Navigating the Fulltime RV Waters Along the Rio-de-Ays

Spending a month on the Indian River has allowed us to learn quite a bit…including how it was that the river’s name came about.  More on that later….

Part of being a fulltime RVer is having to be able to deal with not having your tried and true services you are used to from back home.  While ‘experiencing new things’ is what we are hoping to accomplish on the road, there are some things we need and want that require us to think outside the box.  First and foremost is food.  That can be divided into two categories: groceries and restaurants.  In the grocery column, we had a great selection of supermarkets in Grand Rapids.  Out on the barrier island, our one and only large supermarket that is convenient to us is Publix.  That is a good thing, as Publix is a first rate chain.

  

In fact, our Publix store gained national attention when it sold one of the three winning Powerball tickets in the recent big  jackpot.  While we weren’t the winners, we did find it amusing to see all the satellite trucks in the parking lot that day.  All of the major networks and news organizations were there.  🙂

One thing we are enjoying here are a few specialty markets.  Our friends Rod and Mary pointed us in the direction of these gems.  The first (and most convenient) is the Melbourne Beach Supermarket.  While not truly what would we would call a ‘supermarket’ in the traditional chain store sense, this mom and pop store is a culinary dream come true.

  

If you like wine…which we do…this is your place!  There are three aisles devoted to it, along with weekend wine tasting.  🙂

  

While their selection of common dry goods is limited, their choices for specialty items like spices, oils and seasonings is outstanding!

  

They have a wide selection of olives; more than we have ever seen in one place.

  

There is also a great selection of meats and seafood available, including a weekly special that is unbelievable.  Two weeks ago, we purchased whole boneless, skinless, fresh chicken breasts for $1.59 a pound.  They were delishhhhh…

The other place Mary and Rod pointed us to is Downtown Produce. This market is located in West Melbourne, so it is more of a destination than a convenient store for us.

 

And while they do have a lot of fresh produce, that is certainly not their only focus.

  

They have a well stocked deli.  The day we were there, we saw a couple of firemen who stopped in to grab lunch, and there were several other service workers in the lot, so we assume they were dong the same. 

  

 A slice of cake, perhaps?

  

Or maybe a pastry?

  

They also had an extensive wine and beer selection, along with one of the better gluten free aisles we’ve come across.  Truly a delightful place.

With my food allergy, we tend to cook at home a lot.  But with eating out being a social experience, I’m usually able to find something at most every restaurant.  It’s not a big deal at all.  The reason I even bring it up is because of the delightful place we found in Melbourne called The Bald Strawberry.  It is a dedicated gluten free restaurant, complete with allergen free alcoholic beverages.

  

This may sound odd, but they make their sandwiches and pizzas on gluten free waffles.  They are yummy!  It is a family run eatery that seems to have a loyal following.

While we are on the subject of restaurants, we learned that friends from Michigan, Terry and Diane, were going to be in Orlando this week.  Diane and Diana used to teach together…and there was another friend (and Diane’s sister-in-law) named Diane who taught with them, just to confuse things.  🙂

  

Both Terry and Diane are recently retired, and they are here to share a Harry Potter weekend at Univesal Studios with their grandchildren. We met in Orlando at Bahama Breeze for lunch.  Before we left Michigan back in December, we met for breakfast in Byron Center.  We decided to aim for dinner in Vegas sometime in the future.  🙂

Another challenge for fulltime RVers is finding health care.  Dentistry has come up with a solution to this with the nationwide chain Aspen Dental.  We’ve yet to try them, but we know others who have with decent results.  Prescriptions are easily handled for us through Walgreens and CVS, and we know many people who use Walmart. We have yet to come up with a nationwide system of medical doctors (an opportunity exists!) but Diana came up with a solution for being away from our chiropractors back in Michigan.

  
 
The Joint is a nationwide chain of chiropractic offices that do not require appointments or X-rays.  They do not take insurance, but offer very low prices.  We found the Melbourne office to be very professional and modern, and the doctors were outstanding. They are open seven days a week.  We each received a barcoded key tag that allows us to go to any clinic in the country without filling out new paperwork.  Check them out at thejoint.com.

