Gable Barn and Distant Clouds

Gable Barn with Distant Clouds
Tuolumne County, California
May 2022

A leftover shot that I almost forgot to edit from our California trip. I especially liked the gnarled fence post and blue sky. This was captured as we drove from Groveland CA along Highway 120 to reach Big Oak Flat Road.

Read my full California trip report here –
https://dave-blinder.com/2022/05/27/northern-california-2022-trip-report/

Northern California 2022 Trip Report

Planning Phase:

After last year’s excursion to Southern Utah, Lisa and I decided to continue our explorations of the American West in 2022. After plugging a few random travel dates and locations into Travelocity I came up with round-trip non-stop flight prices from EWR airport to SFO for $280. With that value pricing, a one week trip to see the coastal Redwoods and Yosemite National Park was born. Lisa hadn’t been to California previously and I had yet to explore north of San Francisco.

I proceeded to complete our airfare purchase through Travelocity (Alaska Airlines departing NJ and then JetBlue for our return flight). Lisa also quickly began researching rental car rates out of San Francisco International and we eventually settled on Alamo rentals based on price and reviews. We booked a mid-size class car to the tune of $426 all-in for a 7 day rental.

Lisa and I were told by a friend that Point Reyes National Seashore is not to be missed and Lisa also researched Humboldt Redwoods State Park as a major nature attraction nearby to the Pacific Coast Highway. We wagered that spending our first few nights near the coast and then transitioning to lodging nearer Yosemite would lend to a diverse natural sightseeing itinerary. Google Maps also indicated that a quick stop in Napa Valley could be easily pieced into our driving route.

May 9th:

We had a smooth and uneventful trip from EWR (Newark Liberty International Airport) to SFO (San Francisco International Airport) via Alaska Airlines. ⬇️ Big Thanks to Jonboy for getting us to the airport.

We scored a very economical “mid size class sedan” from Alamo car rental and we certainly averaged well over 50+ mpg for the many hundreds of miles we drive around the PCH and Yosemite. Two thumbs up on the 2020 Hyundai Ioniq hybrid “blue edition”. The integrated Apple CarPlay also served us well for navigation purposes. ⬇️

What trip to San Francisco is complete without an obligatory touristy walk around Fisherman’s Wharf? ⬇️

Nice view of the marina near Fisherman’s Wharf and I believe that Sausalito provides the distant background. ⬇️

Heavy Metal and boating = perfect together? ⬇️ I also appreciated that the guy working on this vessel was rocking out to seminal West Coast punk band Agent Orange! 🤘

Located a few blocks from Fisherman’s Wharf, Cilantro Taqueria filled the belly of 2 hungry tourists ⬇️

Lisa enjoyed driving us down scenic and winding Lombard Street in San Fran. ⬇️

So long San Francisco, we barely knew ya. We had to reach our airbnb in Manchester CA which lies every bit of 135 miles North on the same day! We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and set our GPS for a short stop at Golden Gate National Recreation Area. ⬇️

Just a small sampling of the varied scenery at Golden Gate National Recreation Area ⬇️

Amenities and food stores seemed a little sparse as we continued our drive North on Route 1 towards the Point Arena / Manchester area. We grabbed a few groceries at Diekmann’s Bay Store to bring to the airbnb ⬇️

Arrival at airbnb #1 “Private Tiny-House in a Grove of Large Redwoods” on the evening of May 9th was a comforting sight to our tired eyes. Accommodations were very clean and modern and Jed and Emilie clearly take great pride in ownership ⬇️

May 10th

We started our morning with a quick drive from Jed’s place to the Point Arena Lighthouse for a bit of sightseeing. ⬇️

Continuing our drive up Route 1 we had a very pleasant caffeine layover at Headlands Coffeehouse in Fort Bragg ⬇️

After morning coffee we proceeded to today’s main attraction, Humboldt Redwoods State Park in Mendicino County ⬇️

Within the state park’s visitor center I found the story of conservationist and naturalist Charles Kellogg very inspiring.

