This is another spring trip to Florida. This trip will take us back to some of our favorite places and include some new stops destined to become favorites. It was one of our favorite trips.
New Travel Set Up
After a slight stutter at the beginning of this adventure we had a great trip. In February we sold our Jeep Wrangler that we previously towed and Monty spent several days getting the replacement, a Honda CRV, ready to tow. Even after several ‘test’ runs, all was looking good until we actually started towing it. Apparently the Honda security system, installed by the dealer, was interfering with the tow set up. Not a big deal, except the Honda horn honked three times at every bump or turn. It was somewhat distracting to say the least and certainly not going to work for 4,000 miles. So the first hour of the trip was spent in the parking lot at Costco figuring out how to disconnect the horn.
After getting the horn under control, we were on the way, I can’t think of one ‘best’ part of this trip because it was so full of high points.
River Walk San Antonio
We stayed in a KOA outside San Antonio and took advantage of the bus stop right outside the park and went into town to enjoy the River Walk again. It’s kind of strange, but we think it is fun to ride the bus when we are in a different city. Of course there was one time in Santa Fe when we ended up riding the bus all the way to the barn because we didn’t recognize any of the stops. That was the end of the line for the bus so we had to get directions to our RV park and walk. In San Antonio we enjoyed lunch on the river walk and a boat cruise on the river. Loved hearing the history of the area.
We stopped to spend some time with our music friends on their ranch in Flatonia, Texas, what a beautiful place, and now we know how comfortable you can be in a barn- dominium. Think condominium but attached to the barn. Monty, Dianne and Stu, along with some of their friends, played and sang until they were hoarse. We enjoyed meeting the barn cats and we were tickled when Dianne explained the cattle actually talk. Sure enough early in the evening the cows all came to the fence and started saying, Moooooooove and Stuart went out and moved them to another pasture. Life on the farm is a bit different from life in the city!
Eunice, Louisiana is one of our favorite stops on the way to Florida. We make our travel plans to be there on a Saturday night for the live radio show at the Liberty theater. They have bands from the area playing either Zydeco or Cajun music. We discovered this gem in our travel bible, “1,000 Places To See Before You Die”. There is something nostalgic about the flashing ‘on the air’ sign and the first notes of the music. When the MC introduces the band and starts i n t e r viewing the members you realize something is very different here. Most of the dialogue is in Cajun French. There is a dance floor just in front of the stage, couples love to dance, and it is just a lot of fun.
Liberty Theater, Eunice, Louisiana
We stayed in Eunice through Sunday for the annual étouffée festival (think chili cook off). We sampled the étouffée from several vendors and stood in line for the sweet potato pie. It was a big festival in a small town with live bands, dancing, and, of course, Cajun food. Many of the attendees were large family gatherings out for an afternoon in the park. Everyone seems to know each other and it was a big party.
In Ocean Springs, Mississippi we discovered the Shed, a totally unique BBQ hang out. It was literally a big wooden shed with gravel floors, picnic tables and some of the best BBQ ever. Apparently the Shed was featured on Good Morning America when they had a special on BBQ. It is a rockin’ place. Ocean Springs is a nice area, we stayed in one of the Corp of Engineers campgrounds. This one has a bridge over a water inlet into the park and a huge alligator occupies the area. He suns himself on the grass and watches the people go by. We heard him bellowing one evening while we were walking, he was awesome.
Love that BBQ
After more than a couple of wrong turns we found the Mississippi Sand Hill crane preserve. There was a trail that lead down to the river and the beginning of the trail told all about the difference between ‘regular’ sand hill cranes and the Mississippi crane, which is about a foot taller, making them about four and a half feet tall. We anxiously hiked thru the mosquito infested, spooky, overgrown trail in search of cranes. Zoe even stood at attention looking and . . .nothin’, nada, not a single crane. At the end of the trail is a large sign stating the obvious, you probably didn’t see any Mississippi cranes because there are only 100 nesting pair in all of Mississippi and they don’t nest in this area. Well, really now, couldn’t they have included this info on the sign at the beginning of the trail. Note, the Mississippi Sand Hill Crane Trail was NOT listed in the ‘1,000 Places . . .
