Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Alexander Springs - 02/29/12

We awoke to another beautiful warm sunny day here at Alexander Springs Campground in the Ocala National Forest. This is our last day here so we decided we would revisit one of our favorite areas today.

We took the self-guided boardwalk tour that goes around the pond and along a portion of the river. Under the boardwalk flow the various tributaries of the crystal clear spring water, just a few inches in depth. This area is populated with several varieties of trees; among the most prevalent are cedar, cypress and pine. The boardwalk ends at an overlook area that protrudes out onto a portion of the river. Portions of the shoreline on both sides of the river have small fields of giant lily pads separated by thick patches of bright green grass at least six feet tall. The water is so clear you can see the river has a bountiful supply of fish, some less than an inch in length to some perhaps as much as six inches in length.

An alligator, about five feet long, was swimming slowly near one of the fields of lily pads. A large stork, with beautiful dark blue feathers, was standing near the shore by one of the patches of green grass. It looked to be at least four to five feet tall, standing perfectly still, looking for it’s next meal of fish swimming in the clear water below it. Its’ color blended in so well with the backdrop of the patch of green grass it was almost invisible to the naked eye. A group of four turtles went swimming by. It was such a unique experience to see them so clearly. They stayed underwater, occasionally swimming to the bottom to munch on the lush green vegetation there. Then the fun began! A family of otters were frolicking about in one of the fields of giant lily pads across the river from us. What a commotion! There were just too many of them to get an accurate count. A small one swam over to one of the lily pad fields on our side, stuck it’s head above water, looked at us for a few seconds and then submerged and rejoined the others on the other side.

Upon our return to the area of the pond roped off for swimming, I told Sharon our boardwalk tour would not be complete without our testing the water in the swimming area. She was definitely not receptive to my suggestion, so it was to be a solo event for me. Off with my shoes and socks and into the crystal clear spring-fed water I go. Since the depth of the water throughout the pond is only about three feet deep, the water was a little bit above my knees. Indeed, the water was warm and felt like it was 72 degrees F, as advertised in the park literature. The pure white sandy bottom was soft to the touch on the bottom of my feet. When I stepped into the lush green vegetation I had the sensation of tiny little fish flittering about my feet. I was tempted to wade further into the pond but was mindful of the alligator we had seen earlier, that was really not that far from the pond. Common sense prevailed, time to exit the pond. Mission completed! I had tested the waters at Alexander Springs.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Meet Bud Schmitt - 02/28/12 - Ocala National Forest

Tuesday - February 28, 2012
Robert "Bud" Schmitt
Alexander Springs Campground
Ocala National Forest

Today we had a new camper occupy the campsite across from our campsite. He had an early 1990’s trailer about 20 feet in length that he towed with an early 1990’s Ford pickup truck. In the bed of the pickup truck he carried a weathered Honda motorcycle. The motorcycle had a small cc engine and was very quiet. Our new neighbor was alone, we guessed was in his late seventies, and perhaps a widower.

It was quite a site to see this man unload his motorcycle from the bed of the pickup truck. The front of the motorcycle faced the front of the truck. He positioned a ramp on an incline from the bed of the truck down to the ground. He then got on the motorcycle, with the engine off, and very slowly backed the motorcycle down the steep incline, using his feet and the hand brakes on the motorcycle to guide it to the ground. We subsequently learned he is 84 years old.

We are so sorry we did not have more time to spend in conversation with this remarkable man. His name is R.L. "Bud" Schmitt, the R stands for Robert. Bud lives in Chalmers, Indiana, which is located 18 miles north of Lafayette and spends his winters in Florida. He is using Alexander Springs as his home base while he attends "Bike Week" in Daytona, Florida, from March 9 to March 18, 2012.

In our initial conversation Bud mentioned he was a "speed freak" on motorcycles. We were not quite sure what he meant by that statement until we became more enlightened about his life history. Here are some of the highlights:

1. In 1955, he set an unofficial motorcycle speed record at the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. He hit 157.2 mph, but he burnt a piston and couldn’t make the second run for the official record.

2. In 2005, on the 50th anniversary of his record setting ride, Bud at age 78 attempted to break his old record. He was the oldest rider there. His friend, Dan Bell, owner of a Harley Davidson dealer in Lafayette provided him with a customized 200 hp, V-rod motorcycle worth $40,000.00, for the record breaking attempt. Weather conditions were not favorable and limited his attempt to 125.7 mph.

