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

challenge...

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

adventures.

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

lovely.

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

consistency.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Florida – Beach, Swamps & Pools

Florida welcome center Happy Hour at The Villages Florida The Villages Florida The Villages Florida Jacksonville Beach Florida

Mixed flock of gulls and Black Skimmers.

Jacksonville Beach Florida Mt. Dora Florida Jacksonville Beach Florida

Royal Tern

Jacksonville Beach FL Mt. Dora Florida

Swampy marsh

Mount Dora, FL Alexander Springs State Park Florida

Mark always has the luck of the Irish

spotting shamrocks.

Alexander Springs State Park Florida Alexander Springs State Park Florida Alexander Springs State Park Florida Alexander Springs State Park Florida

Timucuan Trail

Alexander Springs State Park Florida Alexander Springs State Park Florida

Northern Florida

February 5th - March 5th, 2008 - After freezing to the bone in Arizona in January we

decided to dash across the country to Florida.  Besides warming up, we had lots of family

that was in Florida for the winter, so it made a great destination.  When we first arrived we

spent a few weeks in The Villages  in north central Florida.  This was a hub of activity for

much of Mark's extended family.  The Villages is a unique masterplanned community of

60,000 people surrounding two town center facades -- they are real, in that there are real

shops selling real goods, but

they are fake in that the

buildings and environs were

constructed in the last twenty

years to resemble old fashioned towns from another era.  The

mirage is exceptionally well executed.  We walked along the town

lake, past the "Bait Shop" to the town pier.  It was odd to discover

that the boats in the water were props, including one that was

"shipwrecked" on the pier.  The scene was lovely to look at, but had

no heart.  As we

walked we

listened to The

Villages radio

station piped over the intercom throughout the town center.  Ads for housing in

this massive development played constantly.  We turned and saw that the

largest building in the town square was the sales office -- a lovely building with

pillars and a huge

inviting front porch.

But the sign above

the porch bore The

Villages logo and

said "Sales

Information."

It is a kind of Santa's

Toyland for retirees, a

great place to spend a

week of escapism

vacation but (for us) a scary place to spend your golden years.  Happy hour was

at 4:00 everyday with insanely inexpensive drinks and community-provided live

entertainment.  We boogied with WWII vets and drank two-for-one margaritas til

we stumbled.  We had a blast, but it felt good to get away and get a dose of reality

in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville Beach, and its neighboring

Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach, is a simple

stretch of sand lined with tall grasses, beach

houses and seabirds.  The seabirds were

especially engaging.  The Royal Terns looked to us

like 1980's punk rockers, with damp saltwater

stiffened feathers on their heads that looked like

mohawk hairdos.  The laughing gulls careened

everywhere, cackling their high-pitched cries as

they flew.

The far north end of

Mayport Beach is home

to a mixed

flock of

seabirds,

primarily Black

Skimmers that

have a fierce

predatory look

with a bright

red sword of a

bill.

We took a

daytrip to Mt. Dora.

This small town has

a cute cycling statue and a sign marking the trailhead for a bike path.  What

a surprise to find out that this town has no bike path!  Just some artwork and

a trailhead sign.

However, the town does have a

beautiful boardwalk out into the swampy

marshes on the edge of the town lake.

Snakes and birds and exotic swampy

plants line the boardwalk.  Our best find

was an alligator swimming around

partially submerged in the lake.

We spent some time in Ocala National Forest.  One

evening as the sun set we had all our windows open in

the trailer.  One by one the swamp creatures began to

sing their evening songs.  The forest came to life around

us.  We sat for an hour letting the darkness descend, listening closely as the strange noises

from these animals filled the night air.

After a heartwarming visit with one of

Mark's cousins we were packing up the

trailer to head over to the Gulf Coast.

Busily bringing in the slide and raising the

jacks, we talked to his neighbor -- now

our friend.  She started describing her

favorite local camping area, Alexander

Springs.  By the time we got in the truck

to drive away we had changed our

destination -- to Alexander Springs.

It is a beautiful little jewel in the forest, a natural, clear,

warm spring with a lovely boardwalk trail through the

swamps around it.

We wandered along the trail, marveling at the lush

plants and the bright turquoise water of the

springs.  Some scuba divers were there that day,

and after watching them sink down a few feet they

vanished into their bubbles, and then even their

bubbles seemed to vanish, surfacing only as gentle

disturbances to the glassy surface.

Our travels took us up and down the east

coast and central parts of Florida several

times.  Daytona was our next big stop.