Tag Archives: Florida vacation

Tropical escape, part 4

This is my fourth and final post about our Florida vacation. (If you missed them, read part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

Lighthouses

As we made our way south, then north, and then south again along Florida’s Atlantic coast, we stopped at several lighthouses, which are some of Eric’s favorite subjects. We make a point of “bagging” lighthouses everywhere we go. We never know what we’ll see as we’re pursuing our quarry.

Our first up-close encounter was Cape Florida Light on Key Biscayne, just south of Miami. Our first glimpse of this 95-foot tall, bright-white lighthouse was from the beach side—oops, no access from there. We approached down an alley of palms and sea grape trees. Unfortunately the lighthouse was closed, so we just ambled around the grounds and visited with a friendly lizard at the old caretaker’s cottage. Eric snapped this painterly selfie in one of the lighthouse’s windows. It’s one of my favorite photos from this trip. What strikes me as unusual about this light is that the taper of the tower changes slightly above the last window. (Click to enlarge.)

A couple of days later we found ourselves at the foot of Key West Light, just across the street from the Hemingway Home. It’s much shorter, just 65 feet, and although it stands in the middle of town at only 15 feet above sea level, the island’s so flat that its height was adequate for years. I have only one crummy photo. WHY didn’t we climb this light? I thought it was because it was temporarily closed, but Eric claims it was because I was tired, hot, and, um … grumpy, and I didn’t feel like it. I wish he’d quit making this stuff up!

Key West Light through the trees

Key West Light through the trees

We made a quick stop to find little Key Largo Light, hidden away on someone’s private property on a canal. The chase is part of the fun–you never know where you might go. This modest lighthouse, once (and perhaps still) a private wedding venue, looks as if it’s searching for a preservation society.

Key Largo Light peeks above the palms

Key Largo Light peeks above the palms

From the Keys, we drove wa-a-ay up the east Florida coast to Jacksonville to visit my step-son Andy and his fiancée Kelly before the wedding. On the way north we found Hillsboro Inlet Light, locked safely behind the gates of a country club. We stopped at a park across the water to get these shots of the 135-ft iron tower. Yes, you can climb it, but the tight spiral stairs inside the central cylinder might be too claustrophobic for me.

Further up the coast, we thought we’d drop in on our friends Tiger, Greg, and Gary on Jupiter Island, but they weren’t home. The local lighthouse society wanted $10 for a guided tour. We passed and took photos from a respectable distance.

Tall red lighthouse seen from across the inlet

Jupiter Inlet Light just a par 5 away

Family was gathering in Jacksonville, and we all headed to St. Augustine for the day. Eric and I took the opportunity to climb the magnificent St. Augustine Light. This one’s much taller—165 feet, with 219 lacy wrought-iron steps to the top. I’m not good with heights, so upon stepping out onto the lantern deck, I flattened myself to the wall and inched my way around. Once I’d made the 180-degree tour and convinced myself the thing wasn’t going to fall over, I made it to the rail with relative confidence. I’d always wanted to visit a spiral-striped lighthouse!

The next day we drove to Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, just south of Daytona Beach. At 175 feet, it’s the tallest lighthouse in Florida (and second tallest in the US, behind Cape Hatteras Light). But it has only 203 steps–a noticeably steeper climb than St. Augustine Light. I love taking shots of the stairs, up and down, in towers of any kind. And really, when I got to the top, the views were worth the vertigo. An outbuilding displayed a glittering collection of lenses, including the 1860 first order Fresnel lens from the old Cape Canaveral Light. If I had a lighthouse to climb every day, I’d be in much better shape … but if I had to haul a bucket of kerosene to the top, like lighthouse keepers of old, I’d be dead.

McKee Botanical Garden

Whenever I think of Florida now, I picture the lush tropical vegetation that flourished everywhere we looked. What fun to create one’s very own jungle garden! Once we arrived in Vero Beach for the wedding, we made time to explore McKee Botanical Garden—18 acres of trails, streams, lagoons, and groves. (I grew up running around my grandparents’ greenhouses and florist shop as a child … I felt like that long-ago eight-year-old, let loose in paradise.) The garden featured a special dinosaur exhibit incorporated into the forest. We snuck up on several of them, as you’ll see. Or did they sneak up on us?

