Saturday, February 28, 2009

A River Runs Through It!

Hi all -- Roger here...  We are now located at the Ortona Locks Army Corps of Engineers Campground between Labelle, Florida and Lake Okeechobee - still on the Caloosahatchee River.    At our previous campsites we were always pretty close to civilization.  I must say that this place is the perfect place to get away from the world.  The nearest population center is still Ft. Myers, but now we are about forty to fifty miles away.  The campground is a couple of miles from highway 80.  When you turn off the highway, there is nothing to see, other than grassland and cattle.  This is a great place to chill, read, watch the river traffic, watch the wildlife, and even watch Dianne relax (though it is hard for her to do).

I am quickly becoming a fan of Army Corps of Engineer campgrounds.  We have a great view from all of our windows (but not the view we had at Franklin).  The site is huge and has the same amenities as Franklin (concrete pad, LARGE loose rock patio area, permanent picnic table with a roof, grill stand, and fire ring.  (Unfortunately, there will be no campfires here due to a fire ban.  South Florida has received virtually no rainfall for more than two months.  As dry as it is, a single spark could cause a major problem).  The campsite next to us

 was empty for a couple of hours yesterday, so we took a picture from our motor home to give you an idea of the size and privacy.

The views from our site vary, depending on which window you look through. From the front, the view is pastoral - endless acres of grass land, cattle, and (oh, yes) palm trees.  The first morning the fields were covered with fog. 

 From the driver's (dining area) side, we look out onto the excellent landscaping that the Corps of Engineers have constructed (and maintained). 

 From the passenger (door) side, we see the Caloosahatchee River that is actually about thirty feet below us.  Right now I am sitting on a lounge chair in the HUGE "patio" area.  I can see three kildeer hopping around four large palm trees (surrounded with red mulch), in front of a thirty-foot footbridge that spans a rock-covered creek that flows into the river. 

 My dad would have loved the babbling brook sounds that we can hear from the stream.  The Ortona Dam and Locks are in the background. 

A lot of the interesting wildlife live right next to our site - easily viewed from the footbridge.  We included photos of a Louisiana Heron 

and a few of the daily conglomerate of turtles.  The turtles are called sliders,

 because they quickly "slide" into the water whenever you get too close.  

A family of otters also lives under the bridge.  The first day we were here,  I watched one playing in the water, then sunning itself.  By the time I got the camera, the otter was scampering into the den.  The next morning, I went down to the fishing bridge (also next to our site) and watched him swimming and playing in the water.  He actually stopped to look at me.  I ran back to get the camera just in time to see him and his mate jump into the river and leave for the day.  I still do not have a picture of them.  I think I will walk over right now to see if he is there.....  Nope, still not there.  I will try again later.

One day I walked over to the dam and across the lock.  I included a couple of shots of the river and the turbulent water below the dam. 

 The water level in the upper river is 7 and 1/2 feet higher than the lower river here.  Just like at Franklin, we have a full view of all the river traffic going through the locks.

Before we left the Ft. Myers area, we stopped by Camping World to get a ladder that folds up into next to nothing.  I need the ladder to reach the upper part of the windshield that I have not been able to clean well since we left Indiana.  Yesterday, Dianne got up and announced that she intended to use the ladder to clean the outside windows and screens.  I was a little disappointed to not be the first person to use the ladder, but trooper that I am, I got the ladder out and set it up.  I then sat down for a while to read.  Within thirty minutes I gained the reputation of the campground slacker from our neighbors and even the campground staff as they sympathetically talked to Dianne about her ambition and her lazy husband.  I got up to offer to help move the ladder, but Dianne told me that I was pressuring her (sheesh).  I did redeem myself later by doing a thorough job cleaning the windshield (never looked better).  Unfortunately, none of the other campers or staff seemed to be around while I was doing this.  As edification I am including a photo of Dianne reading at the campsite as documentation that I am not the only slacker.

Not a lot to do here, but relax, and catch up on chores (thanks to Dianne).  BUT, what a scenic and interesting place to do so.   

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Manatees + Old and New Friends

Hi all - Dianne here.  We are down to our last day here at W.P. Franklin Locks.  Tomorrow we pack up and move to our next site, and let someone new enjoy this wonderful place that we hate to leave behind.

