Friday, January 3, 2014

Welcome to Winter

I’m not sure why, but I think that this 2 week (really 13 days) trip to Florida has felt like it was a month long.  Maybe it was the changing of seasons.  Maybe it’s that South Florida seemed like it was a million miles from home, yet it only took two days to get there.  Maybe it was the novelty of of RVing in December.  Maybe it was the monotonous Florida scenery.  The trip home seemed extra long too…  I spent 2 years in Florida one Winter Break and went through 4 seasons, ok maybe just three, to get home. 

I’d been watching the weather forecasts and knew it was going to be cold when I got home so i re-winterized before I left Titusville.  This allowed Dad and I chance to experiment with how to remove the anode rod from the hot water heater without the water gushing out like geyser.   We were successful!  The key is to turn the water pump off and then open a tap and release all the pressure in the system and then unscrew the anode rod.  The water flows right out without any drama!  Re-winterizing was harder than it was the 1st time – I’m not sure why, but I suspect it might have been the antifreeze.  I had an extra gallon from last year and it was a lighter pink, that was the bottle that was giving me trouble – I wonder if it was cheap antifreeze and not as thick or something. 

It was in the high 60s, cloudy (again…it was cloudy almost the whole time I was in Florida), but with the sun trying to peek out when I left Titusville.  The temp had climbed to 71* just south of Jacksonville where it started to rain.  Luckily I remembered that I needed to drain the fresh tank and there was a well timed rest stop just before the rain began!  I jumped out and opened the valve and let the little bit of fresh water drain as I drove.   The rain continued the rest of the day!

I blew right through Florida and Georgia.  I stopped for lunch, re-fuel, and stop at Publix for steps and some products I can’t buy at home in Pooler, GA.  It was the same gas station I’d visited on the way down and it was one of the few aggravation free re-fueling locations!

South Carolina was relatively traffic free – one spot of slow traffic going north (coming south was a different story) but the rain was pouring and the fog/mist was getting thick and it was getting harder and harder to see, especially as it got dark.   As miserable as the weather was, I’d take that over all that traffic! I’d planned to stop at the Wal-Mart in Lumberton, NC (exit 22) for the night.  We’d stayed there on our way home from Florida in 2012 on my 1st trip with Roxy so I knew it was close to the highway and allowed overnight parking. It was only 5:30 when I arrived in Lumberton, which is very early for a Wal-Mart night – there’s not much to do and going to bed early generally doesn’t work because it’s loud. I considered going another 100 miles but it was a really nasty night and there was snow coming up north and the best thing to do was to stay put and enjoy a quiet evening in the RV.   It was cooling down – the temps had fallen through the 60s and into the 50s.  It felt cold and raw, but I knew it was actually downright tropical compared to what was coming.

I had some trouble trying to figure when and what channel Jeopardy! was on, partly due to bad information on AOL TV listing and partly because of my own inability to remember how to use the TV and get it to find channels.  My plan was to go into Wal-Mart and pick up a few things & get some steps and be back at the RV by 7:15 or so to channel surf and whatever channel Wheel of Fortune was on would have Jeopardy! Well, my plan for foiled by the fact that Jeopardy! is on a 7 and I tuned in for 1/2 of Double Jeopardy!  There went the evenings entertainment.  I considered going back into Wal-Mart to wander around, stay warm and get steps, but it was too wet and yucky.  I put on a double layer of long underwear and snuggled under the blankets and watched tv.  I managed to find a Big Bang Theory re-run, then a new Big Bang Theory followed by a new The Millers so it was a good TV night! After I watched part of the pilot episode of er from the 90’s that I had on my iPad. 

It was still hovering around 50 when I went to bed.  I was toasty warm in my long underwear but I got in the sleeping bag because I knew it was going down into the 20s and if I got cold it was gonna be hard to warm up again.  I rolled up my quilt and my afghan and put them between my sleeping bag and the wall of the van.  I also put my big “floor” pillow against the door and put my pillows in front for further insulation. The temps fell gradually through the night, not dipping below freezing until almost sunrise.  Except for my face, I was toasty warm in my sleeping bag!

