to escape the cold of winter. So it may seem odd for this article to appear in the July issue.

    However, as anyone who ventures to northern Florida in January quickly discovers, the peak season for beach-goers along Florida’s panhandle is actually summertime!

    Crazy as it seems, the winter months generally isn’t warm enough for swimming or even for sunbathing in Florida’s panhandle! We were shocked to find ourselves shivering in our jackets and long pants on this part of the Gulf coast when we were there one January.

    By March, however, it was lovely on the beach, and we were assured that by summertime the water is downright toasty for swimming. And that’s when the RV park rates go up.

    So, for RVers planning a winter trek to the northern Gulf Coast, it may be chilly but the RV parks will be cheaper. Summer visitors might pay a premium, but they’ll have one big beach party!

    Northern Florida Emerald Coast

    What a spot for a stroll!

    The coast around Pensacola Beach and Panama City Beach is called the Emerald Coast, and it is for good reason. The water is a stunning shade of green.

    Emerald Coast beaches Florida Gulf Coast

    The Emerald Coast beaches have vivid aquamarine water and incredibly white sand.

    And the sugary sand is blindingly white, super soft, and fun to play in.

    Gulf Island National Seashore Florida

    Sand or snow?!

    One of our favorite areas is the Gulf Islands National Seashore between Pensacola Beach and Navarre. This is a thin 10 mile long strip of barrier island that has a paved bike path and a paved road connecting the communities at either end.

    On one side of the Gulf Islands National Seashore barrier island there is a calm bay that is wonderful for kayaking.

    The bay side of Gulf Islands National Seashore

    The bay side of Gulf Islands National Seashore is calm and was ideal for our Hobie inflatable kayak.

    On the other side the open ocean is emerald colored and there are endless miles of white sand beaches.

    Vivd green water on the Emerald Coast

    The Emerald Coast is just that!

    Playing in the white sand of Florida Northern Gulf Coast

    This place is one huge sandbox!

    The beaches are busy at each end of the strip near the communities of Pensacola Beach and Navarre. But for the many miles in between there is nothing but sand and ocean. And the beach is sensational at sunrise.

    Sunrise Florida Gulf Coast beach

    Sunrise can be breathtaking on this coast.

    There are lots of beautiful beaches along Florida’s northern Gulf coast, and they range from remote and peaceful to urban and bustling. Panama City Beach is loaded with highrises.

    Panama CIty Beach Florida

    Panama City Beach is full of high rises but is still a great beach for strollling, body surfing and sun bathing.

    The fun thing about Florida is that as soon as you drive into the state you feel like you’re on vacation. Riding our bikes along the beach, we found ourselves riding past resorts with beach bars, live music and a tropical feel.

    On vacation in Florida's Panhandle

    You can get beers to go and hear live music at the beach resorts.

    Florida has lots of beautiful state parks, and three we enjoyed in this area were St. George Island State Park, St. Joseph State Park and Ochlockonee River State Park. The first two parks not only have beaches loaded with seashells, but they have cool boardwalks. The third has stands of tall trees and pure white squirrels. And they all have RV camping too.

    Florida Gulf Coast beach sunrise

    Orange light at dawn.

    No matter where you go along the waterfront, seagulls will be hanging around and squawking!

    Seagulls Florida Northern Gulf Coast

    Seagulls line up along a fence by the beach.

    The town of Apalachicola has lots of history and is home to a large shrimping fleet tied up at the docks. There are also some fun restaurants and neat little shops too. For oyster lovers, there are many places to get a plate of oysters.

    Shrimp boat Apalachicola Florida

    Apalachicola is a small working town with a big fleet of shrimp boats.

    We have lots of blog posts about our RV travels in and around Florida’s Northern Gulf Coast at these links:

    On the beach Florida's Northern Gulf Coast Emerald Coast

    Standing up or lying down, there are many ways to have a great time on the Gulf Coast.

    Motorhome Magazine is a terrific magazine that is published every month. Besides highlighting fun RVing destinations like Florida’s northern Gulf Coast, it also has lots of articles about RV maintenance, RV repair, and reviews of recently released motorhome models.

    Sugar sand beaches line the Emerald Coast

    The sand is like sugar…

    For those interested in learning about RVing, Motorhome Magazine is a great way to pick up little golden nuggets of info about RVs and where to take them! An annual subscription to either the print or digital edition is not expensive and can be obtained at this link:

    Subscribe to Motorhome Magazine

    We have been publishing articles in Motorhome Magazine for a few years now, and some of our articles, including one about RVing full-time, are posted on Motorhome’s website at this link:

    Motorhome Magazine articles by Emily & Mark Fagan

    Sunset Pensacola Beach Florida

    Pensacola Beach at sunset…

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    Jungle Gardens in Sarasota Florida – It’s for the Birds!

    April, 2015 – A vacation to Florida wouldn’t be complete without a trip to a tropical garden with exotic birds, and even though we weren’t exactly “on vacation” (well, maybe this was a “vacation from our vacation” ??), during our stay in Sarasota we just had to go to Jungle Gardens.

    Zoo trips to kiddie parks may seem to be all alike and not really appropriate for the 50+ set if you don’t have grandkids in tow, but this place held some special treats for us. When we arrived, we were greeted by a beautiful albino peacock who looked like a princess ballerina emerging from the bushes.

    Peacock ballerina princess at Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

    A ballerina princess makes “her” entrance from the bushes

    The flamingos were nearby, walking all around us, and we watched them vie with the seagulls for the free food handouts that people were grabbing from little dispensers around the grounds.

    Flamingos and seagull at Jungle Gardens

    The food is for the flamingos but the seagulls don’t miss a trick.

    I’d never stood next to a flamingo before, and I was quite surprised — these guys are really tall!

    Flamingo with me at Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

    Seeing eye to eye.

    One came over and suddenly became very interested in Mark’s shoes.

    Curious flamingo inspects shoes

    “What’s that on your shoe?”

    I looked away, and when I looked again, Mark had squatted down to take some photos and this flamingo had marched right over to him and was resting his chin on Mark’s head!

    Flamingo checks out a hat

    “Can I climb on you?”

    Then this big pink creature got really interested in something on Mark’s neck.

    Flamingo really likes hat

    “You’ve got something yummy on your neck…”

    Mark turned towards him, and he just kept on poking around, rubbing his beak all over Mark’s back. Crazy bird!!

