Monday, November 17, 2014

Longboat Key, Florida

From Cumberland Island, I headed to Longboat Key, Florida (near Sarasota).  Last year at a charity event, I had bid on an auction item for a week at a condo in Longboat Key.  I invited mom, dad, Curtis and Emily to come down as well and we had a family vacation. The charity is CASA (court appointed special advocates) which helps represent kids that are going through the court system, in DCFS, etc.  I believe the statistic is that kids helped by CASA are out of the system on average 18 months earlier than kids who are not.  They take volunteers to be advocates (time) and of course money.  I have a friend whose sister-in-law is an advocate.  It is a good organization and I only heard about it last year when I went to the event.  

Back to vacation.....we had some flight issues (stupid fire in the Aurora traffic control tower), but everyone arrived by Friday early afternoon and we headed back to the condo.  I'm a big fan of renting out condos, especially if there's four or more people.  They can usually sleep a lot of people, you have a full kitchen for meals and often a mini guidebook of suggestions for local attractions, restaurants, etc.  It tends to be more private as well.  

I'm standing on the beach taking a picture of our condo.
We had the lower left hand unit - it was so nice to just walk
out to the beach!
I failed to get many pics, but someone got this one of me :)

Over the weekend, we had beach time, cooked out, went kayaking, visited Siesta Beach and played some euchre.  It was the first time kayaking for some of us but all turned out well :).  Dad only almost fell in when he first got into his kayak (everyone else stayed dry).  Otherwise he was off and you could barely keep track of him.  Everyone got their own kayak, but mom and I shared since she was a little freaked out (as she always is when it comes to water activities).  We did a tour and he took us through the mangroves, which was some tricky maneuvering at times.  We had these duck like creatures who swam around us, using our kayaks to hide themselves from fish as they dove and surprise attacked.  There were fish jumping out of the water (supposedly to clean their gills). Then we went around in the bay looking for manatee....and found none.  I was a bit disappointed as the guide didn't seem to be helping us look very hard and so many of us in the group really just wanted to see a manatee.  Emily thought she saw one, but it was by her so quick she couldn't find it again.  The water was warm everywhere, usually shallow, the beach sand was like sugar and not too much seaweed.  We did see two jellyfish (one of which was dying/dead on shore). There were osprey, gulls, pelicans, cranes and other little birds to watch at the beach, not to mention the crabs scampering about.  

Dad (notice his soaked left sleeve)

Into the mangroves

Mom and I

Curtis and some lady in our group

Curtis and Emily had to leave early and get back to Des Moines and work.  Mom, Dad and I continued our days of relaxation but did do a road trip to the Everglades one day. I'd say we went to the less visited side of the Everglades and to Shark Valley (ranger station on the north side).  We took the tram tour, saw some birds and gators and learned a lot (love those ranger programs!). Before we knew it, vacation was over and I dropped them at the airport.
Dad and his cheesy grin at one of the overlooks where we stopped for lunch

Mom and Dad on the tram tour

Our guide, Forrest, so knowledgeable and good at sighting birds

Our tram driver helped out a lot too, here he was showing
some special kind of plant while mom gets a photo

We saw cranes (grey) and egrets (white)

Here was a gator chillin' along the pathway - during the winter
they said there could be a hundred laying out on the path

The clouds rolling in over the Everglades (looks a lot like the prairie)

The Everglades are huge and comprise almost the whole southern tip of Florida. They are not the swamps you may be thinking of (that's what I had thought).  The water was actually pretty clear and it was a lot of grass.  It looked a lot cleaner than what I imagine from a swamp :) and less trees.  When upper Florida was drained and man made levees and canals were created, it threw off the whole ecosystem of the Everglades.  As upper Florida is drenched, the rains filter down through southern Florida and ultimately drain into the Gulf. It's a natural filtration system and it supports so many animals.  In fact the only source of water in this region is the rainfall. Since the 80's, much has been done to restore and protect this natural habitat, but it still is only one third (I think I'm remembering that correctly) of what it was.

A close-up of a crane and the saw grass that grows

He got spooked and flew away :)

This is a mama gator and her babies - they're hard to see.
Mama's head is between the two lily pads on the left side where
the water is open in the middle. The babies are dark with
bright yellow stripes on them. Very camouflaged, so you have
to look hard - there's plenty to find though!

Beach shots:

There were a couple days with really huge, strong waves.  

The one day I remember to get the sunset and there are almost no clouds.

You can see the jellyfish on the beach.

The pelicans making a big splash - so fun to watch them dive!

A crane on the beach


Hard to see, but I caught a crab (lower center) before he made
it back to his hole.

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