Back in the saddle again

We’ve finally left Florida and are back on the road again. Jim got the green light to travel from his doctors. In fact, they removed all restrictions. The cardiologist said his heart looks perfect and that this is the best repair he has ever seen! Jim is still in recovery and slowly getting back to normal.

Exhibit of paper art at Cornell Museum in Delray Beach

Exhibit of paper art at Cornell Museum in Delray Beach. These dogs were life sized.

In our last week in Florida, we had a couple worthwhile adventures. One was attending a food and history tour of the area in which we rode around on a bus viewing historic buildings, learning about the history of different neighborhoods, and tasting samples at numerous restaurants. Had we done this at the start of our time in Florida, we would have eaten out a lot more, so it was probably good news to our budget that we didn’t know about all the good dining until we were leaving. On another day, Megan took advantage of rare flat calm conditions to put back on the snorkeling gear and swim about 300 feet off shore to a reef. She was rewarded with seeing a sting ray, a group of barracuda, a 10-foot nurse shark, and numerous other large fish. It’s always a bit unnerving to be in the water with creatures that are your size or larger, but she kept a respectful distance and enjoyed the awe of their presence.

9/11 Memorial. This giant fountain is the footprint of one of the twin towers. It was a moving tasteful memorial.

9/11 Memorial. This giant fountain is the footprint of one of the twin towers. It was a moving tasteful memorial.

We are currently in New York, where we came to spend some time with Megan’s brother, Adam. The weather has been wonderful, with highs in the 70s. It is such a surprise coming from Florida to remember that one can spend time outside without sweating profusely and being uncomfortable. We have enjoyed New York City for the walking, the parks, the constant fantastic flow of humanity, the sights, sounds and smells (some of them). Megan and Adam did some sightseeing: a tour of the Statue of Liberty, visiting the beautiful 9/11 memorial, walking the High Line, shopping, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. A special thanks to our friends Ben and Tina who put us up and pointed us toward fun things!

Storm King Art Center. Check out the kid jumping under the central statue

Storm King Art Center. Check out the kid jumping under the central statue

Megan also visited Camphill Village, where Adam lives. It is an incredibly special place, a mostly-self-sustaining farm and home for people with special needs and gifts. We spent multiple days exploring the Hudson Valley. The highlight was Storm King Art Center, a 500-acre sculpture park. We also visited a county fair and had a great time watching people, pig races, and horse pulls. It was a welcome contrast to time in the city.

Next week we’re finally crossing the pond on our way to Europe. Stay tuned!

Exhibit of paper art at Cornell Museum in Delray Beach. These women were life sized.

Exhibit of paper art at Cornell Museum in Delray Beach. These women were life sized.

The pizza oven imported from Naples at a stop on our food history tour. It is about 1000 degrees in the oven. They only burn oak and are able to cook a pizza in 90 seconds! It was delicious.

The pizza oven imported from Naples at a stop on our food history tour. It is about 1000 degrees in the oven. They only burn oak and are able to cook a pizza in 90 seconds! It was delicious.

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

View of the Statue of Liberty from the pedestal

View of the Statue of Liberty from the pedestal

Looking up under the skirts of Lady Liberty, you can see her support "hose" and the spiral staircase that leads up to the crown.

Looking up under the skirts of Lady Liberty, you can see her support “hose” and the spiral staircase that leads up to the crown.