The wind started whipping right before dawn too.  It was blowing so hard I could feel the RV rocking!  According to my weather channel app it was  a 30mh wind!  yikes! 

Finally around 7, I turned the propane heater on to take the chill off and endured the awful “dust on the heating element” smell and got the RV all toasty.  Since it was only getting colder as I went north I opted to put yoga pants and a shirt over my double layer of long underwear and calling it “dressed”.  I made the coffee and got ready to go.  One of the last tasks before I departed was to step outside and see if I had in fact gotten the TV antenna down.  Woweee!  It was cold!  That wind was fierce.  Silly me thought it was cold in the RV!

It might have been shockingly cold but the sun was shinning!  1st day all week that it was sunny the whole day!

Aside from the wind pushing me into the other lane a few times, the last 300 miles were uneventful.  I stopped at the Flying J at exit 104 to dump the black tank – I’d been using it and wasn’t sure if I’d keep the RV at home tonight or take it back to Holly Acres, if I took it back I could dump there, but it had snowed here and I didn’t know if it was icy or what.  I’d had trouble getting the sewer hose storage lid on yesterday, today I had to use my vice grips to get it off! 

Soon I was back in Woodbridge headed home!  The main roads were all clear of snow and dry, my neighborhood streets were another story.  Lots of snow/ice and my parking spots were a sheet of ice.  We’d only gotten about 2 inches of snow, but it all froze. It was between 21*-26*, the thermometer kept changing, and the wind had died down. I didn’t dare back the RV on the ice (she doesn’t handle ice well) so I stopped in the middle of the street (no one was around) and unloaded my bike and got some laundry baskets and big ziploc bags and took the RV to Holly Acres.  The roads in the storage lot were snow & ice covered but it was all downhill and as soon as I moved the Saturn out of the spot I could pull the RV in and not have to move it again until things thawed out.  I pulled the Saturn out without even clearing the snow off!  I let it idle with the defrost on while I parked Roxy and loaded all my stuff into the baskets, tubs and bags.  I did the “speed” unload and left some stuff to be done later but I got all the food, stuff that could freeze and stuff I need. 

Unloading the RV at the storage lot means that I had to shuffle the junk twice, but I got extra steps, and it really didn’t seem *that* cold out! Refreshingly brisk! I was comfortable in my double layer of long underwear! Hard to believe it was 80 degrees in South Florida and now it was 20 degrees!  60 degree temperature change!

Once I got everything in the house I was busy putting stuff away, starting the laundry, cleaning the mess I left in the kitchen.  Yep, vacation was over…back to reality!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Titusville

We were running out of things to do in South Florida so decided to head north for our last stop!  This was also a good plan because it knocked out 200 miles of the trip back, now I just have 800 miles to tackle tomorrow & Friday. 

Titusville is a nice little town, it is right by Cape Canaveral and has excellent views of The Kennedy Space Center and the Space Shuttle Launch pads.  Huge crowds would descend up on Titusville when NASA was launching the shuttle.  The town has suffered a huge hit with the end of the space shuttle program. 

There are other things to do in Titusville though and we saw all the sights!

We are staying at Manatee Hammock Campground, which I think is a county park.  It’s a nice campground with plenty of trees and big sites. It is right on the Indian River and you can walk out and see the launch pads (they are the tallest thing for at least 100 miles) and watch the dolphins play!

Canaveral National Seashore is right next to the space center and was our first stop for the day.  It was a dreary, rainy, chilly day so we mostly had the beach to ourselves! It looked a lot like Assateauge Island in Maryland. 

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If it had been clear we would have had great views of the launch pad.  The park is so close that you used to have to go through strict security to get in and the park would close when there was going to be a launch. 