Below is a small sampling of the natural sights we enjoyed at Humboldt Redwoods State Park ⬇️

As we departed Humboldt Redwoods an unexpected snow squall (not pictured) blew across both Route 1 and 101. Our brave Hyundai Ioniq pushed onward heading south through Ukiah as we circled back towards airbnb #1 in Manchester. Lisa and I stopped at Ukiah Brewing Company for a bite to eat and to taste the local brews. ⬇️

May 11th

We began the day with a short morning drive South on Route 1 out of Manchester. I wanted to see the unique geological features to be seen at “Bowling Ball Beach” at Schooner’s Gulch. Lo and Behold the “bowling balls” are not exposed during high tide. Dang! I still enjoyed stretching my legs at Schooner’s Gulch ⬇️

Next we stopped in at Gualala Point Regional Park to see the sights. The adjacent range of sheep with young lambs made for fun “wildlife viewing”.

Next we enjoyed a stop at Stewarts Point Store for a cup of coffee and freshly baked pastries ⬇️

Goat Rock at Sonoma Coast State Park proved also to be a very scenic stop along Route 1 ⬇️

Our primary destination on May 11th was to be Point Reyes National Seashore. With sparse amenities along the way we turned off the highway and explored the same town of Bodega to refill on snacks and soft drinks. Lisa and I both enjoyed the various small historic downtown shopping areas we stumbled on throughout our trip ⬇️

After taking in the sights in the town of Bodega it was time to explore Point Reyes National Seashore. It was extremely windy when we walked up to the lighthouse!!! ⬇️

More sights at Point Reyes ⬇️

May 12th

May 12th was not only my birthday, it was also time to bid the Tiny House in the Redwoods a fond farewell. Lisa and I were driving through Napa on our way to airbnb #2 in the Oakhurst/Bass Lake area ⬇️

Though we did not stay long the scenery was impressive at Lake Sonoma Recreation Area. The hiking trails also seemed challenging and noteworthy ⬇️

My internet research on visiting Napa advised that Oxbow Public Market is a must-visit so who were we to object? ⬇️

Lisa and I were a bit surprised to learn that the vast majority of Napa Vineyards require advanced reservations. We were thankful that Artesa Vineyards and Winery were able to accommodate us without reservations on a most informative wine tasting. Be sure to request host Jesse Galvan at Artesa! ⬇️

After a short but enjoyable and calorie-rich visit to Napa we hit the proverbial pedal to the metal to check into airbnb #2, Chuck’s Lost Pine Cabin ⬇️

May 13

On the morning of May 13th 2022 in the wee hours of the morning we drove North out of Oakhurst on Route 41 for our introduction to Yosemite National Park.

Having heard the walk up to Vernal Falls was “easy” we decided to give that a go. Turns out a steady steep ascent on hard asphalt can be a little tough on the feet and ankles. ⬇️

We also read that the hike to Mirror Lake was level and easy. However our energy reserves were already depleted at Vernal Falls! ⬇️

Lisa and I were extremely relieved to get off our feet and back in the car after a long day at Yosemite. We did catch some nice last day light at Tunnel View as we made our way out of the park and back to Lost Pine Cabin. ⬇️

May 14

Following another pleasant sleep at Lost Pine Cabin, Lisa and I brewed our morning coffee and prepared for another adventure day. Utilizing wifi at the cabin, I booked 10AM tickets for a tour of Boyden Caverns. ⬇️

We stopped at Grant Grove Restaurant along the way for breakfast.

With no time to spare we arrived at the Gift Shop at Boyden Cavern to embark on the 10AM guided tour. We found Stella our guide to be informative and enthusiastic ⬇️

After touring the caverns we briefly proceeded to Grizzly Falls. We then did an about face and explored the Stump Meadow area. ⬇️

After seeing such massive dead trees it was time to press onward and see the splendor of The Giant Forest sequoia grove. We were quite tired and the trails were crowded by the time we reached the largest tree in the world, The General Sherman Trail. ⬇️

After another long day of adventuring and sight-seeing (we didn’t sleep much this trip) we grabbed a late dinner at Visalia Brewing Company. We observed some seedy characters emerging on the dark streets in the city so we wasted little time in returning to the Lost Pine Cabin. ⬇️

May 15

On the morning of May 15th we drove from Oakhurst towards the town of Mariposa to see what we could see. Overall we found the stores in Mariposa underwhelming though we had decent coffee at The Pony Express. ⬇️

After breakfast we continued driving up the harrowing narrow roads of Highway 49 and chanced upon the wonderfully preserved gold mine town of Coulterville. Coulterville has a feel of a quasi-ghost town with some businesses operating in structures built in the late 1800. Gritty and authentic is how I like my Wild West sightseeing. Lisa and I spent quite a while inside the Coulterville museum appreciating the period artifacts. ⬇️

