Day 18: Everglades National Park to Brunswick, Georgia

We hopped out of bed in semi-darkness pretty happy to be done with the awful night. We drove the thirty-some miles down the park road to the Flamingo Visitors Center. We drove through lots of grassland and arrived to find that there wasn’t much left of the visitors center. Hurricane Wilma in 2005 had done some serious damage and wiped out the lodge that had been there and the rangers offices and visitors center are due for some serious reconstruction. After Forrest got some coffee at the mariana and we tried to keep Sprocket from chasing the crows and vultures we headed for the Christian Point hiking trail.

Coating ourselves in bug spray we bid Sprocket adieu at the car for a nice hike through the swamp. 25% DEET wasn’t enough to protect us from the mosquitos and horse flies and we gave up the hike after about a mile, although we did see some pretty bromeliads (or “airplants”). Back at the car we decided we’d seen enough of the Everglades and it was time to get out of Florida.

So we drove. And drove. All the way up Florida on I-95. We did take a short break in St. Augustine, Florida. St. Augustine is America’s oldest city, it was founded in 1565! We checked out the old fort (just missed the final tour) and walked around the old buildings. It was cute but very touristy. We finished out the day at a Sonny’s Barbeque near Brunswick, Georgia and stuffed ourselves before heading to bed.

Day 17: Key Largo, Florida to Everglades National Park, Florida

Pulling out of our hospital campspot, we headed down the Keys trying to make it to Key West before the major tourist rush began. The drive was pretty but not quite what I’d expected. Precious waterfront real estate wasn’t about to be wasted on the road except where the islands were so narrow it was absolutely necessary.

In Key West, we put Black Dog on the leash and walked around a bit. We walked around the downtown tourist core, along the water (no beach) looking at the giant cruise ship docked there, and checked out the piers (“Sail at 2, $26 each and puppy can come!”). We chose not to partake in any of the sails to keep our money available for less touristy activities. All in all, I wouldn’t go back but Forrest went back so I could see it!

On our way out, we stopped at Ann’s Beach where we went swimming with Sprocket. He’s getting to be quite a swimmer but I think he feels like the “Responsible Puppy” (his version of responsible person). He gets quite upset if we make wining noises to tease him and swims over to us as fast as he can (which is pretty fast!). He also doesn’t like it when he can’t see both of us at the same time. He’s like a water sheepdog! After our swim, we rinsed off our salty puppy and ourselves and headed out of the Keys.

Driving through Homestead, FL on Day 15 we’d seen lots of restaurants that looked fantastic: El Salvadorian food, Peruvian food, Mexican food, etc. so we drove back that way for dinner. The place we chose to eat at advertised Nicaraguan food but I’m pretty sure what we had was fantastic Mexican food. I had a shrimp dish cooked with onion, garlic, and red pepper…it was amazing! Forrest had chicken quesadillas that he raved about.

We had been hoping to reach the Everglades on May 1st so that the new parks pass we’d have to buy would be good through Memorial Day of 2011, but we were running out of things to do in Florida so we headed for the park anyway to see if we could buy our pass as a May pass or possibly hope the booth wouldn’t be manned at 7PM. F repeatedly told me that it was my responsibility to “sweet talk” the ranger at the booth for a May pass which I fully accepted. Pulling up to the entrance, I politely told the ranger that our pass had expired and we needed to buy a new one but asked nicely if he could punch it for May. He smiled and faux whispered, “I think I can do that.” Forrest was so excited to explain our trip to the ranger that he immediately launched into the story of how we’d driven 4,500 miles to be there before he realized the ranger had already agreed. He says that he didn’t say that and was commenting on how easy it is for girls to get what they want. I laughed.

In the park, we headed for King Palm to do a short hike before it got dark. We hiked the Anhinga Trail. We saw lots of birds, turtles, swamp rats (aka alligators), and heard lots of frogs. I decided it was the noisiest national park I’d ever been to. As we walked out on one of the viewing platforms we spotted a gator swimming from across the pond, in the gator-y silent way it glided under the platform on which we were standing and just hung out there. After our hike, we headed to Lone Pine Key campground, set up camp, and tried to take Sprocket on a walk but were turned back by the mosquitoes.

Excited for a night uninterrupted by traffic sounds or light, we crawled into bed early. Quickly we realized that the mosquitoes were smart enough to fly around our cracked windows and attacked us. We grudgingly rolled up the windows and suffered through the most stifling night ever. Sprocket was rather unhappy and was being attacked by bugs. F and I would wake up and hunt the remaining mosquitoes and toss around hot and unhappy. Finally it was over…phew.

