Thursday, November 30, 2006

The St. Augustine Lighthouse

The St. Augustine Lighthouse.

Same shot, with clouds an hour later.

The fresnel (fre NELL) lens of the St. Augustine lighthouse.

The fresnel lens of the St. Augustine lighthouse from within the lens.

The view from the lighthouse looking north towards the Vilano bridge.

The view from the lighthouse looking east.

The high tides and rip currents of the past several days have shown us how dangerous the coastline can be, which is why the Spanish built a watch tower in St. Augustine in the 16th century. In 1824 a tower and a beacon were added to create Florida's first lighthouse.

The St. Augustine lighthouse is distinctive with its black and white striping and red lantern top. You climb 219 steps to reach the top, which they say is the equivalent of 14 stories. After climbing them, I believe it. Whew! But the view is magnificent and worth the effort.

The price of entry to the lighthouse also includes a self-guided tour of the keeper's house which is now a museum. There is information about the troops stationed in the area during WWII, about the lives of the various keepers and their responsibilities and in the basement there is a display of artifacts removed from a sunken ship. The keeper's house has been lovingly restored and Christmas decorations are starting to go up so it's a nice time to visit. After all, it's 80 degrees here now--what's it like where you are?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Enjoying St. Augustine

The entrance to Flagler College, formerly the Ponce de Leon Hotel. Pure elegance.

We're told that there's $30,000,000 worth of Louis Comfort Tiffany windows in this student cafeteria at Flagler College. Fortunately they are protected by bullet-proof glass.

A close-up of a tower on the Lightner Museum across from Flagler College.

Magnolia Avenue in St. Augustine has no magnolia trees, but does have a canopy of live oaks lining the street for several blocks. It reminds me of Savannah, Georgia.

Denny and I have been to St. Augustine before, both individually and together. But this visit is the first time we've really had the time to leisurely explore the town.

We chose to get an overview of the city and its history by taking one of the tram/trolley tours. There are a couple of companies that offer the tours, but we chose the Old Town Trolley company because we had taken a tour offered by the same company in Savannah, Georgia and were pleased with it. Both companies seem to follow the same route hitting the same highlights so it probably doesn't matter. There are nineteen stops on the tour where you can get off and wander around as there are trolleys arriving at each site about every 15-20 minutes. Denny and I decided to take the entire tour without getting off so we would know what we might want to see later. The nice part about your trolley ticket is that it's good for three days so you don't have to try to see everything all in one day. We did hop off to get new pictures of the Castillo de San Marcos (the Spanish fort) and then decided to take pictures of the interior of the Flagler Memorial Church.

Of course, by getting off the trolley and getting back on later, you will probably end up with a new tour guide. Over the course of the last two days we had three different tour guides and in circling past some of the sites we saw yesterday it was interesting to hear the different bits of information and trivia that the different tour guides shared. The spiels the tour guides give are their own instead of a "canned" speech and each has researched the area and the history of the town to try to find interesting snippets of information to pass on to their passengers. Of course, after an hour and a half of names, dates, places and events it becomes a bit overwhelming.

The name Flagler predominates in this town. Henry Flagler and John D. Rockefeller formed what would eventually become Standard Oil and Mr. Flagler became instrumental in bringing tourists to Florida by expanding the railway service into the state and building hotels. His Ponce de Leon hotel in St. Augustine is now Flagler College and our tour guide pointed out that it is the only college that has $30,000,000 (yep, million) dollars worth of Tiffany windows in its students' cafeteria. You will hear the name Flagler again and again on the tour and you will discover that there was a movement to name the city of Miami "Flagler" but Henry refused the honor and suggested the Native American name Miama instead.

That's enough for one day.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Wandering A1A

Driving north on Hwy A1A from the campground it started to rain heavily (of course it did, we left the windows open at home!). Soon after came the rainbow.

This castle sits just off Hwy. A1A. When we pulled into the barricaded driveway I noticed a small sign that stated that the castle is a sculpture dedicated to Jesus.

According to my National Geographic Field Guide to Birds, this is a Clapper Rail. He was wandering the marsh which lines the Intracoastal Waterway that runs behind our campground.

