12/6/2021 Gulf Coast, Florida
My weekend ended at the Everglades and I headed back towards my sister’s house. However, when I saw how close I was to the Keys I took another side trip over to Key Largo and John Pennenkamp Coral Reef State Park just to say I’ve been there. It was a cloudy day and rain clouds were gathering, but hey, this is Florida in the winter and I’m starting to get used to the crazy weather. I bought my annual state park pass and walked around the visitor center. Not too much to do if you are not snorkeling and I think some activities were closed because of the weather. I was able to get a few shots of birds before the sky opened up and soaked me to the bone! Thankfully, I was able to change clothes in the van and dried myself off.
The drive on HWY 41 was an experience, and it was hard not to stop to take snaps. There was an alligator in a canal, and all kinds of birds fluttering around the side of the road. There were some interesting signs, too, and I wish I had taken photos. Turtle crossing, bears and panther warning signs lined the road and I kept a watchful eye, though I didn’t see any critters. It was a beautiful drive.
I stopped at Cindy’s house for the night and the place was all decked out for Christmas. My sister loves decorating and it was fun to take the decorations in. It was weird that so few houses were decorated for the holidays. I guess that’s because people travel during the holidays and don’t bother decorating. Too bad… I had WiFi access and downloaded a bunch of books and movies. I showed my sister and bro-in-law all my tourist books and they made lots of suggestions for cool places to visit. Cindy also warned me about the alligators. They usually won’t advance on people, but you don’t want to run into one, as they are large. She told me that a 13 footer was spotted on a road by her house. YIKES!
The next day I headed north and stopped in St. Petersburg to visit the Dali museum. Parking was free that day and the price of admission was $27.50 with my senior discount. What an amazing place! The winding stairway was sunlit and some small triangular windows were decorated with fake cracks. I saw all of the paintings that I remembered, especially the melted clock. It’s interesting how different the real thing looks like compared to prints you see in books and online. Dali was a genius and though his life had a sad ending when he was institutionalized with dementia, his family and friends rallied up to help him toward the end. I would have loved to have met this man. There was also a photography exhibit of Lee Miller, who photographed celebrities including Picasso and other artists she hung out with.
Driving home was scary. I decided to drive the 4 hours back to the campground. Once I got to HWY 10 it was already dark and the fog rolled in (there was a fog advisory), and I had to drive in it all the way back. Most of the time, I could hardly see the road and we all slowed down to navigate the soupy fog. When I finally got back to the campground around 9pm I had to rub my hands to get rid of the white knuckle experience! What a day!
Merry Christmas everyone! I spent a few days at my sister’s house and it was nice and quiet. Cindy has the coolest decorations and we reminisced about some of the ornaments she collected over the years. Another sister, Mary, was there too. She’s from the Chicago area and was glad to be in warmer weather.
Afterward, I headed up to Tarpon Springs to experience the Greek culture that I grew up with. This little tourist town was packed with shops selling natural sponges that Greek divers are known for gathering. Sponge boats lined the marina and tours were available. There were Christmas trees and decorations that looked so out of place without snow, but I was glad that they were there. (I miss my Chicago lights.) I walked around and stopped at some of the shops, and had lunch at Costas. The food was good and sitting outside in December made me appreciate the warm, sunny day. I bought a medium size sponge and some handmade soaps and went on my way.
That night I found a spot near Ocala and the next day went to Silver Springs State Park. If you are a classic horror movie buff like me, The Creature From the Black Lagoon was shot there and TV shows I Spy shows and Sea Hunt were also shot there. I took the glass bottom boat tour for around $12 and had a 30 minute tour of the river. The glass magnifies the water and everything looks very close. There are 200 springs there and the water level is always constant. The water was so clear that you could see the bottom (minimum 25 ft) and some of the springs in motion. The springs in Florida are a constant 72 degrees, which is definitely warmer than Lake Michigan. Our tour captain explained that you could also drink the water right out of the river, that’s how clean it was. There were kayakers and canoers gaping at us while we spent most of the time looking down through the 1/2″ glass. Pretty cool! I would definitely come back again to visit. The grounds were lush for this time of year, and decorations were scattered. One really interesting bird that I shot pictures of was an Anhinga, who had to fan its feathers to dry off, and they were spread out to dry in the sun. They are big birds! I saw my first one years ago in Costa Rica.