Day 16: Indian Rocks, Florida to Key Largo, Florida

We woke up at the rather leisurely hour of 7:30 and packed up our stuff. Forrest did take the opportunity to watch the morning news before we left the condo for the Lighthouse to get some doughnuts for breakfast. After winding our way though St. Pete to I-275, we cruised to Naples. We picked up some lunch and headed out US 41 to Big Cypress National Preserve. We tried to go on a hike in Collier-Seminole State Park but were driven back by the bugs. We applied bug spray before trying again on the boardwalk at Cypress Bend in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.

Passing into Big Cypress National Preserve we were on the lookout for “The Loop Road” for some exploring. It was so awesome! We saw lots of alligators and lizards. The road was considered “impassable” but the woman at the visitors center told us we should be fine as long as we had 4-wheel drive…our front drive shaft is enabling better gas mileage by waiting in Moab. 🙂

Gator Bait

After the adventure of the loop road, in which “Gator Bait” had to stay in the car the whole time, we drove to Homestead, FL where we got some Cuban/Latin food at Marco’s. The food was really good: we had churrasco (thin charbroiled steak) with a really unique sauce and fried yucca (roots that were like unique french fries) and they even had outdoor seating so Sprocket could join us!  Following our delicious dinner we headed for the Keys and are spending the night in Key Largo before heading further southwest tomorrow!

Day 15: Tampa, Florida to Indian Rocks, Florida

We got up bright and early and went to Carol’s house in St. Pete and cleaned her gutters and fixed a leak in her roof. She had a fenced backyard so Sprocket got to hang out, although he mostly slept on the shady side porch. After the morning’s work, we got lunch at the Portabella Grill and then headed for the beach.

Carol had to rush back to Tampa but her grandson, Anthony, happened to be hanging out at the beach condo. Forrest and I made a quick run to the store and bought Sprocket a soup bone. Back at the condo, Sprocket chewed his bone while F and I read the New York Times. It didn’t take F too long to suggest that we go swim in the gulf some. I’ve never turned down swimming in salt water and wasn’t about to start then! We had a blast splashing around in the most perfect temperature salt water. While we were out there, we spotted Anthony in the waves. Anthony deemed the water still a little cold (!) so we all headed up to the pool. Sprocket got to come down and join us. He hid out in the shade and made friends with the man hanging out in the shade.

After we both decided we’d had plenty of sun, we returned to the condo where Sprocket chewed on his bone some more and we did some TV watching. I got bored after awhile and took Sprocket on a walk. We had chicken for dinner and then headed for bed–listening to the sounds of the waves!

Thanks so much to Frank and Carol (and their family) for making our stay in the Tampa area so enjoyable!

Day 14: Lloyd, Florida to Tampa, Florida

We hit the road bound for Tampa with no real plan about what we were going to do between Lloyd and Tampa. As Tampa approached, we realized we’d need to find something to do with ourselves until Carol and Frank got home from work. Not really knowing where to begin, we called Roxanne and Brandon for some advice. They directed us to Cigar City Brewing (very nice directions by the way!). As we pulled into the nondescript parking lot to our dismay we found that they were closed on Mondays.

Fortunately, Tim was kind enough to open up the tasting room for us. We sampled their Humidor Series Grut, Madura Brown, and Jai Alai IPA.  The Grut is an old European style of beer brewed without hops and, like most of Cigar City’s Humidor beers, it was aged over cedar. We both found it quite yummy. The Madura and Jai Alai were both good too. He also poured us tastes of Swamphead Brewery’s Wildnight Honey Cream Ale and Cottonmouth Belgian Whit.

After our tasting, we headed to downtown Tampa and walked along the riverwalk. We also checked out Plant Park right next to the University of Southern Florida campus. After our walk around, it was time to head to Frank and Carol’s. After relaxing next to the pool for a bit while Sprocket played with their dog Uta we went to the Mellow Mushroom for dinner. Carol has been reading our blog and though we’d really enjoy the beer list there. She was certainly right! We ordered a sampler paddle and had Oskar Blue‘s Gordon IPA (Longmont, CO), Left Hand’s Milk Stout on nitro (also Longmont, CO), Dogfish Head‘s 90 Minute IPA (brewed in Milton, DE), Flying Dog‘s Doggy Style Pale (Aspen, CO), and Stone’s Ruination Double IPA (San Diego, CA). Our pizza, the house special, was also fantastic!

