Shark Valley – Everglades National Park

Before we came to South Florida, we had the preconceived notion that Everglades National Park was a hot, mosquito infested swamp…somewhere that we would find difficult to visit.  Well, we were pleasantly surprised this last Friday when we visited Shark Valley, the northern portion of Everglades National Park.  As luck would have it, a cold front had swept through the area on Thursday and brought the region low humidity and temperatures in the high 60’s. Insects were few and far between. Perfect weather to go for a 14.7 mile bike ride into the heart of the glades!

The name ‘Shark Valley’ is somewhat deceiving.  There are no sharks in the freshwater of the Everglades; the name comes from the Shark River Slough, the large body of slow moving water coming down out of Lake Okeechobee.  The valley is all of 10 feet deeper than the Atlantic and Gulf ridges to the east and west.  The Everglades are not swampland, but rather a shallow river of clear, fresh water flowing over a limestone base from north to south.  While they were once much larger…extensive portions were drained and developed…they still are massive.  They are also quite diverse in their fauna, ranging from sawgrass to tall pine trees.  Surprisingly, there were very few palm trees.

The National Park Service operates a tram along the Shark Valley Tram Trail….a 15 mile asphalt loop road that runs south from US-41 into the middle of the park.  They also rent bicycles and allow walkers on the trail.  We decided to take advantage of the great weather and check it out with our TerraTrikes!  It is advised to arrive early, as we got there just after noon and were subject to a half hour ‘one car in/one car out’ wait.

  

Diana took the lead and kept an eye out for alligators.  It’s one thing to be standing up and looking down at them, but we were a lot closer to their level with our recumbents!

  

It wasn’t long before we saw the first one.  A ranger told us to never pass between their head and the water, as that is their escape.  He didn’t need to tell us twice.  🙂

  

We quickly started seeing other wildlife, such as this Great Blue Heron.  What appears to be grasslands from ground level is actually mostly water, which can be easily seen from the air.

  

We spotted this tortoise along the side of the trail.

   

Yet another gator laying in the grass.  At one point, I stopped to view a turtle, so Diana stopped and began pushing her trike back with her feet.  Her gears made a clicking sound that evidently scared a gator that was hiding in some tall grass, just out of our view.  It jumped into the water with a huge splash. That really got our heart rates going!

  

Diana spotted this colorful Bull thistle.  We saw several wildflowers in bloom throughout the trip.

Near the southern end of the trail, an observation tower rises above the Everglades.  

  

As we approached, we had to go through a fair amount of water over the path.  This runoff was actually flowing across the road, as this part of Florida has had a lot of rain this year.

  

While parking the trikes, we noticed this big alligator sizing up all of the tourists.  :). Actually, only one person has been attacked by a gator in Shark Valley since it opened in the 1940’s…a young Brazilian boy who fell off his bike into the canal near the visitor’s center.  His mother jumped in and rescued him by prying the reptile’s mouth open.  While that was an unfortunate accident, we are continually amazed at how some people tempt fate by posing with creatures like this.

  

As we started up the tower, we noticed this American Crocodile.  Notice the narrower snout.  Alligators have a much wider spread between their nostrils. The Florida Everglades are the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators co-exist in the same habitat.  We were lucky to see this one, as they are endangered and it is rare to see them in the wild.

  

Here I am near the base of the tower.

  

The concrete structure rises above the valley and gives a great view of the surrounding landscape.  The upper portion is closed off, most likely for safety reasons.

  

Looking back north, you are able to see the road we had just biked on.

  

 
To the east, south and west, there is wilderness as far as the eye can see!  While most national parks showcase stunning geographical features, Everglades National Park was the first to be established to protect and display the vast ecosystem. It is the third largest park in the Lower 48, behind Yellowstone and Death Valley.

After we were done at the tower, we returned on the curvier eastern side of the loop road.

  

It wasn’t too long before this Great White Egret flew in front of us.

  

We passed this partially submerged gator.

  

Here is a White Ibis in flight.

  

We also saw plenty of hammocks, which appeared to be islands in the glades.  What we found out was that they are actually deeper water than the surrounding landscape.  When the Everglades dry up in the hot summer, these deeper areas are able to support tree growth.  A change of mere inches can cut short the life of a tree, as has happened to the trees in the foreground.

  

As we neared the end of the trail, this Anhinga stood by the side of the road, drying its wings.  He didn’t move at all as we slowly passed by.

If you ever get a chance to visit Shark Valley, be sure to do so.  It’s a great way to spend a day!

Shop Amazon through exploRVistas by clicking this link.
explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping here doesn’t add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for considering shopping through exploRVistas!

