Monday, December 2, 2013

Things we learned as of last evening-by the way this post has been prerecorded-but here it goes. Last night my son and I spent the early hours of the evening making a fire, lesson 1-it's not as easy as Bear Gryllis would have you think, or is it? We learned very quickly that we know the process of starting a fire and when we slow down and do what we know we're supposed to do-magically we have a very nice fire indeed. The problem we have with starting a fire is the excitement and speed in which we try to do the act skips over crucial steps that would make the fire easy. We regrouped and slowed down and instead of fighting to keep a fire going we succeeded in getting a fire to last through the evening and put it out only when we decided to,

It was cold and windy but for me it made the evening more memorable. We spent time in silence, it's funny how fires bring out the deep intense stares into oblivion, must be the light in the darkness, we're like moths attracted to the warmth and light, luckily we are a bit smarter than moths and don't burn ourselves, well some of us do but that's another story and another camping evening. We watched for shooting stars and just relaxed while we watched the reward for our troubles. It was one of those extremely bright nights, so bright  you would think it was an eclipse in the middle of the day, I missed the darkness, there is something about look into the blackness and the blackness stares back. Without television, Internet, cell phones, we were able to actually spend time without the distractions of daily life.

We had the entire campsite and the lake to ourselves which is kind of wonderful and still a bit unnerving-the right mix for time away from civilization is a few people in the distance and just enough remote without feeling like you are a survivor in some foreign jungle. During the evening we got to watch deer across the lake and it was like nature came looking for us, I still think they were probably not happy with the light in their eyes but it was exciting to be able to watch them without scaring them away. Another amazing thing to listen to was the owl in the grove across the water, I couldn't have asked for a better sound to listen to while enjoying the outdoors.

The next morning, I actually got to see the sunrise and get out on the lake in the really cold water of early winter. By the way, when kayaking you get wet and even if the air is warm the water is ridiculously cold. My son seems to care more about the fishing than the idea of drowning or freezing to death. It was pretty windy and neither of us caught anything-again! After this trip I have since been studying the illusive smallmouth bass and my next trip I hope will be a whole new chapter on fishing and actually catching-I definitely am starting at a good point-there's only getting better! It was an amazing day and the evening even got better visiting Turner Falls and Tucker Tower but the amazing thing is the peace and serenity of nature which I have only recently begun to rediscover.

So how do you relax? Where do you find peace? I am just realizing again, starting with a new found faith and an intentional attitude of slowing down and taking stock in my life-Peace is available for all of us but we need to slow down long enough to realize it. We need to find silence and solitude as only in these times do we find our true selves and the chance at rekindling our faith-by the way when starting a fire, don't forget the kindle-I'm just saying.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Where do we go?

California-Big Basin State Park Californias' oldest state park and an amazing place so close to Redwood City

Our sixth trip is in the works, and we have finally decided where we will be going-Kentucky of all places. To recap, first we were on our way to Wisconsin with my brother and his family when my son came down with a fateful stomach bug, enter a father's answer to a crisis. We planned and executed a trip down to the Texas Hill Country to see the caves-first stop Inner space caverns and all caves, waterfalls, zoos, rock collecting and other destinations to follow.

First lesson in a great vacation plan-be flexible, meet change and crisis with alternatives and possibilities and don't be afraid to get out there. This first trip was a bit uncomfortable for me because I have a tendency to get sleepy at the wheel on long trips but it all worked out perfect-my confidence sparks the next idea and next years' trip begins its preplanned stage. The best word or essence of this trip I could describe is freedom-the feeling that our world is out there and all we have to do is go find it, both of us were addicted to the road trip.

The next trip was a plan to take my son to the coast for a red fish trip, a hobby he had recently picked up-fishing. My initial idea was more the trip to the coast but it turned into a San Antonio/Rockport trip-the way to Rockport was a bit further than I had traveled before and again the nervous feeling of the long road did cross my mind-energy drinks bought and used as an emergency tool much like a tire iron and flares I guess. 

Fishing with Lanny Philips Rockport Texas
We went to San Antonio and he saw a pamphlet for ghost tours and the second lesson in our vacation process: the wild card-come up with an idea and don't hesitate to say YES! In the next five minutes I was on the phone setting up a ghost tour for the evening. It is the diversity of our interests and the opportunity to do whatever comes up that makes our vacations so successful. Another lesson in vacationing-be open to new experiences and share interests that are common, this way no one is bored and no one feels slighted. When we are out on the road-there is nothing that is off limits.

Next lesson is to search for interests that are common and have the attitude that you will see everything you can-the road to the destination is the destination. A long ride to somewhere becomes  a bunch of short excursions to manageable trips. This lessens road fatigue and keeps the vacation unpredictable and exciting-you pretty much start the vacation the minute you get in the car.

The next trip was something I came up with as I had made some extra freelance money and was able to go out and purchase airplane tickets. Alcatraz here we come-we went to San Francisco and planned on caves, zoos and the pacific coast-my son had his first plane ride that he remembers and got acquainted with public transportation and the freedom of the rental car. Can I just say one of the best things he remembers is the food-we did not spare expense and I have since not missed one penny of what I spent.
Another lesson-don't go broke on a vacation but don't go halfway either-finding that balance is the hardest part. 

Another added interest on this trip was aquariums-Monterrey, Aquarium of the Bay-it was a great addition to our repertoire. This trip was I think, still our very best, we went from San Francisco to San Diego and back to Alcatraz-luckily we only stayed for an evening on the rock and the park system was nice enough to ferry us back to freedom. One outstanding element of this trip was as I mentioned-the food-Dungeness crab and Anchor steam beer for me. My recommendation would be the crab house on Pier 39. The best burger either of us have ever had was at Louis-another amazing restaurant I would highly recommend. In this trip my son who is quickly approaching his teens took the initiative to pick restaurants and hotels using his smartphone we recently invested in-he became a navigator, hotel reservations and arrangements for dinner and he did a really nice job of setting us up with great places to eat and navigating when we got off course. Another lesson in vacation-its both of your vacation and the more involved and interested your preteen is the more you both share the vacation and the excitement of the vacation-it's not all about you!

How do you follow up a trip like our San Francisco/San Diego trip? Best thought I would give is don't try-one does not compare to the other or you will quickly be disappointed. I decided that we would go somewhere I have been wanting to go for a long time-Mountain Home Arkansas and my main idea was to kayak and boat which the weather and chill in the air quickly changed-again be flexible and ready to change plans. Again we got to enjoy caves, amazing dinners and fishing for trout both with a guide and along the road-it wasn't the California trip but it was amazing in its own way and both will remember all aspects fondly. 

