February is upon us. Hard to believe, but it’s really here. I know I’m not the only one that thinks February is weird because it’s so short. Why don’t we take the two days from some of the months with 31 days and add them to February to balance it out a little bit? I don’t know and I’m not going to look it up. I guess I could use the same argument I make against the metric system - boring! But it is February, and that means spring is coming. It’s just about a month until Mardi Gras, and then it’s only 40 days until Easter. Before we both know it, it’ll be May and I’ll be back at home in D.C. and planning my next moves. I’m not going to lie, I am going to need a break. I’ll be going back to guiding this summer where I hope to do some planning, some real site maintenance, some catch-up, and figure out where Miles2Go goes from here. In all honesty, the loneliness is getting to me. While I have amazing friends who have been super supportive and amazing to catch up with around the country, my day to day is a little too isolating and a little too quiet. I don’t know what the answer is to that right now, but I will let you know.
It’s been a pretty good week out here in West Florida. My second Georgia podcast is finally done. This one took a while because the weather has been so great here, and my mind has been on other things, but it is up and published. You can find it at THIS link, or by searching “American Anthology” on iTunes, Stitcher or most podcasting apps. Other than that, I’ve been catching up with friends and trying to get out and enjoy this great weather in some of Florida’s beautiful parks.
species of birds, 300 species of fish, 50 species of reptiles and 40 mammal species. Included in these numbers are the endangered Florida panther, and the American crocodile, which is only found in the Everglades. In addition to its National Park status, the Everglades is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the International Biosphere Reserve. It’s a remarkable place.
I have visited the Everglades many times, and always enjoyed myself there. There are always alligators out and about and hundreds upon hundreds of birds. On this visit I went in the east entrance all the way to the beautiful boat harbor at Flamingo, across the Tamiami trail, and down to Everglades City and the 1000 Islands as well. I was hoping to do an overnight kayaking trip, but the weather was threatening, so that will have to wait until next time. While it was fairly dry during my visit, the area will get extremely wet during the frequent summer rainstorms. I prefer the less buggy winter months though. I love getting out and doing airboat rides in the Everglades, and my favorite place to do them from is Everglades Alligator Farm outside the east entrance. To be fair though, I’ve gone with half a dozen different companies in my life, and never had a bad airboat ride. Inside the park, I particularly liked the Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo Trails near the east entrance. They have lots of wildlife and some pretty awesome trees to check out as well. The trails were flat and pretty easily accessible as well.
I hope you enjoy these photos from the Everglades, and I hope you can get out and explore them for yourself…
I had an amazing week in the Florida Keys, exploring the parks, pubs and restaurants that make the Keys so great. I’ve been coming to the Keys since I was in high school and they’ve always held a special place in my heart. They’re America, but not. The Keys are like a little slice of the Caribbean, right over the bridge. While last week I wrote up my ultimate Keys Pub Crawl (which you can read HERE), some people have been asking for more ideas and suggestions on the Keys. So I thought I would jot down some of my favorites to help you navigate through the islands and find some really top spots along the way.
Many people are surprised to find out there aren’t many great beaches in the Keys. The islands are generally surrounded by mangroves so the sand beaches are mostly man-made. That isn’t to say there aren’t some great beaches along the strand, but you do need to know where to find them…
Biscayne National Park is a remarkable area in far south Florida, protected for its “rare combination of terrestrial, marine and amphibious life in a tropical setting of great natural beauty”. It is remarkable among National Parks as 95% of the park is covered by water. The coral reef which is protected within these waters is part of the third longest barrier reef system in the world. A part of that reef became exposed long ago, forming the barrier islands on the outer edge of the park. These islands are a part of the Florida Keys, although since they were never connected by rail or highway, they have remained relatively isolated. This isolation does not mean they have not had visitors though. Both John James Audubon and Robert E. Lee visited these outer islands in the 19th century. In the 20th century, the upper keys hosted wealthy businessmen and 5 sitting or future U.S. presidents.
In the fifties, proposals were put forth to develop these upper keys, connect them with a highway to the mainland and build a city to be called Islandia. Thankfully (in my opinion), this development never took place, as a small but vocal group called for protection as a national park instead. Through their efforts,this area became a national monument in 1968, and a national park in 1980…
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..
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.
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…
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…
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!
The Doll’s Head Trail in Atlanta is definitely different. While this post would probably have been better around Halloween, I visited the day after Thanksgiving when many things around the city were closed. The trail got its start when a local resident was out picking up trash in Constitution Lakes Park, where the trail is located, and ended up finding a lot of broken toys. He started creating this macabre outdoor art exhibit some time later, and its popularity has grown since then. It was definitely something different to see in Atlanta, and worth a look if you are looking for something free, close and outdoors. I wouldn’t visit on a full moon if I were you though.
When I asked my very well-traveled group of friends for recommendations on where to go in Georgia, probably 90% of them came back pointing me to the far north of the state. I admit I really had no idea how spectacular North Georgia is. Nestled in the southernmost region of the Appalachian Mountains, North Georgia is full of beautiful scenery, quaint towns and villages and warm, welcoming people. If North Georgia isn’t yet on your must-see list, it sure should be. I hope you enjoy these wonderful photos from my journey through the mountain towns of North Georgia.
Cloudland Canyon State Park is in the far northwest corner of Georgia, an easy half-day trip from Chattanooga and a reasonable day-trip from Atlanta. It is a beautiful place with a thousand-foot deep canyon on the western edge of Lookout Mountain. Even the name makes me smile and conjures up magical images in my head. The hike down to the waterfalls involves a lot of steps, but is well worth the effort. I got there a little late in the day to get good light for my photos in the canyon itself, but the stunning dusk and sunset views from the rim made up for it. This was a wonderful introduction to the state and a great place to spend the afternoon. This was my first visit to Cloudland Canyon, but it will not be my last. I hope you enjoy these photos from my visit, remember you can always click on them to see a larger view.