3. Bud once held the drag speed record of almost 130 mph at Chicago’s old Half Day Track. He also used to drag race motorcycles in the late 1950’s at Stout Field in Indianapolis.

4. In 1956, he blew up a two-engine Harley he had built and went down at 90 mph. He broke his arm and stopped drag racing, but it didn’t stop him from going fast.

5. For 30 years Bud owned an independent garage in Chalmers, Indiana. He use to convert engines and make hot rods.

6. A pilot for 24 years, Bud has built four airplanes.

During our many years of travel we have met some interesting people. This gentleman goes to the top of our list of "The Most Interesting People" we have met.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ocala National Forest - 02/22/12

We decided we would do a road trip today to check out the other 12 developed campgrounds in the Ocala National Forest. There are 14 developed campgrounds in this forest. We had previously checked out two of them; the Salt Springs Campground and the Alexander Springs Campground where we presently have a campsite.

We selected the Shanty Pond Campground to check out first, since it was close to Alexander Springs. The entrance road to the campground is three miles long, consisting of hard packed sand in the center and feathering out to a soft sand base toward the edges. It is a rough washboard type road. Our top speed on this road was 20 mph. The road is wide enough to accommodate two automobiles, but appears to be a challenge to accommodate two RV’s in some places. I believe a four-wheel drive vehicle would be required to navigate the soft sand base on the shoulders of this road. Fortunately, going in and coming out we did not encounter any RV’s, only one automobile in each direction. I am sure our Ford E150 Cargo Van would have gotten stuck if we were forced into the soft sand on the shoulder of the road.

Upon our arrival at the Shanty Pond campground we quickly determined it was not suitable for our camping lifestyle. The campsites were spread out, but had no surrounding scenic value. There are no hookups at this campground. There were a few large RV’s camped there. Those RV’s had to have taken a beating coming in on that washboard entrance road.

After checking out 10 more campgrounds, most of which were similar to Shanty Pond, we determined that Alexander Springs, Juniper Springs and Fore Lake are the only campgrounds that met our camping preferences.

Another camper at the Alexander Springs Campground provided us with a favorable report on the Clear Lake Campground near Umatilla, Florida. He had camped there before coming to Alexander Springs and stated it had a paved entrance road with paved campsite pads. This was the campground we did not get a chance to check out, so we will do that next year.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Alexander Springs - 02/21/12

We spent an absolutely wonderful first night at Alexander Springs Campground in the Ocala National Forest. It was so quiet and peaceful. The temperature dipped into the low 50’s, which made for great sleeping weather.

We awoke to a beautiful sunny day, with temperatures in the low 70’s and very low humidity. Our plan for today was to find cellular service for our Smartphone so we can access the Internet on our laptop computer. The friendly Park Service Ranger directed us to Umatilla, Florida, a small town located 10 miles from the campground. We found a small shopping mall area there that provided excellent cellular service in their parking lot. With that task accomplished, we can now plan to extend our stay at the Alexander Springs Campground.

The Ocala National Forest is located in North Central Florida between the towns of Palatka, Ormond Beach, Ocala, and Altoona. It spans four counties and 383,000 acres. It is the southernmost and oldest National Forest east of the Mississippi River in the continental United States, and protects the world's largest contiguous sand pine scrub forest.

There are fourteen developed campgrounds in the Ocala National Forest, only Salt Springs offers full hook-up service. However, several campgrounds have dump stations and shower facilities. The remaining campgrounds offer fewer amenities. The Alexander Springs Campground provides nicely maintained restrooms with flush toilets, warm water showers, drinking water and a dump station.

For dinner, I prepared a one-meal dish in our electric skillet, consisting of sauté chicken breast chunks, quartered small potatoes, string beans and a can of cream of mushroom soup. I added a bit of garlic pepper seasoning to kick it up a notch. It turned out to be a very tasty meal. Sharon showed her approval with a two thumbs up approval rating. Whenever Sharon gives me that signal I know I have completed another successful meal preparation. I enjoy experimenting with one-meal dishes, primarily for ease of preparation and less clean up required.

We so enjoy this area of the Ocala National Forest that we have extended our stay at the Alexander Springs Campground through March 1, 2012.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Ocala National Forest - 02/20/12

We departed the rest area at Mile Marker 133 on I-95 at 8:30 a.m. We had spent a comfortable night there and were eager to get to our next destination.