After we saw that glorious sunrise (see prior blog) we went to Manatee

 park, since it was a cool morning.  Manatees gather in the warm runoff water of a Florida Power and Light plant.  They have developed a nice viewing area and park to take advantage of it, and it's a great place to see congregations of manatees.   They are elusive creatures, and it's very hard to photograph them.  Usually all that you can see are their nose, back, or tail when they come up for air.

  We took a lot of photos of black water until we actually were quick enough to get some shots.  Of course, after these shots we had some VERY good views, but unfortunately I got the dreaded message "change battery pack" on my camera, so there's no proof of our really close views.

When I was a girl scout "Brownie," we sang a round "Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold."  That is our theme for the upcoming days and weeks.   While parked at WP Franklin, there was a tan and fit couple camping next to us.  For several days, I saw them enjoying the same type of activities we were, and I even said out loud to Roger, "See, THAT'S what I aspire to."    When I saw the wife waving a bubble wand on a windy day, I knew she was my kind of gal!   Harry and Bobbi are from Michigan.  They have been all over the country, canoeing, camping, fishing, motorcycling, you name it.   We finally did get acquainted, and had some fun times.  We took our little boats out paddling across the river together and visited the Franklin Lock visitor center.  Back home, we sat around a campfire, watched sunsets and birds, and just had random conversations whenever the mood struck and we were both out.

They enjoy nature and the same types of camp sites we do.  (Note all the patches sewn on Bobbi's jacket; these are all state parks and places they have been).  They spent last winter in Texas, and gave us some very good ideas for our possible Winter Texan adventure next year.   Before they left for their next site, Harry even taught us how to download and get on Google Earth to check out our future camp sites, look at our house back home, etc.  The possibilities are endless!!  What fun!!   I am 58 years old and have never been bored, but if I ever am, I know how to spend some fun hours now.   Thanks, Harry and Bobbi!   "Happy Trails To You...."

Now from new friends to old:  Roger's graduating class keeps in touch via internet.  Lo and behold, come to find out that one of his classmates lives on the Caloosahatchee River, just up the road!   We met for dinner one evening and spent a very fun afternoon with them on their boat.  I'll let Roger elaborate on that. 

Roger here....  One of my high school classmates from Pendleton High School's class of '68, Judy, has managed to pull together the email addresses of many of our classmates.  It was a small class of 160 students, so most of us know or at least remember each other.  During one of the mass emails, Judy asked us to answer questions about what we remembered from our high school days and what we were up to now.  Since I now have the time, I was one of the responders and indicated what Dianne and I were up to.  The next day I got an email from an old friend, Mary, asking where we were traveling and suggesting that we give them a call if we were ever in Florida.  When I told her that we would be at the Franklin Locks near Ft. Myers, she wrote back saying that they live five minutes from there.  What an amazing coincidence that Judy's email allowed us to find out that we would be in the same spot at the same time!

We had dinner with Mary and her husband, Gregg, on Sunday night at the local "Alva Diner" - good and tasty comfort food.  Dianne and I went off our healthy food kick for the evening and had country fried steak.  Yummy.  We enjoyed lots of good conversations about old-times in the idyllic little town of Pendleton, Indiana, where Mary and I grew up.  

The next afternoon they invited us to join them on their boat 

on the Caloosahatchee River.  This very large river is part of the intracoastal waterway system.  It connects the Gulf of Mexico at Fort Myers to Lake Okeechobee.  Another river connects the lake with the Atlantic Ocean.  It is a busy river with all kinds of water craft, including wave runners, fishing boats, paddle wheelers, barges, tug boats, sail boats, ski boats, the S.S. Minnow inflatable kayak, and some pretty fancy yachts like the white beauty shown in this photo: 

 We met them at their house on the river, walked through their beautiful river-front garden, then boarded their boat and relaxed while Gregg steered us along the river. 

 We first went west about ten miles toward the Franklin Locks, where we were able to see our motor home parked in the distance.  We then went all the way to our next motor home stop at the Ortona Locks several miles (30?) to the east.  It was a great trip.  Gregg alternated speed and "amusement park-like maneuvers" with slow trips around the many jungle-like islands where the water was covered with water-lilies 

and filled with all sorts of wild life (turtles, fish, birds).   At one point a tiny tree frog hopped on Dianne, who immediately unleashed her obligatory scream.  I thought that a snake or gator must be attacking the boat.  We all had a good laugh when we saw the cute little frog that you can see on Mary's thumb. 

 Mary and Dianne insisted that the frog be released onto a tree - he hopped in the river before reaching the branch, but we all watched as he frog-kicked (had to describe it this way as a former swim coach) to the shore.   

