Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Everglades City, Florida

usbackroads destination--Everglades City, Florida

After a couple of weeks in Florida it was getting a little suffocating with all the other humans.  I started looking for a place away from the crowds of humanity.  There  on the northwest side of the Everglades National Park was a small town all by its lonesome surrounded by an actual natural landscape!

The name was enough to get my attention.  A small town with city at the end of its name.  Out on the backroads that usually means a pretty good story associated with that particular town.  See our previous blog posting on: What's in a Name??

Out west, all small towns with big aspirations always included the term "city" in their name.  I suppose, they just thought they would grow into the name.  In most cases, it never happened but the names linger on maps.  Always go explore a small town with city in the name.  It will be a interesting place.  Everglades City proves the theory.

Here is the history of Everglades City from the turn of the century:  History of Everglades City.  But Everglades City's recent past is even interesting:  High Times in Everglade City.

The town even has a roundabout around the microwave tower in the middle of town.  If your looking for fancy homes and cars Everglades City is probably not your type of place.  But it is changing. There is evidence that people with money are starting to discover this little town.

I must say that one of the highlights of Florida was the local food.  Particularly, the seafood.  So if your willing to try local food in its "native" setting you might enjoy the dinning scene in Everglades City.  

This is the Triad Seafood Market and Cafe from the front.  Here is the link to the web site: Triad Restaurant.

And their dinning room from the street.

Not sure what went through the screen.  It is handy to have a screened it dinning room with the bugs!!  So dinner time in Everglades City ends a little after sunset.  Oh, very good food.  Stone Crab is just as good as that fancy Northwest and Alaskan crabs!  The local grouper fish sandwich was outstanding.

We also had dinner at the Camillia Restaurant.  A bit more upscale than the Triad, but without that fancy, screened it dinning room.  That does make a difference.  Be sure your done eating before dark and when the no-see-ums come out. Good food.

There was also this place that looked interesting, but we ended up running out of time.  Lots of little, interesting places to explore in Everglades City and environs.  Particularly, for those of us that are NOT into shopping!

As noted in the previous posting Everglades City is getting into eco-tourism.  Fortunately, it is still fairly low key.  People recommended doing an air boat tour.  Loud, fast, and exciting.  I dropped out at loud.  Do take advantage of the setting in the Everglades  There are also some interpretive trips on charter boats that are quiet and require little physical exertion.

For our canoe trip the Park Service did ask about canoeing experience.  Everybody in the group did have pretty good experience, except for several kids.  They fortunately, had the physical strength to overcome the lack of canoeing knowledge.  It was fairly windy on our four hour excursion in the bay.  The "kids" did manage to flip the canoe, but everybody was fine and most of the bay water is shallow enough that you can stand in it.  

It is a fun trip.  Don't lie about your canoeing experience IF it is windy.  In windy weather, I would be willing to cancel the canoe trip.  The Park Service came close to doing that.  It is one thing to suck it up and work through it when your in your twenties and getting paid.  In your sixties, in retirement, it is strictly about the enjoyment not the challenge.

Monday, April 20, 2015

usbackroads destinatiion--Ivey House, Everglades City, Florida

usbackroads destinatiion--Ivey House, Everglades City, Florida

dates of stay: March 11-12, 2015

Foresters have a real fondness for blank places on a map.  Florida has very few such places.  At we were traveling to the Keys I noticed a small town separated from all the rest.  Everglades City. Next posting will be on Everglades City, but this post is on Ivey House where we stayed for two days on our return to Tampa.

Accommodations are difficult to find in tropical Florida during high season.  We were lucky to find two nights at the Ivey House. Here is the rate table for the Ivey House. Expensive, but all of Florida is expensive. Given all that the Ivey House is a good value.  You will not be disappointed.

We run our own vacation rental business in the eastern Washington Cascades.  So we do know what it takes to keep the "guest" happy. The staff were friendly and attentive to our needs.  There is a nice, small store selling important outdoor items at fair prices. It is a couple hour drive to find an outdoor store.