Endless Summer Vineyard and Winery

cropped-image4.jpeg

UPDATE:  Endless Summer’s name has been changed to Summer Crush Vineyard and Winery.  Same owners, new name.  www.summercrushwine.com. 

Our first night out from Melbourne Beach was a quick 43 miles south to Endless Summer Vineyard and Winery, on the west side of Fort Pierce. This winery is part of the Harvest Hosts program, of which we are members.  As participants, various farm markets, wineries and even a few museums allow us to stay overnight in our RV in exchange for patronizing their business.
  

We pulled in on Sunday about 1 PM, right when their Sunday Wine Down music event was about to start.  Bad timing on our part, but the owner’s son Allen was very courteous and showed us to our spot. This photo was taken Monday morning and doesn’t show the cars that were arriving for the event, as we were pulling in with our 5th wheel.

  

What a nice place to park! There are no hookups (common with most Harvest Hosts), so we had to conserve our water and power, which we did just fine with. We do not have a generator or solar panels, but rely on the equipment that comes standard with most RV’s. We cook with our propane stove, use the propane setting on the refrigerator and water heater, and use the 12 volt lights that are powered by the battery. (If you do this, disconnect your power plug from your tow vehicle, so you don’t drain the truck battery.) We also supplement with battery powered lanterns and candles. We do not have TV, but entertain ourselves with our iPads, books, board games, etc. We have plenty of water to take showers and wash dishes for a two night stay.

After setting up, we quickly changed clothes and went over to the event.

  

Endless Summer started out as a landscape nursery in the 1970’s.  When the housing market dried up in 2008, Gary and Susan Roberts decided to pursue growing and making muscadine wine on a portion of their property.  And to take it one step further, they decided to celebrate Gary’s love of surfing and incorporate the nearby beach culture into their facility…instead of going upscale.  In other words…a reflection of who they are and what they enjoy. That was a brilliant move!  The landscape business, Gary Roberts Nursery and Landscape, has rebounded and is doing very well also under their other son Bud’s guidance.

  

They built a large pavilion, which incorporates Gary’s collection of classic surfboards.  (We took this photo after the show.) The events held here every Sunday have become such a hit, they’ve put two additions onto the facility.  A third addition is planned in the near future. Each Sunday highlights a different local charity. We were happy to support Girls on the Run by buying raffle tickets for some nice prizes.

  

Adjacent to the pavilion is the tasting room.  Here is Briana modeling a bottle of Webejammin, a semi-sweet white muscadine table wine.  All of their wines sport fun names and colorful labels like this. They sell spots at their tasting bar every half hour, and the person pouring explains each wine to the entire group all at once.  Briana was very entertaining!  

 

Back out at the pavilion, Ryan Owens was heating things up.  The group recently added a sax player to the trio of guitar, fiddle and bongos.They were fantastic!  Each Sunday Wine Down event features a different band.

  

A few folks were sitting out on the dock in the pond….

  

….while others were playing Jenga on the lawn.

  

There were  two different food vendors at the event.  This one featured chicken wings.

  

Diana spotted the motorcycle parking, complete with kick stand pads.  Nice touch!  The property also has a Frisbee golf course incorporated into it.

    

 Here’s Gary photo bombing our selfie!  He and his wife are super hosts, and they have carved themselves a unique niche with their business.  We wish them all the best, and we will certainly be back in the future!  If you are ever near Fort Pierce, make it a point to check out Endless Summer….especially if it is a Sunday.  You will be glad you did!
——————————-

Search and shop Amazon.com here for just about anything imaginable!
explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping here doesn’t add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for considering shopping through exploRVistas!

St. Augustine

In northeast Florida lies the oldest continually occupied settlement in the United States, St. Augustine.  Founded in 1565 by Spain, this charming place has amassed a fair amount of history in the past 450 years.  Diana and I decided to check out this interesting community on February 10. 

We had dinner at Harry’s Seafood, a suggestion that our friends Rod and Mary had given us. The food was good and we enjoyed the New Orleans ambiance. 

  
 

The restaurant is directly across the street from the waterfront.  

  
They have a charming outdoor patio with heaters; had it been a touch warmer, we would have eaten out there.

   

We spent the night at the Doubletree by Hilton, which we found to be a very nice hotel.  The staff went out of their way to be helpful, and our room was immaculate.  A special shout-out to our breakfast server Bill, who was very attentive and friendly.

   

After breakfast, we crossed the street and visited the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche.  This 208 foot cross, the tallest in the world, marks the spot where Christianity was first proclaimed in what is now the United States.  The museum was interesting and the grounds were pretty.

