Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sparky Hikes the Deep Hole

Sparky has always wanted to hike the Deep Hole in Myakka River State Park. It's a deep watering hole in the middle of the state park, and there are USUALLY hundreds of alligators sunning themselves and swimming around. The rangers only allow 30 hikers at a time to hike back to the hole and you have to register in then check back out when you leave.

The timing has to be right to see a lot of alligators. The ranger says they don't like cloudy, windy days.  You don't want to go when it's an extremely hot day as more gators will probably be in the water than out, so a day in the coolest part of Florida's hot, hot, hot season which are the winter months of December, January, and February and a little later, are best. Sparky had some time one day, not too long ago and the day was starting out in the sixties, with a high in the eighties. This might be a good day to go even if it was a little outside of the optimal viewing time. It was during the week, less foot traffic at the park probably. She wasn't subbing, and anyone else she knew that might be interested was working, so on a whim, she decided to go it alone. She called ahead to see if the hiker list was full. Nope, the ranger said. Not very many were out on the hike today.  Hot dog! Sparky decided to head over to the park. First--supplies---hat? check! Water? check....sunscreen? check. And off she went.

Now....if you have been following the blog for awhile, you know that Sparky is directionally challenged, even with GPS. What's worse, is even after visiting a local place many times, if it's out in the boonies, Sparky can still get lost. She thought she knew the way to the park so didn't have her GPS on. Sparky got off at the wrong exit off I-75 and proceeded down a certain road, saw a sign that said Myakka River State Park and thought she was on the right path. Forty-five minutes later, she still hadn't arrived at the park, and the park was nowhere near to be found. (it's normally about a 20 min. drive from the house). Sparky turns on her GPS  on the phone, and discovers she has a half hour drive to return back to the park, which she overshot. (Sparky wastes a lot of time continuing to drive thinking she can see something familiar eventually that will give her a clue as to what direction to go.) Ah, nope...ain't gonna happen, says a knowledgable Eldo. Needless to say, Sparky was clueless that day. She finally arrives at the park at 11:45 AM, when the heat is beginning to build.

She checks in and she's off! Sparky was glad she had on athletic shoes. The ranger checked for that before she left, saying that people hike the trail in sandals or flip flops sometimes. BAD idea! The trail is 2.5 miles one way on a deeply rutted sandy tractor trail. Hard on the ankles, hard on the feet if you are not wearing the proper shoes. And hard, if you have a bad ankle with tendonitis, Sparky learns.
It was hot....no breeze...There is VERY little shade along the way. Sparky should have brought TWO bottles of water, she was thinking....On she trudged....

Not much to see along the way...no birds...no animals, some farmland.....Sparky encountered two people hiking back, but saw NO ONE along the way, a BIG clue that this was not the best time to hike the trail because of the heat baking the sandy trail. Sparky trudged on....
There are no places to sit along the way, no stumps, no rocks...Sparky was getting tired....But almost there...Once you get there, the trail opens out into a clearing and you see a big pond ahead of you. There are some bushy plants that form a mound in one spot in the clearing (remember that for later) and then, you see the gators.....Sparky apologizes for poor photos today...the camera lens was foggy or dirty, not sure which, and Sparky was so hot and sweaty, she forgot to clean the lens. She was also a little dehydrated and not the steadiest on her feet while snapping a few photos.
It was quite the letdown....Sparky only counted about 55 gators. There could have been more, they were all tangled up in each other. While she wanted to walk around the outskirts of the pond to get just a tiny bit closer with her lens, there were two BIG gators swimming in the pond, heading her way. Sparky could tell they were very interested in what she was doing. Being the SOLE hiker at that moment at the Deep Hole, with no one ever joining her in the half hour she was there, Sparky backed
off to the mound of rushes in front of the pond and stood behind them. The gators kept coming. At that point, Sparky decided it was dumb to be at the Deep Hole, by herself, and that wanting to get better pictures was a bad idea. So, with an eye on the two gators that were swimming to the edge of the hole towards her, she headed for the return trail 2.5 mile hike, disappointed that there weren't more gators, and that she couldn't have gotten better photos for the day. Mid day is a terrible time to take photos, you've got that glare from the sun on everything.

