Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Florida Adventure

Kris here.

It is already late March and we have been home for a month, but life got in the way of our latest blog posting (doctor visits, new siding on our house, birth of granddaughter Isabel Araceli Kissell, etc.).

Better late than never.
We drove across the Panhandle and Northern Florida, waking up to morning temperatures in the mid to upper 30s at our campsites. We spent a few days on Amelia and Talbot Islands north of Jacksonville. We visited Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve and Fort Caroline National Memorial, too.

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve - Kingsley Plantation
Fort Caroline National Monument, built in 1564 by the French on the St. John's River

More history to learn about at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and Fort Matanzas National Monument in San Augustine . . . really old architecture. We celebrated Brian's birthday at a local diner with a nice view of the ocean after checking in at Tomoka State Park.

 Sally port, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Kris on the ramparts of Castille de San Marcos
 Looking across Matanzas River to the small fort
 Fort Matanzas - built by Spain, 1740
Proof that Brian made it up the ladder and through the very small hole in the roof - view from the top of Fort Matanzas
Next destination was inland to Mt. Dora for a weekend visit with Brian's cousin, Sue. We enjoyed a production of “Funny Money” at a community theater and dinner out in this picturesque town. Brian and Sue had lots of memories to share and we looked at old family photos of their Grand Dad Kissell and Kissell cousins.

Continuing down the Atlantic coast, bypassing Miami, we made our way to Key Largo. We didn't plan far enough in advance to secure campsites in public campgrounds for this trip to the Keys so we ended up in over-priced, crowded private campgrounds. Showers, WIFI, and a place to park was all we really needed before embarking on the Overseas Highway (U.S. 1) towards Key West.

Of course, we made several stops along the way to hunt for geocaches including two on the old 7-Mile Bridge and enjoyed at 3 mile walk to reach them. We visited Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge but didn't see any deer because we really didn't have enough time to hike around on the trails. . . we needed to get to our campsite near Key West before dark. Now they really know how to “pack 'em in like sardines.” As we were entering the campground, we found ourselves sandwiched between two large RVs and witnessed a minor accident when one of them knocked the large side mirror off the other one. Once again we commented to each other that we have no desire to travel in anything large that would limit where we can go in our travels.

Old 7 Mile Bridge, Overseas Highway

Now for the biggest reason we were in Key West: Dry Tortugas National Park. We boarded the ferry and made the 2.5 hour (70 miles) trip out to Garden Key and Fort Jefferson. This national park has been on my bucket list for a long time and we were not disappointed. We spent 4 hours exploring the old fort and walked on the moat wall all around it. We could see sooty terns and frigate birds on the adjoining keys, but not allowed to get close. There is a primitive campground in the park and the ferry takes campers out there. It would be awesome to take a small tent out there one day and see the night sky so far away from artificial light . . . another bucket list item!

 Approaching Dry Tortugas National Park
Boat we rode on from Key West

 Top of Fort Jefferson, Bush Key and Long Key in the distance
 Fort Jefferson
 Seaplanes - another way to get to Dry Tortugas NP
 Parade Ground, Fort Jefferson
moat around Fort Jefferson

The next morning we awoke to the sound of crowing roosters that run around the campground (reminds us of Kauai). We took a city bus into Key West and spent the day walking around the town. We visited the Southernmost Point (of course!), Eco-Discovery Center, Shipwreck Treasures Museum, endless array of T-shirt shops, and Mallory Square at sunset. We made it back to the campground at 9:30 – a very, long tiring day.

 Key West from the observation tower of the Shipwreck Treasures Museum
 old diving helmet
 Sunset from Mallory Square
Of course there is a geocache here!
Back to the Overseas Highway and more geocaching on a beautiful clear morning. We arrived at Everglades National Park and secured a campsite for two nights and thought “this is more like it!” Lots of space between sites and owls in the trees. It's a good thing we got there early in the afternoon because was saw the CAMPGROUND FULL sign a few hours later. We drove back to Homestead for WIFI at the library and to buy groceries. Returning to Everglades NP, we enjoyed eating dinner by moonlight and visiting with another camper. The end of a very satisfying day.

 iguana in the Florida Keys
Good news for us at the Visitor Center, Everglades National Park
After a second night at ENP, we headed to the Gulf side of the Florida Peninsula and passed through Big Cypress National Preserve. Alligators, wood storks, and many other birds to see.

After meandering around central Florida for geocaching opportunities, we made our way to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. Before leaving home, I read “The Yearling” for which she earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1939 and her memoir “Cross Creek” about living in the scrub land of Florida and maintaining an orange grove. Her house was not open to the public on the day we visited, but we walked around her farmstead and enjoyed the tranquility of the place. We had a reservation at Torreya State Park west of Tallahassee and didn't arrive until after 9:00 pm. Luckily, we had called ahead and were given the combination for the gate lock so we could get it.

 Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' house, Cross Creek, Florida
Orange grove, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park

Our next overnight stop was Mobile, Alabama for a nice visit with Chris and Sharon Oertli and her mother, Gail Caine. We spent a pleasurable evening reminiscing about the days of working at Clear Lake City Elementary. We enjoyed their gracious hospitality very much.

Home in Houston after 18 days on the road, covering over 4,000 miles.

We were home for a month when grandchild #3 was born – Isabel Araceli Kissell.