Petit Jean State Park Arkansas

Our most recent trip was to Oklahoma-this was a wonderful trip but the least memorable probably and my explanation is that we brought our kayaks-this I believe limits your freedom to go see things and places and limits the trip to fewer options. We kayaked, camped, stayed in a cabin and stayed in the comfort of a hotel-all experiences were amazing including trout fishing and a trip to natural falls state park which we both enjoyed. We discovered the prettiest lake in Oklahoma-Ten Killer Lake and were able to fish where you can see the bottom of the lake in Broken Bow. We cooked salmon on the grill and watched bald eagles  fly across the immense sky-it was an amazing trip-probably on a scale of 1-10 a 9-the only difference with the other trips is that they all were twelves and thirteens-it's all perspective.

Lake Murray State Park Oklahoma

Which brings me to my final lesson on the road trip-perspective-take everything as it comes, look for the challenges that bring wisdom and realize that the whole reason you are out there is to enjoy time together and feel the freedom of being open to all possibilities. Leave the phone and texting alone, talk about everything from nature, memory and everything in between. The trip, just as in life is what you make it, realize you'll never get the money you spend back nor will you ever  miss it if you do it right. Go out there and gather memories much like the magnets you put on the fridge, every memory is a trinket that will never be anything less than priceless. Enjoy your freedom and realize its out there waiting to be explored so go explore. Next stop Kentucky, the Atlantic coast and everything between.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Cape San Blas: Vacationing off the grid

Cape San Blas, good news, bad news-it's off the grid and that's the only thing possibly negative, otherwise the surrounding landscape is amazing. You are fifty miles from the nearby Walmart, decide what you'll need and bring it there otherwise risk a lot of driving for anything you need. It's an oasis, a faraway place where you are surrounded by the gulf of Mexico to the east and the pristine waters of the bay to the west. The water is crystal clear, the areas to fish, snorkel and just get away are just incredible.

On our arrival, the first reviews were mixed-it's too far from everything but it is beautiful. The longer we were there the more the feeling of peace and detachment grew and the more the beauty of the place captivated us all. There are long strips of road with the bay on one side and tall amazing pines and palm trees silhouetted against a crystal clear turquoise backdrop. Everywhere I looked a new painting practically created itself, I am in the process of buying very large canvases for the images that I sketched out and in the end I plan on having a whole series dedicated to Cape San Blas.

We stayed in a condo that overlooked the ocean with a balcony in every room, the sunsets were amazing, the breezes across the water in the morning and evening were fragrant with the smells of the ocean and the silence was only broken by the sound of tree frogs and native birds in the many beautiful trees that surrounded the campus. Conveniently located just down the street was the St Joseph Peninsula State Park, this is where we did most of our fishing and snorkeling.

There are so many different places to see and experience, we saw a eight foot saw fish, a giant conch, many deer that seemed indifferent to our presence and the treat of a manatee in the waters near Mexico beach. We kayaked and snorkeled around the jetties at the state park and enjoyed catching speckled trout up and down the beach as the broke the surface chasing bait fish. Luckily for us the weather kept at bay right up until the last few days but we were able to do all of our outdoor activities. Another experience that I have never seen is a breaching manta ray-my son and I were on our kayaks and both of our jaws dropped in disbelief.

The seafood in the areas is very fresh and delicious, we were all able to get our fill by the time the week was over-a notable favorite was Sunset Coastal Seafood-If you like lobster, I would highly recommend the lobster ravioli. We were a bit early but if we could have stayed a few extra days scallop season was just beginning which made it an interesting time to be there. Another point of interest are the sea turtles that call the area their home, we didn't see any but they are known to lay their eggs on the beaches near the park.

We visited nearby Mexico Beach where there are restaurants and beautiful white beaches. This is where we saw the manatee and got to see some wonderful sunsets. We also enjoyed amazing sunsets along the coast. We visited some gift shops and checked out the pier and the jetty.

They call this area the forgotten coast and the fact that you don't find crowded beaches and bad traffic I understand why they called it that. It's a bit further down the pan handle and a bit off the grid but it's exactly what I look for in a vacation- I came back with much to write about and many paintings on the sketch pad. I would highly recommend getting off the grid, even if it's just for a week. Walk the beach, find things, fish, kayak-try Cape San Blas-definitely worth the exploration.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Oklahoma-Getting back to nature.

Go out and find it-What an amazing, empowering task, circle something of interest on a map and go find it. It is what freedom is for me, the idea that any place on the map is accessible, all you need is time, money and did I mention time? This road trip was different than any previous tour we've taken. Instead of the zoo, aquarium, gemstone and ghost hunt idea-this was camping and just falling off the map with kayaks on various lakes.

We stayed at Lake Murray for two nights and I got to enjoy the idea of being off the map and yet still realizing how much the older I get I appreciate the simple necessities we take for granted. My back did not like the cold ground, my body was looking forward to warmth as when you camp there is no escaping the elements-but still we loved the whole experience.

I enjoyed and yet reluctantly kayaked in the wind in cold, realizing that all it took was a fall in the ice cold water and a dangerous situation would occur. I enjoyed watching my son do the work, not because I was lazy or unable but because it was nice to see him cook and build a fire with a sense of confidence that made him seem older than his years.  He cooked an amazing steelhead trout-who would have thought that steelhead trout thrive in Oklahoma-okay they don't, we brought our own and learned that you can buy too much food for a camping trip. Also who would've thought fish can be edible after four days in a cooler, we reluctantly ate the fish although it was kind of tasteless after being on ice for the week.

It took me those two days of camping to be appreciative of a hotel room but it also took that time to get away from the rush and stress of my daily life and get back to nature. I sat on the ground and actually listened to the birds and watched the water, part of the time sketching and much of the other time just listening and feeling every cool breeze. I was that child again, the calm peaceful child that was so enamored with nature and the absence of the rushing around.

The next day, the most amazing thing was the freedom to be able to drive up to the top of Oklahoma, instead of that long drive seeming like a chore, it was a priveledge I didn't take lightly. I couldn't wait to get to the mountains, the woods, the wild out of the way places. We looked for places to camp but instead the idea of a hotel seemed wonderful so we stayed near Lake of the Ozarks in a nice warm hotel-I slept on the floor to pretend I was still camping-I'm kidding. Another aspect of being away with my son, we had actual conversation uninterrupted by our electronic devices, we talked about life, religion and the stars. We actually layed on the rocks and watched for shooting stars-he kept missing them but I saw a few.