From Coulterville we ventured onward to Columbia. Columbia is also a gold mining town and home to several bustling family-friendly restaurants and shops. I did not enjoy this stop nearly as much as Coulterville though the 90F weather was also beginning to get to me. ⬇️

From Highway 49 (Golden Chain Highway) we turned east on Highway 120 back towards Yosemite National Park. We stopped for iced coffee in Groveland at FireFall Coffee Roasting Company. The drinks could have been better though our young barista insisted I give this Zombie‘s album a listen. ⬇️

As we drove south through Yosemite heading towards Oakhurst we enjoyed dynamic evening light and a beautiful view of the the Blood Moon rising. ⬇️

May 16

On the morning of May 16th we had to bid adieu to The Lost Pine Cabin in Oakhurst. Due to morning traffic en route to SFO our drive time was nearly four hours. Lisa and I boarded JetBlue flight 1982 at 2:15 Pacific Standard Time. We touched down at Newark Liberty International at approximately 11PM EST. We were both very thankful for our travel experiences and airbnb accommodations but now it was time to go home and get back to the grind.

I will be updating this trip report with interactive links and descriptive photo captions as my schedule allows.

Let me know if you have any questions on our itinerary.

People Pictures from Utah 2021 Trip

People Pictures from Utah May 2021 Trip


These photos are from our group of adventurers as we traversed Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Lisa, Dave, Mark, Mario, and Kelly pose in the Narrows at Zion National Park

Mark, Mario, and Kelly take a break at the Narrows in Zion

Mario and Kelly pass through deeper water at The Narrows in Zion

Mario at Bryce Canyon

Lisa passes through Capitol Gorge at Capitol Reef National Park

Mario can’t seem to spot that pesky Big-horned Sheep near Zion National Park.

Mark photobombs a Big-horned Sheep crossing near Zion

Squirrel-scape

Squirrel-scape
Bryce Canyon National Park
May 2021

This Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel wasn’t too proud to beg for a meal though I was not providing one.

Learn more about the Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden-mantled_ground_squirrel

Desert Spiny Lizard at Zion National Park

Desert Spiny Lizard
Zion National Park in Utah
May 2021

This close-up shot was taken with a telephoto lens as we only encountered small lizards on the recent trip to Southern Utah.

Read more about reptiles found in Southern Utah – https://www.nps.gov/care/learn/nature/reptiles.htm

Near Goosenecks Overlook – Capitol Reef NP

Near Goosenecks Overlook
Capitol Reef National Park
Wayne County, Utah
May 2021

The walks were easy and the views expansive at Goosenecks Overlook at Capitol Reef National Park. Don’t miss this stop if you are in Southern Utah!

Visit Capitol Reef National Park – https://www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/brochures.htm

Night Sky Over Kolob Mountain

Night Sky Over Kolob Mountain

Zion National Park in Utah
May 2021

This shot was taken off of Kolob Terrace Road away from the hustle and bustle of central Zion National Park. I got lucky as a passing car briefly illuminated the mountains to make this shot.

Visit Kolob Terrace – http://www.zionnational-park.com/kolob.htm

Canon M5 + Rokinon 12mm F/2.0 lens
25 second exposure F/2.5 ISO 6400

Hoodoo at Capitol Reef National Park

Hoodoo at Capitol Reef National Park
Notom Bullfrog Road, Utah
May 2021

On our recent trip we did a fair amount of hiking in strong desert sun but luckily this shot was taken out of our minivan’s window.

Learn more about the scenic drives at Capitol Reef National Park – https://www.nps.gov/care/planyourvisit/roads.htm

Full Trip Report coming when I have time.

Everglades-area / South Florida Trip Report – February 2021

White Ibis and Roseate Spoonbill at Big Cypress National Preserve Florida

On the night of Sunday February 28th 2021, Mike Leone, Steve Covacci and I boarded our flight from EWR (Newark International Airport) on a direct flight to MIA (Miami International Airport). I booked my flight, hotel reservation (Fairway Inn Florida City) and rental car (Budget) all from expedia.com. Round-trip non-stop tickets were running $150 for the desired dates and times. We left frozen New Jersey and snowplowed banks behind in exchange for average Florida daily temperatures of 85°F. This trip would mark my 6th pilgrimage to Miami-Dade County in search of wildlife and outdoor adventures.

