Moving on down into Florida we landed in Sarasota, a place we’ve been visiting for 43 years! Ed’s Grandparents wintered there and his grandmother settled there permanently in her later years and Ed’s Aunt Lois is still there. Although it has grown tremendously in that time it is still a place we love. The Gulf of Mexico is my favorite place to swim and if I ever win the lottery, a house right on it would be something I would love. We camped at the Fun ‘n Sun RV Park out Fruitville Road for you RV readers, while crowded, it’s nice and has a great pool and good laundry.
This visit we mostly lazed about but one day we did drive out to Myakka River State Park. We’d not been there for years and were pleased to see it now has a brand new RV campsite and a Canopy Walkway & Tower that allows one to walk a short distance in the tree tops and then climb above them. Kids especially seemed to be having lots of fun exploring at the new level! Full of birds, deer and big alligators the park is well worth a visit, especially early morning or evening. Be sure to have your camera with you.
We highly recommend a visit to the Sarasota area where you’ll find beautiful white sand beaches, the wonderful Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, lovely Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, interesting Ringling Museum, and great restaurants including one of our all time favorites, Ophelia’s on the Bay. If you only eat at one fine restaurant this is it and be sure to make your reservation for an hour before sundown to enjoy the dusk on the water.
Heading up I75 to 275 across the Skyway and around St. Petersburg/Tampa onto FL589 to US98 we stopped at Homosassa Springs & Wildlife State Park. Florida is full of natural springs where 70* water bubbles up from the aquifer and creates crystal clear springs that attract not only people but hundreds and hundreds of manatees needing the warm water to survive the winter months. Unfortunately for us it was still too warm for the manatees to have made the trek to the springs. We did however enjoy the short boat ride to the park past more Wood Ducks than we’ve ever seen combined. At the springs themselves, were large numbers of fish, some snook as large as 4 to 5 feet, clearly visible in the pristine waters.
This particular park was at one time a small zoo and also home for animal actors. One, Lu, a hippopotamus, still resides here, having been made an honorary citizen of the State of Florida! The next day we also visited the Crystal River Springs in Crystal River. I want very much to visit more of Florida’s incredibly beautiful natural springs (hopefully during a time when the manatees are about) and suggest you put at least one on your own MVL (Must Visit List).
Driving on out US98 into the Florida panhandle along the Gulf of Mexico the first day’s drive was lovely. With almost no beach the area is all about fishing and the towns are not about tourists and are generally quiet and small. We stopped at the Ho-Hum RV Park in Carrabelle where we parked right on the shore and dumped our trash into a dumpster surrounded with electric fencing…. to keep the bears out!! Not something we expected. 🙂
Next morning our drive was not as nice because while the pretty white sand beach was back it was ruined by development. Lots of slow traffic, stop lights and strip mall after strip mall, for almost 100 miles before we finally were able to escape onto Santa Rosa Island via RT 399. On our way to Fort Pickens Campground on the Gulf Islands National Seashore, this protected shoreline is beautiful and at least when we were there, pretty empty of other folks. Sand dunes both large and small are pristine white and when storms wash sand over the road and plows push it back it looks so much like snow piles it could fool you! Oh, an interesting note about Florida’s world famous white sand beaches; they are powder fine quartz eroded over millennium from the Appalachian Mountains and carried by rivers and creeks to be deposited in the Gulf of Mexico!
White sand beach at the Gulf Islands National Seashore
A couple of days later on our way west we stopped at Pensacola (directly across the bay from Fort Pickens) and visited the National Naval Aviation Museum. Put this on your MVL! All kinds of airplanes and an impressive number of carrier models, plus, there aren’t too many places where one can walk underneath a few “flying” Blue Angles jets!
The day we were there, December 7th, there was a remembrance of WWII including several naval survivors of Pearl Harbor! At the end of the program a very good high school band performed a new piece composed by Paul Murtha called “Arlington” accompanied by a corresponding slide show of that hallowed ground. We pretty much fell apart, but my goodness we were grateful to be there to hear it.
We are currently in San Antonio, Texas and Christmas is almost here. We don’t know where we’ll be celebrating but we do know we wish you all a most MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR…..hopefully filled with peace and good cheer!