Lagoons full of multicolor water lilies are McKee’s signature. I’d never seen so many different colored water lilies … so beautiful!

It wasn’t until we were home that I had a chance to look up what some of the other flowers were. I discovered ginger blossoms come in all sorts of shapes … like these beauties.

The jungle plantings grew so thickly that we could have gotten lost without a map.

We came upon three hive-like structures made of willow branches. Environmental artist Patrick Dougherty and a team of volunteers constructed them in January, and named them “The Royals” after the Royal Palm grove they grace. The Royals will remain in the garden until weather and time cause them to break down.

I loved this African sausage tree. In April, the sausages looked more like giant cucumbers, but they’ll turn brown and then burst open with dark red flowers.

Eric got pretty close to this rat snake before he decided maybe the snake was getting peeved.

Rat snake head

I’m watching you. [eashellgren.com]

If we watched the ground for a few seconds, it came alive with cute brown Carolina anole lizards.

brown Carolina anole lizard on a plant identification marker

A Carolina anole who likes Washington State

The Wedding

The culmination of our trip was Andy and Kelly’s wedding in Vero Beach. We stayed put in one hotel for three consecutive nights—that never happens! Our room looked out at the ocean. Eric rose before dawn each day to take sunrise photos. Just spectacular.

The wedding was spectacular, too, despite punishing heat and humidity. Andy and Kelly are a beautiful couple. I didn’t take many photos because—you guessed it—I was so miserably hot that I couldn’t focus past the sweat trickling down my back. Andy’s mom handed me a tissue in case I cried. I used it to mop my brow.

See you later, alligator

The biggest impression I took away from Florida was COLOR. As our plane circled Seattle to land, I was shocked at how dark my beloved Pacific Northwest looked, even though it was a sunny day. My eyes had become accustomed to Florida’s bright green foliage, turquoise sea, and golden sunrises. In contrast, our water is dark gray-green (and 53ºF!), the forested hills are dark Douglas fir blue-green, and the houses are typically earthy colors of tan and gray. Not that it isn’t beautiful here—the mountains and the sea are stunning. It’s just not tropical. Florida, though, is bursting with color, but it’s color that’s sat out in the sun for a few years, consumed too many margaritas, and faded to a mellow, laid-back patina. The dominant color for houses and small commercial buildings is sunshine yellow, trimmed with sky blue or sea turquoise. So light and fresh. You needn’t hesitate to paint your house pink in southern Florida. It’ll fit right in. These colors look so right in the tropics, but they would never work in the Pacific Northwest.

We talk often of retuning to the southern Florida coast. I wonder … how long will we wait?

Sailboat at sunset, Key West, FL

Sailing into the sunset.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it

 

 

Tropical escape, part 2

Gators in the ‘Glades

After reveling in the retroglam of Miami Beach, we lit out for the territory to visit something wilder—Everglades National Park. We’d already had a glimpse of the Everglades from our plane. It looked like this: On one side of the canal, dredged waterways and man-made islands covered in homes and golf courses … on the other side, miles of uninterrupted grassland.

A long straight canal divides development from natural grassland in the Everglades

Houses on one side, sawgrass on the other [qz.com]

The Everglades is not a swamp. It’s a shallow, slow-moving river, draining water out of Lake Okeechobee to the ocean. This vast grassland covers the southern end of Florida. Everglades National Park is at the southernmost tip of the overall Everglades area.

Like many of our natural areas, the Everglades has been ruthlessly exploited and nearly destroyed by humans. The northern part was converted to grazing land and sugarcane fields. Canals, levees, and roads blocked the natural flow of water and decimated animal life downstream. Urban development crept ever closer from the East Coast. Approximately 50 percent of the original Everglades has been developed as agricultural or urban areas [Wikipedia]. I won’t go into the horrifying history of what humans have perpetrated there, but if you read about it, it will make you sick. Fortunately, restoration efforts have been underway since the 1990s, with the $7.8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Better late than never, right?

