Raven and Chickadee

Navigation Menu

Treasures Of The Forgotten Coast

Treasures Of The Forgotten Coast

Posted by on Apr 12, 2016 in Birding, Family, Florida, Gallery, Travel | 30 comments

Tucked into the crook of the Florida Panhandle on the Gulf of Mexico, a two-lane highway meanders along 130 miles of laid-back coastal Old Florida. This is the Forgotten Coast, an area of small fishing towns, pristine wilderness, and rustic beauty. Here, southern accents are as thick as the Spanish moss dripping from the cypress trees, and wildlife vastly outnumbers people.

I know this part of Florida well. My family roots run deep here—both my grandfather and my dad were born in Apalachicola, the crown jewel of the Forgotten Coast. This is home, on the deepest soul-level.

I grew up in Miami, but spent many a long weekend and summer vacation in Apalachicola. We fished and crabbed in the bay, and cooked up feasts of blue crab, oysters, flounder, and shrimp. On nearby St. George Island, we enjoyed miles of sugar sand beaches, shelling, and swimming in the warm Gulf waters. We harvested wild blueberries in the Apalachicola National Forest, picnicked on the scenic Ochlockonee River, and cooled off in refreshing Wakulla Springs.

I moved away from Florida more than thirty years ago to expand my horizons, just about the time my parents retired in East Point, across the bay from Apalachicola. I never imagined that decades after I left Florida behind, I’d return to spend winters on the Forgotten Coast.

Eric and I both love this area, but the primary reason we make the long journey from the West Coast so often is to spend time with my mom and dad. From late November until late March we were “next door neighbors,” parked on my folks’ beautiful property overlooking the bay for about a week at a time, interspersed with our many other Florida adventures. I’m grateful that my mom and dad—now 85 and 87—are still in the home that they built, in the town that they love. I’m also eternally grateful that they chose such an interesting and beautiful spot in which to live. I’m well aware that we could be spending long stretches of time in a much less desirable locale.

By some miracle, the Forgotten Coast has been largely overlooked by developers. The places that I’ve known and loved since childhood are remarkably untouched—I’m hoping they remain so. Here, a few of our favorite spots on the Forgotten Coast (in addition to Apalachicola, of course, which I’ve written about here and here.).

(Oh, you might be wondering—if we love this area so much, why don’t we live here? Mostly because of the heat, humidity, and biting bugs that descend in the summer, which runs from about May to October. I would have to spend six months of the year floating in a swimming pool lounger, G & T in hand. Which actually sounds pretty appealing—but probably isn’t the healthiest lifestyle choice.)

Ochlockonee River State Park: Located in Sopchoppy, 40 miles east of Apalachicola, this pretty park offers hiking and biking trails through pine flatwoods and kayaking on the Ochlockonee River. It’s home to adorable white squirrels (a genetic mutation of the common gray squirrel) and the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. The park protects large stands of longleaf pine, the habitat the woodpeckers need for nesting and foraging.

About the campground: Set on the banks of the Ochlockonee River amidst pines and scrub oaks, it’s a rustic, but nice campground—$20 per night, with electric, water, and decent Verizon coverage.

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge: Established in 1931, this was one of the first National Wildlife Refuges. The biking and hiking trails are wonderful and there’s lots of birdlife—especially shorebirds, ducks, and wading birds—and of course, alligators. It’s also home to the oldest lighthouse on the Gulf coast, built in 1842 and still in use today.

About the campground: There’s no camping in the refuge, but Newport Campground, a small county park, is located just a few miles from the refuge (and about 60 miles from Apalachicola). This is one of the few parks we’ve encountered that has lowered their prices while upgrading their facilities. Full-hookups (with internet!) are $28 night, electric and water are $23. An added bonus is the kayak launch for the St. Marks River, located right next to the campground.

More nearby kayaking: About 3 miles from the campground is the county launch for the Wakulla River, about a six-mile round trip paddle on a wide, pretty river. About 25 miles away is the Wacissa River, one of the most remote and wild rivers in Florida. We discovered a primitive, free, and pretty campground on the banks of the river at Goose Pasture, one of the launch points for the Wacissa. Not close to anything, but if you’re looking for an out in the middle of nowhere adventure, here it is.

Wakulla Springs State Park: This lovely park is worth a stop to stroll through the lodge and grounds—if it’s hot, take a swim in the beautiful spring. Don’t miss the Jungle Cruise that takes you deep into the cypress swamp. I’ve been coming here since I was a child, and never tire of the fun boat trip. You’re guaranteed to see plentiful wildlife (including alligators) and if you’re there in the winter, manatees. No camping here, but it’s just a few miles from Newport Campground.