We arrived at the Salt Springs Campground in the Ocala National Forest at 12:15 p.m. This was one of two campgrounds we wanted to check out, the other one is the Alexander Springs Campground. Salt Springs was not to our liking. The RV campsites have water, electric and sewer hookups. They were all occupied, but did not provide adequate privacy for our preferences. The primitive section of the campground the Park Ranger directed us to, was not suitable for RV’s, in our opinion.

We departed Salt Springs and traveled about 30 miles south to Alexander Springs Campground. There are no hookups at this campground, but what a jewel! There is plenty of privacy between campsites, beautiful scenery and a scenic spring-fed pond.

Alexander Springs has crystal clear water that remains at a constant temperature of 72 degrees F throughout the year. There are several surface tributaries that direct the underground spring water into a shallow pond. The pond then evolves into a shallow river. The width of the pond and the river is approximately 25 yards with a maximum depth of about three feet. The bottom is composed of pure white sand, mostly covered with lush green vegetation. Despite the alligator warning signs posted, there is a designated swimming area, approximately 25 yards square. We witnessed adults and young children swimming in the pond, and also scuba divers, with their wet suits and tanks on, exploring the pond.

Alexander Springs provides canoe rentals for those visitors wishing to explore the river portion of the spring. Quite a few campers bring their own canoes or kayaks. The water surface is so smooth with a gently flowing current, it looks like it provides a relaxing way to enjoy nature on the water.

There is a self-guided boardwalk tour around the pond and along a portion of the river. Under the boardwalk flow the various tributaries of the crystal clear spring water, just a few inches in depth. This area is populated with several varieties of trees; among the most prevalent are cedar, cypress and pine. The boardwalk ends at an overlook area that protrudes out onto a portion of the river.

We are presently paid up for three nights, but will probably stay longer after we have had a chance to check out other campgrounds within the Ocala National Forest.

The cost for a campsite is $10.50 per night with our Golden Age Passport.

Total miles traveled today: 218

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Marathon, Florida - 02/19/12

We departed Boyd’s Campground in Key West, Florida, today at 11:07 a.m. We both let out a howl of celebration! In our 20 years of camping throughout North America, we both agreed, this was the most congested and nosiest private campground we have ever stayed at. There is no privacy at all between campsites. In some sections of the campground, they actually put two RV’s into what would normally be a single campsite at other private campgrounds. The noise level from some of the other campers late into the evening was also very annoying. From what we observed at other private campgrounds throughout the Florida Keys, RV’ers can expect high density camping as the norm. Do not expect to have any privacy between campsites and be prepared to pay a premium price for the privilege of camping within three feet of your neighbor! In all fairness though, we realized up front that camping in the Keys would be cramped and expensive. Our primary goal was to visit and explore Key West. We accomplished that goal and were very pleased with that aspect of our trip.

At 1:00 p.m. we stopped for lunch at the Island Fish Company. This restaurant is located at Mile Marker 54 on US-1 in Marathon, Florida. This is a very scenic restaurant that is located right on the Gulf of Mexico. There was a 30-minute wait, but we were fortunate and were seated at a waterfront table within five minutes. I was determined not to leave the Keys without having Conch Chowder. I had a bowl of their Conch Chowder and a fried grouper sandwich. Sharon passed on the chowder; she has a thing about eating anything that resembles a snail. She had a blackened grouper sandwich. The grouper sandwiches were absolutely delicious. With our hunger pains thoroughly satisfied, we continued on our journey.

The temperature in southern Florida had been getting a little too warm and humid for our comfort zone, so we decided we would visit the Ocala National Forest in central Florida in search of cooler temperatures.

We stopped at a Rest Area at Mile Marker 133 on I-95 at 6:55 p.m. to spend the night. Florida Rest Areas have security guards on duty during the evening through the morning hours. These rest areas provide a safe environment for the traveling public to grab a few hours of rest.

Total miles traveled today: 287

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Key West, Florida - 02/18/12

We continued our tour of Key West today. Our first stop was at the Eco-Discovery Center, which has free admission and free parking. This is indeed a rarity in the Old Town section of Key West. Free admission to other attractions or free parking were not available there. Yesterday we spent $16.50 for all-day parking in one of the parking lots dispersed throughout the Old Town section. We decided we would make the Eco-Discovery Center parking lot our base camp for the day while we toured the Old Town section on our bicycles.

The Eco-Discovery Centers’ mission is to draw attention to the delicate ecosystem of the Florida Keys. It has several animated and live aquarium displays, plus a 30-minute movie that draws attention to the important responsibility each of us have to preserve and protect our environment.