Manhattan skyline

Manhattan skyline

A building project in Brooklyn that had 3-6 cranes working on it every day

A building project in Brooklyn that had 3-6 cranes working on it every day

Brooklyn Botanic Garden is full of amazing plants

Brooklyn Botanic Garden is full of amazing plants

Adam, Megan's brother, climbing the lookout at Ferncliff Forest

Adam, Megan’s brother, climbing the lookout at Ferncliff Forest

View of the Hudson River Valley from the lookout tower in Ferncliff Forest

View of the Hudson River Valley from the lookout tower in Ferncliff Forest

Draft horses testing their strength at Ulster County Fair

Draft horses testing their strength at Ulster County Fair

Four-horned sheep seen at the Ulster County Fair

Four-horned sheep seen at the Ulster County Fair

Adam in line to ride the ferris wheel

Adam in line to ride the ferris wheel

Megan and Adam riding the Ferris Wheel at Ulster County Fair

Megan and Adam riding the Ferris Wheel at Ulster County Fair

Storm King Art Center

Storm King Art Center

Storm King Art Center. Adam under the Three Legged Buddha by Zhang Huan

Storm King Art Center. Adam under the Three Legged Buddha by Zhang Huan

Storm King Art Center. Four Corners by Forrest Myers with Megan and Adam in the cube

Storm King Art Center. Four Corners by Forrest Myers with Megan and Adam in the cube

Storm King Art Center had a couple rock walls by the talented Andy Goldsworthy, one of Megan's favorite artists

Storm King Art Center had a couple rock walls by the talented Andy Goldsworthy, one of Megan’s favorite artists

Olana

Olana

Olana, the home of artist Frederic Edwin Church near Hudson is now a museum

Olana, the home of artist Frederic Edwin Church near Hudson is now a museum

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The adventure continues

An afternoon of boogie boarding at our local beach

An afternoon of boogie boarding at our local beach

Regarding what we call ‘Jim’s Little Problem’ or ‘Megan’s Big Problem,’ Jim was discharged from the hospital a couple days ago and is doing quite well. The surgeon fixed his mitral valve by removing excess tissue from one of the leaflets and inserting a stabilizing ring around the valve. Post-surgery Jim did experience, like many after heart surgery, some atrial fibrillation but that has responded well to medication and will likely not appear again. One of the doctor’s largest concerns with all heart surgery patients is lung capacity; in order to get at the heart for surgery, they have to deflate your lungs. After surgery, they spend as much time listening to and watching the lungs as they do the heart. Patients can be at risk of pneumonia, lung damage, and breathing problems. Jim had some fluid in his lungs that has cleared and likely was caused by a small puncture to the lung during surgery. Using an incentive spirometer to measure lung capacity, Jim had no problem hitting 4500 mL before surgery; the device tops out at 5000 mL. A few hours after surgery, Jim was able to get 1500 mL (more than the nurses expected) and has been steadily increasing that; today is able to get 2750mL and improving at a daily rate of 250 mL. Every day, he gains back more strength and energy as well. He has few small incisions and an impressive collection of bruises to show from the experience.

Downtown Tampa as seen from our hotel room. The Convention Center, in the foreground, was modeled after a sternwheeler.

Downtown Tampa as seen from our hotel room. The Convention Center, in the foreground, was modeled after a sternwheeler.

Prior to Jim’s surgery, we took one more sightseeing trip in Florida, across the state to the Gulf Coast. We hopped on the Amtrak and got off in Tampa. We didn’t know anything about Tampa before arriving and were pleasantly surprised. Downtown Tampa has a beautiful skyline and is very clean, compact, with a lot of cultural sights, public art, and parks. Tampa’s economy was built upon trade with Cuba. After the embargo, the city set itself up to be a financial capital and now has national and regional headquarters for many banks. We enjoyed the unique architecture and an excellent exhibit on Poseidon at the Museum of Art. We took a harbor tour where we not only enjoyed excellent views but learned a lot about the history and culture from our guide. We explored the Tampa Bay History Center and learned even more about history and culture. High quality exhibits told the complicated violent story of European explorers and native Indians in a pretty balanced way. The explorers often faced similar odds of surviving as the Indians (the Narvaez expedition began with 600 men and only 4 survived). Centuries later, some of the Seminole people hid out in the swamps for decades, evading attack, capture, and deportation to reservations.

Tampa's Museum of Art had fun modernist architecture, like this walkway and giant hole to the sky.

Tampa’s Museum of Art had fun modernist architecture, like this walkway and giant hole to the sky.

