I’ve started a new blog on my solo travels in my RV. You can find it at O-solo-meo.blog. Hope to see you there!
Death Valley, California
It was only about 100 miles to Death Valley from our last stop. I hadn’t been there before and didn’t know what to expect. I guess in my mind’s eye it looked something like the Sahara Desert…man, was I mistaken.
First of all Death Valley National Park is very mountainous with a valley in between two mountain ranges. It is renowned for its colorful and complex geology and its extremes of elevation that support a great diversity of life. It is the ancestral homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe that still live there today. Ninety-one percent of the park is designated wilderness. The park is 3.4 million acres that stretch across California and Nevada. The highest elevation is 11,049 feet and the lowest is -282 feet (that below sea level at Badwater). The Valley itself is the hottest and driest place in the United States. The highest recorded temperature is 134 degrees and it gets an average of two inches of rain per year. On average Death Valley is the hottest place in the world! The valley is a long, narrow basin walled by high, steep mountain ranges. The steep mountain ranges trap the heat in the valley, thus the very high temperatures.We camped right in the park at the Sunset Campground for half-price with our National Senior Park Pass. The temperature was comfortable; in the 70s during the day. Our timing was perfect because we arrived during the Super Bloom! Every 10 – 15 years, the valley has a super bloom of flowers when the rain and weather conditions are just right. It was a wonderful sight to behold. We took a car ride to see the flowers. We took a short hike into one of the rock canyons. It was pretty hot that day when we weren’t in the shade.
I am so happy we were able to catch the Super Bloom and investigate Death Valley and I will definitely return again. It was absolutely amazing and for me it was one of the highlights of the entire trip.
Lone Pine, California (Alabama Hills)
When we left Death Valley we drove west on Hwy 190 to reach Lone Pine, California. Our destination was the Alabama Hills. Since there was a large elevation increase in order to get over the mountain range, Chyerl and I drove the cars. I led the way with Ralph and Jesse in the RVs and Chyerl bringing up the rear. It was a little caravan! The road over the mountain was narrow and twisty in some places and I was glad I was in the car! As we drove down the mountain the view was overwhelming and brought tears to my eyes. The eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains dusted with snow came into view behind the lower, rounded, oddly shaped contours of the Alabama Hills with a brilliant blue sky above it all. It was stunning! The photos don’t do it justice. I wish a had cameras in my eyes so I could capture what I was seeing exactly as I saw it. (Along with Google in my brain, and I’d be all set!).We camped at the Tuttle Creek BLM campground for $4 per night with our Senior Pass. What a deal. It was a great small campground with wonderful views and a babbling brook behind our site. I’d read about the Alabama Hills in the Wheeling It blog and noted it as a place I wanted to visit. We got close a couple of years ago, but it was early summer and the weather was too hot. The best time to visit the area is in the Spring and Fall. So our timing was perfect. The Alabama Hills are known for movie filming since the 1920s. Movie Road winds through the hills and unique boulders where many films and TV series were filmed. Most of the films and shows were westerns, but not all. Since the 1920s, over 400 movies have been filmed there. Some are: Gunga Din, Yellow Sky, How the West Was Won, The Lone Ranger, and more recently, Tremors, Star Trek Generations, Gladiator, Iron Man and Django Unchained. Many, many movie stars have walked in the area. There is a film festival held here in October and I would love to go. The Lone Pine Film History Museum is something not to miss if you’re in the area. If offers the entire history of film making in the area and was totally worth the $5 entrance fee. We went to the museum and did some hiking in the Alabama Hills. I’m so happy we were able to come here at the right time (weather-wise) and I will definitely return again. After we left Lone Pine we headed up to Bishop for one overnight before the last drive over the Sierras back to Sacramento. We had to leave a couple of days early in order to avoid a winter storm moving into the Tahoe area. We weren’t anxious to see how a 33 foot motorhome drives in the snow. It was wonderful to see the snow in the Sierras and the reservoirs nearly full. Thank God for El Nino! Sacramento
We arrived home on March 4. As I write this I cannot believe how fast the last four weeks have gone. It takes days to unload and clean the RV and then we had to put our things back in place. We rented the house to Ralph’s daughter and a couple of her friends, so we had to pack up our personal belongings to make room for the girls. It took another week to get the house back in order. And of course there was personal business, UCD class stuff and reconnecting with friends.
The trip lasted 6.5 months and nearly 10,000 miles on the RV and many miles on the car. We live in a very diverse (people and geography) country and it was a dream come true to be able to see it like we did. That said, there is no place in this country like the West. It is the most beautiful and it is not so densely populated. My heart sang when we drove past the “Welcome to California” sign. There truly is no place like home. We were very happy to have Chyerl and Jesse join us for the last two weeks of our adventure. It was really fun to explore, eat, watch movies and play Yahtzee with the Snows. Thanks for joining us!
Ralph was ready to get off the road; I was not. I could have kept going for a long time. There may be some solo travel in my future. I could wander around the West and be perfectly happy. (I think) I even have a name for my solo travel blog: o-solo-meo. What do you think?
Thanks for following along on our travels.
Until the next trip…
This was our second year back in Yuma and this year was even better because my nephew’s family lives there now and we driveway surfed for a week. The next week our friends Chyerl and Jesse joined us camping in the desert off Sidewinder Road about 14 miles west of Yuma (which is actually in California). I was surprised by the way I felt when I saw the “Welcome to California” sign. I felt really happy to be back in the state I’ve called home since 1979.