    Crazy flamingo

    What’s he looking for anyway?!

    These curious flamingos kept us occupied for quite some time, but we finally moved on to check out some of the other exotics in the park. There was an iguana…

    Iguana face up close at Jungle Gardens in Sarasota Florida

    A face only a mother could love.

    …and an allligator pen nearby.

    Alligator tank at Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

    Wait til these guys grow up!

    This is a “garden” and we saw some lovely plants. I especially liked the red and green leaves on a bush Mark found.

    Jungle Leaves in the Garden

    Despite all these animals, it is a Garden, after all!

    But it was the birds that charmed us the most. There is a big group of parrots at Jungle Gardens, and they come in all colors, from light blue to bright orange.

    Ring Neck Parakeet and Conure at Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

    Pretty colors: a ring neck parakeet and a conure.

    Some colors are even “made up” like this hybrid of a green wing macaw (which is red and green) and a blue and gold macaw (which is blue and yellow). The result — orange and green and blue!

    Hybrid Macaw at Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

    What do you get when you cross red and green and blue and yellow?

    But my favorite parrot of all is Snowflake. He’s a greater sulphur crested cockatoo that is 79 years old. And if you look at him closely, you can’t tell that he’s a day over 3. He’s in perfect shape.

    Greater sulphur crested cockatoo Snowflake at Jungle Gardens in Sarasota Florida

    The star of the show — at 79.

    There’s a very fun bird show at Jungle Gardens, and we watched two Macaws, Andy and Cracker, doing the ring toss.

    Two green wing macaws do ring toss at Jungle Gardens in Sarasota Florida

    Cracker and Andy do the ring toss while a buddy looks on.

    Then the trainer introduced Snowflake to do his tricks. We were amazed when she told us he had performed on the Ed Sullivan Show. He rode a unicycle on TV for Ed Sullivan — and he did the same trick for us! One of the macaws got a ride on a swing underneath him as he pedaled across a tightrope. How cool is that?! He’s been performing every day for decades. What a champ!

    Snowflake rides a unicycle with Andy riding underneath

    Snowflake takes a buddy for a ride.

    Afterwards all the kids lined up to get their photos taken with the birds of their choice on their heads and arms.

    Little boy with two macaws on his head and arms


    I was the only person over 10 standing in line to get my pic taken with a bird on my arm, but Mark nudged me and said he’d take a photo of me with Snowflake. My day was made!!

    Snowflake at Jungle Gardens Sarasota Florida

    Holding a 79 year old bird makes me feel like a kid!

    Going to Jungle Gardens with kids or grandkids is probably the best way to do it, but if you don’t have any to take with you, it’s still a blast to go and be a kid yourself for a little while…

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    Sarasota, Florida – Life on the Waterfront

    April, 2015 – Sarasota, Florida, is a oceanfront city, and The Ringling is an exquisite spot to enjoy Sarasota’s shores. During our stay, we soon discovered that this pretty city has lots of other wonderful public places on the waterfront, too.

    Beautiful colors at Venice Beach Florida

    Sarasota’s waterfront is sweet.

    Centennial Park is an older waterfront park, but the views across the water of the city skyline are lovely.

    Couple on Sarasota Florida waterfront

    Looking out on the bay from Sarasota’s Centennial Park

    Boats seen from Centennial Park Sarasota Florida

    Views from Centennial Park

    At one end of Centennial Park, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall backs right up to the shoreline, and it has a deck where we were told theater goers can enjoy a snack with a view at intermission. How fun!

    Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall Sarasota Florida

    The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is located right on the bay — a nice spot for drinks at intermission!

    Sarasota is perhaps most famous for its divine sugar sand beach called Siesta Beach. I don’t know if I was more enchanted by the powdery soft sand or the vivid colors of the beach umbrellas and the turquoise water — it was all gorgeous.

    We learned that Siesta Beach was rated the #1 beach in America in 2011, and there are lots of proud “#1 Beach” signs all around town. Interestingly, Siesta Beach was followed closely by Coronado Beach in San Diego…another beauty!

    Beach umbrellas Siesta Beach Sarasota Florida

    Siesta Beach — #1 American Beach in 2011

    Marina Jack is the downtown waterfront area in Sarasota, and we were surprised to find another connection to San Diego when we saw the enormous sculpture “Unconditional Surrender.” We discovered that both sculptures were created by artist Seward Johnson and that the one in Sarasota was constructed first, back in 2005!.

    Undonditional Surrender WWII sculpture Sarasota Florida

    “Unconditional Surrender”
    A sister-sculpture to the one in San Diego.

    Marina Jack is a large marina with lots of boats of all sizes. Next to it there’s a lovely little walking path that goes around a peninsula called the Marina Jack Trail.

    Marina Jack walking path Sarasota Florida

    Views from the Marina Jack Trail in downtown Sarasota

    A little dinghy pulled up on shore made a perfect photo op. We took turns with some other people getting portraits of each other perched on the dink with pretty Sarasota Bay in the background.

    Marina Jack walking path Sarasota Florida

    Pausing for a photo op on Marina Jack Trail downtown

    A few streets back from the waterfront we enjoyed a wonderful farmer’s market one Saturday morning. This was a sizable market with lots of fresh and beautiful veggies and other goodies.

    Farmer's Market Sarasota Florida

    The Saturday Farmer’s Market is just a few streets in from the water.

    On another day we drove a little south of Sarasota to Venice where we found yet another wonderful beach. Of course this whole coast is loaded with great beaches, but when we got to Venice Beach it seemed like the population of the whole coast had decided to join us there! And how funny to find another California connection in the name “Venice Beach.”

    Picnic areas Venice Beach Florida

    Picnic areas on the boardwalks in Venice

    The beach in Venice has some unique picnic areas that are built into wooden walkways so you are slightly elevated above the vegetation. We hadn’t brought a picnic, but many of these little picnic spots were in use by knowledgeable locals who had staked them out for the day.

    Venice Fishing Pier Florida

    The Venice Fishing Pier

    The Venice Fishing Pier extends well out into the ocean and is popular with fishermen.

    Fisherman on Venice FIshing Pier Florida

    Gone fishing…

    It’s also a great vantage point for getting a look at this super popular beach. On one side of the pier the beach was overflowing with crowds of sun worshippers.