Next Up: Slowing Down On Dauphin Island

Late Afternoon At St. Marks Wildlife Refuge

Newport Campground, St. Marks

St. Marks Lighthouse

Photographing Ducks On The Ponds

Redheads

Tricolored Heron

Glossy Ibis

Biking The Dikes At St. Marks

Gator Sunning

Great Egret Preening

Flocks Of White Pelicans

Snowy Egret

Disheveled Tricolored Heron

Boardwalks At St. Marks

Black-Crowned Night Heron In The Marsh

Playing Tourist With Our Friend Beth

Wakulla Springs Lodge

Jungle Cruise On The Wakulla

Anhinga On The Wakulla

Kayaking The Wakulla River

Spanish Moss Decorated Osprey Nest

On The Wild Wacissa River

A Secretive Sora In The Reeds

White Ibis

A Relaxing Float Downriver On The Wacissa

Free Campground On The Wacissa River

Overlooking The Ochlockonee River

A Long Leaf Pine Flatwoods

White Squirrel At Ochlockonee River SP

Outdoor Shower At Ochlockonee River State Park

On The Trails Through The Pine Flatwoods

A Pair Of Red Cockaded Woodpeckers

Cool Kayak Launch On The Ochlockonee River

Calm Day Kayaking On The Ochlockonee River

Immature Little Blue Heron With Crawfish

Spacious Campsite At Ochlockonee River SP

Hermit Thrush In Our Campsite

Sunset On The Ochlockonee River

Retro Picnic Area On Carrabelle Beach

Apalachicola Waterfront

Biking Along The Waterfront

In Downtown Apalachicola

Oyster City Brewing Company

Local Radio Station

Working With My Dad

Dad And Eric Repairing The Seawall

Mom On The Patio

Sunset In My Folks' Back Yard

Late Afternoon At St. Marks Wildlife Refuge
Newport Campground, St. Marks
St. Marks Lighthouse
Photographing Ducks On The Ponds
Redheads
Tricolored Heron
Glossy Ibis
Biking The Dikes At St. Marks
Gator Sunning
Great Egret Preening
Flocks Of White Pelicans
Snowy Egret
Disheveled Tricolored Heron
Boardwalks At St. Marks
Black-Crowned Night Heron In The Marsh
Playing Tourist With Our Friend Beth
Wakulla Springs Lodge
Jungle Cruise On The Wakulla
Anhinga On The Wakulla
Kayaking The Wakulla River
Spanish Moss Decorated Osprey Nest
On The Wild Wacissa River
A Secretive Sora In The Reeds
White Ibis
A Relaxing Float Downriver On The Wacissa
Free Campground On The Wacissa River
Overlooking The Ochlockonee River
A Long Leaf Pine Flatwoods
White Squirrel At Ochlockonee River SP
Outdoor Shower At Ochlockonee River State Park
On The Trails Through The Pine Flatwoods
A Pair Of Red Cockaded Woodpeckers
Cool Kayak Launch On The Ochlockonee River
Calm Day Kayaking On The Ochlockonee River
Immature Little Blue Heron With Crawfish
Spacious Campsite At Ochlockonee River SP
Hermit Thrush In Our Campsite
Sunset On The Ochlockonee River
Retro Picnic Area On Carrabelle Beach
Apalachicola Waterfront
Biking Along The Waterfront
In Downtown Apalachicola
Oyster City Brewing Company
Local Radio Station
Working With My Dad
Dad And Eric Repairing The Seawall
Mom On The Patio
Sunset In My Folks' Back Yard
Late Afternoon At St. Marks Wildlife Refuge thumbnail
Newport Campground, St. Marks thumbnail
St. Marks Lighthouse thumbnail
Photographing Ducks On The Ponds thumbnail
Redheads thumbnail
Tricolored Heron thumbnail
Glossy Ibis thumbnail
Biking The Dikes At St. Marks thumbnail
Gator Sunning thumbnail
Great Egret Preening thumbnail
Flocks Of White Pelicans thumbnail
Snowy Egret thumbnail
Disheveled Tricolored Heron thumbnail
Boardwalks At St. Marks thumbnail
Black-Crowned Night Heron In The Marsh thumbnail
Playing Tourist With Our Friend Beth thumbnail
Wakulla Springs Lodge thumbnail
Jungle Cruise On The Wakulla thumbnail
Anhinga On The Wakulla thumbnail
Kayaking The Wakulla River thumbnail
Spanish Moss Decorated Osprey Nest thumbnail
On The Wild Wacissa River thumbnail
A Secretive Sora In The Reeds thumbnail
White Ibis thumbnail
A Relaxing Float Downriver On The Wacissa thumbnail
Free Campground On The Wacissa River thumbnail
Overlooking The Ochlockonee River thumbnail
A Long Leaf Pine Flatwoods thumbnail
White Squirrel At Ochlockonee River SP thumbnail
Outdoor Shower At Ochlockonee River State Park thumbnail
On The Trails Through The Pine Flatwoods thumbnail
A Pair Of Red Cockaded Woodpeckers thumbnail
Cool Kayak Launch On The Ochlockonee River thumbnail
Calm Day Kayaking On The Ochlockonee River thumbnail
Immature Little Blue Heron With Crawfish thumbnail
Spacious Campsite At Ochlockonee River SP thumbnail
Hermit Thrush In Our Campsite thumbnail
Sunset On The Ochlockonee River thumbnail
Retro Picnic Area On Carrabelle Beach thumbnail
Apalachicola Waterfront thumbnail
Biking Along The Waterfront thumbnail
In Downtown Apalachicola thumbnail
Oyster City Brewing Company thumbnail
Local Radio Station thumbnail
Working With My Dad thumbnail
Dad And Eric Repairing The Seawall thumbnail
Mom On The Patio thumbnail
Sunset In My Folks' Back Yard thumbnail

Read More

Kayaking With Manatees

Kayaking With Manatees

Posted by on Mar 28, 2016 in Florida, Gallery, Hiking, Kayaking, Music, Travel | 28 comments

“There’s one!” I call out to Eric. An enormous grey blob rises slowly to the surface of the crystal clear river, exhales loudly, and sinks again to the sandy bottom. It’s a West Indian manatee, a roly-poly aquatic mammal that seeks the warmth of Florida springs in the winter.

We’re kayaking the Ichetucknee River in northwest Florida. It’s one of our favorite spring-fed river kayak trips, in part because we usually have the opportunity to commune with a manatee or two. And in the winter or early spring, there are few other people around. We wait patiently, and the gentle giant decides to investigate our presence. It floats to the surface, exhales again, and swims lazily toward us.

With an overstuffed sausage of a body, a flat paddle-shaped tail for propulsion and small front flippers for steering, the manatee is an engagingly awkward creature. The wrinkly face and the wide, whiskered snout merely add to its appeal.

Closely related to elephants (the family resemblance is easy to see), manatees are enormous creatures—the average Florida manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs around 1200 pounds. One could flip our kayak in a heartbeat. But these docile herbivores seem incapable of doing harm. By nature, they’re curious—even friendly. The manatee sidles up to our kayak and floats beside us for a bit. It swims beneath our kayak a couple of times, and then moves back to its shallow turquoise pool, where it proceeds to perform a series of leisurely rollovers before sinking back to the bottom and resting.

Even if we didn’t see manatees, we would still love kayaking the Ichetucknee River. It’s a beautiful three-mile paddle from the headspring to the southernmost takeout point. Our favorite way to kayak the river is a six-mile round trip paddle—if you do this, put in at the south end, so that you have the current helping you on the way back downstream. (If you don’t have your own kayak, there are several good outfitters in the area.)

