Sunday, March 5, 2017

Florida

Thursday afternoon we arrived back in Manchester, NH on a bumpy flight from Tampa, Florida. The weather on the Gulf Coast was in the mid-80s when we left and cold and blustery when we arrived in New Hampshire. I'm still dreaming of the seven days spent in North Port and St. Pete's Beach, Florida, walking bare foot at the water's edge wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
Now I understand why people flock to Florida on spring break: miles and miles of clean, soft, sandy beaches; warm sun; great seafood. I was also impressed with the condition of Florida roads (no frost heaves), which apparently is why everyone drives 80 mph. And there are promising signs that people care about their state and local parks, based on cleanliness, habitat restoration efforts, and interpretive facilities.
This was also my first experience with Air B&B and it went well. We rented a house in North Port. The place was on a quiet street in a walkable neighborhood. My bedroom opened out to a patio with an in ground pool (although unheated) and fronted on one of Florida's many canals. Six of us stayed there for four nights for the cost of one to two nights in a hotel.

North Port seems to be recovering from economic depression. It is convenient to several parks and beaches and at least one great seafood restaurant (Shark's Fish House). Each morning we walked 2-3 miles and saw many cool birds and even 4 small alligators in detention ponds. My business icon is a glossy ibis....we saw several of these during our stay, but it was the white ibis that was so abundant that on our daily walks we watched them probing for insects in lawns.
I've never been one to lie on a beach day after day....I need to be moving. So we searched out nearby parks with trails and quieter beaches that we could explore. I've also found that most people don't get up early, so visiting places in the morning helped to avoid crowds. To that end, we spent half a day at Myakka River State Park in Sarasota and could have spent more time exploring this park, especially if we had bicycles. A walk on the 100-foot long canopy walkway was a highlight. We looked down on live oaks and palms and the many epiphytes living on their branches.
The 7-mile drive through the park brought close-up views of black vultures and sandhill cranes.
At mid-morning we took a one-hour boat ride on Upper Myakka Lake to the far shore where hundreds of alligators basked. Alligators are so prevalent in Florida that no one swims in freshwater, only in the Gulf (saltwater).
At Oscar Scherer State Park in Osprey we walked through pine and scrub flatwoods and hardwood hammocks, where we saw scrub jays and an active bald eagle nest.
Venice Beach is only a half hour from North Port and worth a half day visit, including lunch at the famous Sharkies on the beach. A cooperative snowy egret and several ruddy turnstones took rest on the fishing pier.
After four days in North Port we shifted to a completely different accommodation: the Trade Winds Resort at St. Pete's Beach. Our room overlooked the beach and the resort had a handful of heated swimming pools and hot tubs and a huge inflatable three-story slide. The occasion for scaling up our abode for a few days was my niece's 14th birthday. She and her 12-year old sister loved the place.
St. Pete's is another lovely beach, ideal for our early morning walks. Laughing gulls are common and some are pesky. On one of the few occasions when I was actually sunbathing on a beach cabana I was handing my niece a small piece of granola bar when a laughing gull swooped in and grabbed it from my hand. Here is the rascal....
I enjoyed watching flocks of royal terns on the beach and common terns and brown pelicans fishing just off-shore.
Fort De Soto Park is not far from St. Pete's Beach and is more scenic and wild. Although my nieces relished the heated pools at Trade Winds, they also liked the silky sand at Fort De Soto and walking the tide line watching small clams bury themselves in the sand and exclaiming over the shapes and colors of sea shells. I'm glad they had as much fun exploring the wild parts of Florida as they did in the heavily-developed places. Although it is hard to compete with heated pools, they really enjoyed the sandy beaches. Me too.