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We didn’t spend long at the beach, the weather was really yucky.  

There’s also a Wildlife Refuge right next door with a wildlife viewing drive and a spot to go to see manatee.  We checked out the manatee viewing deck and didn’t see any so went to grab lunch (more on that in a bit) and then drove the 7 mile wildlife viewing loop.  

Most of the wildlife you can view are birds.  We saw plenty of different birds, including the Roseate Spoonbill – although we didn’t see them until the end.  The rainy, cool weather likely brought more birds out. 

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One of the biggest draws for Titusville is Dixie Crossroads Restaurant.  My parents have come here several times and I certainly enjoyed eating there!  It’s a seafood restaurant and they have Rock Red Shrimp that are rare.  They will cook the shrimp however you want and they have yummy sides!  We ate dinner there last night and lunch today!  And, yes, I had steamed shrimp both times!  Highly recommend it if you are close!

The last attraction in the Greater Titusville Area was Harvey’s Citrus.  I wanted some grapefruits to take home and Harvey’s seemed the best place to go.  We had to drive to Rockledge which was about 30 miles down Rt 1, but I think it was worth it!  We sampled all the fruit we ended up buying and it was all super yummy!  Dad and I couldn’t decide which ones we wanted so we got 2 kinds of grapefruit, navel oranges, honey tangerines and some pecans. 

Tomorrow morning I will re-winterize the RV and start the drive back home.  It’s gonna snow at home tomorrow and then get very cold and windy.  I’m not looking forward to unloading the RV and all that stuff, but, it is January! 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Shark Valley

There are three areas of Everglades NP, each separated by a significant distance – Flamingo, Shark Valley and Gulf Coast.  I went to the the Gulf Coast area a few years ago when I came to Naples over Spring Break, we won’t be going there this time.  Shark Valley is on the northernmost part of the park and away from the saltwater and slightly higher ground – this means that the terrain is different, the animals are different, but it’s still a lot the same!  At Shark Valley there’s a tram that you can take or you can ride your bike the 15 miles around the road.   We went to Shark Valley and did the tram tour a few years ago and today Dad and I rode our bikes.  Biking is a much better way to experience Shark Valley, but then again it was cloudy most of the day and when it was sunny we were riding into the wind and that made it cooler, I’m sure that on a normal South Florida day with tons of sun & heat it would be miserable. 

When you ride your bike you have to go opposite of the trams so you can see them coming – they don’t make a lot of noise so you can’t hear them coming.   This means you start along the canal which is just crawling with animals – alligators, anhingas, great white egrets, snowy egrets, wood storks, little blue herons, great blue herons, and turtles!  It was a chance for me to learn what birds we were going to see so I could id them as we rode.  We also saw our first alligator.

Can you find it?

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Here’s it’s eye:

P1140815There wasn’t much more to see until we got to the Observation Tower about halfway around.    At the tower there was a short trail and you could hike up the observation tower and get a 360 degree view of the “River of Grass”. 

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The road we were riding on.

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We saw a purple gallinule!

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The trams stop at the tower and everyone gets out for 20 minutes then they have to get back on.  If you ride your bike you get to hang out at the tower after all the tram riders have left and it gets really quiet.

The trip back was more exposed and into the wind.  We did get to see more alligators!  Some where very close to the road!

P1080643P1140831This wasn’t even the closest alligator to the road, it was just the closest one I stopped to take a picture of. 

There were plenty of birds though….here’s a wood stork walking along almost on the surface of the spongy stuff (that spongy stuff is some kind of algae that feeds the apple snails and the birds eat the apple snails).

P1140833When we got back to the Visitor Center  we went back to the canal where we’d been this morning.  The sun brought out the alligators!

There are 5 alligators in this picture!

P1140843 I was able to take some great shots of the gators.

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Alligator & Little Blue Heron

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There were plenty of birds too!