About the campground:

Because Ichetucknee Springs State Park is a day-use park only, we stay at nearby O’Leno State Park, just 15 miles down the road. Situated on the banks of the picturesque Santa Fe River, the park offers thirteen miles of hiking and biking trails that we put to good use. There’s always something fun going on at the park—while we were there this time, we enjoyed a wonderful presentation on owls given by volunteers from a local wildlife rehab facility and a free afternoon bluegrass concert given by musicians visiting from New England.

There are two loops in the campground; we much prefer the Magnolia Loop. The sites are more spacious and level, the road has fewer potholes, and it’s walking distance to the river and the start of the hiking trails. Water and electric hookups and decent Verizon coverage for a very reasonable $18.00 per night (gotta love the awesome Florida State Parks).

Next Up: Treasures Of The Forgotten Coast

Kayaking With Manatees

Early Spring On The Ichetucknee River

Great Blue Heron In The Cypress Knees

Just A Few Tubers On The River

Turtle Conga Line

A Challenging Spot To Navigate

The Favorite Manatee Hangout

Coming Up For Air

Swimming Over To Investigate

Hanging Out With The Manatee

Rolling Over

And Over And Over

Great Egret In Breeding Plumage Finery

A Perfect Day On The Ichetucknee River

Snorkeling In The Springs

Biking The Trails At O'Leno State Park

Rainy Day Hike At O'Leno

Barred Owl Showing Off At A Nature Presentation

An Afternoon Of Bluegrass Music In The Park

Musicians Barter For Campsites

Dogwood In Bloom

Tufted Titmouse In Our Campsite

Red-Headed Woodpecker

Spacious Sites At O'Leno State Park

Kayaking With Manatees
Early Spring On The Ichetucknee River
Great Blue Heron In The Cypress Knees
Just A Few Tubers On The River
Turtle Conga Line
A Challenging Spot To Navigate
The Favorite Manatee Hangout
Coming Up For Air
Swimming Over To Investigate
Hanging Out With The Manatee
Rolling Over
And Over And Over
Great Egret In Breeding Plumage Finery
A Perfect Day On The Ichetucknee River
Snorkeling In The Springs
Biking The Trails At O'Leno State Park
Rainy Day Hike At O'Leno
Barred Owl Showing Off At A Nature Presentation
An Afternoon Of Bluegrass Music In The Park
Musicians Barter For Campsites
Dogwood In Bloom
Tufted Titmouse In Our Campsite
Red-Headed Woodpecker
Spacious Sites At O'Leno State Park
Kayaking With Manatees thumbnail
Early Spring On The Ichetucknee River thumbnail
Great Blue Heron In The Cypress Knees thumbnail
Just A Few Tubers On The River thumbnail
Turtle Conga Line thumbnail
A Challenging Spot To Navigate thumbnail
The Favorite Manatee Hangout thumbnail
Coming Up For Air thumbnail
Swimming Over To Investigate thumbnail
Hanging Out With The Manatee thumbnail
Rolling Over thumbnail
And Over And Over thumbnail
Great Egret In Breeding Plumage Finery thumbnail
A Perfect Day On The Ichetucknee River thumbnail
Snorkeling In The Springs thumbnail
Biking The Trails At O'Leno State Park thumbnail
Rainy Day Hike At O'Leno thumbnail
Barred Owl Showing Off At A Nature Presentation thumbnail
An Afternoon Of Bluegrass Music In The Park thumbnail
Musicians Barter For Campsites thumbnail
Dogwood In Bloom thumbnail
Tufted Titmouse In Our Campsite thumbnail
Red-Headed Woodpecker thumbnail
Spacious Sites At O'Leno State Park thumbnail

Read More

Quaint And Quirky Cedar Key

Quaint And Quirky Cedar Key

Posted by on Mar 24, 2016 in Biking, Birding, Florida, Friends, Gallery, Music, Travel | 22 comments

There are a handful of places we’ve discovered in our travels that immediately feel like home. Cedar Key is one of them.

A cluster of tiny islands just off the Nature Coast of northwest Florida, Cedar Key is an unpolished gem. And that’s just the way we like it. (Although a good grocery store would be a welcome addition.) Rustic fishing shacks overlook acres of oyster beds, gaudily painted shops and cafes line the main drag and waterfront, and a low-key vibe prevails. It’s a little slice of Old Florida that we find immensely appealing, and we return every winter that we’re in Florida for at least a couple of weeks.

Our favorite location for our visits to Cedar Key is the colorful and quirky Sunset Isle RV Park. This is probably the most crowded park we’ve ever stayed in. One must be reasonably social to be happy staying at Sunset Isle. Our slide-out extended to the edge of our neighbor’s awning, and people gathered behind our site every afternoon to enjoy the sunset. But it’s perfect for us—we were lucky enough to get a waterfront site this year, where we enjoyed watching herons, egrets and pelicans collect every morning for low-tide parties. Each evening, the sun puts on a fiery show as it sets over the water. With a campground full of friendly folks, frequent music jams, a tiki bar next door, easy biking into town, fabulous kayaking, and excellent birding everywhere we go, we always have a blast in Cedar Key.