We also visited the neighboring town of St Petersburg, across the bay from Tampa. St Pete (as the locals call it) is charming. We saw old houses with large trees, well developed neighborhood communities, a high density of museums and other cultural centers, good restaurants and even a tasty chocolate shop. We enjoyed a free dinner at ‘Porch Party’ put on by the Museum of Fine Art and were awed by the scope of their collection (from all over the world, spanning centuries, and including many masters). We did laps and dives in the large municipal pool. We also visited the Gulf Beaches which were quite a bit tamer than the Atlantic beaches. White sand, calm warm water, a shallow bank. It was neat to see a nesting colony of  Black Skimmers and a large dolphin swimming in about 4 feet of water right through where we had been about 15 minutes earlier.

We stayed in this neighborhood in St Pete. Larger trees were draped in Spanish Moss.

We stayed in this neighborhood in St Pete. Larger trees were draped in Spanish Moss.

You can see more photos from these adventures and others we didn’t write about here on the Pictures tab.

Banyan tree in St Pete.

Banyan tree in St Pete.

This is one of our favorite buildings in Tampa. The slot is on both sides, reminding us of an enormous regular screw. Note the osprey on the left.

This is one of our favorite buildings in Tampa. The slot is on both sides, reminding us of an enormous regular screw. Note the osprey on the left.

IMG_3868

Another of our favorite buildings in Tampa (and reminded us of the building in downtown Portland with all the composers on it). Check out how the corners and reflections look like Xs.

Another of our favorite buildings in Tampa (and reminded us of the building in downtown Portland with all the composers on it). Check out how the corners and reflections look like Xs.

Sunset with a thunder cell in Tampa

Sunset with a thunder cell in Tampa

Downtown Tampa skyline, as seen from Kiley Garden.

Downtown Tampa skyline, as seen from Kiley Garden.

The thing with red pointy parts is a Spiny Orb-weaver spider. They are everywhere.

The thing with red pointy parts is a Spiny Orb-weaver spider. They are everywhere.

The town of Palm Beach hosts this beautiful living wall.

The town of Palm Beach hosts this beautiful living wall.

Wild airplants are common here  but still feel like a miracle to discover. This one was right above the sidewalk and in full bloom.

Wild airplants are common here but still feel like a miracle to discover. This one was right above the sidewalk and in full bloom.

The Sandoway House Nature Center in Delray Beach had an exhibit of 100 shark jaws

The Sandoway House Nature Center in Delray Beach had an exhibit of 100 shark jaws

Still in Florida

Beautiful clouds. Thunderheads get more common as we start into the rainy season

Beautiful clouds. Thunderheads get more common as we start into the rainy season

You may be wondering why we are still in Florida, as it certainly wasn’t our plan to be here more than a couple weeks. A month ago Jim had a routine physical and the doctor was concerned about what he heard through the stethoscope. We decided to pause and figure out the issue. A few weeks, multiple tests, and doctor visits later, we know that Jim’s mitral valve in his heart is not working properly. All the doctors we’ve consulted with believe that treatment is necessary and should be completed soon. We’re taking their advice and Jim is scheduled to have heart surgery next week. With today’s advances in modern medicine, a surgeon is able to complete this routine valve fix through a few small incisions and expects that Jim will only need about two weeks to be back to normal! The hospital where they will do this is less than a mile from where we are staying. The best news of all, is that Jim is mostly asymptomatic and feels normal. We appreciate the support of friends and family; continue to send your happy healing vibes this way.

The Intracoastal Waterway travels the length of Florida and includes hundreds of bridges. We regularly cross them and wait for them to come back down after raising their span for boat traffic.

The Intracoastal Waterway travels the length of Florida and includes hundreds of bridges. We regularly cross them and wait for them to come back down after raising their span for boat traffic.

In the midst of all this, we continue to explore and enjoy our surroundings. We’ve visited art museums, street fairs, farmers’ markets, local restaurants, and aquariums. We swim almost every day and regularly walk on the beach. We’ve also rented SUPs for an afternoon, whacked balls at the driving range, and body surfed in the Atlantic. We’ve given up our rental car and are getting around on foot and public transportation.