Great Blue Heron

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Great White Egret

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Little Blue Heron

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Anhinga

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Snowy Egret

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And even a turtle

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After we left Shark Valley we took the Loop Road through the Big Cypress National Preserve.   It was a dirt road for part of it and on one side of the road there was a cypress swamp and the other was more jungle like.  There were gators on one side, not on the other!  There were birds too, but they were hard to see because of the trees and the undergrowth.

 

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There were tons of air plants!

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And a few Ibis

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With one more stop in Florida, Titusville, my thoughts are beginning to turn to the trip home so today when I had cell phone signal I checked the weather forecast…it’s going to be a rude awakening back in Virginia – Friday’s high is forecast to be 29*!  With the coldest air of the season arriving Saturday!  And, there could be a snowstorm Thursday into Friday!  Fun Times!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Snake Bight Bike Ride

Yesterday when we were at the Visitor Center the Ranger told us about a great bike ride down the Snake Bight Trail (a hiking trail that is open to bikes) to a view of the Florida Bay.  (A bight is bay within a bay) It was only 2 miles from the park road to the Snake Bight overlook so we’d planned to make a loop with the Rowdy Bend trail which was also open to bikes.   We also decided to ride from the campground to give us more miles – it would be about 16 miles round trip. 

Before we left I applied 100% Deet bug repellent to my shoes, pants and shirt! 

The portion on the road was rather boring and over 1/2 of it was what we rode last night.  I was excited about getting off the main road and seeing more of the park.  The trail description had said that the trail went by a canal and you could see alligators and birds and all sorts of stuff.

We reached the parking area and turned off the road and saw that there was a gate across the trail so we got off our bikes to walk them around the gate and instantly the mosquitoes attacked.  It was almost a swarm.  I was swatting left and right.  Dad was frantically trying to get the bug spray out of his backpack. I hadn’t brought any because I felt I’d applied more than enough before I left!  Guess not.  As Dad is spraying himself down again I looked at my leg there were about 10 mosquitoes all biting me on the same place!  He handed me the spray and I sprayed them directly and they died!  I was now coated with Deet – it was even dripping off my helmet! 

Once we got moving though, the mosquitoes weren’t a problem.  Unless you stopped moving, in which case you were fair game and got eaten alive. 

The problem once we were moving was the spider webs.  I was in front and every few feet I’d hit a web and scream!  When you are riding a bike you can’t swat at the webs once you hit them or you wreck your bike!  Especially on an “off road” trail where there are roots and logs and all sorts of stuff on the ground!

The trail at first was wide and smooth and soon it became overgrown with sawgrass and the trail was narrow and harder to navigate.   It was in here where we decided that we weren’t going to try Rowdy Bend – the Ranger had told us that it was probably overgrown and if the “cleared” trail was a mess then that one probably was worse. 

Soon the sawgrass thinned and the trail opened up…into a mud flat!  Slippery, thick, hard to ride through mud.  Luckily this section was only a few feet long before we hit the boardwalk at the end of the trail. 

It was low tide and we could see a bunch of birds!

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We applied more Deet before we headed back! The ride back went fast and soon we were back at the road, with only a few more mosquito bites.   Despite the bugs, it was a pretty trail…we didn’t get very many pictures because if you stopped you risked your life!

P1080621P1080622P1080625   The canal  was neat looking and I’m sure there were interesting things in it, but there was no way to look and ride and you couldn’t stop.  I have no idea how anyone hikes that trail!

On our way back to the campground we stopped at the Marina where Mom had seen the crocodile yesterday to see if we could see it.  Sure enough, he/she was hanging out just where Mom had said.  I didn’t get a very good picture.

P1140809We were about a 1/2 mile from the campground when it started to rain.   The rain continued for over an hour!  This worked for us though… I had chores to do so I could be ready to leave and I needed another shower to wash off the Deet (when I did wash my hair the Deet flowed right off my head and into my eyes!  I rinsed it out quickly but, seriously…how much Deet does one need?  And, despite being covered in Deet, I’m *still* covered with bites! ugh!).  We got kicked out of the campground at 12:15 (checkout was 12) and made our way back to Homestead. 