Gregg also took us down a back water to see an abandoned tug boat 

that looked like something out of Disney's Jungle cruise.

We cruised by retirement communities, three-bedroom houses, and multimillion dollar mansions along the way.   At one point, when we passed Port LaBelle, we were able to see the condo complex where my parents owned a unit and spent several of their winters.  It brought back many sentimental memories of the visits that Dianne and I made there with our daughters, often with one of their friends tagging along.  

When we returned to Gregg and Mary's house at sunset, Gregg fed the wildlife from his dock - lots of long and skinny gar, turtles, etc.  It was a memorable day that we won't forget.  Thanks again to Mary and Gregg!

Dianne again.  Continuing the "old friends" theme, in another week or two we will be seeing our oldest and dearest friends from home as they come down to Florida.  They are not campers, so we will board our dogs and spend two nights with them in their beautiful condo on the beach in Naples.  Stay tuned.  I think that blog title will probably be "How the Other Half Lives"!   Then later in March we'll be meeting our camping buddies Chuck & Cindy from home to spend two weeks together in Fort Myers at the Grove campground.  

Some exciting news for us: we actually had a house showing the other day!   We still hope the right person comes along to fall in love with our house in Pendleton so that we can be truly free and start planning another winter adventure.   You can't fault me for trying, so I'm pasting in info from an older blog entry of ours :  The  MLS listing number is 2900560 and can be viewed at the F.C. Tucker real estate web site.  (I don't know how to link it).   I sure hope it sells while we're down South, but I realize that is a pipe dream.   There is an extensive album of outdoor shots taken in all seasons at our house that can be viewed at:   Please pass this info to anyone you know who might be looking for a great house in a small town that is very near to Indianapolis and only ten minutes to Indiana's newest mall!

Monday, February 23, 2009

You want a sunrise? Here's a sunrise!!!!!!!!!

Hi all, Dianne here.   This will be a quick "interim" blog while I work on the next one.  In our last blog I mentioned that we no longer wake up early enough to see a sunrise.  Well, the very next morning after I published that blog, I happened to wake up early and look out the window.  WOW!!!!!  I saw a sunrise like I have never seen before.  I will include most of the pictures I took of it, because it's hard to choose just one!  Check out the rays that spread through the clouds.  It lasted for quite a while.  

Another glorious day in paradise!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sunrise, Sunset

Hi all -- Dianne here.  Don't bother looking for a sunrise photo; these are just sunsets.  After 36 years of the alarm going off at 5:15 a.m., we've seen enough sunrises to last a lifetime.  The sunsets, however, have become a nightly event on our little corner of the island.  Even the anhingas line up on the buoys and face the sunset every evening.    Best of all, the evenings have been balmy and nice enough to sit out and enjoy it, usually in our shorts and t-shirts.

Roger has figured out the proper inflation for our inflatable kayak, so I even took it out the other day and had a great time.

  I paddled all around and had no problems at all.

  Roger took a photo of Jasper on alert and standing guard, watching me in the water.   That dog really takes his job as my "guardian" very seriously!

  Actually, Roger and I both took the kayak out; we just took turns.  The beauty of this little kayak is that we can configure it with one seat or two, however we want to use it at the time.  I used our waterproof box (another perfect retirement gift to Roger) for our camera and paddled out to take a photo of our wonderful camp site from the water on the driver's side of the motorhome.

  (There is water on both sides; our site is on the point of an island).

At the other end of the island, beyond the other camp sites, is another point.  Off this point is a tree growing in the water.  Every evening, birds of every size, color, and description roost in this little tree. 

 Most of them are the anhingas, ibises, egrets, and little blue herons that populate this stretch of the river.  We try to time our evening dog walks to go to that side of the island to watch them swoop in for their nightly roost.  It's quite a show!

I also took a photo of the lovely view we have out our "dining room" window.   There are a lot of cattle and horse farms in this area of Florida, one of which is just across the water on that side. 


We really haven't ventured out much since we've been here, other than to find a dog park and run some errands.  There is usually something to watch right here at our patio, whether it be the birds, jumping fish, or boats like this large barge that went through the lock yesterday. 

Roger took some photos showing our patio lights reflecting on the water. 

 I'll let him add his thoughts on our sunsets, since he took several of these photos.

Roger here....  Yesterday, I told Dianne that she needed to hide the camera from me every evening until we leave.  We really don't need any more pictures of the sunsets :-)