Rocket Garden at Kennedy Space Center

Rocket Garden at Kennedy Space Center

One of our most interesting adventures was a trip to Kennedy Space Center. This is where NASA used to launch rockets and space shuttles. There is an elaborate museum and we easily spent a full day learning. There are multiple pictures in the photo gallery that you access through the “Pictures” tab at the top of this page. We got to see the launch pads, the humongous assembly building, multiple generations of rockets, a couple great iMax documentaries, artifacts, and footage from many past events.

The southern end of the infamous South Beach in Miami.

The southern end of the infamous South Beach in Miami.

With a month in Florida, we decided that we needed to check out the infamous South Beach of Miami and spent a night down there. It was a surprising place: very fun, affordable, and the most livable community we’ve seen yet in Florida. A local bus makes a big loop through the lower end of Miami Beach and only costs a quarter. More often than not we heard people speaking a language other than English, which is probably due to both the tourists and the diversity of locals. The food was great. The people watching was glorious.

Our cruise boat. Note the two hot tubs and two swimming pools.

Our cruise boat. Note the two hot tubs and two swimming pools.

Looking for a new experience to fill the upcoming weekend, Megan came across a steep discount for a 3-day cruise to the Bahamas. We jumped on it. It was an enormous ship: 880 feet long, 2500 guests, almost 900 staff, 14 stories, 2 swimming pools, and 9 bars and restaurants. We spent one day in Nassau where we visited something called the Cloisters. It is the ruins of a convent built in France during the thirteenth century, bought by William Randolph Hurst, and then reconstructed in the 1960s in the Bahamas. The grounds included a series of terraces with sculpture, rock walls, gardens, pools, a gazebo and the central structure with double arched hallways. You can see more pictures in the photo gallery. On this day, it rained very heavily on us with passing thunderstorms. We were in a swimming pool during one shower and couldn’t help but laugh at how much wetter we seemed with the downpour and the splash back from each drop. Our second day was spent on Coco Cay, a small cay owned by the cruise ship company. We spent the day snorkeling. The highlight of our snorkel was seeing four rays. Three were very large spotted eagle rays, with about 10-foot wingspans; nose to tail they were 15 feet long. In addition, we saw a lot of our favorite fish but many were significantly larger than we have seen before. Overall, we enjoyed the change of scene and being on the sea. We were fascinated to see the mechanics of such a large boat docking, steering, and anchoring. Jim caught a great video of the pilots leaving the cruise ship to head back into Miami.

The Cloisters, near Nassau. Ruins from a french convent that was moved to the Bahamas

The Cloisters, near Nassau. Ruins from a french convent that was moved to the Bahamas

We plan to stay here for a few more weeks until Jim is recuperated.

People commonly use umbrellas here as sun shades. Here is a dad who pulled up his beach umbrella to take a walk with his daughter.

People commonly use umbrellas here as sun shades. Here is a dad who pulled up his beach umbrella to take a walk with his daughter.

On the last morning of our cruise, our boat was delayed due to a brush fire in the Everglades the day before. The Port of Miami was closed and we could barely make out the other boats queued up waiting for the port to reopen due to the thick smoke.

On the last morning of our cruise, our boat was delayed due to a brush fire in the Everglades the day before. The Port of Miami was closed and we could barely make out the other boats queued up waiting for the port to reopen due to the thick smoke.

Cruise boat sunset

Cruise boat sunset

Spotted eagle ray, like we saw in Coco Cay. Credit to Wikimedia for the photo.

Spotted eagle ray, like we saw in Coco Cay. Credit to Wikimedia for the photo.

Spotted eagle ray, showing it's large head. Credit to Wikimedia for the photo.

Spotted eagle ray, showing it’s large head. Credit to Wikimedia for the photo.

