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Road-trip 2017 Day 10

After a serviceable breakfast at the very retro Courtesy Coffee Shop (Lounge by night) in Blythe, CA, we headed on for a last bit of the wild before finishing up our drive into Los Angeles.  Joshua Tree started its life as a National Monument (proclaimed so by FDR in 1936) and was renamed/redesignated  Joshua Tree National Park in 1994, and protects 792,510 acres of mostly wilderness where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge.  It proved to be a fine place to stretch our legs a bit.

We started our explorations in the southeastern part of the the park, part of the Colorado Desert, with elevations of less than 3,000 ft above sea level.  From near the Cottonwood Springs Visitors Center, we opted for the Mastodon Peak trail which did not disappoint.  Desert wildflowers and cacti blooms were abundant, although the intense sun of late morning made for some challenging photography. (ID help welcome!)

A few lizards also captured my attention.

 

As we made our way north and west in the park, we passed through what is referred to as a transition zone entered the Mojave Desert with elevations above 3,00 ft.  We stopped along the way for some shorter hikes.  It was at these elevations that we found expanses of the the park’s namesake, the Joshua Trees.  Tough and curious things, they’re not trees at all, rather belong to the yucca or agave family.  They have spiky succulent leaves that are kind of bayonet-shaped and every bit as sharp.

Of course in reading about the Joshua tree, I couldn’t help but stumble over references to the 1982 U2 album of the same name.  This Irish rock band was quite captivated with the deserts of the American southwest and found the landscapes to be quite fitting with the theme/songs of the album.  The cover photo however was not taken in Joshua Tree National Park, rather at another location in the Mojave Desert some 200 miles away.  While the actual tree fell some time ago, there is reportedly a plaque placed for those who go searching.

LS_20170405_171212 road snacks, Mexican-style

We left the park in the late afternoon with a plan to be at Duncan and Daniela’s place in LA for a late dinner.  A search for a milkshake or some such thing took us to a brightly lit place called La Michoacana in Beaumont CA where we picked up a couple of mangonadas, a kind of sweet, spicy, party-colored Mexican fruit drink with tamarind-coated straws.  Not bad really.   In any event, they quenched our thirst and tided us over to LA.

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For all of our fanfare about finally getting out of Boot Key after a several month stay, we actually didn’t get very far.  Shortly before our departure, we learned that some dear friends Paul and Dawn were starting their journey back from the Berry Islands in the Bahamas and would be in the FL Keys on their way to Cuba.  After an exchange of messages, we decided that with cooperative weather for both, our paths would cross in Key Biscayne, near Miami.  We had a blast hanging out together for a few days while BuBu3 and Cheshire enjoyed the protection of No Name Harbor.  We’d been in the harbor once before (see Exploring Key Biscayne), and Dawn and I certainly enjoyed our daily walks about the state park grounds;  there was plenty of wildlife to entertain us nearby.  This pause was a bit longer though, and we’ve been able to dig a little deeper.

Wildlife of Bill Baggs State Park…

Key Biscayne is an island at the top of Biscayne Bay, a causeway away from Miami proper.  Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, which includes No Name Harbor, sits at the south end of the island.  North of the park in the center section of the island is the uber-developed village of Key Biscayne.  It’s a fairly bike-friendly stretch full of useful things… a Winn-Dixie, a CVS, some interesting restaurants.  La Boulangerie and Oasis Cafe were our favorite finds of this stop.

The real find however was beyond the village to the north, an 800-acre county park known as Crandon Park.  Once a coconut plantation, in the 1940’s the land that now makes up the park was donated to Miami-Dade county by the family of William John Matheson, yet another American industrialist, on the condition that it be forever a park.  Another bit of land saved from the rampage of south Florida development.  In my humble opinion (and apparently at least one of the Matheson family concur), the county’s  concept of “park” is a bit stretched… i.e. it includes a golf course and a massive tennis center, but also a couple of miles of beach, a marina, a nature center and more than 3,000 parking spaces to accommodate visitors.  We checked out the nature center, and stretched our legs with some short hikes at the park’s Bear Cut Preserve on the north end, eventually working our way south to what would be our favorite section…the Gardens at Crandon Park.

From Bear Cut Preserve… a really cool beehive in a tree, a Green Anole and one of my favorite wading birds, a Reddish Egret.

The Garden is tucked away in the southeast corner of the park.  It’s not well marked, nor is it well advertised.  In fact it was a little tricky to figure out how to access it, but our persistence paid off.  It’s a quirky place, and apparently a well-kept secret.  At our visit, I’m certain there was more wildlife than people, visitors and park staff included.

