Fort Pickens – Gulf Islands National Seashore FL

We spent the weekend at Gulf Islands National Seashore, where Fort Pickens played big for over a century.

Fort Pickens

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This massive brick structure, built by slaves, served as a major coastal defense for Pensacola Bay starting in 1834. It was held by the Union during the civil war, and for 18 months housed Geronimo and other Apaches until they were deported to Ft. Sill in Oklahoma in 1894. He died there, still in captivity, 15 years later.

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The room where Geronimo was kept.  The Apaches could move about freely, but were required to work 7 hours a day, and were put on display for tourists.


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One of the three ranger program we attended – this one about Civil War soldiers
We started each morning with a walk on the beach, just a short bike ride and boardwalk away form our campsite.

Grayton Beach State Park

Top 10 reasons we loved our stay at Grayton Beach State Park in Santa Rosa FL

#1  Our campsite – private, roomy, and right by the water
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Path to the water from our campsite
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# 2  Wide, white sandy beaches
# 3  Quiet sunrises


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#4 Sharing good stories and bad jokes around a campfire with new friends. Here are two of them – Jim and Charlotte – who traded their sailboat for a Casita.
# 5  Raw oysters at Shunk Gulley’s in Santa Rosa
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# 6  Silhouettes
#7  Miles of bike paths that lead to fun places (like Watercolor and Seaside, where a whole line of vintage Airstreams found a second life as food trucks.)
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#8  Pine trees
#9  Mullet jumping in the lake every morning (I didn’t get a photo of them, but this is where they live.)
#10  Stunning sunsets

Suwannee River FL


I had always assumed that Stephen Foster was born and bred in the south, with over 200 tunes like “Oh! Susannah” and “My Old Kentucky Home” to his credit. Come to find out, he was a Pennsylvania boy, and the one trip he took on the Mississippi River to New Orleans was the only time he ever set foot in Dixie. That didn’t stop Florida from creating a state park in his honor, complete with a museum and carillon that plays his songs. (Unfortunately it was undergoing lightning strike repairs while we were there.) The Stephen Foster State Folk Culture Center is on the banks of the Suwannee River that Foster made famous in his song “Old Folks at Home.”

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The Stephen Foster Museum
The Carillon houses 97 tubular bells – one of the largest musical instruments ever produced in the Western Hemisphere.

“Way down upon the Suwannee River, far, far away. There’s where my heart is yearning ever, that’s where the old folks stay.”

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Lots of bike paths in and around this wonderful park
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The beautiful Suwannee River in White Springs FL
My cousin grew up just down the road from here, and married his high school sweetheart.  Rick died in 1997, but Linda still lives here, and she and her friend Diane joined us for dinner at our campsite.

We haven’t been able to watch the Olympics, so as a consolation prize, we treated ourselves to a movie and wonderful Korean BBQ in Gainesville. Five stars!

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Fort De Soto Park (Pinellas County FL)

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Misty morning in the campground

Our plan to travel up the middle of the state was altered when we heard about the campground at Fort De Soto County Park south of St. Petersburg. It lived up to its reputation in spades – large private sites on well-maintained roads with dark skies and lots of water in every direction. All this is enhanced with miles of biking trails that Nancy and I enjoyed while Russ went for a daily run.

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Site #220 – Not on the water, but nice and roomy

Flanked by Tampa Bay to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west, Fort De Soto was built in 1898 during the Spanish American War. The complex was used until World War II when B-17s trained here.

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Our “guest house” has served us well during the past two weeks. It was great sharing some of our Florida adventures with family.

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Big Cypress and Lake Okeechobee

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Fresh Florida fruit, and lots of it!

As we left the Everglades and started northward, we made one more pass through Big Cypress where the birding is some of the best we’ve had on this trip.

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In 1968, construction of what was to be the world’s largest jetport was begun in this 729,000-acre swampland, and would have been the nail in the coffin to the already struggling Everglades. Fortunately, a coalition of conservationists, hunters, private landowners and Native Floridians put a stop to it, and ultimately Big Cypress National Preserve was established.

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Russ’ sister, Nancy, has joined us this week, and today she and I enjoyed a bike ride on the levee beside Lake Okeechobee while Russ went for a run on the same path.

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With miles of sugar cane and orange groves surrounding it, Clewiston claims to be “America’s Sweetest Town.” The Chamber of Commerce has a nice little museum and two films that give an overview of how orange juice and sugar make their way from field to table. (The 3 1/2- hour Sugarland Tour was booked for the week.)

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Sugar Cane is actually a grass that has to be replanted every three years
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At 730 square miles, Lake Okeechobee (Florida’s inland sea) is the largest fresh water lake in Florida and is the source that feeds Big Cypress and the Everglades.


Nike Missile Site – Everglades National Park


Who knew that Everglades National Park was a critical line of defense during the Cold War and Cuban Missile Crisis? When Soviet missile sites were discovered in Cuba in 1962, the US immediately realized that our southern border was completely vulnerable to Soviet attack. Within days, a mobile Missile Battalion was deployed to the Everglades, followed by construction of a base that housed 41-foot nuclear missiles in a constant state of readiness.


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Our guide was one of the soldiers who landed in the Bay of Pigs in 1962.

Recognizing that the 52nd Air Defense Artillery played a key role in preventing the crisis from escalating, President Kennedy came to Homestead AFB to present them with the Army’s Meritorious Unit Commendation, an award usually given during wartime.

“We owe life as we know it, in part, to the skill, accuracy and restraint of these Cold Warriors. On the ground in south Florida, “eyeball to eyeball” with the enemy, these men appropriately responded to the constant testing of our defenses by enemy aircraft and never once jumped the gun. They are heroes of a war never fought.”

Everglades National Park

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We’re spending a week in this 1.5 million acres of wonderful wildness – a river of grass interspersed with small island forests called hammocks, and surrounded by the Florida Bay. Flamingo (at the southern end of the road) took quite a hit from Hurricane Irma, and most of the facilities are still closed. The crocodiles are still there, as are the white pelicans, and I’m happy to report that the largest mahogany tree in the US still stands.

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Full moon over Flamingo campsite
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Lunar eclipse at dawn
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This beautifully rendered watercolor of Flamingo bay was painted by my brother-in-law, Barry
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The Gumbo Limbo tree, with Mahogany trees in the background
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With it’s peeling red bark, the Gumbo Limbo is also known as the Tourist tree

Perhaps the most ferocious creature in the Everglades is the tiny mosquito. Last year’s swarms (the worst in 20 years) skyrocketed to the Hysterical level of the Mosquito Meter, but with temps on the coolish side, we were happy to hover on the Enjoyable end.

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In desperate need of a hot (make that luke-warm) shower, we moved up to Long Pine Key campground near the entrance to the park, where we said good-by to Diana and Barry. They get the “Good Sports” award for enduring several chilly nights in their tent, with nary a complaint!

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The Anhinga Trail
Temperature-dependent Sex Determination (TSD): If the temperatures are 90º or higher for 14 consecutive days during incubation, the alligator hatchlings are all male; if 86º or below, they’re all female.
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The Anhinga Trail

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