Monday, November 12, 2018

Enjoying the Natural Beauty of Florida's East Coast With Fun Friends

October 28-30, 2018
Melbourne Beach, Florida

Sunday morning we get on the road early for us. We have an afternoon of football and grub planned with a couple of our favorite friends.

We last saw Jim and Diana (ExloRVistas) in Michigan, and made plans then to catch up with them at their winter digs in Melbourne Beach. It was supposed to be for a week, but with our expedited schedule we only have three nights. Still, we all make the best of what we have.

None of us remembered photos of our outdoor gathering watching all our teams with NFL Ticket, enjoying yummy eats and brews, and getting caught up - but it was fun!

Jim's been re-hired for his UPS gig so we run a couple errands before picking them up after he gets home on Monday. We're off to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge north of us.

It's not our first, but it may be our favorite! We see lots of what we're looking for, and even a big surprise! It's great having four pairs of eyes to find even more critters along the way.

 Great Blue Herons pose for us throughout the refuge.

Jim sees our first gator.

And he's a big one!

There are a lot of vultures here - this one looking more like a lady's hat than a voracious scavenger.

Some gators are mostly hidden in the grass, others float slowly beside us.

Always majestic, we see a couple bald eagles.

Although mostly marshland, much of the refuge looks like the savannah.

An Ibis with matching beak and legs.
The sun begins to set over baby Mangroves.

Some gators look more dinosaur-ish than others.
Our surprise is this wild pig with curly tail trotting along the pink grass.

It's a beautiful time of day to enjoy the natural beauty.

Florida sunset - our first!
It's dark when we find a spot to grab dinner. Rare for us to be out and about like grown ups :-)  The River City Bar and Grill is in a bowling alley - and has great burgers!!

Good times with good friends.
Knowing we're Doors fans, our local pals told us about a couple Jim Morrison sites in the area. Tuesday morning we check them out. 

The first home of Jim Morrison - a private residence that acknowledges the history but discourages accessing the property. 

So you know you're at the right place. Jim was four when the family moved to New Mexico.

Now a motel, this was the hospital where Morrison was born on December 8, 1943.  In the Times UK obituary it was written that he was born in California. He did spend much of his short 27 years there, but he was born right here.
Our first stop after picking up Jim and Diana is the Sea Turtle Conservancy. This center is a focal point of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge and includes exhibits, a presentation hall (with an interesting movie about the major programs in South America), a small research library, and ongoing educational efforts offered to local schools and members of the public. Their hard work and stewardship has had great success protecting and increasing the population of seven endangered sea turtle species.

We're greeted by these baby Loggerheads.

Colorful exhibits are informative without being overwhelming.

A little Halloween humor :-)
Home to thousands of sea turtle nests and hatching babies from May to October each year.
Continuing south we check out the Jungle Trail, an eight mile road originally built in the 1920's for citrus farmers on the sandy barrier island. Very different from the marshlands of the wildlife refuge, this hammock habitat provides a thick, limited-access, environment for birds and other critters. It also provides access to views of Pelican Island - the first National Wildlife Refuge in the United States.

The Centennial Trail lists every wildlife refuge and conservation area monument from 1903 through 2016. Sadly, I will be shocked if we see any more in the following four years. 

Restored wetlands and hydric hammocks.

A refuge we need to visit in Wisconsin!

In the late 1800's Paul Kroegel, a local citizen, took a brave stand using his shotgun to ward off feather hunters from this little island. In 1903, when President Roosevelt made Pelican Island the first NWR, Kroegel was hired as the first refuge manager. He earned $1 per month for two years.

The safety crew.

Our fellow nature loving pals.

Sparkles through the Mangroves.

This end of the trail is bordered on one side by large homes and a golf course on the other. 
Pizza and pasta wrap up our visit, and we say our good-byes-for-now to our friends back at their home. We've met up with these two in six different states over the last couple years, and are looking forward to adding many more!

Our stay here was at Outdoor Resort. Really a trailer park, there are maybe a dozen spaces for RVs out of 575. It is clean and well maintained, but it is very tight. We have a beautiful view of the water from our back yard, but can't put our awning out all the way. Trees and shrubs give us privacy and we're able to connect our satellite. Concrete pad and patio is level, and Tessa has a large grass space to play in the back.

After weeks of mostly heat and humidity, we have absolutely perfect weather!
Pets aren't allowed in the park 1/4 mile north where Jim and Diana stay for the winter, and it is not as nicely maintained, but we would definitely prefer to stay there next time. More room and more friendly :-)

After just a couple days, I can see the appeal of spending a season here. We'll be back!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Historical, Cultural and Natural Beauty - and New Friends!

October 22-28, 2018
Savannah, Georgia - St Augustine, Florida

We continue two hours south on Monday. Hwy 17 takes us to state number 40 - Georgia! With our sped-up travel time we'll only see Savannah this time, but it's a state I definitely want to see more of.

The Biltmore RV Park is small and old, and our satellite-access site is right on the highway, so it's also very noisy. 

At the recommendation of the park staff we head to Tybee Island for late lunch. AJ's Dockside is a cute little spot with mediocre food and yummy watermelon margaritas. With a break in the humidity we're happy to spend time outside.

We've had mostly good experience with trolley tours so we try another one to see historic Savannah. This time we're in an open-sided trolley, but unfortunately our visibility is more limited. Still, we see a very old and beautiful city, and learn lots of wonderful history. 

The famous Savannah Squares are much smaller than I expected from what I've seen and read. Still, they are all lovely and unique. Several have statues or other monuments, others are just quiet parks with benches to enjoy the beautiful trees.