More posts on Cedar Key from our previous visits:

  • Cedar Key  (Our first visit to Cedar Key; staying at the Low-Key Hideaway)
  • Inside Cedar Key  (Adventures in Cedar Key; courtesy of a local friend)
  • Cedar Key Reprise (Kayaking, biking and bluegrass in Cedar Key) 

Next Up: Kayaking With Manatee 

Quaint And Quirky Cedar Key

Quirky And Just Right Sunset Isle RV Park

Our Sweet Campsite At Sunset Isle

The Bathhouse At Sunset Isle

Beautiful Sunset From The Deck Behind Our Site

Guaranteed (Almost) Every Evening

Sometimes Even Technicolor

Saturday Evening Music Jam

Morning Feeding Frenzy Behind Our Site

Coming In For A Landing

Osprey Nest On An Abandoned Boat

Egrets And Herons Foraging For Breakfast

Snowy Egret With Golden Slippers

Sharing Fishing Stories

Kayak Launch Downtown

Paddling Along The Waterfront

Looking At Cedar Key From Atsena Otie Key

On Atsena Otie Key

Shallow Waters Off Of Shell Mound Park

Great Spot For A Lunch Stop

American Avocets And Royal Tern

An Elegant Great Egret

Biking Downtown Cedar Key

Biking The Boardwalk In Cedar Key

A Trio Of Brown Pelicans

Roseate Spoonbills And White Ibis

Oystercatchers Opening Oysters

A Pair Of Osprey

Red-breasted Nuthatch Peeking Out Of Nest Cavity

Black Skimmers On A Roof Downtown

Our Friend Winn, Visiting From Ashland, OR

A Chilly Windy Day In Cedar Key

Multicultural Morning On The Tiny Beach

Laughing Gull On The Beach

Colorful Cedar Key Cafe

The Essentials In Life

The Low Key Hideaway Tiki Bar

Overdressed

Quaint And Quirky Cedar Key
Quirky And Just Right Sunset Isle RV Park
Our Sweet Campsite At Sunset Isle
The Bathhouse At Sunset Isle
Beautiful Sunset From The Deck Behind Our Site
Guaranteed (Almost) Every Evening
Sometimes Even Technicolor
Saturday Evening Music Jam
Morning Feeding Frenzy Behind Our Site
Coming In For A Landing
Osprey Nest On An Abandoned Boat
Egrets And Herons Foraging For Breakfast
Snowy Egret With Golden Slippers
Sharing Fishing Stories
Kayak Launch Downtown
Paddling Along The Waterfront
Looking At Cedar Key From Atsena Otie Key
On Atsena Otie Key
Shallow Waters Off Of Shell Mound Park
Great Spot For A Lunch Stop
American Avocets And Royal Tern
An Elegant Great Egret
Biking Downtown Cedar Key
Biking The Boardwalk In Cedar Key
A Trio Of Brown Pelicans
Roseate Spoonbills And White Ibis
Oystercatchers Opening Oysters
A Pair Of Osprey
Red-breasted Nuthatch Peeking Out Of Nest Cavity
Black Skimmers On A Roof Downtown
Our Friend Winn, Visiting From Ashland, OR
A Chilly Windy Day In Cedar Key
Multicultural Morning On The Tiny Beach
Laughing Gull On The Beach
Colorful Cedar Key Cafe
The Essentials In Life
The Low Key Hideaway Tiki Bar
Overdressed
Quaint And Quirky Cedar Key thumbnail
Quirky And Just Right Sunset Isle RV Park thumbnail
Our Sweet Campsite At Sunset Isle thumbnail
The Bathhouse At Sunset Isle thumbnail
Beautiful Sunset From The Deck Behind Our Site thumbnail
Guaranteed (Almost) Every Evening thumbnail
Sometimes Even Technicolor thumbnail
Saturday Evening Music Jam thumbnail
Morning Feeding Frenzy Behind Our Site thumbnail
Coming In For A Landing thumbnail
Osprey Nest On An Abandoned Boat thumbnail
Egrets And Herons Foraging For Breakfast thumbnail
Snowy Egret With Golden Slippers thumbnail
Sharing Fishing Stories thumbnail
Kayak Launch Downtown thumbnail
Paddling Along The Waterfront thumbnail
Looking At Cedar Key From Atsena Otie Key thumbnail
On Atsena Otie Key thumbnail
Shallow Waters Off Of Shell Mound Park thumbnail
Great Spot For A Lunch Stop thumbnail
American Avocets And Royal Tern thumbnail
An Elegant Great Egret thumbnail
Biking Downtown Cedar Key thumbnail
Biking The Boardwalk In Cedar Key thumbnail
A Trio Of Brown Pelicans thumbnail
Roseate Spoonbills And White Ibis thumbnail
Oystercatchers Opening Oysters thumbnail
A Pair Of Osprey thumbnail
Red-breasted Nuthatch Peeking Out Of Nest Cavity thumbnail
Black Skimmers On A Roof Downtown thumbnail
Our Friend Winn, Visiting From Ashland, OR thumbnail
A Chilly Windy Day In Cedar Key thumbnail
Multicultural Morning On The Tiny Beach thumbnail
Laughing Gull On The Beach thumbnail
Colorful Cedar Key Cafe thumbnail
The Essentials In Life thumbnail
The Low Key Hideaway Tiki Bar thumbnail
Overdressed thumbnail

Read More

Lovely Historic St. Augustine

Lovely Historic St. Augustine

Posted by on Mar 17, 2016 in Biking, Family, Florida, Food, Gallery, Travel | 18 comments

In our Florida travels, we generally avoid the east coast, preferring the more laid-back, “Old Florida” vibe of the Gulf coast. But I’ve long been intrigued by the history and architecture of St. Augustine, and getting there obviously involves a trip to the Atlantic coast. In February, we managed to snag a site at Anastasia State Park, just across the Intracoastal Waterway from St. Augustine, and we spent a couple of days exploring this charming city.

Strolling the narrow brick streets of St. Augustine, surrounded by ornate Spanish and Moorish architecture, it’s easy to imagine that you’re in Europe. This is no Disneyesque creation, though—it’s the real deal. Claimed in 1565 by Spanish explorers, St. Augustine holds the title as the oldest permanently occupied European settlement in North America (it beats out Plymouth Rock by a full 55 years).

The location of St. Augustine on the Atlantic coast made it appealing to many—it was first occupied by the Timucuan Indians, who used it as their summer grounds for fishing until the Spanish arrived. Reading the history of the town made my head spin—the abbreviated version is that it was occupied by the Spanish, then British, and again by the Spanish before being sold to the U.S. in 1821—with lots of wars and attacks by pirates that kept everyone busy.

In 240 years of occupation, the Spanish obviously had a lasting effect on the town. The biggest thing they left behind was the Castillo de San Marcos, the fort they constructed to protect their interests. The only building material they had available was coquina, a porous stone of compressed tiny shells that they quarried from Anastasia Island. Lucky for them, coquina turned out to be an excellent choice—it conveniently absorbed incoming cannon balls without shattering.