Map showing loss of Everglades habitat in the 20th Century

Loss of Everglades habitat in the 20th Century [fas.org]

After a brief stop at the main visitor center to plan our day, we continued a little further into the park to Royal Palm Visitor Center, where we walked the .8 mile Anhinga Trail. Most of this accessible trail is a beautiful boardwalk that allows you to peek down into the brush and water.

Man walks on wooden boardwalk in Everglades National Park.

What’s around the next bend?

Green lillypads float in Everglades National Park

Lillypads floating in the clear, shallow water

Young mangrove tree growing in Everglades National Park

A young mangrove tree

Cardinal air plant growing on a tree trunk

Cardinal air plant (tillandsia fasciculata)

Spherical white flower in Everglades National Park

This may be a powderpuff (related to mimosa?)

Before long we found some wildlife … this turtle was lounging on the warm mud.

Turtle sleeping in the sun

Lazing in the sun

Smack in the center of this photo is an alligator bag. No, wait—it’s a real alligator!

Alligator resting under a tree in Everglades National Park

See him?

Alligator in Everglades National Park

A better view

Here’s another one, facing away from me.

Alligator hides among grasses in Everglades National Park

We never saw a gator in action … they were all just lying around

I didn’t know much about the Everglades, other than what TV shows lead us to believe. Here’s what I thought it would be like.

Cartoon gator inviting you to take an airboat tour

Thankfully, airboats aren’t allowed within the national park. We certainly did not expect to see this:

Smoke from wildfire hangs over Everglades National Fire

An eerie landscape

The Everglades were on fire. Lightning-induced fires are not uncommon, and sometimes prescribed fires are necessary to burn off spilled fuel or to reduce invasive plant species, but this 3800-acre fire was caused by some idiot who got careless at a campsite.

We had hoped to take a boat tour into the interior of the park, but because of reduced visibility from the smoke, the Forest Service made us wait for a lead car to escort us through part of the main park road. We waited. We missed the boat. By the time we arrived at Flamingo Visitor Center, only one last boat tour was available, out into Florida Bay. (Florida Bay is between the mainland and the Florida Keys.)

Pink Flamingo Visitor Center in Everglades National Park

What color did you think Flamingo Visitor Center would be?

As we cruised into the bay, the captain ran through the mandatory flotation vest demonstration. “If you fall overboard and can’t remember how the life vest works,” he said, “just stand up.” Florida Bay is only three or four feet deep … six feet in dredged boat channels.

Aerial shot showing southern Floida and Florida Bay

You can see the park and the shallowness of Florida Bay. [Google]

View from dock at Flamingo looking toward Florida Bay

Looking south from Flamingo Marina toward Florida Bay

FLorida Bay with island visible in the distance

Heading out into Florida Bay

From the water, we saw birds … lots of birds. Ubiquitous brown pelicans, white egrets, terns, and this nest of osprey.

Three osprey chicks and their mother on a nest on a harbor navigation marker

These osprey chicks look almost ready to fly.

Brown pelican diving into water

A pelican dives for dinner

Perky terns

Perky crested terns perch on a piling

A graceful white egret perches on a mangrove root.

A graceful white egret perches on a mangrove root

Out in the bay, distant mangrove islands shimmered in the sun like mirages. They seemed to float above the water.

Distant island shimmers in heat

Mirage?

These islands begin as a single mangrove seedling that breaks off the parent tree and floats away. If the seedling gets hung up on a shallow spot, it can put down roots in an hour. As the tree grows, its dropped leaves decay and build up, eventually forming a small island.

Small mangrove tree grows near the water

Baby mangrove

Over many years, this island may gain enough elevation—just a few feet—to support hardwood trees. These small humps are known as hardwood hammocks. We passed many hammocks as we drove through the park … but we don’t have a single photo to show you. Guess we’ll have to go back.