    Sunbathers at Venice Beach Florida

    The beach scene on one side of the Venice Fishing Pier…

    Due to construction going on at the pier, looking over the rail at the stretch of beach on the other side, we saw crowds of another sort…

    Seagulls at Venice Beach Florida

    …The beach scene on the other side of the Venice Fishing Pier!

    Sarasota has freshwater waterfronts too. Payne Park is a tiny downtown city park with some small man-made ponds that have lovely water lilies and a lively collection of unusual birds floating around.


    Sarasota has fresh water shores too

    A few miles east of there, the Celery Fields park has some wonderful fresh water birding habitats for long legged herons and egrets.

    Heron flying over water

    A heron flies in at the Celery Fields

    Heron walking in water_

    Stalking dinner in the shallows

    Sandhill cranes are very common in Sarasota (as we found out when we saw some adorable hatchlings) and they are much beloved by birding enthusiasts. Someone had even built them a park bench to sit on, although we didn’t see any sandhill cranes using it.

    Sandhill crane park bench

    A park bench just for sandhill cranes…

    The purple martin boxes were definitely getting lots of use, however, and we watched a pair of them hanging out on their front stoop.

    Pair of birds on Purple Martin box_

    Home Tweet Home

    Nearby, a little ground squirrel had grabbed a discarded piece of bread and he’d run away with it to the safety of a tree branch.

    Squirrel eating bread in yellow flowers

    Sarasota has lots of wildlife…and most of them have street smarts!

    There are dozens more waterfront spots and there’s lots more wildlife to be seen in and around Sarasota, but these are a few of the glimpses we got during our visit there…

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    The Ringling – The Art of the Circus in Sarasota, Florida

    April, 2015 – We made our way from Pensacola Beach to Sarasota, Florida, with two big missions on our minds: first, to overhaul the electrical system on our RV and second, for me to zip off to New England for a family reunion. But during our stay in the pretty beach town of Sarasota we squeezed in a little sightseeing and discovered some wonderful gems.

    John and Mable Ringling Mansion Sarasota Florida

    “The Ringling” in Sarasota is an impressive estate that once belonged to the founder of Ringling Brothers’ Circus.

    Who knew that Sarasota’s roots are intertwined with the circus?? Back at the turn of the twentieth century, Sarasota became home to John Ringling, the sixth of seven Ringling Brothers, five of whom founded the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1884. Drawn to the small fishing village of Sarasota in 1911, John began using his immense circus fortune to buy up real estate. At one time he and his brother Charles owned 25% of Sarasota.

    Ringling Museum entrance Sarasota Florida

    Entrance to The Ringling

    John was the advance man for the circus, handling bookings and promotion, but he was a savvy invester as well. His holdings were very diverse and included things like railroads and Madison Square Garden. A lover of European art, he also invested heavily in artwork from the middle ages through the 19th century.

    Entrance to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Sarasota Florida

    One ring circus.

    When he died in 1936, despite having seen his fortune crumble in the face of the Great Depression, his massive ornate waterfront estate and his sumptuous art collection were both still intact, and he bequeathed the whole lot to the State of Florida.

    Artwork on the walls of the Ringling Museum of Art

    The Ringling Museum of Art is a world class collection of European art covering 600 years.

    Today, the mansion and art museum and beautifully landscaped grounds make for a fabulous tour. Upon entering the Ringling Museum of Art, we were blown away to see a room full of massive paintings by the Flemish Baroque master of the 16th and 17th centuries, Peter Paul Rubens.

    Inside the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Sarasota Florida

    From massive wall-size paintings to miniatures, every era of European art up to
    the 1900’s is well represented.

    Astonishingly, that is just s smattering of the immense collection of Ringling artwork which spans all of European artistic development from the middle ages through the 1800’s. What’s best is that the art museum is open to the public for free on Mondays.

    Ringling Art Museum Courtyard Sarasota Florida

    The grand courtyard of The Ringling Museum of Art.

    The grounds of the entire Ringling estate are beautifully kept, and the courtyard behind the Museum of Art is sensational. An enormous, pillared courtyard surrounds a formal garden that is filled with statues.

    Ringling Museum Courtyard Sarasota Florida

    Statues grace the rooftops and the gardens.

    Above the rows of arches lining the courtyard, there are legions of statues on the rooftop cornices as well.

    08 431 Garden statues Ringling Art Museum Courtyard Sarasota FLorida

    At one end a bronze replica of Michaelangelo’s statue of David presides over the gardens, surrounded by palm trees.

    Replica of Michaelangelo David statue Ringling Museum

    John Ringling commissioned a bronze replica of Michaelangelo’s David — to stand between palm trees!

    Up on top of the helmeted head of one of the statues, a little songbird sang his heart out for us, filling the air with his melodious warbles.

    Singing bird on statue in Ringling Art Museum Courtyard

    A little songbird warbled a beautiful melody for us.

    Awestruck by the immense scale of this personal collection of art, and trying to imagine what life was like as a circus tycoon a century ago, we were delighted to find a more down-to-earth treasure hidden between the wide banyon trees of the estate. A huge mulberry bush was covered from head to toe in delicious, ripe mulberries. This bush — or tree — was so huge that we could climb inside under its thick branches. There were enough berries in there to feed an army, and we feasted on them for quite some time!!

    Eating mulberries in Florida

    In between the huge banyan trees we found a massive mulberry bush filled with ripe mulberries!

    The huge John and Mable Ringling Mansion is now a museum as well. A very long line of people was waiting outside to get tickets to see the interior rooms of the mansion, but we contented ourselves with wandering around the grounds. The mansion is called Cà D’Zan, which is said to be a Venetian dialect for “House of John.” It is also thought to mean “House of Zany,” and since “Zany” means “clownish,” it is also fitting. John Ringling’s first role with the circus was as a clown.

    Ringling Mansion Ca-Dzan Sarasota Florida

    These windows of the Ringling mansion look out onto the bay.

    Ringling mansion and museum Sarasota Florida

    Ornate windows in the Ringling mansion.

    Ringling mansion and museum Sarasota Florida-2

    What a place to spend the winter!

    Ca-dzan Ringling Mansion Sarasota Florida

    “Cà D’Zan” (“House of John”) is the name Ringling gave his unique winter bungalow.