I saw this sign on the way and and had to get a picture of it on the way out…

P1140812Elevation: 3 ft!  WOW.  Such a difference from this summer in Colorado when we were over 12K ft! 

On the way out we had to make one last stop at Robert is Here!  One last Key Lime Milkshake fix! YUM!  While we were in line we were chatting with the person behind us – he’d moved to Homestead about a year ago from Frederick, MD.  He’d graduated from West Springfield!

After milkshakes it was time to head to Big Cypress to Midway campground.  Tomorrow we are biking Shark Valley.  Along US 41 there’s a canal and there were tons of birds and probably alligators – very distracting to try and drive and look at the birds and try and distinguish logs from alligators.  I missed the turn to the campground and went to the Visitor Center where they have several alligators hanging out so got some pictures.  Also walked maybe a 1/4 mile on the Florida National Scenic Trail!

Edited to add: When I went to bed I surveyed the mosquito bite situation – I had over 20 bites on my upper arms and lower legs, then on the backs of each of my thighs there was a solid section of wall to wall bites – you can’t distinguish one from another!  They go from mid-thigh to  where I was sitting on my bike seat.  Then there’s a line of more bug bites right along my waist on my back!  It reminds me of something that might happen to someone in a Carl Hiaasen book!   And it makes me wonder just how many mosquito bites a person can sustain before it becomes a big issue!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trip

The Everglades is a neat place!  I’m sure that my enjoyment of it is greatly enhanced by the fact that it’s been cloudy, breezy and cool and the mosquitoes, while plentiful, are less than in other seasons.  There are tons of animals, interesting birds and the geography is totally unlike other places I’ve been!

Our first item on the agenda today was to visit the Flamingo Visitor Center and ask the Rangers a million questions about kayaking, rentals, biking, etc.  We determined that we’d like to go boating today and that my inflatable kayak was simply not appropriate for the Everglades.  First, there’s the obvious concern – alligators.  You don’t want an alligator chomping down on your inflatable kayak (yes, it happened and it made the news, the gal had to hang into the mangroves, there is no dry land anywhere around here, with an angry alligator at her feet, luckily the gal’s cell phone worked and she called for help.).   The other issues that I hadn’t considered were wind & tides.  

We were able to rent a canoe and canoe the Nine Mile Pond Canoe trail.  It’s called Nine Mile Pond because it’s nine miles from Coot Bay to the pond and the ranger station was was at Coot Bay.  The canoe trail is 5 miles long and starts in the lake and then goes through the swamp, marked by PVC pipes that stick up and are numbered.  If it weren’t for those markers you’d never make it out of the swamp, it all looks the same.   There was promise of seeing alligators, crocodiles, and plenty of birds!

There is very little dry land out there – lots and lots of water!  In places it looks like there is dry land, but it’s just an illusion – there’s spongy stuff on the top that makes it look solid.  Some parts of the trail were grassy and open, others were tight with mangroves.  A kayak would be a much better vessel for this type of trip – the canoe was not very maneuverable!

Nine Mile Pond – where we launched the canoe.  The canoe trail starts all the way at the other end of the pond – you have to go against the wind!  I was quite glad I wasn’t in the Sea Eagle, which is basically a giant balloon!

P1140777One of the many mangrove hammocks.  These were sometimes very narrow and usually we had to pull ourselves along since the paddles wouldn’t go in!

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The stuff floating on the surface near the tip of the canoe is spongy stuff that gives the illusion of solid ground when you look at it.

