Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Great Getaway to the Rocky Mountains! The First Day

Sparky has been suffering mightily with the heat and humidity this summer and into fall. So Eldo decided it's time for another road trip! We've been thinking about finding a place that's relatively cool during the hottest Florida summer month--August. Heck, they are all hot! (From April to October!) complains Sparky. Enough! says Eldo. We will research a spot and I think I've got one--How about Colorado? says E. Temperatures are chilly right now, he adds. Chilly???? asks Sparky. Let's go!

Eldy researched and researched and researched. Not only does he scour the internet for a place to stay that's reasonable--the price of a motel room for one night, usually, and a better rate than that for longer stays, he researches for HOURS and HOURS on the best flight, the best car rental option, etc. etc. So we found ourselves heading to the Rockies in Colorado, specifically, Breckenridge, CO, after Eldy worked out a heckuva deal. That man should find deals for a living! Most people would give up after a little bit of searching and settle for the cost. NOT Eldy!

Temperatures were averaging in the high fifties to low sixties during the last week of September, so that's when we went. Sparky got all excited--HIKING! BIKING! Whoopeeeeeeee! (Easy girl, says E. this is high altitude hiking country--9,000-12,000 feet) You have to be careful about altitude adjustment and altitude sickness. More about that later....
Provided by the condo owner when we checked in

Here's the condo he found--a mile and a half from downtown Breckenridge. There's free bus shuttle service all over town, but Sparky actually walked one way one day after breakfast, UP the hill all the way, 1.5 miles back to the condo. And that's at about 9,000 feet high. The price for four nights' stay was less than the cost of a motel room stay in the area. Two bedrooms, two baths...updated kitchen and just really really nice...even a gas fireplace! We used every night for our main source of heating, rather than use baseboard heat as the temperatures got down into the 30's at night! Sparky slept with the windows open under a heap of blankets with no baseboard heating on.  (Why, I have no idea! wonders E.) Actually, he understands. We like it cold. (But not THAT cold, counters E.)

The living area.....
And there was a really nice large deck out back, one of the biggest in the condo section, with a pretty view of pines out back and plenty of distance between this condo building and the next one. A beautiful red fox, who is evidently fed by local residents, comes around in the evenings for handouts. Sparky and Eldo were on the patio, when he showed up, not knowing he was on the tame side. When he started coming for the deck, with no sign of retreat, we headed inside. And there he sat at the door for a few minutes. Cool, but not cool in a way....

First day: We went exploring to Rocky Mountain National Park on the west entrance, Grand Lake. It was a little over a two hour trip from Breckenridge to the park on highway 40. We had never been to this national park before, so we took our time exploring. We drove all the way to the Alpine Visitor's Center, which is at the highest point of the park, 11,000-12,000 feet depending on where you stand while you are there. Sparky saw a hill she just HAD to climb. (With her, it's like if she sees steps, she has to climb them, explains E. Like lighthouses...she always has to climb the steps if it's open to the public.) Never mind that this hill, the Alpine Ridge trail gains 200 feet in high elevation in a matter of .3 of a mile. That's why people affectionately call it "Huffer Hill". You can hear everybody wheezing and huffing and puffing on their way up. Sparky, no exception. Remember, this was only her second day at this elevation. She had a mild headache as soon as we got here to Breckenridge. But--off she went! Here's the view from part way up the path, looking down...courtesy of Sparky's new iPhone 6S. AMAZING! The photo below is from the SECOND walk of the hike, two days later from the first one. It's the best shot of the trip, Sparky thinks, after they had had snow at the top of the mountains. A bone chilling 38 degrees at this shot and time of day. Sparky saw a young mother, toting a BABY up this hill, with NO HAT and very little protection against the elements other than a baby sling. Sparky was so angry, she almost called the mother out on this, but kept going, as sometimes she can be overbearing and embarrassing with her opinions. The wind chill alone probably made the temperature in the twenties this day.