The Eco-Discovery Center is located on the Atlantic Ocean waterfront next to the U.S.C.G.C. INGHAM, a Coastguard ship, and the U.S.S. MOHAWK, a WWII destroyer that is credited with destroying a number of Japanese war ships. Both ships are operated as museums, but only the Coastguard ship is available for onboard tours. The U.S.S MOHAWK has sustained substantial degradation through the years and is scheduled to be towed in 2012 to the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Fort Meyer, Florida, and sunk there to provide an artificial reef.

We spent the remainder of the day exploring the Old Town section of Key West on our bicycles. This is a very bicycle friendly area, so we felt quite comfortable riding our bicycles here. We probably covered about every square foot of the area and had a wonderful time exploring all that Key West has to offer.

We were successful in completing two items on our menu tasting list for today. The first item on the list was to sample some Conch Fritters. Conch Fritters are made from farm raised Conch shellfish. The heel of the Conch is used in a seasoned flour-based recipe. They are made into the shape and size of a golf ball and deep-fried. Every street-side café that offers Conch Fritters advertises they have the best secret recipe, so you just have to ask around and then select one. We found a small street-side stand that had absolutely delicious Fritters. Our second item on the list was Key Lime Pie. One does not visit Key West without doing Key Lime pie. We were informed that Kermit's Key West Key Lime Shoppe had the best Key Lime pie and they did not disappoint. Sharon had the standard version and I had the chocolate covered version. Kermit lived up to their reputation. Did I mention that Kermit will ship their Key Lime pies anywhere within the U.S? Now those will be some expensive pies indeed!

After comsuming our high caloric indulgence of the Fritters and Key Lime pie, we rode our bicycles over to the harbor on the Atlantic Ocean side of Key West. Sitting in the harbor was a magnificent blue colored yacht manufactured by Baglietto, an Italian shipbuilder that builds custom designed multi-million dollar yachts. The name of the yacht in the harbor was Bellissima, registered out of Bikini. If you google Bellissima yachts, there is a 2003 model for sale, listed at $9.5 million dollars. It is listed at 127 feet in length.

There were also two very large cruise ships docked in the harbor. We were fortunate to be there when one of the ships was making preparations to depart. It is amazing to see how gently the ship is eased away from the dock and slides gracefully out into the ocean.

We decided to take a pass on the "Sunset Celebration" this evening. We figured we had done enough celebrating for today, for our age group!

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Key West, Florida - 02/17/12

We got an early start this morning, for us senior citizens that’s 10:30 a.m. We visited the Old Town section of Key West and took a sightseeing tour on one of the Old Town Trolleys. They provide a narrated tour on a route that takes visitors by the Hemingway House and the Southernmost Marker Point in the U.S.

The island of Key West is approximately 1-1/2 miles wide by 4 miles long with a population of almost 25,000 residents. We were surprised to learn that their busiest season is Halloween, when around 100,000 visitors arrive. During this event, some of the younger and older adults’ parade around the streets of Old Town Key West, au natural, with painted costumes on their bodies.

Duval Street is the main drag of Old Town Key West and traverses the entire width of the island. There are an estimated 146 bars on this street. Key West is reported to have the densest housing in the U.S. Having seen it first hand, we can believe it. There is literally hardly any space between the homes and there is no need for a lawnmower, since there are no yards. The island is basically a coral reef that has been built up over the years for human habitat development. Key West has the third largest coral reef in the world residing along the Atlantic coast, extending 186 miles north. This coral reef protects the coastline from wave activity that creates sandy beaches. Key West has a white sand beach area, but the sand had to be brought in from Miami.

We had lunch at the Conch Republic Seafood restaurant. This restaurant is located on the water on the Gulf of Mexico side of Key West. I had a blackened snapper BLT on Cuban bread that was absolutely delicious and Sharon had the fish and chips.

After lunch we continued on a self-guided walking tour of the Old Town section of Key West. This is a very popular tourist area, with restaurants, bars and boutique shops populating the streets throughout the old section of Key West. Several bars, three-stories tall, advertise clothing is optional on their 3rd floors. The irony is they all have a sign posted at their entrance stating: "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service." We had a chuckle over that. I mentioned to Sharon that perhaps that means pants are optional!

