It’s been another great week out here on the road. This week I’ve made my way to a handful of Florida’s 700 natural freshwater springs, enjoying some swimming, kayaking, snorkeling and boat tours as I went. I also dipped into some real “Old Florida” towns, most notably at Cedar Key and Micanopy. This week I also visited the State Capitol in Tallahassee and enjoyed the Florida History Museum there as well. I ended off the week by dropping down to the “Forgotten Coast” and cruising along the Gulf of Mexico through hurricane ravaged towns. I’ve seen some really stunning places this week and learned a lot as I went. As I write this, I’m coming to the end of my time in Florida, and I must admit I will be sad to see it pass into my rear view mirror
My week started with a visit to Three Sister’s Spring National Wildlife Refuge in Crystal River for one more look at the manatees. Once again, as has been my experience throughout Florida, this proved to be a little too expensive to provide value for money. You have to park at City Hall and pay the $15 entrance fee and then hop on a shuttle for the five minute ride to the refuge. Once there, there is a nice boardwalk around the spring itself, which is beautiful, and some great spots to view the largest population of manatee in Florida. When I was there, it was a fairly warm morning, so there were only about 20 manatee around. They were amazing to see and photograph, and there were tons of volunteers around to help answer questions, but if it had only been $7-8 it would have been better. I hope the money went to preserving the habitat and keeping the manatee healthy…
If you’ve been following me through Florida, you know how much love and appreciation I have developed for manatees since I have been here. It has been amazing to see them so often in so many different places, especially knowing that not long ago they were on the endangered species list. These beautiful, big mammals are so peaceful that I find them relaxing just to watch. During the winter, the open ocean and Gulf of Mexico become too cold for the manatee, so they make their way upriver to natural fresh water springs, which have constant temperatures year-round. The manatee will spend their winters there, venturing out when the water is warmer to find food.
The only place you can legally get in the water to swim with manatees in Florida is in Crystal River, and I have been looking forward to doing this during my entire stay in the Sunshine State. I chose to do my trip with the company Fun 2 Dive, because they are established, family owned and got excellent reviews . Also, being Miles2Go myself, it seemed appropriate. I chose the 7 a.m. departure because the colder it is, the more likely you are to encounter the manatee near the springs (and thus in clearer water)…
In the late 19th Century, Dr. Cyrus Teed founded a communal society called The Koreshan Unity in New York. He later moved to Chicago where he expanded his following. The society was based on the ideas of communal living, reincarnation, and eternal life and on a universe which occurred inside of the hollow Earth. In 1894, Teed led his followers to Estero, Florida where they began building their “New Jerusalem” Utopian commune. Those who joined him were promised security, order and a sense of achievement in return for all of their worldly possessions. On this new site they fought hard to clear the land through heat and humidity and mosquitoes for many years. They planted crops and fruit trees to help feed themselves. They built a “Planetary Court”, where the seven women who made up the governing body lived, a bakery, a store, a school, an art hall, two machine shops and several private homes and cabins. It certainly wasn’t an easy life, but they were all in it together, and that sense of community meant something to them. During the first decade of the 20th century, their commune included over 250 members…
Myakka River State Park surrounds Florida’s first designated Wild and Scenic River. The river winds through a vast expanse of wetlands, prairies, hammocks and pine forest, and is a welcome break from the Tampa-St. Petersburg corridor just a little over an hour north. The park showcases an amazing diversity of flora and fauna and it felt so unspoiled when I visited. I went with my friend Amber, who is a serious naturalist, and she showed me all kinds of wonderful things while we were there. We started our visit at the suspension bridge and observation tower which took us through and then above the canopy for a bird’s eye view of the park. It was amazing to look out across the park and not see a building in any direction. From there we went and hiked out to Mossy Hammock Campground along the Fox’s High Road and were surrounded by live oak draped in Spanish moss and beautiful birdsong. We emerged into the prairies for a while, where her dog could run at full speed. When we finished our hike, we spent some time by the lake, enjoying the magical reflections we saw there. In all, it was an amazing day out in the wild with good company and beautiful weather. It was a little wet on the trails, but we managed. This was a great park to visit, and I hope you enjoy my photos from Myakka River State Park.
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…
Hello again old friends. It’s that time of the week again to look back at the week gone by and ahead at the weeks to come. It’s been another great week here in southern Florida, which has taken me from Key West all the way to Sanibel. I’ve been couch surfing with a lot of old friends this week which has been really great. I have caught up with so many people in fact that I only slept in my van once this week. It’s always great to run into people and catch up on all the gossip from different phases of my life. It’s been a little chilly and windy down here, but looking at the weather forecast for the rest of the country, I’m certainly not complaining. I’m enjoying Florida, especially this time of year.
After last we met, I did in fact go to Earnest Hemingway’s house for a visit. This is a place I’ve been trying to get to for many years, but never seem to make it there. I’m glad I finally did. This is a very high volume tourist spot, and yet they do an incredible job of managing the crowd. Although you can wander through on your own, I chose to do the guided tour, and I’m sure glad I did. My tour guide was fantastic. I’m always in awe of someone who can give the same tour day after day, year in and year out and still manage to do it with vigor. Our guide absolutely crushed it. The highlight for me was seeing Papa Hemingway’s office which has remained relatively untouched since he lived there. There are also 55 cats running loose around the property, many of them of the 6-toe variety, something Hemingway felt brought him good luck.
