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Walt Disney World Fall 2017 – Spring 2018   Leave a comment

We took a different route to reach Florida this year for the 2017 EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival.  The trip was actually pretty fun and I’ll add a post about the adventure eventually.  2017 was our fourteenth food and wine festival and we still really enjoy attending the festival.  You can read about those adventures by clicking on this link that will take you to the site, Tales from the Turtle Shell – Disney.  That site includes posts from Florida and WDW starting in the fall of 2016 and this year.  You can also get to the 2017 site simply by clicking on the Fall 2017 – Spring 2018 link under the WALT DISNEY WORLD section below.

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Our 2017 SummerTravels   Leave a comment

Eastern Canada, here we come!  Yes, this year, our summer travels will take us to eastern Canada to visit five Canadian provinces and then down south to the warmer temperatures of Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia, and then back up north towards home.  The hope is that when we leave Canada, we will have visited every province/territory with the exception of Nunavut.  Hope that happens.  I will add posts to the site as wi-fi permits.  Wish me luck with that!

You can click on 2017 Summer Travels to read all of the posts from this year.  Or, you can click on Tales from the Snail Shell to about our 2016 and 2017 travels.

Posted June 8, 2017 by turtleshell1 in Summer 2017

Walt Disney World Fall 2016 – Spring 2017   Leave a comment

Because the space on this blog site is filling up, I created another site to document our adventures in Walt Disney World and Florida starting in the Fall of 2016.  You can read about those adventures by clicking on this link that will take you to the site, Tales from the Turtle Shell – Disney.  You can also get to that site simply by clicking on the Fall 2016 – Spring 2017 link under the WALT DISNEY WORLD section below.

Our Summer 2016 Travels   Leave a comment

We have quite a trip planned for our Summer 2016 travels.  We bought a second RV, a 25 ft travel trailer, to accommodate smaller campgrounds found in many state and national parks.  And since I’ve used up much of the space on this blog site, I decided to create another blog site that will detail our journeys in the travel trailer.  You can get to the new blog site by clicking on Tales from the Snail Shell.  This new site currently only has posts on our 2016 travels, but I’ll be adding additional summer travels as the years progress, each with their own page.  If you clicked on Summer 2016 from the home page of Tales from the Turtle Shell, well, you’re already on the new site.  The Summer 2016 link will only detail our travels for this summer, but you know more travels are in the future.  🙂  Just stay tuned.  Tales from the Turtle Shell is our main blog site and we direct most folks to that site if they are interested in our travels.  I figured it was easier to keep the main site and link our travels as they occur.  I hope this isn’t too confusing.

Posted September 10, 2016 by turtleshell1 in Summer 2016

April 10 – May 1, 2016:  The Trek Home   Leave a comment

A lot can happen in three weeks, but this part of our trip involved mostly visiting family and we only took one photo, so this will be a recap.  We left John Pennenkamp Coral Reef State Park on Sunday, April 10, and drove to Lake Louisa State Park near Clermont, FL (and also near Disney World).  Along the way, we saw smoke coming from a number of directions along the route and finally were close enough to one of the fires to realize sugar cane fields were being burnt for harvest.  Neither one of us had experienced that before, so we thought that was kind of cool.  I guess we’re easily impressed.  Sugar cane is used in making rum, in case any one would like to know.  We learned that in our distillery tour in St Augustine.

We arrived at Lake Louisa State Park around 2:15 PM.  We’ve camped at Lake Louisa before and really enjoy the park.  The campground may be about 3 miles from the entrance, I don’t really know the exact mileage, but it always seems we drive quite a way before we reach it.  Of course, one has to drive kind of slow.  Anyway, we set up camp on site 15 and then visited EPCOT that evening.  We had originally planned on spending three days here, but because of some nasty weather in the Gulf, we ended up staying five days.  We visited a Disney park every day of our stay.  It was kind of like coming home.  When the weather cleared enough for us, we left Lake Louisa, on Friday, April 15, and headed to Georgia.  We spent the night in a Flying J and on Saturday, April 16, we set up camp at Old Federal Camground near Flowery Branch, GA.

Old Federal Campground lies on Lake Lanier.  This is another place where we’ve camped before, and as the photo below shows, it is really nice.  We were in site 39.  The campground is near family, which is why we were visiting here.  My husband’s father and brother/family live here.  We had a very nice visit and the continued our trek on Wednesday, April 20.

Site 39 at Old Federal Campground in Flowery Branch, GA

Site 39 at Old Federal Campground in Flowery Branch, GA

We drove towards Virginia Beach, VA, spending the night at a Pilot near Emporia, VA.  On Thursday, April 21, we set up camp at First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach, VA.  The older kids and grandkids live in the area, so again, this was a family visit.  It was a good and relaxing visit, a great time to catch up on things.