At 4:30 p.m. we strolled over to a famous Key West attraction called Mallory Square Dock to participate in a ritual called the "Sunset Celebration." Hundreds of people gather there to watch the various street performers until the anointed time arrives for the sun to set. Tonight the sunset was partially obscured by a cloud cover, but it was still a breathtaking view. As the sun was setting below the horizon the crowd began cheering in unison. It was a magical moment to end the day with.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Key West, Florida - 02/16/12

We departed Long Pine Key Campground in the Everglades National Park at 8:30 a.m. and arrived at Boyd's Campground in Key West, Florida at 11:50 a.m. The US-1 highway going down to Key West was quite congested to travel on today. It was bumper-to-bumper traffic the entire distance.

Boyd’s Campground is your typical commercial campground in a tourist destination area. They maximize every inch of space to pack as many RV’s as possible onto their property. Needless to say there is absolutely no privacy between the campsites. We marveled at how the 40-foot motorhomes maneuvered their rigs into their campsites. Did I mention that there is a Naval Air Station about two miles across the water from the campground? Yep, Navy fighter jets are taking off and landing throughout the day. We are located directly in their landing pattern. Nice to see them flying, sometimes in formation, but OMG the noise!

Our campsite was located close to a restroom and shower. The restrooms have these high volume air dryers that sound like jet planes taking off. Throughout the evening hours we were serenaded with the sound from these dryers. The campground was full, so there were no other campsites we could relocate to.

We are thankful we are only here for three nights. We depart on Sunday for a yet-to-be-determined destination somewhere in central Florida that is quiet and has plenty of privacy between the campsites.

Our cost for an inland campsite with water and electric for two people was an in-season rate of $90.00 per night.

Total miles traveled today: 137

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day - 02/14/12



Today is Valentine’s Day. I have been celebrating this special day with my soulmate for the past 32 years. We are so fortunate how perfectly matched we are together. This special day will be another day of many celebrations to follow of our love and devotion for one another.

What a perfect day for Valentine’s Day! It is a warm sunny day with temperatures in the high 70’s. I prepared a hearty breakfast for us this morning in honor of this special occasion. We dined on crispy bacon, scrambled eggs mixed with melted swiss cheese, hash brown potatoes, and whole wheat toast. We both enjoyed the high caloric meal and agreed to take it down a notch with a nice spring mix salad for dinner.

We decided to spend a relaxing day at our campsite here at Long Pine Key Campground in the Everglades National Park.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Marathon, Florida - 02/13/12

We started off our day at 8:00 a.m. with a hearty breakfast at the Cracker Barrel in Homestead, Florida. I had the "Old Timers" breakfast. Sharon thought that was appropriate for my age!

After breakfast we traveled to Marathon, Florida to do some research on Sharon’s paternal grandparents who spent the winter months there in the 1960’s. Sharon’s grandfather had died in Marathon during one of their winter to Marathon in the 1960’s. Upon our arrival in Marathon, our first stop was at the Clerk of the Circuit Court. We met a kindred spirit in genealogy; Nancy, who is a clerk of the court. We spent about 20 minutes there providing her with as much information as Sharon had available. She was so accommodating in accessing their microfilm files for us, however their files only went back to 1970 and we needed access to files in the 1960’s. Nancy then contacted their archives department in Key West, Florida who provided her with the information they would require to do a records search for the death certificate of Sharon’s grandfather. Nancy agreed to call Sharon when they had a copy of the death certificate available.

Our next stop was to the Marathon public library, which is conveniently located next to the Circuit Court. A very friendly librarian provided us with two reference books on a pictorial history of Marathon. The first book covered the period from 1906 through 1960. The second book covered the period 1960 through 2004. Both books are authored by Dan Gallagher, Ph.D., Chairman, City of Marathon Commission. The books provided a very interesting pictorial history of Marathon.

Here is some interesting historical background on Sharon’s family history. Her great-great grandfather, David Allan Smith, was an attorney in Jacksonville, Illinois and a personal friend of Abraham Lincoln in the 1840’s. The two men on occasion did some legal work together. A book was written about David Smith in the early 2000’s by a historian, Doris Hopper, Dean of Women at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois. The home of David A. Smith is located in Jacksonville, Illinois and has been designated a historical residence on the Lincoln trail in Illinois and is a part of the Illinois College campus. The Illinois College campus resides on land that David Allan Smith once owned. The entire Smith family, including Sharon, were invited and attended the dedication ceremony in the early 2000’s. At that time pictures were taken of the Smith family in front of the home and we were all allowed to tour the inside of the home.