   

The centerpiece of St. Augustine is the Spanish fort, Castillo de San Marcos.  The first version of the current masonry fort was constructed over 23 years, between 1672 and 1695.  There were many additions and improvements since then.  The key to the success of this fort is the unique masonry used in its construction; a locally quarried conglomerate known as coquina.  Translated in Spanish, the name means ‘small shells’….and that is exactly what it is….blocks of small sea shells bonded together over millienia.

   

 Just using what they had on hand, the Spanish didn’t find out until the fort came under siege by the British in 1702 just how good the coquina was.  For two months, the British showered the fort with cannonballs, only to have them bounce off the walls.  It turns out the air pockets in the coquina acted like shock absorbers, and the cannon fire only resulted in small dents in the surface.  Eventually the British were trapped by Spanish reinforcements sent up from Havana, resulting in the Brits burning their ships and retreating to Carolina on foot.

   

This is an interpretive talk being given by a National Park ranger, explaining coquina’s superior properties to us.  On the wall behind her, what appears to be a second story is actually the upper window of each room. Every one of the chambers are constructed with arched ceilings, which support the weight of the deck and cannons above.

   

This photo shows the arched ceilings.  The legendary Seminole chief Osceola was held in this room in 1837, prior to being sent to Fort Moultrie in South Carolina where he died of what is believed to have been malaria.  

   

The view of the harbor from the upper deck is breathtaking, to say the least!

   

Here is a selection of several of the different types of cannons used over the years by the various occupying armies.  The fort changed hands six times:  Spain (1672-1763), Great Britian (1763-1784), Spain (1784-1821), United States of America (1821-1861), Confederate States of America (1861-1862), and finally the United States of America (1862 – present).

   

We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the fort, and we will surely visit again in the future.

After the fort, we walked up St. George Street. There are many restaurants and shops along this pedestrian only road.  At the southern end, we visited the Cathedral Basilica of St Augustine.

   

This building is an amazing example of Mediterranean archtecture.

   

The interior was gorgeous with its Spanish influence.

  

 

I especially liked the way the stained glass windows were framed.  🙂

There are many more places we didn’t have time to visit.  We will be sure to check them out when we return to the area. With that being said, we are heading out from Melbourne Beach. We will be more mobile and less stationary for the next two months. Stay tuned as we reveal our destinations as we go!
———————————————————-

Search and shop Amazon.com here for just about anything imaginable.
explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com.  Shopping here doesn’t add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog.  Thank you for considering shopping through exploRVistas!

Lovers Key

On Tuesday, we headed back across the state to Lovers Key to visit my sister Judy and her husband Dale.  They came down from Michigan for a mid-winter break.  It was not only great to see them, it also was nice to see the Bonita/Naples area again!

  

On Wednesday morning, we went for a stroll on Barefoot Beach in Bonita Springs.

  

Here’s Dale and Judy searching for shells.  The quality of the sea shells is outstanding in southwest Florida, and we were not disappointed Wednesday morning.  🙂

  

There were hundreds of intact conch shells.  Of all the years we’ve been on Florida beaches, this was the best shelling we had ever seen!

  
 

Dale found this sea horse that was still alive, so he took it out into the surf to give it a chance at survival.

  

We also saw this dead blue crab.  I certainly wouldn’t want one of these grabbing my toe!

  

We walked a mile down the beach and returned to the parking lot along a nature path through the mangroves.

  

Afterwards, we returned to their condo and hung out at the pool for the afternoon.  We had yet to get any pool time since being down in Florida, so it was a special treat for us.  :).  Check out the view from their balcony!  This is looking south towards Naples.

  

This is looking north towards Fort Myers Beach.  We saw dolphins swimming in Estero Bay and even had an osprey fly by with a large fish in its’ talons.

On Wednesday evening, we went to a local restaurant called A Table Apart in Bonita Springs.  Dale’s cousin Marilyn and her husband Bill joined us.  They are also staying for a few weeks at Lovers Key Resort.

  

We had a wonderful time!  A Table Apart is a restaurant that we can highly recommend.  Our server was outstanding and the food was out of this world.  🙂

Aferwards, we caught the tail end of a sunset from Dale and Judy’s balcony.

  

A perfect end to a perfect day.  🙂

Thursday morning after we headed out, we stopped for breakfast north of Bonita Springs at First Watch.  This is a growing national chain of breakfast/lunch restaurants that we first discovered in the Naples area a few years ago.  

  

Diana likes avacados, and her breakfast didn’t disappoint!

  
My breakfast scramble was fresh and delicious also!