We spent a week in Virginia Beach, departing Thursday, April 28 and arrived at a Flying J in Catlettsburg, KY for the night.  The next day, we arrived at my husband’s cousin home in Hume, IL.  I’ve talked about Hume, IL before.  It’s a small town in eastern Illinois and it’s always nice to spend time there.  Very typical small town life.  It was a good way to end our travels for the moment.  We left Hume Sunday afternoon and returned to good of’ home by early evening.  Our Florida travels and the trek home were a real treat this year and both of us were glad we decided to do this trip.  But, it was also great to be home.

April 4 – 9, 2016: Florida Keys   1 comment

After seeing the crocodiles at the Flamingo Visitors Center in the Everglades, we packed up and traveled to Key Largo in the Florida Keys.  We had made reservations at John Pennenkamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo more than a year in advance of camping there.  The Keys are a popular spot during winter and early spring and the Keys were on our bucket list.  The campground isn’t large, but we managed to park our fifth wheel without any problems.  The campground was quiet and relaxing, but the state park itself was very busy.  People travel to this state park from miles around to enjoy the water activities available there which include swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, kayaking, scuba diving, and boat tours.  Boat tours will take visitors out to the reef to snorkel or scuba dive, or if one would rather stay dry, there are also glass-bottom boat tours.  The store to make reservations for all of these activities gets very busy by mid morning.  We walked around the park our first day there to get the lay of the land.

On Tuesday, April 5, we made reservations for the glass-bottom boat tour.  The tour started at 12:15 PM, but we were there early as usual.  We sat in a shaded area near the very busy beach, but managed to catch sight of a couple of visitors that weren’t expected.

This poor little guy was scared by all of the commotion at the beach. he climbed out from underneath the van and ran around the beach until he was able to scamper away

This poor little guy was frightened by all of the commotion at the beach. He climbed out from underneath the van, running here and there, until he was able to scamper away to cover. I believe I heard him breathe a sigh of relief once he felt safe again.

Shortly after spotting the racoon, we saw another visitor just trying to get a little sun.

This iguana was pretty large. He stayed on this rock for quite a while as he warmed up.

This iguana was pretty large. He stayed on this rock for quite a while as he warmed up.

My husband was able to get a close-up of the iguana. It looks like he's trying to hide behind the vegetation. I wonder if he realizes we can see him.

My husband was able to get a close-up of the iguana. It looks like he’s trying to hide behind the vegetation. I wonder if he realizes we can see him.

Eventually the hot sun did its trick and the iguana scampered away. The little pebbles were hot. It looks like he's lifting his foot from the beach because

Eventually the hot sun did its trick and the iguana scampered away. The little pebbles were hot. It looks like the iguana is trying to keep his foot off of those pebbles.

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This visitor was in the water and not at all unexpected. If you’re having difficulties seeing the fish, look at the center of the photo. The fish is long and skinny.

Finally, the time arrived for us to board the boat.  The tour would take us six miles out in the ocean.

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Look carefully to the right of the boat in this photo. We would go to the buoy furthest to the right. Fortunately, the ocean was relatively calm this day.

Soon, we reached the reef.  We were able to sit close to the windows at the bottom of the boat.  I know we would really have enjoyed snorkeling or scuba diving in this location, but seeing the reef from this perspective was still good.  The photos below were taken of the reef.

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The first of many blue fish.

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We thought the coral in this photo was really cool.

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Looks like this guy doesn’t want his photo taken.

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This blue fish has stripes!

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Yet another blue, but slightly different, fish. There are a couple of other fish swimming with him.

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This is the same fish, but with different yellow fish friends.

It took about 35 – 45 minutes for the boat ride to the reef and then we trolled around the reef for about another 30 minutes.  On the way back to the dock, we sat outside on top of the boat so we could see the landscape.

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There are mangrove forests in the Keys as well. This heron was right at home here.

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Shortly before we docked, this flock of birds flew over us.

We truly enjoyed this boat tour.  It was fun, relaxing, and interesting.  If anyone would ask our opinion, we would recommend the tour.  The following day, Wednesday, we decided to take it easy.  We hung around the park and did a little shopping.

Thursday, we drove to Key West.  We really only wanted to do a day trip to Key West, but certainly there were sights we wanted to see along the way.  There was another state park closer to Key West that we wanted to investigate.  We didn’t think that state park would handle an RV the size of ours, but after seeing it from the road, that may not be true.  The drive was cool.  I expected to drive along long bridges over open water, and there was some of that, but I was surprised at how much the road traveled over land.  Shows you my ignorance.

