Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nokomis Beach to Sanibel Island

Oscar Scherer State Park turned out to have very nice campsites – they were well spaced with dense vegetation between them. The mosquito population was also significantly smaller than in other places we’d stayed. We were glad we were there instead of at Myakka River for another night.

We spent the rest of the afternoon kicking around our campsite before driving south to Nokomis Beach for the evening. We’d read about a drum circle at sunset on Nokomis Beach which sounded intriguing.

When we arrived about an hour before sunset, there were lots of people there already and they just kept coming. Soon there were a couple hundred people spectating and participating.

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The crowd was an eclectic mix of locals and tourists, young and old.

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There were numerous drummers.

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Some of them had elaborately painted drums.

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Soon, the dancers joined in.

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This guy had his own unique martial-arts-inspired style.

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The kids joined in, running around the circle and laughing, adding their voices to the mix of the music.

The looming rain clouds held off, and as it got dark, several people brought out lighted balls or hula hoops.

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We found our way back to the car when there was just barely enough light to still see our way. From there, we went to a local joint called Pelican Alley in search of Game 6 of the American League Championship Series between Tampa Bay and the Red Sox game. Sadly, TBS was having “technical difficulties,” so for the first half hour what we saw instead was a rerun of some old sitcom. We were about to leave when the baseball game finally came on.

There were about a dozen people in the bar watching the game, and everyone was very friendly, though in rooting for the Red Sox, we were clearly not in the majority. We chatted with a local named Ardie for quite some time and learned the history behind all his tattoos, how much the area had changed in the last fifteen years, and why he’ll never live away from the water.

At 10 pm, the bar closed. Though the game was far from finished we headed back to our campsite for the night. We cheered the Red Sox on to victory from our tent.

In the morning, we took a nice run through one of the park’s nature trails, getting completely lost along the way. The map made the trail system look straightforward but in reality there were oodles of bulldozer paths that made it very confusing. We decided that “hiking” in Florida is not very exciting. Given that Florida is so flat, the vistas aren’t generally that interesting.

Our next stop was Sanibel Island. We’d read that Sanibel and its sibling island, Captiva, were “paradise”. After paying the hefty $6 toll to drive across to Sanibel, we forked over our parking fee and walked to the historic lighthouse.

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Continuing along the nature trail, we found the fishing pier on the bayside of the island. Kiteboarding was popular.

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Fishing was very popular, along the pier and along the beach.

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We went back to the beach and played in the water until our parking ticket was about to expire. It was a nice beach, but didn’t compare to some of the other beaches we’d been at in the past month. It was also way more crowded, probably because it was a Sunday and the beach is quite close to Fort Myers.

From there, we drove north across the rest of Sanibel and onto Captiva Island. Captiva had numerous excessively large beachfront houses. The beach there was much nicer than on the southern tip of Sanibel but it was also harder to find parking. For a while, we thought that only residents actually got beach access. Finally, we found a tiny parking lot.

We spent the next hour wandering along the beach and playing in the waves. The waves were enormous and lots of fun to bodysurf on. Sarah wished she had a boogie board.

After our day on Sanibel and Captiva, we drove off the islands to the local La Quinta where we’d spend the night. After a week of camping, we were ready for a night indoors. We watched the sad finale to the American League playoffs, where Tampa Bay ousted the Red Sox. This was supposed to be the year that the lovable losers from each league, the Cubs and the Red Sox, met in the World Series. But it was not to be. Tomorrow, we would head to the Everglades.

Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State Park is one of the largest state parks in Florida, and our guidebook claimed that it had “primo” camping. Sadly, it seemed that the guidebook author was quite mistaken. The campsites were tiny and had virtually no space between them. On top of that, the majority of them were packed with people and multiple tents per site. By the time we arrived, it was dark and there were swarms of mosquitoes (not surprising, since we were effectively in a swamp), so we threw up our tent and had a quick dinner before retiring for the night.

Unfortunately, our neighbors in one side didn’t want us to get a sound night’s sleep. They had a soft-sided pop-up camper and a small TV running the entire night! We thought they’d turn it off and go to bed, but apparently they slept with it on. Who takes a TV camping anyway? In fairness, we’ve seen stranger things recently, like the group at Fort De Soto that had a microwave. Still, unless you are in a hard-sided RV, running a TV in a campground is pretty rude. It’s especially rude when your neighbors are all of ten feet away due to poorly spaced campsites.

After a poor night’s sleep, we got a slow start in the morning. Sarah went for a jog down one of the nearby bike paths. It was a pleasant run through forests and dry prairie and there was virtually nobody else out. Sarah even saw a small deer along the way. Meanwhile, Brian drank coffee to try to clear the cobwebs from his head.

We packed up the tent since the campground was already full for Saturday when we made our reservations. After the previous night, we were happy that we didn’t have to stay another night.