Dave onboard the United flight from EWR to MIA
Coastal Prairie near Flamingo

We landed on the tarmac in Miami close to midnight and made the approximate 35 mile drive south on the Florida Turnpike towards Florida City and Homestead. Itching to get my recommended daily dose of Everglades National Park (ENP), I drove our rental car directly to Main Park Road. There is 24 hour access to this area, though a seven day car pass will cost you $30. A nighttime walk from the Royal Palm Visitor Center onto Anhinga Trail and Gumbo Limbo Trail yielded views of a young American Alligator, a variety of fish, as well as some mosquitoes. Note that I only consider Everglades National Park a comfortable visit from December through March due to diminished mosquito levels. Following our nighttime nature romp, Mike, Steve, and I retired to our accommodations at Fairway Inn in Florida City which lies just about 10 miles from ENP.

Young American Alligator along Anhinga Trail

For the morning of March 1st 2021, the three amigos again drove towards Main Park Road to enjoy the immersive sites and sounds off the varied trails and boardwalks within ENP. Our morning stops included Anhinga Trail, Long Pine Key, Pa-Hay-Okee Overlook, and Mahogany Hammock. We concluded the morning adventures at Flamingo Visitor Center and also a quick look at the Coastal Prairie Trail. Following a hot and humid Florida morning the only logical way to cool down is, of course, a cold refreshing tropical milkshake at Robert Is Here. Robert Is Here is a very popular fruit stand in Homestead and a great place to sample tropical fruits like Sapote, Sapodilla, Canistel, and Guanabana.

The three amigos partook in a short afternoon siesta at Fairway Inn before setting our sails for a late afternoon walk along the historic Old Ingraham Highway. The Old Ingraham Highway was the original concrete driving route through Everglades National Park and is now closed to vehicular traffic. Steve, Mike, and I ventured out on the old highway for an approximate 3 mile nature walk and enjoyed the expansive nature views of the beautiful Everglades back country.

After a full day of outdoor explanation Mike, Steven, and I head over to Rosita’s Mexican Restaurant in Florida City. Rosita’s serves great authentic Mexican fare and offers casual dining. You can also purchase beer and other beverages here.

In the early hours of March 2nd 2021, Mike Leone, Steve Covacci and I aimed our rental sedan Northward up Krome Ave and then Westward on the Tamiami Trail (US Highway 41). Our primary destination of the day was the rugged and beautiful Big Cypress National Preserve. Big Cypress consists of over 700,000 acres of open space and is home to Florida Panthers and additional endangered animals and plants.

Sprawling landscapes of Big Cypress National Preserve
American Alligators are abundant at Big Cypress

We pulled into the parking lot for Oasis Visitor Center and were stunned by sheer numbers of wading birds in the nearby waterways. Egrets were out in large numbers including Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets. We were able to see Wood Storks as well as a small number of Roseate Spoonbills in the beautiful morning light. Oasis Visitor Center is also an easy place to photograph alligators in the wild.

So many birds at Oasis Visitor Center!

Our next destination within Big Cypress was the scenic Loop Road driving tour. Loop Road is one of my favorite areas to look for large alligators, enjoy the lush foliage and blooming bromeliads, and also to admire the beautiful clear freshwater of Big Cypress National Preserve. Reptile life is abundant along Loop Road. Both Cottonmouths (Water Moccasin) and Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes are found throughout the Everglades region so it is always wise to watch where one walks.

View a detailed NPS brochure of Loop Road Scenic Drive here.

Mike and Steve admiring the scenery along Loop Road

From Loop Road the three amigos saw a kiosk for the backcountry hiking trail at Gator Hook Strand and decided to stretch our legs and explore. We enjoyed reading the kiosk about the history of the old logging tram line at Gator Hook and took a short peaceful walk on the hiking trail before the pathway became increasingly muddy. From what I’ve read, the Gator Hook hiking trail may be flooded in most seasons aside from Winter.

After returning back to our car on Loop Road we drove to the Tree Snail Hammock Trail opposite the Loop Road Education Center. We happened upon a very friendly and knowledgeable national preserve employee who excitedly filled us in on wetlands restoration projects to restore free flowing water throughout the Everglades. The process known as “plugging” occurs when East to West irrigation canals are patched with dirt and rocks to encourage water to flow in its original North to South orientation.

Great conversation with park personnel
Ligus Tree Snail

Following Loop Road, Mike, Steve, and I got our rental car back to Tamiami Trail and pulled up to Clyde Butcher’s Gallery. Clyde is very renowned for his stunning black and white imagery of Big Cypress and Everglades National Park. Within the Clyde Butcher Gallery there is a broad array of beautiful nature photography on exhibit and the artwork is available for purchase.