While the Spanish left a lasting legacy in St. Augustine, it seems that Henry Flagler, the industrial magnate who made a fortune in the oil business with his partner John D. Rockefeller, had even more of an influence. Flagler fell in love with St. Augustine, and set out to  shape it into an American version of the European Riviera.

On a honeymoon trip to Florida with his second wife, Flagler was enamored with the sunshine, the climate, and the natural beauty of St. Augustine. The accommodations and transportation weren’t to his liking, though, so he decided to do something about it. In just a few years, Flagler built the opulent Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College), followed by the Alcazar Hotel (now City Hall and the Lightner Museum), the exquisite Memorial Presbyterian Church, and assorted other grand buildings, most in a Spanish Renaissance Revival style. Flagler also started buying and linking local railroads to create the Florida East Coast Railway, making traveling in Florida easy for northerners. Not surprisingly, Flagler is referred to as “The Father of Florida Tourism.”

We explored St. Augustine on our bikes (an easy ride from the campground) and spent hours wandering the town. If you visit St. Augustine, be sure to veer off of St. George Street, often touted as a must-see attraction. Although it has authentic brick streets and interesting preserved Spanish architecture, the plethora of t-shirt and pirate shops make it feel a bit too touristy. (Don’t miss the The Hyppo, though—they offer a delicious and wild assortment of handcrafted popsicles made of fresh fruits, herbs, and spices, with flavors like watermelon-hibiscus, mango habanero, and cucumber lemon-mint.)

Talking about food, one of the highlights of our visit was a tour (free!) of the St. Augustine Distillery, housed in a vintage 1920’s ice plant. This very cool little distillery handcrafts small-batch spirits, all made from sugar cane. The tour is interesting, and concludes with a couple of small cocktails prepared with a great deal of showmanship (also free!). We timed our tour just prior to a late lunch at the Ice Plant, a fabulous farm-to-table restaurant in the same building. (We also took home a couple of award-winning bottles of gin and vodka, a most excellent souvenir.)

About the campground: Anastasia State Park is a large park with many loops—the sites in the Coquina Loop (where we stayed) are our favorites. They’re also the sites most amenable to big rigs. Access to a beautiful white sand beach is just ¼ mile away, and it’s only a three-mile bike ride into St. Augustine. Electric, water, and good Verizon for $28 per night.

Next Up: Quaint And Quirky Cedar Key

Flagler College (Formerly Ponce de Leon Hotel)

Bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway

Biking to St. Augustine

The Bridge of Lions

The Castillo de San Marcos

Thinking of Enlisting

Stairway to the Roof of the Fort

Turrets Built in the 1600's

Ornate Bronze Cannons at the Fort

Biking Historic St. Augustine

Gourmet Popsicles at the Hyppo

Ornate Architecture and a VW Van

Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine

Mexican Tile Floor in the Basilica

Henry Flager and Flagler College

Elaborate Ceiling in the Rotunda of Flagler College

Art Nouveau Lamp with Edison Style Lightbulbs

The Lightner Museum

Flagler's Memorial Presbyterian Church

Moorish Influenced Architecture

Stained Glass and Sky Blue Ceiling

Strolling the Historic Brick Streets

A Picturesque Outdoor Coffee Shop

St. Augustine Distillery and Ice Plant

Copper Still in the Distillery

Our Excellent Tour Guide/Bartender

A Decadent Lunch

The Perfect Souvenir

A Visit with My Sister in Nearby Fleming Island

A Delicious Dinner and Fun Evening

Spacious Campsites at Anastasia State Park

Flagler College (Formerly Ponce de Leon Hotel)
Bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway
Biking to St. Augustine
The Bridge of Lions
The Castillo de San Marcos
Thinking of Enlisting
Stairway to the Roof of the Fort
Turrets Built in the 1600's
Ornate Bronze Cannons at the Fort
Biking Historic St. Augustine
Gourmet Popsicles at the Hyppo
Ornate Architecture and a VW Van
Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine
Mexican Tile Floor in the Basilica
Henry Flager and Flagler College
Elaborate Ceiling in the Rotunda of Flagler College
Art Nouveau Lamp with Edison Style Lightbulbs
The Lightner Museum
Flagler's Memorial Presbyterian Church
Moorish Influenced Architecture
Stained Glass and Sky Blue Ceiling
Strolling the Historic Brick Streets
A Picturesque Outdoor Coffee Shop
St. Augustine Distillery and Ice Plant
Copper Still in the Distillery
Our Excellent Tour Guide/Bartender
A Decadent Lunch
The Perfect Souvenir
A Visit with My Sister in Nearby Fleming Island
A Delicious Dinner and Fun Evening
Spacious Campsites at Anastasia State Park
Flagler College (Formerly Ponce de Leon Hotel) thumbnail
Bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway thumbnail
Biking to St. Augustine thumbnail
The Bridge of Lions thumbnail
The Castillo de San Marcos thumbnail
Thinking of Enlisting thumbnail
Stairway to the Roof of the Fort thumbnail
Turrets Built in the 1600's thumbnail
Ornate Bronze Cannons at the Fort thumbnail
Biking Historic St. Augustine thumbnail
Gourmet Popsicles at the Hyppo thumbnail
Ornate Architecture and a VW Van thumbnail
Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine thumbnail
Mexican Tile Floor in the Basilica thumbnail
Henry Flager and Flagler College thumbnail
Elaborate Ceiling in the Rotunda of Flagler College thumbnail
Art Nouveau Lamp with Edison Style Lightbulbs thumbnail
The Lightner Museum thumbnail
Flagler's Memorial Presbyterian Church thumbnail
Moorish Influenced Architecture thumbnail
Stained Glass and Sky Blue Ceiling thumbnail
Strolling the Historic Brick Streets thumbnail
A Picturesque Outdoor Coffee Shop thumbnail
St. Augustine Distillery and Ice Plant thumbnail
Copper Still in the Distillery thumbnail
Our Excellent Tour Guide/Bartender thumbnail
A Decadent Lunch thumbnail
The Perfect Souvenir thumbnail
A Visit with My Sister in Nearby Fleming Island thumbnail
A Delicious Dinner and Fun Evening thumbnail
Spacious Campsites at Anastasia State Park thumbnail

Read More

A Kayaking Extravaganza: Florida Springs

A Kayaking Extravaganza: Florida Springs

Posted by on Mar 10, 2016 in Biking, Birding, Florida, Gallery, Hiking, Kayaking, Travel | 30 comments

I don’t think there’s any more beautiful place to kayak and swim than the spring-fed rivers of Florida. Crystal clear waters—often an astonishing hue of aquamarine—wind through stands of palms and cypress festooned with Spanish moss. Herons and egrets pick their way across watery fields of lily pads; turtles sun themselves on ancient logs; osprey and hawks sail overhead.