The Cloisters

The Cloisters

The Cloisters

The Cloisters

The Cloisters

The Cloisters

The Cloisters. Ruins from a french convent that was moved to the Bahamas

The Cloisters. Ruins from a french convent that was moved to the Bahamas

Our boat docked in Nassau. Note the cruise ships on either side.

Our boat docked in Nassau. Note the cruise ships on either side.

Jim was able to take the false helm in the top-floor cocktail lounge of our cruise boat.

Jim was able to take the false helm in the top-floor cocktail lounge of our cruise boat.

Megan on the cruise boat with Miami receding into the background.

Megan on the cruise boat with Miami receding into the background.

The Port of Miami pilot boat picking up the pilots after we cleared the channel.

The Port of Miami pilot boat picking up the pilots after we cleared the channel.

Port of Miami has a lot of industrial traffic in addition to cruise traffic

Port of Miami has a lot of industrial traffic in addition to cruise traffic

Miami Beach has a very well done Holocaust Memorial.

Miami Beach has a very well done Holocaust Memorial.

Many palms here are supported like this. They plant large trees by paring down the trunk, cutting a small circular root mass, and propping up the trees. We have seen thousands of these.

Many palms here are supported like this. They plant large trees by paring down the trunk, cutting a small circular root mass, and propping up the trees. We have seen thousands of these.

One night we attended a fundraiser for a local education cause in Delray Beach. The blues band rocked the house and taught the children a dance

One night we attended a fundraiser for a local education cause in Delray Beach. The blues band rocked the house and taught the children a dance

Atlantis space shuttle, now on display at the Kennedy Space Center with the bay doors open. In this picture, you can see the black panels of heat shields. This shuttle completed 33 missions over 26 years, transported 207 astronauts, spent 307 days in space, and flew 126 million miles  before it retired to the museum in 2011.

Atlantis space shuttle, now on display at the Kennedy Space Center with the bay doors open. In this picture, you can see the black panels of heat shields. This shuttle completed 33 missions over 26 years, transported 207 astronauts, spent 307 days in space, and flew 126 million miles before it retired to the museum in 2011.

The "Crawler" at Kennedy Space Center with a platform on top. Rockets are transported on top of this from the assembly to the launch. Empty it weighs about 6 million pounds, can travel up to 2 mph,  and takes a team of 30 to operate it.

The “Crawler” at Kennedy Space Center with a platform on top. Rockets are transported on top of this from the assembly to the launch. Empty it weighs about 6 million pounds, can travel up to 2 mph, and takes a team of 30 to operate it.

The Crawlerway connecting the assembly building to the launch pads at Kennedy Space Center

The Crawlerway connecting the assembly building to the launch pads at Kennedy Space Center

Palms make lovely patterns and their trunks often are a host to multiple other plants.

Palms make lovely patterns and their trunks often are a host to multiple other plants.

Sculpture garden at Norton Art Museum.

Sculpture garden at Norton Art Museum.

Norton Art Museum in West Palm Beach.

Norton Art Museum in West Palm Beach.

A marine-themed Chihuly exhibit at the Norton Art Museum. Can you find the starfish and octopus?

A marine-themed Chihuly exhibit at the Norton Art Museum. Can you find the starfish and octopus?

Megan enjoying the Saturday-morning. green market in West Palm Beach

Megan enjoying the Saturday-morning. green market in West Palm Beach

The sound barriers along the freeway here are stamped with silhouettes of local animals.

The sound barriers along the freeway here are stamped with silhouettes of local animals.

Jim taking a break

Jim taking a break

Ann Norton Sculpture Garden

Ann Norton Sculpture Garden

Ann Norton Sculpture Garden

Ann Norton Sculpture Garden

Ann Norton Sculpture Garden in West Palm Beach displays a variety of work by Ann Norton.

Ann Norton Sculpture Garden in West Palm Beach displays a variety of work by Ann Norton.

Five types of sea turtles nest on the Florida coast between May and October. Each nest is marked to keep people away from it.

Five types of sea turtles nest on the Florida coast between May and October. Each nest is marked to keep people away from it.

