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Friday, February 24, 2017

One Went North, the Other South

Nicole and Cece - happy, happy

Laura went north today to see her daughter in college.  It was great for them to have some time to catch up.  I took the opportunity to stay behind and catch up on some to dos.  I headed south to Cocoa Beach. Titusville is by the Kennedy Space Center / Cape Canaveral.  Whenever I go to Cocoa Beach I think of Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman in I Dream of Jeannie - my age is showing.  We had lunch at the Playlinda Brewing Company in Titusville - definitely worth the stop.  The most unique urinals (OK - maybe the glass wall with one way glass, that you didn't know was one way glass, facing the courtyard in Shanghai was a little more unique)........   

Laura's mom and I having lunch
Never seen urinals from beer kegs with tap handles to flush!

Clean truck....
The view while out for the morning walk.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Eating Local

One of our goals on this trip is to eat local and minimize eating at restaurant chains. Here are some of the places that we've stopped at or frequent:

My Favorite - Lasko's in Midland, MI.  The master at work!

Great pizza in Bloomington, IN

Paula's Hot Biscuit in Hodgenville, KY (Paula Dean has NOTHIN' on this fine lady.)

Hattie B's Hot Chicken in Nashville, TN
The Root in Little Rock, AR
Bones in Atlanta, GA (Sorry - by the time I remembered to take the picture I'd eaten the steak.....)

Soriano Brothers Cuban Cuisine in Homestead Florida
Playlinda Brewing Company, Titusville, FL
Satchel's Pizza in Gainesville FL
Kim's Donut and Deli in Titusville, FL.  Does not look like much, but the cars line up and the apple fritters are killer

Our Top 4 Activities at the Everglades and Camping Advice

The Everglades were spectacular!  Really enjoyed the natural beauty and wildlife.

Our favorite activities in no particular order were:

1) Do a canoe tour with a park ranger.  It is 2-1/2 hours and leaves early in the morning at 8am from the 9 Mile Pond (hey we're retirees).  Paddling through the back waters and seeing the Everglades and its wildlife up close while a ranger explains things is a wonderful experience. Reservations are required; we were on the wait list and made it.

2) Walk the Anhinga TrailThe trail winds through a sawgrass marsh where we saw alligators, turtles, anhingas, herons, egrets, and many other birds. This is one of the most popular trails in the park because of its abundance of wildlife and how you can immerse yourself in it.

3) Bike the park.  The best biking trails are at Shark Valley, the Snake Bight Trail near Flamingo, and along the Long Pine Key Nature Trail.  Shark Valley at dusk is spectacular.  The observation tower provides a majestic view of the Everglades.  Biking the Long Pine Key with a ranger is lots of fun as you learn more about the ecosystems of the parks.

4) The Nike Missile Tour (JUST DO IT.) At the visitors center ask who they recommend for the tour guide.  If you can get the retired Marine - he is knowledgeable, passionate and has many great stories of the young men that served at this base (many who served there have returned and shared their stories).  He really makes this a memorable tour!

Camping Advice:  We camped at Flamingo which is about 40 miles from the park entrance.  The mosquitoes were FEROCIOUS at dawn and dusk.  We bought head nets to wear that helped.  We tent camped and had a screen tent - that was a God send.  We also used DEET based repellants and Thermacell's to protect ourselves and the tents.  Even with all of that - we were bit.  There is a camping area in Flamingo that is wide open (no trees) that we wish we had camped in.  We believe the open areas and breezes would help to keep the mosquitoes down.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Shark Valley Visitors Center Everglades National Park

We did a 15 mile bike ride on the trail at the Shark Valley visitor center in the Everglades. It was fantastic scenery and a beautiful sunset.  It was the end of the day so we had this whole trail to ourselves. So many gators and birds.

Anhinga Trail

The Anhinga Trail is by the Royal Palm Visitor Center.  It's a short trail, less than a mile.  It takes you through a saw grass marsh and the nature and wildlife you see is amazing.  We saw many varieties of birds, alligators and fish (water was so clear you could easily the schools of fish in the water).  Plan to take your time as you will see so many unique things if you take the time to look.  It was also pretty cool to hear so many different languages spoken by visitors from around the world.

Look at the fish below the surface

Air Plant


Great Cuban Food in Homestead, FL

Great Cuban food! Beans, rice, plantains and roast pork, all of this for under 10 bucks. It was more than enough for two people and leftovers. What incredible food. We highly recommend Soriano Brothers Cuban Cuisine in Homestead Florida. Found it on YELP which has proven to be quite reliable for helping us find good local cuisine.

Bike Tour of Everglades

Tuesday morning we biked the Long Pine Key trail with a park volunteer.  We enjoyed learning about the nine different ecosystems that make up the park, the invasive species that threaten the park and what they are doing to curb them.  Long pants, long sleeves and netting over the bike helmets kept the mosquitoes at bay.

Note the helmet with netting
Park volunteer

Nature can thrive in sandy soil

Monday, February 20, 2017

Nike Missile Site in the Everglades

In the middle of the Everglades was a Nike Missile Site that was operational between 1965 and 1979. The Park Service now gives tours of this site, the last operational Nike Missile Site.  The site use to house missiles with nuclear war heads. Our tour guide, Scott Gabriel, was a retired Marine. He did a spectacular job setting the stage for why we had these sites (Cuban Missile Crisis), what it took to operate this site in such a remote inhospitable environment, and the day-to-day personal challenges the soldiers faced. Fascinating tidbit - most of the buildings were pink (but coral sounds more manly)--this was the cheapest paint that the Army could get in the quantity they needed. This tour was a highlight of our visit to the Everglades, and the price was right (free).

We looked on Trip Advisor after the fact and there were so many 5 star reviews of this tour that are well deserved.  Definitely worth the time!!!
Missile bunkers in the distance
German Sheperd dogs and their handlers guarded the site($250k to train each dog)
Missile bunker up close
Restored Nike Missile

Everglades Canoe Trip

We went on a free canoe trip sponsored by the Park Service on Nine Mile Pond in the Everglades. Had a really great time. A park ranger led the trip and explained a lot about the park's ecosystem. It was time well spent, lots of birds, fish, gators and no mosquitoes!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Robert is Here

How could I not stop at a place like this? This was on the way to the Everglades National Park. It is a icon in Homestead, FL and is definitely worth the stop. The milkshakes are outstanding. We can recommend the key lime strawberry as we had it a few times. Just saying......

SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch

Saturday morning we got up to watch the SpaceX Falcon 9 Launch, a beautiful morning. Unfortunately the launch was postponed at the last moment to Sunday when it was gray and overcast. We still went. My first launch!  We were quite a distance away. We saw the rocket launch for all of two seconds before it disappeared into the clouds. I've attached NASA's and SpaceX photos because mine were horrible.  After the launch we headed to Everglades!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Space Coast

Stopped to see Laura's family in Titusville, FL, a great time visiting with her family.  We biked 20 miles on the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge a couple of times - such beautiful birds, alligators and nature in general.  Took the opportunity to walk the Canaveral National Seashore.  Lots of history and beautiful nature in this area, a real hidden gem in Florida.

It looks like I'm the center of attention, but the reality was they were cold and I was warm

Titusville, FL

Won't move if a car goes by, but come by on a bike and they leave

Canaveral National Seashore

These guys are EVERYWHERE

A birder's paradise