Saturday, April 29, 2017

Touring the Edison & Ford Winter Estates

Found on the south bank of the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Meyers, the estates can be toured with a simple interpretive tour, an audio tour, or a guided tour.  We opted for the guided tour, but the audio tour is nice too since it allows you to move around at your own pace.  Admission to the estates also includes the museum and laboratory.

Lab office-2 
Edison’s Laboratory Office

One thing that is really notable about the estates is the number and variety of plants.  Much of the study done on the site was looking for alternative sources for rubber, as well as material to use for filaments.  Both of these searches were focused on agricultural solutions.

That's one Banyon Tree-2
This is a single Banyon Tree
Fig tree
Fig Tree by the River

The estates themselves were nice too…

Edison home
Edison Home
Edison bedroom

But the most interesting areas were the laboratories and the museum

Lab – Left Side
Lab – Right Side
Lab Model Full
Scale Model of Lab (very cool!)
Model T-2
Model T

One final bit of trivia – Did you know that the Model T cam in any color that the customer wanted, as long as they wanted “black”?  It’s true!  Actually, the original model T did come in other colors but as part of the assembly line process, the other colors were eliminated.

More photos are available in the Gallery

Friday, April 28, 2017

Hiking Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

I probably wouldn’t have found this spot if it wasn’t for Google Earth.  I was looking for areas of interest near the Koreshan State Historical Site and noticed a cluster of photos and a Wikiloc icon so I zoomed in and inspected the area a little more closely.  I’m glad I did – this is a gorgeous area with a 2.5 mile boardwalk.

Tina on the boardwalk
Tina on the Boardwalk

Audobon CenterEntrance to the boardwalk is through the main Audubon building adjacent to the parking lot.  Inside the building is a small museum, a gift shop, and a cafeteria area.  In the center of the building is the main desk where we paid our $14 entrance fee.  There aren’t any paper maps to take with us, but there were plenty of maps along the way to show where we are along the boardwalk.

Squirell's LunchThe boardwalk forms a large loop that circles the largest Bald Cypress Stand in North America.  Starting clockwise around the loop, there is a branch that leads a short distance to the west with a bird feeding station set up.  Squirrels love birdfeeders here just as much as they do in our backyard… the picture on the right wasn’t at the birdfeeder, but he was pretty close.

Dry SwampJust beyond the birdfeeder, there is another branch that leads to the location of an old “Plumage Camp”.  According to the signage, hunters slaughtered hundreds of thousands of egrets and herons for their plumage to be used on ladies’ hats.  They were paid $32 an ounce in the late 1800’s which was about twice the price of gold.  It’s pretty amazing that the bird populations were able to recover.Strangler Fig-1

There is one plant that doesn’t seem to grow as far north as Orlando, but is really something neat to see is a Strangler Fig, and there were a bunch of them here.  Strangler Figs grow like vines all the way up a host tree, wrapping around them all the way.  Sometimes the strangler will kill the host because its leaves will block sunlight to the host.  Further south they will grow large enough to “choke” the host tree.  When the host dies and rots away the strangler will remain, strong enough to support its own weight, leaving a tree that looks like it has a latticed trunk.

Gator smells like dead fish-2With Florida facing drought conditions, the swamp was mostly dry.  Almost no water was to be found except for one pool that had been hollowed out by a gator were momma was watching her babies.  In this picture you can see the vultures surrounding the mother alligator – I suspect that it is because she smells like the fish that are dying all around her.  In the puddle to the left, there are still a few fish alive, and a couple baby alligators.  If they don’t get a lot of rain soon, they will move on and search for water elsewhere.

Pot Plant-3We saw one plan growing next to the boardwalk that surprised me… I’m not sure if it is what I think it is, but it sure looks like it! 

There is also an overlook in the southwest area of the boardwalk.  It looks over an area of small trees and is probably a great spot to sit and do some birdwatching, but we didn’t spend too much time here.

There’s a lot to see in this hidden gem of a trail, so if you’re in the Ft. Meyers area consider making a little drive to the south to check it out.  The entire trip is wheelchair accessible (they even have wheelchairs available at the main building), and it is an easy walk.  Plan on spending about three hours and make sure your camera has plenty of battery power; there are a lot of great photo opportunities.