We parked in Kevin and Mariya’s driveway where they an an RV spot. I still don’t know how Ralph backed our 33 foot Motorhome in the spot. As you can see from the photo below, it was a very tight spot, so tight in fact that we couldn’t get the door open all the way and had to squeeze through it for the week we were parked there.We took advantage of Kevin, Kevin’s tools and the many RV stores in the Yuma area to complete a long fix-it list. Ralph installed a new toilet, kitchen faucet, water pump, check the slides, light fixture above the kitchen sink, valve extender on a tire, and hinge under the bed. I also purchased new curtains for the front of the rig. Yuma is an RVer’s dream. There must be 50 RV parks filled with mostly Canadian’s (seasonal) and many RV stores and dealers. Yuma also has three “swap meet” type marketplaces for you to spend your money in. We bought a sun screen to hang from our awning to block the sun and a roll up table to use when there is no table at the campsite. Both things we’ve wanted to buy for a while and they had very good prices at the swap meet.
We had such a good time with the desert Furtah’ s. Mason, my grandnephew, is almost four years old and was so much fun to spend time with. He warmed up to us pretty quickly and had Ralph playing with him and his toys in no time! After we moved to the boondocking site on Sidewinder, they came out to visit us twice.
We all went across the border into Los Algodones, Mexico for the day. Ralph was our tour guide because he has been there a couple times before. Mariya wants to get some dental work done at the same dentist that Ralph had dental work done. The seven of us (including Chyerl and Jesse) walked across the border and the four blocks to the dental office. Mariya met the dental staff and checked out the office and made an appointment for a full consultation in March. We then went to a great restaurant for lunch and drinks. For seven lunches, four beers, one margarita and a couple of soft drinks the bill was $44.00. We purchased several things from the vendors that like the sidewalks and then walked back across the border. There wasn’t even a line at the border crossing. We all had a fun time and I think the desert Furtah’ s will be returning in the future.
Chyerl, Jesse, Ralph and I went Geocaching one day and found eight geocaches. They were all located along Sidewinder Road and pretty easy to find. We had a long walk and came across this marked grave.
The next day Kevin, Mariya and Mason came out to our campsite with the s’mores fixings and we had a campfire. Little Mason really enjoyed himself out in the “wild”. Jesse got out his drone and flew around the area video taping. When I get a copy I will post it here.
I never tire of the beautiful desert sunsets. I was very sad to leave Yuma and the “kids” and look forward to my next time in Yuma. Lake Havasu City
From Yuma we caravanned with Chyerl and Jesse up to Lake Havasu City and stayed in the back lot of Prospector’s RV, the same place we stayed last year. We took advantage of their pool and showers and had a pleasant three day stay. We took Cheryl and Jesse to the Desert Bar. They couldn’t believe we took the Mini Cooper up the Desert Bar road last year. This year we had the Honda CRV and it was just as bumpy! We also went to an old car show at SARA park speedway. Also we had to make a stop at the London Bridge.
We started the last part of our trip back to California and the next stop: Death Valley!
We were very happy to be back in Arizona.
Tucson was our first stop and we camped at the Gilbert Ray County Park, a small campground in Tucson Mountain Park in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. It is a county park that is very close to the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum, Old Tucson Studios and Saguaro National Park West.
We arrived at Gilbert Ray about noon in order to ensure a campsite because they do not take reservations. Good thing we arrived early. We were the first in a line of many to get a site for the fours days we wanted to stay and explore Tucson. As soon as we finished setting up we headed over to the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. I read a lot about the Desert Museum on the many blogs I follow and was anxious to see it. And I must say it was fantastic! There are two miles of trails that wind through various Sonoran Desert habitats featuring flora and fauna native to the region, 16 desert botanical gardens, and earth sciences center cave showcasing minerals, animal exhibitions and animal-keeper demonstrations. They almost had to kick us out of the place at closing! It’s the number one attraction in Tucson and now we know why.
The next day we drove downtown to Tucson’s 4th Avenue District to meet a riding friend of Ralph’s for lunch. It’s a funky area with shops and restaurants. It was a lot like 6th Avenue in Austin. I love college towns. They are so alive with well…everything! After lunch we went to the Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show. What a place that was! It had everything from ready-made jewelry from dinosaur dung to ancient fossils for sale. It was interesting with a lot of eye candy.
Tucson is surrounded by Saguaro National Park East and West. The National Park was established to protect the Saguaro Cactus. The area we visited was like a forest of cacti. It was something to see. We took the scenic Bajada Loop Drive to explore the park. Here’s a few photos of the beautiful area.
I also toured the Old Tucson Studios. I wasn’t sure about going there, but I decided to and it was interesting and educational too! The studio has hosted 300 film and TV productions since 1939 including film classics such as Rio Bravo, Tombstone and The Three Amigos. Many, many famous stars walked the streets of Old Tucson like John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Clint Eastwood and Kurt Russell. There was a film playing that showed all the films made at the studios and the various stars. The scenery and buildings are authentic and some very old. There was a fire (arson) several years ago, so some of the buildings were rebuilt after the fire. I took a walking tour and a train tour of the entire grounds. Loved it!
After the studio tour I headed over to the Mission San Xavier Del Bac, a historic Spanish Catholic mission founded in 1692 by Padre Eusebio Kina. It was destroyed by Apaches in 1770. The current building was built between 1783-1797 and is the oldest European structure in Arizona. It is considered the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States. It was so beautiful! They are refurbishing the building. As you can see the left side has been completed. They are trying to raise funds to complete the right side.
Our time was short in Tucson and I hope to get back there sometime in the future.
We drove about 120 miles southwest from Tucson to Ajo, Arizona in order to visit Organ Pipe Cactus National Park. Ajo was a copper mining town back in the day. It’s a cute, little town about 25 miles north of the park. It is not far from the Mexican border so there were a few border patrol check points. Let’s just say…we didn’t fit the profile. We actually boon docked (no hook ups) in the wild on Darby Well Road (BLM land). It felt so good to be back in the wild and the wide open spaces.
We spent the next day at Organ Pipe and drove the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Loop. Stops were numbered along the way and there was a brochure that guided us through the 18 stops. The park was formed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1937 to project the Organ Pipe Cactus which are rare north of the Mexican border. The cacti do not like cold weather.