They also have a good breakfast that is included in the price. The rooms are spacious with fans and tile floors.  We did notice that a wine bottle does not bounce very well on a tile floor. The staff came quickly and cleaned up the mess that we created.

Double doors everywhere. In the Rocky Mountains double are very common to keep out the cold during winter.  Take a good look at these double doors. Do you notice that the first door is a SCREEN door?

The next sign gives the answer for the double doors. It seems that BUGS might be an issue in the Everglades!

Bugs are a fact of life in the Everglades. The Ivey House has a great way of dealing with the bugs. Basically there are screens all around the entire building. Here is a picture of the pool area.

 Notice the screening of pool area to keep out bugs. All the hallways and outside porch areas are similarly screened. So once you enter the Inn you do not have to expose yourself to the bugs, yet you are still outside. Great design, giving you the best of the outdoors without the constant drone and exposure to mosquito bites. A great feature for a place in the Everglades. Otherwise, you just might be trapped in your room due to bugs.

The Ivey House also has access to trips and kayaks. You can find the information on their web page:


We opted for a National Park Service interpretive canoe trip instead, but I am sure that the trips offered by Ivey House will match their service at the Inn.

They do have a bulletin board showing activities and nearby walks and hikes:

The Ivey House tends to attract outdoor people. Yes, you can run into strange people like investment bankers, hedge fund managers and other weird urban occupations.  But even these folks have a strong interest in the outdoors so it is likely that you will have something in common with them.

A large part of their clientele are Europeans. Now my opinion of Europe is that it is SO.........1970 and there are many more interesting places to visit. It is, however, interesting to comparing notes from people elsewhere on the planet over breakfast. And at the Ivey it is likely that you will run outdoor people from throughout the world.

We highly recommend the Ivey House. It is a great place to stay. One thing we did notice is the following "towel" art.

We keep finding this "towel" art throughout the tropics. Is this a hot weather art form??

Here is the Ivey House web site:  http://iveyhouse.com/.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Fiesta Key RV Park, Florida Keys, Florida

 usbackroads destination--Fiesta Key RV Park, Florida Keys, Florida.

Travel Dates at Fiesta Key-- Feb 25-28, 2015

We stayed with friends for the first half of the trip and had already rented a home in the Florida Keys for the latter half of the trip. Unfortunately, that left a gap of four days where we would be homeless.

Now being homeless in the Florida Keys has its advantages since it is so warm and even hot in the winter at night.  All we needed was a tent, sleeping bag, and cooking gear and we were back to the future where we backpacked and lived out of tents instead of RV's.  We bought two zip together sleeping bags and had them shipped to Florida.  We will use them RV'ing this summer.  We did have a hard time finding a cheap tent for sale.  Wal-Mart was sold out, put fortunately K-Mart did have a nice, cheap dome tent for $40.  We had plenty of backpacking stoves and cooking gear so that was not a problem.

The only problem was finding a campground!!  We called all the Florida state parks in the Keys.  No vacancy.  Most Florida State Parks have one or two campsites available on a first-come, first serve basis.  Good luck.  AND the state parks are EXPENSIVE, but well worth the money.  IF you can get into a Florida State Park in the Keys.....DO IT.  They are booked seven months in advance and BOOKED exactly eleven months in advance!!  Good luck.

Here are the links for the Florida State Parks in the Keys.

Bahia-Honda State Park

Curry Hammock State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Long Key State Park

Good luck in finding a spot.  It is worth it if you get lucky.

Susie started calling the private RV parks looking for four nights for a TENT!  The only place we found was Fiesta Key RV Park run by Encore Corporation.  The reviews of the campground were fairly negative for maintenance, rowdy campers, and tight quarters.  We agree on all points.

This campsite was $72.50 a night.  It had streetlight as bright as the sun illuminating all the tent sites and they were located right next to the entrance road to the campground.  Come the weekend we got to share the adjacent tent sites with a party group from Miami.  They finally fell asleep at 3:00 am in the morning.  So much for the concept of quiet hours.

