Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Putting on the Miles

Post by Henry

We’ve had a good stretch of weather here in central Florida lately and we’ve taken advantage of it.

Friday we hiked over five (5) miles on the Florida Trail in the Green Swamp Preserve.  We discovered Concession Stand Camp, a nice backcountry campsite that we may have to return to on a short backpacking trip.  

Concession Stand Backcountry Campsite

The Green Swamp has become one of our favorite places in the area.

Saturday we drove to the JB Starkey Wilderness Park in Pasco County.  We hiked over three miles on the ‘birding trail’ and saw almost no birds.  

Trail with Live Oaks and Saw Palmetto

We DID see a Black and White Warbler, which is a new one for my life list.  It’s a handsome black and white striped bird and also one that doesn’t stay still for very long so we weren’t able to take a photo of it.

The park also has a 6.7 mile paved bike trail which connects to the 42 mile Suncoast Bike Trail.  Lots of biking trails around here.

Sunday, our Montana neighbors, Bob and Maureen, joined us and we biked ten (10) miles on the Withlacoochee Bay Trail north of Crystal River

Bob and Maureen on Withlacoochee Bay Trail

This trail parallels the Cross Florida Barge Canal which has become the Cross Florida Greenway.  The trail is pretty much a straight shot from US 19 to the Gulf of Mexico.  There are numerous spots to stop along the way with covered picnic tables and nice views if you ignore the ominous looking Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant nearby.  We stopped to eat our picnic lunch and enjoy the company and the view.

Looking toward the Gulf

Monday we paddled a little over five (5) miles on the Weeki Wachee River with Bob and Maureen.  We chose to paddle upstream towards the spring and started at Rogers Park.   We had heard this is a very popular place to paddle but that it was less crowded through the week.  Monday did not seem ‘less crowded’ as for about the first mile we had to dodge a constant stream of kayaks.  The first mile or so was lined with houses, but after that there were less kayakers, no houses, and the river became crystal clear.
Clear water of Weeki Wachee

It was quite a beautiful trip but the current we were paddling against was very strong. 

Taking a Break on the Weeki Wachee
Bob, Loretta, Henry in background

 While Bob and Maureen stopped for a swim we continued upstream to just past the 2.5 mile marker. 
When we turned around for the return trip mostly all we needed our paddle for was to make ‘course corrections’ as the current floated us back.  We only saw two manatees on this paddling trip, but still enjoyed the challenge of paddling upstream and the scenery. 

Yep.  Hiking, biking and paddling.  We’ve been putting on the miles.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore

Post by Loretta

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a little over two hours from our home base in Bushnell, Florida.  Canaveral National Seashore adjoins Merritt Island and they are both located on the Atlantic coast.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

We packed a picnic lunch and got out the door a little earlier than normal for the long drive.  Once there, we stopped at the Merritt Island Visitor Center to get Henry’s wildlife refuge passport book stamped.  We also wanted to purchase an America the Beautiful annual pass.  Unknown to us, the Visitor Center only takes cash for these passes, and we were a little short since we don’t usually carry much cash.  One of the cashiers advised us we could purchase the pass at the Canaveral National Seashore guard shack, where they would accept a credit card and it was only a couple of miles down the road.  

Canaveral National Seashore

So we went there and made our purchase.  The America the Beautiful annual pass is $80 and will allow entrance into most federal parks and refuges.  Since these are some of our favorite places and we intend to visit all we can this year, it will easily pay for itself.

It was already lunch time, so we continued down the road and found a scenic place to park overlooking the marsh, pulled out our folding chairs, and ate our lunch in the warm sunshine, butterflies flitting all about us.  Aaahhhh….

Great Southern White Butterfly

Suddenly, we saw a flash of pink in the sky!  It was a Roseate Spoonbill! 

After we finished lunch and started heading back toward Merritt Island, we saw more pink on the right side of the road and we hurriedly stopped.  Hurriedly stopped.  Oxymoron?  Several more Roseate Spoonbills!  

Roseate Spoonbill

They were preening and wildly sweeping their heads from side to side as they searched the water for their lunch.
Roseate Spoonbill
Roseate Spoonbill Preening

This was a fantastic start to our day of birding!

Black Point Wildlife Drive is the highlight of Merritt Island.  It twists and winds for seven miles through the marsh and allows for viewing of over 300 species of birds!  Here is a sampling of the birds easily seen in winter - but bring your binoculars!

Female Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Hooded Merganser with his Harem
Reddish Egret
American Avocet

Saturday, February 7, 2015


Post by Loretta

I would like to tell you about a few eating establishments we have eaten at recently.  We always search for locally owned businesses instead of the nationwide chain restaurants.  A good resource is Trip Advisor, where we refer to the reviews of previous customers.  This usually leads us to some quaint, unusual, and lip-smacking grub.

After kayaking with the manatees, we stopped by The Freezer in Homosassa.  Does this look like a place you would want to dine?

The Freezer

How about if you were served this?

Steamed Shrimp

The Freezer is located a little out of the way, and was literally a freezer where fresh seafood was processed in years past.  It is simple, no frills, and it was packed on a Wednesday afternoon at 2:00!  The menu is seafood with very few sides.  We ordered the steamed shrimp and it was cooked and seasoned perfectly!  We are planning on going back before we leave the area.  Maybe we will splurge on the Stone Crab Claws….