Near Grand Lake, I sat down and wrote and sketched, again it was that feeling of the world stopping, of hearing everything around and enjoying the absence. I was excited about getting to our next lake, Eucha lake-another crystal clear lake with a fast running stream that ran into it. I watched the water and listened to the sound that never gets old. We didn't catch any fish but again, I studied the clarity and color of the water and was inspired. I love the fact that we had vague ideas of where to go but nothing specific-we stopped and fished where ever we felt like it.

We learned about some local color and because of some scary story we heard, decided instead of camping we would find another hotel-I was okay with the idea but we both laughed at the story and how it definitely swayed our plans. We kayaked on the lake and enjoyed how clear and beautiful the water was-still didn't catch anything but it was peaceful and relaxing just the same. The sunset is the image of Lake Eucha as the river feeds into the lake.

We stayed near a place I saw on the map and just wanted to go see-my son wasn't interested but we went anyway. The name of the state park was Natural Falls State Park. It was worth every moment-the first photograph is the falls as we could see it from the top and than you get to walk down to the bottom and view it from below. My son went from uninterested to very excited-he wanted to walk all the trails and he literally wore me out but I'm not going to admit it to him.

Here is the waterfall from the bottom of the falls, the amazing thing about this waterfall area is that the water was literally pouring through the openings in the rocks. The sound was incredible and the landscape was breathtaking, especially since it was off the beaten path and you would never know it was there unless you found it on a map.

The next lake we went to was Tenkiller-I had heard it was one of the more beautiful lakes in Oklahoma, we weren't disappointed. The water is clear and the landscape around it is just amazing, there are mountains surrounding the lake and the wildlife is everywhere, we listened to the crows and after finding several places to camp-we ended up getting a cabin, which was more than adequate and very enjoyable. We started a fire and after discovering lighter fluid made a great fire and cooked a ridiculous amount of fish. The cliffs were surrounding the lake and we couldn't wait to kayak. I have done several sketches and paintings as I was so inspired.

The water was even clearer than previous lakes we had been at. There are cliffs that go deep into the crystal clear emerald green water. I think the fish are laughing at us as we were skunked again and we threw everything at them. We stayed into the sunset and while he fished from shore, I took more pix of the trees in sunset and felt like I had gotten my eye for photography back, the images just seemed to create themselves, I just had to frame them correctly.

We enjoyed a wonderful night in the cabin and planned for the next day to visit broken bow and a family member that lived nearby. The morning before we left I got to see a bald eagle fly which was an awesome sight and so close I didn't even need my binoculars. I loved the ride down toward Broken Bow and we were able to fish in a trout stream-finally he caught one, maybe the curse was broken, but probably not.

On Broken Bow lake, I believe it was the most clear yet, I was actually laying the lure on the bottom, again no fish but we were told that the fish were starting to get active on the north side of the lake. I also got to catch a trout in the spillway but still the lack of being able to find fish was wearing on both of us. One quality of a wonderful trip is the idea that getting back does not upset you as you have been so relaxed and off the map that getting back seems appropriate. The feeling of being relaxed and calm followed through the next few days and I was able to paint almost from memory of the amazing trip and we are already planning our next place to explore. Until the next blog-get out there and explore.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lake Murray: Kayaking in the steel winds of march-

Notice the crystal clear water and the waves-beautiful and intimidating.

This is the first kayak trip of our road trip and at this point I am rethinking the whole idea. I can't say it was wonderful. I have gotten to the point where every kayak trip lately has been amazing and relaxing but not this one. It was cold, windy and the water kept threatening with extreme winds and higher waves. It's a bit unnerving to be on a kayak drifting very quickly away from the shore. Of course, my son seemed indifferent to our impending doom as there were small mouth bass to be caught and that's all that mattered.

I never did get to the point of being relaxed, I was watching waves smash the front of the kayak and thinking the swim back would've been rough if not impossible. My son's idea of grabbing on to the kayak and just towing back to shore didn't seem like a working process either as feeling the icy chill of the water, we realistically wouldn't have the physical strength in our hands nor the clarity of mind to hold on to a kayak and be towed to shore, all of these thoughts kept me a bit on edge to say the least.

I have mentioned before my lack of comfort on open water-again why am I kayaking with a fear of open water? I have gotten mostly past this idea and that fear seemed distant at best with the reality of the peace that kayaking brings me. The fear was back and rampant and maybe for good reason-instinct to survive. Being out on rough water reminds me of riding a horse, you have to show the animal that you are in charge, right up until it bucks you and shows its not only not buying it but can throw you with very little effort, so is the lake water. The waves smash against the front of your boat and as much as you act like your in control it shows you very quickly how fast it can turn you over and change the whole day.

The water is clear and amazingly fresh-there is a sweetness you can smell- a fragrance I can barely describe. The waves are almost a pale malachite color-so beautiful and yet still rather grumpy this early March afternoon. My legs are still sore from standing in the fifty degree water and in an attempt to keep warm I have over layered myself with jackets, now you start to sweat and at the same time the awkwardness of being wrapped up too tight brings back that familiar awkward feeling. I stop along the way only to get slammed into the rocks and tangled up in my fishing line. Like I said, a bit uncomfortable and most intimidating.

Another problem we were both experiencing was the lack of energy. The eggs we intended to have before kayaking turned into grey mush with a very strong wind and a lack of good firewood or charcoal.  We ended up having to charge our engines with sunflower seeds and cliff bars-tasty and all but we needed more nourishment to keep up strong against the winds and waves. It ended with an exhausted kayaker still hungry and a son who was disgusted with the fore mentioned kayaker unable to maintain body heat and interest in kayaking.

The rest of the day was wonderful and an amazing thing happened, I found my relaxation. My son went fishing while I sat down and wrote, sketched and took in all the amazing nature that surrounded me. I photographed what was around me and just had an incredible moment to find my inner self that needed so much to feel the silence and beauty of the outdoors-my first feeling of being detached and peaceful.

Friday, January 11, 2013

About twenty years ago I painted this, it was after a trip to Glacier National Park where I learned many obvious and several not so obvious points of traveling. I was very much into photography at the time, in fact it was a growing passion at the time and was just beginning to lose my eye for it, which I will explain in the midst of describing this trip and the lessons I learned about creativity, traveling and altitude sickness.

I had never dealt with altitude sickness before and I didn't diagnose the problem until many years later only that the subtle symptoms I experienced in Montana became more acute in Colorado and New Mexico when I started to learn to ski. The overwhelming feeling of acute altitude sickness is the mental confusion and lack of the ability to have the brain communicate to the extremities. For Montana, having not known about the altitude problem I did not prepare myself with Diamox is something I learned about as a precaution on the second time skiing. So all of my plans for Montana was to photograph every scene big and small with a large format camera, three 35mm cameras with multiple lenses, I was prepared for everything. If I remember correctly I had bought thirty plus rolls of film and had all the expectations to take my next masterpiece photograph-move over Ansel Adams-I was young, give me a break.

