March 25, 2017



CAROL WRITES:  From the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, the State of Florida is 160 miles wide at its widest point.  Our next destination was smack in the middle of the Florida Highlands at Polk City, a small community along Interstate 4 midway between Tampa and Orlando. 

It is a fact of life that traffic on I-4 can be insane at times, such as when the Orlando theme parks close for the day; however, at Bay Lake Motorcoach Resort we found a sleepy, peaceful oasis. 
This was one of those RV properties where individuals can purchase their RV site outright, then amend it with structures and landscaping in a variety of ways permitted by ownership rules.  Over the past 7 or 8 years since Bay Lake opened, only several dozen lots out of a potential of a couple hundred have been developed, so that left a lot of open space.  Most owners had charming pastel-colored mini homes and pleasing paver driveways with parking space and utility connections for their large motorhomes.  Add in luscious tropical landscaping and the result made for a very quaint and sweet “second home” vacation spot for the owners.

I have borrowed a few pics below from the resort website.

From my point of view, this place felt pretty deserted and we had all the time and space poolside that we desired, in addition to a lovely rural setting for our mile-or-so loop walks every day.


Periodically, Al has mentioned that he sort of regretted that we didn’t get down to Kennedy Space Center while we were in Jacksonville.  Not to worry… Florida isn’t that wide and NASA’s ole “Cape Canaveral” was only a couple of hours away.

Since the days of the Mercury Space Program in the early 1960s to the final mission of the Space Shuttle in 2011, the lives of us baby boomers have been enriched by countless inventions related to the space program.  America’s long space legacy was lovingly preserved at Kennedy Space Center, where we enjoyed a fascinating walk down memory lane with many highlights …

A bus tour out to the famous Vehicle Assembly Building, where large space vehicles are constructed,

Preserved sections of primitive launch control consoles from the early days of Project Mercury,

A look at the underside of a massive Saturn V rocket like the one that was used to propel astronauts to the moon,

A loving tribute to three astronauts whose lives were lost in a catastrophic fire during training in their Apollo space capsule,

and a brand new “Heroes and Legends” building with an astronaut Hall of Fame that included some of our most notable space heroes.

Of interest to me were the front pages from newspapers around the world that celebrated America’s achievement of landing men on the moon.  I couldn’t resist a picture of the very Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper that I remembered reading in 1969 when I was a young college student and Ohio’s own Neil Armstrong was the first human to set foot on the moon.

For us, the star of the Kennedy Space Center was clearly the eye-popping and creative display of Space Shuttle Atlantis,

mounted indoors on supports that created the appearance of a space shuttle flying through the room,

with its cargo door open…

and Canadian robot arm extended!

Voices were quite hushed in the hallway where tribute was paid to the astronauts who lost their lives on Challenger and Columbia.  Haunting pieces of wreckage from each tragedy evoked much reflection.

While the end of the 6-ship space shuttle program
closed another chapter in space exploration, present-day Kennedy Space Center was anything but inactive.  Private enterprise was clearly alive and well with SpaceX playing an increasing role in launching satellites, in addition to payloads to the International Space Station.

The week after our visit to Kennedy Space Center, from our own campsite we were able to watch a 2 a.m. SpaceX launch of an EchoStar communications satellite that would enhance television viewing across Brazil.  What an impressive ball of flame in the sky 80 miles in the distance!

At our campsite a few days later, we saw an early-evening launch of an Air Force GPS satellite from its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center. 

Steven Hawking has stated that he believes the future of the human race most likely lies in space.  Thankfully, that hope is alive and well-nourished every day at Kennedy Space Center.


On the outskirts of Polk City we were lucky to discover the James A. Van Fleet state bike trail, a paved trail that runs through 29 miles of some of Florida’s most scenic rural wetlands landscape. 

In addition to a nice tranquil bike ride, we were hoping for some wildlife sightings, and we were amply rewarded…

We saw:

blue herons that we never tire photographing,

gopher turtles,

and huge adult alligators just along the trail’s edge.  Al encouraged me to get a little closer for a really great pic, but of the four adults gazing at this gator I figured I was the slowest runner, so I felt just fine where I was…

Nothing more rewarding than observing wildlife totally in harmony with its unconstrained habitat.


Very near the top of the list of attractions in this part of the sleepy central Florida Highlands was an historic landmark site called Bok Tower Gardens.  This contemplative garden and bird sanctuary, located on one of the highest points of the Florida Highlands, was completed in 1929 and was the brainchild of a Dutch editor and humanitarian named Edward Bok.

Al and I both had doubts that a 50-acre garden and 200-ft carillon tower would impress us all that much, but we couldn’t have been more mistaken.

For a start, the gardens were striking and thoughtfully varied with…

annuals at peak bloom,

and a spotlight on Florida vegetation.
Added into the mix was a tour through an historic 1920s Mediterranean-style home

with an architectural style that oozed coolness and old-Florida allure.

However, the predominant attraction of the day was the neo-Gothic pink stone carillon tower decorated with ironwork and tile mosaics.  Although neither of us is particularly fond of carillon music, the St. Patrick’s Day selection of Irish tunes had a certain toe-tapping pizzazz.