“These springs have healing powers,” said a young man standing on the edge of jewel-like Rainbow Springs, just before diving into the cool, crystalline pool. One thing I know for certain—there’s nothing that soothes my soul like paddling or floating in these magnificent waters.

Florida possesses the largest concentration of freshwater springs on Earth—geologists estimate that close to 1,000 springs burble to the surface, most in the north and central parts of the state. Fed by the Floridan Aquifer—Florida’s underground river—the springs rise through porous limestone labyrinths, thousands of gallons per minute emerging at a refreshing temperature of 72 degrees. The constant year-round temperature provides refuge for the docile manatee, which gravitate to the relatively warm waters of the springs in the cooler winter months.

During hot, sultry Florida summers, the springs are a refuge for people. I’ve spent some of the most splendid days of my life swimming in Wakulla Springs and tubing down the Ichetucknee River. But it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that Eric and I discovered the delights of kayaking Florida’s spring-fed rivers. After our first experience on the Ichetucknee River in 2013, we were hooked—we returned three times that winter and spring to paddle the river. This year we expanded our horizons, and embarked on a kayaking extravaganza in Central Florida, the mother lode of Florida springs.

We booked two weeks at three different parks in early February (all only 50-60 miles apart), and kayaked five different spring-fed rivers—the Wekiva River, Rock Creek, Salt Springs, Alexander Springs, and Rainbow River. Kayaking in Florida is especially wonderful in late winter/early spring, when there are few other people on the rivers. It was a near perfect two weeks—with so many other springs and rivers to paddle in Florida, we’re already planning next year’s adventures.

• Wekiwa Springs State Park, Apopka

Wekiwa Springs State Park is located at Wekiwa Springs, the headwaters for the Wekiva River. (Wekiwa-Wekiva—the spelling difference confuses everyone, even locals.) No matter, it’s a terrific state park, a lovely spring, and a beautiful river for paddling.

We enjoyed the campground for the spacious sites and the miles of excellent hiking and biking trails. The kayak launch, however, is a total pain because you have to carry your kayak down a ridiculously long, steep trail to the river. We opted instead to drive a few miles to Wekiva Island, a very cool “resort” that offers an easy kayak launch site for $5 (they also have kayak rentals), a relaxing place to sit and enjoy the river, and an excellent selection of local brews. We launched twice here, once to paddle the Wekiva River, and another time to paddle the narrow, very shallow jungle-like Rock Creek, which has tea-colored water because of natural tannins.

About the campground:

We really liked Wekiwa Springs campground. The sites are spacious and shady, with partial or full-hookups ($24 for water/electric) and decent Verizon. There’s lots of hiking and biking available in addition to kayaking (the park also offers kayak rentals).

• Salt Springs Recreation Area, Ocala National Forest

Honestly, kayaking Salt Springs isn’t too exciting—it’s a wide river framed by grasses and there’s not a lot of wildlife along the banks. But this is a wonderful place to see manatee, especially right off of the kayak launch area. The gentle giants lolled and rolled all around our kayaks—and we didn’t get one decent photo.

About 25 miles away is Alexander Springs, which turned out to be one of our favorite spring river runs. The springs are a long way from the parking lot, but they graciously provide kayak carts, which made hauling our 70-pound kayak a breeze. Alexander Springs also offers kayak rentals.

About the campground:

There are several campgrounds located near springs in the Ocala National Forest, but Salt Springs is the only one with hookups—full hookups, no less. The sites are spacious and level, many with beautiful oak trees for shade. Verizon worked fine for us. In addition to kayaking, there’s a huge wonderful swimming area walking distance from the campground. The campground is a deal at $19 per night with the Senior Pass, $29 otherwise.

• Rainbow Springs State Park, Dunnellon

Rainbow Springs is considered by many to be one of the best springs in Florida. It’s certainly the most colorful we’ve seen, with waters that are a kaleidoscope of blues and greens. The spring itself is a delight for swimming. We kayaked one mile upstream to the swimming area, and then six miles downstream to the Withlacoochee River, where we conveniently took out at Blue Run of Dunnellon Park (we arranged our own bike/truck shuttle, but there are several kayak outfitters that provide rentals and shuttles).

The Withlacoochee Trail is nearby, and we spent a hot, sweaty day grinding out 24 miles of biking—against the wind both directions, which made it seem more like 200 miles. Still, it was beautiful, and swimming in Rainbow Springs was a rejuvenating reward that afternoon.

About the campground:

Rainbow Springs has spacious, level, sandy sites (most every campground in Florida is sandy) with full-hookups. Good Verizon. The kayak launch is about ¼ mile from the campground. Although the spring is only about a mile from the campground via the river, the only access point by land is a long winding 7-mile drive. But the beautiful springs are well worth a visit, and access is free if you’re staying at the campground.

Next Up: Lovely Historic St. Augustine

A Kayaking Extravaganza: Florida Springs

Spacious Campsite At Wekiwa Springs State Park

Wonderful Trails At Wekiwa Springs State Park

Wekiwa Springs

Kayak Launch On Wekiva Island

Kayaking The Wekiva River

Limpkin Looking For Lunch

Success! Escargot!