The maintenance and cleanliness of the campground was rather haphazard.  One restroom building was not cleaned for two days. Of course, it had a filthy toilet.  I don't know if the campground was waiting for a guest to clean it or just figured it would clean itself.  They were trip hazards all throughout the campground.  You should be very careful just walking around the campground.
The campground had plenty of signs up that they were going to fix things......soon.  So your mileage may vary.  In our case, there is no next time.

This was the bar, hot tub, and pool area of the RV Park. It was rather removed from the camping spots.  So, of course, the management closes the area at 9:00 pm so the party people can keep the rest of the campground up all night.

The RV Park only had free wi-fi in the office.  To get wi-fi in the camping areas you had to pay extra.  The cell connection was good for Verizon so we just used our cellular connection for internet.

The fish cleaning station was in the "boat" area.  If you have a boat and can secure a slip this park might be worth the time and tribulations that the campers are subjected to on a daily basis.

We did not check out the other RV parks in the area.  They all looked crowded.  Read the review carefully and book accordingly. 

Don't be a homeless person.  Remember in the winter the entire east coast of the United States wants to move to the Florida Keys. Plan your trip ahead of time.  The Keys are not a place for freelancing.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Florida Birds......The Feathered Kind

usbackroads information--Florida Birds

I started bird watching during my college years exploring the few remaining salt marshes of the San Francisco Bay Area.  I did develop a fondness for salt marshes, freshwater marshes and swamps.  Of course, these days they are all called wetlands.

When I moved to Idaho I still roamed the swamps of north Idaho:


It was about this time that I started to get dogs to help with bird watching.  They pointed out all sorts of interesting birds, even those hiding in wheat fields.

Florida has a lot of wetlands.  Almost a third of the state is public land and most of that is one foot under water.  So a swamp.

Knowing this I packed my image stablilized binoculars and a handy bird guide on the IPAD.

The east coast of the United States during the past two years have had ANYBODY that could migrating to Florida for the winter.  Of course, the birds have been doing this for thousands of years. If you head to Florida in the winter, bring your binoculars there will be plenty of birds to greet you.

Florida is just loaded with birds in winter.  You can bird watch in a county park, deep in the suburbs, or even from your motel room balcony.  This fellow killed a squirrel on the motel grounds and flew into a tree to skin and eat his breakfast.  He did eat the tail whole.


I did turn on the IPAD to identify him as a Broad-Shouldered Hawk.  A new species for me.  So I used my IPAD to "tweet" a Broad-Shouldered Hawk call to him.  He was NOT impressed.  Looked around looking for the "trespasser" and glared at me for good measure.  He then left for another tree to eat his breakfast in peace.

Terry, Susie and I did take a walk at a local county park. There was a boardwalk overlooking part of the swamp.  As we looked back on the marsh, a couple pointed out a 14 foot alligator hidden just beyond the rushes.  However, what caught my attention was an American Bittern hidden in the "weeds"  Can you spot him?  Where is my pointing dog to point him out!!

Yep, he is right in the middle of the picture.  So this is him when he comes out in the open.  He is, however, still thinking about doing that camo thing.

From the same spot there were plenty of new and wonderful birds to view.

I highly recommend a bird guide on a tablet.  Field guide books are finished.  There are plenty of field guides for tablets that are much, much better than using a standard book.  For example, you can play bird calls, look for similar birds, and easily search by location and habitat.  I use the IBIRD guide, but there are other guides out there.  Read the reviews and pick the one that works best for you.  The Birding Natural field guides are pretty much mature and better than those on other topics. At this point, buy the field guide for the tablet and not a paper book.  You will not regret making the change.

As noted before (http://usbackroads.blogspot.com/2010/04/image-stabilized-binoculars.html) are the way to go for bird watching binoculars.

Here is another review of them: http://www.garyseronik.com/?q=node/25.

If your into the natural world.  Get the binoculars and the field guides for the tablet.  What are you waiting for??  It is the 21st century!!  Here are Terry and Susie along the trail.  Notice that Terry is wearing those fancy binoculars.

As noted before the place to find great places to explore are the birding trails for the individual states: http://usbackroads.blogspot.com/2010/06/boondocking-and-birding-trails.html.