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  There were bunches of air plants in every tree!  Made me think of my friend Andy!  He used to have a whole bunch of air plants! P1140788

We did not see much of the promised wildlife.  We saw one Great Blue Heron, a Little Blue Heron, and the top of an alligator.  We never would have seen the gator if it wasn’t for someone coming from the other direction pointing it out.  I saw the top of his head before he sunk to the bottom.  The other guy told us not to paddle over the gator, but Dad couldn’t see where it had been and it made me wonder how many alligators we paddled over and hadn’t realized! 

After we made it back to Nine Mile Pond and put the canoe away we headed back to the campground and stopped at West Lake.  There was a canoe trail there too, as well as a 1/2 mile boardwalk.  Dad and I walked the boardwalk which went through a dry mangrove hammock and went out over the lake.  West Lake is a big lake! 

After we returned the canoe paddles and the key to unlock it and got back to the campground we got on our bikes and rode back to Mrazek Pond to see what animals were out at sunset.  We saw a Roseate Spoonbill! They are pretty cool!  There were also a ton of ducks, a couple anhingas, and some other birds.  Soon it was dark and we were getting eaten alive by mosquitoes so we put the bikes on the car (Mom had driven from the campground so we could ride back) and headed back for dinner. 

Tomorrow Dad and I are going to do a bike ride in the morning and then we will drive to Midway campground in Big Cypress National Preserve so we can go to Shark Valley on Monday. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Everglades NP – Flamingo

I left the KOA around 10 to head back to the mainland!  The drive back up the Overseas Highway was nice, sunny at 1st and then it started raining – pouring – then sunny, finally settling on cloudy. There was a ton of traffic coming onto the Keys so I think we timed it just right. 

I was able to locate Card Sound Road this time and took it around to RT 1.  That was a nice drive!  Lots of FL scenery, which, while not really all that exciting, is better than cars and stores and stuff! 

Once I got to Homestead I had some errands to run – Publix for Club Soda, fuel for the RV and Robert Is Here for OJ, bananas and a milkshake.  The key Lime Milkshake was better than the Key Lime pie we’d had on Duval Street last night!  Definitely going to have to stop on the way out for another!

I was almost into the park when Mom texted that they were just now passing Robert’s, where was I?  If I’d known they were so close I could have shared that milkshake with Dad (it was HUGE and yes I ate every bite!).  We met up at the Visitor Center and Dad took the car off and we drove to the Royal Palms area so we could walk the Anhinga Trail.

Anhinga’s are birds that live in the Everglades and they were out in abundance tonight!  They are easily confused with the cormorants though.  The Anhinga Trail is mostly boardwalk over the pond and swamp and there are tons of birds, plants, alligators, and tourists.  We managed to get there during a ranger program so there were extra tourists.  There were 2 gators – one that I couldn’t see because there were too many people and the other I wasn’t convinced it was a gator – thought maybe it was a rock.  The trail was a nice way to stretch my legs though!

Apparently vultures are a problem around here:

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Anhinga

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Cormorants

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White bird (might be a heron…)

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Great Blue Heron

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Air plants

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River of Grass

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Alligator?  (I don’t think so…but it’s sure close!)

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Since I finished the trail before Mom and Dad did I walked the Gumbo-Limbo trail, which was an entirely different trail, though a hardwood hammock – it was very jungle-like!

By now it was after 4 and we still had an hour to drive to get to the Flamingo campground at the end of the road so we headed off down the road.  It was a long way down here, but it was a pretty drive! It was raining when we left the visitor center and soon after there was a rainbow way off in the distance, I wasn’t able to get a good picture of it.  The grass of the Everglades looks like the prairie or the African Savannah – I kinda expected to see a giraffe or elephant or something.   The sun was going down and the clouds made it pretty!

When we arrived at the campground I went for a quick bike ride to check the place out before it got dark, I only had about 10 minutes and I had to go really fast to avoid the mosquitoes but it was nice.  It’s very cool here & doesn’t seem as humid as it was in the Keys. 

We have the whole day tomorrow here – we’ll probably go kayaking or biking or walking…we’ll see!