So, back to how the Indian River got its name.  Diana was talking with her cousin Duane the other day about the lack of traffic on A1A on our barrier island, as compared to Gulf Boulevard on Estero Island at Fort Myers Beach on the other side of the state.  After she got off the phone she asked me, “What is the name of our barrier island?”  That little question led to a very interesting internet search.  It turns out that this island had been inhabited by an ancient tribe of natives for the 4000 years prior to Juan Ponce de Leon stepping ashore here on his expedition from Puerto Rico in 1513. The tribe was named Ays (pronounced Ah-ees) by the Spanish, although it is believed that Ays was the name of the chief.  It turns out the Ays and the Spanish didn’t gel, and the natives were eventually wiped out by the conquistadors….but not before Juan Ponce himself was the recipient of one of their poison arrows, eventually claiming his life.  Fast forward to the 21st century.  With the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s landing coming up in 2013, a local resident was pushing to have the yet unnamed barrier island hold the moniker Ponce de Leon Island.  When it came up to a vote in Cocoa Beach, one councilman asked the gentleman if he had given any consideration to the Ays people who preceded the Spanish.  He said he had, looked to both sides and said, “I don’t see any Indians standing here asking you for anything.” The councilman retorted “That’s because the Spanish killed them all.”  Thus began a contentious period, resulting in the island’s communities and the U.S. Board of Geographic Names stepping away and leaving the island without a name.  In the process of researching all of this, I discovered the origin of the name ‘Indian River’.  When the Spanish mapped the area, they named the water on the west side of the island ‘Rio de Ays’.  Roughly translated, it’s the River of the Ays Indians…or Indian River.

So next time someone sends you a box of Indian River citrus, you will know the history of the name.  🙂

  
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McKee Botanical Garden

Quite often, we hear people say “If you want to see OLD Florida, you have to see…”   Old Florida is really ‘pre-Disney’ Florida; a time when attractions like Weeki Wachee, Silver Springs and Cypress Gardens were the place to be.  Interstate highways didn’t exist, and the Sunshine State was about as laid back as a Jimmy Buffett song.

Well, as luck would have it, we stumbled on a bit of Old Florida last week: McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach.

  

Back in 1932, two gentlemen named Waldo Sexton and Arthur McKee developed 80 acres into what was then known as McKee Jungle Gardens. A giant 2000 year old cypress stump was brought in from West Florida to mark the entrance on US-1.

  

Many native and unusual tropical plants were brought in, along with monkeys, an alligator and a black bear.  A graceful stone bridge was constructed over this pond, home to an exotic collection of lily pads.  In its heyday during the 1940’s, McKee Jungle Gardens was attracting 100,000 visitors a year. But with the opening of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in 1971, the beginning of the end for the gardens was in place.  By 1976, McKee Jungle Gardens was closed, and the land was sold to a condo developer.  Most of the land was developed into condos and a golf course, but the 18 acres fronting US-1 sat dormant.  The next 18 years saw vandals and homeless individuals on the property, and the gardens became overgrown.  In 1994, the Indian River Land Trust purchased the property and set out on a campaign to raise funds and restore the remaining land to its former grandeur.  In 2001, the McKee Botanical Garden opened its doors.

Our membership with the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Michigan is what initially attracted us here.  That membership includes a reciprocal agreement with similar gardens and museums across the U.S.  We also saw that landscape artist Patrick Dougherty was going to be there.  We first saw his Stickwork structures on CBS Sunday Morning, and we missed out on seeing him in Niles, Michigan when we were near there.  We couldn’t let that happen twice.

  
 

Out in the parking lot along US-1, the cypress stump is still there…

  

…as is the stone bridge inside the garden.

  

Upon entering through the arched trellis, this green space opens up.  We followed around to the right to view the Stickwork installation.

  

There beneath the Royal Palms, three domed structures were taking shape.
  

High up on the scaffolding, Patrick Dougherty and a volunteer were weaving willow saplings together to form the structure.  Once completed, the buildings will open to roam through, and they also become a haven for birds. He does nine of these installations a year throughout the world, and he has been doing it for thirty years! Each installation lasts an average of two years before deteriorating.

After checking out Mr. Dougherty’s work, we ventured out on the trails to see what else McKee had to offer. 

  

Here is an American Waterlily that we found to be interesting.  There were several varieties on the various ponds around the park.