Our next stop on the Tamiami Trail was the Kirby Storter Roadside Park and Boardwalk. The Kirby Storter Boardwalk is an easy 1 mile round trip walk with elevated views through a Cypress Hammock concluding at a gator hole. The covered picnicking tables near the parking area provide a nice break from the Florida heat. Note that amenities such as restaurants, convenience stores, and gas stations are sparse along much of the Tamiami Trail packing a cooler filled with food and drinks is recommended.

Further West along the Tamiami Trail we reached the scenic Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk located within Fakahatchee Strand. Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk is a beautiful shaded and easy walk through some impressively large trees. Take your time along the boardwalk to look for watersnakes, gators, as well as nesting hawks or eagles. Our small party of explorers was very lucky to observe an American Bittern from the viewing platform at the end of the boardwalk.

American Bittern at Big Cypress Bend

After Big Cypress Bend we drove a short distance North to reach the entrance gates for Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. After paying our $3 vehicle admission fee at the visitor center we took our rental car on Jane’s Memorial Scenic Drive. Jane’s Drive is a dirt road and luckily the surface looked recently graded so we had no trouble navigating the road in our front wheel drive rental sedan. Mike and I took a short walk down the East Tram trail to take in a little more of the natural views to be found at “Faka”.

As we began our return Eastbound on the Tamiami Trail we took a late day drive on the rugged Turner River Road in Big Cypress. Turner River Road offers both expansive views of sawgrass prairie as well as wildlife-filled waterways. There is a great deal of photographs that can easily be taken through your car window though I prefer the experience of getting out on foot.

Mike and Steve document Big Cypress flora
The ever-present American Alligator

A dinner at El Rancho Grande Mexican Restaurant in Kendall was warranted after a long day of adventuring. We found the food, service, and ambience all to be excellent at El Rancho. After a nice meal we retired to Fairway Inn Florida City and called our day a wrap.

Chilaquiles at El Rancho Grande

Our final day of exploring Southeastern Florida was to be Wednesday March 3rd. In early morning Steve slept in dreaming of Dogecoin and AMC shares while Mike Leone and I decided to do earlybirders’ birding in the Frog Pond WMA proximity. Frog Pond WMA encompasses a large network of prairie and canal trails and is popular for birdwatching. We did encounter a few birders chasing a vagrant Smooth-billed Ani though we did not ourselves see the Ani.

Mike and I returned to Fairway Inn Florida City, picked up Steve and then packed up our bags and checked out of the hotel. One visit to Robert Is Here is rarely enough so we trucked over to our favorite local fruitstand for canistel milkshakes. Mike and Steve also picked up boiled peanuts for the road.

Next, the three amigos took the short drive over to Biscayne National Park. 95% of Biscayne National Park is aquatic and primary activities include kayaking, canoeing, as well as scuba diving. Steve, Mike, and I explored the other 5% of this parkland including a nice leisurely walk along a shaded mangrove trail.

Being an avid Orchid grower Mike advised us that RF Orchids in Homestead was not to be missed. Our entire party enjoyed the beautiful grounds at RF Orchids. Next we drove to the Fruit and Spice Park in Homestead. The Fruit and Spice Park is a well manicured local park and the only tropical botanical garden of its kind in the United States. Picking of fruit from trees is not allowed though any fallen fruit is fair game.

As we left Homestead behind us for our last time this trip we drove North towards Hollywood Florida to photograph the celebrity Burrowing Owls. The local Burrowing Owls are easily viewed from the parking lots with a decent pair of binoculars. Steve and I enjoyed using telephoto lenses to snap shots of these charismatic ground-dwelling birds.

Mike & Steve

Next we drove towards Hollywood Beach, nestled between Fort Lauderdale and Miami for a brief visit. Taco Beach Shack at Hollywood Beach offered high quality food and drinks in a lively setting. Many beach goers and bicyclists were out and about at Hollywood Beach and we had perfect weather in the low 80’s with a light breeze.

As nighttime approached it was time to return our rental car, ride the Miami Mover, and get to our gate at Miami International Airport for our red-eye flight back to Newark International Airport by way of American Airlines. Mike, Steve, and I made it to our gate at MIA and enjoyed an uneventful flight back to Northern New Jersey.

Thank you for reading my trip report for our Everglades-area trip 2021. If you have any questions about our itinerary you can reach me directly at dave@daveblinder.com. You can also follow my local NJ nature adventures on Facebook and Instagram.

