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This Week on the Road - January 11th-17th

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This Week on the Road - January 11th-17th

It’s been a sunny and wonderful week here on the road in Florida. While the locals are wearing their winter coats, I’m enjoying the sunny, breezy 70 degree days and cool, perfect nights. I stalled for a bit in West Palm Beach, finding some great little spots to hide out and taking a bit of a break from moving around. Many of the things I want to see in the far south of the state are in National Parks, and with the government closed I want to try and wait the shutdown out. As you know if you are a constant reader, I try and stay away from politics whenever possible, but closing our National Parks over a partisan dispute is a disgrace. People travel from all over the world to see our amazing parks, and there is simply no excuse to close them down. There are many other sides to that story, but I will leave it at that. Despite thinking about politics too much this week, I had a wonderful stay in West Palm Beach and everywhere I else I visited this week. It’s been a quiet but fantastic week in east-central Florida.

I spent Thursday slowly making my way down the coast from Vero Beach. I stopped in Fort Pierce at the Bluewater Beach Grill for a delicious ahi tuna poke bowl, which I ate looking out at the inlet from the wonderful waterfront park there. I continued down the A1A to Stuart which had one of the most treacherous intersections I’ve ever seen, and I’ve driven in a lot of places in the world. It was like a roundabout, but there were weird (and dangerous) inlets and outlets at strange angles. I have no doubt they see their fair share of accidents there. Thankfully I made it through in one piece. I thought about turning around and trying it again because it was so crazy, and then thought I wouldn’t push my luck so I continued down to Jupiter, just north of West Palm Beach…

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Snapshots: Life Under the Blue Heron Bridge

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Snapshots: Life Under the Blue Heron Bridge

Phil Foster Park under the Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm Beach is one of the coolest places I’ve visited on this entire journey. Situated on a small island literally under the bridge in the middle of the intercoastal waterway, this park is surrounded by warm, calm, turquoise water perfect for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving. Considered by some to be one of the top shore dives in the world, I had to go see for myself. Geared up with equipment rented from nearby Force-E Dive Center, I walked off the beach and descended into the blue. It really was a spectacular dive site full of big and little creatures alike. Plenty of fish were around, as were crabs, shrimp, lobsters, starfish and even one small nurse shark. I found two elusive scorpion fish - see if you can spot them in the two photos below the starfish in this post (and remember you can always click my photos to see a bigger view). You can only dive this site one hour before and one hour after high tide, so you do have to time it properly, but Force-E is there to help with tide charts and sound advice. After my spectacular 100 minute dive (it’s only about 20 feet deep), I had just as much fun above water as below. The park has a nice little beach to relax on, a good sized picnic area, bathrooms and showers, a fishing pier and great views from every angle. It was a perfect place to hang out and relax and watch the sun set behind West Palm Beach. If you ever find yourself in central east Florida, stop by Phil Foster Park for a dive, a snorkel, a swim or just a picnic and some great rays. You may end up there way longer than you planned to be. I hope you enjoy these photos from my time under the Blue Heron Bridge in Phil Foster Park.

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Snapshots: Whitehall

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Snapshots: Whitehall

Whitehall was the winter residence of Henry Flagler, the father of Florida tourism. Having made his fortune in Standard Oil, Flagler set out to build a railroad from Jacksonville to Key West and a hotel and tourism empire along the way. Bringing tourists too Florida was one thing, but he also brought fruit and vegetables from Florida as well, making tourism and agriculture the two foundations blocks of the Florida economy. One of his signature hotels, The Breakers, is located in Palm Beach very close to Whitehall.

Built in 1902, this Gilded Age, Beaux Arts mansion boasts 75 rooms including a grand ballroom, a spectacular music room, a wonderful library and a beautiful dining room. When it was built, Whitehall included all of the modern amenities of the time including electricity, indoor plumbing and even a telephone. They also had central heat which was surprisingly used mostly in summer to dry the building out from the damaging Florida humidity. It is a beautiful home, inside and out with some phenomenal detail work (albeit most of it was created with plaster casts). I really enjoyed my visit, and I hope you enjoy these photos from Henry Flagler’s Whitehall.

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This Week on the Road - January 1st-10th

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This Week on the Road - January 1st-10th

Hello and Happy New Year! It is great to be moving into 2019 with a full year on the road stretching out ahead of me. 2018 was an amazing year full of new places and new people and 2019 is poised to be even better. I’m starting this year in the great state of Florida, The Orange State, and a good start it has been.

I rang in the new year with my old friend Peter and his family in Largo, Florida, between Tampa and Clearwater. Peter’s uncle had a party for the occasion full of food, friends and music. There was a campfire by the canal and fireworks throughout the night. It was a great way to say goodbye to 2018 and hello to 2019.

