Thursday, December 14, 2006

Collecting on the Road

This goes back to my remarks earlier about Lucy collecting rocks along their trip in "Long, Long Trailer". I'm usually pretty good about resisting these temptations...but it's not easy. While out West, I did want to collect rocks - there's such a beautiful array of colors and textures you just want to keep a 'piece' to remember it all. I think I did permit myself two or three thumbnail-sized rocks...they were so small I've lost them by now.

But seashells are too hard for me to resist. Especially when I'm close to home and I'm heading that direction. Then I'll allow myself. Actually, Andy will allow me to. He's more disciplined about such things then me. And the Gulf Coast is so splendid for shell-collecting.

I wanted to show you the new additions to my collection:
The total gathering from this two-month trip.













And, here are some of my special finds:
A Gaudy Natica.
I've found some different moon shells over the years, but never found this pretty, or should I say "gaudy", shell.
Banded Tulips.
These shells are so delicate that it is very hard to find them in one piece.
A Horse Conch.
Oh, I have many, many conch shells scattered around my house - but mostly Queen Conchs or Florida Fighting Conchs. One winged conch. This is our first Horse Conch. He's a little weathered and we had to chip off some of the barnacles, but I don't throw back my "firsts". I already had to give up several Crowned Conchs because they were occupied - either by the original owners, or crabs.
Lightning Whelks.
Generally, not an unusual find. But look at the one on the right...it's different. It curves in the opposite direction and has a flatter cone up front. I'll have to find out what this one is.
Olives.
Again, not an unusual find, but I liked the colors on these three. The picture doesn't do them justice.
My "Sunset Collection"
Scallops, Coquina, Jingles - all in pinks, yellows, oranges, purples, and reds.
In the rear - some type of a Fig shell. According to my shell book, it is commonly found off of western Mexico to Peru. So, albeit weathered and dull, still a keeper.
In the front - Apple Murex. Another uncommon find for my collection. Especially with color.
The other two? Not so sure - sorry!


One of the reasons I enjoy collecting seashells so much is because of the environment. Imagine yourself on a white-sand beach with the Gulf gently lapping at your feet and the sun setting off to the west. Breathe in the fresh salt air. The pelicans are diving for fish, dolphins breach, the fist-sized sandpipers are darting along the water's edge, the gulls and terns just stand there and watch you stoop and walk, stoop and walk. If you get too tired of the stooping and walking, you can sit and dig through the sand at your feet. Shells are buried about a foot deep in spots. It feels like a vacation all in itself. You forget your worries, or let your mind casually process life. And with all of this surrounding you your eyes are looking for that special shell - it could be the color that strikes you, or the pattern, or knowing that you find a fragile one in one piece, or it is one you haven't found before. But each one is unique and beautiful like a piece of art.

So, now what that I've collected another mass of shells? I have to find more glass containers to store these in. My current containers are all full :)

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bonita Springs, FL

We wanted to end our trip on the Gulf Coast. So on Sunday, we finally peeled ourselves away from our friends in Zolfo (we were supposed to leave Saturday) and headed southwest. Bonita Springs is just south of Ft Myers. It's about 6 miles inland, but was as close to the sand as we could get. The prices of the Florida RV parks are outrageous in the wintertime and it's a good thing we are heading home soon. We were joking that if we do get back out on the road in January, we are going to have to drive straight through the state. We're still earnestly trying to stay around $20/night, but it was harder on this trip. Partly because of our need for WIFI reduced our options.

Bonita Lake RV Park has WIFI, but it wasn't working well. They've been waiting for weeks for the repairman. Not an unfamiliar story. But at least we were able to get WIFI most of the time if we sat outside at the pool deck. Not a bad arrangement at all, actually. It was covered and had electric and there were large picnic tables to use. One night we could get WIFI in our rig by placing our Linksys Travel Router on the roof of Spirit in line-of-sight with the antennae. That was cool, too.

We went road-biking one day up Hickory Rd which runs north-south close to the beach. We rode from Bonita Beach up to Ft Myers and back. Twenty-two miles. It was pretty, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. Bike lanes were only on a portion of the road, and several drivers were not very courteous when sharing the road. A dump truck that passed within inches of us shattered my already frayed nerves. In Florida they just passed a "three-foot rule" which states that drivers are required to allow three feet of space when passing bicyclists. Even three feet doesn't feel like much allowance if the car is going 50 mph. So, a "thank you" to each of you who moves out of the lane when passing a bicyclist, slows down when passing, or waits til its safe to pass for all parties involved. I know it might not mean much to some people, but it is my life. And, as Jon Bon Jovi sings, "I want to live my life while I'm alive!". So thanks again to those who share the road, and brickbats to the dump truck driver who thought the law was a "three-inch rule".

