Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Everglades Day 1

Hello all,

Welcome to the first vacation-post on Crafty-Pursuits. I feel so organized.

We took off for Florida back at the end of February with the intention of spending some quality time at Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. 4 days hardly seemed like enough time when we booked the flights, but as I concluded my research on the two parks, I knew there wouldn't be enough activity to fill those 4 days. And nothing annoys me as much as relaxing. Fortunately the first two days were jam-packed with activity and it wasn't until Day 3 that I started to get bored.

Day 1: Friday, February 28, 2014

I think Dan finally roused himself from bed (with my prodding) around 9. We had landed in Miami at 10 the night before, and I was predictably nauseous. I told Dan as we landed, "I'm not going to pretend about this anymore, I hate flying." Apparently, this was not news to him. I vowed to take Dramamine on the return trip. Feeling sick, I asked him to drive us to the hotel in our newly rented mini-van.

"We're going to give you a free upgrade" the Enterprise man announced as he led us to a long line of sparkling white mini-vans. Two points: 1. When do they NOT give you a "free" upgrade? 2. Its hard to consider a mini-van an upgrade. But, I knew it would offer us more room for our bags so I just went with it.

While Dan slept on Friday morning, I drove over to the Publix across the street to stock up for the long weekend. And following my breakfast, I made us lunch for the day. By the time we finally left our hotel room at 10:30, I was getting excited to see some Everglades wildlife. So excited in fact, I totally forgot to bring our lunches. Oops.

The drive was fairly short, about 20 minutes from our hotel in Homestead to the Ernest Coe visitor's center. I had to admit, I was kinda enjoying some of the mini-van's features (like a spot to put your purse and the arm rests). I picked up the WPA poster at the Visitor's Center and got some information about doing a hike in the Flamingo area later that day. We spotted our first gator in the pond behind the visitor's center and then took off for the Gumbo Limbo and Anhinga trails at Royal Palm.

Everglades National Park has 4 different areas: Royal Palm, Flamingo, Shark Valley and the Gulf Coast. Each area is wildly different from the other and has something unique to offer. At Royal Palm, the two trails I mentioned above feature Gumbo-Limbo "hammocks" (which basically means a tree cluster) and plenty of wildlife.

Pulling into the parking lot at Royal Palm we noticed that a bunch of cars had tarps haphazardly covering them, secured with bungee cords. We ventured a few guesses, but in the end we were wrong about all of them. As it turns out, vultures eat the rubber off of windshield wipers... for no particular reason other than to annoy people.

Taking off on the two "trails" we saw plenty of bright-red gumbo limbo trees, or "tourist trees" "sunburn trees". They are bright red and their bark peels away like skin off a sunburn. I continued to quiz Dan on the different tree varieties throughout the weekend. He continually named the "sunburn tree" though never remembered that the real name was Gumbo-Limbo.

The hammocks do make you feel like you have ventured into the rain forest, if only for a minute or so. The climate is so humid in the Everglades that plants grow almost everywhere. Air plants (or tillandsia) and ferns covered virtually every limb of every tree. We also encountered the Strangler Fig tree, which is incredibly cool and creepy at the same time. It grows over other trees and strangles them out completely.

gorgeous air plant

Strangler fig at work
On the Anhinga trail (named for the Anhinga bird) we saw plenty of wildlife! Birds, alligators, all kinds of wild and crazy stuff. There are so many fun facts that I learned about each creature over the course of our trip, for example: Anhingas don't have the waxy coating on their features like ducks, so after they swim to catch food, they have to spread their wings and dry off in the sun. Alligators have the ability to exert 2,000 PSI of pressure with their jaws (that's Pounds per Square Inch). However, they also have the ability to be so gentle with their teeth, that they often bite their eggs just enough to crack and force the baby alligator to "hatch". Another quick fact: baby alligators are the absolute cutest.

One thing really freaked me out on the Anhinga trail. We saw an alligator submerge itself in about 18 inches of water and swim roughly 4 feet away, completely 100% undetectable. Not even a ripple on the surface of the water was giving this guy up and I DID NOT like that. Apparently, alligators are exceptionally stealthy.

We also saw a bird on this trail that was carrying around a stick in its beak. Dan made a great joke of this, calling it the "Uncle Fred" bird insinuating how truly stupid this bird must be. I had a good laugh over this joke, silly Dan gets me every time.

Anhinga male drying his wings

Anhinga female
After we finished up the two trails, we decided to head down to the Flamingo area for a short hike and lunch. We stopped along the way at various hammocks and different/unusual flora groupings. In the Everglades, the highest elevation is about 15 ft above sea level. The difference from swamp to 3 ft to 6 to 10 in kind of crazy. It amazing how that small change in elevation creates an entirely new and different ecosystem.