This bit of the park apparently started life as a small zoo.  Rumor has is that in about 1948, a few animals… monkeys, a goat, a couple of black bear depending on the version of the story you’re reading, were purchased from a circus that was stranded near Miami.  The Crandon Zoo was born, and during the following years, grew its menagerie through purchase and donation.  Hurricane Betsy wreaked some havoc in 1965, flooding much of the zoo and killing many of its residents.  Eventually, in 1980 or so, the zoo moved to the mainland, and became what is now Zoo Miami.  The Crandon location apparently sat vacant and neglected for a long while.  The Gardens of Crandon Park Foundation was formed and initiated the restoration, which was eventually picked up by Miami-Dade County who is responsible for the park anyway.  I’m not sure what the grand plans are, but it’s got some character.

Many of the  old zoo structures and cages remain, although with some of the fencing removed and much mural painting added.  As in most of south Florida’s natural areas, iguana were plentiful, but there were plenty of unusual birds as well.  Indian Peafowl were everywhere, roaming free.  Mostly peacocks (male), but a few peahens (female) as well.  The peahens tended to be a bit more elusive, and consequently more challenging to photograph.  I had no idea that peacocks were so noisy.

A couple of geese (species I’ve not yet nailed down) were pretty annoying, following us around hoping to be fed.  At one point a pair appeared to be holding my bike hostage.  A pair of Sandhill Cranes was another highlight.  Rumor has it that one of the ponds is home to a crocodile; friends who visited earlier in the week got to see it.  Mike saw a snout peeking up while I was otherwise occupied trying to capture (a photo) a Spiny-tailed Iguana.  Several other bird species seem to be successfully avoiding the croc.

As fascinating as the creatures were, I was also captivated by the ruins of the zoo structures.  It was a bit difficult to imagine the conditions the animals were kept in, though an internet search yielded some interesting old photographs.  Meanwhile, today…

 

So, today was a day of preparation as we get ready to depart for destinations north.  We’ve topped off provisioning, gotten the bikes back on board and stowed and wrapped up some small projects.  Tonight we’ll have a potluck dinner along with some other fellow cruisers who are also heading north tomorrow.  In the morning,  we’ll stop by the Crandon Park Marina to top off fuel and water, then weather permitting, we’ll jump offshore for a run around Miami and Ft Lauderdale and see how it goes.

LS_20160420_195824

s/v True North in a No Name Harbor sunset

 

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Long Island is in fact long, 80 miles in length and only 4 miles at its widest point, but is not the longest island in the Bahamas. That honor would go to Eleuthera… also on our list to visit in the coming weeks. It is long enough though that we’ve done our exploring in hops, and are still hopping. Rental cars are available for those who want to explore end to end. For now, we’re enjoying our exploring on foot.

s/v FairWind at sunset, Salt Pond

s/v FairWind at sunset, Salt Pond

We first dropped the hook off of the government dock area near Regatta Park. That turned out to be a great spot to beach the dinghy and catch some free wifi as well as a much needed haircut.  We also caught an amazing sunset in this spot with an open view to the west.  I managed to snap a pretty good photo, and decided to contact the boat I’d captured and offer them a copy.  I rarely miss a sunset, but we’re more often than not back aboard by sunset, and low light photography from a dinghy is more than challenging, so getting a sunset photo of one’s own boat is not easily come by.  They were most appreciative.

A couple of days later, and after catching the morning Cruisers’ Net on 18, we moved a bit north for better access to a dinghy dock near some other things we wanted to check out. Hillside is a small but impressive market, imho better than the much touted Exuma Market in Georgetown. A small liquor store and an impressive-for-the-area marine supply place are also nearby. On Friday, we were up and out early to scout a walking path to the west side of the island. What we found was a lightly traveled road that as it creeped west, turned to dirt/dust, eventually opening on to a beach on the Atlantic side. We walked south along the beach, with only a bit of scrambling on coral rock, and found another path that became another road, and following telephone poles, found our way back to the main road, Queens Highway, and back north to the dinghy dock. It was a great hike, with awesome views. Friday night we joined a Cruisers Happy Hour at Sou’Side Restaurant, a little roadside place with cold beer, OK food and good company.

LS_20150328_084923Saturday dawn brought a terrific rain storm. It blew through quickly, but dumped a ton of water which was much needed by the locals who have spoken of a recent drought. It was also much needed by Cheshire who got a nice fresh water rinse, her first since leaving Nassau nearly three weeks ago. She was pretty salty. It cleared quickly though and we headed to shore to visit the weekly Farmers Market. On a tip from a local, we went early, and were glad we did. We arrived at 0830 (it opens at 0900) and the market was well underway. It was impressive, including a selection from local farmers (first arugula we’ve seen since leaving the Keys), as well as some baked goods including more coconut pastries. There was even a guy with a truck bed full of coconuts and a machete, hacking holes just big enough for straws… coconut water straight from the coconut… yum. I also picked up a small straw basket which fits nicely on the backside of our galley. Long Island is also known for its “mutton” (referring here to both sheep and goat meat), supplying many of the restaurants throughout the islands. According to a woman in the Ministry of Tourism office, we’d just missed a Mutton Festival of sorts the week prior.  While we didn’t see any at the Farmers’ Market, we have seen plenty of “free range” goats wandering about. They’re everywhere really, grazing along the roadsides, hanging out in the cemetery next to one of the local churches… I even saw one standing on a front porch.

