Fort De Soto Park


Just off the coast of St. Petersburg, Florida likes 5 keys (islands) that make up Fort De Soto Park.  Part of the Pinellas County park system, it covers over 1,100 acres.  The 5 keys are Madelaine Key, St. Jean Key, St. Christopher Key, Bonne Fortune Key and the main island, Mullet Key and are connected by bridges or causeways.  In order to reach the park, you have to take the Pinellas Byway, a toll road that costs $1 and then another toll of $0.75 and parking of $5 per car for the day.  There are camping facilities for those interested.

Around the time of the Civil War and into the Spanish-American War, these islands were believed to be good military outposts to protect Tampa Bay and in 1898, the actual building of Fort De Soto commenced.  After World War II, however, the islands weren’t considered necessary for national defense and sold back to Pinellas County, who in turn made the islands a county park.





Since this is a typical summer’s day in Tampa Bay, I opted to make a quick run down to the park before the afternoon rain storms hit.  Yes, the Sunshine State often gets quick rain showers during the summer months.  But don’t worry.  Just wait 15 minutes and then you can head back outside to enjoy the beaches.

Speaking of beaches, there are several to chose from along the park.



There is a shorebirds nesting site on the North Beach that is off limits to humans, but there’s still plenty of space for beach fun.


There’s also fishing available from the piers.


And if that wasn’t enough, you can purchase tickets on ferries to either Edgemont National Wildlife Refuge or Shell Island.  Also, you can rent paddleboards, kayaks and bike to ride around the islands.

With beaches and activities galore, Fort De Soto County Park is a sight that needs to be seen and experienced to be believed.


San Francisco Bay Trail

This past weekend, I decided to check out the San Francisco Bay trail.  It runs all the way around the shore of the Bay for a total of 354 miles.  I opted to stick to a much more reasonable about of trail and went to Baylake Park in Sunnyvale and Shoreline in Mountain View Park.

The day was supposed to be rainy, but the sun opted to make an appearance instead.  I first headed to the Sunnyvale portion of the trail, but found myself in a bit of a pickle as it was Free Dumping Weekend and the line to get to one portion of the trail was backed up.  So, I went down a bit more and entered through the Baylake Park portion.  It was $6 per car.

The sun was still struggling when I got there, but that didn’t matter as the view was amazing.




This area is mostly wetlands and it is outside of the season for bird migration, but there were other creatures in the park.


Even if not all of them were visible.


Later, I headed north to Shoreline in Mountain View to check out more of the trail.


You could see all the way to Fremont across the bay.


The wildlife was more prevalent here.



The plant life was very interesting as well.


The trail meandered along the creek that feeds into the bay.



And no matter where you go, there’s always that one guy…


Also at the Mountain View portion is the Rengstorff House.  Mountain View’s oldest house, it was moved to its current site in 1989 and fully restored in 1991.  A fine example of Victorian architecture, it is also a beautiful place for events.




The Mountain View portion was free to enter, though if you want to participate in some of the other activities offered (golfing and sailing to name a few), those have additional costs.  A beautiful way to appreciate nature and get some fresh air.

Stevens Creek Trail

In a break from the on again/off again rain that seems rather present in Northern California right now, I headed over to check out a small portion of the Stevens Creek Trail, a pedestrian/bicyclist path that stretches 5 miles from Shoreline Park to Mountain View.  A bit of nature in the heart of Silicone Valley.

The creek itself starts out in the Santa Cruz Mountains and winds its way down into the San Francisco Bay.  Originally named Arroyo San José de Cupertino by the explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, then Cupertino Creek, then around 1866 it was renamed again for Elijah Stephens, a blacksmith from South Carolina, who’s 160 acre property was around where the creek starts.

I entered the path in Mountain View, the city just up from where I’m currently staying in Sunnyvale.


The creek, after a really good downpour, usually rises up high on its banks, but today, the creek wasn’t really visible for several sections of the part I walked.


There was a puddle or two before I got to the bridge.


From the looks of the walls of the creek and the downed trees at the bottom, when this creek floods, it is rather dangerous.  On the steep sides, there are fences set up to keep people safe, though not the entire walk.  One thing I did note, while walking, is that even though there is a major road way nearby, you could lose yourself in the nature of this pathway.



The pathway takes you towards another path that leads towards a park/school.  It was rather welcoming and I simply couldn’t resist walking over and taking a peek down.