When we got to Key West, we decided to do a shuttle bus tour like the one we did in St Augustine.  The Key West tour was a little different from the one in St Augustine in that there were only a few stops.  The one in St Augustine had twenty-three.  We couldn’t get off and on the shuttle whenever we wanted as we did in St Augustine.  Needless to say, we preferred the St Augustine tour, but there was some fun stuff we saw in Key West.

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You can’t really see this in the photo, but this is the marker indicating Cuba is only 90 miles away. You just have to trust me on this one.

One thing on my husband’s bucket list was to go to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.  I truly believed that might have been the main reason why he wanted to camp in the Keys in the first place.  So, when the opportunity presented itself, we took advantage of it.

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Yes, we made it! My husband could scratch that one off his list.

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Of course, we also had a margarita. We had hamburgers, too, but they weren’t ready yet when the photo was taken.

After eating, we walked around the town.  Key West certainly gets lots of visitors and some of them come from cruise ships.

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Makes you think of the Love Boat, doesn’t it?

Yes, there were boatloads of people, but we were surprised at seeing these local inhabitants.

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Chickens were walking, sometimes running, free on the streets. Actually, I like the colors of this one.

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Close to the end of our walk, we saw this momma hen and her baby chicks. They were so cute. It was one of those “ahhh” moments.

Key West was fun and it was touristy.  One of the common things that visitors do in Key West, besides having a margarita, is to watch the sun set.  We didn’t want to stay that late, so I can’t saw we did that.  Still, we’re glad we came here.

We snorkeled at John Pennenkamp State Park on Friday.  That was a hoot.  We hadn’t snorkeled in years and were a bit amazed to discover that our ability to float had improved so much over the years.  Unfortunately, our ability to dive and stay under water just wasn’t as good as it used to be.  It was wonderful exercise, nonetheless.  Thankfully, we got used to the water temperature quickly and enjoyed a couple of hours seeing the underwater sights, such as fish and jellyfish.

Saturday was chore day, at least for a while, and then we finished off the evening grilling food and enjoying some wine with our neighboring campers.  Sunday, we would start a slow trek back home.

 

 

 

March 29 – April 3, 2016: Everglades National Park   Leave a comment

Big Cypress National Preserve is adjacent to the Everglades, so we didn’t have far to travel on March 29.  We left Midway Campground at 9:30 AM and arrived at Flamingo Campground in Everglades National Park at 1:15 PM.  We drove east along Hwy 41 and then turned south on Hwy 997.  At Florida City, we turned west on Hwy 9336 which would take us to the national park.  We were visiting the Everglades towards the end of its tourist season, so the campground was fairly vacant.  Our site was in the T Loop.

Our site was the second from the top in the row where the letter "A" is seen.

A Google Earth view of the campground. Our site was the second from the top in the row where the letter “A” is seen.

As the map below demonstrates, the boundary for Everglades National Park extends beyond the land that forms the southern tip of Florida.  Florida Bay is a relatively shallow body of water (at least 800 square miles) that borders the Florida Keys to the east and comprises about a fourth of the total area of the park.

The National Park Service map of the Everglades. Flamingo Campground is

The National Park Service map of the Everglades. Flamingo Campground and Visitor Center are located at the southern end of the land that forms Florida.

After setting up camp, we decided to drive the one roads that traverses the park to get a better feel for it.  Around the Flamingo Visitors Center, we spotted a number of birds.

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This is an action shot of an osprey taking flight.

I believe this might be a heron.

I believe this might be a heron.

This bird looks a little different, but it might be a heron as well.

This bird looks a little different, but it might be a heron as well.

Another action shot of a bird in flight.

Another action shot of birds in flight.

There was also an osprey nest in the Visitors Center parking lot.  We weren’t able to see the eggs or hatchlings (if the baby birds had indeed hatched), but the nest was being carefully monitored.  We were able to get some more photos of the nest later in our stay, so I’ll add those towards the end of this post.

One of the parents making sure no one or thing would get close to the babies.

One of the parents making sure no one or thing would get close to the babies.

The Flamingo Visitors Centers is located on the Florida Bay and the confluence of the Wilderness Waterway.  The Wilderness Waterway is a man made waterway that was created to reach Whitewater Bay and other inland lakes that comprise the Everglades.  Unfortunately, it was discovered after it was created, that this canal allowed the sea water to pollute the fresh water of the lakes, thus ruining the natural habitat of animal and plant life. To correct that problem, a dam, or plug as the locals call it, was built to separate the two waters.  Consequently, the fresh water lakes are recovering.  I don’t have a photo of the dam, but a dam is a dam.  In the Florida Bay side at the Visitors Center, we could see manatees.