On the problem of losing my eye, or my focus-this came from a wonderfully horrible experience of selling a photograph for a large amount of money-one slide and I felt I had arrived. It was for a major wireless company and I used my vacation week at my than seasonal job to take pictures of a nondescript city over a lake or some body of water that would be nondescript to capture the effect and sell the product without distracting from the overall message. After getting great scenic and impressing them with my skills as a photographer, the final meeting and I took some great stuff for a scenic but unfortunately not for their ad. I was crushed-the last day, we are talking about going to Buffalo New York or somewhere else where a nondescript city sits on water-I failed, simple as that. I went home and thought about the process, I had an epiphany, I would go to a yet undisclosed place, photograph the sunrise on the hood of my car-the fill-in water-It worked, I sold the photograph. So what was the problem-after that everything I saw was where I could sell the image. I started seeing things as objects of sale instead of some intangible that I just thought made a good image. I lost my eye, once I used to photograph a fence on the side of the road, an open area of a field for no other reason but I was inspired-it's the difference between an artist seeing things and a business person questioning the creative image before it even appears.

I went to Montana with an eye for the sale and left one thing home; the creative simplicity of the artist that saw things from a creative eye and not a businessman looking to be paid. I carried all my film, cameras, tripod and lenses on the plane and through the field, I must have looked very foolish because in retrospect it must have been a clumsy fumbling appearance which brings me back to altitude sickness. I was in the middle of this incredible landscape and I dropped lenses, dropped tripods, had film falling into streams, lens caps down hills and polarizing lenses rolling off bridges into a creek. It was an embarrassing ordeal but I lived through it. The clumsiness and lack of clarity in my head is what I attributed to altitude sickness as in a more extreme case the confusion and clumsiness is almost debilitating-in this case I just looked like an idiot and lost equipment.

What also occurred to me during this trip is, if you want to have a photography trip-go alone or with people that understand photography and the changes in light during the day. If you see a beautiful image of a lake and the lighting is just right-the image will be gone by the time you get back, so the idea of "we'll get it when we come back down the mountain" just doesn't help the situation. I watched more amazing shots fly by the window than I was able to frame in the lens.

Glacier is an amazing place where the photo ops just leap out of every corner but that doesn't make a great photograph. Good landscape photographs are common, great landscape photos are pretty regular-God has already done the work for us. It's the amazing photographs-the ones that speak without a word, a shot that shows you something you don't and can't see without a photographer framing it and lighting it so the viewer will notice it in a different way. I realized it is almost easier to shoot great work from a place that wasn't beautiful, it made you work harder, you had to look for the image, you had to find something that no one else noticed. In Montana my eye was just not where it needed to be and mixed with the aggravation of altitude sickness, I came up with good and even descent photographs but none that no one else couldn't have captured with a descent camera. I was disappointed with the outcome but the lessons I learned I feel have really helped me get a better eye for art and photography as well as learning there are different kinds of trips and they shouldn't be forced and combined-nothing good comes from that process.

Another thing I learned being in Montana and watching the waterfalls and pristine areas-I love water, waterfalls and the clarity and crystal clear feeling of water is something I have sought after ever since. Sometimes failure is the best way to learn-so get out there and explore, fall down, drop stuff but have fun and learn things-until the next time. I will talk about how I really came to love water and waterfalls and the side project that became from my obsession with waterfalls.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

San Francisco, caves, friends and the Pacific

I Planned this trip for months, I was finally going to take Matthew on his second flight in his life, the first one was to Colorado but it was so long ago he doesn't remember it. The hardest part of a trip like this is the breaking away from your life. Work was intense at the time, life was hectic and suddenly it's spring break 2012. I had so many ideas and the worst  thing you can do on a trip like this is plan too much in too little time, the more I make these activity filled trips the more I learn to leave a bit of flexibility in the plan.

Everything works out in the end, not necessarily the way you plan but that's where the flexibility comes in and that's when you need to be able to force yourself to calm down and get off the ledge. It's supposed to be a vacation, this is why you go away to get rid of stress, so why was I so stressed. The stress quickly dissipated and we were on the plane and on our way to California-I saw the excitement of my son and felt as if it were my first time on a plane, it had been a while. We flew Virgin Airline which I would highly recommend, their service, the new airplanes, the great attendants and the descent price, I can't say enough positive things about them and I have travelled again with them after this trip.

We arrived in San Francisco in the middle of the afternoon and by the time we got to the rental car and our hotel it was the evening and we were both exhausted. We ate at IN-N-OUT Burger-my sons' choice-I couldn't help thinking we finally have them in Texas and we need to go to California and get IN-N-OUT-it was good as always and a great way to start our California odyssey.

The next day was sunny and beautiful, a typical California day, blue skies and we were so excited to see the redwoods for the first time. We started in Redwood City-one minute your on the highway and the next minute your driving around mountainous areas in the middle of the redwood forest-one of them anyway. We went to the Big Basin Redwoods State Park-California's oldest national park. We were going to take a three mile hike to see a waterfall-it was an amazing walk, just the two of us and through the whole hike we talked about bears, cougars and anything else that might pose a threat to a hiker. The trees were tall and dwarfed us both, there is a wonderful feeling of being so insignificant, the smell of the air, the cool breeze, my son and I in a great mood-I couldn't ask for anything better. We got off the trail once and got a bit turned around but we made it to the falls and were able to relax before heading back. It felt great to be in the woods, like coming home-no I wasn't raised by wolves-I just love being deep in the forest-it's the ultimate escape from stress for me.

I've always heard about the redwoods but to actually be standing beneath them and to realize how long each tree has lived gives you bit of perspective of where man fits on the geological scale-a small pixel on an enormous screen. I could have stayed there for the whole vacation but we had many miles to go and a short bit of time to achieve that goal so we were on our way to San Francisco. We made it just after morning rush hour but before the afternoon rush so the ride was very calm and without stress, I was impressed with the way drivers didn't hang on your bumper, in fact I even had someone pay it forward on a toll, it was a bit different from the rush hour in downtown Dallas.

