2019: Out and About in the Cities

St. Paul MN May 22, 2019

Museum of the Moon at the Bell Museum St. Paul

Almost all of our blog posts are travel adventures; trips away from the Cities, whether elsewhere in Minnesota or more likely, around the U.S. or Canada. In the past two weeks however, we experienced a diverse set of activities that seemed worthy of mention. The activities  reflected the non-standard activities available to a person in the Cities, not just the museums and historical locations.

The Noecker group marching

Our tale starts on Saturday May 4 for the 34th annual Cinco de Mayo parade on the West Side of St. Paul. This year, we marched with a group sponsored by our St. Paul Councilmember, Rebecca Noecker. As is our style, we arrived plenty early and had chatting time with other parade marchers and volunteers. The West Side of St. Paul is actually south of the Mississippi River since the river here takes a bend and changes from a north-south orientation to an east-west orientation for about eight miles. Thus, here the city is considered to be on the west bank of the Mississippi. It is the only section of St. Paul located on the south or west shore. Historically, this area was Dakota land and as treaties removed the Dakota from their homeland, French-Canadian, German and Irish immigrants settled here. (My German father’s house was on the West Side.) Later Eastern Europeans moved in and then it became home to a thriving Mexican immigrant community, which it still is today.

Cinco de Mayo parade St. Paul MN

The Cinco de Mayo festival and parade here is reported to be one of the ten largest in the U.S. But as a parade participant, we saw more of the crowd and less of the parade. The day was pleasant and the crowd numerous and relaxed. Families with children and grand-parents composed the large majority of the people lining the street.

The crowds at the Mayday Parade Minneapolis

On Sunday, May 5, we traveled compass-west and river-north to Minneapolis for the 45th annual MayDay Parade, Ceremony, and Festival sponsored by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre. Boy, this was the time to really see diversity in Minneapolis. The parade runs down Bloomington Avenue to Powderhorn Park where festivities continue all afternoon. Knowing there would be an even bigger crowd for this parade, we arrived with plenty of time to people watch. We were the unusual ones; we did not have a dog, did not ride a bike, did not color our hair, did not have a tattoo, did not have a child present, did not wear clothes with a message, etc. Once again the crowd was polite; maybe more boisterous and jolly, but still uneventful. The parade is self-managed, no police cars leading the way. In fact, no motorized vehicles are allowed in the parade, unlike Cinco de Mayo which has a large crop of public organization vehicles. The crowd lined the sidewalks and curb area, leaving a small walkway for people to get through.

Mayday Parade

Mayday Parade

Mayday Parade Minneapolis

Mayday Parade Minneapolis

Mayday Parade

This year’s theme was Beloved Community revolving round reconciliation and respecting our earth. Community groups are encouraged to participate with their own display that ties into the overall theme. After the parade, there is a community festival at Powderhorn Park.

Como Park Conservatory

Inside the greenhouses at Como Park Conservatory

Thursday, May 9 brought us back to a familiar site but with a different focus. We have visited Como Park, Zoo, and Conservatory frequently. Today, though, we had a catered breakfast in one of the gardens followed by a behind the scenes tour of the greenhouses. The Conservatory grows many of its plants and will rotate specimens during the year. Rotating exhibits are designed by horticulturists and other Como staff. In the off-season for that plant, many plants are stored in the greenhouses at the appropriate off-season temperature.

Inside the greenhouses at Como Park Conservatory

The greenhouses are awash in colors, row upon row of plants in various stages of their growth cycle. Drip irrigation systems contrast with overhead irrigation. Large tubs of water host the first growth of the large pond Victoria Water Lilies that will appear outside Como come late July. Winter blooming plants are kept chilled until they are ready to pop. The chilling goes so far that the combination of cold and moisture sometimes creates a few flakes of snow. Would this not be a great place for someone to volunteer if they are into gardening?

Saturday May 11 we switched gears again. For 8 hours we saw and heard about the history and significance of several places of cultural, religious and historical importance to the indigenous peoples who lived here prior to European immigration. While the Dakota people were not the only indigenous people to live here, they were the ones present when Americans started moving here from the Eastern states in the 1800s. Fur trappers preceded the settlers and while the fur trappers did not take the Dakota land, their pattern of trapping the native beaver to near extinction created long-term destruction of natural habitat that still persists today. The treaties signed by the U.S. were never sufficient in the eyes of the new settlers. Treaty violations and treaty non-compliance by the U.S. government drove the Dakota in 1862 to declare war on the settlers, killing hundreds. The state raised an army and defeated the Dakota. After the war, 38 Dakota men were hung in the largest mass hanging in U.S. history. The remaining Dakota were shipped out of state after forced marches and winter imprisonment in camps. This fulfilled the demand of then-Governor Ramsey of Minnesota that, “the Sioux (Dakota-note Ed) Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.”

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Mounds Park

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Wakan Tipi

During the daylong event, we listened to speakers and visited several sites. Mounds Park (Kaposia) is the site of six remaining burial and spiritual mounds; others have been excavated and bulldozed with the relics sold to museums. Wakan Tipi or Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary is located below the bluffs of Mounds Park. The site remains a Dakota sacred site today even after the railroads bulldozed the front portion of the cliff entrance to the cave for more railroad tracks. At Fort Selling historic site and at the overlook to the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, we heard how the Dakota used to converge on this spot for mothers to give birth. Unfortunately, this spot was chosen by the U.S. soldiers for a fort and was used as the internment camp for Dakota people during the winter after the Dakota War of 1862. (The actual internment site is located in Fort Snelling State Park on the river below the Fort and the park was closed due to high water.)

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Looking from Pilot Knob towards downtown Minneapolis in the distance

Finally we stopped at Pilot Knob. To the Dakota the prominent hill was known as Oheyawahi, or “a hill much visited.” It was here that the Dakota buried their dead and Dakota villages dotted the river below during the early 1800s. The hill remains a sacred place to the Shakopee Mdewakanton Dakota. All in all, it was an awakening experience to learn the beliefs of the Dakota people who preceded us here and who still fight for respect and treaty rights.

Wednesday night, May 15, the Voyageur National Park Association hosted an event in Minneapolis. (You will read more about Voyageurs on this blog come October.) It was held at Open Book’s auditorium and about 60 people showed up. The speaker was Ben Goldfarb, author of the award-winning book “Eager, the Surprising, Secret Lives of Beavers and Why They Matter”. Ben is an environmentalist journalist, editor, and beaver believer. We were surprised; the author was an excellent speaker and provided in an interesting way new information about beavers.  There is a movement in the country to allow beaver freer rein to build their dams; improved water retention, fishing, and decreased flooding are likely to result if we can resist our emphasis on man-made answers to the problems we have created in our environment.

 

Beaver pelt were the only export early American settlers had to pay for their English made goods. Beaver hunting fueled the economy, drove westward expansion and settler anger at British limits on expansion, and by the late 1800s had practically exterminated beavers in North America. This over hunting resulted in topography that is drier, has less animals, and is more barren then pre-1700s. The impact is still felt today and the American instinct to build man-made structures to replace what nature does on its own continues to haunt us. We bought a copy of the book and suggested to the Bell Museum store that they stock it.