On New Years Day, I had the wonderful opportunity to cheer on my Penn State Nittany Lions against the Kentucky Wildcats in the Citrus Bowl right there in Orlando. It was my first bowl game, and I really enjoyed it. The weather was beautiful, the stadium was pleasant enough, and it was great to be watching football in the Florida sun..

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Snapshots: The Manatees of Blue Springs State Park

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Snapshots: The Manatees of Blue Springs State Park

Blue Springs State Park near Orange City is one of several winter homes for the wonderful West Indian Manatee. Also sometimes called the “sea cow”, manatees can reach up to 13 feet in length and can weigh as much as 1300 lbs. Despite their size, manatees are quite graceful in the water, propelling themselves with their large tails, and can reach speeds up to 15 miles per hour. Manatees are mammals, so they need to breath air, but can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes at a time. They are vegetarians, and have no natural enemies, but are often wounded by the propellers of passing boats. In the 1970’s, manatees were placed on the Endangered Species List, but their population has rebounded and in 2017 they were downgraded to threatened status. They are sheer pleasure to watch, and the water of Blue Springs State Park is so clear it makes the experience even better. I enjoyed hiking to the source of the springs, which is also a scuba dive site when the manatees aren’t in for the winter. The park also offers boat tours and kayak and canoe rentals to explore the St. Johns River, but the manatee habitat is closed for the private use of the animals. Located only an hour or so from Orlando, this makes a great getaway from the crowds and noise of the amusement parks. I loved my visit to this park and happily just stood and watched the manatees for hours. I highly recommend Blue Springs State Park for anyone visiting Florida in the winter when the manatees are in their winter home.

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Snapshots: St. Augustine

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Snapshots: St. Augustine

St. Augustine was founded way back in 1565 as part of the Spanish colony of Florida, making it the oldest continuously inhabited colonial city in what is now the United States. It is a beautiful city to wander around and I enjoyed taking these photos in the historic area. I wasn’t there long, as my goal is to spend most of my time in Florida out of the cities instead of in them, but I enjoyed the time I was there. Many of the buildings in St. Augustine are more modern than they look with the most iconic being built by Henry Flagler to attract tourism to the state at the end of the 19th century. Tourism was an excellent industry to choose, and has become a major industry for the state over the last century. This has left St. Augustine crowded, and a little over-touristy, but still a charming place to visit and spend a few days. Its proximity to lovely St. Augustine Beach is a bonus. I hope you enjoy these photos from St. Augustine: The Ancient City…

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Happy New Year - A Look Back and a Look Ahead

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Happy New Year - A Look Back and a Look Ahead

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, no matter what and where you celebrated it. I was at home in Washington D.C. with my family, trying to catch my breath for a minute, fix some of my equipment and enjoy some holiday cheer. It is, of course, always a good opportunity to look back at the year gone by, and look ahead at the year to come.

A year ago, I was getting ready to set out for the second time on this trip. I had had a fascinating month in West Virginia at the end of 2017, learning about the wonderful history of the Mountain State and seeing some truly spectacular scenery. I had never taken such a deep, in-depth look at a state before, and I really connected with West Virginia on so many different levels. From deep in the heart of coal country to their wonderful state park system to the little big cities of Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling, West Virginia had so much to offer. On the other hand, it was December, so it was cold and the sun was going down at around 4:30 in the afternoon. These were probably not the best of conditions to try and learn the ins and outs of my new van and my new lifestyle, but then again I am a big supporter of a trial by fire. The challenges I faced in my first month of this journey were real, but I persevered as there was no way I was giving up...

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Down the Georgia Coast

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Down the Georgia Coast

The last week or so that I spent in Georgia, I spent exploring the coast and barrier islands of the state also called the Golden Isles. This was such a great experience and each island was so different and diverse that I thought I would share a little more about the trip, and maybe give some pointers on how to see as much as possible if you choose to journey to the Golden Isles.

Savannah is definitely a must-see part of any trip up or down the Georgia Coast. Located in the far northeast corner of the state, Savannah’s beautiful oak-lined streets, public squares and beautiful homes make it one of America’s most beautiful cities. Even if you just stop in for lunch at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, have a late afternoon into early evening stroll around the historic district and end the day with a quiet cocktail in the basement of The Olde Pink House, you won’t regret stopping in this charming southern town. The longer you stay, though, the more you’re going to love it here so don’t be afraid to save a couple of days at the beginning or end of your trip for Savannah.