Our first place to visit in San Francisco was Aquarium of the Bay-a medium sized aquarium with many very interesting displays. I loved the window walk where you walk through a glass walkway filled with sharks and large jacks. We both were tempted to go get our fishing rods but they frown on that sort of thing in an aquarium. I liked the fact that there were different areas along the aquarium that described the local bay sea life with an emphasis on conservation.  There are also interactive areas where you can touch the sea creatures and learn about the pacific coastal marine life. Some highlights were the moon jellies, which are lit with an orange light, the seven gill shark which I hadn't seen before in an aquarium and the giant octopus which we were able to watch as it was very active. After a long day at the redwoods and a wonderful evening checking out the aquarium, we were both starving and seafood
seemed the obvious choice.

We ate at the Fog City Fish House on Pier 39-it was amazing, the view from the window was the bay and the sea lions-we watched the tourists and watched the sun go down. I had Anchor steam ale- a local beer which was excellent, my son had a bread bowl full of clam chowder. The menu was great, the soup was wonderful and it was a great end to a beautiful day. After we ate, we went down to the harbor and watched and listened to the sea lions.

The next day we explored San Francisco- we started out with donuts- yes donuts-again my son's idea-we are in San Francisco and we ate donuts, we argued a bit but made the best of it. We walked around the city near the harbor, checked out fisherman's wharf and I got a chance to pay into the California government fund-live and learn, if you park on the street between the lines, make sure you fit perfectly because if you don't you will pay a fine. On to the San Francisco zoo, with a bit of aggravation but I got over it-who can be mad at the zoo? We enjoyed checking out the polar bears and learning from the keepers about their distinct personalities. We also got to watch a
grizzly bear very close-I think it was a highlight. We also enjoyed the komodo dragon, the scenery was wonderful and I think the animals were very well cared for.

We drove up the coast and found a beach to walk and it was great taking off our shoes and running in the sand, the water was cold and the mountains surrounded the ice blue water. There was a fisherman catching sea perch, locals with their surf boards and just us and the ocean. You don't realize how much you miss the sound, the feeling of the water rushing and the smell of the salt water until you haven't been there for a while, I've been to the Florida coast and that is beautiful in it's own way but this was the Pacific, the mountains on the edge of the horizon, the mist and the sound of seagulls-it was an excellent walk even if for only a few minutes. I was glad to be at the ocean, it's funny how universal that feeling of being enthralled by the ocean is, especially at night when the moon shines on the water-but I digress and we were hungry again.

A bit of a ride along the coast and we discovered a place that both of us have pictures of on our cell phones, it was that memorable. The place is called Louis'-I just can't say enough about this place. We have had hamburgers and steak burgers before but none that ever tasted like the one we got there-it's huge and it tastes like every barbecue enthusiasts' dream. It is served with fries and even if you aren't hungry-which would be a shame- the view from the window is amazing-like I said it is on both of our phones. If you go to just one place I describe on this blog-this is one of them. Just a wonderful place all around, they don't take credit so bring cash. After we ate we worked off our meals climbing on the cliffs next to the ocean, scenery, incredible food and anchor steam beer-I had arrived. After exploring the cliffs for a while and enjoying the beach we were off to the golden gate bridge-we couldn't go there without walking the bridge right? Look Louis up on Yelp-they have many nice pix of the place and even a picture of the burger I was talking about.

We walked in the park near the bridge and got to the area where you walk just in time for sunset. If you get a chance to walk the bridge, make sure you watch your back as the bicycle riders tend to come out of nowhere and they seem to have the right-of-way, which means if you and bike collide-they will always win-just physics. We got to watch the bay as the colors changed and the cold breeze off the water got colder as the sun went down. We even got to enjoy the wonderful smell of pot on the way back from the other side, I didn't like the fact that he pointed it out but we happened to walk behind a couple that were enjoying a bit of a toke for the evening, by the time we got back to the car, we were really hungry again and for some reason felt like Doritos.

We got to watch the bay as the lights came on and got to get a preview of Alcatraz from afar. We watched the bay fisherman and listened to the seagulls, each of us watching for a great white shark that we imagined cruising through the water. By the time we got back, we were very cold and extremely energized, it was time to go back to the city and get a taste of the night air and what else? Seafood of course, which brings me to the next great highlight of the trip, another memorable restaurant-The Franciscan Crab.

Learning my lesson earlier in the day, I parked in the paid parking area, it was more affordable than the ticket. One thing about California in general, they have perfected the way to pay for parking without needing an attendant. I felt good to know it was paid for and there wouldn't be another ticket that evening.

Back to the Franciscan Crab-we were a bit warn out from a very busy day and were quite a bit under dressed but they seated us where no one could see our disheveled selves. It was quite a fancy place with a cost to boot but I was determined to enjoy the best of San Francisco and now was not the time to skimp. We ordered the dungeness crab-too two crab and the garlic clams-it was quite a feast. The crab is roasted with a Parmesan like crust, the flavor is amazing and the meal was perfect for both of us. I can't say enough great things about this place, wonderful meal, wonderful service and did I mention a great menu.

The next day we were on our way to the caves and to visit a very good friend of mine. I was eager to see a new landscape, although it was hard to leave the Pacific. The drive to the caves was through wine country, it was beautiful and it was nice to see the California countryside, an area I had not previously visited. The first cavern was Black Chasm, a cavern that boasts rare helictite crystals. The rooms were large and dramatic and there were several features we hadn't previously seen in other caverns.

The next cavern we visited was the Moaning caverns, this cavern had a spiral staircase straight down, one hundred sixty five feet straight down and the wonderful thing about this is you couldn't fathom the depth. This is a perfect example of what I have described in painting, if there are not visual cues to explain to the brain a distance, distance becomes indiscernible. At the bottom of the cavern you feel like you are looking up fifty or so feet but instead they can fit the entire statue of liberty in the cavern, It is a bit unnerving as the eyes and brain tend to have a problem discerning the distance because there is no visual cues for perspective. That was a highlight of this cave, also the fact that you go straight down into the cavern was a very cool experience.

We spent the next couple of days with my good friends that live near Fresno, it was a wonderful break from the road where we picked up right where we left off-I know cliche but it seems great friendship just seems to be a small constant in our busy lives. We enjoyed talking about the past, the present and the future and we laughed like we were young again, well at least younger. The next day we went to a very cool place that I would never have known about if it weren't for them- Forestiere Underground Gardens. It is an amazing and inspiring story about a Sicilian immigrant who sought his fortune in America-he built an amazing underground garden complete with living areas, grottoes, patios and garden courts-created by this self taught artist and builder, the story was both interesting and especially in this day and age of what the media would like to call hopelessness- an immigrant sought out and forged his own dreams-that's how I see America and always will-but I digress.