Just one interesting tidbit: The Catholic Church, in 17th century Quebec, after discussions with theologians in France, declared beaver a fish since even though a mammal, it swims. Therefore, Catholics could eat the red meat of beaver on Friday during Lent without a guilty conscience.

Last weekend, May 18-19, was the inaugural Doors Open Minneapolis event. 115 buildings throw open their doors and invite the public to visit and take a peek behind doors normally closed. Venues included historic buildings re-used for hotels and offices, public works locations like a hydro plant or recycling facility, churches normally open only to their members, public yet private areas like the Federal Reserve or Post Office.

St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam was one of the 115 venues open to the public. Each venue had its open staff or volunteers welcoming guests. In addition, Doors Open planned to have two volunteers at each of the 115 venues, working in two shifts of four hours each. Doors Open needed 900 volunteers. I do not know the final result, but it seemed like they came close to reaching their goal.

On Saturday, I was a volunteer for the National Park Service and Army Corps of Engineers (not a volunteer for Doors Open) at the St. Anthony Lock and Dam. We had over 400 visitors between 10 and 2, on a blustery dreary day.

Sample artwork at the Intercontinental Hotel MSP AIrport

On Sunday, Chris and I were volunteers for the Doors Open program. Our shift was at the Intercontinental Hotel at MSP airport. It opened in July of 2018 and has a very nice collection of art work. The hotel manager gave us a tour, visitors received a hand-out for a self-guided tour. Our gig as Doors Open volunteers required us to greet visitors pleasantly, answer questions, guide them as to the best route and provide them with complimentary parking garage passes. During the other half of the day, we visited two sites.

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Danish American Center

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Pancakes

First, we stopped at the Danish American Center, a building we have passed innumerable times along West River Road in Minneapolis. Over a hundred years ago it began as a home for seniors, today it is a community center and offers overnight lodging for out of town visitors to members. All Doors Open visitors received a personal tour and a serving of Danish pancakes, a round pastry called an Aebleskiver.

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Minneapolis Rowing Club boathouse

Our second stop was at the Minneapolis Rowing Club. Their boathouse along the Mississippi, after their previous A-frame building burnt down in the late 1990s, is designed to resemble a duck in flight. Inside we were treated to a tour and discussion of rowing; single, double, four and eight person. Note: if a rower uses two hands to hold two oars, it is sculling. If a person holds only one oar with both hands, it is called sweep rowing. As you walk in, you are overwhelmed with the rows of boats, the lined up oars, and the second floor exercise room. The exercise area can have one wall opened to provide fresh air and an up-close view of the Mississippi River. All ages are welcome, we talked with one woman who had just begun rowing three years ago when she retired.

In an interesting note, at St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam on Saturday, numerous visitors asked about the publicized study being undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers to determine the fate of the lock which was closed four years ago. No answer is expected for 18 months; implementation will take longer no matter the recommendation. One option discussed has been to remove the lock and allow the river to flow freely. This would likely eliminate the ability of the rowing club to practice on this stretch of the river.

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Flood waters at Crosby Farm Regional park in St. Paul on April 26

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May 20th at Crosby Farm park

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May 20th at Crosby Farm Park

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The family swimming in Crosby Lake

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The flood residue is over 7 feet high on this tree

Monday night I explored Crosby Farm Park, located across the street from our condo. The trail has been closed for weeks due to high water. On my visit Monday, the water has receded in most places leaving behind muck and debris. The woods were full of bird songs, chirping and tweeting and honking. A few hardy bicyclists had taken the path, I could see their trails in the mud. One couple was walking along, when they reached the inch or two high water crossing the path, the woman climbed on the back of the man who carried her over to the next patch of dry pavement. One pair of Canada Geese were perched on washed up grasses on the path, they moved into the water and swam away as I approached. 100 feet further on, another pair did the same only this time they had their eight or so chicks in between them. With more rain coming, it will be a while until the paved path is free and clear.

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Wolf diorama at the Bell Museum

Wednesday night, May 15 we returned to the Bell Museum to listen to a talk about wolves. Two University of Minnesota researchers have been studying wolves in Voyageurs National Park. This multi-year study was one of the first, if not the first, to capture wolves on film catching fish in a stream.

As a supplemental treat, the Bell has a three week exhibit on the Moon, closing Sunday June 9th. The view of the lighted moon is spectacular. A 20 minute presentation was offered to tonight’s visitors so we added two experiences for just one trip.

We hoped you enjoyed this post, just a note about different activities that are available to one, even in your home town.

Ed and Chris  St. Paul May 23

Como Park Conservatory, St. Paul MN

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2019 Trip 3: South Florida: April 19-20

St. Paul MN April 22

Friday April 19

(UPDATE: 5/6/19
Congrats to Delta Airlines for calling us and discussing our concerns in person.)

It was a trip for the records books. Our flight home that is. We should not be writing this post. Our previous post stated it would be the last post for this trip unless something unusual occurred. Well, numerous unusuals happened. The trip was supposed to be a three-hour, forty-five minute non-stop flight from Miami to Minneapolis St. Paul. Hopefully you will find the actual trip amusing because it will be light on pictures unless we throw some in just for the heck of it.

The trip began innocently enough. We checked out of the HGVC timeshare in Miami Beach and our taxi driver obeyed the traffic laws. The three of us had a pleasant discussion about various sections of Florida and what to see in each section. He was properly appreciative of our extensive knowledge of and travels around Florida.

Upon arrival at the airport we checked our bags this time since we had purchased some hard cover books that weighted them down. Not a hassle and good experience for our upcoming trip to Alaska where it is likely we will have to bring a little more luggage. We have not checked baggage upfront for an air trip in years. Delta, or whomever, gave us TSA pre-check so getting through security was a breeze.

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 1:40 PM. Since we had to check out by 10AM, we were at the airport even earlier than usual. We settled in for some serious reading and a Nathan’s hot dog for lunch. Our incoming flight was coming from Atlanta. The weather forecast was for a line of north-south thunderstorms moving from west to east from Texas over to the Atlantic Coast. The board showing all Miami departures had delay and cancel as the most frequently used words. Our Atlanta incoming flight was delayed and our 1:40 PM departure did not occur until 2:45. (Some of these times may be approximate, we did not write down a detailed time line.) The plane left the gate and then we all sat on the tarmac for two hours. Water and snacks were provided.

After the two hours on the tarmac, the plane was directed to return to the terminal. Weather issues were unlikely to be resolved any time in the near future. But, and the word but will re-occur frequently, all of the gates were filled with planes unable to leave and there was no available gate for our plane. Finally the plane was sent to a gate at a non-Delta concourse. This means that the communications between Delta pilots, flight attendants, and “headquarters” were messed up. We removed our carry on luggage but checked luggage was still in the hold of the plane.