Can you tell its humid here? Look how warped the wood along the railing is. 
ghost orchid?
From sawgrass to jungle palms
The one Croc we saw during our stay. The Everglades is the only place in the world where crocs and alligators can be found together. You can tell its a croc because of the pointed snout, the teeth (located outside of the mouth) and the color. Alligators are only black, whereas crocodiles are more green, brown and black. 
Luckily the "cafe", which is essentially a food truck that has been parked in the same location long enough to build a screened in porch all around it, was open in Flamingo. Our gourmet lunch consisted of a hot dog and french fries. It actually was delicious and the view was fantastic. We watched boats go in and out of the bay and appreciated the ability to sit outside in shorts and T-shirts. It was about 78 degrees in Flamingo... Columbia was about 12.

Following our lunch we strolled the bay, which was dotted with mangrove trees. I gawked at a tree covered in Spanish moss and continued to state what a beautiful day it was. Dan found this amusing. Before getting back in the car, I put on a layer of bug spray so that I would be prepared when we got out to do our hike. It wasn't going to be a long one, about 3 miles total, but I thought it would be a fun way to hike through the jungle-like environment out to another part of the bay. Plus, the ranger had recommended it as one of the more interesting options.

Flamingo Bay Mangroves
beautiful Spanish moss
Mangrove trees in the making. Once this shoot grows tall and strong enough, it will send limbs back down towards the ground to take root.
Mangrove limb growing towards the ground
Arriving at the Shark Bight trail head, we unloaded and did another round of bug spray before heading into the dense hammock. There were small lizards everywhere which amused us for about 30 seconds before I got obsessed with the air plants again. About 1/2 a mile in, Dan noticed the mosquitoes were really terrible, so he sprayed himself for a second time. We passed a couple who appeared to be power-walking back to their car. They both noted that without bug spray, we would never make it. I felt confident though, with my heavily loaded deet can, so we hiked on.

I don't remember when I noticed it was starting to get out of hand, but it happened quickly. I was getting bitten through my 2 layers of spray and through my long sleeves. It wasn't quite as dramatic as I imagine a plague might be, but it was really close. We were probably 1.2 miles in, but I couldn't stand it anymore so we turned around and power-walked out of there!

Snake Bight Trail (aka Mosquito Heaven)
When we were back in the safety of the mini-van we agreed to refrain from any additional hikes in the area, and headed back to the hotel. It was probably around 4:30 so we spent the last few hours of sunlight down by the pool reading, sipping on sangria out of a nalgene bottle. I not good at relaxing, but wine helps.

For dinner we went to a local pizza place that had wood fired pizza. The pizza itself was pretty good, but the waitress was terrible. Dan ordered mozzarella sticks that literally never came. We are still waiting for those mozzarella sticks. When he pointed out that he didn't receive them her response was that the chef forgot. No apology, no "Let me get you that order immediately (and for free)" just a shrug of the shoulders. That pissed me off. She was quite lucky they weren't my mozzarella sticks.

By the time we got back to the hotel after our hour and a half failed dinner experience, we were both pretty beat and promptly went to bed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Whoops and Sorry.

Hi there everyone.

Did you just get like 5,000,000,000 new posts from me in your e-mail or blog reader? Yeah, sorry about that. As far as I can tell (due to my limited understanding of technology) there was no clear way to avoid that mess.

story of my life.
The good news... now everything I have written is in one spot! I know you probably don't care, but I am pretty pumped about it because I've been talking about combining all of the blogs for a while now. So now you can peruse any of the tabs on my blog to see different "categories" of stuff such as Our Wedding, Travels, Crafty Pursuits, and most importantly The Pups.

Some stuff falls under more than one category, for example everything I wrote on my wedding blog was also crafty, so it will be on both pages.

"Yeah, but what does this mean to me Mandy?"

Well, nothing really. Just that from now on, when you get a Crafty-Pursuits post it might actually be about my travels, or my dogs. It will still arrive in your inbox or your blog reader.

(this is what you are thinking right now)

So once again, I apologize for the excessive "new" posts that aren't new at all. Hopefully you can remain a loyal reader. Well, let's face it... most of you are family or close friends and don't really have a choice.

Cheers to that.

And just so this post contains some relevant information. I thought you should know that I sold my dining set last weekend for $300 in order to make room for the "oops I did it again" chairs and the "oops, one more time" table I bought recently.

More to come!

What I've been up to...

So I promised you all that I had been accomplishing wedding tasks - and I have. A lot of them were administrative in nature: send a check to this vendor, call that vendor, find 120 place settings, you get the idea. But here are 2 things that I have been doing to show you; they highlight the fun and crafty side of DIY, and the way less glamorous, grunt work style.

Project #1 is something I have been working on for the bridesmaids. Since I anticipate roping them in to do a lot of my dirty work with me, I figure I might as well bride them first with some cool gifts they can use the day before the wedding at our welcome lunch/canoe trip (Amy - you might want to stop reading if you like surprises).