This Willet appears to be studying his own shadow. Or he may have been contemplating the meal of crab he just finished .

Sitting so quietly in a tree across the marsh we almost missed this Great Blue Heron until the sunshine highlighted him. It's funny to see these huge birds roosting in trees--they seem too ungainly to be able to balance on small limbs so well.

A sanderling, the palest of the winter sandpipers. Tiny and fast, they dance with the waves along the shoreline.

The sun came out a bit to highlight the sail of this Canadian wintering in Florida. There is always something to see along the Intracoastal Waterway.

This is the view looking north up the waterway from the pier that sits at the rear of our campground. Peaceful, no?

These seagulls and a tern appear to be watching the sailboats with us.

Another sailor enjoying the warmer weather and taking advantage of the stiff breezes we've been having in St. Augustine.

Yesterday we just hopped in the truck and headed north on Hwy. A1A to see what we could see. We haven't been able to do that lately due to high fuel prices, but since prices have finally come down we gave it a go.

Naturally, it started to rain lightly and then much, much harder but the shower was relatively brief and provided a rainbow at the end. We weren't looking for anything special, just seeing what there was to see since we hadn't driven this route before.

Florida has designated a large amount of land to the Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas reserve
which stretches for miles along Hwy. A1A. We didn't realize what it was until I checked the Internet after we got home, but I think it's wonderful that Florida set this land aside for the preservation of the habitat of so many creatures. On the beach side of the highway are the residences and winter homes that vary from tattered wooden structures to huge stuccoed mansions. As you approach the city of Ponte Verda the homes disappear behind security gates, curving driveways and huge berms covered by lush vegetation and stately live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Occasionally you get a glimpse of a fabulous home, but most are hidden from site.

We drove past the Sawgrass TPC Golf Course and wondered how much it would cost to play a round of golf there (certainly beyond our budget). Continuing north we finally hit Jacksonville Beach. Years ago in the early 1980s Denny managed the Dayton Metro softball team and we traveled to Jacksonville for a large softball tournament hosted by the Jacksonville police department. We drove along the beach boulevard searching for the hotel where the team stayed but the strip has changed; the hotels have disappeared and huge, expensive condominiums are going up in their place. Ah well, we have our memories.

It was time to return home to wander the campground and see what we could see there. And now you have seen it too.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Lazy Sunday on the beach

A large area of high pressure is sitting over the northeastern portion of the U.S. and somehow that results in rough surf and riptides down along the beaches of northeastern Florida. I was hoping for a walk along the beach yesterday afternoon but that wasn't going to happen. So today's Lazy Sunday pictures were taken from the deck provided by our campground which leads to the beach. Sooner or later I'll get that walk in.

You'll notice there's no room for walking the beach here during high tide. I don't imagine this stretch of beach is this empty very often.

Looking north from one end of the observation deck. I sat on the end of those steps to take pictures and had to move when the waves started crashing up onto the steps. Don't you love the sound of the surf?

The sandpipers (which I call skitter birds for the way their little legs hustle when avoiding the waves) were having a hard time outrunning the surf today. They were moving so quickly I couldn't snap a good picture. This is what they were attempting to outrun.

This brown pelican was sitting about 100 feet out from me, simply riding the waves amid the crashing surf.
Notice the huge swell of a wave behind this brown pelican. They fly about a foot above the water parallel to the huge waves. I can't figure out how they manage to avoid the curls of the waves because they don't seem to make any special maneuvers to avoid the waves themselves.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Amidst preparations for our holiday feast yesterday, we called friends and family to touch base. Everyone sounded fine, and busy, and a few were full from an early meal. Denny and I had our own meal, ending with Denny's homemade pumpkin pie and real whipped cream (and yes Penny, some of us DO whip our own cream--call us purists, heh). It had been a good day in the RV Vagabonds household.

I was sitting at the computer when a notice for a new e-mail arrived. It was from a former co-worker and the subject line was "bad news".... and indeed it was. Officer M had passed away. He had been diagnosed with liver cancer a couple of years ago, had had surgery and chemo, good days and bad. Denny and I went to Officer M's (medical) retirement party while we were in Ohio this summer and the group of current and retired officers there for him was heartwarming. We told Officer M we'd take him out to breakfast when we returned for the Christmas holidays and he said he'd see us then.

