Monday, March 27, 2006

Jonathon Dickinson, Hobe Sound FL

We were forewarned, but it still didn't fully prepare us for the sight. Jonathon Dickinson State Park has been transformed from two years ago. Then, Pine Grove Campground was so thick with trees you could barely see the other sites. The towering Australian Pines provided lots of shade. Now, it is like a barren waste ground. Only a handful of trees remain unscathed. And a handful of new trees, palm trees, have been planted.

First there were the hurricanes of the last two years. The sand pines on Hobe Mountain, a towering 86' above sea level, received so much abuse in the winds that they have slowly died from the stress. The 50-year old Australian Pines in the campground were nearing the end of their life-cycle, and just toppled over taking other trees down and uprooting the underground electric lines. What few Australian Pines were left standing were chopped down by man during the Non-Native Vegetation Removal Program (which is occuring all over the state). Then there was the fire of Jan '06. A prescribed burn that went out of control, burning lampposts, amphitheater benches, and it even jumped the 4-lane road (A1A) to continue burning in the Hobe Sound NWR. The fire line shows charcoal black just feet from the homes that border both parks. The first plant to regrow in the last two months are the saw palmettos, offsetting the blackness with lime-colored leaves. They'll grow so thick, so fast that some trees won't be able to compete.

We had to walk and drive through the park to find anything that was recognizable to us. Thankfully, less damage was evident as we went closer to the Loxahatchee River. The fire was not as intense on the other side of the railroad tracks that bisect the park. But we also weren't prepared for the winds and the temperatures rising to 88 degrees one day. With no trees to shade or protect us. One tenter packed it up after one night and having her tent flattened.

Most of the mountain bike trails have been reopened, but they were mostly sand since it's been so dry. Attempts have been made to help buoy riders with plastic netting, mulch, palmetto fronds and other objects, but unfortunately riding in sand is just not much fun. Hard pedaling and minimum forward movement. So we played around on the obstacle course for awhile. There are ramps, narrow bridges, steep hills, jumps, logs, etc. to practice on. Quite fun.

An incoming tide, just before high tide, is the best time to visit Blowing Rocks Preserve (Nature Conservancy). And since our bike ride was cut short we realized it was the perfect time to run over to Jupiter Island to re-visit this park. It's been years since we've been here. First we walked the two trails provided on the Intercoastal Waterway, then we walked across the street to the rocky beach. The waves on an incoming tide crash against these rock outcroppings, or if you're real lucky, will explode through one of the blow holes. It all depends on the surf. No matter what, the beaches here are completely different than those at home. But beware, this old worm reef is very jagged and sharp and the sand was very hot being of darker grains. We struggled walking the beach without shoes. Andy was lucky he could take the "low road", but he had to dodge the waves. Being that I had the camera, I suffered with burnt feet.

Since the biking was a bust on this trip, we decided to take our kayaks out onto the Loxahatchee River. Normally we do this river further south, off of Indiantown Road, and paddle north towards J.D.. This part of the river is wider. It's still very natural with both edges thick with mangroves, but only an occassional cypress tree or palm tree. So, after looking at a map, we figured we'd check out Kitching Creek and see where that would take us. Sometimes these creeks are too narrow, or too shallow to allow for much exploring. But Kitching Creek is gorgeous. Narrow in spots, but enough room to paddle easily. Thick with bald cypress trees sprouting their spring growth. There were mangroves and lillies and birds, including a yellow-crowned night heron. Then Andy arrived at an area that was going to require a portage to bypass some downed trees. There was an opening on the bank that he was about to take when he saw "the biggest alligator I've ever seen" (quote, unquote) stand up on his legs and confidently walk into the water. Now, I need to mention a couple of things here. One, alligators don't often stand up and walk slowly, they generally scurry with bellies low to the ground and splash into the water. This guy appeared confident...he was about to eat Andy for lunch. Second, I did say the creek was narrow in spots, right? Well try turning your 13'6" kayak around quickly in a narrow space. So I wasn't too surprised to hear this story after I saw a white-faced Andy coming out of the trees. By the way, THAT was where we turned around and headed back. Oh, another wonderful sighting we had during our paddle was several Osprey nests, and we even spotted a baby in one of them.

We toured the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse. We like being able to go inside lighthouses. 108 curling steps took us to the top for some wonderful views of the area. The tour guide provided lots of interesting information on current matters and historical. One of the things mentioned was regarding the Pennock Family who had been in the area since the early 1900's and made a big business growing ferns locally and shipping them up north. Here's the catch: Andy worked at Pennock's in Philadelphia in the late 1980's. Same family! Small world.

We did go across the street to visit the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge. But because it was so hot that day, and the area was scorched black, we didn't do the hiking trails, except the path to the white sand beach on the Intercoastal. But they did have some interesting reptiles in their trailer (their building was destroyed in the hurricanes from 2004). This guy, the veiled chameleon, has to be one of my favorite 'lizards' - isn't he cute?