The only birds she spotted was a great blue heron at the hole, and the usual egrets fishing at the pond with the gators.

Sparky would like to do the Deep Hole again, but thinks she might want to come in by kayak. The only problem with Myakka River State Park is, that sometimes the water levels are so low, you can't kayak back there. There has been a drought in Florida this spring, so water levels are extremely low at the park. Right now the boat ramp is closed, and there are no airboat tours because of the drought. It's going to take a LOT of rain for the park to recover.

Sparky has seen videos on Youtube about kayaking to the deep hole, and you are REALLY close to the gators if you can navigate your way back there. It just goes to show, with nature, you never know what you are going to see. Sparky was happy she did the hike, but recommends that you go EARLY in the morning to avoid the heat. Wear proper shoes, bring plenty of water, clean your camera lens and BRING A FRIEND.  :-)

                                                                          The End

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Jungle in the Middle of Sarasota

Eldo and Sparky had a visit this past month from Eldo's daughter and grandson...We decided to go visit Sarasota's Jungle Gardens while they were here. Sparky had always wanted to go, but thought it was your typical tourist trap, dated, and not all that interesting. Today, she decided to check it out with family to see if her perceptions were accurate, and was glad she did! It's a cool place!

Although it has been open since 1939, Sarasota Jungle Gardens has been updated and refreshed to stay current. It has a wonderful, jungle like atmosphere--10 acres of lush tropical landscaping, free roaming flamingoes, a gift shop, a playground, and a cafe. The paver walkways are beautifully landscaped with over 3,000 different species of trees and shrubs. There are rustic little bridges over lagoons so the scenery is gorgeous as you walk along the paths thru the gardens.

There are mini shows on the premises that last about 20 minutes and they are very entertaining, funny, and informative. There is a reptile show, a jungle bird show, and a wildlife wonder show. You can stop by after the shows and pet or hold birds, snakes, reptiles or alligators and lizards.  Ewwwww.....no thank you! says Sparky. But somebody would love that!

There are LOTS of exhibits...Here is a list:

  • Jungle Experience Studio
  • Tiki Gardens
  • Butterfly Gardens--(from February to summer, butterflies are migrating thru FL)
  • Bird Interaction Area
  • Alligator/Crocodile Exhibits
  • Reptile World
  • Birds of Prey
Semi private walkabout tours are available besides the usual walk through, and there are events and promotions going on all year.  Current price of admission in spring 2017 was 17.99 for adults, children 4-16 was 12.99. Hours are 10-5 PM daily. the parking lot is small and fills up fast, but you can park across the street in overfill parking at a church across the street.

Sparky LOVED the jungle birds and the flamingoes.

She always thought flamingoes were kind of ugly in photos, but once you see them in person, they are one of the coolest looking birds!

You can walk right up to them and feed them at the Jungle Gardens. Some of the parents were not closely supervising the feeding, and at one point a small child got pecked by the bird's beak, and started to cry. There was one other instance where a little toddler was scared to death by a flamingo walking up to him. The look of terror on his face made the adults laugh, but seeing a tall flamingo walk up to you as a two year old would be a very terrifying experience!

This little kid was trying to see into one of the pond areas where turtles were walking around....It's a great place to take your children or grandchildren. It really wasn't all that cold out, but maybe this is to a little local guy from FL. Sixties is very cool to Florida natives, lol.


You see all kinds of wildlife here in the gardens, some intentionally displayed and some not. This was an unusual looking spider to us, and it just happened to be on a web between some trees as we were walking.....

