Sunday, October 11, 2020

Florida and Southeastern Georgia

In January 2018 I attended my third week-long continuing education conference in Orlando and planned additional time on both ends to see more of Florida and southeastern Georgia.

Friday, January 19, 2018, I flew out of Los Angeles (LAX) at 10:45 p.m. on Delta.

Saturday, January 20, I arrived in Orlando (MCO) at 6:33 a.m. and got a rental car at Dollar Rent A Car. I immediately headed east on Hwy 528 toward the Atlantic Coast and then connected to I-95 south to Viera, which is south of Cocoa and north of Melbourne (46.6 miles from the airport). I went to what I thought was the Viera Wetlands, but mistakenly went to the Viera Wetlands Storage Ponds instead. I was there to see birds and got some great views of green herons, my only red-winged blackbird in Florida and other birds. From Viera I got on the I-95 going north, then took Hwy 402 to Titusville, then over the Indian River to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a distance of 35 miles. I drove the 3.5 mile Black Point Wildlife Drive, which I've been to before several times, and saw a nice selection of birds. Then I drove to the Haulover Canal to see if I could see any manatees, and did not. I got back to the I-95 and headed north about 60 miles to Ormand Beach (just north of Daytona Beach) where a sign for the Daytona Pig Stand caught my eye. I exited the freeway and got baby-back ribs, brisket and sides. I continued north on the I-95 through Jacksonville (my first time through), then east on Hwy 200 to Amelia Island and Fort Clinch State Park, about 121 miles after lunch. Fort Clinch was used during the Civil War and is right next to the St. Mary's River which is the state-line for Florida/Georgia at that place. I took a quick walk through Fort Clinch then walked a portion of the Willow Pond Nature Trail. 

Along the Willow Pond Trail.
From there I drove to Fernandina Beach and walked through the Amelia Island Historic District. Then I ate at Timoti's Seafood Shak, which I'd already staked out ahead of time, and bought a lobster roll, an oyster poh boy and a boxed chopped salad. I took them to the Beachside Motel in Fernardina Beach where I spent the night. I ate part of the food that night, then kept the rest in the refrigerator for morning and breakfast as I had a long drive and morning coming up. 

Sunday, January 21, I left about 5:30 a.m. to drive 55 miles to the Okefenokee NWR near Folkston, Georgia, wanting to arrive around sunrise. I took Hwy 200 to near Yulee, Hwy 17 north to Hwy 108 west to Hilliard, then Hwy 301 northwest across the Georgia line to Folkston, then Hwy 23 southwest. I took the 7.5 mile Swamp Island Drive, beginning near the visitor center, to the Chesser Island Boardwalk and walked the 1.5 mile elevated Trex boardwalk to the Owl's Roost observation tower. The sun came up while I was walking. I saw a river otter right next to the boardwalk, with a fish in its mouth, and it was gone in a flash. I drove back to the visitor center and took a 90 minute flat-bottomed boat ride with Okefenokee Adventures down the Suwannee Canal and then out into the swamp. We saw several alligators, an owl, and a bittern, of note. From Okefenokee I took Hwy 23 south through St. George, then Hwy 121 south, near the Florida state-line, through Macclenny, then Hwy 228 south to Hwy 301 south to Starke, 63 miles from the wildlife refuge, where my eye caught Sonny's BBQ. I got Sonny's sampler with brisket, chicken, ribs and thinly sliced pork. It was all pretty good. I continued south on Hwy 301, then switched to Hwy 24, southwest to the La Chua Trail in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park just south of Gainesville. I saw my first wild armadillo there, which I was excited about, but the trail was closed off part-way through because of flooding. 

I drove 4.5 miles to the University of Florida campus in Gainesville, particularly looking for the University of Florida Ben Hill Griffin football stadium. I was thrilled to find the gate open and walked right in. It is nicknamed "The Swamp," and the fabs often use their arms to do a gator chomp. Having just visited the swamp and seen alligators, the name seemed particularly appropriate. I drove to Harry's Seafood Bar and Grille in Gainesville where I had a very nice dinner of royale redfish and grouper fingers. From Gainesville, I drove the I-75 southeast for 124 miles to Kissimmee, south of Orlando, where I was staying at the Wyndham Cypress Palms for my seminar. 
     Okefenokee NWR - Georgia  (Bob)
     Sonny's BBQ - Starke, FL  (Bob)

Monday to Thursday, January 22 to 25, I attended my seminar at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort and Convention Center. Each day I had lunch at King O' Falafel in Kissimmee, which I discovered on prior trips, and absolutely love. Thursday night I ate at Q'Kenan Latin Food restaurant in Orlando and had an excellent meal of fried red snapper, sweet plantains and chicken salad. 
Fried red snapper

Friday, January 26, my seminar was only part day, so I left at noon to visit Orlando Wetlands Park in Christmas Tree, 44 miles northeast of Kissimmee. It is a water reclamation site which they have done a marvelous job of making it wildlife habitat. I saw lots of alligators and got great views of black vultures. From there I drove 29 miles east to Titusville, on the Atlantic Coast, where I had a late lunch/early dinner at Kelsey's Pizza and Eatery. I had a Greek salad and their Popeye pizza with a white sauce, olives, etc. 
I then continued on to Merritt Island NWR for the second time on this trip, driving the Black Point Wildlife Drive again. I also made a quick trip to the nearby Canaveral National Seashore, trying to catch a little bit of it before it closed, and saw my second armadillo of the trip. I had reservations at Lake Roy Beach Inn in Winter Haven and drove 96 miles southwest to get there, arriving well after dark. 

Saturday, January 27, I spent the morning at Circle B Bar Reserve west of Winter Haven, in Lakeland, near Lake Hancock. It was fabulous for birding and other animals. I saw my third armadillo of the trip (I'd been to Florida twice before and never saw one), a wild pig with piglets, alligators and birds. I wanted to visit St. Petersburg, so I drove 64 miles east to Tampa, then drove I-275 over the 4.14 mile Sunshine Skyway Bridge that crosses Old Tampa Bay to St. Petersburg where I visited the Dali Museum. I didn't love the Dali Museum and had seen what I wanted to see of St. Petersburg, so I drove back to Circle B Bar Reserve for the afternoon, stopping at Palace Pizza in Lakeland for lunch, before-hand, where I had a couple of pieces of pizza and a salad. 

That evening I drove back to Orlando and stayed at the Quality Inn Orlando Airport before an early flight. 

Sunday, January 28, I left Orlando at 6:50 a.m. on a direct flight to LAX, arriving at 9:20 a.m. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure if I had been with you, you would have LOVED the Dali Museum. I did! I have to say, you definitely eat better when you travel without me than I eat when I travel without you.