    The vast marble patio stretches on three sides of the house towards the water, and there is a huge boat dock right out front.

    Marble patio Ringling Mansion Sarasota Florida

    Colorful marble tiles stretch across the expansive patio.

    There are several other museums on the Ringling estate, including a Circus Museum, and it is possible to get a discounted three day pass to see all the museums at leisure. We decided to save that in depth look at The Ringling for another visit, but we were enchanted when we met a longtime Sarasota resident who gave this unusual Sarasota circus connection a personal touch.

    Ringling R insignia on metal gate

    The Ringling “R” over a gate.

    She remembered when the circus train would arrive in Sarasota for their winter break in the early 1950’s and depart again in the spring. Everyone from town would run down to wave at the performers who lived on the 100 car train during the touring season. She also remembered when a group of midgets lived in a nearby neighborhood of miniature homes. Many of the midgets had been cast as Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz in 1939.

    How cool is that?!

    Added later: Thanks to a heads up from reader Richard Daugherty, here is a YouTube video of child prodigy singer Jackie Evancho performing at the Ringling Museum of Art when she was 11. Check this out!!


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    Gulf Islands National Seashore – Florida’s Emerald Coast!

    March, 2015 — After a wonderful visit at the Escapees RV Club headquarters in Livingston, Texas, we huslted east on I-10, enjoying several really fun stops at the interstate rest areas along the way. We had endured more rain and crummy weather in the last few weeks in Texas than we had experienced anywhere in years, so the gorgeous sunshine that greeted us in Florida was especially welcome.

    Dawn on Pensacola Beach in Florida

    The beach at dawn — bliss!

    Pensacola Beach and the Gulf Island National Seashore on Florida’s Emerald Coast are just gorgeous, with white sand and water the color of jade stretching for miles and miles.

    Girl plays on Pensacola Beach in Florida

    Pink bathing suits, sand castles and aquamarine water — what could be better?

    We were told that we had arrived on the first really great days of the season, and everyone was out enjoying the beautiful weather. It was spring break, and kids were everywhere, playing frisbee, suntanning, flirthing and hanging out.

    Kids play ball on Pensacola Beach in Florida

    Play ball! Spring break in Florida!

    Even the seagulls seemed to be getting into the playful spirit.

    Seagull flies over Pensacola Beach in Florida

    Checking out the beach scene from above!

    Seagulls on the beach in Florida

    “It wasn’t us!”

    There is a paved path that goes along the Gulf Islands National Seashore for miles and miles, and we took our bikes out for a spin along the coast.

    Riding bicycle on Gulf Islands National Seashore Florida

    There are many miles of paved bike paths along the Gulf Island National Seashore.

    The paved bike path parallels the Gulf Island National Seashore road, so you can walk, run, bike, drive or ride a motorcycle along this beautiful scenic drive.

    Bicycle on white sand Gulf Islands National Seashore Florida

    It’s like biking in a sugar bowl!

    The sand in this part of Florida is blindingly white and sugary soft. Birds and other creatures leave tracks all over the place. We saw the tiny footprints of little sandpipers, the webbed tracings from gulls, and the huge footprints left by large herons.

    Bird tracks in white sand Gulf Islands National Seashore Florida

    Little birds leave tracks of all kinds in the sand.

    And we also saw the birds themselves…

    Seagull Gulf Islands National Seashore Florida


    But it was the color of the water that just plain knocked us out. Wow!!

    Gulf Islands National Seashore Florida

    The Gulf Islands National Seashore on the Emerald Coast

    There were loads of pretty seashells too.

    Seashells in white sand Gulf Islands National Seashore Florida

    Pretty seashells were strewn about.

    This was all such a delight and such a huge change after the vast, inland landscapes of Big Bend Texas and the piney woods in east Texas. We were loving being on the coast again.

    Happy Campers on the Florida Gulf Islands National Seashore

    Happy campers!

    As we were riding back from the Gulf Islands National Seashore to Pensacola Beach, we came across an outdoor bar in front of a resort. The bar tender had blenders lined up to make yummy frozen drinks. What a place!

    Outdoor bar Pensacola Beach Florida

    This is the land of Vacations and Parties!!

    This whole area is totally geared towards tourists and beach life, and it was so great to change gears completely and get swept up into beach vacation mode.

    Hot crabs and cold beer sign Florida

    Get it here…!

    Windsurfing on Pensacola Beach Florida

    We were told we’d arrived on the first real beach day of the season.

    Little girl on the beach in Florida

    Is there anything better than a sunny day on the beach?

    We breathed deep, walked the beach, and unwound for a few days.

    Pink lilly flowers

    I love the beach because there is always something going on, and sure enough, one day when we went to the beach we watched a fisherman reel in a shark, then two young gals in bikinis walked by with large snakes wrapped around their necks!

    Colorful umbrella on Florida beach

    The sunshine and colors were a true feast for the eyes after all that rain in Texas.

    The funny cries of the laughing gulls filled the air and the sunsets and sunrises were exquisite.

    Seagulls flying over people on Florida beach

    Even the gulls were having a good time.

    Seagull flying into camera

    These guys laugh and laugh and laugh.

    It had been a long hike to get from Texas to Florida, but we both agreed these wonderful beach days were well worth the drive!

    Sunset at Pensacola Beach Florida

    The colors at sunset and sunrise were beautiful.

    RV at sunset

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    Florida Panhandle – Emerald Coast Gems

    RV blog post - Apalachicola is cute, St. George island has seashells & critters, but the Gulf Islands Nat'l Seashore's sugar sand beaches & emerald water rule.

    Apalachicola oyster boats

    Apalachicola Florida Sponge Museum

    The Apalachicola Sponge Museum

    Apalachicola Florida Sponge Museum

    Inside the Sponge Museum - lots of cool antiques

    Storefronts in Apalachicola Florida

    Storefronts in Apalachicola

    St. George Island State Park Forgotten Coast

    St. George Island offers a quiet bay and beaches.