Gila Bend, Arizona
Our next stop was Gila Bend (pronounced He-la Bend) so we could visit the Painted Rock Petroglyphs Site. There is a campground right at the site. The campsites were very large and private with no hookups. Our senior rate was a whopping $4 per night. We could walk to the petroglyphs and also found a Geocache nearby.
Painted Rock Petroglyph Site is an ancient archaeological site containing hundreds of symbolic and artistic rock etchings, or “petroglyphs”, produced centuries ago by prehistoric people’s.
Gila Bend has made national news by becoming the nation’s leader in the creation of a modern, renewable energy grid. It is home to four solar plant operations. I don’t understand why there are not more of these solar plants.
Our next stop is Yuma and a stay with my nephew Kevin and his family. And then friends will be joining us in the desert for some fun!
Another beautiful sunset
New Orleans, LA
This was my first time returning to NOLA since 1981. I cannot believe it has been that long. The last time was a weekend trip from Dallas where I was attending training classes on Northern Telecom while working at PacTel. It was fun, but this time was much more fun. My friend, Jane, flew in from San Francisco for the four days. . Jane and I stayed at a lovely old, boutique hotel in the French Quarter on Chartres Street. Ralph joined us for part of the time. The first day we were wondering around the streets of the French Quarter we learned that the first parade of the Mardi Gras season was that very evening. We were thrilled to be able to see some of Mardi Gras without being there for the actual six days of Mardi Gras and all its craziness. We really didn’t know what to expect and were a little surprised when we realized it was the XXX Parade! We’re not prudes by any stretch of the imagination, but we were a little surprised at the floats and what they depicted. We looked at each other with WTF looks and then laughed really hard. There were several bands and marchers in costumes. Jane and I bought wigs to keep our heads warm (it was REALLY cold!) and we fit right in with our blue and red wigs. It was really fun.
Jane and I went to the Voodoo Museum the next day. It was in a small house and was very dusty and educational. I bet you didn’t know that Voodoo means spirit (usually for good, not evil) and Voodoo practitioners are Catholic! It is a mix of Catholicism and African spiritual traditions. We ate at some good restaurants and in the evening we went to Frenchmen’s Street to listen to the live music playing up and down the street.
We visited one of the very old cemetery’s; this one was in an Ashley Judd movie.
The last day Ralph came back to pick me up and the three of us took a city wide tour of NOLA, including the Garden District, the 9th Ward, Mechanics Street, etc. Ten years after Katrina and there are still remnants of the destruction.
We toured the Garden District and passed by the houses of John Goodman, Sandra Bullock, Ann Rice and Archie Manning, While we were in front of Archie’s house he came out and got in his car. The tour van driver stopped and Ralph rolled down his window and talked to Archie. Ralph had a message for Payton. It was good luck in the Super Bowl. In hindsight I guess he didn’t need luck. Archie smiled and said, “Ok”. Afterwards we had lunch and Jane took off for the airport and we returned to our campground just south of NOLA in Westwego.
And west we went! Our next stop as in Beaumont, Texas for an overnight stay in a Walmart parking lot. You cannot say I don’t have diversity in my life. From a five star hotel one night to a Walmart parking lot the next!
Our next stop was Austin, Texas. I’ve always wanted to visit Austin because I’v heard good things about it. It’s the Texas state capital and the home to the University of Texas. It also where Texas Hill Country begins and goes west to El Paso. It was a very picturesque town and reminded me a lot of Sacramento. We took a tour of the city on a double decker bus (where I lost my new hat and scarf due to the wind) and got a nice overview of the city. We then walked over to the state capital building and took a self tour through the capital. It’s a very beautiful building. Now I know exactly where the terrible legislation originates! We ended up at Stubb’s BBQ and I had the best smoked chicken I’ve ever eaten.
After the tour we met up with a work friend, Jay Jackson, and his new wife Anne. We met at the historic Driskill Hotel for drinks and then we headed to 6th Street for music. Austin is known for their music and they didn’t disappoint!
I would like to have stayed longer, so there may be a return visit in the future.
From Austin it was three very long days to get to our next tour area; Tucson, Arizona. Because of extremely high winds in West Texas, we were stuck in a Walmart parking lot in Fort Stockton, Texas. The winds were blowing 30 – 40 MPH with gusts of 65 MPH. It’s not a good idea to drive a huge box down the highway at 60 MPH with those kind of winds. I talked with one of the other RV drivers in the parking lot who had come from the west and asked him how it was. He said it was awful and a couple times the wind pushed him over a half lane before he could get it back! We made the right decision to stay in Fort Stockton another day. The following day it was blowing around 20 MPH, but it wasn’t too bad for Ralph. I certainly didn’t drive that day.I was happy to finally arrive in Tucson and start exploring the area.
We drove west on Hwy 70 most of the way to the Fort Desoto Park just a little south of St Petersburg. The park sits on a couple of Keys at the far west side of Tampa Bay. I was anxious to explore the area. My former Johnson sisters-in-law all lived in the area for many years. Beth is the only one still in St Petersburg. They are former sisters-in-laws and now current sisters! I am very fond of Beth, Mary and Judy and hope we remain life-long friends. The Bay Area (Tampa Bay, that is) is beautiful, with water everywhere you look. And so many bridges! If you have a bridge phobia this is not the place for you. It’s very crowded too. A little too much so for my taste, at least at this stage of my life.We weren’t able to get a waterfront site because this is a very popular park for camping. As with all the waterfront sites in Florida parks you need to reserve your site six months in advance. I was happy to get a site here at all! It’s a mile walk or a short drive to get to the two beaches in the park. Both have views of the Bay and the Sunshine Bridge.
One day I went to Passé de Grille on the southern tip of St Petersburg Beach to walk the beach and have lunch. It was a chilly, windy, overcast day so I was bundled up for my walk along the Gulf of Mexico shoreline. Quite frankly, it’s hard to tell the difference between the Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean. Both are vast bodies of water! I went to the Sea Critter Grille for lunch and had a delicious lobster roll.