The next day we were off to Yosemite and a real adventure began. We got to the valley and were amazed at all the waterfalls that seemed to appear out of the iconic peaks as we passed through. As you drive through the park you drive parallel to a perfectly pristine river with clear blue water. We would stop and take pictures as we went along the way. It is almost an overload to the senses as the beauty of nature is everywhere. We parked the car near the visitor center and walked, and walked and walked and never once felt tired or fatigued. We were amazed by a large herd of mule deer that seemed indifferent to our presence. It doesn't get much better than sitting on a baseball field watching deer play in the field in front of you. We attempted to walk one of the long hikes that took you up to the top of the falls but it was a six hour hike I think and it was too late in the day to start-we will go back and try again. We did get to climb around the lower falls and took a decent hike through the area around the lower falls.

The next part of the trip never happened-we were supposed to go to the Inyo National Forest- here's the problem and why better research is necessary-you can't get there from here, well not the way you expected, we drove around in circles for a while, almost two cooperative deer and saw a bit too much snow without having chains on the tires and we finally decided to stop and regroup. I talk about this in a previous blog post more in detail but we both learned many lessons that day and I was able to practice what I always preach-don't panic and always be flexible enough to change your plans. The pass was closed and to get to our next destination we would have had to go back up to Reno Nevada and down the other side of the mountain range-about six or seven hours-we were already tired. Every time we ended up on the snow covered roads, I had visions of a ranger having gone home and just remembering they forgot to close off the road I was on, to be safe we stayed in Groveland.

We had wonderful pizza in town at a small diner and stayed at the Groveland Hotel. They had the very best beds of any hotel we have been to-giant feather beds that look uncomfortable at first site and when you lay down you get lost in a ridiculously comfortable bed under a giant warm comforter, I don't think I have gotten a better sleep since. The hotel is rich with history from the gold rush days and the whole place was very atmospheric. The breakfast was really good too and great coffee-just what we needed to start another long day on the road.

The next day we were on to lake Isabelle, the landscape was different, the beautiful pines of Yosemite gave way to a rockier and more rugged landscape of peaks that surrounded Lake Isabelle. We got to explore the lake on our own, there wasn't any other visitors walking around and climbing the rocky hills around the lake. We got to hike and attempted to rent some poles for fishing but couldn't seem to find rentals-it is a beautiful blue lake and you really feel like your on your own-a feeling I love. We both enjoyed the hike and climbing the rocky hills around the lake, it was very cold and windy but it didn't dampen either of our spirits. We stayed at Paradise Cove Lodge and it was a nice comfortable place to stay-very nice people.

Our next destination; Bakersfield-again, interesting place, not a place I would visit regularly but definitely glad we passed through. A memorable highlight we found was an oasis-24th street cafe-it was really great. I had Cajun eggs- pan fried poached eggs with Cajun sauce and crawfish-I think it was a special as I could not find it on the menu but it was really good. My son got pancakes-it was a great lunch and we were on to Los Angeles. We stopped at the LA Zoo and I think the highlight was the chimps as they were feeding them and the gorilla enclosure was an interesting display. It was definitely worth visiting
and the atmosphere was very open and the environments natural.

We went through the small towns around LA looking for the Hollywood sign-I know, kind of touristy but it was his call to find the sign and we were determined to find it. The first place we stopped was a small city park, we drove to the top of a hill, walked around an area and were directed to another place. I was impressed with how active the locals seemed-you can tell they were locals and not tourists, tourists look around and seem like their lost, locals are plugged into their cells or tablets and walk quickly as if they have a purpose-very much a sweeping statement but I would bet I was accurate.

Next we went to a hill up the road that overlooked the observatory and we finally got a glimpse of the sign we had searched for. It was a great walk but both of us didn't like the smog that seemed more evident than before. For the next few hours we drove down toward the coast. Both of us were very eager to see the ocean again. Our next stop was the San Diego area. This was the longest bit of driving we had taken on the trip but it would be worth it. My son became the navigator and found the first place in Oceanside-Monterrey Bay Canners- The atmosphere was great, food excellent and it was so nice to be back by the ocean again. That night we walked around seaport village and stayed in Oceanside.

The San Diego Zoo was the largest and most impressive zoo as far as size and variety of species. The polar bear swims in the water just the thickness of glass away from you. There was a very large komodo dragon, a great reptile house and so many highlights it is hard to narrow them down. We had to wait for the panda to make its appearance and that was well worth it-they are kind of celebrities and walked around as if they knew it. We also got up close and personal with a peacock who also escorted us out. We left exhausted but felt like we definitely got our money's worth.

After the zoo we went to the nearest beach and we enjoyed just hanging out near the waves. It is amazing how relaxing the ocean is, it was cold and overcast but it didn't interfere with our excitement. We probably picked one of the few days where San Diego isn't warm with a perfect blue sky-we had been lucky as there had been rain up and down the coast and we had been ahead of it each day, when we were in San Francisco it was raining down south and vice versa, unfortunately it caught up with us that day.

The rest of the evening was heading to San Francisco, Matthew had made a reservation at a hotel up near Monterrey so that evening we would have to get up to Monterrey which was another six hours. We ended up meeting with close friends for dinner in Ventura. The kids got re-acquainted and the adults caught up on old times over drinks and seafood. Unfortunately it was late and I still had a six hour drive ahead of me. I really wanted to show him Highway 1 but it wasn't going to happen that day as it was overcast all day. It was a long ride and exhausting at that and I was happy when we finally got to Monterrey. Over this whole trip he navigated using his IPhone-I must say it paid for itself on this trip and Matthew successfully navigated us away from the cliffs of highway 1 and made the trip a bit less treacherous driving late at night with fog and rain.

We got in late to Monterrey and slept in the next morning.
The next morning we had a wonderful breakfast at the Monterrey Bay Lodge- I had an omelet that reminded me of the ones my dad would make when I was really young. There's a strong flavor, maybe organic eggs or really fresh eggs, whatever the reason they were delicious and the memories that rekindled was worth the cost of the meal. We were planning on walking around Monterrey and going to the aquarium that day. It was very cold and rainy and we had to run for a long distance under each awning on the street to avoid getting completely soaked and having the wind at our face, it was a long walk to the aquarium but a memorable one. I feel like it all depends on how we deal with things-it could have been a terrible windy rainy day that put a damper on our trip to Monterrey or we could laugh about the experience and share another memorable day-we always try to chose the latter.