Here is an interesting Smith male tradition that is believed to have started with Sharon’s great-great-grandfather: Each first-born male generation of the Smith family have the first and middle name of their grandfather. The sequence follows:

David Allan Smith,  great-great-grandfather to Sharon

John Allan Smith, great-grandfather to Sharon

David Allan Smith, grandfather to Sharon

John Allan Smith, father to Sharon

David Allan Smith, brother to Sharon

John Allan Smith, nephew to Sharon

Sharon's nephew’s wife would not allow their son to be named David Allan, so the streak has been broken.

This evening we made reservations for three nights at Boyd’s Campground in Key West, Florida. We plan to arrive there on Thursday.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Everglades National Park - 02/12/12

I have been a bit lax in updating our blog for the past few days, so I will take care of that today.

Wednesday was overcast with temperatures in the high 70’s and frequent showers. We decided it would be a good day to do our laundry. The Laundromat is located 14 miles from the Long Pine Key Campground. We are now good to go with clean clothing and bedding for another week or so. We can access the Internet in the Laundromat parking lot with our T-Mobile service, so we were able to catch up on emails and business related matters.

Thursday was pretty much a repeat performance of Wednesday, weather-wise. Our 10-foot square canopy kept us dry while we enjoyed the warm weather outside.

Friday we went to the Walmart in Florida City to get a few items. It is located about 20 miles from the Long Pine Key Campground. We were able to access the Internet in their parking lot with our T-Mobile service.

On our return trip to the campground we stopped at an open-air style fruit and vegetable store called "Robert Is Here." They have been in business for 52 years as of 2012. A sign posted on their property advertises they have the best milk shakes anywhere. Every time we have passed by their store, over the past few days, their parking lot has always been full.

Sharon and I each had a cherry flavored key lime milkshake. These milkshakes, at $5.00 each, were the best ever! They definitely backed up their advertising with these milkshakes. While customers are waiting for their milkshake to be processed they can visit a mini-zoo on the property, located behind the store. It is a children's petting zoo containing farm animals and waterfowl. When a milkshake order is ready they announce the number printed on the customer’s receipt over their PA system.

There are signs posted at each parking space stating: "Lock your vehicle and hide your valuables." The store is located in an agriculture area on the way to Everglades National Park. This area appears to be heavily populated with immigrant farm workers, so perhaps this is the legal disclaimer the store employs in the event of any vehicle break-in’s on their property. It was a very interesting place to visit.

Saturday was a "do nothing" days for us. It was partly sunny and in the mid-70’s. A very pleasant day overall. We both spent time reading and playing board games.

Sunday morning we awoke to a temperature of 46 degrees F. A wee bit on the chilly side. We fired up the generator, turned on our electric heater in the trailer and were nice and toasty in no time at all. The temperature was in the low 60’s today so we bundled up a bit to keep warm. We decided this would be a fine day to go exploring in Everglades National Park, so off we went. We spent about four hours exploring the park, totally enchanted with the scenic beauty of the diversified landscape in abundance here.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Flamingo Campground - 02/07/12

Today we set up our 10-foot square canopy to provide additional shelter from inclement weather as well as provide additional shade for our campsite.

We had frequent rain showers throughout last night and again this morning. The temperature is in the high 70’s today and the humidity level is up a bit, but still quite comfortable. Last night the temperature was in the 60’s with a low humidity, so it made for a comfortable night of sleep with the windows open in the trailer.

We visited the Flamingo Campground in the Everglades National Park today to check out the campsites. It is a very large area bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west. It is located 34 miles southwest from the Long Pine Key Campground. This is a very popular spot for fishing and camping. They have electric hookups for RV’s that are 26 feet or longer in length. The electric hookup area is in Area T and has no shade and very little privacy between campsites. Campers with RV’s less than 26 feet in length must camp in Areas A or B. These two areas have nice campsites with some shade and privacy between the campsites.

On our return trip to the Long Pine Key campground we came upon an open water area along side of the road. It was filled with water birds; several Egrets, a Sand Hill Crane, a white Pelican and a Spoonbill with a partial covering of red feathers. The birds were wading or swimming, depending on the species, in about a foot of water, catching small fish. There were also two alligators swimming in the water. It was quite a sight to see the birds and the alligators interact with one another. The birds, especially the Egrets, seemed to sense how close they could get to the alligators and remain safe. There were also several small brightly colored ducks swimming together in close formation resembling a military platoon marching in a parade. We have never seen such beautifully colored ducks before. It was a very enjoyable scenic view of wildlife within their natural surroundings.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Everglades National Park - 02/06/12

On Sunday, our deep cycle battery went dead after servicing our trailer for the past four years with DC power. The battery is one of the key components in providing 12-volt DC power to the refrigerator, lights and water pump in our trailer, so this is not a good thing to have happen out in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, I always carry a battery charger with us on all of our trips. Since we have AC electric power at the campground, I set the batter charger to a trickle charge, hooked it up to our dead deep cycle battery and plugged it into the AC outlet on the trailer. Low and behold we had 12-volt DC power once again! The refrigerator, lights and water pump were back in operation. Sharon was once again happy and content. Mission accomplished!