    St. George Island State Park Forgotten Coast St. George Island State Park Forgotten Coast

    This guy sunned himself for hours while campers stopped for photos

    St. George Island State Park Forgotten Coast

    St. George Island State Park on a blustery day

    St. George Island State Park Forgotten Coast

    Shell-strewn beach

    Pine Log State Park Panama City Florida

    Pine Log State Park

    Lake Powell City Park Panama City Florida

    Lake Powell park shrouded in mist

    Bald Eagle Lake Powell State Park

    A bald eagle watched us kayaking below

    Rosemary Beach Florida

    Cycling near Rosemary Beach

    Middle Eastern style swimming pool

    in a new development

    Gulf Islands National Seashore Pensacola Florida

    Gulf Islands National Seashore - what a spot!

    Emerald Coast - Gulf Islands National Seashore Pensacola Florida

    The Emerald Coast

    Emerald Coast - Gulf Islands National Seashore Pensacola Florida Emerald Coast - Gulf Islands National Seashore Pensacola Florida

    Crashing surf - Gulf Islands National Seashore

    Results of Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis in Pensacola Beach FL

    Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis hit this coast back to back.

    The surf and winds were so powerful the entire road was

    hurtled hundreds of yards away, in rumpled pieces.

    Emerald Coast FL

    Sugar sand beaches line the Emerald Coast

    Emerald Coast FL

    The sand is so white and so thick it looks like snow.

    Love on the beach

    Sunset from our doorway

    A great shoreside spot to spend a few days.

    Apalachicola, St. George Island, Gulf Islands Nat'l Seashore, FL

    February, 2009 - We continued our tour of the state parks in Florida's

    Forgotten Coast, leaving St. Joseph State Park and stopping in the

    cute seaside town of Apalachicola on our way to St. George Island State

    Park.  We had visited Apalachicola last year and been enchanted by its

    unique shops and history, and we found it equally charming on our

    second visit.

    The town was once a bustling cotton shipping port, and it now harbors a

    sizeable fleet of oyster boats.  There was an active sponge harvesting

    industry too, and the Sponge Museum offered not only a glimpse of that

    unusual industry but a terrific collection of curious antiques as well.

    We picked up another jar of the semi-sweet locally harvested Tupelo

    honey and spent a happy morning wandering through the many

    shops in town.

    Over on St. George Island we checked into the state park that fills the tip

    of a long, narrow sand peninsula.  Like St. Joseph, this park borders

    both a shallow saltwater bay and the Gulf coast.  The bay is sleepy, lined

    with skinny trees with exposed roots.  We learned that a tidal surge had

    covered the entire end of the island in recent years, leaving the bayside

    trees immersed in salt water longer than they liked, and sadly killing many of them.

    This gives the bayside a slightly haunted look.

    Lots of swamp creatures

    patrol the area, and we

    noticed unusual birds standing

    in the trees and a sneaky

    alligator biding his time at the

    water's edge.

    The coastal beaches were

    wind-blown and blustery when

    we were there.  At night the

    roar of the waves on the

    beach filled the trailer, even

    though the campground is a

    healthy distance from the


    The beaches extend for many miles, and we did lots of invigorating

    walks along the water's edge.  The seashells were abundant, as they

    had been at St. Joseph State Park, and the campground had a

    lovely display giving the names of all the different creatures' shells

    that could be found along the beach.

    Leaving the Forgotten Coast, we ventured slightly west and stayed in

    two more parks.  Pine Log State Park boasts vast stands of pines, a

    terrific mountain biking trail (this from an avowed roadie who does not

    particularly enjoy mountain biking) and a lovely row of campsites

    overlooking a pond.

    Lake Powell park sits on the edge of a lake that was the perfect

    place for kayak exploration.  The morning awoke under a shroud of

    thick mist that gave the park's trees a mystical look.

    Later in the day, once the sun was

    victorious over the fog, we took the

    kayak into the far corners of the lake

    where we spotted a Bald Eagle.  He

    watched our bright yellow craft for a

    long suspicious while and finally flew

    off with a majestic sweep of his


    This portion of the Emerald Coast has

    a few upscale communities, and we

    rode our bikes through the South

    Walton Beach and Rosemary Beach

    areas one morning.  Like everywhere

    else in this country, many developers'

    dreams have evaporated in all stages

    of construction since the housing market crash (not to

    mention this area's sudden face-off with nature in a

    series of hurricanes).  We rode through a community of

    graceful homes that stopped sprouting when only about

    20% were built.  Boardwalks meandered through the

    community and over waterways, offering pretty views of

    what could have been.

    A fellow cyclist stopped and took our photo in front of

    the grand entrance to the strip of road that defines a

    particularly ritzy part of the coast.

    She recommended that we check out the Middle

    Eastern style swimming pool that was the central

    attraction of one new development.  I wouldn't have

    thought that this distinctly Arabic looking community

    would have been a big seller among Americans in this

    era, but sure enough, we saw several sales people with

    clipboards in hand and prospective customers in tow.

    Further west along the Emerald Coast we

    discovered the Gulf Islands National

    Seashore.  This jewel of a drive presents

    the stunning coast at its best, especially

    on bright sunny days.  The sand is

    blindingly white, and the water is truly

    green in places.  We walked the beach

    and our shorts soon gave way to bathing

    suits and frolicks in the waves.

    The signs warned of rip-tides, but just like the warnings of bison gorings

    at Yellowstone, you don't really take those things seriously at first glance.

    I was mighty curious about the dark green band of water that is behind

    Mark in this photo.  It beckoned me in the way that ocean water always

    has since I was a a small child.  I just had to find out how deep it was

    there.  So I bounded out into the waves, going from waist deep to over

    my head in one step.  Hmmm... it was deep!  I turned around to swim in

    and soon found that my most powerful strokes were not moving me

    forward.  Mark stood on the edge of the water, just 100 feet from me, but

    despite my best effort, I couldn't make any progress towards him.

    Suddenly the sign about rip-tides came back to me.  Is this a rip-tide?

    Yikes!  What had the sign said about them?  I had no idea.  Mark was

    yelling something at me from the beach, but I couldn't hear.  I just dug in and swam towards him for all I was worth, valiantly

    ignoring the rising feeling of panic in my heart.  In a few minutes (that felt like forever), I finally found my footing on the sand, dug

    my toes in, and hiked my way back to him, uphill in aggressive water.  I stood next to him on the beach, trying not to let my

    pounding heart and panting breath be noticeable, and feigned nonchalance about the whole thing.  "Great workout!"  I said

    cheerfully.  Mark quietly shook his head at me, hands on his hips.  "Didn't you read the sign?  Swim sideways, parallel to the beach,

    when you are in a rip-tide."  ... Oh, that's the trick!