At this new non-Delta gate, the estimated departure time kept being delayed. It seemed obvious it was a complete guessing game about the weather system and no one wanted to go out on a limb and call the flight off. The pilots, who were still there, apologized and explained about the weather and safety.

After a few hours, the pilot explained we were being served by a crew that would not be cancelled due to a time-out of crew exceeding their legally mandated maximum hours. We were bonding now, we were in this together, this plane was going to go out tonight. There was another Delta flight to MSP scheduled to leave at 6:40 PM. It kept being delayed also, ending up with an estimated 12:10 AM (midnight) departure Saturday morning. Our plane looked like a 10 PM departure. Just in case, I had checked hotel availability several times, close by hotels still had rooms with reasonable rates. Since this was a weather delay, any hotel cost would be at our expense.

After numerous 30 and 60 minute push backs for departure time, our plane was canceled at 10:15 PM and rescheduled for 9:20 AM Saturday morning. We were to return to this non-Delta gate. The gang of us would have the same pilots, flight attendants, plane and the luggage stored in the plane. If you wanted to get your luggage from the hold of the plane, you would have to wait until the storms passed and the baggage could be safely removed and given to you. A couple from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan did that and had to wait until midnight to get their luggage. They slept in the airport. No free blankets were provided, evidently you had to buy them for $20 each. That Atlanta delayed flight was our downfall. If it had arrived on time, our non-stop flight to MSP would have departed and we would have been home by our scheduled time.

Chris and I had decided, depending on how early the plane was supposed to leave on Saturday, that we would get a hotel. By now, all of the hotels I had relied on earlier were full. Luckily, we got a Marriott Aloft hotel in Coral Gables, just 4 miles and a $22 cab fare away. We had noticed and passed by the hotel Friday April 12th after lunch at the Biltmore. Knowing the hotel’s location was helpful. The night was dark and raining hard. The taxi driver did not recognize the Aloft until the last minute. We had a few items with us in our carry on backpacks but the vast majority was in our checked luggage and unavailable to us. We did without. Interesting that this was the time we checked baggage.

Saturday April 20
Saturday AM we were up and back, via another taxi ride, at the airport by 7 AM. TSA pre-check came through again. The fact that our boarding pass was for a previous day did not seem to be a problem although Chris wanted to explain the whole situation to the TSA people. I pulled her away. This morning it was McDonald’s for breakfast.

The gate departure boards indicated our flight was going to leave from a Delta Concourse, not the non-Delta gate our pilot on Friday had told us to return to. We gathered around this new gate and swapped stories. Several people (I had not noticed this) received texts that their luggage had been taken off the plane last night. This was different from what the pilot told us Friday night. The two pilots arrived. We cheered them. The pilots chatted with us, made some announcements, and started doing some gate area assignments since the flight attendants and gate people had not shown up yet. About 9 AM, everyone in the gate area (including the pilots) received smart phone notifications from Delta. You could hear the buzzing and ringing all around the area. Our 9:20 am flight had been cancelled.

(Piecing information together later, it must have been that our flight attendants were needed somewhere more important Saturday morning. That afternoon Delta actually flew the plane with “our” pilots and our re-loaded luggage to MSP-but no passengers since there were no flight attendants.)

Rather than taking a chance again on not having our luggage, Chris and I left the gate area and went to baggage claim. Scads of luggage was stacked neatly in rows with no attendant in sight and cordoned off by a cord. Do we slip behind the cord and look for our luggage? No, we are good people and went to find an attendant. He lets one of us in at a time to look. No luggage!! Ah, but there is more luggage at a different carousel. We go down there. At first we find one, hurrah! Where is the other one? Not close to the first one but we locate the second one and go back to TSA.

Hi, TSA folks, remember us, the people with an outdated boarding pass? No response but the TSA Pre-check zips us through once again, just ahead of the hordes being deposited from the cruise ships that arrived this morning at the Miami cruise ship port.

Some people started making their own alternate arrangements. “Our” group was being broken up although we saw people throughout the day at various restaurants and gates. When we did, we swapped stories, facts and rumors. Chris and I relied on the Delta automatic re-booking. Our new flight was to leave at 11:04 AM to Atlanta where it would arrive at 1:25 PM. Our connection to MSP was to leave 30 minutes later from a different concourse. Oh-Oh. How likely is that to be successful??

Chris kept walking to the departure announcement boards to check on status updates. The Miami airport WiFi was terrible, whether due to heavy traffic because of the storms and delays or maybe it is always terrible. In any event, I turned on our portable hotspot, kept the smart phone charged from our portable battery or wall outlets and checked and re-checked the Delta app. This process notified us more quickly than the Delta flight notifications sent via text or email.

Once again, the 11:04 AM Saturday newly scheduled departure to Atlanta is bumped back in 15, 30 or 60 minute increments. Why, well it appears that there are no flight attendants! This plane needs four flight attendants to legally fly. Once we are told this, we understand and are concerned. But they have found three attendants back in Atlanta and they are on their way via a Delta flight and should arrive at the gate around 1:30. Hopefully a fourth attendant can be found. Around 1:30, four attendants arrive. When they do, we cheer them. Too soon.

When the flight attendants check things over on the plane, there is some unstated problem. A new plane will have to be brought over. Groans. The flight attendants head off to get some lunch. But then, it seems the problem is fixed and we can leave. But wait, the flight attendants went to eat lunch and now have to be paged. They run back and then we board the plane. After first class, we just get on in a group, no class announcements. The plane is only 2/3 full. It is 2:50 PM. On board, water is passed out and things are looking good. Too soon. We sit. We sit. We sit at the gate. The pilot tells us he is fighting for us with operations and the control tower. There appears to be a shortage of people and machines to push our plane away from the gate. What!!!

An hour later at 4 PM, the proper people and equipment arrives. The plane is pushed away, we get in line to take off. Everyone is holding their breath. Success; we are in the air and on our way to Atlanta. Of course, if you have been following closely, you recognize we will miss our 5 PM connection in Atlanta for MSP. But, our gate attendant in Miami (for the 11 AM original departure which was pushed to 1:04 which left the gate at 2:45 and finally pushed back at 3:45 to get in the air at 4 PM), with Chris’ encouragement, had gotten us standby seats for a 7:45 PM flight and GUARANTED seats on a 10:20 flight from Atlanta to MSP. But we will have to be get new boarding passes in Atlanta.

Once in Atlanta, six of us meet up at the re-booking location closest to our arrival gate in Atlanta. It is now 5:30 PM. Two of them, guys who have to drive two plus hours after arrival in MSP, get lucky and get guaranteed seats on the 7:45 PM flight due to a cancellation just as they were being rebooked. Chris and I get standby seats number two and three for the 7:45 PM flight.