On the outskirts of Tampa, in Ybor Fla. we watched people hand roll cigars like they did in the old cigar factories. We wandered the streets of this Cuban section where most of the cigar factories were located. The museum provided interesting insight into the way of life in the area in the early 1900’s. We were fortunate that the docent was available and this young lady of 84 years showed us around. She was born in the area, as was her mother, whose life touched three centuries. Mom was born in 1898 and died in 2002. The docent took us thru a restored house, typical of the houses supplied by the cigar factories for their workers. The workers had ‘womb to tomb’ medical care provided, and there are still a few remaining workers from that era who will have their funerals provided for them along with a burial spot when they die.
We had lunch in a well known Cuban restaurant and enjoyed lovely painted murals on the walls and stunning tile murals in the entry way. Flamenco dancers perform in the evenings. We found it interesting that not only did the Cubans settle in this area but the Germans and Italians had a big influence also.
Where Are the Cranes?
We met some interesting people, the rather eccentric lady from Las Vegas who was tent camping her way to spend a weekend at Mermaid School. (REALLY, I can’t make this stuff up!). On a previous trip she went to the Arctic Circle in February (40 degrees below zero) to see the Aurora Borealis. You gotta really want to see the lights with those temps. I think I’m good with pictures.
Then there was the Harrison Ford look-a-like tour guide at Myakka State Park. He looked so much like a younger version of Harrison Ford it was distracting. Harrison was very entertaining and we learned a lot about alligators, water fowl and the wild boars that roam that area. We also took an inland tram tour (half price with the river tour!), we learned the history of the area and heard stories about early settlers. The ‘cow hunters’ who actually rounded up the wild cattle that originally came from the old Spanish ship wrecks. This park also has a suspension bridge that was in the tree top canopy. That was fun and the view is magnificent. This park has been on our list of places to see for several years and we were really glad to include it this year.
‘Harrison Ford’ Tour Guide
We spent a couple of days on the Atlantic Coast of Florida. We opened the sun roof and played Jimmy Buffett while cruising down highway A1A. We stopped for Margaritas and shrimp at an old weathered restaurant right on the beach. They say timing is everything and we really lucked out getting a spot at Flagler State Park. They only have about 20 campsites and ours looked directly out on the ocean, we took pictures of the ocean waves right out the window of the motorhome. What’s not to like about this!!!
Florida has a wonderful state park system, we learned this on our first trip here in 2002. Many of the parks are associated with springs and we stayed at several of them. The springs provide an ideal spot for swimming in fresh crystal clear water. Our favorite is located in the Manatee Springs campground. Gosh, it is a beautiful place, the trees are gorgeous and the spring is exceptional. There are manatees here and we saw several of them frolicking in the water. I’m not sure if frolic is the appropriate word for a 800 pound manatee but they were enjoying a lazy swim in the afternoon sunshine. My favorite thing in this park is the boardwalk that extends from the spring to the Suwannee River. It is without a doubt a photographers dream. The trees and cypress knees are thick in this partly swampy area. Last time we were here we saw a water snake slithering by. (Manatee Park pictures in Florida 2002)
View From Our Front Window
Monty inquired about renting a canoe or kayak but our canoe experience of a few years ago (Paddle, Damn it Paddle) turned out to be a very wet one and although we still laugh about it, I’m not eager to repeat it, especially since the canoe rental was next to the ‘Beware of Alligators’ sign.
You see a lot of flat armadillos along the highways in the South but this trip we were lucky to actually see a couple of them all fat and sassy. They certainly are strange looking critters. We saw a lot of deer, they seem to hang out in the campgrounds. Birds took top billing this trip though, from the red headed woodpecker about the size of our roadrunner in Manatee Park to the bald eagle on St. George Island. Lots of cardinals, and adorable little iridescent blue birds. There were great horned owls that hooted all night.