Our local beach has many turtle nests, all marked by a stake and tape.

Our local beach has many turtle nests, all marked by a stake and tape.

Banana spider

Banana spider

These are banana spiders, or golden silk orb-weavers. They are harmless and large (the big one here was 5 inches across including legs.) The webs have a yellow hue.

These are banana spiders, or golden silk orb-weavers. They are harmless and large (the big one here was 5 inches across including legs.) The webs have a yellow hue.

Florida

View from Calloway Peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the storm on the right caught up to us and rained on our hike back down

View from Calloway Peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the storm on the right caught up to us and rained on our hike back down

Karen on a boulder in the middle of a river, hiking with Megan in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Karen on a boulder in the middle of a river, hiking with Megan in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Boynton Beach, Florida is on our itinerary for two reasons: one, it is where Jim’s mom and stepdad live for the winter and two, Jim’s sister has a condo here that she graciously said we could stay in. After a few days of visiting with Jim’s family, Megan went up to Boone, NC for a long weekend to visit her friend Karen. They had a wonderful time hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, eating delicious food, and looking for the first of the blooming rhododendrons that blanket the hills. It was the first time since we left that Megan needed to wear long pants, socks, and a sweater—a delightful change for this girl who has gotten used to the heat. Meanwhile, back in Florida, Jim was joined by his sister Candy, her husband Bill, and his brother-in-law Dana. They all pitched in to close up his mom’s house and get the snowbirds and their dog packed up and on the way to Maine, where they will spend the summer.

Sawgrass prairie in S. Florida

Sawgrass prairie in S. Florida

Like everywhere else we have been, Florida is interesting! Being back in the US, we have had less to get used to, but many things here are very different than Oregon. Before we get into our life and adventures here, a little background and history. Florida is flat—really, really flat. In the weeks we have been here with all our exploring, we have ranged from sea level to about 15 feet above sea level. Also Southern Florida is a vast wetland. Given the lack of grand topography, elevation changes can be measured in inches. The ecosystem is different on the “high ground” which is only a few inches above the mean elevation of a given area. The lowest areas have standing water year round. Lake Okeechobee (in the middle of the peninsula) is slowly draining downhill, to the south. Water in the lake starts at 15 feet above sea level and will take about a year to travel a little over 100 miles from Okeechobee, through the Everglades, and out to Florida Bay (which is the body of water between the mainland and the Florida Keys). The Everglades is essentially a 50-mile wide river that is just a few inches deep! Given all this wet flatness, almost all the land that people live on has been man made. By digging a ditch, piling up the dirt, and diverting the water flow humans have been creating drier land to live, travel, and play on. Florida’s flora and fauna are unique because this is one of the few places in the world that tropical species and temperate species live side by side. The warm wet environment means life is abundant. Ponds teem with fish, reptiles, insects, birds, and plants. Tree trunks and branches are home to hundreds of air plants. Thousands of migratory birds spend part of the year in Florida.

This is a typical east Florida beach with white sand stretching on farther than the eye can see.

This is a typical east Florida beach with white sand stretching on farther than the eye can see.

We have settled into a nice rhythm. Each morning, we begin the day by swimming in the condo association’s pool. We’ve found a fruit and vegetable stand that keeps us stocked for breakfast smoothies, green salads, and watermelon feeds. We’re about a mile from the beach and regularly enjoying walking on the endless soft white sand, swimming in the warm breaking waves, ogling the mansions and gardens built right off the beaches, and sharing it all with the families in the area. Several times we have tried to snorkel but it is always disappointing and difficult in the waves. We learned how quickly and heavily the rain can come here; one walk turned into a wet squish as our clothes became entirely soaked in the first 3 minutes of the downpour. The clouds are constantly amazing and beautiful: small cumulous form off the coast and seem to come scooting over the land just above our heads. This is a car culture with very limited public transport so we have rented a car in order to take advantage of all there is to see around: nature preserves, parks, a Japanese garden, beaches, lakes, museums, etc.

