Saturday, August 22, 2015

Road Trip!

Remember this slogan for later!
About three years ago, we found out about an alligator hatching festival in Palmdale, FL, about two hours from Bradenton into the center of the state. It's called the Gatorama Hatchling Festival and is on the grounds of one of the top working alligator ranches in the state of Florida, Gatorama. They raise alligators not only for the tourist factor, but harvest them for their meat and skins.

It's a long boring drive from Bradenton to Palmdale. Lots of cattle farms on the way, a few horse farms, and WHOA! This sign! 

We know there are lots of bears in certain parts of Florida, but never have we seen a "watch out for bears" sign. Not even out west!

We went to Gatorama for the second time, and Sparky just loved it! You get to help a baby alligator hatch from the egg IN YOUR HAND. How cool is that?  Very cool! Eldo (a.k.a. Eldy), very willingly agreed to be the driver today....He's not into hatching baby alligators in his hands, but that's ok, he enjoys watching Sparky do it, and today he was the designated picture taker. Gatorama has been open since 1957. It's showing its age a little bit in terms of the facility, but since we have been there three years ago, they are really updating and renovating a lot of the farm. Some nice changes have occurred. There's a new barn area with amphitheater seating for a general discussion and presentation all about the farm and how they get the eggs. The presenter and manager, Allan Register, does a wonderful job of explaining all about the eggs and how to hatch them in your hand. His wife, Patty, is very enthusiastic and helps everyone have an optimal experience. They have a terrific staff, some with a hilarious sense of humor, to help them handle large crowds.

During the presentation, Alan explains all about how they harvest the eggs. When they go searching for the nests, one guy carries the infamous "gator stick" to hold down the snout while another guy gathers the eggs. Before they take them out of the nest, they mark the tops with a Sharpie line to keep the egg orientation constant.

The baby embryos inside are attached to the top of the egg. If the egg gets rotated, the embryo will detach and the baby dies. So they carefully mark the eggs, then remove them, keeping the line on top. Then they "candle" the eggs. They use a flashlight to shine against the egg, just like we used to shine the flashlight against our fingers to see our finger bones when we were kids. They are looking for a certain band pattern that tells them the egg is still viable. The eggs take 65 days to incubate at 90 degrees and 100% humidity. UGH! says Sparky. April is the mating season, June is when they start harvesting the eggs. They had over 5,000 eggs for the Hatchling Festival, so there's plenty to go around.

It costs 23.95 for seniors' admission AND to hatch an egg. If you just want to watch and take photos of other people doing that, it's 14.95. There is LOTS to see there, and Gatorade has expanded their facilities since the last time we were there. It's a great trip for families. We saw some very young children help a baby alligator hatch. (You wear gloves). You need to make reservations as it's a popular attraction during the last couple of weeks of August into early September, when the babies hatch. They have other hands' on experiences there, too. Go into the Uncle Waders Catch a Gator pond and catch an alligator with your bare hands! (The gators' mouths are taped). Try Gator Bare Backin' by sitting on the back of a 7-8 foot gator. And if the little ones are a little too scared of all the gators, try the Big Bones Fossil Dig.

We got there in plenty of time to walk a really long boardwalk, and see alligators up very close.

There are lots of other animals at Gatorama, too... A Galapagos (?) tortoise, we think...

They have a variety of species including a Florida panther, a couple of bobcats, macaws, peacocks (also called peafowls) and a python.  You can see lots of gators in various stages of development along the boardwalk, which is entirely shaded and fenced in.......Whew! says Sparky.

Wanna see the monster crocodile that killed so many of the gators and crocodiles at the farm, Goliath? He's there. Man, that is one ugly dude!

They had to isolate him and keep him away from killing off the gator and croc population one by one as he was trying to maintain his dominance after he'd been there for awhile. They estimate his biting force at 3,000 pounds per square inch! Some of the gators at the farm are original stock from the early fifties, and are 60-70 years old! Here's what the farm has to say about the crocodiles:

"Gatorama has the only productive breeding colony of American Crocs in the US and we are one of the few facilities permitted to accept nuisance crocs from the wild. Nuisance crocs must be relocated….they cannot be harvested the same as nuisance alligators are."