You can find my 2019 Everglades-area Trip Report here

Florida Everglades 2019 Trip Report

Saturday March 2, 2019

Myself, Lisa, and Woody the schipperke departed by car from Northern New Jersey and began the 20 hour drive to Florida City, Florida. This was my 5th trip to Southernmost Florida but a first for Lisa and Woody. I had already researched which nature areas were and were not dog-friendly and had ruled out a few nature areas I knew we couldn’t visit. I always recommend the TripAdvisor forums for asking your own questions on any given destination or see what others are discussing.

Home2 Suites by Hilton Florida City

Our hotel accommodations were Home2 Suites by Hilton in Florida City. I found the hotel by searching for pet-friendly hotels with good ratings on Expedia, though I did not book directly through Expedia. I made the reservation for Home2 Suites and paid on Priceline.com as they offered the lowest nightly price at $146.19/night. Other big perks about Home2 Suites were the in-room kitchenettes and very close proximity to Everglades National Park.

Home2 Suites by Hilton Florida City picture

Photography equipment I brought with me included the Canon SL2 paired to the Sigma 17-50mm OS lens. I always bring 2 cameras with me to avoid wasted time for lens swapping. The 2nd camera I brought was the Canon EOS M50 mirrorless camera, EF-M to EF converter, and Tamron SP 150-600mm VC G2 telephoto lens. Also in my dedicated camera backpack were the Tamron SP 90mm VC macro lens and a macro flash setup for any possible night photography. I also put my Manfrotto aluminum tripod with ballhead in the trunk of the car.

Canon digital rebel
Canon SL2 + Sigma 17-50mm ready for action

Below is our daily activity schedule (with links) to the best of my recollection

Day 1 (3/3/19)

Brian Piccolo Park to see Burrowing Owls. It is no secret the Burrowing Owls are here, do not be a jerk, do not yell at the owls and do not encroach on them. It seems a little surprising to head to a sports field in Hollywood Florida to view owls, yet that is exactly what we did.

Burrowing Owls Florida

Afterwards, we bought weekly entrance pass for Everglades National Park. The weekly car fee for ENP is now $30. You purchase the weekly pass at the entrance gate on the main park road and receive a receipt which you should secure in your car at all times. Visitor fees for cyclists, RVs, and senior citizens may vary. ENP is accessible 24 hours per day, though the entrance gates only seem to be manned from about 8AM-5PM (rough guess).

Entrance to Everglades National Park picture

Next we went to nearby Robert Is Here to buy fresh fruit milkshakes. My first visit to Southernmost Florida was in 2008 and I had heard about this fruitstand on a travel forum. I loved the shakes and exotic fruit so much I have visited Robert Is Here on all 4 subsequent visits! I think the Coconut milkshakes may be my favorite.

Robert is Here fruit stand Florida City Everglades

Day 2 (3/4/19)

Drive from Florida City to Key West. Google Maps says that this drive is 126 miles and approximately 2.5 hours, however you should of course pad in extra travel time for scenic stops and traffic. We hoped to stop to swim at Harry Harris Park but found unfortunately that animals are not allowed near the swimming area. I also have greatly enjoyed my visits to the Florida Keys Wild Bird Sanctuary on past visits, however dogs are also not allowed near the rehab facility for the safety of the birds. There is a great boardwalk at the facility and also a cove which can be good for wildlife photography.

Florida Keys cove

We did find a great area in Islamorada to take a break, eat sandwiches we had packed, and dip our feet in the water. This stretch of roadside with room to park seemed popular for fisherman also. It is a good place to unwind.

Islamorada Florida Keys road side

For nature lovers, I also recommend a short excursion from the Overseas Highway to drive a few backroads to steal a glimpse of the diminutive Florida Key Deer. The Key Deer is a sub-species of the White-tailed Deer and found only in the Florida Keys, they are quite noticeably smaller than a common deer. Driving the backroads behind the newly constructed Key Deer Visitor Center is a good place to look for the Key Deer. Don’t be surprised to see them in a front lawn or grazing at roadside.

Florida Key Deer picture

After viewing a few Key Deer we continued our drive to Mile Marker 0. Much of Key West is very populous but I already knew that from experience. Lisa’s dog is not good with big crowds so we were not going to stay long. We stumbled upon Amigos Tortilla Bar in Key West which had some nice open air seating and is also pet friendly. I had a friend avocado burrito which was good and filling, though the overabundance of white rice filling left a little to be desired.