We forego dinner and wait at the gate in the F terminal for the 7:45 flight to MSP. Standby is not determined until just before boarding. Still, if we do not get standby, there is plenty of time to get to the 10:20 pm flight way over at the A terminal. We chat with old friends and new friends. We check our app and the departure boards. Chris chats with the gate agent. Gee, it is after 7 PM and no word about boarding process. Is something happening?

Sure ‘nuff. The flight attendants for this 7:45 flight are coming in on a 7:25 PM flight at E terminal and after checking out their passengers will rush over here and our flight will leave. Chris and I prepare; how late do we wait here for standby before heading over to A terminal for our guaranteed seats on the last flight out tonight to MSP? But the P.A. system clicks on. More information is forthcoming. Our incoming flight attendants are on a flight from the Caribbean and have to go through international customs. It is now 8 PM. We decide to wait longer.

We recognize that our stand by options are decreasing. With the system wide delays still occurring, the chances are good that some passengers schedule to take the 7:45 PM flight will not arrive in time and we should be able to snag our two standby seats. With each minute that the 7:45 PM flight is delayed, we observe passengers running up to the gate to claim their seat.

More passenger type people are arriving and milling around our gate. Oh, a flight to Chicago has been re-assigned to leave from our gate after our plane does. At 8:45 PM, with no flight crew in sight, we leave F terminal and head to A terminal for our guaranteed flight. The new gate area is crowded, there are 18 standbys waiting here. Luckily we are guaranteed on this one.

No suspense now. The minutes tick by, boarding begins for the 10:20 PM flight to MSP. We board and the flight leaves on time, arriving in MSP at 11:50. Of course we are in the back of the plane. We get to the taxi waiting area, there are still a few waiting. For our guy, he will go home after he drops us off. We collapse into bed at 12:30 AM, 1:30 AM central time. Home sweet home.

A few tidbits on people and situations.
A. One of the Delta employees at the Atlanta re-booking counter understands our plight. She had been in Miami and had to report back to Atlanta to handle this rebooking. She can not get a flight to Atlanta either. She rents a car, drives the ten hours through the rain and reports for work with no rest. She has been working all day and will continue for a while.
B. A Delta gate attendant who worked by herself on Friday at the non-Delta gate to respond to passengers concerns after our two hours on the tarmac. Always composed, always polite.
C. The woman on Chris’s left on our two hour tarmac delayed plane was from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She had a conference in Myrtle Beach. Her husband flew down to join her in Miami Beach. She and Chris swapped note about Saskatoon, a town we visited in 2013 duirng our first year of travel. They were the couple who slept in the terminal Friday night. We ran into them over and over during the two days. They were flying through MSP to Saskatoon and had 7 PM flight reservations. They probably had to wait until late Sunday to get home.
D. While waiting for Saturday’s 7:45 PM flight, Chris met a person who had lived in Lake Elmo MN where my family lived for 4-5 years.
E. The two guys who snagged the last seats on Saturday’s 7:45 flight had just been hired for new jobs and were down in Miami for training.
F. One couple from the Netherlands and one from Belgium (with two kids) who use MPS as their connection to Europe. The family with kids had spent two weeks in Florida and really enjoyed the Everglades.

Ed and Chris. Saint Paul MN April 21

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2019 Trip 3: South Florida: April 13-18

Taking the beach walk to the beach

Miami Beach, FL. April 18

Our old haunts awaited us as we returned to Miami Beach. We have been coming here almost every year since 2001-18 years. Some things change, Hurricane Irma closed down one hotel which had a restaurant we used to frequent. A new transit option appeared, free rides in an electric driven small open air van paid for by advertising. Some things are the same, Front Porch restaurant is still open after 25 years and just half a block north of our place as is La Sandwicherie, a famous hole in the wall sandwich shop we frequent.

At the beach: pelicans, cruise ship in background and parasailing, typical beach scene, and moon rising over the ocean.

The people watching continues of course. A better writer than I could keep you spellbound with anecdotes of the various antics one sees on the beach and on the sidewalks. The family whose dad is complaining how the teenage daughters are whining about the experience and how much the parents are paying. We only heard the father’s many whines, few from the daughters. The people trying to open their less expensive store-bought umbrellas that turn inside-out in the strong wind. The woman and child walking down the middle of the street. You will have to use your imagination or your own experiences to expand the number of anecdotes.

Monday was supposed to rain and it was the day for our room to be cleaned so we went walking down to South Pointe, next to the ship channel that is the means for boats, cargo ships, and cruise ships to reach the ocean. We passed two hotels where, when we were working, we used to spend a night or two to extend our vacation. When we stayed at those hotels, we never went to the beach, just stayed at the hotel pool.

Wolfsonian examples of Art Deco inspired furniture: oven, dressing table, hutch,and desk.

The Wolfsonian Museum is a favorite of ours. Usually we go to the Friday night free admission and docent tour. Once we heard James Dyson talk about his revolutionary new vacuum cleaners. That gives you an idea of how long we have been coming here also. Monday we went and actually had to pay the senior admission rate of $8 each. While various exhibits come and go, the heart of the exhibits are items from the Art Deco period.

Wolfsonian: Art Deco in everyday life: mail box, radio, movie ticket taker booth, toaster

Art Deco was highlighted at a 1925 exposition in Paris and took off in the U.S. in the 1930s. Art Deco architecture was the driving style in Miami Beach’s expansion. But Art Deco took over in design for many everyday experiences. There are connections between styles and ornamentation visible on hotels from that period and furnishings and appliances created in the 1930s.

New World Symphony wallcast

The New World Symphony, started by Michael Tilson Thomas, is a post-graduate school training academy for musicians. For Wednesday night’s activity, its outdoor wall is used to simulcast some of their concerts and to host weekly outdoor movies during the winter season. We ambled over last night and watched “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, the story of Fred Rogers. Besides enjoying the movie tremendously, we saw a new (to us at least) form of outdoor seating. The Porch Couch is a piece of plastic like material, open at one end, and you simply wave it around to fill it with regular air. It provides a couch like seating that held up well for the two groups we saw using it. When the event is over, let out the air and pack it up. Neat.

An unexpected experience wraps up our trip. When walking along the Beach Walk, I came across large tents being erected. Nothing unusual there, Miami Beach is host to many conferences and events. Upon closer perusal, I realized that the tents were for the Longines Global Championship, an international horse jumping competition. It runs Thursday (today) through Saturday on the beach. And attendance was free.

Preparing for the event, Longines Global Championship

Chris and I went to the opening day afternoon competition. Horse and rider teams from the U.S., Great Britain, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Czechoslovakia, Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland were represented. Several different levels of competition were scheduled, we have no clue as to the rules which determine who can enter each round. After two and half hours, our event winner was from the U.S. Listening to the announcers, it was evident that the competitors were top-level. This Global Championship has 20 events in cities like Mexico City, Shanghai, Montreal, Prague, London, Monaco, Stockholm, etc.

During the event.

I was surprised the horses were jumping outside in the heat, 86 degree Fahrenheit at show time. But the views of the ocean and the horses made for great viewing for the spectators. Given the high cost of the horses and of travel, I am sure the horses would not be jumping if it would harm them.