Everglades cross section

Everglades cross section [USGS]

Reflection of mangrove roots in the water of Florida Bay

Reflection of mangrove roots

After the cruise we lingered at the marina, hoping to see the manatees that often visit there … but we were disappointed.

Two manatees under water

We did not see these manatees [Keywestaquarium.com]

Cruise boat docked at Flamingo Marina

Our cruise boat in manatee-free Flamingo Marina

The only manatees we saw during our whole trip were these popular mailbox holders. They’re so cute and kitchy, I suppose I would have to have one.

Manatee mailbox holder

Close, but no cigar

A few hours in Everglades National Park was only enough to scratch the surface. We’ll have to come back to catch that boat into the interior, meet a manatee, and hang out in a hammock with a Florida panther. But now, off to the Keys!

Tropical escape, part 1

FLORIDA.

The word conjures white sand beaches and swimming pool-colored water, graceful palms, alligators in the Everglades, and Don Johnson in a pastel suit. We discovered it’s all these things, and more.

In my last post I threatened to take a tropical vacation instead of continuing with plaster repair. Of course, Eric and I had this escape planned for months because his son, Andy, was getting married in Vero Beach. Neither of us had explored Florida, so we made the most of our visit to the opposite corner of the country by stretching our trip to 16 glorious days.

For a flight that long, I told Eric I’d go only if we flew first class, which I’d never done. So we cashed in every air mile we had and pretended we do this all the time. I have to admit I felt a certain smugness as we sat there sipping our first drink while the endless parade of less fortunates trooped to the back of the bus. I loved that feeling. Plus, I’m certain that the flight is shorter when you fly first class. I told Eric that I’m done flying in steerage. It’s first class all the way for me from now on, baby. Eric replied that I’ll be staying home a lot if that’s the case. Ah, well … it was grand while it lasted.

But, Florida … Put on your walkin’ shoes, because we’re going to cover a lot of ground!

Ft. Lauderdale

This was our first glimpse of Florida’s Atlantic Coast on the day we arrived.

Palm tree and ocean at Ft. Lauderdale beach.

This is what we came so far to see!

People have to watch the sunset backwards here, which made me laugh.

Man facing the sunset on Florida beach

Where we come from, we face the ocean at sunset.

We were delighted to find velella velella, a jelly-ish invertebrate that “sails” on top of the water. We also have rare velella velella sightings in the Pacific Northwest, except ours are purple.

We were soon to discover that the entire south Florida coast is lined with a wall of high-rise condos and resorts, which warehouse hundreds of thousands of gray-haired folks. You can’t even glimpse the ocean from the road. All the buildings have sea-inspired names. Any combination of sea-related words you can think of surely is represented: Sea Breeze, Admiral, Commodore, Miramar, Turtle Bay, Tarpon … they’re all there. I defy you to come up with some oceanic name that hasn’t been used. Well, maybe not Sharkbite Sands or Flotsam Bay.

Condos line the beach at Ft. Lauderdale

Condos north and south, as far as the eye can see.

Miami Beach

The next morning we reported to the Miami Beach Art Deco Welcome Center for a walking tour. Miami Beach is a separate city on a barrier island between the Intracoastal Waterway and Biscayne Bay. It began as resort playground for wealthy Easterners in the early 20th Century, until a hurricane wiped it out in 1926. During the 1930s and 40s, lots of smaller, affordable, cheaply built hotels sprang up, designed in the latest decorative style, and Miami Beach thrived once more … until World War II.  What to do with all these hotels rooms when the war kept vacationers away? Why, fill them with soldiers-in-training! And that was my first connection to Miami Beach: my dad was one of those soldiers. Somewhere I have his photos of the hotel in which he stayed, and even as a kid I drooled over that cool building. (Did you know that the name “Art Deco” only became popular in the late 1960s? Before that, the style was usually called “Jazz Moderne.”) Now, Miami Beach has the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, thanks to the preservation efforts of Barbara Capitman in the 1970s.

The Art Deco style is known for symmetry, repetitions of three, vertical elements, fluting, ziggurats (stepped designs), eyebrows (horizontal ledges over windows to shade them from midday sun), wavy lines, and frozen fountains. Many of these design elements are Egyptian-inspired. See how many of them you can pick out in my photos.