The sun did attempt to peek through, but for the most part, opted to take Sunday off for rest.  The pathway is surrounded by green grass and trees, but also many pops of color from the flowering plants that edge the walk.



On my way back to the parking area near the former Mountain View CalTrain station, I happened to look into one of the parking lots edging the road, empty of its Monday-Friday cars and noted something that made me smile.


This tree reminded me of the feeling a retail worker gets when a customer insists they look again in the back room for an item that isn’t in stock.  He even has a name tag!

A nice getaway from the hustle of Silicone Valley, Stevens Creek Trail is a great walk in nature.  One thing to note, though.  You share the walk with bicyclists, who sometimes go a bit faster than the posted biking speeds.  Stay alert while walking and you’ll be fine.

Shell Collecting

It was a beautiful Florida winter day, so I decided to grab my camera and head over to Indian Rocks Beach on the Gulf Coast.  The wind was blowing off the Gulf, making it a pleasant walk as I did my version of shell collecting.  I like to leave them for everyone to enjoy, so I just take pictures to carry them with me.






While the perfect ones are pretty, its the ones that are slightly broken that I really like, because they still have beauty in their imperfections.

I don’t want you to think I ignored the water.  I let the soothing shushing sound act as background noise.



And no trip to the beach is ever complete without the presence of those loud, squawking beach combers, seagulls.



I parked at the 17th street public park, where parking is $2 for 2 hours.  Plenty of time to soak up the sun and let stress slip away for a bit.  A trip to Indian Rocks Beach should be on your list if you’re visiting the Clearwater/St. Petersburg area.

St Marks National Wildlife Refuge

We have finally made it back to Florida, though we aren’t at our home base for the holiday season yet.  Right now, we’re in Crawfordville, FL, up in the Panhandle, though we head down the Gulf Coast tomorrow to spend a few days before routing more inland.  But while we’re in Crawfordville, we decided to visit the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  One of the oldest wildlife refuges in the country, it was established in 1931 as a wintering ground for migratory birds.  It covers 68,000 acres and several different types of coastal habitats, ranging from saltwater marshes, islands and several estuaries for different Florida rivers, including the St. Marks River.  In the refuge is also the St. Marks Lighthouse, which is the second oldest lighthouse in Florida.


Our first stop was the Welcome Center.  There is a small gift shop along with displays of the native wildlife you might encounter.


It also has one of the lights from the lighthouse.


There are several stops you can make along the way from the Visitors Center to the St. Marks Lighthouse, though we decided the lighthouse was our primary target.


The lighthouse is currently undergoing renovations, so we opted to take the Lighthouse Leeway trail, which is approximately 0.4 miles one way.  There were plenty of things to see, including several variety of ducks and other water birds and Monarch butterflies.





The ducks seemed to follow us all the way to the end of the path.




It was a beautiful day to take a nature stroll along the Gulf Coast.  The temperatures were in the low 60’s, so an average Florida winter day.



The price per car into the refuge is only $5, with pedestrians and bicyclists at $3 each.  A very reasonable rate for a view of such amazing natural beauty.  Located just about 20 miles outside of Tallahassee, this place is visually appealing.  It marks the start of the Panhandle’s Great Florida Birding Trail, for those who are interested in birds as well as other Florida wildlife. There is something for every outdoor enthusiast in the refuge.

Meteor Crater

On our way from Winslow, AZ to Williams, AZ, we decided to stop at Meteor Crater, just off I-40.  While on the family road trip 20+ years ago, we stopped here as well.  Back then, it was mainly a large hole in the ground, where they took you around the rim and talked about what they thought created it.

In the intervening 20 years, they have created a multi-level museum, gift shop, tour stop with movie center.  The site is privately owned and was, at one point, a mining center.  It is not a National Park, since the government would have to own it, but in 1967, it was named as a National Natural Landmark.



It is believed that the crater was created about 50,000 years ago, during a time when the Colorado Plateau would have been much cooler and wetter.  The area was likely inhabited by wooly mammoths and giant ground sloths.  Due to erosion since the formation of the crater, it is believed to have lost between 50 and 60 feet of height at the rim, but it is still rather formidable.



The museum also has on display items from NASA, including one of the Apollo modules.


I asked Mom if this is how she got to Earth.  For some reason, she didn’t find this funny.

It really is an amazing sight that should be viewed if you’re traveling through Arizona.