This will be the last post for this trip unless something unexpected happens in the next 24 hours. Friday we fly home.

Ed and Chris April 18 Miami Beach

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2019 Trip 3: South Florida: April 12+

Sunrise on the Beach

Miami Beach, April 13

This may be the only day in South Beach that we choose to get up early enough to see the sunrise. But it was worth it. It is funny, South Beach has a reputation as such a party place, lots of music and rowdy activities. And it was that way in the previous weeks according to the staff here.

We have found South Beach calm and relaxing as we have stayed here over the last 18 years. I can’t completely explain it, it may have to do with coming back to a friendly and comfortable hotel where the staff knows who you are. It might have to do with that we came here as an end of winter relaxation from work in our early years here. Last night as we arrived and sat along the boardwalk, on the balcony at our hotel, and sitting at an outside restaurant, we just enjoyed watching people.

People come here from all over. The use of foreign languages identifies many travelers. But we also watched grandparents with their grandchildren, as the grandchildren explain how they really do take care of their pets at home. Watching three couples with their young children traveling together as a group. Watching the foibles and idiosyncrasies as people try to park cars or maneuver around other pedestrians on the sidewalk. Watching all varieties of couples as they hold hands and enjoy each other’s company as they stroll along the beach or the boardwalk.

Morning on the beach

This morning as we watch the sunrise from along the beach, chatting with people from other locations, and observing the various shades of colors as the sun finally peeks out over the clouds, a sense of calmness deepens. Of course it may help that we are not watching or listening to national news.

Lunch at the Biltmore Coral Gables

Friday we drove up here, along the Overseas Highway. We retraced our steps from Monday and noticed again that the northern half of the journey along the Keys is not enjoyable. Instead of our peanut butter and cracker meals of the last several days, we splurged and stopped for lunch at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. We pretended we were wealthy and had a nice lunch sitting outside at their Fortuna restaurant. For dinner we returned to one of our favorites locations, the Front Porch restaurant. It is just a few doors up the street and has been on Ocean Drive for 25 years.

Sunrise at South Beach

Ed and Chris Miami Beach, FL. April 13

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2019 Trip 3: South Florida: April 10-11

Approaching Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park after a 2.5 hour trip from Key West.

Key West Florida, April 11

Another day, another fort. Another day, another dip in the pool. Another day, another boat ride-but this one without any queasy feelings.

Wednesday April 10 was slated for our all-day trip to Dry Tortugas National Park. Dry Tortugas is the home to Fort Jefferson, located on an island 70 miles west of Key West. All of these keys are part of the third largest barrier reef system in the world. The keys are the exposed portion of ancient coral reefs extending from a point south of Miami to Dry Tortugas. Dry Tortugas is named for: Dry-to warn mariners that there is no fresh water here, and Tortugas (turtles) for the abundant turtles found by the earliest Spanish explorers which provided them with fresh food.

Inside of Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson was one of the many forts built by the United States in the mid-1800s to protect itself from foreign countries. Fort Jefferson would have been the largest and most heavily armed of all of the forts. At completion, the fort would have even able to train 120 cannons at any one spot in the water. Plus, land based cannon were more formidable than ship based; giving a huge advantage to the fort over attaching ships. But, given government funding and the difficulty of bringing construction materials all the way out here prevented the fort from ever reaching its intended size and armament.

One of the few remaining original cannon at Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson has one of those “what if” stories. The fort is located in Florida. At the time of Florida’s secession, Fort Jefferson had not been completely built and its cannon were still being shipped here. A Union ship had left Boston on a hurried trip to the island, landed here, and disgorged a battalion of artillery. The very next morning, a Confederate ship arrived and demanded the surrender of the fort. The Union artillery commander came out and basically told the Confederate ship to back off and tell all of the rest of the Confederates that this was their last and only warning, the next Confederate ship that approached would be blasted out of the water. The Confederate ship retreated. Lucky for the Union artillery battalion. The Confederates did not realize that the cannon for the fort were not yet here. Soon enough, the cannon arrived and Fort Jefferson proved an important part of the Union blockade of the Confederacy.

The Yankee Freedom III

We learned this and other details during an hour and a quarter tour given by a very knowledgeable crew member of the Yankee Freedom III. The Yankee Freedom is the authorized concessionaire to bring tourists out to the island. The boat ride is 2.5 hours out and leaves at 8 AM. We were warned there could be rough seas about one-half way out. We had taken our Dramamine but opted out of partaking in the free breakfast on the ship. Instead we chatted with our table mates, a couple from Eden Prairie MN and a couple from Annapolis MD-the wife had recently retired from the geography section of the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Dry Tortugas National Park was the impetus for our travel to Key West and was a worthwhile stop for us. Many of the people who rode the Yankee Freedom were here to scuba dive, a few others were here to camp out for a few nights. By the way, there is no fresh water on the island for them. We did meet and talk with a ranger who is responsible for running the island’s power generator and small desalinization plant. About 30 park employees live here year round, pretty much off the grid. We were happy to get back on our boat and take the 2.5 hour ride back to Key West. Both ways the seas were friendly enough and Dramamine worked its magic. We even ate lunch on the Yankee Freedom before venturing back to Key West.

After the day long journey, it was back to the Fairfield and its pool with water just the right temperature. It has an outdoor bar which we enjoyed also.

Today, Thursday, we rode the hotel shuttle to downtown Key West. Our primary destination was the Ernest Hemingway home. It is a major tourist draw, we got here early. Hemingway lived here from 1931 (with his second wife) until 1940 (when he moved to Cuba with his third wife). Tours begin every 5-10 minutes through the house and grounds. The home was originally built by a man who provided supplies to ships. He made a fortune and the home is the largest private residence on the island, built on the highest point (12 feet above sea level), has the largest pool, and has the only basement. His riches did not prevent personal misfortune and the home eventually fell into disrepair until Hemingway’s wife bought it with her uncles’s money.

One of the cats on the bed in the master bedroom at Hemingway house.

Of course the tour is full of anecdotes about Hemingway, his wives, his books, his famous friends, etc. One other highlight for some people is the 50+ cats on the premises. They all are related to a white cat given to Hemingway by a Key West friend. The original cat had 6 toes. The majority of the cats here have six toes and are all descended from the first one. Each female gets one litter before she is neutered; except for one female named Elizabeth Taylor who had two litters. The cats have free range, have staked our their own territory on the property, and chase away any stray cats that try to get in. THey have a full-time veterinarian and accompanying staff.

We spent some time wandering the streets of Key West. Plans to visit other museums went by the boards as the heat and humidity took its toll. We returned to the Fairfield to work on this blog post and to enjoy the pool.

Hemingway’s writing studio was in this building next to the pool.

