Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tomoka State Park - Daytona Beach

On Sunday February 15, we moved from Fort Myers in south west Florida, to Tomoka State Park, in north east Florida; from the Gulf to the Atlantic. We spent one stop-over night in Arcadia, Fla. Arcadia is about an hour north east of Ft Myers and being inland from either coast, it is rural farmland. The next day we traveled directly east, through cattle and horse country, passing just above Lake Okeechobee, then north on Route l to Tomoka State Park. The park is on the western side of the intercostals waterway, formed by the Tomoka and Halifax Rivers. By crossing one bridge, in five minutes, we could reach Ormond and Daytona Beaches on the Atlantic.

We really liked this park. The campground consisted of spacious wooded and private sites, a new boat dock where you could rent canoes or kayaks, and several hiking trails through magnificent live oak forests. Tomoka contains the largest stand of old growth live oak in Eastern Florida. The Oak, covered with Spanish moss, fern, orchids and mixed with Sable Palm, create a beautiful forest adjacent to 12 miles of coastline.

The name Tomoka comes from the Timucua, a group of Native Americans who inhabited northeast Florida centuries ago. All that is left to remind us of these people are the 40 foot shell middens, mounds of oyster and snail shells, created from decades of habitation here. There is a statue at the picnic area, created by a local artist, Dana Marsh, that honors a native legend. Unfortunately, the museum was closed and no further information about the event depicted was available.
Tomoka Park path

One of the Live Oakes at Tomoka

Several days we walked on Daytona Beach, which stretches for miles. Actually we went in at Ormond Beach and walked on the wide white sand all the way to Daytona. Ormond Beach hotels look a bit shabby, but as you move south they appear newer and progressively more expensive the further into Daytona you go.

While in this area we visited one of Marlin’s old bosses from Farm Family. Gerry and Audrey McGregor live in Palm Coast, which is about 30 miles north of Daytona. We spent an enjoyable afternoon with them catching up on the 16 years since Gerry has been retired, in addition to sharing a tasty lunch and a tour of their local attractions

Marlin and Gerry Mc Gregor

Audrey and Gerry McGregor

The next day we toured St Augustine, which was about 50 miles north of the park. We got a late start, getting there about noon. After visiting the visitors center we realized there was more than one day’s worth of things to see here, so we had to narrow our choices. We headed for St George Street to visit the Colonial Spanish Quarter. This site is a living history museum which includes a small village with historical reinactors at a blacksmith shop, a carpenter, a leather tanner, a soldiers home, and a tavern, portraying life in the 1700s when Spain ruled this area.
We also toured the de Mesa-Sanchez house which began as a one-room Spanish dwelling and grew into a two story American Territorial period house. It has been restored to its 1830’sconfiguration, but the guided tour explains how and when additions were made, as well as the difference in Spanish and English architecture. Since it is restored as an 1830s dwelling, it contains English/American d├ęcor and furnishings.

Spain established St Augustine in 1565, making it the oldest continually occupied European settlement in North America. It was interesting to learn that in 1763, Florida was transferred to England after Spain’s defeat in the Seven Years war, but was returned again to Spain at the end of the American Revolution in 1783. This is known as the second Spanish period, ending in 1821 when the United States took possession from Spain.

The short remainder of the afternoon was spent window shopping along the rest of St George Street. We did not get to see the Fort, the Government House Museum, Flagler College or many other attractions here. We hope to return for a closer look before we leave Florida since we feel like we barely got an overview of this interesting and historic city

Fountain in St Augustine, a replica of the fountain in their sister city in Spain

City Gates made from "coquena" the shell rock that was quaried for building blocks

Saint George Street

The oldest wooden school house

This wall is made of "Tabby" which is a shell rock like cement, mixed with water and poured into forms. These settlers used what ever they had on hand

Blacksmiths shop

This beautiful floor cloth that covered the entire floor was made of canvas and painted

On our last day in this area, we decided we could not leave without going to the Daytona International Speedway. Here is another place we could have spent more time at. The tram ride takes you around the track, through pit row, and makes a stop at victory lane where you can have your photo taken, if you are so inclined. I could not believe how steep the grade was on the corners of the track. I believe they said it was a 30 degree angle. Why the cars don’t roll over or just fly off the top of the track is beyond me.

Back inside the main building there is a large museum containing memorabilia dating from the 1930s, when the racetrack was actually on the sand of Daytona Beach. Lots of interesting information and displays, including Matt Kenseth’s race car that won this years Daytona 500 race. There were old film clips of some of these beach races, including the motorcycle meets, and they looked exciting but also pretty dangerous. The space between the racers and the spectators had no barriers, not even a rope, no one wore helmets, and if a car crashed or rolled over it went flying where ever it was headed. It did look like most of the crowd was on the inside of the turns where it was less likely for a car part to come barreling toward you.

The current speedway built in 1956, took racing off the beach, and created a more organized sport as well as NASCAR, the organization that holds it all together. We watched a great IMAX film, “Ride of Their Lives”, which chronicled the sport with highlights from the past and its heroes. The film, narrated by Kevin Costner, is worth looking for, even if you are not a NASCAR fan.