More photos are in the Gallery

Green Anole-2
Green Anole
Area Map
Boardwalk Map
Gator tracks-4
Gator Tracks
Who Flower-1
Who Flower
Listening to Who Songs

A quick run through the boardwalk

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Paddling the Estero River

There is a boat ramp at the Koreshan State Historical Site – paddling about 4 miles to the west will lead to the Gulf of Mexico, but I headed upstream instead.  The river doesn’t have much of a current; at this part it seems to be more affected by the ebbing of the tide than river flow.

Paddling by
Heading Upstream

Pretty tree-1With a couple hours to kill before dinner time, Tina dropped me at the boat launch for a short trip before the evening rains came.  My plan was to head upstream for about 1/2 of a mile, but as I approached the bridge that marked my turnaround point I passed someone who told me there was a family of manatee’s up ahead.

Well, I couldn’t cut my trip short without seeing them, so I headed upstream a little further and eventually saw a mother and baby eating plants on the edge of the river.  Even though I kept my distance they went underwater and swam away almost as soon as they heard my paddles.  After turning around, I just drifted with the current until I saw them again. 

Manatee having lunch

Rainy River-2This time, without paddles to disturb them, I was able to watch them for a few minutes as I drifted by.  Momma kept her baby on the shore side for protection, so I didn’t get to see the young one from here.  I could see her eating the plants along the river though.

Along the way back, the afternoon rains finally came.  Not a big downpour, but just enough to keep the temperature down.  The rain seemed to really excite the fish – there were a few jumping before the rains came, and I saw a bunch more on the way back. 

This was a great little paddling trip; I recommend it to anyone in the area.  Kayaks (both sing and tandem) and canoes can be rented at the ranger station at the site entrance.

More photos are in the Gallery

Getting ready to launch
Preparing to leave
River view-1
River View
Rainy River-1
Rain on the RIver

Bluegrass Paddling the Estero River (Koreshan St. Historical Site)

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Highland Hammock SP–Sebring, FL

Highland Hammock State Park is a beautiful spot to spend some time.  It was originally established by the local community back in 1931, and was improved by the Civilian Conservation Corp during the great depression.  Many (if not all) of the original improvements by the CCC can still be seen today.

Our campsite
Tina enjoying a lazy afternoon


Our campsite must have been surrounded by woodpecker nests; we saw no fewer than three pairs of birds moving from tree to tree.  One of the pairs seemed to be very interested in a tree that was right next to us.

Museum Display-4On our first afternoon, we visited the CCC museum just outside of the campground.  In addition  displays of different artifacts, there are several full size dioramas, and three different videos that they show in a small theater.  The CCC is really an amazing piece of our history.  Even though many aspects of the “New Deal” were criticized, the CCC rarely received opposition.  It’s interesting to wonder how our current government would react to a project like this.

To get a feel for the quality of work that the CCC did, one just needs to see the from 1935.  Comparing that map to a map of the park today, even the hiking trails that were improved can still be seen.

Original CCC map and new map
1935 Map with Current Paper Map

Fossilized ShellAcross the parking area from the CCC Museum is the Hammock Inn.  It is currently being renovated and will open with a restaurant, and is currently only a camp store.  Inside the inn there is a display case with a fossilized tortoise shell that was found somewhere in the park.  Old Grader

On one of the evenings of our stay, a local rancher who traces his family back five or six generations in Florida (yep – pre-USA) came to the campground to give a short lecture on the history of the area.  His family was one of the families that founded the area, and he shared some really interesting stories that had been passed down through the generations.

There is a lot to see and do at this park, including hiking and biking, and the tram tour is a fantastic sixty-ninety minute trip led by one of the park rangers.

Related Posts

Gator Show 08
Hiking Highland Hammock SP (Plus a Tram Ride)

Hiking Big Oak Trail

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Hiking Highland Hammock SP (Plus a Tram Ride)

There are a bunch of short hiking trails throughout this park, and most of them are connected.  I recommend starting at the Alexander Blair Big Oak trail, and after hiking all the connected trails there, riding or driving to the next one.  They aren’t too far apart, but wheels will save some time between trail heads.