Bok tower itself was the complete Florida package, with Florida-themed carvings of herons

and a nifty sundial.

The choice of Edward Bok’s burial site at the foot of the golden paneled door to his beloved tower seemed quite fitting.  We ended up spending the better part of the afternoon at Bok Tower Gardens, coming away with much more admiration for Bok’s crowning legacy of community betterment and service to others. 

March 12, 2017


Carol writes:  The unseasonably warm winter we had been having followed us up the Florida coast to Fort Myers.  During our visit to the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit last summer, we learned about neighboring summer homes along the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers that belonged to Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.  Old houses with connections to historical figures—now, that was right up our alley.

The Edison and Ford winter homes were side by side.
Edison winter home

Ford winter home

Self-made men with humble beginnings, Edison and Ford were very good friends and worked in partnership during their years at Fort Myers.  Edison fully realized that Ford’s invention of the automobile was going to have worldwide implications. 

Knowing that—

Edison, along with his partners Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone (of Firestone Tire and Rubber fame), directed botanical research into finding a natural source of rubber that could be grown in the United States.  The banyan (ficus) trees that Edison planted while searching for a source of domestic rubber were still in existence,
as was the laboratory where he conducted scientific research.

We saw some of Thomas Edison’s original groves of bamboo on the grounds.  Edison utilized bamboo to produce flexible filaments which were then carbonized for use inside his experimental light bulbs.
An old-time photo of Edison’s wife and daughter, posing with two family friends inside a stand of bamboo, was priceless.

This ghost of Thomas Edison was found wandering beside a grove of creepy banyan trees that have dropped aerial roots into the ground from their horizontal branches. 
Viewing into the ground-floor rooms of Edison’s Seminole Lodge was fascinating—

study with Edison-era chandelier

 dining room

Many excellent old photos from the winter estate archives were on display in the museum.

Ford photo

Thomas Edison and wife Mina


If it’s March in Florida, sounds of “Play ball!” can be heard in Fort Myers, the home of spring training for the Minnesota Twins and the Boston Red Sox.

For Twins fans, the setting for the training complex

and nearby Hammond Stadium was in stark contrast to a typical March day back home in the Twin Cities.

The smaller venue of spring training parks meant there were no bad seats in our game between the Pirates and the Twins.  Kudos to Al for making our seats even better by picking a section that was shaded for all nine innings…


Having spent 25 years of our lives living in Colorado, we are always on the lookout for an interesting hike.  That’s a little more challenging in Florida, but not at Lovers Key State Park where we found a hiking trail on a barrier island called Black Island.

We found a nice wide trail through a variety of island scenery surrounded by inner waterways.
Interesting plant and animal life complimented the hike, like tropical gumbo-limbo trees with fancy red bark,
and a gopher tortoise coming out of its underground burrow to check out the humans.
Misting from an offshore rain cell forced us back to the car earlier than we expected, but we had completed the hike and so we were content to head home.


Almost 13 years have passed since Hurricane Charley ravaged Southwest Florida.  At that time, Al and I had been following this storm very closely because predictions were that the storm would come ashore in the Tampa area.  Such a storm path would have placed Al’s Mom and Dad, who lived just north of Tampa, dangerously near the bullseye.  I remember discussions of what we would possibly need to do if they were hit hard.  At the last minute, this dangerous Cat 4 storm turned hard right and made landfall further south at the northern end of Captiva Island.

To the south of Captiva, Sanibel Island was likewise ravaged, especially its beloved tree canopy.  As it turns out, Nature has a way of making things better, even after an horrific event like a major hurricane.  The exotic Australian pine species was out-of-place in a hurricane-prone habitat and did not do well because of its shallow root system.  In subsequent years, a massive tree restoration project recreated the canopy with thousands of trees all native to Sanibel. 

The scenery on the approach to Sanibel was breathtaking and showed no evidence of the hurricane from the previous decade.
Sanibel’s much-hyped annual Shell Festival was in its first day, so we took a look around.  Ho-hum, just not all that exciting for us.  To our eyes, the only items of interest were a shell-covered Volkswagen beetle

and a booth of floral arrangements that had "flowers" made out of shells.  Now that was really cool!

Our main plan for the day was for a picnic lunch in the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge,

named after conservationist J.N. Darling, who made it his goal to preserve one of the country’s largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystems on Sanibel Island.

The salt-loving roots of the mangrove trees sought out the brackish coastal water…

the feathers of the white pelicans were pristine…

and horseshoe crabs were in their element in the shallow water along the shore.

There was plenty of interest to cause us to linger for a couple of hours along the 4-mile drive through the preserve.  Great job, Ding Darling…

We had been warned that the worst traffic leaving Sanibel Island would be from  2-6 p.m.  Since sunset was precisely at 6:30 p.m., we decided to have an early dinner on Captiva Island and catch “sunset over the water”… as sunsets should be seen.

We headed to Bowman’s Beach on Sanibel Island and found out for ourselves why its beaches have a reputation for some of the best shelling in the world.

In some spots shells deposits were several inches thick!  Now I know where the artists who created those magnificent flowers out of shells got their material…

All eyes faced west at sunset… and it was spectacular… as only sunset over the ocean can be.