Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Saturday January 21st 2017

Today I decided to head for the St Petersburg area. To get there from here the easiest way is to take the Sunshine Skyway bridge. The 1.1 mile cable stayed bridge is at the center of an 11 mile causeway across Tampa Bay. It is a beautiful piece of architecture, but somehow it is becoming one of my least favorite bridges.

It was a great sunshiny day with strong winds out of the south. The wind and the accompanying gusts didn’t help my love of the bridge. It was a two hands on the wheel drive across. One of the things that gets to me is the quick transition from flat travel to climbing up the bridge. The pitch going up and down is very steep. It enhances the overall feeling of height.

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Horses swimming out in Tampa Bay.

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Horses and riders returning to shore. The kite surfer is in the area they just departed.

The area along the north and south causeways are used for recreation. The old bridge causeways are used as fishing piers and the islands are rest areas and generally access to the Bay. I stopped at the area on the north side of the bridge to check out the kite surfers. I found all kinds of sports going on in the bay and spent over an hour watching the action.

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Horses and riders back at the shore.

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Another horse and rider entering the water. The horse wasn’t too sure it was a good idea.

The most surprising activity I observed was horseback riding. The horses weren’t being ridden on shore but in the bay. A group of four riders and horses were swimming or barely walking in the deep water. Another rider and horse were trying to enter the bay. The horse wasn’t all that certain it was a good idea. Once in the water it was high stepping like a show horse. I’m not familiar with how show horses are trained so this may have been the purpose, but I don’t think so. The rider allowed the horse to leave the water in short order.

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Kite Surfer

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What’s wrong with this picture. The catamaran is going backward.

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Sailboarder and Fisherman.

In addition to the kite surfers there were sailboarders enjoying the wind. Both kite surfers and the sailboarders had to dodge a long line of fishermen as they got closer to shore. Once again, I didn’t see anyone catching fish. The wind was strong enough to complicate all of the activities. One catamaran was even sailing backwards in the wind.

When I was ready to move on, the road was not. An accident or some other event had stopped the north bound traffic. I waited a couple of minutes before deciding to reverse direction and head home. I will try for St. Petersburg another day.

This evening I buttoned down the campsite. I put the chairs away and prepared for tomorrow’s predicted inclement weather. If the forecasts are to be believed we may have some severe storms.

 

Inauguration Day

Friday January 20th 2017

The humidity was up today, but otherwise was more of the same. The temperature peaked in the high 70s, but felt a few degrees warmer.

I got caught up in the drama and pageantry of the inauguration coverage. For a day that was primarily pageantry, the media managed to find all kinds of drama. I don’t want this blog to become political, so I’m stopping there. I watched until the new president was sworn in then got on with my day.

Grocery shopping was my primary focus, but I also stopped at the Manatee Viewing center. I went to the Super Walmart in Sun City Center for the groceries. It’s challenging passing through the housing developments in Sun City Center. Golf carts are used by the residents to get around. They are mixed in with full size traffic and are supposed to follow the traffic laws. I think a few of the Golf cart drivers didn’t get that message. Three lanes of stop and go traffic in each direction with an impatient Golf Cart driver weaving around the full size cars is just not safe.

When I stopped at the Manatee Viewing Center on my return trip to the campground, the manatee viewing was a little better than my previous visits. The manatees were much closer to the viewing decks. Unfortunately, they were still too far away to get a closeup view. They were seventy five to a hundred feet away. Their noses, backs and flippers were visible as they came to the surface for air.

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Manatee sticking nose out of water for air.

I didn’t get any clear pictures. My point and shoot camera doesn’t have filters to compensate for the glare of the sun on the water. That fact when combined with the glare on the cameras view screen made it a guess on the point, shoot and pray camera.

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School of Tarpon

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Tarpon breaking the surface

The manatee may have been shy, but the tarpon weren’t. The big fish were entertaining the visitors right beside the viewing deck. As they swam back and forth occasionally breaking the surface when turning the spectators were delighted. A couple of people even thought they were the manatees. Some of the tarpon were over three feet long but certainly weren’t the sea cows the viewing center is named after.