View of the swamp from the boardwalk on the Cypress Swamp Trailhead

Andy by burly oakThe trailhead for the Big Oak Trail is about 200 yards east of where Loop Road starts.  The trail starts out looking like a typical oak hammock, but after the first turn is an amazing tree.  This is a huge burled oak that only recently died.

burled rootsThe burls on the tree are huge, and one can easily get an idea of just how much stress was on the wood as it held up it’s own weight.  Along part of the tree, there is still cement and rebar visible where tree surgeons back in the day tried to support the inner structure. 

We learned later that, once upon a time, tree surgeons would crawl inside large trees and chip away old dead wood and fill the gap with cement to help stabilize the tree.  They no longer do that, but it was a common practice many years ago.

Boardwalk-2The Big Oak Trail connects to the Hickory Trail, which then connects to the Fern Garden trail with a great boardwalk along the way.  After we looped back to where we started, we went across the road to look at the Wild Orange Grove trail.

This trail is kinda neat – we saw several wild orange trees growing in the woods, most with ripe fruit.  Tina picked a couple to use in her next batch of marmalade and found that they were surprisingly sweet.  Most of the wild oranges I’ve tasted (especially the ones with thorny branches like these trees had) are more sour than lemons.  Oak by trailhead'

We also explored the Richard Lieber Trail, which has another giant oak right at the trailhead.  This oak is still alive, and the work of the tree surgeons can be seen on it as well. 

The Swamp Trail is short hike that goes through the heart of a swamp.  Most of the trail is along a boardwalk, so even when the water levels are higher it is likely still a dry hike.  (This is the trail where the picture at the top of this post came from).

Alligator Eating 2We wrapped up our hiking trip here so we could grab some lunch before taking the Tram Tour.  This was about an hour and a half long guided tour that took us through parts of the park that are otherwise closed to the public.  The highlight of the tour was a stop alongside a canal that was teaming with alligators.  Gator Show 02

After all these years, I still find these to be amazing creatures.  When we arrived, it must have been lunch time because we saw several of them catching and eating fish.  Normally gators are seen just laying in the sun, but today they were very active.

The hiking at Highland Hammock SP is great – the trails are wide and clear, so things like ticks and poison ivy are really not a concern.  The tram tour is a must-do for anyone visiting the park.  We learned a little about the history of the area, the flora and fauna, and saw some amazing gators!

Photo Gallery
More photos available in the gallery

Egret and Gator
Egret Taking Flight
Camoflauged baby-2
Camouflaged Baby 
Swamp Trail boardwalk
Swamp Trail Boardwalk

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Biking the Seminole Wekiva Trail

This is a very popular trail; the ride was on a Thursday morning there were quite a few people along the way.  Not so many that it felt crowded, but there were more people than I expected. It’s popular for a good reason… this is a great riding trail.

Trail View
Trees provide shade along most of the trail

I started this ride at Lake Mary Blvd because I didn’t see the trailhead (with parking) at the southern trailhead on 436.  There is a parking area there, so if you’re heading down this way, it is a good place to start

One of the most interesting features along the trail is all of the art along the way.  The fences that adorn the trail are part of “Paint the Trail” – a project that is lead by artist Jeff Sonksen.  I’m not sure if he is the only artist, but he is definitely the main contributor.  I found a news article from 2014 that says there are 500 murals that span a half of a mile – that was 3 years ago, and I think there are a lot more now. (Click on any image for a larger version).

Paint the Trail-1 Paint the Trail-2 Paint the Trail-4

There are few murals like this one too.

The southern portion of the trail runs alongside the Little Wekiva River which is fed by three nearby springs.  There are a few short walking trails that head towards the river from the bike trail that offer some really nice views of a crystal clear creek.

Little Wekiva River-1
Spring fed Little Wekiva River

The full ride was about 17.5 miles, and there are several drinking fountains and restrooms along the way.  If you would like to see the technical details of the trip, click on the “Wikiloc” logo on the map.

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