We were told that shortly after the retirement party a couple of the guys accompanied Officer M to the local Harley dealer where he picked out a new hog, and we were happy for him. I hope he got some good rides in.

Happy Trails, Officer M, when next we meet I'll expect a ride and a plateful of your wonderful shrimp scampi. And we owe you breakfast.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Alone at Thanksgiving

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a fellow camper here in St. Augustine who was wondering if there was going to be a gathering of rvers anywhere to celebrate Thanksgiving. She mentioned that she and her husband are visiting this area and have no family here. I wrote back that I wasn't aware of any such gathering, since most campgrounds offer a dinner for their own campers where the staff fixes the turkey and dressing and the campers bring a dish to share. But her e-mail reminded me that not all people are comfortable being away from home on the holidays.

There have been a lot of Thanksgiving dinners in my life. I have celebrated with my birth family and shared Thanksgiving with in-laws. The first time I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner was a disaster shared with my first set of in-laws; I didn't defrost the turkey thoroughly and so it wasn't cooked through by the time all the rest of my dinner was ready (and I couldn't figure out why at first). That year I was thankful for Mom and Pop being so understanding and kind by acting as if it was the best dinner they ever tasted. There were Thanksgivings when I had to work a midnight shift and then put a full meal for the family on the table. The first Thanksgiving without my father. Enjoying a gourmet Thanksgiving dinner at my sister-in-law's home. The list goes on.

But since we've been on the road Thanksgiving has been different at our "house". The first year we hit the road as fulltimers we left the campground in Myrtle Beach and drove to Savannah, Georgia (and I can't even remember why we chose to travel on Thanksgiving Day). So our dinner that night was spaghetti since I had no time to cook a feast after traveling several hours. Denny and I agreed that it felt weird not to be eating the traditional turkey dinner but it also made us realize how different our life was going to be from this point on because we no longer had to follow the old traditions. Dinner could be what we liked, when we liked it.

The pictures above this post were taken at the Rocky Comfort Plantation Campground in Warrenton, Georgia several years ago. Our stay there is one of our most memorable simply because we were the only people at the campground. There is no office, no clubhouse, no bathhouse at this campground, just long full hook up sites in a beautiful treed setting in the middle of nowhere. You dropped your campground fees in a mailbox on the property. There were no security lights so at night it was so dark there you literally could not see your hand in front of your face when you went outside. It was peaceful, it was quiet and it didn't bother us a bit that we were alone on Thanksgiving--it was simply another wonderful memory to add to so many others we share.

So while I sympathize with the lady who longed for company on Thanksgiving, I'm thankful that Denny and I have family who accepts our lifestyle and allows us to live our dream. I know that in Ohio and New York our family members will be sitting down to nice dinners, making their own memories and they'll think of us as we're thinking of them on this day. And we're content.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

If I'm in Florida, Why Am I So Cold?

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The surf is up and so is the wind. The rains are supposed to be coming also and when I asked about water aerobics here at the campground office when we arrived the lady told me I'd have to chip through the ice to do them. Great! Why are we not in Arizona right now? Brr.

It wasn't a long drive today, a mere 103 miles. So to make things more interesting Denny decided to lock the keys in the truck, with the engine running and the cat, my purse with my keys and our cell phone inside. And we're both outside since we had just backed into our spot and I was checking to see how many boards we'd need to drive up on to level the rig. Reread the first sentence of the first paragraph. It's windy. And it's cold. And the campground took the pay phone out because no one used it and I don't have the number to our roadside assistance programmed memorized and they are no listed with the national 800 information line. Oh boy, as if I wasn't ticked off at Denny enough, all this is making it worse. Finally, as I'm calling a local locksmith who only takes cash and I've just given all my cash to pay for the campsite, Denny comes strolling up dangling the keys in front of my face. Let me tell you where I almost told him to place those never mind. It seems a neighbor had locked his keys in his truck before and someone showed him a trick how to get the door open so he showed Denny. Okay great, but Denny, you're still on my list, okay?