    The power of the ocean is deceptive along this idyllic stretch of coast,

    with its shimmering, rich shades of turquoise.  The waves show dark

    green just before they break, and the sandpipers dart in and out of the

    water effortlessly, living their entire lives on the edge.  However, we

    learned from a local ocean kayaker that in 2004 Hurricane Ivan

    completely destroyed the road along this strip of land, effortlessly

    tossing it in tiny pieces all over the inland side of the peninsula.

    Eager to stay on top of repairs, the state replaced the road

    immediately.  Five days after reopening the road, Hurricane Dennis

    roared through.  The sea chewed up the new road and spewed it all

    over the bayside dunes a second time.  I was stunned to walk the

    dunes and find evidence of this man's story all over the place, as far

    as 300 yards from the road.

    This savage aspect of nature seems

    implausible as you sift the fine sugar

    white sand through your hands.  In

    places along the Gulf Islands National

    Seashore it looked more like snow

    than like sand.

    It had the same texture as the sand

    we found in the Coral Pink Sand

    Dunes park in Utah, but here it was

    pure white rather than a rusty burnt

    orange.  Riding our bikes alongside

    the sand  "snowdrifts," we thought of

    all our friends and family who have had such a

    snowy winter in Michigan.

    The spectacular scenery on these glorious sunny days brought out the most

    romantic notions in everyone along the beach.  It is a place for lovers, and this

    young couple found each other quite irresistable.

    We stayed along the beach for many days, watching the coast change from minute

    to minute as a series of storms blew through.  It was the perfect place to slow down

    again and get back in touch with ourselves and with nature before heading on to

    Alabama and a gradual trek west with a fun return visit to the Natchez Trace.





















































































    Florida Panhandle – Don’t Forget the “Forgotten Coast”

    RV blog post - Delta Downs horse races were a thrill but the emerald water & sugar sand of St. Joseph State Park, Mexico Beach & Panama City Beach Florida were the best.

    Delta Downs horse parade

    Delta Downs Racetrack

    "And they're off!"

    Delta Downs Horse Races Delta Downs Casino Horse Races

    Mark would have put money on this horse...

    Delta Downs Racetrack Florida Panhandle

    Our greeters at the first sight of the ocean in Florida

    Panama City Beach Florida

    Young love on the beach

    Panama City Beach Florida

    Panama City Beach

    Mexico Beach Florida

    Mexico Beach

    Mexico Beach Florida The Driftwood Inn Mexico Beach FL

    The Driftwood Inn

    Chapel at the Driftwood Inn Mexico Beach FL

    Mini-chapel, a labor of love

    Ochlockonee River State Park

    Rare white squirrel at Ochlockonee River State Park

    Pecker Pines at Ochlockonee River State Park

    Walking trails and "pecker pines" at Ochlockonee

    River State Park

    Ochlockonee River State Park

    Ochlockonee River

    Hobie Kayak i14t

    Hobie inflatable kayak, with paddles AND pedals

    Gulf Coast St. Joseph State Park FL

    Gulf Coast at St. Joseph State Park

    Gulf Coast St. Joseph State Park FL

    The beaches are serene and quiet

    St. Joseph State Park FL

    St. Joseph, bayside.

    Sea Shell on the Emerald Coast FL Fishing on the Emerald Coast Sea St. Joseph State Park FL

    Grandson & grandpa fish from shore.

    St. Joseph State Park FL

    St. Joseph State Park

    Sea Shells on the Emerald Coast FL

    St. Joseph State Park

    St. Joseph State Park Florida

    Pelicans enjoy their view of the "Forgotten Coast."

    Beautiful boardwalks through the pines and

    grasslands in St. Joseph State Park

    Delta Downs Race Track, LA, & "The Forgotten Coast" FL

    February, 2009 - We left San Diego and started a cross-country trek to

    visit Mark's son at Navy Dive School in Panama City, Florida.  We didn't

    intend to cover the distance quickly, but suddenly found ourselves doing

    400-500 mile days.  I-10 through Texas stretches for 880 miles, and you

    get a sense of treading water somewhere around San Antonio.  We

    wondered if we'd ever get out of Texas.  So it was with exhaustion and

    relief that we finally pulled off the interstate in Louisiana to stop at Delta

    Downs Casino.

    We were simply

    hoping for a

    quiet night's

    sleep, but when

    I began to

    close the

    shades I noticed that there was a horse racetrack right behind where we

    were parked, and the stadium lights were on!  We wandered over, and

    suddenly found ourselves swept up in the horse racing scene.

    I had never been to a racetrack before, and I was amazed as the

    horses were paraded and their credentials were read by the

    announcer.  The jockeys were smaller than the Tour-de-France

    cyclists who specialize in climbing, and the horses were lean, fit and

    eager to race.

    The betting office opened, the stats for each horse were displayed on a

    huge electronic board, and a line of seasoned racetrack bettors

    suddenly formed.

    While the TV cameras rolled, a gun went off, and the ground

    rumbled beneath our feet.  Suddenly, a hurtling pack of hooves and

    snorting nostrils streaked past us.

    As a little boy, Mark spent a lot of

    time at the horse races with his

    beloved grandpa, and he had told

    me, "Watch horse #2."  Sure

    enough, that horse won, and

    Mark caught the winning moment

    on camera.  Too bad he hadn't

    bet a buck or so on that horse, it

    would have been a really good


    That happy evening's unplanned

    entertainment put smiles on our

    faces that were still there two

    days later when a group of

    seagulls greeted us at the first

    tiny beach on the Emerald Coast

    in Florida.  Panama City Beach

    was just

    starting a warm

    spell when we

    arrived, and we

    made a beeline

    for the famed




    There is something about turquoise water and white sand

    and young lovers romping around that makes the heart sing.

    Panama City Beach is an arcade and mini-golf heaven, but

    the beach is pure and true, even though high-rises anchor it

    to the modern era.

    We took a side trip to Mexico

    Beach, a delightful, tiny, seaside

    community that is all low-rise

    buildings offering more of that

    beautiful sugar-sand beach.

