GULF COAST OF FLORIDA, NEW ORLEANS Dec 13-27, 2008
Everglades National Park is mostly prairie (grass and tree islands in a foot or so of water). The mosquitoes are prodigious and nobody comes here in the summer because of them. I decided to not go to the SW corner as the kayaking sounded poor – mangroves and mud flats at low tide wasn’t appealing. Shark visitor center has an excellent 2 hour tram ride through the swamp. Airboat operators are everywhere but I decided to not partake. Highway 41 connecting Tampa Bay to Miami cuts across the north end of the park separating it from Big Cypress National Preserve where has exactly the same habitat as the Everglades. The road is the result of dredging a canal to acquire the fill for the road. The resulting canal was full of alligators and many birds. It is not necessary to pay to go see them at an alligator farm. There were multiple board walks extending into both parks and I am getting nature trailed out. Collier Seminole SP has similar terrain as the Everglades and I walked a 6.2 mile trail that was incredibly overgrown with lots of mud. They had a water trail that went to Mud Lake that at low tide has required helicopter rescues. It was quite exciting to have my email read on Tapestry.
Lovers Key SP had an excellent ranger led walk and I learned a great deal. Just outside of Ft Myers, I went to Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Supposedly the best shelling beaches in the world are on their south shores and are best after big storms. Mostly it was a lot of dark, leather skinned people lying in the sun. J N Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is on Sanibel. The best birding areas were over water that I only succeeded in getting high centered on the mud in my kayak. After finally finding a channel to deeper water I paddled out to the mangroves and saw few birds. Everybody else in boats were fishing and mullets were jumping all over the place.
Driving north the highway crossed a spectacular bridge over a big bay to St Petersburg. The Salvador Dali Museum has the largest collection of this very prolific artist outside of Spain. Over the course of the afternoon, I went on three guided tours of the gallery each with a different docent. Many talked about different paintings or gave different interpretations of the same pieces. It was immensely enjoyable. I believe that he is one of the greatest artists ever.
I had intended to go to Acolate SP, a boat access only barrier island 3 miles from the coast but as it was simply another beach on the gulf side with mangroves on the inside (and kind of boring), I decided to pass. Homosassa SP is an excellent wildlife park with virtually every critter found in Florida. There were exhibits on snakes, birds and mammals and talks on alligators and manatees. The park has 6 captive manatees and in the spring just outside there were many wild manatees with people snorkeling and kayaking amongst them. These huge animals require water between 68 and 72 degrees and winter inland in the springs which maintain a constant 72 degree temperature. With only 3000 remaining, their numbers continue to decrease due to red tide, injury from motorboat propellers and cold stress. Florida has 33 large magnitude springs (release >50 million gallons of pure fresh water per day) and most are in the north central part of the state. I also went to Manatee Springs SP but there were no manatees. These are popular swimming holes.
North of the St Petersburg/Tampa Bay area, highway 19 leaves the coast traveling through sparsely populated flat, forested land. I took highway 98 west and followed the gulf coast right next to the shore. All houses next to the hurricane damaged beach were on stilts. Panama City has a gorgeous beach with miles of big hotels on the gulf. The wide beach has powdery fine white sand.
Deciding that maybe it was to time to head home, the only place left to see was New Orleans. Looking like most big US cities, I did not look for and saw no Katrina damage and walked all over the area bordering the Mississippi. The French Quarter is where all the action is and Bourbon street rocks at night with music blaring from both sides of the street. One can only imagine what carnival must be like. Cajun cuisine is showcased everywhere.
After 2 days in New Orleans, i drove home in three and a half days via Dallas/Fort Worth, Wichita Falls, Amarillo, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. Turning north at Gallup, I drove through the most spectacular blizzard in SW Colorado. Silverton, Colorado got 40″ of snow. The camper is amazingly stable on bad roads. I drove out of it about 60 miles south of Moab and had great weather till the Idaho border. Clearly I-15 to I-90 at Butte is the fastest way from anywhere in Utah. Terry caught me (I was going to surprise her) on my truck cell south of Metaline Falls before 8 in the morning on December 27. There was little snow on the ground at home but by the time I arrived there was over a foot and it continued to fall for the next week.
I drove over 19,000 km (almost exactly the same as last year through mainland Mexico) with 15,000 through the US. My cheapest diesel was US$2.07 a gallon. Working hard on the freeganism lifestyle, I did not stay in a campground once on the whole trip and did not use my toilet in the camper ever. I ate virtually every meal in the camper. The highlights in order were 1. Dry Torturgas National Park 2. New York City 3. Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge 4. Florida Keys 5. Washington DC.