Saturday, January 31, 2009

More Everglades Fun!

Dianne here -This time Roger and I will write about our day-long adventure in Everglades National Park.   After our 15-mile bike trip at the Shark Valley area of the park on Tuesday, on Thursday we drove to the southernmost tip of mainland Florida to hike the boardwalk trails in that area of Everglades National Park.   We took the "boys" with us, even though dogs are not allowed on the trails, because we knew we'd be gone all day.  They do fine in their crate for a few hours, but this would be far too long for that.  We were gone almost 10 hours, and they were very good travelers, so it worked out just fine.  All the hikes were very short, so we simply traded off dogs and took turns on the trails.   Next year when we hike in the national parks out west, we'll have to find reliable doggy day care, because the trails will be much longer and we won't want to take turns if we're on a day-long excursion.

My first clue that this was to be an interesting day was the road sign for a panther crossing.     I've never seen one of  THOSE in the Midwest!!  

Once again, the weather was beautiful.  We must be living right.   It was a record high for the area; sunny and mid-80s.   Didn't see any mosquitos - reason enough to go to the Everglades only in winter!

Roger here...  It took us about an hour to get from Ft. Lauderdale to the national park entrance near Homestead.  Along the way we passed innumerable nurseries, aggregate rock businesses, and a large American Indian Casino.  As we approached the park, we entered an agricultural area (tomatoes, strawberries, green beans, squash, eggplant) - acres and acres.  At one point we actually drove through a rainbow as the irrigation system was throwing water across the road; luckily, the sun roof was closed.  

Being from Indiana, my family has made many trips to Florida, especially during school spring breaks.  Typically, we went to a beach, to Disney, or left on a cruise ship - all fun.  But.... we had never visited the Everglades National Park.  We preferred the western national parks with the mountains, geysers, and bears.  We thought of the Everglades as a flat (it is), grassy (similar to Indiana), swampy place with mosquitoes (I hear there are in the summer) and snakes.  It did not sound like fun when I was younger.  I was wrong.  The diversity of life, both animal and plant, is absolutely amazing.  The alligators and large birds are everywhere.  We have shown you that before.  On this particular day, the boardwalk hikes brought us even closer to the animals. 

I was surprised to see how unafraid they were of us.  We walked within two feet of the anhingas sitting on the railings and they just "checked us out". 

 Alligators were either swimming in the water, or lounging by the paths.  (The picture of the alligator in the path is significant.  Dianne was taking a picture of a heron eating a fish and not paying attention.  She did not notice the alligator until she almost stepped on it.  Wow.  She could have gotten a picture of a bird eating a fish AND an alligator eating her leg at the same time.)  

Each trail that we took was different.  During most of them, since I was alone (Dianne with the dogs), with the palms, the mangroves, the jungles, and the water, I imagined that I was listening to the theme of Jurassic Park. 

 We saw some amazing things.  A couple of the highlights included a beautiful roseate spoonbill feeding in shallow water (unbelievable how pink it was),

 and the tranquil views of the Gulf of Florida from Flamingo - the southernmost point of mainland Florida. 

During the dog-watching times Dianne and I both met several interesting people, including a couple from the State of Washington who also had a dog and were taking turns on the hikes as we were, and an interesting couple from Italy.   

Altogether, we both hiked on seven different trails.  We exited the park before darkness.  We were kind of tired.  I knew that Dianne wanted to stop at one of the many produce stands that we saw on the way to the park.  She was somewhat noncommital when I asked her if she wanted to stop at one of them.  She finally agreed, and we stopped at the "Robert is Here!" stand (huge sign on the roof) for five hours (obviously an exaggeration). 

 Robert (I assume it was him) was giving out free tastings of the produce (the avocado was yummy).  Several times I asked Dianne if we were done, and she said, "yes" followed by, "Oh, look at those!"  We bought several things, including tomatoes, and discovered that Florida tomatoes in the winter taste like Indiana tomatoes in the summer - almost.   