Goliath had some pink spots on his back that looked raw. We thought he'd been in a fight, but the sign said those were sunburn spots! Croc skin takes a long time to regenerate itself and grow new tissue. Didn't know that!

You can buy "zoo biscuits" at the shop to throw to the alligators. Sometimes they tussle in the water to grab the biscuit depending on how hungry they are. There were a lot of little kids today throwing biscuits to the gators. One of the workers cautioned us not to have our arms way out over the fence to throw the biscuits as the gators can really jump out of the water using their tails sort of like a  big rotor, and they can jump a couple of feet out of the water!  He said they would be feeding the gators in just a few minutes, so we would see what he meant!

And here's the brave guy that feeds 'em chicken strips....Ben is the son of the owners of Gatorama. He hasn't lost any fingers, but his dad has lost the tip of one. Wanna play chicken? Ben definitely had "fast hands"!

Here, two of them are vying for the chicken meat....
They really seemed to like the chicken. At one point, he said he was going to have a little tug of war with one of the stringy pieces of chicken and one of the gators, but the gator snatched the chicken piece so hard out of his hand, the game was over in a heartbeat. We could see how carefully he watched the gators get ready to jump, he would watch their tails for that beating back and forth, then out they'd come, and he'd jerk his hand back just in the knick of time. We heard that awesome loud cracking, popping sound of their jaws as they snatched the meat as he dropped it out of his hand. Cool!


Ben said among many other interesting facts about gators and crocs, which Sparky promptly forgot because she was trying to get a good shot of those gators grabbing the chicken, that there are two species of alligator, the North American, and the Chinese (!). There are 21 species of crocodiles. Most American crocs in zoos are offspring of Gatorama. Gators are no longer an endangered species. Alligators have TONGUES, crocodiles do NOT. Those boney ridges on their backs are called scutes, and they act like little solar panels regulating the body temperatures. Gator teeth are INSIDE the mouth, crocodile teeth are OUTSIDE the mouth.

There's also a little gift shop/general store on the premises...Sparky just loves these old tourist attractions that are still available to the public and doing ok...This one is exceptional as far as the coolness factor.

After hearing the interesting presentation, it was time for the hatching!

Awwwwww....isn't she cute? Sparky just decided it was a girl...and promptly named her Allie....Folks, meet Allie Gator...just a few minutes old.

It's amazing that when the baby gators are inside the egg, they are wrapped 3 1/2 times around inside the egg, so when they come out, they need to stretch! The hatching stations that we all gathered around have nesting material in tanks, so the babies come out in your hand and then sometimes, they are so slippery, PLOP! Down they go into the material, no harm done. They stretch a little bit, and sometimes, they are really active and try to get out of the tank. A side note, less than 2% of the eggs make it to adulthood in the wild. She's so cute, Sparky thought about kissing her, for one second.

After the hatching, they go into a water tank, and the egg shell and membrane get dragged around with the little baby gator for awhile until it detaches within a day or two. Guess it gives them nutrition briefly still they start eating on their own. What do they eat? Fish, snails, insects and worms to start....

It was a great day at Gatorama, and we definitely will come back for the fabulous experience of holding that egg in your hand and watching it hatch....A big thanks to Alan and Patty Register, the owners, for keeping their ranch/farm open to the public. May they have many more years of success!







Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Quick Trip

Sparky went to Myrtle Beach for a quick weekend visit to Eldy's sister-in-law. She flew Allegiant, which has very good pricing, just not the best maintenance and schedule adherence. Sparky had never been to Myrtle Beach and enjoyed it. From a very short visit and observation, it seemed like sort of a cross between the Daytona Beach area and Pigeon Forge. Lots of touristy shops, beach shops, the usual sort of thing you see in a beach resort town.