Noise and Crowds

Thursday January 19th 2017

It was another nice day in west central Florida. It topped out just below 80 as a sunny day with a south wind. Nothing to complain about.

After getting up early yesterday to go to the RV show, I slept in some this morning. It turned out to be a day to recover from the crowded, noisy, congested activity of the show. The longer I’m living this life style, the more I seem to dislike crowds. I’ve never been extremely social, but crowds and activity haven’t stressed me like yesterday’s crowds did. Maybe it’s some Fuddy-Duddy disease.

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Today’s flower picture

I stayed home all day. One of the things I did was check out the items I was contemplating buying at the show. Based on my Internet searches, it turns out that the prices at the show were nothing special. For a couple of the more expensive items I can buy them mail order with free shipping for about the same price and not have to pay Florida Sales tax. Some of the other items were cheaper at Walmart. At this point I don’t think I’ll be going back to the show for another visit.

The campground has its own noises that don’t get on my nerves like the crowds at the show. Here its gas powered golf carts that need new mufflers and the train across the highway. At random times during the day a train’s horn starts sounding in the distance. It gets repeated several times each blast a little louder until the train passes by. Then it fades away as it repeats past the campground. The actual train doesn’t make as much noise as the horn for all of the grade crossings.

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Today’s Pelican picture

I haven’t heard the train at night. It is pretty quiet here between 10PM and about 6AM in the morning. The biggest noise at night is the late returning fisherman on the river. The sound of the outboard motors as the boats go up the river can be startling when I leave the windows open over night. Particularly on weekend nights I’ve heard them until about one in the morning.

I knew about the highway and train tracks before I booked here. They add character to the resort. My preference for state park like settings is just affirmed. .

Florida RV Super Show

Wednesday January 18th 2017

One of the reasons I’ve been staying in the Tampa area this month was to attend the Florida RV Supershow. The show is open to the public today through Sunday.

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Show while crowds were light

I got an early start this morning. The weather was forecast to be sunny in the low 80s. My goal was to get in early so I could leave before the real heat of the day settled in. I arrived at 9:30, a half an hour after the opening. The lines at the ticket booth were already long. Inside the early crowds were not bad.

This will be the third year in a row that I’ve attended this show. The first year in 2015 I was looking for my RV home. I used the show to help narrow down my RV choice. The last two years I have attended for the supplier exhibits more than the RV exhibits. Picking up brochures and directories of campgrounds is a valuable planning tool. Camping Clubs and discount programs also have booths at the show. There are also many merchants selling supplies and add-ons they believe every RVer needs.

During the cooler morning hours I roamed deep into the RV displays looking at the brands I was considering during my RV search. I noted several changes, but I’m still happy with my choice of RV. None of the floor plans I saw would work any better for me than the one I have. The crowds early in the morning were also light. It was easy to walk around and get into any RV with out waiting.

By the time I started working my way through the supplier exhibits the crowds had picked up. The aisles were packed with people and dogs. RVers seem bring their dogs like new parents bring their kids. There were dogs on leashes, in carriages and in carriers. How some of the little ones didn’t get trampled is a mystery. The leashed dogs all had to meet the other dogs in the middle of everything and everyone. A couple of acrimonious meetings result in snarling and barking that shook the walls. Many dog owners seemed oblivious.

I collected several pounds of campground directories. I was looking for information about campgrounds out west. Not surprisingly, I didn’t find a lot. Most of the information was for the east coast, but I did find information on Texas and Arizona campgrounds.

The crowds were also too heavy to do much browsing. The two or three big things on my “probably should have” list were difficult to find. A couple of vendors that have been at the show in previous years weren’t there this year. I did find a couple of things, but I didn’t make the purchase. I’ll do some Internet checking and stop back at the show on Friday or Saturday morning if I decide to buy. My ticket is good for an additional day.