Monday morning we were up bright and early at 4:00 a.m. and departed the Midway Campground in the Big Cypress National Preserve at 5:00 a.m. Our destination today is the Everglades National Park with a stop at a Walmart in Florida City, Florida to pick up a 12-volt deep cycle battery.

When we arrived at the Walmart at 6:30 a.m., it was pouring down rain. Needless to say, by the time I got the battery installed in the trailer I was soaked though, even with a rain jacket on. We now have a fresh battery powering our 12-volt DC requirements. All this time, Sharon was giving me an encouraging smile from the dry comfort inside of our Ford E150 van. Life is good, no worries!

We arrived at the Long Pine Key Campground in the Everglades National Park at 7:15 a.m. Our plan is to spend 10 nights here. This is a beautiful campground with some degree of privacy between each campsite. Each day there is a Park Ranger sponsored tour or lecture scheduled free of charge. Adjacent to the campground is a small lake and of course signs are posted alerting visitors that alligators inhabit it. When we scouted this area out last week, we saw one swimming in the lake.

Internet service is excellent at a Post Office located 14 miles from the campground. We do not have to travel too far now to access the Internet. An added bonus is right across the street from the Post Office is a small strip mall with a Laundromat. We can do our laundry while we access the Internet.

Life’s simple pleasures. It just does not get any better than this!

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Everglades National Park - 02/03/12

We traveled to the Everglades National Park today to scout out new campground locations. Our Golden Age Passport allows us free entry into the National Parks and National Forests, so we saved $10.00 on the entry fee. The Visitor Center to the park is located about 11 miles southwest of Florida City, Florida. There are two campgrounds located within the park; Long Pine Key and Flamingo. Long Pine Key is located 5 miles from the Visitor Center and Flamingo is located 38 miles from the Long Pine Key campground.

We visited the Long Pine Key Campground and were pleased with the layout of the campground and the semi-privacy of the individual campsites. We plan to extend our stay through Sunday night at the Midway Campground in the Big Cypress National Preserve and arrive at the Long Pine Key Campground on Monday. There are no electrical or water hookups at the campsites in Long Pine Key, so we will have to use our generator and solar panel to service our electric power requirements.

The camping fee is $16.00 per night at Long Pine Key. With our Golden Age Passport, the fee will be $8.00 per night.

Once we are settled in at the Long Pine Key Campground we will check out the Flamingo Campground. The Flamingo Campground is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west. A couple from Alaska, who had just camped there, told us it is a very scenic campground.

Internet access is not available with our T-Mobile service at the Long Pine Key Campground. However, I found excellent service is available at a Post Office located 14 miles from the campground. That is an improvement over the 27 miles I now have to travel from the Midway Campground to the Everglades Safari Park to access sporadic Internet service.

Today’s trip was a 146-mile round trip fun-filled adventure. Our route took us on US-41 east to FL-997 south to FL-9336 west to the Everglades National Park. There are major farming communities along FL-997 and FL-9336 that grow tomatoes, strawberries and bananas. To see the hundreds of farm workers bent over in the fields, tending to the crops, makes one truly appreciative the sacrifices some human beings make to provide our population with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Everglades Safari Park - 02/02/12

We traveled to the Everglades Safari Park for an airboat ride through the Everglades today. This park is located 27 miles east of the Midway Campground in the Big Cypress National Preserve. The airboat ride took 40 minutes and was absolutely wonderful. We were surprised how smooth the ride was when flying through some stretches of the Everglades at 40 miles per hour. We were awestruck at the vastness of the Everglades. As far as the eye could see, there was a sea of grass growing in crystal clear water. In several we observed Egrets and Storks feeding on small fish. The captain of the airboat informed the passengers that the average depth of the water in the Everglades is only 15 inches. In some areas of the Everglades we would enter into a wooded Hammock area and that seemed to be where the majority of the alligators and turtles would reside. Indeed, we saw numerous alligators and turtles in these areas. In one Hammock area we saw a female alligator with her babies. The babies were only about a foot in length and the captain maneuvered the airboat to within about two feet of the babies. That was a very special moment. Mother nature at her finest!