Besides the views of the waterways on our bike ride, I also enjoyed the amusing mailboxes along Hickory Road. Here's just two of the many creative ones I saw.










We went shelling at sunset...

















We went shelling via our kayaks...I can't really say we went "kayaking" because we only paddled about 3/4 of a mile before getting sidetracked with the shells. You could see them at low-tide along the shores of deserted beaches or on the sandbars.


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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Zolfo Springs, FL

After leaving Cortez we drove to stay with Jim and Chris in Zolfo Springs. They are working at the Thousand Trails - Peace River RV Park. Jim is so lucky! His job is to work 12 hrs/wk in the community center helping people with their computers and how to use WIFI. This is a perfect job for a Geek. This is what he loves to do and is a perfect opportunity for him and Chris to make contacts to promote their company Geeks on Tour. Jim does the hardware: installs Datastorm satellite dishes; installs WIFI systems in RV parks; repairs computers; etc. While Chris is the software girl: she builds websites for individuals and companies; she creates Access databases; she is teaching Picasa and Blogger seminars; and more and more and more. These two can do it all in my mind. By the end of the weekend I began to refer to them as "Gods on Tour". They've been bugging me to create email addresses @diandy.com. Well, I was having a problem and couldn't get it to work. Jim sat down at my computer and ,viola, five minutes later he had it working. I'm telling you - he's a god. I would've never thought to retype my password entered into my email account settings! Ha! Yeah, sometimes Jim has to deal with idiots like me who mistype passwords...but hey, in my defense - it's hard to know you mistyped something when it just looks like a bunch of dots.

We had a great time hanging out with them and we learned a lot, too. The Park had WIFI at the clubhouse, but not at the sites. We parked behind Jim and Chris and tapped into their Datastorm (satellite internet dish). Satellite is slower than WIFI but we could do what we needed to do. We learned, however, that JiWire, a new program installed for WIFI security, caused us some grief watching our video or audio casts. Chris and I spent a lot of time discussing Picasa and Blogger. Two programs that allow us to organize our pictures and share them with you all. She's gotten nitty gritty with these programs and I thank her for it. She is able to tell me the pros and cons to help me ensure I won't lose my precious memories. So, if you want to learn more about these programs - you can visit her site(s). She has articles and tutorials and all sorts of information.

Oh, it wasn't all "business". We played some pool and found that after several games we were better at giving away the win then deserving it. Only once did someone actually win the game and put the eight-ball in vs. scratching or causing some other foul. And, believe it or not, it was Andy that won. Yes, we were all in shock at that.

We also had two movie-nights. One was outside at the pool area and was hosted by Jim and Chris for the entire park to enjoy. The movie was 'Long, Long Trailer' with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez. It was a beautiful, starry night and a great movie for this RVing crowd. We actually found that it was a better movie than the more recent "RV" with Robin Williams. Alot of what was poked at is still true with today's RVers. For example, Lucy liked to collect rocks to remind themselves of all of the places they visited...well, doing that in an RV could be hazardous. But there is a desire to "collect" things along your travels. More on that later. Our second movie night was more intimate. It was in Jim and Chris' RV using their projector and pull-down window shade as a screen. We watched one of our movies that we got from Netflix. Yeah, we are still using them. We dropped down to the basic account: one movie at a time, two per month at $10/mo. We figured that with mailing time and viewing time, two would be the most we could get anyway. It's about the same as a rental, and cheaper than buying movies, and it's fun to get a movie delivered every two weeks.

Another exciting moment for us while in Zolfo was that we were able to see the shuttle, Discovery, take-off on Saturday night. I had my camera with me at the pool-hall, but not my tripod. Zolfo is about 100 miles away from Cape Canaveral, so we were surprised as to how bright the sky lit up at take-off, and then how clearly we could see the shuttle itself.



You can read more about our stay with Jim and Chris on their blog. Oh, while you're over there, take a look at the video from Namibia from Marilyn's trip over to Africa. Chris' mom, Marilyn, takes such wonderful, wonderful trips around the world. I want to be just like her when I grow up!

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Cortez, FL

Cortez is just on the eastside of the Gulf Intracoastal from Anna Maria Island/Bradenton Beach. The RV Park we stayed at, Holiday Cove, was great for several reasons: it was only a 3/4 mile run to the beach; our site backed up to a canal; and lots of different birds liked to roost in the Australian Pines along the canal. Ok, and their WIFI was fast and steady.
Here's our view of the canal. We could've paddled from here out to the bay and then onto the Gulf. Time just didn't allow for that on this visit.