Back at the house, Forrest and I both got showers and Sprocket spazzed out a bit before we all headed for bed where Forrest and I caught up on our History Channel watching a bit before we crashed.

Day 13: New Orleans, Louisiana to Lloyd, Florida

We got up and hit the road this morning trying to be sure and miss Jazz Fest traffic. We cruised right on out of Louisiana and into Mississippi. We didn’t find much to do along I-10…we tried to check out the Mississippi Sandhill Crane wildlife refuge…but it’s closed on Sunday. In Alabama we didn’t find much to do either–we got gas and continued on to Florida.

Then we hit Florida. We checked out Blackwater River State Park–that doesn’t let dogs on the beach. Fortunately, we’d seen some other people cut off on a road prior to the park that wound through the pines and popped out on the river just east of the park. Sprocket did some more swimming and Forrest and I enjoyed the sunshine. Some Floridians had lots of suggestions of places to party and they were quite nice to Mr. Wiggles.

Pushing east on I-10, we picked up lunch at Whattaburger in Clearview and set out for Chattahoochee. After a walk around the city park we decided to push through Tallahassee before stopping for the night.

Day 12: New Orleans, Louisiana

After a lazy Saturday morning in Meg’s apartment, Meg, Forrest, Sprocket, and I headed for City Park. Due to Jazz Fest traffic we abandoned those plans and headed for “The Fly”–which is a walk along the Mississippi Levee. It was fun to just be outside with the Sprocket-meister. We went to the Parkway for lunch and had Po-boys. Forrest had a gravy smothered roast beef one while I had grilled alligator sausage.

After our po-boys, we dropped Sprocket off at Meg’s and went to the National World War II Museum. It was a nice museum, although even I found it a little heavy on the reading. From the museum we headed to Bacchanal for their free Saturday wine tasting. The shop was cute, although the owner wasn’t too excited about talking about wine. Meg also drove us through the lower 9th ward where much of the damage the levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina took place.

We made dinner at her house and then walked down to Cajun Creamery for ice cream. I’m up finishing a load of laundry and tomorrow we set out for Mississippi and Alabama!

Day 11: New Orleans, Louisiana

We woke up, got dressed and headed for the French Quarter because F had never tried beignets. The line at Cafe Du Monde was around the block so we continued down the street looking for an alternate beignets source. We fond a small cafe on Canal Street and ordered coffee and our beignets while Sprocket laid at our feet (I told the little guy he was quite Parisian). After Forrest got a second order of the sugar covered doughnuts we walked around the French Quarter a bit. We headed back to the car then went and checked out St. Louis Cemetery #2, I found the above ground tombs pretty fascinating.

Back at Meg’s we befriended her neighbor across the street and borrowed his hose to wash the jeep. As we were washing it, a thunderstorm started rolling through the area. We were able to wash the car before it really started raining and when it started raining it POURED. Sprocket went into his crate and Forrest and I headed for Whole Foods to get something for lunch. We got pretty soaked just running across the street from the car so we hung out and watched the storm roll by.

When Meg got back from work we headed for the Royal Street Bar (“R-Bar”) for a free crawfish feed. Were treated to big plates of crawfish. They really are just mini-lobsters–all we ate were the tails. The potatoes, carrots, and corn also in the boil were fabulous. After dinner, we wondered around the Marigny district. We were walking down the street and spotted a sign that said “Fosters on tap here” and all were briefly tricked into thinking that the adorable house might be a bar. The resident of the house and his neighbor were sitting around people watching and apparently decided that if someone interesting walked by they’d invited them up for a drink. Apparently the three of us were interesting enough and we had a few drinks and just talked for a bit. After that we walked back to the French Quarter and visited Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop for a grape daiquiri of some kind. From there, we walked back to Frenchman Street to listen to bands at the Spotted Cat. Once we got there, we discovered they were charging a cover so we bagged listening to a band for going to “The Joint” for some good barbeque. We all decided that we were ready for bed so we headed home.

Day 10: New Iberia, Louisiana to New Orleans, Louisiana

Our day started in a downtown parking lot of New Iberia after our night on the town. We briefly stopped at the city park to use the restroom and get ready for the day. Leaving town, Forrest stopped at a doughnut shack and picked us up a glazed and an old  for afashioned–they were really good! (Now I’ve got to find him a beignet here in New Orleans.) I loved the drive down Louisiana 182…there were all sorts of random old houses of all sizes. After awhile though, we realized that we’d be to New Orleans by two o’clock if we didn’t find some other explorations. So we turned south on LA 317, a road towards the gulf with no towns marked on the map.