Eventually, we were set up, satellite TV and Internet are working and we had hot chocolate and chicken noodle soup to warm our icy bones. More of this cold weather and rain tomorrow and then the sun comes out for Thanksgiving. Gah! We might as well be back in Ohio--currently it's 45 degrees there and right now it's 48 degrees here. I think it's time to have some cheese with my whine now, thank you very much. Then I'm going to go warm my hands over the register--this snowbird is COLD!

Monday, November 20, 2006

A quick tour of St. Simon's Island

Denny and I thought we'd do a quick driving tour of St. Simon's Island today. We stopped at the lighthouse for a photo op after deciding we didn't want to pay $12 to tour the small museum (and we've already climbed a lot of lighthouse steps in the past). A man was taking a picture of his wife and dog so I offered to take a family photo for them and afterwards we chatted a while. His wife worked for the State Department and had traveled all over the globe but she had never explored the United States so they were trying to do a bit of that today on their way down to Clearwater, Florida. They'll be a long time seeing all there is to see here in the good ol' USA.

Our next side trip was over to Sea Island to see the famous resort the Cloisters, but the entrance is guarded and there's no pullover to be able to take photographs. Oh well.

Finally we drove up to explore Fort Frederica which was established in 1736 to protect against the Spanish who had control of the area from St. Augustine southward. James Oglethorpe was named by King George II to lead colonies of what was called the "worthy poor" to build settlements in the area now called Georgia. The fort was built and then the village was laid out in the style of English village back home; wide streets laid out in neat grids. The town grew and prospered, but after Oglethorpe and his troops kept the Spanish at bay and the Spaniards eventually signed a truce with the British, the need for the troops disappeared and once the troops left the village slowly started to die.

The National Parks service works with the Glynn County school system in providing opportunities for school students to assist with archaeological "digs" on the grounds of Ft. Frederica to foster an interest in local history. Many artifacts are on display on the grounds near where they were originally discovered. There are no buildings here, but the archaeologists have worked out where a lot of the original buildings were thanks to a lot of written records they discovered and careful examination of the grounds of the fort. Thanks to the interpretive displays you can imagine what the village and fort looked like even though all that remains are the bare foundations. It's a fascinating glimpse into our history.

The magazine of Fort Frederica is the only part of the fort still standing. The barracks to the fort sat within the town.

A close up shot of the wall of the Ft. Frederica magazine. This is what tabby, which is a mixture of burned oyster shell, sand, lime and water looks like.

The only part of the barracks left standing is the tower over the entrance. This barracks housed over a hundred soldiers.

This Seville orange tree is one of many that the original settlers planted to cover the "domestic aromas" of the village. The town is long gone but the orange trees remain.

I posed Denny by the foundation of what was once a two-story home. The lots were sixty by ninety feet in the village but notice the length and width of the house compared to Denny's 6' 6" height. The foundation appeared to be about 25' x 12'.

These two boys were posing for their grandparents in uniforms supplied by the National Park Service. I couldn't resist snapping a shot myself.

This sculpture of a female right whale and her calf is near the St. Simon lighthouse & museum. The right whale is the only whale native to the waters of Georgia and is the state marine mammal. Unfortunately, they are near extinction due to run-ins with boats and ships.

The St. Simon lighthouse and lighthouse keeper's house are the oldest brick structures in Glynn County, Georgia. The refurbished lighthouse keeper's house is now a museum and fee to enter is $6 for adults.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Lazy Sunday in Georgia with more pix of Jekyll Island

After much frustration I found a work-around for loading pictures on Blogger. Which means my Lazy Sunday was very busy and therefore belies the title.

We absolutely love this little barrier island after visiting it for the first time. I'm sure we'll manage to get back here someday and we recommend you come down for a visit. Then again, maybe I shouldn't be telling you about it so we can enjoy the peace and quiet all by ourselves. Heh.

The Horton Plantation ruins. Built of tabby, a conglomerate of lime, sand, oyster shell and water, the plantation dates back to the 1740s.

One of the restored "cottages" of one of the members of the Jekyll Island Club. If this is a "cottage", what would their "real" home have looked like?

Another cottage of the rich and famous on Jekyll Island. Strangely enough, these homes were abandoned after the double whammy of the stock market crash of '29 and WWII.