The show seemed different this year. Manufacturers were in different locations. Some had less space than last year, some had more. I did find a few things that surprised me. For example, Tiffin Motorhomes had two class C motor homes on display. That seems like a big departure from their business model.

After the noon hour the crowds were very bad all over the show. The dogs weren’t a big obstacle outside, but the entertainers served to provide an even greater obstruction. Roaming musicians, bands and comedy acts would block the walkway to put on acts that a handful of people cared about. Everyone else had to funnel by in single file. I made my way to the exit by two and returned home.

Robinson Preserve

Tuesday January 17th 2017

The good weather pattern continued today. It was around 80 degrees flirting with a record high. I took advantage of the good weather. I went to Robinson Preserve in Bradenton FL.

Robinson Preserve is located in the portion of the city between downtown and the coast. It is very near the De Soto National Memorial that I toured a couple of weeks ago. Getting there is a challenge. You need to drive through the city center or make a very wide loop around to the south. I fought the traffic through the downtown area. The next challenge is finding the correct turns. There are little brown signs about a foot square that direct you into and through heavily residential areas. One minute your passing driveways and mailboxes and the next your at the entrance to the preserve.

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Map of Robinson Preserve

The preserve is on 487 acres of conservation land. It has trails designed for walking and bicycling throughout the marsh land and around the estuaries. There are also several put-ins and take-outs for kayaking and canoeing. I wasn’t sure what to expect but found an abundance of birds and trails. When I got out of my car I anticipated hanging around for a half hour or so. I didn’t take any water or my day pack. Two hours later when I returned to the car I was ready for a good guzzle of water. It wasn’t my smartest move of the year, but there were plenty of people on the trails if I got into trouble. These thoughts ran through my head when I noticed I had left my cell phone at home. It’s amazing how that piece of technology has become a security blanket.

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Blue Heron on far side of tidal pond

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Observation tower at the Preserve

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Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway bridge from the observation tower.

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Great Egret from the observation tower

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Blue Heron

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Tampa Bay looking toward the mouth of the Manatee River

The trail passes through open areas, along boardwalks above the estuary and along the shore of Tampa Bay. I saw several egrets and blue herons. There was an Osprey nest high on a pole with one of the pair on guard duty. Through the brush along one of the waterways I saw a Roseate Spoonbill. The pink coloring and the distinctive beak make the identification easier than most of the other birds. The biggest ground creature I saw was a gecko.

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Ibis on the shore of Tampa Bay

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Palm trees along the trail at Robinson Preserve

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Egret on point

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Blue Heron startled into flight.

Returning to the campground at rush hour back through the downtown area was even worse than the trip out to the preserve, but it was worth it. Another time I need to bring my bicycle.

 

Cloudy Day Slow Da

Monday January 16th 2016

Today’s weather forecast was a repeat of yesterdays. The actual weather was different. It was cloudy most of the day. The sun finally came out just before sunset.

I start most blog entries with a summary of the weather because it has such a big influence on my day. Today’s gloomy weather resulted in a very slow start for me. I had thoughts of going to the St Petersburg Beach area, but the weather discouraged that idea. I kept waiting for it to clear off as it had the past few days. By mid-afternoon it still hadn’t cleared, but I went out to get some groceries and find something to anyway.

Before I stopped for groceries I went out the Nature Park/Beach at Apollo Beach. The parking lot was full and the beach area had lots of kids and fishermen. It isn’t really a good area for swimming. The large number of people at the beach was probably because of the Martin Luther King holiday. The schools, government offices and quite a few business were closed.

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The only notable wildlife I say today was this guy dancing around cars in the grocery store parking lot.

I spent about an hour watching the fishermen and boating traffic. They didn’t seem to be catching anything. Judging by the number of people trying, it is probably a pretty good place at other times. While I was at the beach the sun broke through the clouds for a few minutes. Later while I was at the grocery store it broke through for the remainder of the day. The fact that I paid that close attention to the weather, reflects how much it seems to play into my current lifestyle.