The Monterrey Bay Aquarium was well worth the run or even the cold swim. It seemed like it just kept getting better, when you walk in there is a giant aquarium with large fish and kelp bed, you are looking up from the bottom of the kelp beds. There are places where you can see the native bird life, touch the native crustaceans and watch as a wave crashes right in your face-it's behind a clear plastic window but after dealing with a polar bear at the zoo, a wave seemed quite harmless. We walked through all the different areas and just when we thought we were finished we found
another room to explore. One of the strongest and last impressions was a giant room where yellow fin tuna, mahi mahi and hammerhead sharks, all amazing, all huge roamed as if we were out in the middle of the ocean, It was hard to

By the time we got out of the aquarium the weather improved and the wind died down, we got to walk around Monterrey a bit, buy some souvenirs and eat at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company- I got a great beer, we enjoyed some amazing seafood and the atmosphere was great. It was an outdoor lounge and luckily the weather was more appropriate for outdoor seating.

We stayed in San Francisco again that night, a better hotel than previous, right in the middle of the activity. We were able to walk down to the cable cars and ride them around the city. We walked to the pier 39 and ate at another restaurant, The Crab House, we ate amazing dungeness crab, got a magnificent view of the harbor and just had a wonderful evening. We got to enjoy riding around town without the car to cost me any money or headache. That night was a wonderful time in the city and the next night we would be going to Alcatraz.

The day before we left for Dallas we ended up meeting with yet another really good friend, she's an artist in the Oakland area-we got to visit her studio, drink stout at a great little pub and have great conversation. On the way back to San Francisco she directed us to the Oakland Zoo. A small zoo but very cool, the highlight was a monorail that allowed us to see the whole zoo. It was a great place to spend a few hours before going to Alcatraz.

We walked through San Francisco one more time on the way to Alcatraz and found another childhood memory; fried glazed donuts. These are small donuts that they fry in oil and lightly powder with sugar-I used to make them with my family when I was very young, Matthew was impressed, They were great, I only wish we would have gotten a few more when I had the chance. Finally it was evening and we were on our way to Alcatraz, this was a ghost tour for us, we were looking for ghosts-it was a night tour. I must admit we taunted any entity we could find which we didn't find any and they assured us there were no real ghosts but we both chose to believe it was haunted-no experiences but we are still believers, because we enjoyed the eerie feeling. We even were locked in to one of the cells for a minute-which was creepy but no ghosts, how disappointing. The tour was really informative and we very much enjoyed the whole thing including the boat ride across the bay.

The next trip we are planning will be a kayak trip across Oklahoma, seven or eight lakes in a week-lots of kayaking, fishing, exploring and a zoo or two if I can squeeze them in or talk him into it. The next trips will be more detailed as per the food places, the specific hotels-good or bad, because the writing will be done on the trip instead of after the trip. I hope these stories are not too long and if there is any specific interest in traveling or questions about the road tripping please feel free to comment. I hope the photography will improve greatly as well with a new camera. Until than, get out an explore, eat, drink, and experience it all-life is too short after all.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Florida Keys

The Florida Keys (so many things to do, so little time)

One place that I have been wanting to go for as long as I can remember is the Florida Keys. It's an extremely long drive but so worth it in so many ways, it really is a sportsman's paradise. This trip would be everything and more and set the bar for future road trips. Fourteen days in a paradise for fishing, photography, snorkeling-everything my family enjoys.

The first day we drove to Pensacola Florida-very uneventful and yet all of us were excited about getting to the keys-especially my twelve year old son. We had been planning our fishing trips, snorkeling places and getting excited about the amazing seafood. We stayed the night in Pensacola and moved on to Sunrise Florida the next day. We could see alligators as we got into the area near Sunrise, there are canals around the area and alligators can be seen on the banks and in the water. We visited Naples Florida which was an upscale area on a canal where yacht clubs were abundant and we could watch jacks and tarpon as they patrolled the many docks that surrounded the area. We had an amazing dinner and had drinks in a small restaurant that sat on a harbor. The smell of the sea air and the incredibly fresh seafood was everything we had looked forward to.

We drove many miles along alligator alley which is an area that is the beginning of the everglades and there are many alligators as it is named for. We also found out later from a fishing guide that there are juvenile tarpon running through the channels as well-just have to talk the alligators into sharing their banks with you I guess-we never actually got to fish there but will definitely get back in the future.

The next day we went close to Miami for a chance at fishing for Peacock bass, a fish you usually go for in South America. These bass are ferocious and an amazing fight and they are beautifully marked, closer to a tropical cichlid than a bass actually. The peacock bass has been introduced in freshwater Florida waterways to feed on the non-native Midas cichlids, Oscar and Tilapia. The speckled variety did not flourish but the butterfly variety did well, they are a tropical fish and can not tolerate colder temperatures of water. The reputation of them being great fighters was not an exaggeration as they attack the bait ferociously and even the smaller ones put up a great fight. My son, as always out fished me but I did pretty respectful on getting several decent size peacocks and a Midas cichlid as well. It was a great day-much of the fishing was sight fishing and the scenery was very beautiful. The canals go through residential areas, city parks and the landscaping was amazing with many species of crimson hibiscus and a tree that was huge with large red flowers in abundance.

That evening we had clams and crab from a local restaurant and the next day we would be heading to the Keys which was another day of traveling south, we were also excited about seeing the everglades which we would be driving through the next day. One thing that really struck me about Florida during that time of the year-June is the rainy season which means everyday in the middle of the afternoon a great dramatic storm would come through for just a short period of time but during the storm the dramatic lightning and the clouds converging on the horizon was both dramatic and thrilling with a backdrop of the palmetto trees and the edge of the glades. We all kept our eyes alert for Florida panthers and the many gators we could see-no luck on the panthers though.

Just as soon as we got to the keys, I was happy to be there, my son got sick of songs like Key Largo and margueritaville in a goofy way we are famous for, okay famous in our own circle-the album comes out next year, but I digress. On the way through the first key and out of the everglades we were watching for American crocodiles and again-no luck. It's like driving through a zoo but we tend to get skunked each time-much like my fishing recently but I am still hopeful.

We stayed at a house that overlooked a bay area-the view from the balcony was breathtaking and I had the impression of what the pirates must have felt like moving through the areas back in the day, it was so remote and pristine. We fished for Barracuda and searched for bone fish, no luck on the bone fish but we did get some barracuda and a mangrove snapper. We walked out into the area that surrounded the mangrove thicket-there we hit into some barracuda as well. I am happy to say we all kept our fingers-barracuda have lots of sharp teeth.

The pace in the keys is slow and peaceful, just the kind of place I was looking for and it lived up to my expectations. The seafood restaurants, the Jamaican rum and the scenery that surrounded every place you went made it a very memorable trip. We were determined to find a guide that would fish the flats-the real flats that supposed to surround the area but we never actually found the Permit or bone fish we were expecting-wrong time of the year-always too late or early. There was a recent die off of Snook and the Permit were not plentiful at the time so we decided to go for Tarpon.