I met Beth for dinner at the Stillwaters Tavern on Beach Drive. Delicious cocktails and food. Downtown St Petersburg is full of neighborhoods with shops, restaurants, galleries, etc. and bustling with people.
I also met a childhood neighborhood friend that contacted me on Facebook. I hadn’t seen Debbie for at least 25+ years. She and her sister Patsy both live in Florida now. What a great time catching up. And shucks! I forgot to take photos. 😦
We finally had a beach day. The weather was perfect: about 73 degrees and very little wind. We look a lunch and spent the entire afternoon just sitting watching the water and birds. The seagulls and egrets were very friendly. They stood about 3 feet from us, watching and waiting for food. We’ve been in Florida for six weeks and this was our first beach day. That will tell you a little something about the weather we’ve had since arriving.
We headed north from St Petersburg about 180 miles to Cedar Key, a place highly recommended by fellow RVers. Cedar Key is a small town with 11 outer islands just south of the Suwannee River National Wildlife Refuge.
We pulled into the Sunset Isle RV park and looked at each other with that “WTF” look on our faces. It was a very small, crowded RV park with rigs parked in every direction. But there we were and there we’d stay.
So I proceeded to back us into our spot and we started to go through our setup routine when our neighbor said, “Would you like to have some bread pudding with rum sauce?”. Me,”Seriously?” Neighbor, “Yes!”. So we joined two other couples at a small picnic table and ate delicious, just out of the oven, bread pudding with rum sauce. One couple, Mark and Carol, were from Quebec and the other, Steve and Karen (Karen made the pudding) were from Georgia. Wonderful friendly people and only the beginning to what turned out to be a very fun time in Cedar Key. I was very sorry that we weren’t staying longer than three days.
Mark (from Quebec) made walking sticks to sell. What a great past time. He collects the right type of sticks, then removes the outside bark, carves a logo and inserts a stone, if you want one. Even though I already have two aluminum, collapsing walking sticks (as Ralph reminded me), I still had to have one made by Mark. It’s a beauty. I will have some awesome photos and my new walking stick to remember our great time at Cedar Key.
When we were pulling in we were delayed a little by a rig that was at the dump station located right on the road near our campsite. She was blocking the road so we had to wait for her to finish. I was very surprised when an old woman with a cane walked around the corner and apologized for the delay. I asked if she was traveling alone and she was! her rig was at least as long as our rig and she was towing a trailer too! I have thoughts of traveling solo and thought, “If she can do it, I can do it!”
The weather was very chilly; 46 at night and 57-60 during the day. It finally stopped raining and was sunny most of the time. Not exactly the Florida weather we expected, but it’s better than the rain and high humidity we had in Ft Pierce.
The campground has activities everyday and I participated in one that started out as crafts and ended up being a game of charades. It was just us gals and was a hoot! I got to know a few more of the women. A woman named Pat was a teacher from Michigan and a very funny lady. As it turned out, this would not be the last time I would see Pat.
Right next door to our campground was a little Tiki Bar. I love Tiki Bars for some reason. Very friendly place indeed!Cedar Key is a small, funky, colorful, Old Florida town with a very rich history. Cedar Key was part of the Florida Railroad which was chartered in 1853. Construction began in Fernandina Beach 1855 and the first train arrived in Cedar Key in 1861, a distance of 155.5 miles. The railroad was built so that ships did not have to go around the tip of Florida in order to reach northern ports. When further development of the port was prevented by the local property owners and politicians, a railroad was built to Tampa and Cedar Key began to decline. The last train was in 1932. We learned about the railroad when we were in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island (Our first stop in Florida). Now we were seeing the other end. We went to the small historical museum in town and they had quite a bit of information on the railroad. They even had a conductors uniform on a manikin and Ralph commented on how short it was. That uniform would come up again a little later in the trip.
The city has turned part of the railroad trestle into a nature trail that we hiked as part of a geocash search.
Many RVers geocach and I’ve wanted to try geocaching for a long time. Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity in which participants use a GPS device to hide and seek containers, called geocaches anywhere in the world. There are 2 million geocaches worldwide. A typical cach is a small waterproof container containing a logbook. Containers can hold items for trading, tracking or just viewing. It began in 2000 and the first geocache was placed in Beavercreek, Oregon. You go online to see where the cashes are in your area, enter the GPS coordinates in your phone or GPS and take off for the great outdoors. They are located in places you may not know about or have never been and it’s fun trying to track them down. We were not successful in locating the first one in a small park in Cedar Key. Neither of us was very happy about that! We decided to try the one on the Railroad Trestle Nature Trail. We walked the trail and looked for about 15 minutes and finally gave up. We started back down the trail and I found it stuck in a palm tree. Now we’re batting 500! We’ll probably try it again; at least the easy ones! Go to Geocashing.com to learn more.
When visiting “downtown” Cedar Key we went through a few art studios and had lunch at a little donut shop. I stopped in to see the Island Hotel, an historic hotel, and found out they had live music on Wednesday evenings from 7-9 pm. I decided to go the next day and what a wonderful time I had. At the Island Hotel I was placed at a table with some locals and ordered my fish tacos and waited for the music to begin. When the band cameo out I saw Pat from the campground! She was the lead singer with a wonderful sense of humor. Henry and Brenda were seated next to me and were both born and lived in Cedar Key their entire lives! Henry told me the conductor’s uniform belonged to his grandfather!
It’s a very small, beautiful world in Cedar Key!
Next stop Apalachicola.