Ed and Chris April 11

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2019 Trip3: South Florida: April 9

Inside Fort Zachary Taylor in Key West

Key West, FL. April 9

Well, I think we had the Rodney Dangerfield of park rangers today. We were at Fort Zachary Taylor State Historic Park at the extreme western end of Key West. So extreme, that when it was built it was actually constructed in the water and connected to the mainland only be a causeway. Our state park ranger gave a tour to about 15 of us on a hot, humid day.

Possibly he had not given this tour for a while. He seemed forgetful and his attempt at jokes were frequently a cover for his forgetfulness. Despite the humor or lack of it, we did gain some interesting knowledge of this little known fort. Fort Zachary Taylor was one of three U.S. military forts that remained in Union hands during the war. It never fired a hostile shot from its many cannons during any war.

Fort Zachary Taylor, Key West FL

It’s greatest claim to fame occurred during the Civil War. Through its role as a critical part of the effort to blockade Southern ports, Fort Zachary Taylor oversaw the detention of 1500 ships stopped for smuggling. As the Navy captured a ship, it would force the ship to drop anchor in the sea within the range of the big cannon at the Fort, effectively keeping the smugglers from leaving.

Our ranger enjoyed making little comments. For instance, the fort was begun as a reaction to the war of 1812, to protect the U.S. against British attack. As the fort’s usefulness wound down during WWII, the large coastal cannon then in service were removed and sent to Britain to be used to defend Britain from German attack. He thought the irony was rich.

Some of the Civil War armaments discovered buried at Fort Zachary Taylor

The history of the fort as a state park rests heavily on the work of one man, Howard England; another example of the power of a determined person. The Fort had been transferred to the Navy and the property was in disrepair. England was a civilian architect with the Navy. On his own and then with some other volunteers, in 1968 he began a thorough excavation of the site. His digging and his research uncovered the most extensive collection of Civil War armaments. The military had just taken outdated armaments and dumped them into a pit and covered them up. England’s work brought to light the historical significance of the fort. The property eventually was transferred to Florida for a state park, both for beach access and for the historical aspects.

Southernmost point in the U.S.

After our time at the fort, we traveled around downtown a little, stopping at the famous southernmost point in the U.S. for a picture. Thunderstorms were predicted for the afternoon and we returned to the hotel early. Not only did we get a thunderstorm, Key West and several of the keys east of it are now under a power outage. It has been going on for an hour, 5 PM to 6 PM, and we hope the people heading to the nightlife of Key West find their bar or restaurant able to serve them. The power outage reminds one of our comment about the water supply and how isolated this area can be in times of trouble. We are reasonably prepared for short outages with a flashlight, extra battery power for the laptop and phone, and our own internet connection.

Chickens and Roosters have been running loose in Key West for decades

Ed and Chris. April 9

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2019 Trip 3: South Florida: April 7-8

The view from the Courtyard Key Largo FL

Key West, FL. April 8

Our adventures and experiences are almost uniformly positive. Sunday the 7th we had a negative experience. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park offers a 2.5 hour glass bottom tour that transports you out to the coral reefs off the Keys. The reef and the fish are to be the highlights of the tour. For our 9:15 AM tour, they expected us there 1 to 1.5 hours early. We had to leave our motel in Florida City at 7:15 AM. Well, that much time might be necessary for an afternoon tour to fight your way through crowds. It was not necessary for the first tour of the day, even though there were ten cars in front of us when the park opened its gates at 8 AM.

On the glass bottom boat, traveling down the canals before the open seas

That was not the bad experience. The boat leaves the harbor and travels through canals or creeks surrounded by mangrove islands. Then it reaches the open ocean and the trouble began. Despite having taken several boat rides recently, this one made me nauseous. Sea Sickness had struck. Luckily I was able to sit down in the open air, look at my feet, and did not demonstrably and visibly demonstrate my sea sickness, if you get my drift.

Believe it or not, this was our best picture taken on the glass bottom boat

Inside the boat, there are four sets of glass windows four feet into the water. Chris was able to endure the boats motion and hot air inside the cabin for only so long before she took the safe option and joined me topside. We could hear the naturalist’s narration about the fish and the reefs from where we were sitting up above. But Chris noted that even when she was next to the glass windows, there was not all that much to see.

So our 2.5 hour boat ride was basically wasted. We had a few pretzels and water at a picnic table in the shade (the temps have been in the mid to high 80s most of the time we have been here). The park also has a visitor center with a small aquarium and an hour long video about the park, reefs, and the fish and animals that inhabit the reef area. The video was excellent, great videography, knowledgeable narration, comfortable chairs, air conditioning and no rocking sea motion. We watched the whole thing.

We checked in early to our lodging at the Courtyard in Key Largo and did what many people do on vacation. We jumped in the pool and relaxed. The pool water was not cold and the time was very relaxing. We are starting to change our mode of travel a bit to slow down, stay in one location for several days more frequently, drive less, and not spend all of the time visiting museums or hiking.

The African Queen chugging down the canal

Dinner was a flatbread ordered from a nearby bar/restaurant and eaten on our patio watching the ships along the canal, including the original African Queen used by Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in the movie.

Monday morning we left Key Largo, destination Key West for four nights. Our main goal is to take, hold your breath, a day long boating excursion to Dry Tortugas National Park. (More about that when it happens, but I have already purchased my Dramamine.) Chris and I were here years ago for one night only, and did not make it to the National Park.

A secondary goal was to experience again the Overseas Highway, that scenic 113 mile road that connects the U.S. Mainland to Key West. The road has 42 bridges connecting 44 islands, the longest bridge is seven miles. Chris and I have a fond memory of the soaring bridges, the beautiful water/sky interface of various shades of blue, and a calm setting.

Today, a traveler does not even see much of the ocean until mile marker 80, about 30 miles into the trip. Gas stations, T-shirt shops, dive shops, restaurants, lodgings, etc. line the roadway with nary a break. And of course, at the Key West end are even more and larger lines of commercial establishments.

We were able to enjoy a little over half of the journey and enhanced it by stopping at Bahia Honda State Park on Bahia Honda Key. At Bahia Honda, we took a ranger (who was born in Hastings MN) talk about the history of the park and the construction of the Highway. Once again, Henry Flagler was the prime mover. Other blog posts have discussed the role of Flagler, immensely rich from work with John Rockefeller and Standard Oil, and his success in developing Florida’s east coast from St. Augustine to Miami, primarily through his Florida East Coast Railway.

In 1890, Key West was the largest city in Florida with a population of 18,000 people. It had a deep water port and with the opening of the Panama Canal, Flagler thought extending his rail line to Key West would prove to be a financial bonanza. Instead it was a bust. Eight long years, from 1905 to 1912, of construction were necessary before the trains began running. The bridge building process, along with hurricanes, mosquitoes, etc. proved a challenging endeavor. Eventually it was completed.

But hurricanes are unpredictable. In September 1935, a 200 mph hurricane hit the Keys. Hundreds of people died with a storm surge of 17 feet knocking out 40 miles of track. The bridges survived though. Rebuilding the rail line was ruled out due to the Great Depression and the lack of sufficient commercial traffic on the rail line. The State of Florida bought it for pennies, actually hundredths of a penny on the dollar of the construction cost. Eventually the old rail line and bridges made the foundation for the current U.S. 1, the Overseas Highway to Key West.