Overall, it was a wonderful experience to be at the Sarasota Jungle Gardens today...We highly recommend visiting this marvelous place, and Eldo's 11 year old grandson thoroughly enjoyed it, as did his mom and Sparky.







Sunday, April 9, 2017

Bike Riding Beauties

Sparky had been riding her bike in between subbing days, averaging anywhere from 12-20 miles a couple of times a week until she was sidelined with severe tendonitis on an ankle. No idea how that happened except thru ignoring a slight twist that must have happened months ago, then dancing her booty off a couple of months ago, then wearing not enough shoe support while subbing....all of the above, probably. It got to the point where she could hardly walk at the end of the day after subbing. Can't have that, so off to the doctor. The ankle was taped for a few days, and Sparky was told no bike riding (that is one of the worst things you can do for a bad ankle, the doctor said) and no swimming for three weeks. That was tough, following the doctor's orders. Then Sparky got a Trilock ankle brace which was great, and that helped a great deal. It's a little bit of an ordeal to put on, but you get faster at it after a few uses. TONS of velcro everywhere on it, always catches in the wrong place, so you have to keep unpeeling it until you get all the straps on layer by layer. After a month, the ankle still hurts now and then, but physical therapy is about to begin, so that should strengthen it, MAYBE.

Back to bike riding...YIPPEE! And here are some of Sparky's favorite photos from recent bike rides....All the photos are with a Canon SX530, a little point and shoot camera, currently just under 200.00, and it has a nice 50X zoom. If the pictures are with an iPhone, Sparky has captioned them as such.  Red lilies....

An osprey on the nest.....She's feeding two little ones and has a bit of fish caught on her beak.

Here's the dad preening....

March was the month for many sandhill crane hatchings in the area...Sparky took LOADS of photos of the mama and the babies, and here is ONE of her favorites...That's the mama's leg on the right.

Sparky was thrilled to catch a yellow rump warbler sitting still long enough to get a photo.
Blackbirds are a dime a dozen around here, but isn't this one beautiful with the iridescent shades of blue in its feathers?

Sparky's favorite Florida bird, the roseate spoonbill. This one was chosen to be featured in a weekly newspaper in our area...

Sparky likes the bottle brush tree...There are always little busy bees on them....This photo is with the iPhone 6S.

And finally....a limpkin or glossy ibis...It has the head plumage of a limpkin, and the body of the glossy ibis...But Sparky thought it was gorgeous....


Hope you enjoyed today's nature show!  Sparky will be back soon with tales from Sarasota Jungle Gardens, a very cool place to visit if you are in the area....Bye for now....

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Trip to Quaint and Quirky Matlacha, FL

Sparky went to see her sister in Matlacha, (pronounced Mat-la-shay) recently. Her sister comes down every year in March, and has come to this delightful town for over 30 years! They always find a lovely rental to stay in...

post office mural created by Leoma Lovegrove, local artist
Matlacha is a very very small tourist town, population 735 or so. It is located on Pine Island, 17 miles long and 2 miles wide, and is one of five very small communities on the island. If you are interested in Matlacha as a vacation destination, you will not find sandy white beaches and you won't find high rises. What you will find is a quirky, quaint little town with artsy shops,  galleries, some fabulous murals, great restaurants, and a one main street through town. Don't blink or you will miss it and then you are off on a journey to the next fishing village/community.


typical colorful storefront on the main drag


Matlacha has an interesting, relatively new local history chapter. Up until 1992, it was an "old"
Florida fishing village. In 1992, voters passed a ban on net fishing to protect other fish from being caught with the popular mullet. That didn't sit well with the fishermen.  They shot holes in their boats and then set them on fire in protest.  Guess it was quite the fire and was seen from as far away as Sanibel Island. That was the end of the fishing industry in Matlacha! So Matlacha reinvented itself as an artist community, and it's very well known for its bright funky colors and cute little shops that line the one street through town....Even the telephone poles have murals on them! However, if you want to fish, there are charter boats that will take you out for a terrific day out in the gulf.
another interesting looking shop
There are a few small motels, and quite a few vacation cottage rentals. They are pricey, but that's southwest Florida for you....Here is one rental my sister and brother-in-law found while they were here this year....