Later in the morning, we checked out the bird boardwalk and some of the viewpoints along the way. The boardwalk wasn’t especially exciting though we did get a distant alligator view and there was a single blue heron hanging out.

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On the way back to the car, we saw this butterfly.

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The water was ringed with palm trees.

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In the parking lot was a huge tree that was decorated with Spanish moss.

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Our next stop was the boat ramp. The park has quite an array of boating options as well as bike rentals and a packed little concession shop at the boat ramp. More interesting though was the walk out to the fishing pier. There were more birds there than along the bird walk. We aren’t sure what this bird was but we took lots of photos anyway.

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We also had our first gator sighting in the wild. There were two alligators hanging out at the base of the pier.

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There were also several different types of birds hanging out on the old earthen dam. The closest one is a tricolor heron and the next one back is a snowy egret.

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Our last stop in the park was the canopy walk. A large tower and suspension bridge were built in the tree tops for research purposes and are now open as a nature walk.

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From the bridge, we got good views of the air plants living in the tree canopies.

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The tower provided a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding landscape.

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Having exhausted the nature walks in Myakka State Park, we left for Oscar Scherer State Park.


On October 17, we spent all afternoon at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota. The museum was a tribute to John Ringling, one of the five Ringling Brothers of circus fame, and his wife Mable. When Ringling died, he left his art collection and estate to the city of Florida, and the impressive complex is now run by the Florida State University.

The museum grounds contained multiple buildings. The first one that we explored had an enormous scale model of the circus, done in 3/4-inch-to-the-foot scale. This model is the lifelong work of a circus lover named Howard Tibbals. It was impressive in its scope and detail – from the train cars that the circus traveled on to the replica town it traveled to and the full layout of the circus grounds and big top, it seems that no detail was missed. Apparently, the ticket booths even have cash tills inside that contain coins, though nobody could actually see that part of the model. These photos are just a small sampling of the overall model.

This is one of the 59 train cars of the exhibit.

The town that the circus was visiting:

Feeding the crew of 1,300 performers and workers was no small feat:

The model continued on with the animal menagerie display, the sideshows, and a full big top with numerous acts in progress, all with the same intricate detail as the rest of the display. Along with the model were information placards describing the comings and goings of the circus. The sheer logistics of moving that many people and animals and that much equipment around are amazing. The big top, which was larger than a football field, could be put up in a few hours. The whole circus “city” would come and go in a day’s time, including setup and takedown. Amazing!

After viewing the model, we moved on to Ca d’Zan. This is the house that John and Mabel built overlooking the bay. John and Mabel were ardent travelers and collectors of art, and many pieces were on display in their house. We took the hour-long tour through the house with a knowledgeable docent. The house was completed in 1926 and was built to be worthy of entertaining numerous important guests.

Here’s the front of the house:

The attention to detail throughout the house was striking. This room was an entertaining room with a fully painted wooden relief ceiling.

The ceiling also contained colorful glass panels which, along with the large windows, gave the room a bright, airy feeling.

We didn’t hear the story of this birdcage but thought it looked cool. In the background is an organ that had thousands of pipes.

Upstairs was John’s lavish room, complete with a bathroom sporting a marble bathtub. The furniture was a replica of Napoleon’s furniture.

While still quite nice, Mable’s room wasn’t nearly as stately as John’s. It also lacked the beautiful ocean view.

Outside the house, the Venetian influence was quite evident.

We both really liked the patio.

Continuing around the house, we thought this statue was interesting.

Walking back towards the other museum buildings, there was a tree that had nearly taken over the driveway with its roots.

This tree had grown over one of the statues lining the driveway.

We briefly toured the rose garden. Mabel was known for her love of plants and had an enormous rose garden. Unfortunately, they must have recently sprayed some sort of pesticide on the plants, so the smell was unpleasant. We didn’t dally, but did stop to photograph one of the many unique cement statues in the garden.

Next, it was on to the building that contained the circus artifacts, including costumes, train cars, and various props. It also displayed bios on some of the famous circus performers.

After that, it was about 5 pm and the museum closed at 5:30, so we didn’t get to see much of the art museum. John Ringling had a huge personal art collection which is housed in a museum on the property that he built. The museum also houses several visiting exhibits. We wanted to see the Egyptian exhibit so we breezed through about half of the museum just to get to the back where the exhibit was housed. The sheer size of the collection was impressive.

We didn’t get much time to see the Egyptian exhibit, which compared funeral artifacts and ceremonies of the rich and poor in ancient Egypt. Many of the artifacts were similar but made out of different, less expensive materials, or they were borrowed and reused.

After the museum kicked us out at closing time, we killed another hour or so in town before driving to Myakka River State Park where we’d camp for the night.