The approach to a sinkhole in Fakahatchee Strand filled with alligators

The approach to a sinkhole in Fakahatchee Strand filled with alligators

We took a road trip through southern Florida, beginning by crossing what is called Alligator Alley to the west coast and dropping south to Everglades City. Our host recommended a hike in a local swamp: Fakahatchee Strand Nature Preserve. We drove on a dirt road seven miles to get to the trail head and didn’t see any other people out hiking. The Fakahatchee is known for being full of epiphytes, bromeliads, orchids, and royal palms. We hiked along an old raised path built for when they logged the old growth cypress out of the swamp. It was pretty fantastic to be in the swamps like this but the mosquitos were so plentiful we didn’t stop to take any pictures of the amazing plants and trees all around. We saw one water snake (not poisonous) and an alligator; actually, we smelled the alligator before we saw him on the side of the trail and nicknamed him “Ole Stinker.” A couple miles in we came to an old cabin by a sinkhole. Sinkholes occur in the limestone and can be almost 100 feet deep, even though this one was probably more like 10 feet deep. Right now the dry season is coming to an end, which means the swamp is drier than usual (I can’t imagine it with more mosquitos though!) which means that animals congregate to known water sources, like sinkholes. As we stepped out onto this little dock, it quickly became clear that the sinkhole was filled with alligators. Fortunately our dock was up off the water, so we felt safe, and in the hot afternoon sun, so the mosquitos left us alone. We stayed for close to an hour watching about 50 alligators swim around the pond. They were very active, swimming, splashing, feeding, posturing to each other. You can see a short video we took here and many photos under the  “Pictures” tab at the top of the page.

In Everglades National Park, the alligators can be found right on the edge of the trail

In Everglades National Park, the alligators can be found right on the edge of the trail

The next day we went into Everglades National Park. In a shorter hike there, we were overwhelmed with the quantity of life. The place was teeming with fish, alligators, turtles, birds, algae, plants, and tourists. The animals there are used to people so we were able to get quite close, not by trying, but because these critters live right on the side of the path.

Driving down the Florida Keys

Driving down the Florida Keys

After that, we headed south into the Florida Keys. The Keys are a chain of islands stretching over 120 miles south and west from Miami. In many places, the islands are about a block wide and in other places bridges span up to seven miles between islands. We did our duty by sampling multiple version of key lime pie. We spent a night in Key Largo and another in Key West. We went snorkeling at the fantastic John Pennekamp State Park, where we got close to many large barracuda, a stingray, and an endangered green turtle, large parrotfish, coral heads and many  more colorful fish.  To get there we took a boat five miles off shore yet our snorkel site was between two and eight feet deep and pretty well beaten by waves breaking on the reef.

As far south as you can get in the contiguous US. We didn't want to wait in line to take our picture like the couple in the background, so we got in on theirs instead.

As far south as you can get in the contiguous US. We didn’t want to wait in line to take our picture like the couple in the background, so we got in on theirs instead.

In Key West, we enjoyed the people watching, the art galleries, the old architecture, the infamous daily sunset celebration in Mallory Square, and the good food. It was a riot to watch the crowd gathering for the sunset; many buskers performed for tips while boats sailed back and forth in the channel behind them. Our host let us borrow beach cruisers and we joined the throngs of slow cyclists criss-crossing town. We toured the Audubon House and southernmost point of the contiguous US, where we were closer to Havana than Miami!

Riding beach cruisers in Key West. Check out the coconut cup holder, bell, and horn on the handlebars!

Riding beach cruisers in Key West. Check out the coconut cup holder, bell, and horn on the handlebars!

The Audubon House is a museum that once was the home of a wealthy Key West family who earned their fortune salvaging wrecked boats off the keys. Mr. Audubon himself once used part of a limb from a tree on the yard as a model for a drawing.The house contained a superb collection of first edition Audubons, artist proofs, and period furniture. Panels explained the history of Key West told through the story of one family; they lived in the house for four generations. The grounds were compact, peaceful, shady and had a nice garden of tropical plants.