Throughout the day we see dozens of buildings, parking lots, exhibits, museums, theaters, vehicles and more with the SCAD logo. Turns out the Savannah College of Art and Design has a huge presence here with over 14,000 students from all 50 states and 10 countries. 

Taking what we learn from the tour, we return on our own to some of the places we like the most.

The story is that she waved at every passing ship for years, expecting her love to return home to her.

This cobblestone road is where the ribbon ceremony was held for the 1996 Olympic rowing event. They must have dressed it up more!

Honoring Haitians who fought in the Revolutionary War.

The Candler Oak - older than our country.

Over 200 years old - hard to imagine all the changes he's seen.

Cathedral of St John the Baptist
Another city of stunning architecture, I love seeing all the variety and creativity used in both residential and commercial structures.

We're enjoying our city visits, but we're also ready for some time back in nature. On Wednesday Bill finds the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge (which is actually not even in Georgia - it's on the north side of the river in South Carolina). We laugh when the first building we see is a SCAD facility! The six mile loop takes us through trees, marsh and river where we see wonderful birds - and alligators!! 

A whole different world.

Great Blue Heron


These giant water lillies wave at us in the breeze.

Seeing an alligator in the wild is very exciting!

He seems as curious about us as we are about him.

More "moss" than tree.

From a distance, I think this is a toad.....
Ewwwe! Back in the Jeep!

Another alligator. They never blink!


At the end of the loop we find our last alligator of the day. What fun to see these amazing animals.
After the refuge I want to visit a plantation. Bill finds one nearby and we head that way.

At the address for the plantation we find this has taken its place. So depressing!!
Many people ask which is better - Charleston or Savannah? The RV park and tour were both better in Charleston, but the cities themselves are both beautiful and I don't favor one over the other.

Thursday we're on the road again. The humidity is back as well. We keep thinking we'll get out of it either by calendar or map, but it seems to keep finding us :-(

Thursday we make it to the third historic city of the southeast's trifecta - St Augustine is the oldest continuous settlement in the country. While beautiful in many areas, it is a disappointment after the other two. 

St John's RV Park is the most reasonable option with a Passport America rate ($35) when you can't get into the state park, and is fine for our few nights here. We have a level road base parking spot surrounded by well maintained grass and tall trees. 50 amp FHUs with satellite access and fair WiFi. 

Do you have friends on Facebook who you're not sure how or when they became friends? And no other friends in common? I have one, and really like Chris. We have important things in common, like being Steelers fans and loving animals, and I enjoy her posts. Fortunately she's been following our route and reaches out when we're in Savannah. Will we be near Jacksonville and do we want to get together? Yes and yes!! She warns of the Gator/Bulldog game at the Jaguars' NFL stadium we plan to visit on Saturday, so we change our Jacksonville plans to Friday.

Used for other sporting events, there is very little Jaguars' branding at their stadium.

A first for us, the pro shop is only open on game days so I don't get my pin. I do find this one Jaguar along the back fence. Reminds me of the Thundercats my boys watched on Saturday morning cartoons!

Looking very Florida.

I almost missed the statue - he's very cool!
Chris and husband Vern meet us at one of their fav spots in Jacksonville Beach - Safe Harbor Seafood Restaurant. We determine that we became FB friends from an RV forum. They have long considered becoming fulltimers, and we enjoy sharing our love of the lifestyle with them. The food is yummy too. It's a wonderful visit, we're both so glad they made it happen, and we already look forward to seeing them again (hopefully on the road!).

Great peeps!!
Saturday it's time to get back on a trolley to see St Augustine. Amazingly it's chilly outside! Most of the day I'm wishing I had my sweatshirt - it's fantastic.

This trolley is different, with three cars attached, open on both sides, very narrow and hard seats. Think Disneyland parking lot shuttle. There are dozens of them throughout the city, taking up more than half of the small streets. The guide does a nice job of pointing out the interesting sights that are surrounded by tourist shops and bars. 

The first thing we learn is that Ponce de Leon was first mate on Christopher Columbus' second voyage to the New World. We didn't remember that from history class! The second thing we learn is that Henry Flagler is much more important in St Augustine history than Ponce de Leon.

Several narrow streets were designed with two story buildings on either side to increase air flow from the water to the city center for natural air conditioning during the sweltering summers.
Originally the Flagler Hotel, Flagler College is the beautiful highlight of city central.

The details are beautiful.

Henry Flagler made a significant impact on the shaping of St Augustine.

Ponce de Leon Hall

The home of Cora Tyson who hosted Dr Martin Luther King, Jr several times during the height of the civil rights movement. She is 94 years old. She still lives here.

I love pink houses, and this one is a beauty.

On National Geographic's list of Most Beautiful Streets in America - Magnolia Avenue is lined with old growth oaks.
Also on Magnolia Avenue is this wall of shells. Built as additional defense of the city, the shells contained bacteria on their sharp edges. Those attempting to climb the wall were cut and infected - many became too sick to fight again - many died. I'll never look at shells the same!

Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States, on the shore of St Augustine. With palm log fortifications, deep moats and coaquina construction, there are many interesting stories about this site. 
Our plan was to stay on the trolley for the full tour then return to see some of the sites in more detail. By the time we return to our parking spot we reconsider and call it a day. Maybe it's because we  haven't had much time in between the tours, maybe it's the hard seats, maybe the touristy feel of the city, but we've seen enough for this visit.

Back in California, Grandson #3 Mason, is amping up the cute in keeping with his brother and cousin!

2 months old
We could turn west from here, but have a very important stop to make in Melbourne Beach. Sunday we catch up with a couple of our favorite people.