Another little dive we chose is called Becky Jack’s.  It is just a small building with a lot of colorful d├ęcor outside.

Becky Jack's
Inside, the walls and counters were covered with an eclectic arrangement of memorabilia.  There was a picture of a young Johnny Cash and Elvis Pressley, roller skates, a manaquin, a tit cup, dollar bills and lots of other miscellaneous valuables to observe while waiting for your food.

We both ordered a Crunchy Fish Sandwich.  This is what we got! 

Becky Jack's Crunchy Fish Sandwich

Fish Sandwiches are my favorite seafood lunch item when in Florida or around the coastal area.  Sometimes I am served a sandwich with a few small pieces of fish that do not cover the bun.  This fish was enough for three sandwiches!  I could not believe my eyes when it was served.  And it was served hot.  And it was delicious!  And it was very affordable.  And the staff was helpful and efficient.  Good place!

While we didn’t stop here to eat, apparently some cowboys did.  How often do you see horses hitched up in front of a restaurant?  Really cool!

Waiting for our cowboys

Just one more to tell you about.  We went bicycle riding with our neighbors on the Withlacoochee Trail on Sunday.  It is one of the rails-to-trails, which is the best idea anyone ever came up with!  Using old railroad beds and convert them into walking and biking trails for the public.  What a fantastic idea! 

We parked at the Istachatta Post Office and rode north for 7 ½ miles to a cute little town called Floral City.  When you drive into Floral City, you drive through a tunnel of live oaks reaching from one side of the road to the other, with Spanish Moss draped and blowing gently in the wind.  It is really beautiful.  The town is not much more than a crossroads, but has several little buildings that have been restored and some have murals painted on them.
After we got to Floral City, we parked our bikes and went into Shamrock Inn. 

Shamrock Inn

We were starving!  Therefore, no picture of the food because it was devoured before I thought of photos.  Sorry.  Henry and I ordered a cheeseburger and I have to say – it was one of the best burgers I have ever tasted!  It had smoky flavor like cooked on a grill and it was probably a half-pounder.  So worth the 15 mile round trip bike ride!

So, what does all this have to do with the title of this post?  Nothing.  But today was the closing on Henry’s house in Georgia!  It's SOLD!  

Monday, February 2, 2015

Paddling with the Manatees

Post by Loretta

The forecast was for sunny skies, low 70’s, and not too windy, which sounded like the perfect day to go kayaking with the manatees!  The weather has been around mid to high 60’s with a brisk wind.  Seventy’s are better.

After a somewhat leisurely morning of breakfast and a quick clean up, we headed out the door.  Our destination is Hunter Springs Park in the city of Crystal River, Florida, which is about an hour drive. 

We visited the area the day before to get an idea about the best place to launch the kayaks for free.  And Hunter Springs Park was it.   There was a small parking area, picnic tables, restrooms, benches overlooking the water, and a kayak launch. 

Clear water of Hunter Springs

 From the launch, we paddled around for about a half hour in the little bay and spotted a few Scaup (ducks) and manatees.  We were paddling with three or four commercial boats that take people on a tour to see manatees.  We saw several manatees in this area.  One small area was roped off and there were a group of people with masks and snorkels observing the manatees there.

Enough here.  We paddled off toward Three Sisters Spring.  We rounded Pete’s Marina and followed the steady stream of boats headed that way.   It was less than a mile paddle, so it didn’t take us long to get there. 

Headed to Three Sisters Spring

Once there, ‘watchers’ were stationed to show people the right way to go into the Three Sisters Spring area.  It was rather crowded.  We were instructed to follow a roped off area and stay to the right going in.  It was only about 50 feet going in and then it opened up into a small cove that was just enchanting! 

Cove at Three Sisters Spring

And everywhere you looked into the water there were manatees. 

Manatees everywhere!

It was pretty crowded with kayaks and people snorkeling, but it was such a unique experience!

Snorkeler with Manatee Surfacing for Air

The water was clear and the sun highlighted the manatees below the surface. 

Mama and Baby Manatee

A few facts about manatees.  Manatees weigh between 700-1200 pounds.  The Florida Manatees can be found in the warm spring waters of Florida during the winter.  In summer they can be seen in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and a few other coastal states.  They are mammals and must surface every few minutes to breathe.  Manatees reach sexual maturity about five years of age and carry their young for about a year until birth.  The mother helps the new baby to the surface after birth and within an hour the baby can surface by itself.  They nurse underwater.  They are considered to be a sea cow and eat only grasses along the river bottoms.  When they lose a tooth, another grows to replace it.  They move slowly and are often injured by boat motors and carry the scars to prove it.  They are an endangered species, therefore, many laws have been passed to protect them and bring awareness to the public.

We stayed at Three Sisters for about an hour and began the paddle back.  On the way back, a manatee approached my kayak and it seemed it wanted to be my friend!  

My Manatee Friend Approaching

I wanted to touch it, but I was afraid that would scare it away, so instead I took pictures.  I got a couple of good ones.  

Smiling Manatee

Will you be my friend?

It surfaced several times while by my side and followed me for several yards.  That was such a thrill for me!  I have a manatee friend!

Back at the launch, there were many people trying to get out of the water, but they moved rather quickly, so we got out and packed up without a problem.
A quick stop at Publix for a few grocery items, then back to our home, sweet temporary home!  Another wonderful day as Yahoo Ramblers!