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron Immature

Purple Gallinule

One Of Many Turtles Sunning

Beautiful Green Heron

Yellow Pond Lily

Wekiva Island

Lovely Little Rock Springs

The Jungle Paddle On Rock Springs

Wood Stork In The Trees

Kingfisher Chattering

Excellent Campsites At Salt Springs Recreation Area

Swimming Area At Salt Springs

Salt Springs Kayak Launch

Salt Springs Viewed From Our Kayak

Transporting Our Kayak To Alexander Springs

The Ubiquitous Gator Warnings

Alexander Springs Kayak Run

Green Heron Watching Us

Beautiful Alexander Springs Paddle

Little Blue Heron

White Ibis

The Timucuan Trail At Alexander Springs

Protecting Florida's Springs

Who Brought The Hotdogs?

Rainy Day At Rainbow Springs State Park

Kayaking The Rainbow River

The Lovely Rainbow River

Incredible Waters At Rainbow Springs

Cormorant In Turquoise Spring Waters

Azaleas On The Rainbow River

Clouds On The Rainbow River

Red-Shouldered Hawk

River Otter On The Rainbow River

Cooling Off In Rainbow Springs

On The Withlacoochee Bike Trail

A 24-Mile Ride On The Withlacoochee Trail

Taking A Break

Enjoying A Hike With Riley And Karen

Eastern Bluebird On A Palm

The Elusive Gray Catbird

A Kayaking Extravaganza: Florida Springs
Spacious Campsite At Wekiwa Springs State Park
Wonderful Trails At Wekiwa Springs State Park
Wekiwa Springs
Kayak Launch On Wekiva Island
Kayaking The Wekiva River
Limpkin Looking For Lunch
Success! Escargot!
Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron Immature
Purple Gallinule
One Of Many Turtles Sunning
Beautiful Green Heron
Yellow Pond Lily
Wekiva Island
Lovely Little Rock Springs
The Jungle Paddle On Rock Springs
Wood Stork In The Trees
Kingfisher Chattering
Excellent Campsites At Salt Springs Recreation Area
Swimming Area At Salt Springs
Salt Springs Kayak Launch
Salt Springs Viewed From Our Kayak
Transporting Our Kayak To Alexander Springs
The Ubiquitous Gator Warnings
Alexander Springs Kayak Run
Green Heron Watching Us
Beautiful Alexander Springs Paddle
Little Blue Heron
White Ibis
The Timucuan Trail At Alexander Springs
Protecting Florida's Springs
Who Brought The Hotdogs?
Rainy Day At Rainbow Springs State Park
Kayaking The Rainbow River
The Lovely Rainbow River
Incredible Waters At Rainbow Springs
Cormorant In Turquoise Spring Waters
Azaleas On The Rainbow River
Clouds On The Rainbow River
Red-Shouldered Hawk
River Otter On The Rainbow River
Cooling Off In Rainbow Springs
On The Withlacoochee Bike Trail
A 24-Mile Ride On The Withlacoochee Trail
Taking A Break
Enjoying A Hike With Riley And Karen
Eastern Bluebird On A Palm
The Elusive Gray Catbird
A Kayaking Extravaganza: Florida Springs thumbnail
Spacious Campsite At Wekiwa Springs State Park thumbnail
Wonderful Trails At Wekiwa Springs State Park thumbnail
Wekiwa Springs thumbnail
Kayak Launch On Wekiva Island thumbnail
Kayaking The Wekiva River thumbnail
Limpkin Looking For Lunch thumbnail
Success! Escargot! thumbnail
Little Blue Heron thumbnail
Little Blue Heron Immature thumbnail
Purple Gallinule thumbnail
One Of Many Turtles Sunning thumbnail
Beautiful Green Heron thumbnail
Yellow Pond Lily thumbnail
Wekiva Island thumbnail
Lovely Little Rock Springs thumbnail
The Jungle Paddle On Rock Springs thumbnail
Wood Stork In The Trees thumbnail
Kingfisher Chattering thumbnail
Excellent Campsites At Salt Springs Recreation Area thumbnail
Swimming Area At Salt Springs thumbnail
Salt Springs Kayak Launch thumbnail
Salt Springs Viewed From Our Kayak thumbnail
Transporting Our Kayak To Alexander Springs thumbnail
The Ubiquitous Gator Warnings thumbnail
Alexander Springs Kayak Run thumbnail
Green Heron Watching Us thumbnail
Beautiful Alexander Springs Paddle thumbnail
Little Blue Heron thumbnail
White Ibis thumbnail
The Timucuan Trail At Alexander Springs thumbnail
Protecting Florida's Springs thumbnail
Who Brought The Hotdogs? thumbnail
Rainy Day At Rainbow Springs State Park thumbnail
Kayaking The Rainbow River thumbnail
The Lovely Rainbow River thumbnail
Incredible Waters At Rainbow Springs thumbnail
Cormorant In Turquoise Spring Waters thumbnail
Azaleas On The Rainbow River thumbnail
Clouds On The Rainbow River thumbnail
Red-Shouldered Hawk thumbnail
River Otter On The Rainbow River thumbnail
Cooling Off In Rainbow Springs thumbnail
On The Withlacoochee Bike Trail thumbnail
A 24-Mile Ride On The Withlacoochee Trail thumbnail
Taking A Break thumbnail
Enjoying A Hike With Riley And Karen thumbnail
Eastern Bluebird On A Palm thumbnail
The Elusive Gray Catbird thumbnail

Read More

Biking And Birding On Sanibel Island

Biking And Birding On Sanibel Island

Posted by on Mar 1, 2016 in Biking, Birding, Florida, Gallery, Travel | 28 comments

Shhhh….don’t tell my other feathered friends, but I think the wading birds are my favorite of all. Well, at least while we’re in Florida, the wading bird capital of America. Florida boasts 18 varieties of these intriguing creatures, including the showy pink Roseate Spoonbill and the awkwardly endearing Wood Stork.

Not only are the wading birds beautiful, they’re entertaining. Snowy Egrets lure fish by dabbling their bright yellow feet in the water, while Great Egrets stand still as marble statues, waiting for the perfect moment to spear their prey. Spoonbills hunt by touch—they swing their heads from side to side, searching the muddy floor of a shallow pond or marsh. When touch receptors in the bill sense fish or other food, SNAP! The bill closes. Wood Storks are also tactile feeders, and shuffle their big pink feet in the mud to scare up prey. If you want to see vast numbers of wading birds, there’s no better place than Sanibel Island.