Dianne again - The "Robert is Here" stand has an interesting story behind it.  In 1959 Robert was a young boy who had a small stand at this spot selling his dad's extra cucumbers.  After standing there all day with no customers at all, his dad made a large handmade sign "Robert is here".  With the help of the unusual sign, Robert sold out before noon the next day.   Their family has expanded the business and obviously takes great pride in stocking unusual items.  In addition to tangelos, grapefruit, fresh-picked spinach, tomatoes, and strawberries, I also bought a jar of tangerine marmalade.  The grapefruit and tangelos are incredible.  The grapefruit so sweet that no sugar is needed to eat them.  If you want to check out their web site, it's  
They do ship fruit, but I don't know if they take internet orders or not.   But if you find yourself in this area, it's well worth a stop!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"The Agony and the Ecstasy" - Everglades Bike Trip

Dianne here -- Nobody can say I'm not a good sport! I'll let Roger describe our day bicycling in the Everglades.

Roger here.... I don't know how I did it, but I convinced Dianne to ride 15 miles on rented bicycles, weaving between scores of alligators, along the Shark Valley bike path at the Everglades National Park. We could have taken a tram, but I think that Dianne sensed that I really wanted to do the bicycle thing. (She must have wanted to as well or she would never have agreed to do it). Our first, and last, bicycle outing (except for a very short one with our friends Chuck and Cindy) was on our honeymoon on Martha's Vineyard. That particular trip lasted about twenty minutes: too much wind, too hard to pedal, fear of falling off the bike, wouldn't you really rather do something else?! Dianne was great on this trip, only one whine per mile (15 total) with only one mishap near the start when she forgot to brake and ran into another biker, fell off the bike, and scraped her knee (see photo).

But not enough to turn back! I was actually very proud of her. That was the agony part.

The ecstasy part hit us on several different levels. The day was perfect, mid 70's. No mosquitoes. The paved trail was perfectly flat. The wind was at our back for at least half the three-hour trip (Dianne may disagree). Dianne was having such a good time, despite the bicycle phobia, that she insisted on stopping to take a picture of alligator poop.

The wildlife was magnificent.....

I could not believe the variety and the quantity of animals. The alligator/bird/turtle views were nearly constant. (short note from Dianne: We looked up the turtle when we got home. It appears to be a common cooter.

All I know is it was BIG (12") and walked right across the road in front of us.) We added several birds to our list that we had never seen before including black vultures (they hopped/skipped in front of us for quite a while)

and a Louisiana Heron.

We continually saw: egrets, great white egrets, wood storks, limpkins, anhingas, great blue herons, little blue herons, etc., etc., etc.

Now about the alligators.... Wow! they were amazing. I would estimate that we saw one at least every 50 yards - literally scores of them. They came in all sizes: babies, small, medium, and huge (8-10 feet). They were sunning themselves right next to the bike path, and sometimes ON THE BIKE PATH. They typically did not move, with a couple of exceptions including the one that growled when Dianne rode by. Some were asleep. Many had their eyes opened. At the beginning of the trip we were a little nervous about riding right by them (at least I was). I know that they run very fast for short distances. After a while, because they did not move and because we had ridden by so many, I was less concerned. It must not have been feeding time. We have a couple of pictures that show them en-mass. My favorite is the one right next to the bicycle rack (at the observation tower) where six of them were lounging next to the bicycles.

At the Observation Tower, half way through the trip, Dianne took a picture of the path that we had been traveling on - a feeling of accomplishment. (Another short note from Dianne: The people in this photo just got off a tram. For the most part there was NO ONE for miles in any direction during our entire bike ride. It was an eerie feeling, but a fun experience nonetheless.)

The final part of the ecstasy took place when we turned in the bikes. The lady who rented us the bicycles heaped on the praise for Dianne. She even followed us into the gift shop and strongly suggested that Dianne purchase a commemorative t-shirt, which she did.

Her final comment to Dianne was, "You'll be sore tomorrow and maybe sorer the next day. Is there a sauna where you are staying?" Unfortunately, there is not, but we do have a couple 3000 pound outdoor lounge chairs.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Miami MetroZoo

Dianne here -- Yesterday we spent the day at the famous Miami Metrozoo.  It was incredible, as the photos will show.  All of you who know me personally and know what an animal lover I am, can just imagine the number of photos I took at the zoo!  I'll let Roger describe it in more detail as I'm worn out from just downloading them all!

