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.


Honeymoon Island State Park

This morning, we had to take Red Rover in for a check up.  Okay, it was an oil change and a tire rotation, but we’re happy to report, he’s back on the road and feeling frisky.  We opted to head over to Honeymoon Island State Park, just across the bridge.  You can take a ferry from Honeymoon over to Caladesi Island, voted one of the best beaches in America, but we opted to stay on Honeymoon today.


Honeymoon Island is a state park and the fees are reasonable.  A single driver in a car is only $4, but you can have up to 8 people in the vehicle and it would only cost $8.  There are interior paths on the island that can be walked or biked.


You can encounter plenty of Florida wildlife, though you should stick to the paths because Florida does have rattlesnakes.  I’ve never encountered one, but the park has signs warning about what to look for or do should you encounter one.  If you’re going for a nature walk, don’t wear flip flops.

For the most part, you’ll find plenty of palms and pine trees as well as scrub brush along the trails, but you might encounter trees like these.  The one on the right was actually struck by lightning, but only one half of the tree was burned.  It was an interesting sight.  Also in the trees you might spot osprey, owls or even bald eagles, who are known to make their homes on the island.

Once you’re done with the interior, there’s some good beaches around too.  IMG_0091


As is always the case in Florida in the summer, rain happens.  Normally, if you wait 15 minutes, it will blow by and you can go back out and enjoy the beach.  From one of the beaches of Honeymoon Island, you can see down to Clearwater.


A great place for an easy afternoon, a nice nature walk, or some off-road biking.  I would recommend a visit here next time you’re in Dunedin.


Homosassa Springs State Park-Home of Manatees

Over on the west coast of Central Florida lies the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park.  Part of the 174 Florida State Parks, this attraction was once one of the many roadside attractions that were on US Hwy 19 down the coast, along with nearby Crystal River and Weeki Wachee Springs.  Homosassa River is a constant home to 3 manatees and visited during winter months or heavy storms in the Gulf of Mexico by other wild manatees.


We parked at the main entrance and took the tram to get back to the main park area.  You purchase your tickets there ($13.00 for adults and $5 for anyone 6 years old through 12).  After departing from the ticket area/concession stand/gift shop building, you are met with a delightful fountain and an option to head towards the manatees or the zoo section.  We opted for manatees.


We lucked into a feeding show for the manatees, who slowly travel down the river when they hear the splash of the romaine lettuce hit the crystal clear waters.



While they are huge, manatees are gentle giants and don’t even get fussy when little fish friends decided to snack on their lunch.



The manatees who live year round in the Homosassa Springs park are too injured to fend for themselves in the wild.  While they have been taken off the endangered species list, manatees are still in danger from the many watersports enthusiasts and their propellered watercraft.

Of course, the Momma-tee has no fear of such problems.


On the other side of the ‘Fishbowl’ is the underwater platform.  There was some cloudiness to the glass (likely due to humidity from above mixing with the cool temperatures below), but this guy was nice enough to peek in the windows at the strange animals lurking in his world.


From above, its easy to see just how clear these waters are.


We walked around for a bit more, checking out the other animals native to Florida and Lu, the hippo, who didn’t opt to come out of the water on this typical Florida summer day.  There were plenty of manatee statues to be found around the park, but this guy looked like he was having the most fun.


To go back to where we parked Red Rover, we decided to take the boat back.  IMG_3713

We had our choice of seats, as you can see.  The boats can hold up to 45 adults at a time.  Then, we were off down Pepper Creek, a 1.2 mile trek back to the main gate.


We came upon another boat headed our way and it made us happy we were headed downstream.


We encountered some of Florida’s wildlife, seeing an alligator hanging out in the shade up on the creek bank and then this big guy, who perhaps was dreaming he was flying?


Before the park was purchased by the state of Florida, it was privately owned and used to be attached by a bridge to the hotel next door.


Less than an hour outside of Dunnellon and close to many other attractions, Homosassa Springs State Park is worth a visit.  A great place for young and old.


Thoroughbred Park

Kentucky is known for its bourbon and a certain fried chicken chain, but its also known for its horse racing.  While the Kentucky Derby is held in Louisville, Lexington has its own thoroughbreds and they don’t speed by.


We once again hopped in Red Rover, whom we gassed up with the best priced gas we had seen since Canada ($1.95 a gallon-woot woot!), and drove down the road to Lexington.  It took us into downtown, which we were happy to find was a very nice downtown.  We’ve been through some that left us leery, but Lexington’s is very nice.

There were multiple placards of individuals involved in raising horses and racing them throughout the small public park.

But what’s a park called Thoroughbred Park without some statues of horses?

Here’s Mom with a horse just her speed.  This is Lexington and his story.  Farther down, we found ourselves with a different view.

Then I worked my way out of the main pack, headed for a photo finish.


But wait!  Where’s Mom?


Mom put on a burst of speed and managed to pass all the horses to win the Roses!  (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)

Eventually, we finished winding our way through the park, pausing to watch a horse family gambol through a field while a little one rested nearby.

Several people were sitting on benches throughout the park, enjoying their lunches.  All in all, Thoroughbred park is a delightful oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of an urban area.