I found these bags a while ago and picked them up in 4 different colors: one for each girl. They are pretty cute, no? They are kind of like a burlap meets raffia style - very beachy.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Grand Canyon and Zion: Day 5

By the time I woke up on Day 5, I was feeling pretty well rested. We had been sleeping in until 8 or 9 every morning and were always in bed by 10. I started to question my judgment call on the rim to river hike. But that was all long before we started down Hermit’s Trail.

While Dan was waking up slowly, I decided to head down to Kolb Photo studio and see the exhibit on the infamous Kolb Brothers. This was something I really wanted to see because I had learned so much about them by watching the Ken Burns National Parks series. In 1904 Emery and Ellsworth Kolb set up a photo studio right on the rim of the Grand Canyon. They operated a successful business for many years, taking photos of the tourists riding donkeys to the bottom of the Canyon. The crazy thing is, they would take these photos mid-way down, then run up to their shop, develop the film, create prints and mat them for sale to those very same tourists when they arrived back at the rim. It’s a story worth reading up on. While there wasn't a ton of time for me to see everything, I did view most of the displays and buy a little book about their adventures.

Kolb Brothers Photo Studio
We had breakfast at the Bright Angel Dining room once again. Our selections had become gradually a little unhealthier each day. While I didn't eat 6 or 7 pieces of bacon on Day 5, I certainly didn't opt for the egg whites and turkey sausage. Once we were filled up, we stopped at the gift shop quickly to buy our postcard and shot glass before making our way to the bus stop. It is kind of nice to be able to ride the bus along the rim because it gives you a chance to gaze down without worrying about crashing. Hermit’s Rest was the last stop on the line though, so we sat for quite some time before finally getting off the bus and making our way to the trail head. 

Dan rests up pre-hike

As we approached the rather rocky trail, we passed a woman with a big backpack who asked us if she could take a bus back to the village. Clearly, she had spent a night or two in the Canyon. As I pointed her in the general direction of the bus stop, her husband peaked around the last turn in the trail, out of breath mumbling, “never… again…”

Dan said he could relate, and then launched into another tirade about how I always make him do these terrible things (hikes) that he never wants to do as we descended into the canyon once more.

The Hermit’s Rest Trail will take you all the way to the Colorado River, just like the South Kaibab and the Bright Angel Trail… except with less mileage.  It was described in my guide book as a great hike “off the beaten path” where you might see springs as close as 1.2 miles below the rim, without all those pesky tourists in your way.

Well it was certainly a desolate trail, with very few hikers who weren't fairly serious about hiking, but there weren't any springs in sight. Not to mention the fact that the trail itself is one of the wildest things that I’ve ever seen “maintained”. Unlike the other trails leading to the River, Hermit’s rest is incredibly uneven, rocky and offers very little shade. 

ends of the Earth

As we continued to descend, I started to get nervous about going back up. About a mile and a half down, we came to a junction and decided to turn around. The hike back up was as brutal as anticipated… It’s one thing to hike a nice gravel trail up an elevation of 1,000 feet; it’s another to climb rocks for 1,000 feet over the course of a mile and a half. It felt like we were climbing bleachers for days in the hot AZ sun. We took breaks to rest infrequently since there weren't a ton of shady spots to sit. By the time we made it back to the top, I began to understand why that hiker’s husband was huffing “never again”. The trail is a tough hike, and it doesn't provide the wonderful scenery you can get elsewhere. Not to mention the fact that we didn't catch a glimpse of the River at all, the entire time! If we had the opportunity to pick again, I would have gone for a hike towards the East entrance near the Desert View Watchtower, where the views compensate for the hard work.

We stopped at the Hermit’s rest shop, another Mary Jane Colter designed building. It has a beautiful stone fireplace and hearth room, but no ice cream – which I was VERY disappointed about.

Once we arrived back at the bus stop, we overheard a bunch of older hikers talking about their plans for the week. They had reservations at Phantom Ranch and were going to hike rim-to-rim in 3 days. “Good for them” I thought to myself, before hearing them talk about how the Hermit’s Rest hike had taken them 7 hours. I hope they were able to make it out in their allotted 3 days, but it didn't seem very likely.

Back at the car, we changed out of our soaking wet clothes before hitting the road for the last long stretch of driving down to Phoenix. Yet again we experienced an uneventful trip, except to note that we had to change our dinner plans from “something good” in Sedona to “whatever is close” because the 17 mile side-trip to Sedona would have taken us an hour and a half… and I thought East Coast traffic was bad! Wendy’s happened to be the closest, so we stopped in for a ridiculous amount of food. Let’s just say that 4 people would have been full with our choices… and we were only 2. At least I finally got my ice cream by way of inhaling a root beer float.

When we finally parked at Dan’s Grandmother’s house in Phoenix, we were pretty pumped to get out of the car and see some familiar faces. It’s always nice to end a vacation by recounting your tales and showing off your photos to someone who is curious. We did our best to finish up some of the food that we had toted along with us all week before bed.

So we sat around chatting and eating with Dan’s Grandmother and his Great Aunt Margie. Vacation was over, I realized – and decided at that moment to start thinking about the next great trip.