At the restaurants that are close to the water you can see the tarpon coming in, they feed them off the balconies and I've seen people actually reach in and feed them by hand. It is amazing to see such a huge fish so close, especially when it is sort of the holy grail among fishermen.

We visited Annes Beach, a place where you can snorkel, we didn't see many fish but the walk out to the area where you snorkel was beautiful and the water was clear and very comfortable. We chased the fish close to shore and continued to explore for a while and the kids got to swim. We spent the day at the beach and enjoyed some great seafood along the way.

The next day we went to the Dolphin Research Center where my niece got to pet the dolphins. We got to photograph the iguanas and meet the many dolphins they have while learning about the area and how they came about, the trainers and attendants were very friendly and knowledgeable. We spent the early afternoon with the dolphins, ate at a wonderful pub nearby and looked for places to snorkel.

We found a place called Bahia Honda, after swimming around the grass beds and finding sparse amounts of fish we decided to go to the edge of the park where it opens to deep water and a rocky wall falls into a steep drop off into deep water. There we found barracuda, multiple kinds of jacks and various bait fish and a very large snook that came through. It was a great snorkeling area and every time we swam through the area there were new species to explore. A barracuda eyed us as we swam closer to the deeper water.

Looking out across the edge of the sandy bottom, there was an amazing coral blue that got deeper as you looked farther where the bright blue turned into a deep turquoise-it reminded me of the beauty and intensity of scuba diving at night-if you look up you could see the moon shining through the water and the color of the water was an intense deep Prussian blue but the darkness was transparent and silhouettes of fish passing through the intense color. To bring me back to reality-I realized I had forgotten to prepare for snorkeling and was still carrying something you shouldn't swim with....

Unfortunately I found my cellphone was not waterproof-who would have thought?-The excitement of snorkeling kind of got the better of me and before I realized it, I had been swimming with my phone for the entire time. No drying on a heater would save any part of the phone-with the saltwater it became a decorative paper weight. After snorkeling for a while we fished at several areas around the park and got to see a large sea turtle across the water that looked like a large crocodile from our vantage point. Still no luck in finding the illusive American Crocodile, but we were still hopeful.

The next day was really a highlight of the trip-we went to John Pennekamp State Park and went on a snorkeling trip. They drive you out into the ocean, maybe five miles or so and you jump out of the boat and you are in a reserve. There was a shark sighted, unfortunately we didn't see it but we saw large jacks, angelfish, spiny lobster and so many other fish I lost count. The reef is a large area of corals and sea fans surrounded by areas of sandy bottom which we were instructed that we could not touch as it was a protected preserve. The fish were large and the coral and outcrops of sea fans were amazing. I could have stayed all day, we ended up there for an hour or so, just in time for the afternoon storm to roll in. The rain was cold and the wind picked up and it was one of the more memorable and dramatic moments of the trip as my son still remembers the storm we drove back to the dock through.

That evening we got to finally fish for the holy grail of fishing-the tarpon, my son got on to a nurse shark and than he got the first tarpon. I think he was amazed with the strength of this fish, I have never seen such an intense battle and was so proud that he was able to handle him and successfully landed his. Soon after, another shark for him and I was on to mine, it was over one hundred pounds, a bit larger than his and by the time it was over, I was content-I've never fought such raw power on the other end of the line and was extremely happy that they don't even take them out of the water, they let them go with as little stress as possible. I have a new respect for tarpon and everything else will seem to pale in comparison, I was glad we both were able to land one. That night we ate at Bass Pro and talked about the days' fishing.

The next day I went back to John Penekamp for a forgotten souvenir and on the way back to the house I stopped by the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center. It was a great experience to do alone, surrounded by egrets and herons as I walked along the dock. I was about due for some time alone and it fit the bill perfectly. You walk through this area of birds in various cages, all rescued in some way or another and you are surrounded by egrets and pelicans all curious about your presence. I have never gotten so close to the wild bird species.

After returning home, we decided to go kayaking, we rented kayaks down the street and took them out, again I was skunked but my son and nephew caught several barracuda and mangrove snapper. I got caught out in open water as a storm came in-I could see the rain coming and there was no escape-wish I would have had a video of me turning around and trying to escape from the pouring rain that was quickly inundating me and the kayak. Again, it's things like this you remember-the rain was cold, sudden, loud and did I mention cold? It was a great end to a fishing trip but I really missed my own kayak which we had just started to learn to use at the time.

That evening we went to Key West and ate at the Conch Republic Seafood Company. One of the most incredible places we ate, you are on a harbor area looking out over the water. All of the food was good but one thing stood out-a melt in your mouth fillet Mignon that was as flavorful as it was tender. You are surrounded by shops and local color, you could watch the tarpon along the docks and just take in a bit of the Florida Keys at its best. Across the street was a key lime pie baker where you can get all kinds of novelties and ice cream, we had dessert while sitting around a small pond where cichlids and gold fish were beautiful to watch. I could have walked through that town for the rest of the evening, the energy was wonderful. After eating, we visited Mark Twains' house and explored tourist attractions around the area including the farthest point south which we all took a photograph by.

On the way home, it was sad to leave the Keys but we were excited about exploring the Everglades a bit more-we went to several places looking for American Crocodiles and on one exploration we all walked along a small pond until we were attacked by a swarm-I mean a serious swarm of hungry mosquitoes. They chased us into the car and we found ourselves smashing one after another-We decided to explore the glades from our car with a closed window-still not crocs-they say they are illusive and we'd have to agree. There is also a visitor center that we checked out quickly and we were back on the road to Navarre Beach.

We ended up staying the night in Pensacola and  got to walk the streets at night. We ate pizza at New York Pizza Depot- for lunch which was great as usual with a bit of local dark beer it was a nice end to our vacation-enjoying pizza and beer in a familiar place where we had vacationed many times. Later in the evening we ate a Flounders, another great place we had visited-try the diesel fuel-it really did the trick. We all got to walk the beach and enjoy the peaceful pace of Pensacola before we had to get back to our hectic lives. We also were able to fish the Navarre Beach Pier, we got to fight some reds and I had a king mackerel to hit my bait. It was a wonderful end of the trip for all of us.

The next trip my son and I would plan in California-along the same lines-caves, zoos, seafood, and anything else we could discover. Stay tuned and get out and explore-the road is waiting..... or the ocean, or the mountains, well you get the idea.

Artistgordon - Find me on