Saturday afternoon we decided to move a bit further north, tucking into the northern shore of Thompson Bay for some protection from some north winds that were in the forecast. The front brought some cooler weather, which made for some pleasant walking about on Sunday as well when we wandered around the Thompson Bay area. Sunday night brought yet another cruisers gathering, a Happy Hour/potluck gathering on the beach, apparently quite a tradition according to some we’ve met who have been coming back to Long Island for years, very intentionally scheduled on Sunday when all of the local establishments are closed anyway. It was great fun, and the clouds of recent days made for a pretty nice sunset.

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During our time at Dinner Key recently, we got a tip from fellow cruiser Julie aboard s/v Coup d’Amour about the pink iguanas on Leaf Cay near Lee Stocking Island in the Exumas, not to be confused with another Leaf Cay further north, the latter within day trip distance of Nassau. Given my new fascination with lizards, I persuaded the boys to stop for an afternoon so that we might check them out. Sure enough, there are pink iguanas on Leaf Cay. Taking a tip from some folks we met feeding the pigs on Big Majors Spot a few days ago, we took our not-too-far-gone food scrap garbage ashore… apple cores, misc onion bits, and a couple of fresh stalks of celery in case they weren’t interested in the garbage. Turns out the garbage was a bigger hit, but the celery didn’t go to waste. And given the size of some of these creatures, I’d say they aren’t picky eaters. I estimated that there were about two dozen of these prehistoric-looking creatures of varying size and many more further off the beach that were apparently less interested in a snack. I read something recently, written by someone who is studying the various Bahamian iguanas. Apparently they are making a bit of a comeback due to tourism (increased food availability), but this is apparently also changing some of their behavior patterns… no surprise there.

Having satisfied my curiosity, we opted to move the mothership over to an anchorage off Lee Stocking Island to position for an early morning hike the following morning up to Perry’s Peak, said to be the highest point in the Exumas. We beached the dinghy on a small bit of sand beneath a palm tree and had a lovely morning climb, reaching the soaring peak at 123 ft. Or at least that’s what the sign said.

We were back aboard Cheshire and underway by 1100.

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One of the perks of hanging out in the Miami/Coconut Grove area for a while is that we’re getting to spend some time with Mike’s son and daughter-in-law, Duncan and Daniela who are in the area for awhile as well, having decided not to spend another winter on Martha’s Vineyard.  Smart.  In any event, it’s been fun catching up with them.  And they have a car.  I posted previously about our day earlier this month checking out the art deco at South Beach, Miami.  More recently we headed south to  the Fairfield Tropical Botanic Garden who I’d read is also hosting a Chihuly exhibit for a few months.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and comfortable.   The gardens were gorgeous, with a few things in bloom this time of year,  though I confess I took fewer photos of the plant life than the Chihuly pieces.

There were a few birds about as well, including a number of wading birds (not pictured), but a new-to-me winged creature with wee ones.  Thanks to our friend Bob for the id of the Egyptian Goose and goslings.

Also new to us was this Florida Softshell turtle, a most unusual creature.

Florida softshell turtle

Florida softshell turtle

It also seems I’m developing a fascination with the lizards and iguana of South Florida, though my identification skills need some work.

The real highlight of the day though, at least for me, was the extensive Chihuly exhibit.  Gardens and glass art… what a fabulous combination!

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While we’ve loved exploring the Coconut Grove area, we haven’t so much loved the lack of protection in the Dinner Key mooring field.  Not unlike the mooring fields in Titusville and St Augustine, it’s pretty exposed.  To its credit, the marina runs an hourly shuttle which we sometimes take advantage of, particularly when the wind and seas are up a bit, but even so its last run is at 5pm which pretty much rules out dinner ashore;  for that, we take our dinghy.  As with most places, there are trade-offs.  More on Coconut Grove in another post.

That said, and with several days of some combination of strong east and north winds in the forecast, we opted to find a bit of protection.  After a couple of nights back in Hurricane Harbor (quiet, peaceful, but no shore access), we ducked into No Name Harbor a bit further south on Key Biscayne.  No Name is a small bit of water tucked into Bill Baggs State Park.  It’s very protected, very popular both with locals (especially on weekends) and with cruisers waiting for weather for crossing to the Bahamas.  There is also easy shore access and a lovely park, complete with hiking and biking trails, a beach and a lighthouse.