On this trail, which was completely redone in 2010 because of extensive damage to the tundra from tourist traffic, you can see lots of beautiful plants in spring and summer: alpine forget-me-not, alpine clover, rock primrose, moss campion, and many other flowers. And even in September, you can see heart pounding, awesome views of the surrounding mountain ranges, appropriately named the Never Summer Mountains, composed of SEVENTEEN peaks!

Here's Sparky at the sign showing she did accomplish the heart pounding -right out of her chest -walk, with MANY stops along the way.

The visitors' center was really nice and very informative. Sparky and Eldo learned a lot about the alpine tundra habitat this high in the mountains. Sparky learned so much she's going to devote a second blog posting about the Alpine Visitors Center.

Tired, we headed back to our home in the sky back in Breckenridge...More to come!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Jackpot at Anna Maria Island This Morning....

Sparky has been VERY busy subbing in first grade this past month. As a matter of fact, she hasn't missed a day of school yet in first grade. The first teacher had surgery, so Sparky opened up the classroom for her. Then, while finishing up that assignment, another first grade teacher at the same school, tripped backwards over a family pet, and broke bones right around her elbow. Ouch! Sparky was in for another two weeks!

The kids are delightful....Sparky has been posting little stories on Facebook, but for anyone who has missed those, here's a couple for you....After taking an oral reading screening test about babies and what babies do, a little boy had a puzzled look for a moment and then asked, "I wonder why babies cry so much?" He pondered that and before I could answer, he replied, "Maybe it's because they poop so much!" Indeed.....

Another day we were outside and it started to rain....The kids immediately wanted to know if we were going inside. Now, when you have first grade, we try to get the kids outside 90% of the time because we really DON'T want indoor recess for a myriad of reasons. So, even if it's raining lightly, we remain outside unless it's a thunderstorm warning. The kids have a nice big cover over the playground so they can stay dry if they really want. But most of them really enjoy the rain. It's the worriers that want to go in. It was just lightly sprinkling. "Mrs. Sparks, are we going inside? It's raining."

"No, we're going to stay out...."  It started to rain a little harder..."Mrs. Sparkles, it's raining. Are we going inside?"  "Why, are you melting?"  "No..." with a grin. "Then go ahead and play. You're ok!" And off they went, running around in circles and screaming and yelling like you've never seen. One little girl, running around, held her arms up high and yelled, "I just LOVE it when it rains!"

Off to Anna Maria Island this morning for breakfast....Then we went over to the Anna Maria Island City Pier. We hadn't been there in three months...Too hot, too rainy, too steamy...Still hot, still steamy, but we thought we'd go see what there was to see. Apparently, it's a good time to see dolphins! A pod of dolphins swimming up close and personal right up to the pier.

They were chasing the fishermen's bait, grabbing Spanish mackerel right off their hooks when they could!

At one point, we saw a cormorant with a fish and a dolphin circling it.... Uh-oh!
The dolphin swam right up under the cormorant, you can't see him here but he's right there. They proceeded to have a little tussle with the fish, the dolphin grabbing it right out of the cormorant's mouth and swallowing it!  Eldy saw another dolphin grab ahold of a fisherman's baited hook and make a run for it. He let the line run out for a bit, not wanting to hook the dolphin, and then finally, he said the heck with it, he didn't want to lose his entire line. As he started to reel the line in carefully, the dolphin grabbed the fish off the hook and made off with it.

This is the most dolphin we have ever seen at the city pier. Usually, it's just a solitary one hanging around and they are usually much further out. But the mackerel are plentiful right now. One of the fishermen said that the dolphins have been very active and very present the last two days, and that September and October are great months to see a lot of dolphin and fish activity at the pier. Woo hoo!

Lots of people fishing today, even some young ones...We love to see them with their dads, (usually)...A great family activity for sure!

A wonderful morning...breakfast on the beach, dolphins at the pier, and stories to share....It's a great life here in Bradenton, FL! Even if it is too hot and steamy for Sparky some times!

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, 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:

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.....