Andy and I also relaxed on the beach. Key word here is relaxed. It's so rare for Andy to lay down or look at sea shells with me. This one goes into my personal record book. I love hunting for sea shells. Jupiter Island was thick with them. So, I've added a few more to my collection.

It was a great trip. And we even got some cleaning and maintenance done on the RV. Unfortunately, we didn't find a place to wash and wax the RV or a place to change the oil, so I guess we'll just have to take her out again soon....:)

Savannas, Ft Pierce FL

Our "Maintenance Trip". That's what we like to call it. With a name like that we don't feel so guilty about taking a little vacation after our guests left. Sounds lame, huh?

For years we had wanted to go to Savannas. We tried 2 1/2 years ago at the beginning of our "trek across America", but they were full. This time they did have an opening, albeit in the overflow area. No big deal, though. That just meant we were across the driveway from the marsh instead of right on the water. Interesting enough, the full hook-up section is on the opposite side of the park away from the water. We figured we'd be ok for 3 1/2 days with just water/electric hook-ups. But when we arrived, we learned that the previous camper had taken out the water post due to misjudging his "swing" (referring to how far your back end swings out when making a turn). So we didn't have water. And what little water we had left sitting in the tank for the last 3 months was questionable to drink. So we had to buy jug water to get us through the first day or so. This just gave us the opportunity to perform some maintenance on the RV by emptying our water tank, right?

Most people think of Savannas State Preserve when you say you're going to "Savannas", but there is no camping at the State Preserve. We camped at the county-run Savannas Recreation Area which is just above the northern boundary of the state park. Savannas is just 2 hours north of Ft Lauderdale. If you're into kayaking/canoeing, fishing, or birding this is a great place to relax. My first impression upon stepping out of the RV when we arrived was of tranquility. There were a variety of sounds from birds, crickets, pig frogs, and gators. The marsh was feet away and I could see grackles, red-winged blackbirds, herons, and a young gator lazily swimming past. The Recreation Area offers walking trails over pedestrian bridges or berms to maneuver around all the ponds and access different "islands". From these trails we spotted several baby gators, which are more colorful than the adults.

Our first breakfast was interrupted by the loud "ga-roo" of six Sandhill Cranes. What a sight with their red heads, long legs, and feathery bustles.

Our first kayak was just within the man-made canal bordering the true marsh. It was still a great paddle alongside cattails and lillypads. The non-native vegetation removal program was underway. Evident in the dead melaleucas and australian pines. It's a shame melaleucas are so invasive, because they are so pretty with their white peeling bark. But I learned that each melaleuca tree contains millions of seeds and any affront will cause the seeds to release, i.e. burning, cutting, etc. So for now, they try several methods, including pulling up saplings. On the way back, we pulled up on the steep embankment to go to the top of the observation tower. We wanted to try and find a cut-through to the other areas of the marsh. When we got back into our kayaks, I'm not exactly sure what Andy was trying to do. His kayak was still completely on dry land and perpendicular to the water when he sat down in it. Once his weight was in the kayak, it shot straight down the bank, backwards. Andy was still white-knuckling the sides of his kayak when he splashed in. Surprisingly he didn't flip. It looked like some new crazy Olympic sport - the Backward Lugge. The expression on his face = Priceless.

We did find a cut-through to the rest of the marsh. So one day we paddled in the maze of reeds and grasses and small tree islands in the Rec Area and on a different day we drove to Savannas State Preserve and paddled there as well. Both areas are similar in appearance and plant life, but we did feel there were more birds in the Rec Area. This could've just been because of the time of day we visited the State Preserve. We never did quite isolate the sounds we heard. One deep-throated ribbit, or quick-growl, we had always thought was the pig frog, but some people said that sound was a male gator. Last year's hurricanes threw off the whole mating cycle. So this year the females are still with babies, and the males are all ready for mating again. But the moms won't leave their babies, which is causing the guys to be overly frustrated and agitated. We were warned not to get too close to them because of their current temperment. Sounds a little familiar, girls, doesn't it? Now some of these sounds clearly had almost an "oink-oink" to it, which had to be the pig frog (I would assume). But to play it safe, we tried not to veer too close to any tramped-down grass islands. Spring was in the air with all of the animals - grackles were collecting nesting materials, herons were grouping in large bunches, and ospreys were tumbling in mid-air. At Savannas State, we were told there was a baby Sandhill Crane out with it's parents, but we didn't get a glimpse even after walking one of the trails.