Shell (short for Michelle,) was a terrific hostess. Despite the really hot weather, nineties and humidity, just like Florida, it still seemed not quite as humid as Bradenton/Sarasota, so Sparky got some temporary relief from the oppressive temperatures back home. It rained almost every day and was cloudy, so that helped keep temps comfortable, relatively speaking...We ate, we shopped, we visited the beach.



But we kept it simple...We had one great meal a day....sampling various restaurants in the area.....Mellow Mushroom was one...pizza, calzones, hoagies and salads. Sparky's Italian hoagie was terrific! Fresh basil, YUM!

They had a very groovy decor going on the inside....Reminded Sparky of the seventies....  :-)



Another day we went to Burgerfi...A terrific burger joint with an industrial vibe...Great burgers and fries served on mini cookie sheet trays....They are a "green" company, recycle lots and seem to be a environmentally friendly company. Sparky was impressed!

We went to Cherry Grove Beach on the northern end of town. The sand was clean and brown...Great pier....The pier is much higher up in its construction, it was a long way down to the water! It had two levels to it.


A fisherman landed a small shark!

The birds were really different there, no egrets or herons, just a lot of what appeared to be grackles. We didn't see any pelicans either...Surprising!

Michelle and Sparky have a ton in common, we never stopped yakking the whole time we were together. Similar family backgrounds, personalities, we were like two peas in a pod....And, we both like to craft...So of course Sparky wanted to go to A.C. Moore, a craft store very similar to Hobby Lobby and Michaels. She managed to find yarn, charms and a few other things for the quiet book she is making for her grandson.

The time passed by quickly and soon Sparky was back home again....crafting....For pictures of her quiet book she is making, check out Millie's Girls, her craft blog on Blogger.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Out and About....

There's a temporary lull in our activities....In a week, Sparky heads to Myrtle Beach, VA, to visit with Eldy's sister-in-law for a couple of days...

For the time being, we are putzing around the house, reading, Eldo is researching where to escape the heat for a month next summer...Colorado, maybe?

Sparky celebrated her 65th birthday last week...Just a special dinner out at Mattison's City Grille in Sarasota, that was all that was needed to make her happy! And a glass of wine....She's VERY happy to be on Medicare!
Fantastic food this restaurant has....Sparky's dinner was a filet with gorgonzola cheese and bacon on top of mashed potatoes with a demi glace sauce with asparagus....
And creme brûlée for dessert! Perfect!
Life doesn't get any better than that!

Sparky is back out on her bike in between rainstorms....This is a different kind of rain pattern these past two weeks. Normally, the rains come in the afternoons, kind of late, hang around for a half hour or so, cool off the air, and they are gone. This summer, the rains come and they stay. It has rained two days in a row all day long. Rain is forecast in the 40-80% chance for two solid weeks, going on three. So getting a bike ride in is problematic at times. Sparky has checked the radar before heading out, only to find that she gets caught in pop up rain showers more than once! It can be sunny at our house, and pouring down rain in less than a mile. But she's still riding 15 miles at least a couple times a week... One rainy day we decided to go to the Red Barn Flea Market. There are supposedly 600 vendors at this market, but during the summer it's much more quiet. We think a lot of them head north.There are three open air Farmer's Markets, and lots of nice produce. There are also two food courts. In the summer, they host over 10,000 visitors each weekend. Because the hours are a little complicated, check here for when they are open: http://www.redbarnfleamarket.com/location-hours/

Sparky LOVE antiques and flea markets, but Red Barn has more junky stuff from China and India than true vintage stuff. But it's still fun to walk around and check out the junk. Sparky likes looking at the "As Seen on TV" stuff, and wondering how many of these silly inventions were once reviewed on that show, "Shark Tank"?
They've got the usual flea market stuff....license plates, tee shirts, sox, hot sauce.....

and jumbo jawbreakers....Nothing we can't live without.....

Eldo paused briefly at the golf supply shop but came away empty handed. (!)
Just as a personal opinion, we like the flea market at Webster Flea Market in Webster, Florida, MUCH better! Tons more stuff and variety, open every Monday....

