Friday, January 11, 2013

More Catching Up..........

From the Boardwalk at Betty Steflik Memorial Preserve
Flagler Beach, Florida - December 29, 2012

There is a tradition in our travels to Flagler Beach that is very special to me.  It makes the trip from home complete and marks the official beginning of my time here.  The Betty Steflik Memorial Preserve is a special place about which I will write more in an upcoming planned post.  For now, just know it as the place we head as soon as possible after arriving in Flagler Beach.  Today's picture was taken somewhere along the elevated boardwalk which runs for more than a mile through an absolutely incredible marshland, mangrove forest and protected gopher tortoise habitat.  The preserve is located on the intercoastal waterway right in the village of Flagler Beach and is a place I know like the back of my hand.  I feel comfortable and safe here even when alone.  It's a place to exercise or a place to simply meander.  Once I've walked the "boardwalk," my journey is complete and I am "home!"  

Over the years, we've established a Flagler Beach "must-do" list with four things on it.  These are the four things we most love to do and want to revisit each time we are here.  Believe me, this doesn't begin to touch all the things we enjoy doing - they just seem to be the four that have become special to us and therefore, tradition!  

2) A Day in St. Augustine with lunch at Harry's Seafood Restaurant

4) Blue Springs State Park to see the manatees

Because of the way New Year's Eve and New Year's Day fell (we stay VERY close to home on those two days) and the fact that my parent's were coming by on their way to Englewood, Florida, we only got three of the four done this year.  We did not make it over to DeLand (about 60 miles away) to see the manatees.  It is possible that I'll make the trip over myself one day as according to the reports, it appears to be an excellent year for viewing these graceful creatures in this gorgeous habitat.  If you check out the manatee link above, you'll see that many of them have been named as they return to this same location year after year.  Hard to believe, but one can spend hours simply standing along the viewing area watching them play.

Our first day trip was back up the coast 30 miles to the oldest city in the US, St. Augustine.  We never tire of walking the streets looking at the wonderful buildings/homes with their Spanish influence.  I still see Flagler College as one of the most beautiful and unique college campuses anywhere.  We are usually there just as new students are arriving, so security is relatively low and we are free to roam in and out of the buildings. Originally built in 1888 by Henry Flagler and partner, John D. Rockefeller as the Ponce De Leon hotel, it was gifted to Flagler College in 1968 when the college was established.  The college has spent millions refurbishing the original building and adding new ones while maintaining the integrity of the area.  The college is right in the middle of old St. Augustine and blends in to the degree that makes the college almost indistinguishable as something different.  The college was opened as a women's college, but became co-educational in 1971.  

Cheap as I am, I refuse to pay $10 to park for a few hours when I've got two feet that love to walk, so we always find parking outside the old city district giving us even more opportunity to discover the wonderful residential areas and different architectural styles.  But all that walking leads us straight to Harry's Seafood Restaurant and its patio seating area.  Bill does not feel that he has truly arrived in Florida until he can chow down on some disgusting fried oysters.  He claims Harry's has the best, so you can imagine the disappointment written all over his face when our server announced they were out of oysters.  He very graciously changed to shrimp and declared them delicious.  My crabcakes were also delicious as they usually are.  

We try to time our trip to St. Augustine so that we are driving back to Flagler Beach as the sun sets making a perfect ending to a very full, but wonderful day.  BTW, I apologize for the lack of pictures in these posts.  There are two reasons for that.  First, we have so many pictures of these places from prior years that we are deliberately leaving the camera behind and simply enjoying what we see.  Second, my camera is still tending to have "spots" on it which I can't remove and picture quality is questionable at best.  One of my projects while on my own down here is to research and buy a new camera!

As I mentioned, we spent a very quiet New Year's Eve and New Year's Day right here in Flagler Beach only leaving the house to walk.  To reiterate what a sleepy quiet area this really is, we rang in the New Year watching movies and only after heading to bed did we realize we never even heard one single sound of a firecracker!  My kind of party!!

But by January 2, we were more than ready for a day trip and it was south to Merritt Island we headed.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is 80 miles due south of Flagler Beach.  The 140,000 acre refuge shares a common boundary with the Kennedy Space Center.  Driving from the mainland over to the island provides breaktaking views of the launch pads at the Space Center.  The refuge manages habitat for over 500 species of wildlife supporting one of the highest numbers of endangered and threatened species in the entire National Wildlife Refuge system.  There is a state-of-the-art Visitor Center with displays and a movie, plus a really cool quarter-mile accessible boardwalk that starts and ends directly from the VC.  But the highlight of the refuge is the seven-mile, one way Black Point Wildlife Drive.  There are several stops along the way corresponding with a brochure available at the VC and if you take less than two hours to do this drive, you've done it too quickly!!  Every year, we vow we are going to get up, get out and be there shortly after sunrise when (just like in our own Cades Cove) wildlife viewing is said to be at its best, but we've not managed to accomplish that yet!!  We arrived mid-morning this time, it was already quite warm and we anticipated a less than optimal wildlife sightings.  That did turn out to be the case.   We only saw two alligators which is by far, the fewest we've ever seen on the drive. 