Our tram tour guide Phyllis told us that this spot in the middle of the historical district underneath the live oaks is the most popular spot for weddings. It's not hard to see why.

Okay, previously I used a professional photo of the Sidney Lanier bridge--this is my shot where I managed to catch most of the casino cruise ship in the left hand corner of the picture.

A great egret preparing to land in the marsh grasses that edge the mainland of Georgia.

Look at the teeth on this sheepshead fish; they look human, don't they?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Little About Jekyll Island

Looking toward Jekyll Island from the causeway.

The smallest of Georgia's barrier island, Jekyll Island packs a lot to see and do in its 5700 acres. Even though only 35% of the island is developed, you'll find a grand hotel and a variety of resorts for your accommodation, 3 eighteen-hole golf courses (and a nine-hole course, too), a water park, a large campground, 20 miles of walking/biking trails, horseback riding, tram and carriage tours of the island's historical district, ten miles of sandy beaches to wander and much more.
One of the "cottages" of the rich. Phyllis, our most excellent tour guide

Start your exploration of the island with a stop at the Island History Center. Here you'll find a small museum that explains some of the history of the island along with a video clip that explains the history of the Jekyll Island Club House and its original members. You'll also be able to arrange a tram tour of the island or a more leisurely exploration by horse and carriage. We opted for the 90 minute tram tour hosted by Phyllis, who astounded us with her knowledge of names, dates and details of life on the island and the rich and famous who wintered here. As part of the tour, we were allowed inside two of the "cottages" on the island that have been restored or are in the process of being restored as museums. Phyllis recommended lunch at The Rah Bar where the shrimp boats had just delivered fresh shrimp, but we had packed a picnic lunch so she told us how to find a nice place to picnic on the water and sent us on our way. We'll save the shrimp for our next visit.

You can wander the historic district of the cottages on foot or by bicycle. Some of the smaller outbuildings have been converted to shops and some of the homes also. Heading north you'll find the ruins of the Horton plantation build of tabby,which is a conglomerate of shell, sand, water and lime. Here also are the plats of private homes--yes, there are people living in this state park. Continue following the road and you'll discover the lovely beaches on the eastern side of the island--miles and miles of beach.

I brought along a list of geocaches when we left the rig and boy are there a lot on this island, some of which are controlled by the state park but most have been placed by individuals who have the permission of the state to do so. You could spend the day doing nothing but geocaches here, which might be a thought if you happen to stay at the campground on the island. Be advised, however, that the campground is heavily treed so you won't be getting your TV stations either by satellite OR with the antenna. But there's enough to keep you entertained without that.

Jekyll Island is one of those places you'll fall in love with, especially in the late fall when most of the tourists are gone, the breezes blow the no-see-ums away and the temperatures are warm and dry. Come see yourself.

Blogger Beta is a pain

I'll try to post later again today, but after fighting blogger beta all morning in an attempt to upload a few pictures I'm a bit disgusted with the whole thing.

Note to Blogger: do not tell your subscribers that the bugs are eliminated from Blog This when, in fact, they are not.

Our day trip to Jekyll Island and more pictures will be posted sooner or later.

Pictures from Jekyll Island

This is the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, originally built for the use of the founding members which included the Astors, the Morgans, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbuilts and many other of the rich families of that era. Today it is a luxury hotel for tourists and a monument to a grand era.

The red bug is a reproduction of the early "dune buggy" used by the wealthy residents of Jekyll Island in the early 1900s.

Deer meandering on the beach--who'd a thunk it? Wish I could have seen it.

This picture is for my mother, who loves to walk the beach looking for sharks' teeth. This is the eastern side of Jekyll Island and as you can see, there are not too many of us tourists wandering the beach on a cold, breezy November afternoon.

As we were approaching the end of the abandoned bridge to Jekyll Island to take a picture of the bald eagles, this gentleman pulled a 6-7 pound sheepshead out of the waters of Jekyll Creek. When I told him I would post the picture on the Internet, he told me his name was Robert Polk. So here you are, Mr. Polk!
This pair of bald eagles were sitting on top of a very tall power pole about 1/4 mile from where we were standing. I had to use the digital zoom feature on my camera, so the picture isn't as sharp and clear as I would like.
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