Life is good and we are well and healthy.....Take care of yourselves and we'll see you again soon....

Monday, July 20, 2015

Back to Normal, Whatever That Is! and Gator NEWS

Sparky is back to bike riding, and has been seeing some pretty wonderful things. You can see them on Facebook sometimes, but it's good to put them in the blog, too. Some day, we hope to have the blog printed in book form, it's gonna take a LOT of chapters and quite a few books to print! That's the affordable way, to do it in chunks, like 6 months at a time....

It's full bore summer now, here in Bradenton/Sarasota...We are getting rain at least three times a week or more, which SOMETIMES brings down the temps, and other times all it does is bring up the humidity. Lows are in the mid seventies at night, and low nineties during the day. It's supposed to be the rainy season. Sparky would love for it to rain all day long, but that's not the pattern here. Storms blow in and blow out. It can be raining in INCHES ten minutes from our house, and be sunny in our backyard. If it does rain, it seldom rains for more than a half hour or less and it's done.  We have an alarm sound that goes off on the golf course when there's lightning, because our backyard is on a golf course. So we hear THAT almost every day. If you are on the golf course, you are supposed to get off and come in immediately, but people don't. When the danger of lightning has passed, there is a second alarm that Sparky insists sounds like, "Bee-doh, bee-doh". That's the "all clear".  We get a LOT of lightning in this area. So it's great that there's a warning system in place. Now if only people heeded that! Sparky enabled the lightning alert on her phone from a weather app after reading lightning can strike a distance as much as ten miles from a cloud! And since Florida is the "lightning capital" of the country, or so they say, it's a good idea to have that, she thinks. But after using it and seeing the amount of time lapsed between the strike and the alert on the phone can be more than a couple of minutes most times, Sparky thought it wasn't worth using. Eldy thinks Sparky needs a gator alert on her phone, haha....

Speaking of gators..... A gator grabbed a 75 pound black lab from the Hillsborough River in a park near Tampa, did the death roll with him while his owner was watching and screaming for help, and the dog was never seen again.  That was sad.....

Sparky saw this gator with his mouth open on one of her rides this week and this time, she was farther away...Wisely, she used her zoom...He was between two marshes in Lakewood Ranch, the area Sparky likes to ride to and does her 15 miles round trip at least three times a week to and from her house. There's usually some kind of action going on, and some kind of wildlife to see.....

Sparky saw this smaller gator just a few feet from her on a bike ride a couple of days ago as she was just starting out. She was up on the sidewalk, the ditch with the gator was just a few feet below her. He wasn't hungry, wasn't moving, he was just trying to keep cool. The ditch was located right next to a car wash in a shopping plaza.


The other day, Sparky saw a roseate spoonbill (her favorite Florida bird, says E.) looking for bugs near a marsh. She witnessed a VERY large gator come up out of the water and onto the bank about 50 yards from the spoonbill. He then rose up on his legs (that's running mode for a gator)--it was very evident he had a plan that the spoonbill was going to be his lunch. As Sparky came closer, still VERY far away from the pair) he caught a glimpse of her and whipped around so fast and hightailed back into the water. The spoonbill flew to the opposite side of the marsh. Whew! Here he is, safe! Guess that's why he let his photo be taken....

Another morning, Sparky saw TWO LIVE armadillos. They are almost always dead ones when you see them, being devoured by vultures, so it was great to see what they look like when they are alive...Ugly but kind of cute, too. They are like little jackhammers with their heads. Rat-a-tat-tat, hammering the soil for bugs.

How about a nice little blue heron? We see them all the time, but they are still pretty in the early morning light....
He kept an eye on Sparky while she slowly strolled by......

One of our latest trips to the Anna Maria Island City Pier netted us a photo of a great blue heron with a fishing lure stuck in his chest. It doesn't seem to bother him in the least which is good.. Almost like he's wearing bling and proud of it, like those old guys who wear big bulky gold chain necklaces..Ugh.
Here it is close up....He even has been given a nickname. The fishermen call him--wait for it--"Bling".
Lots of birds out at the pier that day, coming in for remnants of the fishermen's catch and escapees.