One thing we thought they could have done a better job of doing was labeling the flora. So not knowing what these are, we are just going to let you chime in on the next five photos.  Edits in italics as answers come in.  Thank you Betsy for suggesting the plant identification app on our phones!  We settled on Like That Garden, which is a huge help!

  

#1. Any idea?  It appears to be an orchid.

  

#2. How about this? Joan from FOSJ maybe this and the next photo was a bromeliad.  We are still trying to confirm.

  

#3. Any guesses?

  

#4. Care to fathom a guess? Kelly from bkamericanodyssey identified this as a banana tree.  We confirmed that with our app that Betsy suggested.  Official name : Plantains or Wild Banana Tree.

  

#5. Perhaps an orchid?  Bonnie from HappiLeeRVing identified this as a Moth Orchid.

  

This pavilion was interesting in that it is constructed entirely of bamboo, and is unique in the fact it is the first engineered bamboo building in the U.S. to have been issued a building  permit.  That occurred in 2002.

  

There were several stands of bamboo in the gardens.  

  

They also had interspersed a number of sculptures throughout the grounds.  We overheard someone mention that she thought this didn’t fit in it’s surroundings.  Your thoughts?

  

The Hall of Giants was constructed to house this 35′ Mahogany table, which was billed as the world’s largest from a single piece of wood.  This building and table are both original features from McKee Jungle Gardens.  Many events have been held here over the years.  They had a video playing of an old MovieTone feature that promoted McKee Jungle Gardens from the 1930’s. It was amusing to see how they advertised back then.  🙂

  

Off the one end of the Hall of Giants is this huge Spanish kitchen.  Talk about a great place for a cookout!

So, despite the fact we had trouble identifying a good portion of the flora, we enjoyed our afternoon touring this little slice of history.  And we can be safe to say that if you want to see Old Florida..you have to see McKee!

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Kennedy Space Center

If you ever want to see me turn into a little kid, drive right past all the Orlando theme parks and take me to Cape Canaveral, home of the Kennedy Space Center.  This is where the Supermen of my youth lived, climbing on top of giant rockets and heading off into space.  Both Diana and I had been here several times in the past, both as children and also as a couple.  While it was always exciting to see, the business of space travel was never presented very well back then.  That has all changed, now that NASA has allowed a private company to run the visitor center.  It’s like a theme park, only the rockets on display are the real deal!

The first thing visitors see coming into the center is the rocket garden.  Several rockets are displayed that were the early hardware used to get the Mercury and Gemini astronauts into space.  Across the back is a Saturn 1B that was similar to the one that took Apollo 7 into Earth orbit.  It is the smaller cousin to the Saturn V rockets that went to the moon.

They had a Saturn V first stage F1 engine on display.  Remember this engine; I’ll talk more about it later.

A highlight in the rocket garden for me was this gantry.  This is the actual catwalk that the Apollo 11 astronauts walked across on their way to their space capsule.  Those were their last steps on earth before they stepped out onto the moon. At that time, it was 300 feet above the ground as part of the launch pad.

From there, we headed over to the Astronaut Encounter.  The astronaut there that day was Jon McBride, who actually piloted the Space Shuttle Challenger on an earlier mission before it exploded in January of 1986.

He gave a very interesting presentation, and we got to shake his hand and pose for a picture afterwards.  As you can well imagine, I was pretty excited at this point!  The rocket in the background is a model of the Orion, the vehicle that will take astronauts to Mars.

From there, we boarded a bus and headed out towards the launch pads.

One of the first things we saw was the Vehicle Assembly Building.  This is where the Saturn rockets and the shuttles were assembled and readied for launch.  This is the largest single story building in the world.  It actually is big enough that it creates its own weather inside, forming rain clouds near the ceiling on humid days. Those are giant doors on the side that allow the rockets to be moved out. I remember my dad marveling at the fact that it takes 45 minutes to open them.

This is a shuttle platform, sitting on top of a crawler transporter.  NASA has two of these transporters, both being built in 1965.  Each one weighs 6 million pounds and gets 127 gallons per mile of diesel fuel.  It definitely will pull our fifth wheel.  Let’s just say that, with that kind of fuel consumption, we won’t be using one of these for our next tow vehicle!