We finally stayed in one place for five weeks and it felt good to settle somewhere for a long period of time. We stayed at the Savannas Recreation Area, a county park near the water in Ft Pierce. We had a nice spot overlooking part of the last savannah area on the east coast of Florida. Everything else has been developed. A Savanna is a grassland ecosystem transitioning from land to sea. It is rich in sea life and birds. We pulled head first into our spot so our vast windshield overlooked the Savanna Jensen Lake (a very shallow lake with an abundance of grass growing in the water. Because of all the recent rain, the campground was partially flooded. Within the month we were there the water eventually soaked into the ground. In addition to fishing spots, there were a few trails, and a very nice dog park.
While we were camped a civil war reenactment was held in the park. I wonder why the South wants to reenact such a bloody war they lost. I don’t get it.
We took my great-niece kayaking in the waters on one of the few days it didn’t rain. We paddled around the shallow waters looking for my little alligator friend that swam by our campsite regularly. S(he) was only about three feet long, nose to tail, and so cute. There are signs everywhere, “Don’t feed the alligators”, however, I believe people fed them anyway. Usually we would watch the little guy quietly from the bank of the canal, but, one day I was talking to our neighbor and the alligator swam right over to us. I think he was looking for food. One day I saw him catch a small fish and put on a nice display wrestling that little fish and finally swallowing it. We looked for that little alligator everyday! There was a couple of bigger gators in another part of a canal that I spotted on the bank a few times during my morning walks, but I steered clear of them!
The park was full of birds: Sand hill cranes, great blue herons, great egrets, magpies, yellow finches, and common moorhens, just to name a few. I got out my “Birds of the Western States” book to identify as many as I could and they were all in my book! Did they know they were on the wrong coast?? The fact is that the birds are migrating in different patterns due to weather changes and land development. I hand fed the Sand hill Cranes! What beautiful birds! They have a red heart on their heads and gray feathers. Love the color palette!
We spent a lot of time in the historic section of Ft Pierce. The small town has changed so much over the last thirty years and especially in the last ten years since the hurricanes hit the area. With new government buildings as anchor tenets, the entire downtown area has been re-energized. There is a new marina and lots of restaurants and new businesses. Ft Pierce is one of the few affordable towns on the water in Florida. I don’t think that will last long. It’s becoming very popular. On the waterfront for Christmas they had a light show to music and it was truly magical to watch at night. We ate at several restaurants in the area. I think Dave’s Diner was Ralph’s favorite. They had fried chicken to die for. You had to order it 30 minutes in advance and show up and a table was ready for you. I don’t know where they found the extremely large chickens. We had three meals out of six pieces of chicken! We took my friends Mike and Sandy there too. Mike and Sandy drove up from Marathon to visit and we were so happy they did. We considered leaving the rig in the park and driving the car down to the Keys, however, it is expensive and hard to find lodging in “season”. And especially for just a couple of days. Mike’s cousin lives in Jensen Beach so they were able to kill two birds with one stone and visit us both.
We went to the Christmas Boat Parade in Ft Pierce. Some people go all out!
There was a Farmers Market every Saturday morning with great foods and also art vendors and live music. It’s held near the marina in Ft Piece and is a great way to spend a Saturday morning. I purchased the most beautiful mushrooms freshly picked the day before. They were delicious! I did a little Christmas shopping for my great-nieces. The market is supported by the people in the area and it a great success for the community. There was an artist studio/gallery called Art Mundo where local artist and craftspeople work and display/sell their art. It is a wonderful way to support local artists and provide reasonably priced art to those in the area. I loved it! Even purchased a small piece for the rig. It is wood burning and paint and measures about 5 X 6 inches. It’s perfect for the little wall space I have to hang things.
One evening we ate at a small Tapas restaurant with my nephew Michael and his wife Lauren, and my niece Theresa and her husband Jeff. Michael is one of the funniest people I know (Ralph’s right up there too) and we laughed the entire meal. It was so much fun! I love those kids (adults) so much and I am very grateful my brother had kids for me to enjoy! We will be visiting the youngest, Kevin and his wife, Mariya when we get to Yuma, Az where they now live.
Michael and Lauren had us over for BBQ and to see the new pool. Lots of fun!
We spent Thanksgiving at Theresa and Jeff’s house and Christmas at the kid’s mother’s house. We’re still all one big happy family through marriages, divorces, deaths, new partners, etc. I love it! This was the first time EVER that I’ve spent both holidays with family since 1978. It was great to spend some concentrated time with my brother, Dale too. My Dad and Suzanne were supposed to come to Florida in November, but, Suzanne took a nasty fall and hurt her back, so they weren’t able to make it to Florida yet. Unfortunately we will be gone by the time they arrive. I’m grateful I had the time with him in Michigan.
We did a little sight seeing too. We visited the Navy Seal Training Center Museum on North Hutchinson Island near Vero Beach. The Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) were an elite special-purpose force established by the United States Navy during World War II. They also served during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Their primary function was to reconnoiter and destroy enemy defensive obstacles on beaches prior to amphibious landings. They also were the frogmen who retrieved astronauts after splashdown in the Mercury through Apollo manned space flight programs. Later the SEALS (sea, air and land) were trained at the center. Interesting place.
I visited the Smithsonian Marine Ecosystem Exhibit and Aquarium a couple times. Once on my own and once with the nieces. We were headed to the beach and got rained out after lunch at Archie’s. The first time I visited I was one of a handful of people. The second time it was packed due to the rain. Everyone was on Plan B due to the rain. And talking about the rain! There has been SO much rain since we arrived November 23, and oppressive humidity. In fact, we were experiencing July weather on Christmas Day. The majority of the time is was in the mid to high 80s with 80 to 100% humidity. Theresa told me “This is as bad as it gets. You survived this, so now you can move to Florida!”. I’ve always said that I don’t think I could stand the summer weather here and live in Florida all year long. If I lived in Florida I would certainly see more of my Michigan friends. They all seem to travel to Florida, but rarely, if ever, to California. Maybe someday…
I’m grateful I was able to spend so much time with family during our month+ stay. It certainly was bitter/sweet to move. We both had “hitch-itch” and were anxious to move on to new adventures as we begin our westward trek, and sad to leave our wonderful camping site and family behind.