Can you identify which one of these is the non-native invasive species? (Hint: it isn't an orchid)

Can you identify which one of these is the non-native invasive species? (Hint: it isn’t an orchid)

Sunset celebration at Mallory Square in Key West. Note the fire juggler on tall unicycle.

Sunset celebration at Mallory Square in Key West. Note the fire juggler on tall unicycle.

Two bridge fisherman in the Keys with a "keeper"

Two bridge fisherman in the Keys with a “keeper”

Can you spot the gar fish?

Can you spot the gar fish?

Can you spot the turtle?

Can you spot the turtle?

Can you spot the resting alligator?

Can you spot the resting alligator?

Can you spot the bird?

Can you spot the bird?

Can you spot the cypress knees? Cypress trees put up these odd growths; it is assumed they help stabilize the tree in the event of strong winds and soaked earth.

Can you spot the cypress knees? Cypress trees put up these odd growths; it is assumed they help stabilize the tree in the event of strong winds and soaked earth.

Can you spot the tree under the 1000 epiphytes growing on it?

Can you spot the tree under the 1000 epiphytes growing on it?

Can you spot the baby alligator?

Can you spot the baby alligator?

Can you spot the barracuda?

Can you spot the barracuda?

Can you spot the chemtrail in the sunset?

Can you spot the chemtrail in the sunset?

Can you spot the alligator?

Can you spot the alligator?

Classic grassy marsh with scattered palms

Classic grassy marsh with scattered palms

Airboats are a common way to get around the swamps because all you need to draft is a couple inches. We decided to not go on one and instead keep our hearing.

Airboats are a common way to get around the swamps because all you need to draft is a couple inches. We decided to not go on one and instead keep our hearing.

A lookout tower near Fakahatchee. Note the air conditioner box on the side and vultures roosting on the structure.

A lookout tower near Fakahatchee. Note the air conditioner box on the side and vultures roosting on the structure.

The largest alligator in the Fakahatchee sinkhole was at least 12 feet

The largest alligator in the Fakahatchee sinkhole was at least 12 feet

The bumps you see are the eyes of alligators

The bumps you see are the eyes of alligators

Royal palms are prolific native species in S Florida. They are also commonly planted in landscaping

Royal palms are prolific native species in S Florida. They are also commonly planted in landscaping

Everglades City was a sweet quiet town with empty lots, neat yards, and scattered houses. We guessed some of the empty lots in the middle of town tell of past hurricanes.

Everglades City was a sweet quiet town with empty lots, neat yards, and scattered houses. We guessed some of the empty lots in the middle of town tell of past hurricanes.

One of the bonsai trees at Morakami. A few were 400 years old.

One of the bonsai trees at Morakami. A few were 400 years old.

Museum at Morakami had displays on local history, and life in Japan (school, family life, transportation)

Museum at Morakami had displays on local history, and life in Japan (school, family life, transportation)

Yogic turtle practicing "up dog" at Morakami

Yogic turtle practicing “up dog” at Morakami

Morakami Japanese Garden

Morakami Japanese Garden

This iguana was in a park in downtown Fort Lauderdale

This iguana was in a park in downtown Fort Lauderdale

Sunset with the municipal water town in Boynton Beach

Sunset with the municipal water town in Boynton Beach

This nest was about 6 feet from a boardwalk in a local nature preserve

This nest was about 6 feet from a boardwalk in a local nature preserve

The wildlife at a local nature preserve was nonplussed by proximity to humans

The wildlife at a local nature preserve was nonplussed by proximity to humans

The Wakodahatchee Wetlands are the last step in the local water treatment plant's outflow. It is also a free country park with a  mile of boardwalk trails so people can observe the wildlife.

The Wakodahatchee Wetlands are the last step in the local water treatment plant’s outflow. It is also a free country park with a mile of boardwalk trails so people can observe the wildlife.