On the way back to the campground, I stopped at the “new” Winn-Dixie Supermarket. One of the people here at the campground told me I should shop there. In a 15 mile stretch of US41 there are 3 Winn-Dixies and 2 Publix supermarkets. Except for the “old” Winn-Dixie they all look new. The store certainly had a better produce section than the Publix, but you need to have a frequent shoppers card to get the specials. I know you can usually get the cashier to scan a card at most grocery stores that use the loyalty card, but it’s the principle of having to “beg” for the sale price. I’ll stick with the Publix in this area that doesn’t use the card system and the Super Walmart up the road the other way.

Chores and more Football watching

Sunday January 15th 2017

The weather was a slow starter this morning. It took a long time for the overnight fog to lift and the sun to shine. Once the sun broke through it got up to around 80 before it clouded over again toward sunset. That pretty much summarizes the weather pattern we’ve been in for the last few days. With the nighttime clouds I completely missed the full moon on the 12th.

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Spent a leisurely day at my RV home. The white ground is crushed shells not snow.

This was another home focused day. In addition to the football games late in the day, I also had a number of chores to do around the RV. I dumped the tanks and flushed the black tank. It is a whole lot easier to flush the tank now that the built in flush system has been fixed. Prior to getting that fixed at the end of September, I had to put water in via the toilet to flush the tank. Now I just hook up an extra hose to the connection in the wet bay.

The other major task was the laundry. It’s major in the sense that it takes about 2 hours, not that it is difficult or physically challenging. This is the third time I’ve done the laundry at this resort. The third time using a particular set of machines is usually the first time I have an idea how to get the clothes clean. Variables like how soft is the water, how hot is the machine, what does “normal” mean with this brand, are all things I learn each time I do the wash. The biggest thing to learn with these machines is not to pack them too full. Since I’m here for another couple of weeks, I get to use my new found knowledge a few more times. Usually, I just get an idea how to use the machine and I’m moving on.

Sitting outside the RV waiting while the wash was in progress I made a few more observations about this park. There aren’t as many golf carts in use at this park. The ones the resort staff use are gas powered and very noisy. Many of the residents are riding bicycles. Quite a few of those are older three wheel bicycles. This park is not very big so the bikes are all that people need to get around. The park is on a very busy road so I don’t believe anyone is actually leaving the park with their bikes. My bicycle remains chained to the picnic table.

su2I’m settled into watching football on TV. The Packers Cowboy games I on now. I dislike the Packers less than the Cowboys so I’ll be happy if the Packers win. Given that all the analysts believe the Cowboys will win that would make it even better. The later game between the Chiefs and the Steelers has a more direct impact on next weeks Patriots game. I’m not sure which team is a weaker opponent for the Patriots. Maybe I’ll develop and opinion after I watch the game tonight.

Waiting for Football

Saturday January 14th 2017

It was another above average winter day in Florida. The high was around 80 with scattered clouds.

My only plan for the day was to watch the NFL playoff games. Since both games were late in the day, I had the morning and early afternoon for errands and touring. I was up in Apollo Beach so I stopped at the Manatee Viewing area to see if the manatees were visible for a change. They were still too far away from the viewing areas to get a good view.

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Some of the fish visible from the boardwalk along the cooling canal.

Today was a popular day at the viewing center. The main parking lot was full. I had to park in the overflow lot a little more than half a mile up the road. They provide a shuttle to the main area or you can walk the nature trail back to the main viewing area. I took the hike. Even though the manatees aren’t up close and personal, other aquatic life is still visible. Schools of fish, an occasional stingray and birds are available for up close viewing in the wild. There is also a “touch the ray” exhibit for the kids and a museum.

When I got back to the campground they were having a “poker run”. The people who signed up to participate were walking through the park stopping at each of five stations to pickup a card and have a beverage. I don’t know what the winner with the best poker had got, but it was clearly designed as a social event. The “run” seemed to be followed by horseshoes and shuffleboard. The event was open to all of the residents in the park. I could have signed up, but I have the feeling most of the participants have been coming to this park for several years.