At the conclusion of the airboat ride we visited a small museum on the property that housed some turtles and a variety of snakes. We then attended a lecture on alligators. The lecture was conducted within an amphitheater type structure with an enclosed fenced area that contained about six alligators. All of the alligators appeared to be at least six feet in length. In the fenced-in area with the alligators were several black-headed vultures attempting to secure uneaten remnants of chicken that the alligators had not gotten to yet. It was quite an amazing sight to see how close the vultures would get to the alligators to snatch bits of chicken. The lecturer explained that on occasion an alligator would snatch a vulture for a meal.

The lecturer arrived and provided the audience with a detailed history on alligators while standing outside of the fenced-in area. He then entered the fenced-in area containing the alligators to continue the lecture. All of the alligators were lying still and sunning themselves and paid no attention to the lecturer. He explained that these alligators had been trained to respond to verbal commands followed by a reward with meat treats. He approached one alligator, got down on his knees beside it and gave it a verbal command. Its head immediately came up off of the ground, opened its huge mouth and rubbed its head against his chest. He reached into his bucket of meat treats and threw a piece of meat into its mouth. The force with which it closed its mouth was astonishing. You could actually hear a loud sound as it clamped its mouth shut! The lecturer, still on his knees started to pet the alligator on the top of its head and back. The lecturer then got up and walked over to another alligator that was just lying there. He gave it a verbal command, he said "Bobby," immediately this huge alligators head came off of the ground, mouth wide open. The lecturer kneeled down beside it and started petting its head and back. At the same time the alligator, with mouth wide open, was rubbing the side of his mouth against the lecturer’s chest. The lecturer gave the alligator several meat treats and the alligator closed its mouth and put its head back on the ground. The lecturer then demonstrated on this alligator how they protect their eyes during violent encounters with other alligators and prey. He touched each protruding eye on the alligator separately. Immediately, the alligator retracted the eye that was touched, within a cavity in its head. This was without a doubt one of the most entertaining and bizarre wildlife lectures we have ever attended.

Upon completion of the lecture, we toured the Wildlife Park on the grounds. The park contains several species of alligators and crocodiles from around the world and they are contained within fenced-in ponds. However, since you are walking on a paved pathway through the grounds that are within the Everglades, you see wild alligators sunning themselves on the grounds throughout the self-guided tour. So visitors are well advised not to stray from the paved pathway.

We were able to access the Internet on our laptop computer tethered to our Smartphone at the Everglades Safari Park. Internet service through T-Mobil at this location was very sporadic and it took us a long time to complete everything we needed to accomplish.

We arrived back at the campground very late in the afternoon, a bit weary from a full day of activity in the sun at the Everglades. Time for some relaxation, sitting in our recliners outside on the patio, with a nice glass of wine.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Big Cypress National Preserve - 02/01/12

It is the first day of February and another beautiful warm sunny day here at the Midway Campground.

We met another couple that are camping here in a Casita trailer. They purchased their Casita in 2003, sold their home in 2010 and started living full time in the Casita in December 2010. They spend their winters here in Florida and the rest of the year they spend in the Midwest. They are from Champaign, Illinois but have their residency established in South Dakota for tax purposes. Full-timing in an RV is a totally nomadic way of life and really not suitable for our lifestyle. We definitely require a home base to return to after our extended trips.

We spent some time at the Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve today. They have numerous alligators and other wild life that inhabit the canal that runs parallel to the Visitor Center. I counted at least 20 alligators, either swimming in the water or lying on the bank of the canal. There were several large water birds that were diving underwater to feed on fish. It was interesting to see the birds diving underwater with seemingly no regard for the alligators all around. A volunteer from the Visitor Center provided a short lecture on alligators. He stated that alligators only need to eat about four times a year. They will eat just about anything, but their favorite food source is turtles.

We went into the Visitor Center and watched a very interesting 25 minute film on the history of the Everglades and the Big Cypress Swamp. This film provides a thoughtful critique of how critical it is for the present generation to preserve this most valuable water producing resource for future generations.

We are unable to obtain Internet service at the campground. We have talked to other campers and they are having the same problem, so it must have to do with the remote area we are in. We tether our Smartphone to our laptop computer to access a secured network Internet service through T-Mobil.

We spent a relaxing evening sitting outside our trailer watching an alligator swimming in the pond.

Tomorrow, another new adventure begins!

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