We saw all sorts of birds, but only two Roseate Spoonbills which is the bird I most look forward to seeing.  There have been times when one of the open areas has been full of these beautiful birds with their odd shaped bills.   We saw one rather large snake that slithered across the road in front of us.  Oddly, it was the first snake we've ever seen on the drive.  And the Bald Eagle was still in the same nesting place from our previous visits.  During certain hours, a ranger is stationed in that area to help folks locate the nest and provides binoculars to enhance viewing the babies.  That's always really cool!

But the highlight on this day was something we've never seen on the drive and seems odd we would refer to it as a highlight because these have GOT to be one of ugliest creatures God saw fit to create!  Coming around a bend with no others cars in sight, we noticed a big black creature not far away, but on the other side of the canal.  Bill immediately said, "it's a bear!"  I thought the same thing as there are black bears in the refuge, but it wasn't a bear.  It was a HUGE black boar and we quickly realized there were two others close by.  We sat quietly and watched the three for probably fifteen minutes and I now fully understand why they are such a problem both in Florida and in our Tennessee mountains.  The rooting never stopped and we could readily see the damage done to the ground during the time we watched.  They are BIG and they are UGLY!  I've always been told as a hiker, not to fear the bears, but to be VERY AFRAID of the wild boars.  They are NOT afraid of you!  

There are seven hiking trails in the refuge one of which I would love to do.  It is a five-mile loop around the edge of one of the marshes.  Called the Cruickshank Trail, it starts and ends near the mid-point of the drive.  I always look longingly at the trailheads, but quickly remind myself that I know and am comfortable with what to do if you encounter a black bear while hiking, but alligators are WAY out of my comfort zone!  I keep hoping one of these days I'll find a Florida Hiking club or guided ranger hike that is doing this trail!  For now, we'll be content to enjoy the Black Point Wildlife Drive from our car!  In our opinion, this is an absolute MUST DO if ever in the area!  

Enjoy a few more pictures and again, I apologize for the spots....................

All of these pictures were taken in different spots along the Black Point Wildlife Drive.
January 2, 2013

We traditionally travel I-95 to the refuge and return by way of A1A through the towns of Edgewater, New Smyrna Beach, Port Orange, the madness that is Daytona Beach and Ormond Beach before arriving back in Flagler after another excellent day in Florida!

Next up..........more wildlife viewing!   Read about our day in the Mouse's House (aka Disney World) where we encountered interesting wildlife of the two-legged variety!

If you've been to any of these places, please tell me about it!

Thanks For Reading!


  1. Hubby has a niece who lives in Englewood. We visited there last February when we were in Florida. It's a small world.:)

    Thanks for the tips about what to see when we are in Flagler Beach.

  2. Thanks for the interesting information about a place I've never visited. And by the way, the spots on your camera may be due to dust on your sensor. A good camera repair shop will be able to clean it for you.

  3. I've never been there. 65MD and I are talking about making it our next vacation spot. I sent him the link to the house.
    Our only issue is getting there. He really does not want to drive that far. We haven't researched flights yet.

  4. Impatiently waiting for Epcot pics!!

  5. I have experience petting alligators, so if you'd like me to come down there for security--oh wait, I forgot about those boars. Those things are evil!

    I forget, have we talked about Blowing Rocks Preserve down at Hobe Sound. It's about a 3-hr drive from St Augustine (longer on A1A, but it's a wonderful look at undeveloped coastline. Definitely worth a day trip.

    Looking forward to more adventures!

  6. I always feel like I am right there with you on these journeys. You are so good at describing everything and giving us the perfect details! I guess I wouldn't know what to do if I encountered a bear or a gator!

  7. I am very much wanting to visit St. Augustine. My Dad lived in the Daytona area and before he died at the end of 2010 my husband and I were planning, on our next visit to Dad, to take a side trip to St. Augustine. Now I am not sure when/if it will happen. Thanks for the virtual tour(s)!

  8. HI, Sharon,
    I have been to Florida a few times, but to to the places you described above. Twice I have been to Clearwater where we have walked for what seemed like miles on the beautiful beaches collecting sand dollars and other shells.

    Looks like yo had a great start to the new year! Happy New Year!

  9. Merritt Island is one place I have never been down there. We did stay at Ormond once --nice beach there. I've been all up and down A1A --and of course on that interstate. My brother (years ago) lived in Melbourne (called Eau Gallie back then) --and I visited him there several times as a teen... My parents took me to Daytona as a teen --and I loved it back then... Have no desire to go there now.

    My other brother lived in St. Augustine --and I have been there many many times. George and I visited the fort the last time we were there. My ex and I and the boys were all in "Cross and the Sword" at St. Aug one Summer... Did you ever see it???? (Outdoor drama).... My brother worked in the historic district at St. Aug near Flagler College. They attended the historic Methodist Church in the area.

    Thanks for sharing memories for me...