Dale Earnhardt


coming into the turn

the 31 degree turn

Moto cross track being set up in the infield for next weekend's bike week

Victory Lane

Pit Row

Marlin is picking out his seat for next year

a picture of the race when it was on the beach

Stay tuned, our next stop is Blue Springs, where the manatees congregate in the winter because the water is 74 degrees

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Canoe Trip in the Mangroves

This past week we moved up from Naples, where we were staying with Linda and John, to Fort Myers Beach RV park and camped next to Chuck and Julie. It was a relaxing week, with little to do but read and play cards.

On Wednesday, we did return to Collier Seminole State Park and Shark Valley. We had booked a 9:30 narrated canoe trip through the Mangrove swamp surrounding Collier Seminole, so we had to leave Ft. Myers at seven to accomplish the two hour drive. Linda and John planned to met us at the boat dock and were already there when we drove in.

The Florida State parks that we have been in, are very well taken care of and usually seem to have unlimited numbers of cheerful, helpful volunteers on staff. This park had a screen house where they served coffee, tea, donuts, bagels or toast for anyone who showed up. While we were taking part, we met our boat guide, a husband and wife volunteer team, who were retired teachers. They had been at this park for 8 weeks and were planning on staying through March. Dozens of other volunteers were busy setting up for a Bluegrass festival that was being held here over the weekend. Like I said, Florida State Parks are doing it right.

Since Linda and John have never done any canoeing, they split up with Marlin and I. What I did not realize until we were an hour into the trip was that Linda really wanted to go with Marlin, (she thought she would be safer) and got stuck with me. She had seen two alligators at the boat landing while we were receiving our safety instructions and was not too excited about paddling along with those guys. Oh well, we didn’t dump, only crashed into the mangrove twice, and in two days she had recovered the ability to move her arms.

This water passage through the mangrove must be maintained or the trees will do what they do naturally and fill in the opening in the waterway. Since the mangrove is protected, even the park needs a permit to trim back the dangling shoots that sprout from the trees but have not yet reached the water. Once they reach the water and are planted in the soil to become roots, they cannot be removed. We did not see any birds because the tide was high, but we were able to pick out the tiny mangrove crab that lives on these trees and roots, as well as a snail who makes his home here also.

Not a particularly exciting 4 mile paddle, but good to be out on the water in the sunshine. We picnicked at the park then dove on to Shark Valley for a 3:00, 15 mile, tram tour through the sea of grass, including a stop at an observation tower. Shark Valley is where we stopped at dusk, on our way back from the Keys and took pictures of all the alligators and birds beside the parking lot.

The tram is narrated by a naturalist and makes stops for any interesting sights along the way. Of course there were multiple large, medium, and small alligators the entire trip, but after a while they discontinued stopping for each sighting. Flocks and flocks of white and glossy ibis, blue heron, great egrets, and snowy egrets with their flashy yellow feet. Several storks and even one lonely Rosette spoonbill seen in the distance. The driver stopped to give us a look at an alligator nest that was very close to the road. This mother had built her babies a home high above the high water mark. Local lore said that meant that the next rainy season would bring extra high water into the area. Swimming near by was a mom with her last year's babies. Apparently, mama alligator watches over her young for at least two years. The naturalists said they grow about one foot per year and when they get to be about three years old they like to eat their new siblings. That is when they get chased out of the nest.

The tram makes a 20 minute stop at a tower that sits next to a slow moving river. It takes about 20 minutes to climb up and down again, especially when you are mesmerized by the huge numbers of alligators, birds, fish and turtles that congregate at the base. You can really see why these reptiles don’t have any interest in people, they have the lunch of their choosing spread out around them all the time.

The highlight of the return loop was a stop to see three baby anhinga chicks in a nest right next to the road. We were told they were about three weeks old and would fledge in about another week, after their parents taught them to swim. These birds swim underwater and spear fish with their long straight beaks.

After the tram ride we stayed along the canal to watch the wonderful roosting flights of ibis that we had seen last time we were here. The ibis, along with many other species seem to like this spot to spend the night. There were several flocks that did fly in as the sun set, but not as many or as large as the landings we had witnessed before. Of course we took more pictures, just like the ones we already had dozens of, but they are so close and tame that it is impossible not to take more.

All in all a great wilderness day, topped off by dinner at Mel’s Diner with good friends.

Another Tri Colored Heron

Another Great Egret

Nice dental work

Three baby Anhingas

View from the tower. This is just one side, they are all around the base

The Blackwater river waterway

Boat Dock at Collier Seminole State Park

The walking Dredge. This machine was used to construct the Tamimi Highway. It scooped up the blasted limestone and mud to make borrow piles that were used for the roadbed. The feet originally had skids attached. When the center one pressed down to take the weight, cables moved the front and back forward.

Diagram of how the dredge moved.