After a very quick look at the crowded Mallory Square we jumped back in the car and made a beeline back to Florida City. The vast majority of my travels are planned around finding solitude in nature and enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of vast open spaces. I do love to talk to fellow travelers and locals along the way also. I grew up in a small town and spending time in big cities and tourist traps does not entice me.

Day 3 (3/5/19)

From Home2 Suites we headed to some of the backroads of Big Cypress National Preserve. The Big Cypress region sits just North above Everglades National Park as you can see on this regional map. With 720,000 acres of preserved open, multiple boardwalks, scenic backcountry drives, and wilderness hiking, boating, and fishing Big Cypress has something for all walks of nature aficionados.

Big Cypress National Preserve Florida

From Florida City we drove up Krome Ave to the Tamiami Trail to reach Big Cypress. This drive can be scenic and good for wildlife spotting along the way. There are several car pull-offs along the Tamiami canal where fishermen park. Our first stop in Big Cypress however was the not to be missed Loop Road.

Alligator in Florida

It is always funny when I get back from Florida when friends ask “Did you see any Alligators?”. Visitors are virtually guaranteed intimate roadside views of Alligators along the scenic backroads of Loop Road. In my opinion wildlife viewing is generally better at Big Cypress than at most of Everglades National Park. Visiting both parklands is a priority on my trips to South Florida. You can get out of the car to stretch your legs on many portions of Loop Road. Loop Road can be great photographing not only Alligators, but also birds, butterflies, lizards, and plants so take your time and enjoy.

Brown Anole Lizard Florida

Our next stop in Big Cypress was the HP Williams Roadside Park. This park has shaded benches which can be a great relief on a hot day. There is also a nice boardwalk section which can provide great views of alligators and herons. I have seen Green Herons, Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, and Little Blue Herons actively fishing at this boardwalk. I also noticed the common Palm Warblers hunting for insects in the shrubs.

HP WIlliams Roadside Park boardwalk Big Cypress

After visiting HP Williams Roadside Park I would recommend driving for a while on Turner River Road and adjoining roads to look for wildlife and to take in the sprawling scenic views. Some of my favorite landscape images of florida were taken at sunrise near Turner River Road. Visit very early morning or late afternoon to capture the magic of this area. It is also worth noting that gas stations and food stores are sparse in these sections of the Tamiami Trail. Fill up your gas tank and also your picnic basket closer to civilization in advance to make the most out of your visit.

Chicken Turtle florida picture

After a nice day of outdoor adventuring we returned to home base at Home2 Suites to clean up and take a rare few minutes of rest. A little bit of Yelp restaurant research pointed us to El Toro Taco in Homestead as a strong Mexican dining candidate. Homestead borders Florida City and has many diverse restaurants to explore. When we arrived at El Toro Taco we were greeted by the owner who was extremely friendly while also not being overbearing nor neglectful. I had the Vegetarian Platter which was excellent. The complimentary side order of homemade hot sauce was also outstanding. Note that El Toro Taco is a BYOB establishment.

After dinner we took a drive up Krome Ave to check out the Miccosukee Resort & Gaming casino. Lisa and I did not have high expectations for the casino but were surprised by a complete lack of video poker or table games. The only games available at Miccosukee are slot machines or the bingo area.

Day 4 (3/6/19)

After my morning coffee and Greek Yogurt at Home2 Suites (nice free breakfast!) we hit the road for more nature attractions in Big Cypress National Preserve. Our first stop was at the Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Center. There were nice views of several alligators from the boardwalk here and bathrooms in clean working order. I had a great chat inside with one of the friendly employees who shared her knowledge and passion about local wildlife with me. It is also exciting for me to chat with other friendly folks who are wildlife lovers like myself.

Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Center picture

Our second stop of the day was at the Kirby Storter Roadside Park. I had never taken this pull-off from Tamiami Trail but was curious to explore. Near the parking area there are several shaded picnic benches in a nice maintained grassy area. Lisa and I took a leisurely walk down the scenic nature boardwalk which was pleasant though we did not see a lot of wildlife.

Kirby Storter boardwalk Big Cypress Florida

After Kirby Storter we drove a little further until we came upon the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center. With a little bit of patience, a bit of strategy, and a lot of luck we were able to observe two manatees from the observation boardwalk behind this welcome center! Cypress Swamp Welcome Center also appeared to be a popular spot for fishermen.