Let’s start with the Congress Hotel. It’s got it all—three stories, vertical lines in sets of three, eyebrows, waves, frozen fountains, and a really cool typeface (Eric and I are typography geeks, and we were in heaven).

Congress Hotel, Miami Beach

This manikin wants you to notice the frozen fountain panel flanking the entry. Interestingly, the pastel colors are not original. When these buildings were built they were all white.

Detail of COngress Hotel entry showing pastel-painted frozen fountain motif

The Hotel Shelley with fluting, waves, triple horizontal lines, and intricate bas-relief panels above the entry.

Cream and gray Art Deco facade of Hotel Sheely

The Beach Patrol Headquarters building looks just like a boat with its round corners, porthole windows, and three-tiered pipe railing. The wall out front is made of coral limestone, which we found all over Southern Florida.

Art Deco building that resembles a boat

Buildings that occupy prominent corner locations tend to have elaborate entries. Doesn’t the Tiffany Building look like a rocket ship?

Whit Art Deco building on corner, with tall mast sign.

Mast atop Tiffany building with neon letters

Inside the Tiffany, the walls are made of coral limestone, polished to resemble gold and green marble, echoed in the terrazzo floor. What a beautiful lobby!

Staircase made of polished yellow and green polished coral

Art Deco lobby of Tiffany building

The Sherbrooke Hotel reminds me of an ocean liner.

Sherbrooke Hotel looks like an ocean liner

Detail of Sherbrooke sign in Broadway typeface atop hotel

Sherbrooke’s sign in Broadway typeface

This little gem sat in a row of small Art Deco hotels. Boutique hotel companies sometimes operate several small buildings as one hotel. The next time we come to Miami, we’ll stay in one.

Fancy detailing on the Taft Hotel

Icing on a wedding cake

A lovely detail of a bas-relief frieze with a palm motif.

Gray, carved palm motif frieze on white building

The famous Breakwater Hotel was the backdrop for lots of action in the 1980s TV show, Miami Vice.

Breakwater Hotel with famous vertical sign

A very Miami Beach color scheme–blue and yellow

A Banana Republic store never looked so at home! Love the corner quoining and detailing at the roof line, and how the striped awnings draw attention to the horizontal stripes on the building.

Art Deco Banana Republic store with black and white striped awnings

Right at home in the palms

Look at the beautiful detailing on this classic diner.

Shiny, patterned aluminum diner with glass block corner window

Like a jewel box …

We saw more than Art Deco. Amongst all the Art Deco buildings are a couple of historic bungalows made of coral. Neither was open for visitors, although I would have loved to see the interiors.

Small house build of rough coral limestones

One of two coral bungalows

This building has more of a Mediterranean Revival flavor (another predominant style in Southern Florida). I took the photo just because of the matching car.

Cream and orange vintage car in front of Mediterranean style building.

Nice when your car matches your restaurant’s awnings.

After the Art Deco style fell out of favor post-WWII, Midcentury Modern filled in. We found several examples of “MiMo” (pronounced “MY-mo,” short for Miami Modern), but we didn’t have enough time to seek out more. One prevalent feature of Mimo is openwork screening of brick or cement block. Here are a few Mimo examples (click to enlarge).

Even the lifeguard huts look like colorful spaceships.

Colorful lifeguard station at Miami Beach

We retuned to town that evening to see the place lit up. Ocean Avenue after hours is loud music, overpriced restaurants, ambling tourists … and neon. I’m a sucker for colored lights. Click to enlarge.

So, I finally can check off the Miami Beach Art Deco district, which has been on my bucket list since I was a child … before bucket lists were invented. Driving around, we saw that the Art Deco influence extends far beyond Ocean Avenue. Even small apartment buildings on quiet side streets are pastel, simpler Art Deco examples. Despite it being a tourist Mecca, Miami Beach is a place I’d return to and continue to explore.

Next stop: Everglades National Park.

Green ginkgo leaf with 1913 - 2013 below it