With Chuck in the picture you can see how huge this machine was.

Julie getting more bird pictures

Sunset from the Condo where Linda and John are.

Other local wildlife

Next week we move north toward Cape Kennedy. The launch that we plan to see has been postponed twice so far, but we are still hoping it will go soon. Keep in touch.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

More Florida State Parks

I recently realized that I have used some of Linda's pictures without giving her due credit. I went back through and noted with an "LJM"any pictures on the blog that she took. She uses a pocket Canon PowerShot digital Elph camera that takes as sharp an image as our old Nikon. Kudos and Thanks, Linda.

Florida has an extensive collection of State Parks that give access to many of the State's diverse habitats and wild life. We are trying to ignore the traffic and sprawl that covers most of Florida and concentrate on it's natural history and beauty.

Collier-Seminole State Park is about an hour south of Naples. During the 1920s an early developer, Barron Collier, purchased almost a million acres in southern Florida. Collier was a major investor in developing the western section of the Tampa to Miami highway, now known as the Tamiami Trail. The park has on display the only remaining "Walking Dredge" that was used to create the roadbed for the Tamiami Highway. The dredge piled up the rocks and mud after the limestone base had been blasted apart. Workers then used the material as a solid foundation for the road being created through the middle of this shallow swamp.

In 1923 the large land area in south Florida became Collier County and a park was created to protect the Royal Palm trees that grew here. It is one of only three places in this State where the Royal Palm tree originally grew. These are the tall, thin, gray cement-color palms, where the upper third of the tree changes to a smooth soft green before branching into the traditional palm fronds.

Barron Collier donated the Park area to the County to serve as a memorial to himself and those who fought on both sides of the three Seminole Wars. In 1947 the County donated the land to the State of Florida and it became Collier-Seminole State Park.

We walked on the Royal Palm Hammock Trail, which has informative signage throughout its length. After our walk we found a sunny table and had a picnic. Meanwhile, the wind had been steadily increasing and by the time we finished eating, broken palm fronds were whipping across the grass fast enough to cause damage if you got in their path. We planned to come back next week and do the guided canoe trip along the Blackwater river, which travels through the ever- present mangrove forest.

A Royal Palm tree

This is the Limbo Gumbo Tree, fondly named the Tourist Tree, or Sunburn Tree, because
of its red peeling bark. LJM

Epiphytes, or air plants, hang on everywhere in all the trees. They include ferns, mosses, and
plants called bromeliads, that get their nutrients from wind blown dust and leaf debris that fall
on them.

Branch of a live oak tree covered with epiphytes

Without the ever-present boardwalks people would never get to enter the dense jungle-like
swamps that make up Southern Florida.

After lunch we drove about 30 miles east to the Oasis visitors center at Big Cypress National Preserve. This 2,400 square miles of swamp, just north of the Tamiami Trail, is the major source of water for the Everglades and provides a sanctuary for wildlife that includes the endangered Florida Panther. While here we saw an enormous alligator. The ranger said he was at least 50 years old and looked to be about 12 to 14 feet long. As alligators age, they get wider rather than longer and this one was pretty stout. I used all Linda's pictures from here, since our camera was left in the car.

We were wishing we had something, or someone, next to this big guyin order to have a contrast for his size. However, no one would volunteer to step off the boardwalk. LJM

His front paw. LJM
Is he snoring?

This poor bird only had one foot. It looked well healed, so I guess he is a survivor

Friday we went to Lover's Key State Park near Fort Myers. It was a cool sunny day, so we dressed in layers, packed a lunch, and met the Burwell's there at noon. The beach was wind free and loaded with shells so we spread out our blankets and spent a couple of hours lounging in the sun and searching for more shells to bring home.
Back in the 60's and 70's, Black Island, which is part of Lover's Key, was slated for development and dredging destroyed most of the mangroves and created extensive canals. In 1983 the State of Florida acquired the island and has planted native plants along a 2 1/2 mile trail in an effort to recreate the original maritime hammock.

Again we found a pleasant walking trail with well-marked and interesting plants. This walk included a unique osprey sighting along one of the canals. A single osprey was sitting high in a dead tree with a large fish in its talons, being watched by two turkey vultures. While we looked on, two additional osprey circled overhead, calling out with their shrill screech. After several circles, one flew near the tree but did not land. This bird had a small fish in its talon. Maybe they were comparing the day's catch. After awhile the two fliers left, the one in the tree began to eat the large fish. The vultures never took their eyes off of the bird in the tree. I don't think they were going to get any leftovers but they were willing to wait it out.

An exercise in contrasts. I have on 4 layers, John is sweating. LJM


Studying the flora & Fauna at the trail head

The largest strangler fig we have seen, so far, wrapped around a tree

A gray Nicker Bean. These beans would make great maracas.

The hikers hitting another bench on the trail.

Coconut tree

Turkey Vulture keeping watch on the osprey with the fish

Big Fish Little fish

We think she was bragging about having the biggest fish

Lots of butterflies LJM

In the butterfly garden LJM