First we made our morning trip to the dog park to wear out our "boys" so they would sleep while we were gone.  That being done, I turned Animal Planet on the TV for them (now that we have our cable channels) and zipped them into their crate. 

 The zoo was about  a 45-minute drive from our camp site.

  Just a note to all of Roger's co-workers who are following our adventure:  I know you remember how stressed out he was at work before he retired.  Check out some of his poses in the photos, and you will see that he has dropped his "grumpy old man" persona and has reverted to the playful Roger that I first met in 1970.  The transformation has been complete!!  :-)

Roger here...  Despite Dianne's comments about my playfulness, the practical side that my friends know is still very much entrenched.  I (with Dianne's input, of course) planned the visit on a weekday with record low temperatures to avoid the crowds.  I was right :-)  We had the place pretty much to ourselves, walking the six spacious miles on a beautiful, sunny, but chilly day (by south Florida standards).  At home in Indiana we would have considered the day balmy.  Please note the unnecessary playful risk that Dianne took with the hippo.  I tried to tell her that hippos are especially dangerous, but she did not listen.

The Metrozoo in Miami is without a doubt the best zoo I have visited.  The animals are all in the open in spaces that resemble their natural habitats, arranged logically by continents - appealing to my sense of order :-).  In most of the areas, it appears that you are walking right next to the animals without barricades.  In fact the animals are separated by deep trenches.  None of the animals are in cages.  Since it was not a hot day, many of them were very mobile.  It was great fun to wander from one area to the next and see the animals move and interact.  

Speaking of interacting, we timed a few of our arrivals perfectly.

  The zoo docent was feeding the three Bengal Tigers just as we arrived at that area. 

 She insisted that, by name, they sit in their assigned space before tossing them their snack of raw meat.

  We also were able to watch the dominant silverback male gorilla chase the other gorillas away from his drinking area.

  One of the younger gorillas climbed on his mother's back during their escape.

  I guess he wanted some privacy when he got his drink of water. 

 It was also fun to watch people feed lettuce to the giraffes.  You could walk right up next to them and look into their eyes - know that they were looking only at you and the food that they hoped you had.  

We saw many animals that I had never seen before, including a double-humped camel (huge)

 and an Indian Hornbill. 

 The hornbill, in the Asian aviary, (also very large and very strange looking) hopped from branch to branch and put on quite a show.  It was amazing that it was only a few feet away.  At the same location Dianne took a picture of a turquoise bird that had absolutely no fear of people.  We were able to walk to within a foot of it while it just watched us with curiosity. 

 Speaking of fear, the aviary was enclosed with netting - a good thing because high above several hawks circled the area hoping for a good meal.  I envisioned them thinking, "I am in the mood for some Chinese/Thai/Indian tonight."

One of my favorite areas was the Lemur exhibit.  The only place that they live is on the island of Madagascar off the coast of Africa. 

 The sable lemur was beautiful with one of the richest reddish-brown coats I have ever seen on an animal, but my favorite was one of the ring-tailed lemurs.  I was able to imitate the call that it made.  It responded to me every time - what fun!

Dianne again -- As Roger mentioned, the zoo is arranged by continent:  Asia, Africa, Australia, and a new Amazon exhibit that shows great potential.   Don't let the six miles scare you away; there are lots of choices to get around.   We chose to hoof it on purpose, in the hope of burning a few calories.  There are some really nice pedal buggies you can rent (especially nice if you are traveling with young children) that looked like the proverbial "surry with the fringe on top" complete with bicycle bells to warn pedestrians that you're coming through.   There is also a monorail, a tram, and for those techie-types even a Segway rental.   The only Segways I saw out and about were with a guide, so not sure if folks can strike out on their own on a Segway or not.  If I wasn't on such a quest to get back into shape, the Segway looked like a lot of fun.

There weren't just bears, but sun bears and koala bears.  There weren't just elephants, but both Indian and African elephants.  There weren't just camels, but both dromedary and double-hump.  Not just zebras, but "cloud" zebras.  Not just monkeys, but chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, gibbons, spider monkeys - the whole lot.  There were Australian singing dogs, hyenas, storks, geckos, and too many more to name.   If you get my point, this wasn't just a zoo, but an incredible zoo!!