Being on the road is a series of hellos and goodbyes.
Our next stop is Fort Desoto Park in St. Petersburg, about 150 miles due west of Ft. Pierce.
Finally! I made it to St. Augustine! I’ve been visiting Florida since I was four years old and have never taken the time to go to St. Augustine. It’s a three hour drive from Port St. Lucie where I visit family and I’m usually short on time, so I hadn’t taken the time to make the trip North. This trip we were moving at our own pace and could take as much time as we wanted.
We spent five days at the great Anastasia State Park, just a short drive across the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine. Anastasia SP is one of Florida’s finest state parks. The park includes 1,600 acres of rich ecosystems and abundant wildlife. There was four miles of pristine beach, a tidal marsh teeming with plant and animal life, and nature trails through the maritime hammock and onto ancient sand dunes.
St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement within the borders of the US. It was founded on September 8, 1565, by Spanish admiral and Florida’s first governor, Pedro Menendez de Aviles. The city served as the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years, and remained the capital of East Florida when the territory briefly changed hands between Spain and Britain. It was designated the capital of the Florida Territory until Tallahassee was made the capital in 1824. Since the late 19th century, St. Augustine’s distinct historical character has made the city a major tourist attraction and is also the headquarters for the Florida National Guard. I loved all the history in this Northern Florida city.
As usual, the first thing we did was take the trolley tour of the city to get the lay of the land and determine what to see in more detail. Then, using Trip Advisor’s Things to Do in St. Augustine, I was ready to strike out on my own.
First, I visited The Castillo de San Marcos which is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. The fort was designed by the Spanish engineer Ignacio Daza and construction took 23 years and began in 1672, 107 years after the city’s founding. The Castillo is a masonry star fort made of a stone called cocquina (Spanish for “small shells”), made of ancient shells that have bonded together to form a type of stone similar to limestone. Workers were brought in from Havana, Cuba to construct the fort in addition to Native American laborers. The coquina was quarried from the ‘King’s Quarry’ on Anastasia Island in what is today Anastasia State Park across Matanzas Bay from the Castillo, and ferried across to the construction site. The fort was interesting and contained various artifacts too. I did pick the wrong day to tour the fort. It was student field day and it was just me and about 200 grade school children. A little crazy!
The Lightner Museum is a museum of antiquities, mostly American Gilded Age pieces, housed within the historic Hotel Alcazar building. The museum houses many “hobby” collections that were purchased from wealthy people that desperately needed money at the end of the Gilded Age. Don’t miss this beautiful building and the extensive collections it houses, if you are in the area. I LOVED it! The building, built in 1887, is in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hotel Alcazar was built by Henry Flagler.
Henry Flagler (January 2, 1830 – May 20, 1913) was an American industrialist and a founder of Standard Oil. Henry was a key figure in the development of the Atlantic coast of Florida and founder of what became the Florida East Coast Railway. He is known as the father of both Miami and Palm Beach, Florida. The history of Florida tourism and Flagler is interesting.
On the advice of his physician, Flagler traveled to Jacksonville for the winter with his first wife, Mary Flagler, who was quite ill. Two years after she died in 1881, he married again. The couple traveled to Saint Augustine. Flagler found the city charming, but the hotel facilities and transportation systems inadequate. Franklin Smith had just finished building Villa Zorayda and Flagler offered to buy it for his honeymoon. Smith would not sell, but he planted the seed of St. Augustine’s and Florida’s future in Flagler’s mind. Although Flagler remained on the board of directors of Standard Oil, he gave up his day-to-day involvement in the corporation to pursue his interests in Florida. He returned to St. Augustine in 1885 and made Smith an offer. If Smith could raise $50,000, Flagler would invest $150,000 and they would build a hotel together. Smith couldn’t come up with the funds, so Flagler began construction of the 540-room Ponce de Leon Hotel (now part of Flagler College) by himself.
Realizing the need for a sound transportation system to support his hotel ventures, Flagler purchased short line railroads in what would later become known as the Florida East Coast Railway. He modernized the existing railroads for them to accommodate heavier loads and more traffic.
This project sparked Flagler’s interest in creating a new “American Riviera.” Two years later, Flagler expanded his Florida holdings. He built many hotels and continued the railroad all the way to Key West. His personal dedication to the state of Florida was demonstrated when he began construction on his private residence, Kirkside, in St. Augustine.
Villa Zorayda (mentioned above) is a house that was inspired by the 12th-century Moorish Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. It was built by the eccentric Boston millionaire Frank Smith in 1883 as his private home. Frank was an amateur architect and pioneer experimenter in poured concrete construction. His winter home, Villa Zorayda, was the first residence built in the Moorish Revival style in Florida. His concrete building material and method was adopted by Henry Flagler for his nearby hotels and churches on an even grander scale. Villa Zorayda could also be considered the first example of fantasy architecture in Florida, and in some ways the progenitor of Disney World. I toured this colorful, imaginative house filled with antiques and art and enjoyed it very much.
There is a fairly new business in St. Augustine called the St Augustine Distillery. You can tour the Distillery and sample their goods…for free! They made Gin, Vodka, Rum and soon Bourbon. I didn’t know how “spirits” were made so it was very interesting for me. They source all ingredients from local farmers and make a very nice product. I did take a bottle of their vodka home with me.
I spent a lot of time just walking the beautiful, historic streets of St Augustine and thought more than once, “I could live here.”
After leaving St Augustine we traveled south a short distance to Sebastian Inlet State Park in Melbourne Beach. This would be our last stop before our month long stay in Ft. Pierce to visit family and spend the holidays.