And another little cottage rental....situated on the docks!

The tiny island has six galleries..In February, there is a Fine Art Festival, and art lovers and collectors come from all over the world to browse...If you love the island life, this is the place for you! Plenty of kayaking, no stoplights, no schools on the island, and it's "island time".....that means NOBODY is in a hurry to get anywhere... As an additional little known fact, Matlacha also has supposedly SEVEN Civil War shipwrecks in and around the waters of Matlacha Pass and Pine Island. Divers, anyone?
Bus stop in Matlacha...one park bench

If you love to kayak, just keep in mind that "Matlacha" in Calusa native American means "shallow waters"...Sparky kayaked with her sister, and you could have easily walked beside your kayak in a LOT of the areas we were in. Of course, the tide was out, too.... :-) There are several kayak rentals places in the area if you don't own one. It was so shallow, we saw crab traps with decent size crabs in them. If you look hard, you can see one in this trap.

As far as dining, Bert's Bar is a required stop for ANYONE visiting Matlacha...fantastic views of the water, great beach bread, (sort of a garlic cheese bread with mayo and garlic and other stuff) and terrific seafood. That one just happens to be Sparky's favorite. Bert's Bar will be remembered this year because Sparky leaned over the dock to check for fish, and her sunglasses fell off her head and  into the water, down, down, down they went. Oh, well...not expensive ones, just about the tenth pair of "fit over" sunglasses from Walmart....She should get prescription sunglasses! Maybe....
At Bert's Bar
In surrounding communities, there are many more restaurants with good food. The Lazy Flamingo in Bokeelia, a nearby community, is another great restaurant where we had a wonderful lunch. On the way back, we stopped at a little art shop in Bokeelia...and saw this mailbox in front of the shop. Oh, my! Told you it was a quirky place! :-)

The only drawbacks to this destination, Matlacha, is the constant flow of traffic thru the one street town surrounded by water on both sides. The traffic is TERRIBLE during season. You just crawl at about ten miles an hour or less to get through town. Parking is at a premium, there is not enough on the island! and involves backing out of tight spaces onto the one main street and hoping somebody will be on "island time" and let you out, stopping and holding up the rest of the traffic while you exit your parking place. Despite the lack of parking and the jockeying to find a place, my sister plans to come back again next year. They already have their rental picked out! Sparky is happy because sis lives so far away in Michigan that this is a great time to see her and get together.....It's a little over an hour's drive from Sarasota. Wonderful! See you again next year, Sis!
Lyle and Sparky





Friday, March 17, 2017

Is it Boring in Bradenton? Let's See What You Think!

So after the VA trip, things settled down into somewhat of a routine...Sparky is subbing a LOT and really loving it. Kids say the darnedest things. She had a 5 week job in second grade and it was with a  high functioning class, a class full of very smart, great thinkers, and it was a ball! So that kept her busy all of January and into February. Eldy is playing golf at least two to three times a week, so he's keeping busy, too....

When Sparky isn't subbing, she's riding her bike....15-20 miles two to three times a week. Now, that might seem impressive, but Sparky stops a lot to take photos. When she IS riding, however, she boogies....A pair of sandhill cranes sat on a nest for most of February, and the first week of March, they hatched two little ones. March is prime time for sandhill crane hatching, especially early in the month....Sparky knew they had hatched after missing a couple of days at the marsh due to work, because of the small crowd of amateur photographers that descended on the marsh with their whopper lenses...Sparky used to have a Canon Rebel SLR with two lenses, but the darn thing was SO bulky, and every time she saw a cool shot, she had the wrong lens screwed on, so after trying and trying to like the camera for about a year, she decided to go with a Canon point and shoot, the SX530 with 50X zoom. She can just throw it over her shoulder and go. She hears there is a Nikon P900 with 85X zoom or something like that, but she's pretty happy with the one she has. And here's the kind of photos she gets with it....She's VERY happy with it.....Here the parents are changing nest guarding duties...off goes one to eat, and the other one comes on duty....