For Florida follow this link: http://floridabirdingtrail.com/

Florida is really for the birds in winter.  It is a lot more fun than reading those funny "adult" subject billboards found along Florida highways.

Of course, some people head to Florida to get that heartbeat rate up a bit.  As the signs warn there are plenty of these guys laying around the best birding sites.  More pictures on them soon.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Weeki Wachee River, Florida

usbackroads destination--Weeki Wachee River, Florida

Trip date--February 18, 2015

There were three reasons for going to Florida.  The first two were the Everglades and the Florida Keys.  The third reason was the "spring" rivers of Florida.  These creeks and rivers offer crystal clear water and spring full blown from underground springs.

The closest "spring" river to Tarpon Springs was the Weeki Wachee River.  And as a bonus it had a kayak rental and shuttle.  For thirty-five dollars we could get a rent a tandem kayak for a four hour float down a crystal clear stream.

Out West, there are plenty of spring creeks.  Just ask any trout fisherman and you can get directions!! The temperature of western spring creeks is usually in the low to mid 50's.  The Weeki Wachee River is a very comfortable 75 degrees.

For the folks from Wenatchee there was no way we could turn down a float trip on the Weeki Wachee River!!  Say that three times fast.....Wenatchee folks floating the Weeki Wachee!!  We even bought a Weeki Wachee tee shirt.

The Weeki Wachee is world famous for its Mermaid shows.  We took a pass due to time constraints, but next time we will be ready for this underwater spectacle:  History of Weeki Wachee Mermaids.

The Spanish wandered all over Florida looking for the fountain of youth and mermaids.  I suspect after a certain age you really do need to find both, since finding one of the two is sort of pointless.

The story is that the Manatees were to closes thing to mermaids.  So for this trip Susie was rather hopeful of seeing a large, water living mammal.  Her track record with whales has been rather poor so she was hopeful that manatees would be more accommodating.  She was hopeful after seeing this sign.

So our two boat fleet pushed off looking for the manatees and other sights along the river.  Terry was guide on the trip.  He was a Florida native that moved to the Northwest after getting his Forestry degree.  I suspect he found working in the woods in Oregon and Washington was much easier than slogging your way through the swamps of central Florida.

Terry does know the local fauna and flora.  As we were floating down the river a beautiful copper colored snake jumped in and floated close to the kayak.  I did maneuver the kayak so Susie can get a good close look at the pretty snake.  Terry wondered if the snake was a copperhead.  Now I always thought that for some reason a copperhead was a rattlesnake and I could clearly see that this snake had no rattles.  Yes, it was that close.  At this point, I led the conversation into Copperheads and their role in the American Civil War: Northern Copperheads.

After awhile both Susie, Terry, and the snake got tired of the discussion of Norther Copperheads and the American Civil War.  Only the snake had the option of leaving the discussion which he did after floating close to us for several minutes.  Once we were back in the rig heading home I used the smartphone to look up Florida copperheads.

Well, I did learn something new that day.  While rattlesnakes are vipers, not all vipers are rattlesnakes.  A copperhead is a viper.  It is a venomous snake:


Not mentioned in the article is that discussion of copperheads in history is a good way to get the snake to move on!

We did see other wildlife on the trip.  But the copperhead was definitely the highlight.

Though the sign hinted at manatees we did not see any on the trip.  We did come around a corner and in a deep pool where folks were gathered waiting for a manatee to surface.  After about 10 minutes we gave up and once again started paddling downstream.  It must be that manatees can hold their breath for more than 10 minutes. So Susie continued her losing streak with seeing marine mammals.

Here is the information of renting the kayaks from Paddling Adventures:  Paddling Adventures.
It is interesting that their web site shows NOBODY wearing their bulky life jackets which are mandatory at all times on the trip.

Areas for stopping and having lunch are rather limited due to private land and the general swamp land surrounding the river.  So take advantage of rest areas when then come up and be prepared to eat lunch on the boat if necessary.

Here is additional information on the kayak trip:  Weeki Wachee River Information.

Do explore Florida's spring rivers.  Just like the Everglades and the Florida Keys they are a special part of the natural landscape of Florida.