This is an older NASA photo of the Space Shuttle Atlantis riding to the launch pad on the back of a crawler.  When they get to the slanted pad, the one side of the transporter raises up to compensate for the angle.  The reason the pad is raised is because the ground is basically at sea level here.  Each pad has a flame pit for the exhaust from the rocket to be channeled away as the vehicle lifts off.  At the point of ignition, the entire contents of the water tower in the background is sprayed into the pit to deaden the noise…which is otherwise strong enough to stop a human heart at close range.

They also drove us past this tower that was being constructed on a mobile launching platform that was being converted from the shuttle days.  This will be used for Orion.  One of the other launch pads was being used by SpaceX, a private company that launches satellites and supply ships to the space station.

Once we were done riding around the launch pads, the driver dropped us off at the Saturn V Center.  This building holds an actual Saturn V rocket displayed in a horizontal position.

This is Apollo 18.  It never flew, as Congress ended the Apollo program three flights early.  Remember that F-1 engine I showed you earlier?  Here are five of them, mounted into position and ready to go.  When one of these rockets lifted off, these engines would lift the vehicle to an altitude of 42 miles in 2-1/2 minutes, accelerating it to a speed of over 6000 miles per hour.  Divide those numbers and that’s an acceleration of 40 miles per second!

This is the other end of that first stage of the rocket.  Once it did its job, it would fall into the Atlantic Ocean.  Then the second stage would take over with its five smaller engines, followed by the third stage with its single engine.

This cutaway model showed how the entire rocket fit together and worked as a single unit.

This was supposed to have been the Lunar Module from Apollo 15.  NASA decided to send along a lunar rover (car) on that mission after this was already built.  This unit didn’t have room on it to store the rover, so it became a museum piece.  It is interesting to note that the ladder on the lander is not strong enough to support an adult human on Earth.  On the Moon, a human weighs 1/6th of what they weigh on Earth, so it works just fine there.

This three foot wide ring was interesting.  It was positioned on top of the third stage and it contained the instruments and computers that guided the rocket from launch to a point that the spacecraft seperated from the third stage, beyond Earth orbit.  The fact we found interesting was that today’s cell phones are more powerful than the computers contained in that ring.

The Saturn V Center also contained a number of artifacts from the Apollo program.  Space suits, hardware and other items are well represented.

Here, Diana is able to touch a piece of moon rock.

Here is the Command Module from Apollo 14.  This was the capsule that Alan Shepard and his crew rode in to and from the Moon.  It is interesting to note that, of 363 feet of Saturn V rocket at launch, this 11 foot tall spacecraft was all that returned at splashdown.

Once we finished our tour of the Saturn V Center, we toured the Space Shuttle Atlantis building back at the main visitor center complex.

Here I am beneath a mockup of a main fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters used to launch a shuttle.

Once inside the facility, you get to see Atlantis, the last shuttle to fly into space.

The ship is displayed as it would appear in Earth orbit with its payload bay doors open and its robotic arm extended.  All of the cracked tiles and smudges from repeated missions into space were left to show visitors what this ship went through.

This really is the ultimate RV. 🙂  We were impressed by the sheer size of it!  The building was arranged so you could view it from multiple points on different levels. We saw the shuttle Columbia twice. We saw it land piggyback on a 747 at Kelly Air Force Base Nov. 21, 1982. We also saw Columbia launch in Florida on April 4, 1997. These were both fantastic experiences, but it didn’t allow for the close up view that we enjoyed at this display.

Here is the underside of the orbiter.  33 missions over 26 years and 125 million miles, and it still looks great.  If it were a car on its last mission, it would have qualified for antique vehicle license plates!

This is the upper portion of a shuttle main engine.  While Diana and I were looking at this and trying to make sense of it, a docent came up and asked us if she could answer any questions.  It turns out she had worked on the computer systems for these engines for twenty years.  Her intelligence was astounding, yet she explained the “spaghetti” we were looking at in a way that made reasonable sense.  The cell phone reference came up again when she mentioned that our iPhones had more capability than the engine’s computer.  I mentioned to her that smart phones are a result of the efforts of the space program, to which she agreed.

