February 7th- March 2nd
After birthday shenanigans in New Orleans we made our way to Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi. Lizards, turtles, and alligators OH MY! Hiking may be easier (very flat, short trails) but I was constantly making sure nothing was slithering around me which resulted in lots of squeals and many jumps/false alarms. From Mississippi we drove across the Alabama coast and into Florida to visit Santa Rosa beach (also a part of Gulf Islands National Seashore). White sands and blue skies were a welcome view. Destin, FL brought us a fun weekend with our high school buddy Lance and his wife, Molly Rose. Drinks and a beautiful sunset followed by a home cooked meal and lots of catching up was just what we needed! Drove down the gulf to Panama City Beach, this area is still in rough shape from Hurricane Michael last fall. We stayed at St. Andrews State Park, where roughly 60% of the trees were snapped in half. The couple camping in their van next to us were interesting to say the least.
- They fed deer from their hands (NEVER feed wildlife)
- They brought an extension cord and plugged in a microwave…
- They left that microwave, extension cord outside as it rained all day…
- Uh, what?
Needless to say, we weren’t sad to leave PCB and made our way inland to Apalachicola National Forest where we spent a few quiet nights among the longleaf pines. Valentine’s Day was spent at Manatee Springs! Our bad luck with Florida state parks weather continued as the park was flooded. Seeing the manatees was a bit challenging but we still managed to catch a few glimpses. Along with manatees swimming in the water, there were also snakes… great. We were able to catch an unbelievable sunset. The next morning we took kayaks out in hopes of seeing manatees up close. No such luck but, we kayaked in and around the swampy, moss-draped cypress trees. From manatees to horses, Florida continued to surprise us. Our campsite after we left Manatee Springs happened to be in the middle of a horse competition.
The sounds and smells were not what we had in mind. Luckily, our next stop was to visit my Aunt Carol and Dan! We had a fun two nights in Dunedin exploring the town, eating great homemade food, and catching up over some drinks. Seeing family on the road makes “road life” a lot less lonesome. Thanks again Carol and Dan (especially for the homemade jerky)!
Up next in our Florida adventures, Everglades National Park! The best way to see the everglades is to get out on the water. It was our L-U-C-K-Y day, we were able to see 10 manatees! A few of these gentle giants popped up right next to our kayak to snack on some algae. It was a perfect day. The next morning we were up early to drive all the way down to Key West! MichelVangelo made it across the seven mile bridge to mile marker 0, the southernmost point of the US.
Although Key West has the most beautiful blue water we have ever seen, it is also the most expensive place we have ever camped. The cheapest thing we could find was a $70 “tent site” that came with neighbors within touching distance. This was the first time we stayed at a private, mega-RV focused campground. Thankfully, the price tag came with a few amenities: a pool, movie night, walking club, and bingo (we dropped the median age down a few notches).
Bikes are the way to go on Key West. Unfortunately, back in Minnesota we had to get rid of our bikes. Which means we are at the mercy of the bike rental stores. Our one day to explore Key West and the rental company was an hour late delivering our bikes. Then, not 5 minutes into our ride, my bike locked up and we had to walk them back to the rental store and exchange for a different one. Sweaty and hangry (hungry+angry) we biked 5 miles to the quintessential Key West outdoor restaurant, Blue Heaven. Complete with live music, a sleepy cat on the porch, and the best eggs benedict I’ve ever had (BLT Benny= Bacon, Lobster & Tomato over lime hollandaise sauce).
Spent the rest of the day wandering Key West, celebrating National Margarita Day at a random Mexican restaurant, trying conch fritters, and biking our way back to camp. Another night of attempting to sleep in 80° heat while roosters crow all night. Florida continued to bring us visitors, my best friend from college, Lindsey and her family were visiting Ft. Lauderdale. It was so fun to see all of them, catch up, play euchre, and have some drinks (thanks again Tim and Brenda)! Daytona Beach was our next stop to see my Grandma Dorothy! Thank you grandma for an afternoon of stories and a package of food for the road.
Ocala National Forest is known for their natural, pristine blue, hot springs. Alexander Springs has extremely clear water that is consistently 72°F, with a 27 ft. deep blue hole. Snorkeling is a popular activity and Jason was more than happy to partake! I, on the other hand, had a lovely time sunbathing… We were also able to check out Juniper Springs, which is a bit more developed and home to a few eels that you can check out (not thanks).
Our last and final stop in Florida, was to find the fountain of youth in St. Augustine. While we didn’t find the fountain we were able to utilize our National Parks Pass and visit Castillo de San Marcos Fort. This 17th century fort was built using a technique known as coquina (crushed up sea shells) and is the oldest masonry fort in the U.S. Thanks to the suggestion from Lance and Molly Rose we went to St. Augustine Distillery for a free tour (including samples).
Peace out Florida!