A view of the underpinnings of the old trestle bridge. Note the old water main to the lower right; all water consumed on the Keys is piped in from Miami.

Bahia Honda played an important role in the history of the rail line and the road. At Bahia Honda, the bridge had to stretch almost a mile across one of the deepest and fastest moving channels. Newly invented German concrete that cured in salt water was used but a hurricane in 1910 wiped out part of the work. When the highway was built, the trestle bridge here was too narrow to support two lanes of traffic. Extra supports had to be installed to allow for a sufficient width. Eventually a whole new bridge was installed east of the old one; time has taken its toll on the rail bridge. A few years go it was closed off to pedestrian traffic; we were only able to walk on a short section protruding out from Bahia Honda Key.

This had been part of the camp sites. Mangrove trees had sheltered the camp sites, lining the shore all the way from your right up to the ocean on your left. Now all are gone.

Our second Bahia Honda talk was a ride on a golf cart with another couple and two volunteer docents. The driver was new, still learning how to drive the cart, as evidenced by the herky-jerky stops and starts. This talk showcased the damage caused by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. The park is partially closed; camp sites and day use areas still not usable. The park is not alone, the local paper stated that the county has cleared 172 canals of hurricane debris with only a couple of hundred more to go.

Where the day use area had been; note the damage to asphalt.

The volunteers showed us where the day use area had been. Concrete and asphalt had been ripped up. Mangroves had provided protection and shelter for camp sites; today the mangroves are gone, the beach has been covered with sand, and new vegetation is starting to cover the new sand. Four picnic pavilions used to be here, Irma ripped away three so completely even the remnants were undiscoverable. The strongest part of any hurricane is usually the right-front quadrant, that is the part that hit Bahia Honda. Plans are being evaluated, bids sought, and hopes are that most destroyed areas of the park can be re-built by October 2020.

After Bahia Honda we continued down the Overseas Highway to Big Pine Key, looking for the elusive key deer. Key deer are direct descendants of white-tailed deer, but having been cut off from the mainland, the shortage of drinking water and good browsing habitat has resulted in a deer species weighing less than 90 pounds and about two to two and a half feet high. We stopped at the visitor center for the National Key Deer Refuge and the volunteers indicated where our best luck would be to spot them. We tried the locations but no luck. Of course since it was the middle of the day, most of them were probably resting in shade. We may try again on our way to Miami Friday morning.

For the next four nights we are at a Fairfield Hotel in Key West, about four miles east of downtown Key West. Again the pool water temperature was relaxingly warm and refreshing.

View of the old trestle bridge from Flagler’s Overseas Railway to Key West

Ed and Chris. April 8

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2019 Trip 3: South Florida: April 6

The type of Nike air defense missile stationed at Everglades National Park from 1962 to 1979.

Florida City, FL. April 6

We never knew the U.S. had a missile base in the Everglades. Now we, and you, do. The Cuban missile Crisis of 1962 identified a lack in perceived readiness against a hostile missile attack. Previously the U.S. only prepared for a Soviet missile attack over the North Pole. The Cuban Missile Crisis made evident a need to protect against an attack from the south. This and more we discovered during an excellent presentation by Ranger Leon today on our second ranger led program.

We took advantage of two ranger led programs out of the Royal Palm Information Center. The Royal Palm area is the initial foundation of the Everglades. The Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs worked with the State of Florida to create a state park to protect about 1,000 acres of the Everglades. The state park was incorporated as the heart of the Everglades when it was made into a national park in 1947.

A large turtle along the Anhinga Trail at Everglades National Park

The first ranger program was a walk along Anhinga Trail. Once we got on the trail, Chris and I remembered this walk from a decade or more ago when a German couple on the ranger walk were shocked that an alligator had earlier that day just walked right by them on the path when they were pushing their baby stroller. No such excitement today although we took some excellent turtle pictures.

The ranger again talked about the wet and dry seasons. This year, the dry season which is just ending, has been wetter than usual. Some of the areas we have observed, including the canal along the Anhinga Trail, would have been dry most years. It is possible some of the increase in wetness is due to the recent bridges just built over U.S. 41 allowing more water to flow naturally south than has been the case for over a hundred years when canal building began.

Along the Anhinga Trail at Everglades National Park

Ranger Leon did a great job re-creating the feeling of October 1962 when the U.S. discovered the Soviet Union had installed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, 90 miles south of the U.S. The U.S., and indeed the world, was on tenterhooks while the two superpowers postured and negotiated. There was an extremely high chance of a nuclear confrontation. As in any conflict, the possibility of a mistake or an action taken by any one of many lower level military commanders of either side could escalate the conflict out of control. In fact, there were numerous near-chance accidents.

As one of the actions taken while the negotiations were occurring, an Army Missile Battalion deployed to an area just outside the Everglades. The Missile Battalion was on war readiness to shoot down incoming missiles while living in a tent city in mud and mosquitoes. Park Managers gave permission to build a site within the park and Nike Missile Site HM-69 was built within the park-the mosquitoes moved with them. It was operational until 1979. We were able to tour the site today.

The Administrative offices of the Nike Missile site, now the Everglades research offices.

The pink painted buildings were a surprise but otherwise Ranger Leon expressively laid out the reality of life on the base. Mud, snakes, lightning strikes (Florida has more lightning strikes than any other state and at least one soldier died here due to one.), snakes, high shoot to kill security, Jim Crow laws in nearby Homestead, etc. all were part of life here.

Replica of actual sign on missile site

Young men led by only slightly older officers had to maintain a state of high readiness for years. The closeness of Cuba meant immediate responses would be necessary. Other Nike missile sites were deployed around the country but this site was the last to be de-activated. This one site (U.S. Army’s 2nd Missile Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery, A Battery) received exceptional honors for its performance during the tour of duty here.

It was gratifying to me to hear that this presentation was started by a National Park Service volunteer ten years ago. It is offered daily Dec. 1 to March 31st and the first two weekends in April and has become an extremely popular tour.

The only crocodile we saw in the Everglades. We did see hundreds of alligators.

Ed and Chris. April 7

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2019 Trip 3: South Florida: April 5

Florida City,FL. April 5

Map of Everglades National Park

I have included a map of Everglades National Park for your ease in understanding the park. We started over in the upper left, proceeded to upper center, and today spent our time along the red line (road) in the center of the photo. That area with the green lines and splotches to the left (west) of the red line is pretty much wilderness area, unseen by visitors and even most rangers.

The red line marks the road leading from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center down to the Florida Bay Flamingo Visitor Center. This visitor center is also operating out of temporary quarters (like Gulf Coast) as its previous center was damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and a new center is at least two years away.