There were several nests that Blue Herons were making. It was interesting to watch the males go out and collect the large sticks, and the females place them in preparation for their nesting season.

I think these mature brown pelicans are so pretty with their white and yellow heads.

An overly friendly squirrel decided to come for a visit. We were initially shocked when he stayed on the step when Andy exited the RV, but I was even more surprised when he jumped up onto the screen door. Do you think he's used to being hand-fed????



Our friends, Jim and Chris, came to visit one day. They're currently working at a Thousand Trails park in Zolfo Springs - about 60 miles east of here. We all hopped on our bikes and biked to the beach. We ate lunch at a restaurant with outdoor seating with views of the Gulf and watched dolphins jump out of the water while we dined. From there we just pedaled around town and then ended with a beer on the outside deck of a bar overlooking the Intracoastal.
Here's our crowd posing in front of our lunch-spot with a view.
On our bike ride we came across some sand sculptures. Most had started to deteriorate, but this Pirate Ship was in perfect condition still - look at the details on this.
Here's the rest of the pirate ship.
You can read more their visit at jimandchris.com.

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Dunedin, FL

"Not all who wander are lost." I forget who said this, but I sometimes feel it is very apropos for the way we travel. We are again on the west coast of Florida, having cut straight across the state. We stopped in Seffner for one night along the way at Lazy Days. This is the dealership where we bought Spirit. They have an RV Park next door...offering WIFI and a jacuzzi. Sometimes we need to keep our needs simple.

We chose Dunedin because of its proximity to Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island. Since we're not "collecting" national parks on this short trip, we had decided to add to our collection of Florida State Parks. We picked up two more this past weekend.

Our first night in town we read that there was to be an "Old Fashioned Christmas" in downtown Dunedin. I thought it would help me get into the Christmas spirit. There was an outdoor concert, carriage rides with horses wearing sleigh bells, luminarias lining the sidewalks and the shops were all decorated for the holidays. There was also a lightpole decorating contest - these were just two of my favorites. The two guys hanging on the pole on the left are from my favorite Christmas special!


















Saturday morning we went over to Honeymoon Island just to walk the beach, look for seashells, and check out kayak launching for Caladesi. (Caladesi Island is only accessible by boat.) We had a wonderful time just scouring the white sand beaches for shells. We found lots of conch shells, lightning whelks, and a variety of smaller ones. But Andy eventually pulled me away so we could go to Caladesi. We launched from the Causeway instead of from within Honeymoon Island State Park. It was an easier put in and the water was flatter in the harbor then trying to paddle across Hurricane Pass.

Once we reached Caladesi, we paddled to the marina and ate lunch on a picnic table overlooking all of the sailboats. A short hike took us to the other side of the island and to the beach that is rated as one of the prettiest beaches in the country. We couldn't stay long because low tide would stop us from continuing our paddle along the interior canoe trail. The 3/4 mile section we did was narrow, and this particular section required us to separate our paddles and paddle our kayaks like a canoe. Wonderful - like a tunnel. Good thing I didn't notice all of the little crabs waiting to jump from the mangroves.
Quick Notes for those wanting to paddle Caladesi: watch your tides and when you're in the mangrove tunnels follow the PVC markers. Always turn to the side that the PVC pole is located - for example, if it's on your lft, turn left. Otherwise, who knows where you'll end up in this maze. More on paddling Caladesi.



Back out in the harbor the tide was going out and we noticed that the edge of the island was lined with oyster beds. Paddling close to these beds, we noticed all of the living shells taking up residence here as well. We picked up lightning whelks and a variety of conchs. All were still occupied which meant I couldn't keep them. Bummer! We continued our paddle to the north end of the island and got out to walk the beach. There were only two other people at this remote end. There are tons of birds in this area - oystercatchers, terns, sandpipers, plovers, pelicans, ospreys, herons, and more. And when you paddle across the shallow, grassy areas the fish start jumping. And if they don't jump out of the water, their movements alone will cause the water to boil. It was a great paddle. We spent about five hours on our tour today.

On Sunday we rode our bikes along the Pinellas Trail north to Tarpon Springs, then south again to downtown Dunedin and then out the causeway and into Honeymoon Island for more shelling.

We noticed that there were a variety of birds that liked to visit the canal right by our RV park. Here you can see woodstorks, a roseate spoonbill, and an egret.

A wonderful variety of birds here on the Gulf.

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