    Friends of ours were staying at

    the Driftwood Inn, a beautiful

    property that is worth a visit even if you aren't lucky

    enough to get a room.  It is charming and artsy and a

    little funky, with antiques and a unique mini-chapel that

    the original owner built for his wife.

    From Mexico Beach we began a tour

    of three state parks along the

    "Forgotten Coast."  The first was

    Ochlockonee River State Park, a

    lovely park amid thousands of skinny

    "pecker pines."

    We had read that "a patient observer

    may be rewarded with a sighting of

    the rare white squirrel, a local

    mutation that is not an albino."

    On our very first hike we saw one.

    What luck!  Like many park

    animals, he was unafraid of us,

    and he busied himself eating nuts

    and scampering up and down

    tree trunks without the slightest

    concern for our presence.

    This park sits at the confluence of

    two rivers and has several pretty

    hiking trails.  We had just

    purchased an inflatable tandem

    kayak as a combination 5th

    anniversary gift and pair of

    birthday gifts for each other, and

    we couldn't wait to launch it in the

    river.  It is a very cool kayak that has

    pedals as well as paddles, perfect for

    a pair of cyclists.  And it fits in our basement (barely!).

    The air was about 50 degrees when we first set it up on the river's edge, and we were both

    bundled in many layers of clothing.  Mark hopped in and situated himself while I chatted with a

    pair of experienced kayakers who had just shown up on the beach.

    "Does that have pedals?"  the veteran kayaker asked me.  "Yeah!"  I said proudly, "Isn't it cool?

    This is our first time out!"  I confidently put one foot in the kayak to launch it, taking care not to

    get my other foot wet as I pushed off from the shore.  In an instant, I was over the side, one leg

    looped over the edge of the boat, hanging on for dear life, while the other sank steadily deeper

    until I was submerged, half under the boat, in cold water up to my neck.  "Sweety!' Mark called

    out.  "You didn't want to get your feet wet, and now look at you!"

    Very funny!

    I found my footing and scrambled ashore, squeezing gallons of water out of the arms of my

    jacket.  Why do these kinds of things always happen with an audience?  After a change of

    clothes and a few colorful remarks from yours truly, we eventually got the kayak launched, both

    of us dry and in the proper seats in the boat.  What a blast.  It flies along effortlessly and opens

    up all kinds of possibilities for exploration we could never do from shore.

    We moved over to St. Joseph State Park where we spent a few days perched on the end of a

    long skinny peninsula of sand.  The roar of the waves lulled us to sleep every night,

    accompanied only occasional by an owl nearby our campsite.

    We had stayed there last year, but

    we got better weather this year

    (fewer bugs)

    and enjoyed




    walks along the


    My mom visited

    us for a week,

    and as we

    walked and

    talked, catching up on all kinds of things, we had to stop every so often to

    look around and soak in the gorgeous colors.  The many pretty shells

    evoked all kinds of creative ideas for crafts and decorations, as well as

    thoughts of the creatures that had once lived inside.

    It is fortunate that this is the

    "Forgotten Coast," because it is

    very sleepy and almost feels

    undiscovered.  The sugar sand

    brings out the kid in

    everyone, and a grandson-

    grandpa pair were fishing

    happily from the shore,

    poles vertical and ready,

    and souls relaxed and free.

    As we asked the many

    fishermen along the beach

    what they were catching,

    everyone had hopes for various kinds of fish, but no one was

    catching much of anything, and nobody seemed to care either.  It

    was too beautiful to feel anything but joy at being alive.

    St Joseph State Park opens onto a shallow bay as well as the

    Gulf, and the bay side retains some of the swampy feeling of the

    inland rivers.  The shorebirds like to mingle with the swamp

    birds, and the brackish water from the rivers mixes with the tidal

    waters of the ocean.

    Everywhere you look you feel

    the essence of peace.

    Boardwalks connect the two

    campgrounds, taking strollers

    on a tour of the marshlands.

    Mom and I sat for a while,

    contemplating the swaying

    grasses and the ibis and

    herons that stalked their prey

    among the rushes.  It was an

    easy decision to stay in

    Florida's Panhandle a bit longer.




























































































    Florida’s Gulf Coast – Something for Everyone

    Traffic jam in Miami Siesta Beach Sarasota FL Sailing in Sarasota Florida Mexico Beach Florida Forgotten Coast Apalachicola FL oyster boats Forgotten Coast Apalachicola FL oyster boats Forgotten Coast Apalachicola FL

    Apalachicola, FL

    Alice Jean Art Studio Apalachicola FL

    Alice Jean - Have a Coke and a Smile

    Cape San Blas Florida Cape San Blas Florida St. Joseph State Park Cape San Blas Florida

    Southern Florida & the Gulf Coast

    April, 2008 - We dropped down to the northern suburbs of Miami from

    Daytona, swimming at Hobe Sound, Hollywood Beach and South

    Beach.  Each beach had a different flavor, and we enjoyed the beach

    scene at each one.  The water was turquoise and warm and we played

    like children.  In Miami we were hosted by my brother and his family

    and he took us to a local park with banyan trees and mangrove

    swamps.  It was dense, exotic foliage, and we had a great time traipsing

    along the trails.

    An iguana showed

    up as we passed and

    he paused for a look

    at us before he

    scampered off into

    the underbrush.

    We were intrigued that an old building

    in the park had been built using coral

    building blocks, rather than

    the stone you might find at

    in an old building elsewhere

    in the country.

    From Miami we scooted

    across to Sarasota and the

    southern Gulf Coast.  The

    gulls flew overhead as we

    struggled at times in traffic.

    Southern Florida is crowded,

    and parking can be quite a


    In Sarasota we walked along Siesta Beach where the white sand is

    groomed and resembles Dutch apple pie topping, soft and crumbly.

    I had never felt sand quite as soft.  The scenic drive along

    Sarasota's coast was lovely, and a little further north we had a

    leisurely picnic at Coquina Beach.  We watched the sailboats

    passing through the drawbridge and felt like we were in the tropics.

    We wandered north along

    the Gulf Coast, watching the towns get smaller and sleepier as we got away from the big

    cities to the south.  As often happened in our first year travels, there were things we

    missed as we skipped along.  But we felt pushed by the growing heat and humidity at the

    end of April, and after three months in the Sunshine State we were ready for other kinds of


    We stopped in the little

    hamlet of Carrabelle to

    stretch our legs and found

    the World's Smallest Police

    Station and a cute 50's

    inspired coffee shop.