And here are the little cuties. They are about four days old in these photos...Sparky apologizes for the watermark, she has decided to start marking her photos after getting a bunch of them chosen over the past year for the local weekly newspaper, Your Observer. Time to get serious about submitting some photos in some contests, maybe....

Chicks and mama's legs.....

And here is Sparky's favorite.....

Cranes are not all that Sparky sees on her rides...Always fascinated with bees among the beautiful blossoms here in Bradenton, Sparky likes to try and capture them in the flowers and buds. Her favorite bee shot is this one....This was taken with an iPhone 6S. Sparky uses her phone for 99% of the close up nature shots.

Sparky likes to try and capture the big shore and wading birds close up, too....Love this anhinga eye....This one is back to the Canon point and shoot.

And that's just one bike ride on a good day.....See you soon...More photos and blog coming about the Venice Rookery this week...stay tuned....We told you we've been busy! :-)


"Are you my mama?"


                                                            Sparky and Eldo

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Yes, We are Still Here, Alive and Kicking!

Well...it's been awhile....and it's been a whirlwind of lots going on...family and friends visiting, Sparky subbing a LOT, a side trip to Virginia for Sparky to see her daughter, Eldy's family visiting, Sparky biking a LOT and taking a ton of nature photos, AND....Sparky has been crafting for Etsy...Sparky is developing yet another craft interest (die cutting cards) and so on and so on...So-o-o-o-o....first things first...a trip to Virginia.
Sparky and Sparky, Jr.


Artwork in the brewery
Sparky has volunteered to be the Family Readiness Group Leader for her daughter's unit...this means someone needs to be available for soldiers' families when troops are deployed, to provide assistance of all sorts to wade through problems that arise when the soldier is on active duty...Sort of a friendly face for the unit that can help solve problems when things get complicated, provide resources and coordinate solutions for the family unit. Sending emails, helping coordinate family activities for the unit and sending out newsletters is all part of the job. So off to Virginia to attend some training, and have some wonderful mother/daughter time...Much needed!  After training, we went to a couple of great breweries....Strangeways Brewery in Richmond, was one...just the coolest brewery ever! It had the coolest stuff on the wall and in the brewery, and Kelly, the beer afficicionado in our family, after trying a couple of flights, pronounced this was an excellent craft brewery! (Sparky does not drink beer, she is starting to think she is missing out on something. But after trying a very weird beer that was salted caramel, she still says, "No thanks!" Salted caramel ice cream, YES PLEASE!)
On the Appomattox Trail
We hiked on small trails nearby and visited the Edgar Allen Poe Museum as well...It was VERY interesting and we highly recommend it. Lots of interesting theories about how he died...What a tragic life he led! It was a gray, cold day, but the grounds were beautiful and the museum was a tight connection of little rooms and stairwells with exhibits and displays of artifacts about his life. Here is a link for more information about it....http://www.poemuseum.org/index

Richmond is a beautiful city...It has very old parts that have deteriorated, and new, vibrant businesses going up along with new downtown living spaces....Sparky would love to go back and revisit some day....Very cool murals throughout the city....

Because so much is going on....Sparky will be blogging more this week...she is off school for spring break and has a little time (HA!) to catch up. We are sure you've been wondering what the heck happened to us? Yes?  Maybe?.....Well...Sparky needs to catch up anyway and to preserve some memories...blogging seems to be more like a modern day diary these days. We're happy if you are still reading, and certainly understand if you are not. We are still enjoying everybody's travels through blogs and reading about where all of you are....Thanks for stopping by!

                                                               Sparky and Eldo