Just east of Savannah along the coast is the beach community of Tybee Island. The Tybee Island Light Station is definitely worth a visit, and the beach is really pretty as well. The fishing pier is a great way to get out over the water and get some good views…

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This week on the Road - December 13th-20th

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This week on the Road - December 13th-20th

Hello everyone. I hope y’all have had as good a week as I have. This week, I had a great time finishing out my visit to Georgia traveling to Jekyll Island, the Okefenokee Swamp and Cumberland Island National Seashore. From there, I crossed the border into Florida and have spent a wonderful few days in The Sunshine State, mostly just chilling out and hanging out with one of my best friends. I’m headed home to Washington D.C. for the holidays, and really looking forward to a few days off the road. It’s time to recharge my batteries, fill up on Christmas cookies and good cheer and catch up with my family and friends for a few days. I haven’t always been able to make it home for Christmas over the years, so I’m grateful to have that opportunity this year.

After we met last week, I spent Thursday on beautiful Jekyll Island, just south of Brunswick. One of my very good friends who I used to work with on St. Thomas, had lived and worked on Jekyll for a while, and gave me all kinds of great places to visit while I was there. I started with a walk out to somewhere she referred to as “bird pond”, although I don’t think it actually had a name. There were a ton of pretty birds there though, so I can see why she would call it that. The area I parked in to make the walk was beautiful as well, with amazing oak trees draped in Spanish moss. From there I made my way out to Driftwood Beach, stopping to see some cool old tabby ruins from some of the island’s earliest settlers on the way. Driftwood Beach was a beautiful beach on the north side of the island which was covered by massive dead trees and, obviously, driftwood. It was awesome and I had a wonderful walk up and down the beach, spotting tons of birds along the way…

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Snapshots: Cumberland Island

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Snapshots: Cumberland Island

I first went to Cumberland Island National Seashore now almost 30 years ago. We went on our 8th Grade class trip on a tour that included Charleston and Savannah, and perhaps our favorite at the time, Kings Dominion amusement park near Richmond. I’ve often thought about Cumberland Island and how much I wanted to go back. Since I was there, I’ve visited 320 or so units of the National Park Service, but Cumberland Island has eluded me. Because you have to get there and back by ferry, it takes more than a few hours of commitment and at least enough planning ahead time to make a ferry reservation. But finally I made it back to the wild island off the coast of Georgia, and it was spectacular. One of my friends asked if it was as beautiful as she remembered and I told her one of the most beautiful things about a National Park site is that it doesn’t change much - that is, in fact, the whole idea! So while I am older and bigger and perhaps a touch wiser, Cumberland Island is much the same…

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Snapshots: Okefenokee Swamp

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Snapshots: Okefenokee Swamp

Covering 400,000 acres in southeast Georgia, the Okefenokee Swamp is the largest blackwater swamp in the country. The vegetation leaches out into the water making it the color of strong tea or weak coffee and it’s really beautiful. The Okefenokee Swamp is a National Natural Landmark and much of it is a designated wilderness area. It’s home to 600 species of plants, 400 vertebrates, 60 reptiles and 200 birds. There are 120 miles of water trails in the park, and getting out on the water is essential. I chose a kayak for my adventure because it was a beautiful day and allowed me to really get out into the swamp and experience it. It was so quiet out there, and by quiet I mean the absence of human noise. The sounds of the birds and the wind through the grass and the frogs and insects was amazing. I’m sure the bugs and heat are terrible in the summer, but when I was there, it couldn’t have been better. This was one of the best days I’ve had in Georgia. I hope you enjoy my photos from the Okefenokee Swamp!

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This Week on the Road - December 6th-12th

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This Week on the Road - December 6th-12th

Hello everyone and Happy Holidays to you all. I know I’ve had quite a few people subscribe this week, so if you’re new to this newsletter, welcome! My Week on the Road posts are basically my digital journal entries for the week just past. I do try my best to do one every week, but sometimes life has other plans. You can click on any of my photos to see a full-screen view, and most places I mention have links attached if you click on the name.

This week has been spent on beaches, near lighthouses and under Spanish moss as I made my way down the Georgia coast from Savannah to Brunswick. The scenery has been magnificent, and the people have been great as well and it has been wonderful to get some good seafood again. Brunswick has been my base of operations these last few days as I explored the coastal barrier islands of South Georgia. It’s been a busy week, as usual, but a good one. The days have been short, but the weather has been good. I’ve been in shorts and a T-shirt while North Carolina has been blasted with snow. I did get my Canon camera off to the repair shop for a new shutter, and it will be waiting for me at home in D.C. when I get there for Christmas. I have been using my old Olympus E510 this week which is pretty outdated at this point in time, but it’s been chugging along and I’m very grateful to have it. I apologize that my photos aren’t quite up to par this week, but they’ll be back on track in the new year. It’s been a fast month here in Georgia, as I have had to keep the pace up to make my flight home from Orlando next week, and I’ll admit I’m pretty tired. I’ve been going seven days a week all month, and I am definitely looking forward to a break. This last week was my last full week in the Peach State, and it has been a really good and fascinating week and month…

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