Four Corners Monument


About 50 miles outside of Mancos, NM lies the Four Corners Monument.  The Four Corners Monument is the point where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona all meet.  It also marks the boundary between the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Utes.  It is run by the Navajo Nation as a tourist attraction.  The monument was established in 1912.  Along with the main attraction, the monument, there are vendors selling food and goods as well as an area for picnics.  The locations is remote, out in the middle of the desert, but the views are interesting.

There is a small admission of $5 per person.

While it is interesting to be able to stand in 4 states simultaneously, what really caught our eyes were the many Native vendors and their wares.  The intricate beading of bracelets and hat bands and hair clips.  The hand painted pottery.  The hand carved statues or pocketknives and all other sorts of personal goods.  Perhaps we picked up a thing or two.



Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano

About 2 hours outside of Gallup, NM lies the family owned and operated  Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano.  Approximately 10,000 years ago, the Bandera Volcano erupted, spewing ash and cinders into the air as far as 20 miles away.  It left behind one of the best preserved cinder cones.  It created 17 miles of lava tubes, most of which have collapsed, but those that remained became caves.  These caves, because of the insulation of the cooled lava, never see the temperature rise above 31 degrees F.

The admission rate, which you purchase at the gift shop/museum, is fairly reasonable.  It is $12 for anyone 13 and up, $6 for children 5-12 and anyone under 5 is free.  You get access to the museum as well as both trails.  The trail to the caldera is approximately a 1/2 mile, climbing up the side of the volcano.  It can be a bit steep, but the view is worth it.


This is a former lava tube that is partially collapsed.



The caldera is huge, sloping steeply down from the path.

After we returned from the volcano, we headed down the Ice Cave path.


There are 69 not exactly equal steps down to the cave.  As we descended, so too did the temperature.




It is estimated that the ice has been growing on the cave floor for over 3400 years, based on artifacts found.


You can see the minerals and ice from water seeping through the ground on the ceiling of the cave.

You could get through the volcano and cave in probably an hour, but the scenery up the side of the volcano is amazing and there are benches scattered up the path to sit and enjoy the view.  And the ice cave is a welcome treat on a hot day.

Into Arkansas

Last year, when Mom and I were on our ‘trial run’ trip around the US, we went to the headwaters of the Mississippi, located in the Itasca State Park in Minnesota.  We walked across the Mighty Mississippi.


Today, such a trek required a bridge and car.  We were driving from Mississippi and Arkansas, on our way to Hot Springs, when we stopped at the Arkansas Welcome Center on Hwy 65-82.


The welcome center has a nice little park, where you can get out and walk around.  The center itself has brochures for every area in the state that might interest you and people with great welcoming personalities.  But that wasn’t what really caught our attention.


It was the Mighty, Muddy Mississippi itself.  The wind was blowing strongly, most likely due to winds on the outer side of Hurricane Harvey, who was several hundred miles south still.  That doesn’t mean it wasn’t affecting the river.


The water was high and churned up.

It was a beautiful and awe inspiring sight and just amazing how large it grows in over 1000 miles.  And just the right place to take a break from the road.  It gave us a second wind, allowing us to push on to Hot Springs, where we’re settled in for the night.  Tomorrow, we’re planning on heading to the Hot Spring National Park.

Caladesi Island State Park


Last night, from the balcony of our AirBnB, I was able to take a sunset picture over Caladesi.  This morning, Mom and I decided to make our way over there.

Caladesi Island State Park is primarily accessed via a ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park or by private water craft.  The ferry is $14 per adult, $7 for children 6-12 and anyone under that is free.  You do need admission into Honeymoon Island State Park to access this ferry.  Another ferry is set to be operating soon from the Dunedin Marina, though there is currently renovations going on at the marina.

Caladesi Island used to be part of Honeymoon Island, but was separated due to a hurricane in 1921.  The water between the two is known as Hurricane Pass.  The beaches on this island are almost always voted in the top 10 of beaches in the US.  And with its white sand beaches, soft waves and myriad of shore birds and natural beauty, it is easy to see why.





It would be easy to just pack a lunch, grab a towel and some sunscreen and spend a few hours just letting the soft sound of the waves lapping at the shore lull you into an extensive state of relaxation.  There isn’t the crowd that occurs on Clearwater Beach.  Most of the screaming you’d hear isn’t from children but from shore birds.  Or, if you’re not a beach lounger, there are trails through the interior that speak to the nature hiker in all of us.

And not to be outdone, during the ferry ride, you might spot a pod of dolphins frolicking in the Gulf waters.


All in all, a great spot to get away for a few quiet hours, just minutes from the heart of Tampa Bay.