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We were able to get better photos of manatees at Blue Springs State Park, but here is a manatee enjoying the comforts of the inlet at the Visitors Center.

We also got our first glimpse of an American crocodile.  The southern end of the Everglades is the northern tip of the American crocodile territory.  The crocodiles live in salt or brackish water, whereas alligators are fresh water creatures.

Our first glimpse of an American crocodile.

Our first glimpse of an American crocodile. The crocodile was spotted in the canal. The water here is more brackish than fresh.

On Wednesday, March 30, we explored the park a little further.  We started by driving to Mahogany Hammock, about 18 miles from the campground.  (The campground is 38 miles from the entrance of the Everglades.)   A hammock is a densely wooded area slightly elevated from the surrounding land.  The elevation can merely be a few inches higher, but in the Everglades, that is significant.  Mahogany Hammock is a half mile trail on a raised walkway that traverses through massive mahogany trees.

Here I am in the midst of the trees.

Here I am in the midst of the trees. I really didn’t need the walking stick for hiking since the trail was flat and wooden. But, you never can tell when you might need protection from a snake.

We also saw some delicate, beautiful flowers along the path as well.

We also saw some delicate, beautiful flowers along the path as well.

That afternoon, at low tide as recommended by locals, we took the Florida Bay boat tour.  At low tide, we would be able to see more of the wildlife.

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This dead tree provides a rest area for a number of the birds.

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A cool photo of birds in flight.

this lucky bird caught dinner. The fish wasn't so lucky.

This lucky bird caught dinner. The fish wasn’t so lucky.

The Florida Bay Tour was enjoyable, but we preferred the second boat tour that we took on April 1 better.  Before I talk about that boat tour, let’s get to the Anhinga Trail that we enjoyed on March 31.  The Anhinga Trail is located close to the entrance of the park at Royal Palm.  The trail is another elevated walkway that meanders through a fresh water habitat.  We really enjoyed this trail.  We saw alligators, fish, plenty of birds, and landscape that just looks like what one thinks the Everglades should look.  The photos below say it all.

A rather large alligator sunning itself.

A rather large alligator sunning itself.

A bird sunning itself.

A bird sunning itself.

A flower sunning itself.

A flower sunning itself.

Everglades National Park, the Sea of Grass.

Everglades National Park, the Sea of Grass.

One fish that has managed to survive so far in this lake.

One fish that has managed to survive so far in this lake.

Another alligator close (but below us) to the walkway.

Another alligator close (but below us) to the walkway.

A couple of turtles enjoying the day.

A couple of turtles enjoying the day.

I thought this bird was rather pretty, although I have no idea what kind of bird it is.

I thought this bird was rather pretty, although I have no idea what kind of bird it is.

Another pretty flower.

Another pretty flower.

An alligator enjoying an afternoon swim.

An alligator enjoying an afternoon swim.

Another bird sitting on top of a roof-covered rest area for us humans.

This bird is sitting on top of a roof-covered rest area for us humans.

A view from the walkway that shows the water and plant life.

A view from the walkway that shows the water and plant life.

A view of the walkway meandering through the quiet of the lake.

A view of the walkway meandering through the quiet of the lake.

An alligator among the trees.

An alligator among the trees.

It's the nesting season, as you can see from this photo of the bird sitting on one.

It’s the nesting season, as you can see from this photo of the bird sitting on one.

As we were walking back to the truck, we came along this little flower alongside the walkway.

As we were walking back to the truck, we came along this little flower alongside the walkway.

The Anhinga Trail is an easy, flat wooden trail that displays a plethora of wildlife.  There were plenty of visitors to the trail, but it was quiet and peaceful.  As I said, we enjoyed this trail very much, but we eventually went back to our RV.  Along the way, we passed this road sign that we had seen when entering the park.  It brought a smile to our faces and I hope it brings one to you.

We;ve seen plenty of elevation signs while traveling through the mountains, but this one is priceless. I think my ears popped.

We’ve seen plenty of elevation signs while traveling through the mountains, but this one is priceless. I think my ears popped.