Sebastian Inlet is a waterway that connects the Inter-coastal waterway to the Atlantic Ocean. There are three inlets in the area: Sebastian, Ft Pierce and St Lucie. The Sebastian Inlet is surrounded by the Sebastian Inlet State Park and has a very colorful past. This is a good place to begin exploring the “Treasure Coast” of Florida. This state park has the McLarty Treasure Museum and the Sebastian Fishing Museum which contain a wealth of information on the history of the area. In addition, the park has an abundance of birds…and I do mean an ABUNDANCE!
The McLarty Treasure Museum
The small museum is located at the south boundary of the park and situated on a survivors’ camp of the wreaked 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet. It contains artifacts, display and an observation deck overlooking the ocean. From 1500’s to the 1700’s, Spain mined vast quantities of silver and gold in the mountains of Mexico and South America. Made into ingots and coins, the treasure began its journey to Spain in wooden sailing vessels.The ill-fated fleet of ships were returning to Spain with precious metals, spices and the Queen’s dowery of jewels when a hurricane struck them off the Florida coast between Cape Canaveral and Stuart. The 1500 survivors set up a camp on the site of the present day museum and worked for four years to recover whatever they could from the ships. Then the ships were forgotten until the early 1960’s when the wrecks were rediscovered. Many, many artifacts have been recovered, but not the Queen’s chest of jewels. Still today, salvagers work to find the lost treasure.
The Sebastian Fishing Museum depicts the lives and history of the people who lived in Sebastian, interwoven with fishing and the Indian River Lagoon. Fishing was the lifeblood of the area for many years.
There were so many birds at the park and the waterways. And lots of fishermen. There is even a US Fish and Wildlife Refuge name Pelican Island. It is the first National Wildlife Refuge established in March, 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It was established out of necessity to save the last brown pelican rookery on the east coast of Florida. It now provides habitat for over 30 different species of birds. Several thousand birds roost on Pelican Island nightly during migratory season, November through March. We spotted the very rare white pelicans during our short hike. Ralph also spotted a raccoon napping in a palm tree. There is a boardwalk that lists every National Wildlife Refuse in the country with the year it was established. Very cool. The feds do get things right once in a while!
The weather was very windy (26 – 40 mph) and a lot of rain. We discovered a couple leaks in the rig…not good. We will have to figure out where the leaks originate and fit them. This is not a problem we have in California due to the lack of rain.
Our next stop, Ft Pierce, is about 60 miles south where we will spend December and celebrate the holidays with family.
Hanna City Park, Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park is a public beach and city park near Mayport and Jacksonville Beach. It’s 447 acres of mature coastal hammock, which is rare to find along Florida’s heavily developed Atlantic coast. Part of the park was known as Manhattan Beach, Florida’s fist beach community for African Americans during the segregation period of the US. It started in 1900 by blacks working on the Florida East Coast Railway and flourished until 1940. The park has a very nice camp ground, hiking trails, off road bike trails and a fresh water lake.
While in the area I spent a lot of time exploring the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve which includes Fort Caroline, Dutton Island , Kingsley Plantation and the Theodore Roosevelt Area.
For thousands of years the native people depended on the rich natural resources of the St Johns Estuary. These pre-Columbian (before Christopher Columbus arrived) natives made contact with the first European (French) arrivals to the area in the mid-1500s and are known as the Timucuans. The Timucuans offered food to the French and helped the strange newcomers build Fort Caroline. The natives did not long survive contact with the Europeans. When the Spanish arrived (and drove out the French), they imposed their own culture on them through the Mission system. The natives had no immunity to the European diseases and were wiped out 100 years later.
Fort Caroline was built in 1564 by the French, mostly Huguenots (protestants). King Phillip II of Spain (Catholic) viewed the French as heretics and in 1565 captured Ft Caroline and massacred the French. The French recaptured the fort in 1568 and the Spanish took over again. “La Florida” would remain in Spanish control for the next 200 years. It was the first time European nations fought for control of lands in what would become the United States and it would not be the last!
Kingsley Plantation: Florida’s Oldest Plantation Home
Kingsley Plantation by built by slaves in 1798 as the centerpiece of a massive plantation on Fort George Island. Florida was then a Spanish colony and the plantation was symbolic of many such that developed in the extreme northeast corner of the future state. American planters came across the border from Georgia looking for rich lands where they could grow cotton, tobacco, sugar cane, corn and other crops.
A unique structure, the Kingsley Plantation House actually shows that considerable thought went into its design and construction. Built with numerous angles and numerous windows, the house was designed so that windows could be opened in all directions to let breezes blow through to bring comfort to the residents inside.
The front of the home faces the Fort George River, a common feature of many plantation houses. The river, not the road, was then the focal point of the farm and the primary route of transportation and communication for the farm. Schooners and barges were loaded there with Sea Island cotton and other crops for transport to market.
In 1814 the plantation became the home of Zephaniah Kingsley and his African wife, Anta (Anna) Madgigine Jai. A planter who came to Florida in 1803, Kingsley married Anna after purchasing her as a slave in Cuba in 1806. He legally freed both her and their children in 1811.
The Kingsley family prospered under Florida’s Spanish government. Anna was her husband’s partner in the operation of the farm and she also owned land and slaves of her own.
Things changed in 1821 when the United States gained possession of Florida. Laws were implemented greatly restricting the activities of both slaves and free blacks. Zephaniah Kingsley fought against such
laws. Despite the fact that he owned slaves, he was an early proponent of treating people according to their abilities, not their color.
He debated with lawmakers over the civil liberties of free blacks and even wrote a major treatise on the subject. By the 1830s, however, the situation became intolerable for the Kingsleys and they decided to leave the country.
Giving 50 of his slaves their legal freedom, Zephaniah Kingsley relocated them along with Anna and their two sons to Haiti, which had become a free black republic following a bloody revolution. He died in 1843, but was long survived by Anna who eventually came back to Florida where she died in the 1870s.
The Kingsley Plantation is now maintained by the National Park Service. (Info taken from the website).