What a nice couple of days in southwest Florida. Thanks, Judy and Dale!

————————-

Search and shop Amazon here
————————-

explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com

Lake Okeechobee and Honeybells

On Wednesday, we headed over to Placida, Florida to spend a few days with Diana’s cousin and his wife.  Placida is on the Gulf side of Florida, so our journey was going to take us completely across the peninsula.  We took State Route 70 out of Fort Pierce and headed west through the state’s agricultural land.  Not too far out of town, we stopped at Ace High Farms fruit stand to pick up some oranges and grapefruit.
  

Ace High is a sixth generation family farm.  Their citrus was freshly picked and it really showed, as it looked fabulous.  The first thing we spotted were a few bags of Honeybells, which we knew nothing about.  After questioning the owner, we purchased a bag along with two Ruby Red grapefruit.  When we arrived at Placida, Diana’s cousin and his wife looked at the bag and said “Those aren’t oranges….those are HONEYBELLS!!!”  In no time, we were each peeling the skin off of our fruit, juice flying everywhere.  My, oh my….they were delicious!

  

They are a fairly uncommon variety of tangelo, and they are listed as only being available in January.  We were right at the tail end of the season. According to one grower, Honeybells are so rare, only one in 5000 people have ever tasted them.  So if you have, consider yourself a rare bird!  😉

After our visit, we headed back on the same route.  There aren’t a lot of choices for roads in that region of the state.  It is almost completely level, and I am fairly sure that none of it exceeds 20 feet above sea level.  There are a lot of cattle, some sod farms, a lot of citrus groves and palm tree nurseries.  Canals criss-cross the land every so often, and the soil is rich and black.

  

It was a pleasant trip both ways, as it was a different sort of agriculture than we were used to seeing. At one point, I imagined myself in Midwest…until I saw a palm tree.  🙂

When we pulled into the city of Okeechobee, we decided to drive to the southern end of town and see Lake Okeechobee.  This is the nation’s third largest fresh water lake completely within the U.S. border (Lake Michigan is #1) and it is the largest that sits within one state in the Lower 48.  With that being said, the entire lake only averages over a little more than 8 feet deep, with its maximum depth just a touch over 12 feet deep.  Historically, it is a natural lake that takes in water from the Kissimmee River from the north and flows southward into the Everglades.  The key word being historically.  This is Army Corps of Engineers territory.  After a hurricane in 1928 sent a storm surge over the natural peat dam at the south end of the lake and killed 2500 people, the U.S. government stepped in. President-elect Herbert Hoover toured the devastation and after consulting the Army Corps of Engineers, proposed a dike around the lake.

  

By 1961, the current 30 foot high dike that encircles the lake was completed, basically turning it into a reservoir.  The former president was on hand for the dedication, as the project was named after him.

  

While a lot of good has come from this dike…namely, safety from the lake’s fickle level…so has a lot of not so good.  In 2008, a drought exposed large portions of the lake bottom, allowing the Corps to scrape 35,000 truck loads of polluted mud and dispose of it.  Problem was, it was so contaminated by arsenic, it created a huge disposal problem. That muck wasn’t there before the dike.  Currently, the water level is too high (due to El Niño), and the Corps is concerned about the dike eroding. The cure is to send the water into the canals and into the ocean and gulf, resulting in the fresh water damaging the salt water aquatic creatures and plants.  It is also creating algae blooms in the ocean and gulf, otherwise known as Red Tide.  As is usually the case, the more that mankind interferes with nature the more things are disrupted.  What most impressed me was the sheer size of the project.  I had no idea how large of an area this affected.

One thing we noticed is there is a National Scenic Trail on the top of the dike.  The portion we saw was asphalt, and it had plenty of folks using it.  It looks like a great place for a bike ride!  We will keep that in mind for the future.

  

There was also this fishing pier where we crossed the dike, along with a nice restroom building and picnic tables. We had our picnic lunch while enjoying the views.

  

From the pier, I was able to zoom in on the smokestacks of the power plant 15 miles to the southeast.  To the right of that, the lake extends another 20 miles to the south.

  

Lake Okeechobee is definitely a huge body of water!

After we left Okeechobee, we stopped back by at Ace High. We were fortunate to be able to get another bag of Honeybells. Diana’s cousins are great hosts and have a lovely place for entertaining. They prefer not having their picture posted on the web, so we are honoring their wish for privacy. They were very close to Diana’s parents, so it was nice sharing old memories and making new ones. What a nice way to spend a few days!

——————————————

Purchase Florida Honeybells through Amazon here
——————————————
explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com