Ah, the Florida Keys. The closest you can get to a Caribbean vacation without having to fly. This wonderful chain of islands stretches from just south of Miami all the way to the Dry Tortugas, although the road will only take you from Key Largo to Key West. This hundred mile stretch is full of fun activities like wreck diving and dolphin encounters, and has some great state parks and beaches along the way. The vibe is definitely more “island time” than the rest of the country, and you are sure to have a good time when you visit. Wherever you are in the Keys, you’re never far from a good bar. Whether you stop in for a pint after a full day of diving, or hang out all day sipping margaritas with your feet in the sand, you are sure to find a great place to while away your time in the islands. This is in no way an all-inclusive list, and it’s not meant to be. These are just some of my favorites as you make your way south through the Keys. You should definitely not try and hit all of these in one day, and I always recommend using a designated driver. Also remember there’s only one road, so you could hit a few on the way down and a few on the way back up.
It isn’t easy getting to Dry Tortugas National Park, but it is definitely worth it. Located just under 70 miles from Key West, you either need to take a boat or a plane to visit the park, but once you arrive, you can’t help but love the isolation. The Spanish, under Ponce de Leon, gave the islands the name Tortugas (Spanish for “turtles”) because of the abundance of this important food source in the area. The British called them the Dry Tortugas to indicate there was no fresh water to be found there. More recently, it became the site of Fort Jefferson and an important lighthouse which helped guide ships making their way through the channel into the Gulf of Mexico. It may seem like a strange place for a fort, but it is at the very end of Florida’s massive barrier reef, which is the third longest barrier reef in the world. Big ships have to come this far south to get around the bottom of the state. The United States started building this fort just a few years after buying Florida from Spain in order to protect the important shipping lane connecting the Mississippi River to the world.
During the Civil War, the fort remained in Union hands, and helped enforce the embargo on the Confederate southern coast. After the Civil War, the fort was used as a prison, Its most famous inmate was Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor who had treated John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated Abraham Lincoln. After a yellow fever outbreak in which Dr. Mudd helped treat the sick, he earned a pardon from President Andrew Johnson. The fort would once again serve a military purpose during the Spanish/American War in 1898, and had served as a resupply point for the U.S.S. Maine before her fateful voyage to Cuba. Franklin Roosevelt designated Fort Jefferson National Monument in 1935, and the entire area was re-designated as Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992.
Robert Moehling began his fruit empire when he was just six years old. His father had some cucumbers he wanted to sell, so he sent Robert out to sit on the corner in front of a coffee table loaded with cucumbers and sell them to passers-by. On that first day, he didn’t sell a single one. The next day his father sent him back to try again, but this time he placed a big sign on either side of the table proclaiming in big red letters that “Robert Is Here”. He sold out by noon. A neighboring farmer had seen Robert selling cucumbers and wondered if he would sell some of his tomatoes as well. The business took off and hasn’t slowed down since. Robert’s mother arranged for the school bus to pick him up and drop him off at his fruit stand, and soon he had someone else working for him while he was at school. When Robert was 14, he used his earnings to buy a ten-acre property and planted an avocado grove on it. Robert is Here Fruit Stand has continued to grow ever since and is has become an iconic road-side Florida stop.
This isn’t any old fruit stand though. Robert Is Here specializes in local and exotic fruit, so while you can buy apples and oranges, you can also buy Guanabana and Passion Fruit. Not only that, but Robert and his crew will be happy to answer any and all questions you may have about the fruit they sell, and they’ll even wash it and cut it up for you so that it’s ready to eat. The true highlight of a visit to Robert Is Here, though, is a fresh fruit milkshake prepared with your favorite exotic fruit while you shop. You can even take it out back and enjoy it while you look at the goats, chickens and tortoises wandering around back there…
Greetings from the Conch Republic, the farthest south you can get in the United States by car (or van). I’m writing to you this week from the wonderful public library here in Key West. It’s been a great week for me in South Florida, full of fun in the sun. It’s been windy but warm and I’ve gotten to see some really cool places this week. I had a few nice days in the parks south of Miami, and then made my way down the Keys. I’ve been on some great excursions this week, seen some beautiful sunsets and spent some great time with friends old and new. Life is good here in the Keys, and it would be hard to complain. In addition, the days are getting longer and spring is not too far away. Lots of things to be grateful and happy about this week.
After I posted last week’s This Week on the Road, I did indeed go to Coral Castle. Coral Castle is an astounding place - the product of one man’s dream, innovation and hard work. While “castle” may be a bit of a stretch in the literal sense of the word, the fact that every man’s home is his castle makes it okay to use the word in my worldview. My castle is 100 square feet on wheels. Built by Latvian immigrant Edward Leedskalnin over the course of many years, Coral Castle is a fascinating structure to visit. I don’t think it is worth the $19 entrance fee to be quite honest, but it is Florida and this is one of the area’s oldest tourism ventures. To see all my photos and learn more about Ed and his dream, see my full post HERE.