Manatees at the marina dock at Flamingo Visitor Center Everglades National Park

We went down to the marina and were in time to see 5-6 manatees frolicking by the docks. At one point, there was a garden hose dripping water into the bay and the manatees were lined up to taste this water as it trickled into the marina waters. When we came back to this area about 20 minutes later, all of the manatees were gone. For once luck was on our side.

A hike along the bay where the depth of the water is only a few feet was next. Lunch was a quick bite from the marina store watching the waves and a few birds. Along the shore, and inland also, were areas of dead mangrove trees killed by Hurricane Irma. We did not ask what the storm surge was here; Gulf Coast had 14 foot surge killing trees on the islands in the bay and eight foot surge destroying that visitor center.

After Irma: Bottom new vegetation near Eco Lake; top left Eco Lake dead mangrove trees, top right new shoots among the mangroves at West Lake

In some areas we could see new vegetation beginning. Not far from Eco Lake it was bright yellow-green grasses. Along West Lake, it was small mangrove shoots among the dead trees. The loop boardwalk at West Lake was destroyed, part of the walkway and railings still hanging in the water. Particularly at West Lake, most of the visitors we encountered were speaking a foreign language. I wondered if their impression of the U.S. and its national parks was taking a hit given the long time to repair the hurricane damage. But as Chris reminded me, we still have people whose homes have not been replaced yet from numerous previous hurricanes.

Elevation change sign

We have mentioned the slight elevation changes in the Everglades. On our way to Flamingo Visitor Center, we passed two signs indicating the elevation and the new habitat. At Mahogany Hammock, the very slight elevation gain produces an island of hardwood trees surrounded by the river of grass; grass growing in the slow moving water coming down from central Florida.

Periphyton at the bottom of the water surrounding Mahogany Hammock

During this dry season one can clearly observe the periphyton; a beige mass of organisms including blue-green algae, fungi, microbes, bacteria, plant residue, and animals that compose the foundation of the eco system. Some animals eat the stuff, the periphyton produces oxygen and helps create soil for other plants to grow on, some animals burrow into it to stay cool, and other animals and plants lay larvae and seeds that are dormant in the dry season but blossom in the wet season. Amazing results for what looks like a blob of gunk.

Our bird photo of the day

Ed and Chris April 5

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2019 Trip 3: South Florida: April 4

The Everglades “River of Grass” from the observation Tower at Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

Florida City, FL. April 4

Today we entered what some people call the “real” Everglades, that eastern sea of grass and water fed by waters starting in Kissimmee and reinforced by waters from Lake Okeechobee. We drove over three new bridges on U.S. 41 that increase the volume of water that can flow unimpeded on its southward journey to the Florida Bay. This whole area is considered a river that moves at a rate of one mile per day.

The Everglades have been labeled a national park, the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S., an international Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance. It is no wonder we see and hear visitors from around the world here.

Ochopee FL Post Office

Before we entered our second visitor center and gateway to Everglades National Park, we made two stops. Well, maybe two and a half stops. The half stop was a quick stop and visit to a working post office serving Ochopee FL. It is billed as the smallest U.S. Post Office. We thought we had previously visited the smallest post office somewhere in Door County WI.

In honor of Clyde Butcher, we took one of our photos and converted it to black and white

The first real stop was at the gallery of Clyde Butcher (clydebutcher.com), a well-known photographer who has been honored for his large-scale black and white photography still made in the ‘wet’ darkroom. Much of his black and white work has been done with a large format view camera that he caries and sets up in the middle of forests, swamps, and rivers. His gallery here (he has two others) showcases his work and that of a few others. One of them, Andy Morgan, was staffing the gallery today with Andy’s wife. Andy’s work was also on display and we spent about an hour here. (andymorganphotography.com).

The runway at the canceled Miami Jetport

Our second stop was at the Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport. Actually this was kind of a half stop too; maybe we did only make two stops before the Everglades. You may recall in an earlier post that Big Cypress Preserve was created in response to stopping a new airport. This “Everglades Jetport” or “Big Cypress Jetport” would have been five times the size of JFK in New York and would have been the largest airport in the world at the time. Since one 10,500’ runway had already been built, the runway was kept. It is considered part of Miami Dade Airport Authority. We drove to it-you had to know what you were looking for to find it. After driving three miles in, we found the gate locked. A person can gain access if they pick up an attached phone, call Miami Dade Airport Authority and probably convince the powers that be that access should be granted to them. No visible activity was evident to us.

Scenes along the Shark Valley Tram Tour, Everglades National Park

Finally, we stopped at Shark Valley Visitor Center for Everglades National Park. We had a 10 AM Friday reservation for the two-hour tram ride. In talking with the staff, we were informed that it might take us two hours to drive to this visitor center Friday morning due rush hour traffic and road construction on the major road leading from Florida City to Shark Valley. Tomorrow’s weather was projected to be sunny and no rain. This afternoon rain was forecast. We chose to take a chance that the rain would not come and changed our Friday reservation to a tour leaving in 20 minutes.

By now, I think we could give most of these tours. Not a lot of new information was given, hopefully hearing the history, etc once again will help us retain it. The major difference is the lack of marsh and much fewer forests. The Shark Valley area is actually a depression, about 7 feet above sea level. Tampa to the west and Miami to the East are 20-30 feet higher. Not huge but enough to direct the flow of water to this central region and validate the concept that this is a river and a valley.

The water here is fresh, not the brackish fresh/salt combination back at Gulf Coast Visitor Center. Remember, Everglades is 1.5 million acres. Shark Valley is sort of at the north central part of the park. Gulf Coast is at the north west end. There are two other visitor centers. Coe is at the east central and Flamingo at the south central portions of the park. Part of the park includes water. While not a true rectangle, the park width is about 65 miles and its length about 60 miles. It is big and encompasses differing terrain. Tomorrow we will go to the Flamingo Visitor Center area.

A typical scene from the tram tour; prairie grass, a few trees, a dry season water hole, an alligator and some birds

The tram tour drives through the prairie area. As the guide indicated, even the difference of a few inches changes the prairie grass to clumps of trees with different vegetation and animal life. Prairie grass predominates. This is the end of the dry season when some areas are dry and birds, fish, and alligators congregate in the remaining wet areas. When the rains begin soon, the entire area will be wet and we would be less likely to observe the mix of animals so close together.

Alligators were numerous. We have restricted our alligator photos to particularly unusual ones, we have so many. It is almost like seeing deer or squirrels. Halfway through the tram ride we stopped at an observation tower built on the site where Humble Oil drilled for petroleum. They found it but of a low quality so they shut it down and gave it to the feds in exchange for a tax deduction. But our guide did slip up. On the way back, we passed an alligator by the side of the road with it’s mouth wide open. They do this to help cool off. He ignored the chance to educate the tram riders.

Tonight we are lodging at Florida City, close to Homestead, FL. It is an easy shot from here to the next two Everglades Visitor Centers.

Young alligators. Despite Mom alligator’s best efforts, less than 10% will make it to year thee.

Ed and Chris Florida City FL, April 4

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