Sanibel is unique in that more than half of the island is designated as a refuge for wildlife. “Welcome To Our Sanctuary Island,” says the sign greeting those arriving via the three-mile causeway from the mainland. “Do Enjoy. Don’t Destroy.” I find this heartening, given that the island is prime real estate, and could have easily fallen to greedy developers instead of left as marsh and mangroves for wildlife. With 15 miles of pure white sandy beaches (renowned for the best shelling in North America), 22 miles of bike trails crisscrossing the island, small charming shops and restaurants in lieu of chain stores, no stoplights, and a relaxed small-town feel, Sanibel is a refuge for people as well as wildlife.

One-third of the island is given over to J. N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge, named in honor of the man responsible for saving the environmentally valuable parcel of land that became the refuge. Darling, a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist and conservation activist, played a significant role in awakening the American public to our diminishing natural resources. An avid hunter, he recognized in the 1930’s that America’s waterfowl needed help if they were to survive. Darling accomplished a great deal toward that goal—he was instrumental in establishing the Federal Duck Stamp Program (requiring all hunters to purchase an annual hunting stamp, with the fees going toward land for wildlife refuges) and he was a driving force behind the creation of the National Wildlife Federation. His artistic skills came in handy when he designed the first duck stamp—two mallards landing in a marsh. I was intrigued to discover that Darling also created the flying goose logo, the symbol for the National Wildlife Refuges.

Our favorite time to visit Sanibel is in December, before Christmas. The weather is lovely and the migratory birds have arrived for the winter, but the snowbirds and winter-break vacationers have not. The island and the refuges are uncrowded, and we bike everywhere—to the refuges, to the beaches, and to town. I don’t think it would be quite so bucolic January through March, when the normal population of 6,000 can swell to an overwhelming 30,000. According to the locals, the main street becomes a parking lot, you can’t get a reservation at a restaurant, and the bike trails and refuge are bursting at the seams. We love it in December—we’ve been twice now, and are planning a return visit next year, probably for two weeks.

About the campground:

Periwinkle Park is the only RV park on Sanibel. It’s actually rather amazing that it exists, given the value of real estate on the island. Established 50 years ago, it’s about half mobile home park (with lots of cute park models) and half RV park, with lovely landscaping, spacious sites, cement pads, full hook-ups, good Verizon, laundry, a terrific location one-half mile from the beach, and a price to match ($55 per night).

If you’re curious (I was) here’s a list of the wading birds of Florida:

American Bittern, Least Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron (white phase), Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, Greater Flamingo.

Next Up: A Kayaking Extravaganza: Central Florida Springs

Biking And Birding On Sanibel Island

Biking To The Refuge

Ding Darling Visitor Center

Wading Bird Convention

Peaceful Pond At Ding Darling Refuge

Ibis, Willets, And Dowitchers

White Pelicans And Roseate Spoonbill

Preening And Bathing

Spoonbill Reflections

Such Amazing Pink Feathers

White Pelicans And Wood Stork

Wood Stork Resting

Ibis, Tricolored Heron, Spoonbill, Snowy Egrets

Little Blue Heron

American Black Ducks

Cattle Egret Driving School

Kayaking At The Refuge

Photography In The Mangroves

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

Tricolored Heron

A Bike Friendly Island

Beautiful Sanibel Beaches

Holiday Art On The Beach

Made Entirely Of Shells

A Few Shells Gathered On A Beach Walk

Royal Tern And Sandwich Terns

Two Osprey At The Sanibel Lighthouse

Snowy Egret On The Beach

Spacious Site At Periwinkle Park

Biking And Birding On Sanibel Island
Biking To The Refuge
Ding Darling Visitor Center
Wading Bird Convention
Peaceful Pond At Ding Darling Refuge
Ibis, Willets, And Dowitchers
White Pelicans And Roseate Spoonbill
Preening And Bathing
Spoonbill Reflections
Such Amazing Pink Feathers
White Pelicans And Wood Stork
Wood Stork Resting
Ibis, Tricolored Heron, Spoonbill, Snowy Egrets
Little Blue Heron
American Black Ducks
Cattle Egret Driving School
Kayaking At The Refuge
Photography In The Mangroves
Yellow-Crowned Night Heron
Tricolored Heron
A Bike Friendly Island
Beautiful Sanibel Beaches
Holiday Art On The Beach
Made Entirely Of Shells
A Few Shells Gathered On A Beach Walk
Royal Tern And Sandwich Terns
Two Osprey At The Sanibel Lighthouse
Snowy Egret On The Beach
Spacious Site At Periwinkle Park
Biking And Birding On Sanibel Island thumbnail
Biking To The Refuge thumbnail
Ding Darling Visitor Center thumbnail
Wading Bird Convention thumbnail
Peaceful Pond At Ding Darling Refuge thumbnail
Ibis, Willets, And Dowitchers thumbnail
White Pelicans And Roseate Spoonbill thumbnail
Preening And Bathing thumbnail
Spoonbill Reflections thumbnail
Such Amazing Pink Feathers thumbnail
White Pelicans And Wood Stork thumbnail
Wood Stork Resting thumbnail
Ibis, Tricolored Heron, Spoonbill, Snowy Egrets thumbnail
Little Blue Heron thumbnail
American Black Ducks thumbnail
Cattle Egret Driving School thumbnail
Kayaking At The Refuge thumbnail
Photography In The Mangroves thumbnail
Yellow-Crowned Night Heron thumbnail
Tricolored Heron thumbnail
A Bike Friendly Island thumbnail
Beautiful Sanibel Beaches thumbnail
Holiday Art On The Beach thumbnail
Made Entirely Of Shells thumbnail
A Few Shells Gathered On A Beach Walk thumbnail
Royal Tern And Sandwich Terns thumbnail
Two Osprey At The Sanibel Lighthouse thumbnail
Snowy Egret On The Beach thumbnail
Spacious Site At Periwinkle Park thumbnail

Read More