Close Encounter With an Armadillo
My personal favorites were the owls at Hillsborough River Park. This was another gem in the Florida State Park system. Huge trees, spacious campsites, a river bordered the park for boating, fishing, etc. We walked to the river and watched people and owls fishing. There was a momma owl who was so bold as to snatch fish right off the kids fishing lines. A quick run thru the forest and we could catch her giving the fish to her owlet and watch him have lunch. This was not a one time event, momma would sit in the tree right above the kids fishing and as soon as they had something she’d go and get it. The kids knew they were just fishing for the owl and they were having a great time showing her off. We really enjoyed our stay here.
St George Island was delightful as always, there isn’t much commercial activity here but Doug, the seafood guy, was at his corner and the shrimp were mouth watering. We had ‘em on kabobs with peppers and onions, in stir fry, peel and dip in sauce, and a special Creole recipe over rice. Gosh, it was all good. This is where we saw the bald eagle sitting on top of the dunes.
We treat ourselves to lunch out at least once while we are there. The Blue Parrot sits right on the beach with outdoor dining and Zoe can go to lunch with us. They bring her a bowl of water and we let her have some french fries. The shrimp and clam baskets are great. Zoe loves the beach, she chases the waves and bites at the water and has a grand time. We spent a lot of time just being beach bums.
Lunch at the Blue Parrot
There is a stunning new research facility dedicated to saving the estuary, located just before you cross the causeway to St. George. That area is a big oyster producer, so there is a history of the area and the industry. The oystermen still use the long poles to pry the oysters off the reefs the same way they did 70 years ago. The Apalachicola River supplies the fresh water to mix with the Gulf to provide a perfect environment for oysters. The displays were beautiful with aquariums for turtles and different kinds of fish found in the area. On the ceiling were seven pelicans in flight; it was really a great place.
Zoe made lots of friends on this trip. It was spring break for the kids in Florida and families were taking advantage of the time to see the Florida Caverns State Park, in fact it was so crowded that we had to wait a couple of hours for our tour time. We ate our lunch, walked Zoe, and every kid there wanted to come pet the dog and the parents wanted to tell us about the dogs they had when they were kids. We love traveling with Zoe, she is a people magnet. She is settling down a bit and is willing to just sit still while kids tug her ears or give her hugs. We had numerous people slow their car or bike to shout ‘we love your dog’.
Zoe Waiting to Meet a New Friend
My favorite Zoe story is from Hillsborough Park, we were watching the kids fish and a mom came over and said, “Wait until my two year old sees the dog” sure enough the little one looked up and started running toward us. He held his hand out and squinted his eyes shut with a big smile expecting to be kissed by the dog, Zoe didn’t disappoint him. They were so adorable, “What’s her name?’ he asked and said ‘Hi, Zoe, I’m Sam’ and then just stood there grinning with his arm around her neck.
On the way home we stopped in Lockhart, Texas, reported to be the beginning of the Texas BBQ trail. I guess Napa has their wine trail and Texas has BBQ. We chose a place that has been family owned and operated since 1932. It was a hokey place with deer heads on the wall and old fashion bubblegum machines, red checkered plastic cloths on picnic tables, and the brisket was mouth watering. After the stop in Lockhart the trip was a lot like an old video arcade game. There were mountains in the distance and an asphalt highway underneath the stationary motorhome. The white line just kept rolling by but the mountains never seemed to get any closer. It was like we were standing still, crossing Texas seems like a lifetime. We saved the best audio book for the trip home to keep us distracted and after what seemed like a week we got thru west Texas and New Mexico.
BBQ In Lockhart
It was all good, we are blessed to enjoy this type of travel and to thoroughly enjoy the time spent together. We realize it isn’t for everyone, but, as my brother, Bert, says, “If we all wanted to do the same thing the lines would be too long!’ The roads would definitely be too crowded.