The road passed over the Intracostal Waterway just as Sprocket started to demand a stop. Forrest drove us down a small road leading to a small plant on the waterway. Just as we got out of the car, a 15 passenger van pulled in behind us. It was a crew for a tugboat getting ready to go on their 28-day shift. Two of the young guys hung out with us and told us all about the job while they waited for the Miss Mollye D to pull up. When the boat got there they invited us aboard for a tour–quite spacious digs compared to the Wecoma!

After we left the Mollye, we headed further south. We found ourselves at Burn’s Point recreation area on Cote Blanche Bay on the Gulf. Sprocket enjoyed getting himself wet and then covering himself with sand. We drove around a bit on dirt levee roads looking for alligators before we headed for Morgan City, hoping to get some cajun food for lunch. After a disappointing stop downtown, we had almost resigned ourself to some non-local food when one of the gas station attendants told me about Rita Mae’s Cafe and promised us that there would be good southern food there.

When we found Rita Mae’s it really was just an old house converted to a restaurant. The service wasn’t exactly friendly, but my crawfish Étouffée was amazing, Forrest’s smothered pork chop was more so so. From there we headed north towards the Mississippi River to check out some of the plantations. They were all closed before we got there (not to mention tickets were really expensive) but I got to walk around the grounds of Oak Alley for a bit.

After letting Sprocket run around in the parking lot for a while, we were still undecided about where we’d stop for the night. As we drive east on LA 18, it became apparent that we weren’t going to see much more amazing along the route and that we were starting to get really close to New Orleans, so I called Meg to see if it was alright that we showed up early. She and her roommates were more than happy to have us a little bit early and we joined them at Juan’s Flying Burrito: A Cajun Taqueria on Magazine Street when we got into town. After dinner, we followed Meg back to her house where it was great just to catch up with her and of course to get showers! Sprocket loved all the attention from everyone as always.

Day 9: Houston, Texas to New Iberia, Louisiana

We pulled out of Houston headed for Winnie and our exit from I-10. We got into Port Arthur and ate breakfast at “The Causeway” where they were nice enough to let us use their wireless and to tell us that there was “nothing” out where we were headed. The road between Port Arthur and Cameron was pretty desolate with just a few houses along the gulf beach, which made it a perfect place to check out the beach.

Being on the road, we were really hoping to stop at a beach with showers so that we could rinse the salt water off before moving on but it quickly became apparent that was an unreasonable expectation. We settled for making friends at Mieaux’s Seafood (just an old man living on the beach in his trailer that delivers crab to his customers) and asking if we could use his water spigot to rinse off with–he was quite happy to let us, he just wanted us to know that he was “Fixing to go deliver some crab” so we’d have to help ourselves.

It was so nice to get out and spend some time at the beach. Sprocket finally dived in and swam after us but he wasn’t really sure how he felt about it though, he really just seemed to want us to come back to the beach. He was a sand dog though, and loved to go under the jeep and roll in it.

Leaving the beach, took the ferry to Cameron. On the ferry we asked one of the operators for advice on where to get lunch and he recommended Sha Sha’s in Creole. Getting off the ferry, we really started to see the effects of Hurricane Rita, everyone has a brand new house or mobile home–on stilts. In Creole, we did get lunch at Sha Sha’s–I had grilled shrimp and Forrest had fried catfish. My shrimp were fantastic and the catfish was pretty good too, neither one of us are big fried fish fans though. After lunch while we were letting Sprocket run around a bit, one of the waitresses came running out with the deep fried Oreos that she’d made for us.

After that we headed for Abbeville. Abbeville was supposed to have a great oyster house–it was closed (permanently) and there really didn’t seem to be anyone around so we headed for New Iberia. In ‘Beria as I was later told everyone calls it, we walked around the downtown, along the Bayou Teche (Snake Bayou), and checked out some of the cool old houses. After walking around we headed back to a bar with outdoor seating to see if we could meet some of the locals–and boy did we! We stumbled on to Clif Ayers 83rd birthday party and his wife and sons were more than happy to have us sit down. They old us all about New Iberia and the surrounding area and asked us all about our trip. Another friend of theirs, Roy, was also very happy to talk to us. As the evening wore on, Clif and Debbie headed for home and we (including Sprocket) went with Roy to another bar in town. We got to talk to a lot of people and Sprocket just slept on the barroom floor. What a night in southwest Louisiana!