April 1 saw us taking the Everglades Back Country Boat Tour.  The tour starts at the Flamingo Visitors Center and follows the man made canal to Whitewater Bay.  I should mention why the canal was created in the first place.  If you look at the National Park Service map of the Everglades, you can see a dotted line starting at the Flamingo Visitors Center traveling north and west up to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center.  Once the canal reaches Coot Bay, the trail is all natural.  Before the canal was built, park rangers would have to boat from the Flamingo Visitors Centers west around Cape Sable and then follow the water between the Cape and Shark River Island to get to Oyster Bay and Whitewater Bay if there was any kind of trouble.  The canal shortened that distance considerably.  If one wants to canoe or kayak the entire Wilderness Waterway, there are places to tent camp along the trail.  Personally, I don’t think that experience is for me anymore, but I can understand if people would find it a challenge.  On to the tour.

Before getting on board the boat, we were able to see another American crocodile.

Before getting on board the boat, we were able to see another American crocodile.

We had reservations for a morning boat tour and I would recommend doing that.  Wildlife seems to be a little more active earlier in the day.

I am about to board the boat.

I am about to board the boat.

This is part of the canal, the man made portion of the waterway.

This is part of the canal, the man made portion of the waterway.

Again, we saw wildlife alongside the banks.

A heron.

A heron.

Look carefully at the center of the photo and you will see a baby crocodile.

Look carefully at the center of the photo and you will see a baby crocodile.

Eventually, they grow into this. Yikes!

Eventually, they grow into this. Yikes!

We had been told about this deadly tree found in the Everglades, the Manchineel tree.  The tree contains toxins that are very harmful to humans.  The sap of the tree can cause skin irritation.  If you stand underneath the tree during rain, the skin can blister if it comes in contact with this liquid.  If one tries to burn this tree, the eyes can be injured from the smoke.  The tree also produces a fruit that resembles an apple.  If eaten, the fruit can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms, bleeding, shock, and infection.  It is possible that ingestion can cause death, although no deaths have been reported in modern literature.  It’s enough to make one very wary of the tree.

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The Manchineel tree is the one that currently doesn’t have many leaves. We did not get close.

The boat tour continued up through Coots Bay and Whitewater Bay.  Boy, talk about being in the middle of nowhere!  Still, it was beautiful.  We enjoyed this boat tour every much, probably because we were able to see more wildlife than the Florida Bay tour.  At the end of this tour, we were both hungry, so we decided to stop at the cafe at the Visitors Center.

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Here’s a photo of me eating alligator. Tastes like chicken, perhaps not quite as tender.

We spent the rest of our time going back to some of the places we had already seen.  Remember the osprey with a nest at Flamingo Visitors Center? A couple of days after first photographing the nest, we were able to see both parent birds there.

Here are the parents at their home.

Here are the parents at their home.

One of the parents looking down at us. Don't get too close. That beak looks like it could leave a mark.

One of the parents looking down at us. Don’t get too close. That beak looks like it could leave a mark.

Some parting shots and thoughts.

Our campsite. We didn't have too many problems with insects, although we had heard the mosquitoes were pretty bad in January.

Our campsite. We didn’t have too many problems with insects, although we had heard the mosquitoes were pretty bad in January.

On the day we departed, we stopped at Flamingo Visitors Centers one more time.  We were hoping to be lucky enough to see a crocodile before we left.  Little did we know.

One of the rangers pointed to a momma croc sitting on the dock laying eggs.

One of the rangers pointed to a momma croc sitting on the dock laying eggs.

Apparently, this crocodile laid her eggs in this spot last year.  Unfortunately, this isn’t a very good spot for the eggs.  Last year, birds watched as she laid her eggs and then helped themselves to a meal after she left.  We saw a bird near the nest as we were watching, so we’re not very hopeful.

We also saw a crocodile in the water near the dock.

We also saw a crocodile in the water near the dock.

Since crocodiles live in brackish or salt water, they can filter out the salt from the water for a drink.  However, when the opportunity presents itself, they do like a drink of fresh water.  When it rains at Flamingo Visitors Center, the rainfall will drip over the side, so guess what we saw?

The crocodile came up to the side of the dock hoping to grab some fresh water.

The crocodile came up to the side of the dock hoping to grab some fresh water.

Here's a better shot of the crocodile waiting to get some water.

Here’s a better shot of the crocodile waiting to get some water.

The day we did the Back Country Boat Tour, one of the workers was cleaning something and running water over the dock.  We saw another crocodile drinking water then.

We had a good time in the Everglades.  We spent six days in the Everglades and probably could have cut that down to four or five.  We were used to some of the national parks up north that have miles and miles of hiking trails and other things to see.  Yes, we could have gotten off the beaten path and hiked some trails where we might have encountered snakes and gators up close and personal.  We don’t find that quite so intriguing anymore.  We did see one snake, and only one, scurrying from the road in the campground to get to cover.  That was enough for me.  Still, we are very glad we finally made it to the Everglades.  It is a very unique place.