    Sailboats were anchored

    across the bay and it looked

    like a glorious morning to sit

    in the cockpit and sip coffee

    while watching the world

    wake up.

    We were charmed by the small

    town of Appalachicola.  It is a cute

    walking town with fishing boats tied

    up at the pier.

    We poked our heads into a guitar

    store because Mark needed new

    strings for his guitar.  We got talking

    with the store owner (and her

    cockatiel), and it turned out her 90+

    year old mother was an art teacher

    in a studio down the hall from the

    music store.  It was a few minutes before the art class was starting, so

    we dropped in to check out the gallery and say hello to the teacher.  It

    turned out her name was Alice Jean and she had been a Rockette and

    a Coca-Cola model back in the days when Coke ads were hand painted.  She had some

    memorabilia from that era on the wall.  What fun to talk to this elderly lady and imagine the

    years peeling back to reveal such fresh beauty as we saw in the painted ads.

    Continuing west along the

    coast of the panhandle the

    scenery got prettier and

    prettier.  We drove out on

    two peninsulas capped by

    state parks --

    St. George's

    state park and

    St. Joseph's

    state park.

    Each was


    We began to

    see homes

    built on stilts, and the grassy sand dunes swept down to the turquoise sea.  This

    area held the promise of long lazy days sipping cool drinks while dipping your

    toes in the water.  But a sadness hovered over it as well.  Almost every home along the coast was for sale.  The country was in a

    terrible real estate slump and credit crisis, and this area had been hit hard by hurricanes in the last few years.

    Insurance companies were pulling out, and many people, like their stilt homes,

    were being left high and dry.  We saw so many housing developments that had

    been abandoned.  The plot plan billboards were faded and peeling, and the

    homes stood half-built, knee deep in weeds.  I don't know how an area like this

    can recover.  We traveled in an awed silence, searching the roadsides for

    homes that didn't have a for sale sign out front.

    Leaving the panhandle we zipped through Alabama and landed on the Gulf

    Coast of Mississippi at a fascinating town called Bay St. Louis.




























































    Daytona, Florida – The heat is on at Spring Break!

    Daytona 200 Motorcycle Race Daytona 200 Motorcycle Race Daytona 200 Motorcycle Race Daytona Beach Florida Daytona Beach Spring Break Florida Daytona Beach Spring Break Florida Daytona Beach Spring Break Florida Daytona Beach Spring Break Florida Daytona Beach Spring Break Florida Cape Canaveral Rocket Launch Florida Cape Canaveral Rocket Launch Florida Cape Canaveral Florida Daytona Beach Florida Birds on the seashore Daytona Beach Florida Daytona Beach Florida

    Daytona, Florida

    March 6-31, 2008 - Slipping down from northern Florida, we arrived in Daytona

    just in time to watch the Daytona 200 motorcycle race.  When we first stepped

    into the grandstand and heard the motorcycles go by I had to brace myself.  I

    could feel the roar of the engines in my chest.  The speed was shocking -- and

    exciting.  It was a duel between a pair of Honda riders and a pair of Kawasaki

    riders.  The Honda rider #1 led every single lap, trading pulls with #98 for the

    first third of the race.  Then #98 had a mechanical problem and #1 was on his

    own.  The crazy thing about this race is that the leaders lap the losers many

    times during the race, and it is absolute mayhem as the leaders weave through

    the pack of slower riders.

    #1 held out and

    won the race

    handily -- only to be disqualified the

    next day for having illegally polished

    part of his engine.  Mark caught the

    checker flag moment with his camera

    -- quite a feat given that the bike was

    going 180 mph!  The winner took a

    victory lap and we staggered away

    breathless.  What a thrill !!

    We wandered down to Daytona Beach and discovered it was the peak of

    Spring Break.  What luck!

    Daytona Beach has several areas where you can drive your vehicle right

    on the beach.  This is where the "cruising" action is.  Parked cars, beach

    towels, and vendors line the breakwater below the hotels, while the kids

    cruise up and

    down the strip of

    sand just beyond

    the waves.

    It was a study in

    showing off your

    assets while pretending not

    to care if anyone noticed.

    The girls banded together in

    an impenetrable group,

    while the boys hung out with

    each other a healthy

    distance away.

    The girls strutted.  The boys tossed a

    football.  It was the mating ritual of

    the college crowd.  Even the pelicans

    cruised the beach in a tightly packed

    formation, twenty feet above us.

    We noticed a bevy of beautiful babes

    approaching us on the beach.  They

    had caught our attention going the

    other way twenty minutes earlier.

    Without doubt, they were the hottest

    things on the beach that day.

    We were delighted

    when these bathing

    beauties surrounded

    Mark for a photo.

    As the angels radiated

    youth and promise, the pelicans soared in the heavens above.

    Not far from Daytona we looked to the heavens once again as we

    watched a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral.  We stood four miles

    from the launch pad, but the rumble from the rocket shook the

    ground.  This particular rocket was launching a satellite that

    would support a new startup company's venture.  The company

    was planning to provide satellite based music and movie

    entertainment as well as GPS, internet and telecommunication to

    drivers across the US.  The launch was broadcast on TV monitors throughout the viewing area, showing the progress of the rocket

    as it flew through the sky towards the equator where it finally unleashed its load into orbit.

    The pride of the Space Coast was evident everywhere, with Space

    Shuttle icons displayed all over the place, from McDonalds to

    convenience stores.  It is a close-knit community of people who

    work in a really cool industry.

    We returned to Daytona Beach for a post-Spring Break stroll.

    Our punk-rock friend, the Royal Tern, surveyed the ocean views

    while a sandpiper played in the waves.

    Like clockwork, the waves

    swished on the sand and the

    birds dashed in and out of

    the foam.  It was a pattern

    that seemed relentless in its


    I turned and looked at the

    highrise behind me hanging

    over the beach.  It held a

    similar pattern, manmade,

    rhythmic...and relentless in

    its consistency.

    It was a beautiful day on a

    beautiful beach, and we

    happily left our bare

    footprints in the sand.

    From Daytona we ventured to Miami and the

    sights of south and western Florida.