And that's the latest from the "Bird Lady" of Bradenton....hahaha......Sparky probably should be called "Gator Lady" with all the gator photos she likes to take! Oh, well....See you next time.....

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Virginia is for Lovers

Lovers of hiking, lovers of biking, lovers of beaches, lovers of nature, lovers of mountains, lovers of good food....Need Sparky say more? Well, yes....Virginia's slogan is one of the most recognized and popular ad campaign slogans....It's so popular Jordin Sparks ( no relation to Sparky), American Idol winner, recorded a song, "Virginia is for Lovers" in 2007. Virginia is the tenth most popular state to visit in the U.S. Sparky can see why...It's beautiful!

Sparky spent six great days with her daughter, helping her get moved in...Unpacking, assembling furniture, whatever needed to be done. We went shopping for organizational stuff.....

We ate at some terrific restaurants and took pictures of our food and ourselves.....
We saw some sights....The same artist who designed a branch sculpture in Sarasota, FL designed this sculpture in town....

And Sparky went on a fabulous bike ride on the Washington/Old Dominion Rails to Trails trail.....Sparky rented a bike from the Green Lizard Cycling Shop in Herndon, VA. It's a great shop with great service, and close to the bike trail, right outside the shop's front door. Bike rental is expensive here, because it's so close to the D.C. area. FORTY dollars for a four hour rental. Compare that to 19.00 for four hours in Bar Harbor, ME.  But it was worth it! The bike was a "Scott" bike...considered by some to be a high performance bike.

A great trail.....Sparky rode 26 miles the day she went....longest ride so far...The trail was VERY well maintained...The first part out of Herndon, was like this....like a highway! Later down the road, (heheheheh), the trail becomes a little more worn and a little bit rougher, still paved. But the entire ride today was rated as "easy" even though there are some hills. Sparky had no problem riding the distance and could have gone farther today on the really nice rental bike, but didn't want to over do it.
The cool thing about this trail is that there are lots of access points along the way.....Like access to a brewery, (too bad Eldo wasn't along, we could have stopped for sure! haha :-)
A sweet shop, AND a fantastic BBQ place called Carolina Brothers. LOTS of people on the trail today, and LOTS stopped here for a lunch bite. Sparky decided she would stop on the way back when it wasn't so crowded.
There's a quarry along the way....
Beautiful trumpet flowers......
Nice rest stations.....
A beautiful mimosa tree......
And wildlife...This deer was grazing RIGHT beside the trail....There were a LOT of riders this Sunday, but that did not faze him a bit! Sparky got off her bike to take his photo, and he didn't budge.
On the way back, time for BBQ! Carolina Brothers was a GREAT place to eat. The smell wafting outside the restaurant was enticing! By the time Sparky was on her way back and near the restaurant, she was FAMISHED! Inside, it was a simple restaurant, very plain, wooden tables and chairs, with a deli counter, and they advertised several things. One, where they get their pork for the day....

Two, interesting cold drinks...Sparky had never heard of this pop/soda....She didn't try it, but it sort of looks like a Dr. Pepper or a cherry coke drink.
But what about the BBQ you ask? Sparky had a pulled pork sandwich, and it was THE BEST PULLED PORK EVER! WOW! That's all she can say, it was AMAZING!

A great ride today.....Loved the trail and all it offers.....

All too soon, it was time for Sparky to head back to Bradenton/Sarasota....She was sad to leave her daughter, and sad to leave the wonderful temperatures that Virginia had for the week...low seventies and high sixties...cooler than normal, the weather people said. That was fine and dandy for Sparky! No more trips planned for a bit until August...Sparky heads to Myrtle Beach to visit a friend in early August and to her daughter's in Texas later the same month. August will be busy! For now...time to get back on the bike back home and see what we can see..... See you later......