After leaving Savannas State Preserve, we stopped at Oxbox Eco-Center on the way home. This nature center not only offers hiking trails, but is a green building. We're just fascinated by these green buildings. Here they even use a rain-catcher to collect water for their toilets. We started out on the trails thinking they were just going to be your normal Florida hiking trail: flat, wide (think fire road), sandy, and the scenery would be scrub, pine trees, and scrub. We love Florida, but hiking in Florida is not the best (in our minds) because it is all the same. But that doesn't mean we don't think this land should be preserved and protected. It should, absolutely. For the animals, the air we breathe, our water, etc. So, needless to say, we didn't think twice about wearing our beach sandals. That was until we hit the Otter Trail, which runs along the St Lucie River, and has to be, by far, one of the most beautiful hiking trails we've ever been on in Florida. Narrow, winding, hilly, and dense with a variety of trees, air plants, and ferns. Think: tropical, prehistoric. What a treat - we didn't want it to end. But even on the way back it changed our outlook, because as we walked further inland we could physically see the transition zones back into the scrub.
Later Sunday night, we went for a run through the Rec Area and received a wonderful reward - we almost ran into the pair of Sandhill Cranes with their baby! Right in our campground. The little guy had reddish-yellow and white fluffy feathers and big eyes outlined in white and long legs. He was just over knee-high. We were heading the same direction, and tried hard not to scare the family too much. But we were sharing a 15-ft wide berm. Surprisingly they remained rather calm. If they had let out when of their bellowing calls (which can be heard one mile away!), I probably would've had a heart attack. The next morning, I saw them again from my kayak and was able to snap a long-distance picture.

We packed up and left around noon and headed 30 minutes south to Jonathon Dickinson State Park for the rest of our trip.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The O'Tormey Girls

Our second wave of guests were the O'Tormey Girls - Carol (Andy's sister), Rosemary, and Stephanie (Carol's two daughters). Now, they flew in Friday and Jen didn't leave til Saturday, causing our first two waves to overlap...Then Andy's mom joined us on Monday, before Carol and Steph left on Tues (overlapping waves 2 and 3). But believe me, there were no complaints...everything was great and we enjoyed having so much love and friendship in our home. We were even able to get our nephew Nick to come and visit from Miami. He spent one night with us as well.

Since Carol and Steph were only here for a few days, it was important to get them relaxed and mellow before sending them home. So we hung out at the pool, sat in the jacuzzi, went to the beach, walked along Riverwalk, shopped Las Olas and the outdoor Arts Festival, and hit the Riverwalk Jazz Brunch.
We also took a cruise boat along the New River and saw where all of the rich and famous live - you'd know them: the CEOs of Taco Bell, Dell, Sunglass Hut, Izod, Firestone; Wayne Huizenga, old movie stars; and so many more.

Walking Riverwalk at night shows the city in a whole different light.

We also took Rosie and Mom to see King Tut which is on display at our Museum of Art, which is a nice 2-block walk away. We got the audio tapes, which provided a lot more information than we would've gotten without. We were impressed with the number of items that were in great shape - especially considering their about 3300-3500 years old.

What else did we do? Oh, that's right, we took Rosie over to Himmarshee several nights to show her the "cool scene" in downtown Ft Lauderdale. Whoa, we're not used to doing that several nights in a row! But every once in awhile it is important NOT to act your age! Ha! But I'm not sure if Rosie is invited back after referring to Andy as the "creepy old guy". So what if most of the people in the bars were in their 20's???

We had a great time with all of our company, and we believe they did too. We now have a little reprieve. We may take advantage of it by taking Spirit out for a mini-vacation. We'll call it a "maintenance trip"...well, there's some truth in that - we have to run the generator, and burn up some of the gas, and...

Jennifer and Aquiles

Our first wave of guests arrived on February 25th. And nothing is worse than picking up a friend at the airport with the greeting "Don't hug me! I'm sick!". But we had Aquiles well within 24 hours of breathing fresh, warm air. After a record-breaking 46 days of cold rain in Portland, it was no wonder he arrived sick with a cold.

The day after their arrival, we were blessed with being able to throw together an impromptu mini-reunion of sorts. We had Laura and Bob down from Melbourne, Melissa and Scott down from Boca, and Patty (an old college friend of Jen's) just lives about 2 miles away now. Who knew we could fit so many people in our condo? It was a great time for all of us to catch up on eachother's lives.

Jen and Aquiles came to Florida with one goal in sit in the warm sun and get some color. I was going to quote Jen by saying "on their white, pasty skin", but I knew she'd get mad at me! Sorry girlfriend!

So, we hung out on the pool deck. Swimming in the pool and soaking in the jacuzzi...
Here's a view from our pool deck. Life's not bad when you can do a wave-check from the roof of your building! In this picture you can follow the New River out to the canals and on to the ocean.
We went to the beach. Jen and I were relieved to have the two boys off playing with eachother. This gave us girls time just to relax and read for a change. Their bocci game took them down the beach quite aways before they turned around and headed back north. Something tells me they did more than just concentrate on their game...

And they played nerf football in the ocean...

Aquiles even dared to go snorkeling. The water is currently a chilly 72-degrees. Hey! Remember, we're Floridians!

Jen and Aquiles also went down to the Keys for a few days to walk Duval Street in Key West and do some of the other things Jen loved to do when she used to live down here in the sunny corner of the country.

Unfortunately, they flew back into cold and rain, calling us the next day to cry that Mt Hood was seeing blizzard conditions. We keep reminding them that the condo across the hall is for sale....hmmmm, will they buy?