There was also a mockup of the shuttle cockpit.  Yes, I’m sure I could fly this thing.  😉

There also is a simulator that allows you to experience what it feels like to be launched in a shuttle. We opted to save that for another time.

Near the nose of Atlantis was a display that honored the 14 men and women who lost their lives in the Challenger and Columbia accidents.  Each display had personal artifacts from each astronaut.

Here is Christa McAuliffe’s display. January 28, 1986 was a hard day for me, as Diana was an educator.  Watching interviews with Christa prior to the mission, I personally saw the same determined and positive traits in her that I see in my wife. Diana will tell you that I looked at the TV during one of those interviews and said “If you let anything happen to her, NASA… I will never forgive you.”  To be honest, it took me a long time to forgive them. I eventually did, as I knew that Christa McAuliffe and the other sixteen American astronauts who gave their lives in the pursuit of space exploration would have wanted the space program to continue.

If you are in central Florida and have the time, be sure to visit the Kennedy Space Center.  Plan on getting there early, as it will consume your entire day.  Take your time and appreciate mankind’s greatest adventure. These people explored the ultimate vistas in some of the greatest RV’s ever built!

 

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A Sea Turtle Paradise

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

John Muir

 

Immediately south of where we are staying in Melbourne Beach and stretching 20.5 miles south, is the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.  To the normal visitor (like us), this beach could be mistaken for any number of other beaches in Florida.

  

 

Miles of endless sand with the ocean pounding the shore.  Homes, condos and businesses behind the dune.  But it’s what happens here beginning in March and continuing through summer that makes this stretch of beach unique…for it is here that 25 to 35% of the loggerhead and green sea turtles in the US nest.  Approximately 15,000 to 20,000 turtles build their nests here annually, returning to the place of their own birth after journeys of thousands of miles through the ocean.  That averages out to a nest about every 6 feet!  Peak season is June through August. 

  
 

When these giant sea reptiles get to land, their graceful sea movements become a major struggle to get to the top of the beach.  The tracks they leave behind appear to be something a tractor or 4 wheel ATV might make.

  
They dig their nests and lay their eggs, then head back out into the ocean.  

 

Approximately 2 months later, the baby turtles hatch and crawl across the beach and out to sea. Hatchlings make bite-sized meals for birds and crabs, and many do not make it. The survivors swim out to the Gulf Stream and live their first years in floating seaweed as it circulates around the Atlantic, traveling thousands of miles in the process.  As juveniles, many live in the lagoons and intercostal waterways behind the barrier islands.  Once they mate in their mid-twenties, the females make their way to their home beach to complete the cycle. Scientists are still researching how long sea turtles live, but it is generally believed that they can reach at least 80-100 years old.

   

One of the issues that comes into play is the artificial light from homes and businesses.  The unique feature of this sanctuary is that it isn’t just vacant land; it is a patchwork of private and public acreage. The refuge encourages private landowners to use soft indirect lighting, preferably in amber and red, so as to not confuse the turtles. The reptiles rely on the moonlight off the ocean to guide their way at night. The refuge also works with the public to educate them on how to coexist with turtles, so as to not disturb them during the nesting process.

Before we go any further, a little history about Dr. Archie Carr.

  

Dr. Carr (1909-1987) was a professor of zoology at the University of Florida.  Over his lifetime, he became one of the leading experts on sea turtles.  While most of his conservation efforts involving turtles took place in Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica, his work was noted worldwide. As a result, the refuge in Florida was named after him.

   

A few miles north of the Sebastian Inlet is the Barrier Island Sanctuary Visitor Center.  Inside are many informative displays about the refuge, as well as a nice theater with several videos regarding the sanctuary.  The center is totally free to visit, although donations are gladly accepted.

The one display that grabbed my attention had to do with the comeback of the green turtles on this stretch of beach, as a result of the conservationist’s efforts.  In three decades, the quantity of nests has increased 100 fold.  That is truly amazing!  With all of the modern, man-made disturbances pulling them towards extinction, it is wonderful to see mankind being able to help reverse that.

So if you find yourself in this area, take the time to learn more about sea turtles.  If you are here in late spring and early summer, take a guided turtle walk to witness these giants first hand.  Or if you are a Florida resident, buy a sea turtle license plate.  The proceeds go towards sea turtle conservation.

    

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