One of the indicators that this park has a large number of returning residents is the dog policy. Dogs are not permitted unless they stayed here before January 1st of 2015. Just about every park model trailer and a good number of the others have dogs. That means this is at least the 3rd or 4th year for all of the pet owners.

None of this is a large problem for me. I’m not likely to join in these events. They are just my observation of what’s going on around me.

As I finish this blog entry it is half time of the Patriots Texans game.  The Texans have been playing well and have got lucky a couple of times.  The Patriots lead isn’t big enough at half time to satisfy this Patriots fan.

 

 

Slow day at home

Friday January 13th 2017

I succeeded in getting up a little earlier this morning. I’m still not back to my normal wake up time, but it’s a start. The day started sunny and ended cloudy with the threat of rain. The temperature peaked at around 80 degrees.

The central theme of my day was goofing off. I didn’t leave the campground all day. I watched TV, read and did some more internet travel planning. The details for the next few months are still in the vapor state. They need to become jello soon.

fr2I’ve been in this area for a month now. This week I’ve been in general living mode as opposed to perpetual tourist mode. I’ve already experienced the low hanging fruit type of activities. I need to travel further to find interesting things to do, but the traffic is horrible. It discourages the just drive in a given direction and see what’s available style touring that I like. I feel like I need a specific destination in mind before I brave the heavy traffic. The St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa areas are all good candidates for full day excursions, but I want specific places to visit in mind before I set out. Museums, Aquariums and Zoos are possible destinations, but aren’t high on my interest list at the moment.

The hand full of sites that turn over at this campground are all full for the weekend. It is interesting that even in the middle of snowbird season the weekenders are from the local area. Judging by tonight’s revelry they appear to be here to party. It’s not over the top or even disturbing. It is just a change from the daily norm of moving inside when it gets dark.

fr1This is one of those blog entries that reflects what I’ve been doing and thinking, but isn’t all that interesting to a broad audience. It provides a record for me and helps remind me that I need to get out and see the area.

Fighting the local traffic

Thursday January 12th 2017

Today was an all around improvement on yesterday. The weather was sun all day in the high 70s. I was up and moving a little quicker than the last few days and I got out of camp to complete some needed maintenance tasks on the car.

After my morning coffee I continued with my internet research for this years travels. I haven’t made any reservations yet, but I have a better idea how my travels between here and Arizona will go. My current plan will be to spend five or six nights in the New Orleans area and another longer stop in San Antonio or the Texas hill country.

I’ve also been working on refining my plans for the rest of the year. The general plan is to proceed from Arizona to Las Vegas. It will have been almost two years since my last visit to Las Vegas. Since the early 2000s I’ve been taking taking one or two trips a year to Vegas. From there I can either go north through Nevada toward Reno on into Western Oregon and Washington over to Idaho and back down into Utah or the counter clockwise equivalent.

The overall plan is to stay between the western slop of the Rockies and the eastern slop of the coastal ranges. I need to figure it out some of the details quickly so I can make reservations for the holiday weekends and the heavy tourist areas like Glacier National Park.

This afternoon’s primary task was getting the oil and transmission fluid in the Honda CR-V changed. I’ve used the Valvoline Instant Oil change chain for many years. There happen to be two in Bradenton Fl to chose from. The challenge was the heavy traffic. The good thing was their computer systems knew who I was and the price was consistent to what I paid in New Hampshire. On my trip back north last spring, the Valvoline shop in Maryland was much higher. Where the next oil change will take place is another one of life’s little mysteries.

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Pelicans in the Marina.

The oil and transmission fluid change took about half an hour. During that time the traffic got even worst. I had hopes of taking in a movie, but I missed the showing time because of the traffic. To fill the time I drove out to Bradenton Beach to check up on the Gulf of Mexico. It was still there.