Theodore Roosevelt Area and the Willie Brown Nature Preserve (no, not the politican Willie Brown)
The nature preserve is miles of thickly wooded peaceful nature trails, vast grassland that supports both water and land animals, ancient piles of discarded oyster shells which yield clues about an extinct culture, and the legacy of preservation bequeathed to all by this property’s last private owner, Willie Browne.
In 1960 Willie gave seven acres of land along Mt. Pleasant Road to the Campfire Girls organization for a place to build a campground and lodge. During the last years of his life Willie struggled to keep his property. Though real estate developers eagerly offered him millions of dollars for his property, Willie refused to sell. “Money cannot buy happiness and this place makes me happy,” Willie once said. Willie worried that there would come a time when Jacksonville would be so densely populated and developed that no wild areas would remain where people could enjoy the natural beauty of “Old Florida.”
In 1969 Willie Browne donated all his land to The Nature Conservancy with the stipulation that it or any future owner would keep the land in its natural state. Willie requested that the property be named for his hero, former president Theodore Roosevelt. In December 1970, Willie Browne died alone in his cabin, content that he had done everything possible to nurture, conserve, and protect the gift of land bequeathed to him by his father. With his passing, Willie bequeathed his conservation values and his precious gift to all of us, for all time. Thank you Willie!
“A Behanding in Spokane” was playing at the Players by the Sea theatre in Jax Beach. The play was a little weird. About a man that had his hand cut off by gangsters and spent the rest of his life cutting off hands and looking for his hand. It was mildly entertaining.
Next stop St Augustine, Florida.
We drove 125 miles south from Charleston to the Skidaway Island State Park just south of Savannah. After you enter the park there is a 3.5 mile drive under an arch of live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. It looked like the motorhome was too high to make it under the canopy, but it wasn’t. The trees are trimmed to allow a clearnace of 14 feet. We need 12 feet in order not to scrap the top. It was a beautiful drive. This was another park where they let you drive through and find your own spot, hang your receipt and park it. Hiking trails in the park take you through marshes, live oaks, cabbage palmettos and pines. It rained for two days and of course, 100% humidity. I don’t have to use moisturizer here. It’s like living in a rain forest! Quite a change from home.My morning walk was through the swampland looking for alligators and then it opened to the savannahs. Each morning walk is different. I love it! And it was National Sandwich Day and Subway had two for one on sandwiches. We took advantage of that! I went into Savannah for the day and visited:
Jepson Center (art museum)
Owens-Thomas House (house built in 1819 designed by William Jay of Bath, England)Telfair Academy (historic house with a museum)
Forsyth Park (large city park in the historic district with a beautiful fountain)Colonial Park Cemetery (burying ground from 1750 -1853, became a park in 1896)
Most of the city squares (Savannah was founded in 1722 by James Oglethorpe and he laid out the city with many squares that were intended to provide colonists space for military exercises. Now they are beautiful parks in the city)Leopold’s Ice Cream (best ice cream in the area)
Jones Street (historic street with houses occupied by the well-to-do; where the phrase “keeping up with the Jones” originated)
River Street (the area along the Savannah Front River)
Cathedral of St John the Baptist Catholic Church (built from 1873 – 1896)
Alligator Soul (great place for dinner)
We toured this very old cemetery made famous by the book and movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” In 1867 John Muir began his Thousand Mile Walk to Florida and the Gulf. In October he sojourned for six days and nights in the Bonaventure cemetery, sleeping upon graves overnight, this being the safest and cheapest accommodation that he could find while he waited for money to be expressed from home. It has several notable burials including Johnny Mercer (co-founder of Capital Records and composer), Edythe Chapman (silent film actress), James Neil (actor). It is an erringly beautiful cemetery.
Fort Pulaski is a Third System of coastal fortifications developed during the first half of the 19th century and is characterized by greater structural durability than earlier forts. Nearly all of the 30+ Third System forts built after 1816 still exist. We visited a few of those forts. Fort Pulaski and Fort Clinch are two of the best preserved.
However well-built Fort Pulaski was the quick fall of it during the Civil War surprised and shocked the world. Fort Pulaski was considered the “most spectacular harbor defense structures in the United States.” Many considered the 7.5 foot solid brick walls with massive masonry piers unbreachable. All previous military experience had taught that beyond 700 yards smoothbore cannons and mortars would have little chance to break through heavy masonry walls, beyond 1,000 yards no chance at all. With the nearest Union battery on Tybee Island, more than one mile away, Fort Pulaski felt secure. What they didn’t know was that the Union had developed “rifled guns/cannons” which were more accurate and could go longer distances. After one battle that damaged part of the fort, Col Charles Olmstead surrendered. Bad for him, good for us. The fort is completely intact and can be toured. Very interesting place for both Ralph and I.
The next day Ralph and I toured Pin Point, the home of Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice (don’t get me started on this guy) and an historic shrimp and oyster factory. Pin Point is a rural settlement founded by freed slaves after the American Civil War. It is predominantly African American with a group of Gullah speakers. The historic creole language of the Low Country was drawn from West African languages. Most residents of Pin Point worked in the shrimp and oyster “factory” in the area. We toured the little factory and museum. It was a very interesting stop.
Wormsloe State Historic Site is colonial estate founded in 1736 by an early colonist, Noble Jones (1702-1775). There is a ruin of his first tabby construction house. The house took six years to build and required mixing more than 8,000 bushels each of lime, sand, oyster shells and water to make tabby. Large shell middens left behind by Native Americans were mined for oyster shells, some of which were heated in kilns to produce lime-rich ash. The wet tabby was poured into wooden molds to dry and then the mold was removed and moved up the wall, ready to take more tabby. Tabby provides a very strong and long lasting building material, as evidenced by the ruin left today. Unfortunately I cannot find the photos from Wormsloe.
I LOVED Savannah and will certainly return sometime in the future.
Next stop Amelia Island, Florida.