Wildlife was varied, though not much for birds during our hike, except for a lazy Great Blue Heron keeping the fishermen company.  We did see quite a few Ring-billed Gulls on the beach.  Iguanas and lizards and insects were abundant.

LS_20150110_104451 seagrape leavesI’ve also developed a bit of a fascination with sea grapes, a flowering bush native to coastal south Florida.  The leaves are huge round almost leathery things that eventually turn bright red.  Although I’ve had sea grape honey, I’ve never had the grapes themselves, which apparently ripen in late summer… not a time I’m likely to be hiking about south Florida.  Sea grape bushes/trees are also important for wildlife habitat and beach stabilization.

Most impressive though was the lighthouse itself.  We’d seen Cape Florida Light a few weeks back when we came in from offshore at Biscayne Channel.  (Previous blog post and photos here.)  I decided then that I’d see about getting a closer look.  Tours are limited to a couple of times a day only a few days a week, tours meaning mostly that the park staff unlock the lighthouse and allow for climbing the 109 steps.  In my own research, I found that this light has quite a colorful history, including being the only lighthouse ever to be attacked by Indians.  The area was also part of the Underground Railroad Network, a jumping off place for hundreds of slaves who escaped to the Bahamas, until the lighthouse was built that is, which effectively closed this door.

The original tower was completed in 1825, though burned in 1836 in a Seminole Indian attack. It was eventually rebuilt in  1847, though was back out of service during the Civil War, repaired and back in service in 1866, but extinguished again in 1878, replaced by the offshore Fowey Rocks light.  Fast forward to 1966, the State of Florida purchased not only the lighthouse but the whole southern tip of Key Biscayne, and shortly thereafter opened Bill Baggs State Park, and restored not only the lighthouse but rebuilt the keeper’s cottage and other misc buildings as well.  Hurricane Andrew in 1992 wreaked some havoc; repairs were completed and the light once again relit in 1996.  Check out this page for a fascinating and more detailed history of the lighthouse.

One of my favorite habits in our travels is to dig a bit and learn of the characters that came before me to these places.  Bill Baggs was one of those characters.  He made quite a mark in his 48 years, not only in spearheading efforts to preserve Key Biscayne from overdevelopment, but also on the political stage as well.  Wikipedia has a nice piece on Bill which you can read here.

Soon we’ll head back across Biscayne Bay, finish out our month or so in the Miami/Coconut Grove area, finish a solar upgrade project (still waiting for parts) and then…

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Road-trip 2014, Days 12 – 15

…or an alternate travel slogan… “Enter a Higher State”

Leaving the Salt Lake City area, we opted once again to take the backroads, including an only-recently-paved road through Big Cotton Canyon.  It was a gorgeous beginning to our drive.  We paused in Midway, UT for a bite of breakfast and by early afternoon were passing into Colorado.  After a quick stop at the welcome center in Dinosaur, CO, we dropped south on a scenic drive headed for  Colorado National Monument where we had a nice late afternoon visit.

We drove a loop through the park, stopped to do a couple of short hikes and managed to spot some pretty trusting wildlife, including one of the most colorful and patient lizards I’ve seen in a long time.

After an overnight in Grand Junction, we hopped on I 70 to make our way across western Colorado.  Independence Pass in the Rocky Mountains was our next stop.  At 12,095 ft, it’s said to be the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in the United States.  More snow on the ground, and wildflowers as well.  As we neared the Denver area, headed for Castle Rock to the south where my youngest brother and his crew live now, we decided to forego Denver and Colorado Springs and take a backroad into the western part of Castle Rock.  Who knew that SR67 would turn to dirt part way.  It a beautiful stretch though, which we later learned is a favorite mountain biking spot of my brother’s.

We had a great visit in Castle Rock, including hikes in the immediate area, a visit to Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs (a beautiful area, but my midday photos weren’t too impressive), and lots of time with my nieces, nephews and their new puppy.

From Colorado, we headed back through the Midwest, spending several days each in Indiana with Mom and in Ohio with many of our dear friends.  Not much for wildlife at these stops except for the absolutely adorable feral kittens who took up residence on Mom’s side porch a couple of days before our arrival and were still there when we left.  Of course she/we were feeding them.  I named them Tic and Tac, and would have kept them myself if we still lived on dirt, but they’ve since been adopted and renamed by a couple who are proven capable pet parents.

All in all, Roadtrip 2014 took us 5505 miles, in 25 days through 15 different states (where we slept in 13 different beds) and 3 time zones.  It was a fantastic trip, great to visit family and friends and explore some new places.  But Cheshire (and a long list of boat chores) awaits, so back to North Carolina we go.

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