We jumped back in the car for a few short minutes until arriving at the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. This is scenic shaded walk is extremely popular and may get crowded so plan accordingly. Big Cypress Bend is one of the few pet-friendly boardwalks in the greater Everglades area. We saw a perched Bald Eagle atop a barren tree, just where I had seen an Eagle on my visit the prior year.

Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk picture

With a several hours of daylight remaining we opted to press our luck and continue on our elongated daytrip to J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. This was my first trip to Ding Darling and I was not sure what to expect. I felt a little overwhelmed by the high density of vehicular and pedestrian traffic at this popular wildlife refuge.

My (and Lisa’s) preference is to visit the more wild and semi-wild destination areas. I find myself more relaxed and in tune with nature when off the beaten track. The strong Florida sun was also high in the sky upon arrival making it the very worst time of day to attempt any nature photography. We did one quick loop around the driving route before getting back on the main road.

Our final major stop of a long day would be Bowman’s Beach in Sanibel Island, another first time visit for me. Neither Lisa and I are really “beach people” but we both have an appreciation for short walks along oceans and bays. I had done prior due diligence online to determine that Bowman’s Beach was dog friendly. We saw several other couples with dogs on leashes as we walked around. The beach looked very clean and nearly trash-free. Sanibel is known for great seashell hunting, however the shells looked mostly picked over for our arrival.

Bowman's Beach Sanibel Island
Seashells at Sanibel Island

Day 5 (3/7/19)

When traveling I rarely invest time in eating breakfast, I like to maximize daylight hours and get directly in nature. I am likely to be outdoors for photography at both dawn and dusk on most days also when traveling alone. That being said I was craving a good Central American breakfast like Lisa and I had enjoyed on our trip to Costa Rica.

Lisa spent time looking at pictures and menus on Yelp and founds us an option for a nearby Nicaraguan breakfast. We brought our morning appetites over to Tutilandia Fritanga. Despite a slight language barrier at the restaurant we found the service extremely friendly and accommodating. Lisa and I enjoyed generous breakfast servings of rice and beans along with fresh homemade tortillas and plantains. I really appreciated the self serve homemade salsa which was quite zesty. I hope to visit this restaurant again on my next visit.

Breakfast from Tutilandia Fritanga in Homestead Florida

After a hearty meal we drove back into Everglades National Park to souvenir hunt for Lisa. While she picked out a poster at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center I hung out near the information area. Two NPS employees were discussing trails and hiking options to newcomers and I was eager to hear about any trails I had not yet explored. After a wave of visitors dispersed I inquired about boat tours within the national park. I got info on pricing and schedules and confirmed that the boat tours would leave from the Flamingo marina in case we opted to give that a shot.

Ernest F Coe Visitor Center at Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park Visitor Center inside

After Ernest F Coe, we drove over to Biscayne National Park. I had visited Biscayne once before but wasn’t too impressed. The main attractions at this park are snorkeling, kayaking, and boating. There are not a wealth of activities for land lovers though that is not what this park is about. Unfortunately we had a pretty windy day so kayaking would not be an option for us. We got pricing on a boat tour but it was significantly more expensive than the tours found within Everglades National Park.

Red-shouldered Hawk in Florida

After a short walk around the marina at Biscayne we jumped back into the car and set a course for Schnebly’s Winery and Brewery. Having been to several NJ breweries, Lisa and I were both surprised by the expansive size of the indoor beer tasting room at Schnebly’s. This facility looked large enough to be an airplane hangar. If you are interested in tasting local wine or beer schedule in a visit to see what this redlands facility can offer you.

Day 6 (3/8/19)

This morning I roused myself a bit before sunrise and borrowed Lisa’s car to head onto Main Park Road for a morning of solo photography adventures. I considered myself fortunate to capture some morning fog burning off a pond at Coe Visitor Center after which I returned to the Anhinga Trail as I hoped to do 4K wildlife videography. I nearly had the boardwalks to myself in early morning except for 2 other like-minded photographers. I spoke to both guys and one hailed from Ontario while the other was from Maine.

Sunrise at Ernest F Coe Nature Center fog at Everglades

After a few hours outdoors I headed back to Home2 Suites to check on Lisa and Woody. Lisa and I got ourself ready for the day and then walked over to Exit One Taproom to check on beverages and food. I found a coffee porter on draft to my liking while Lisa sampled a couple of IPA’s.

We ate at the picnic benches outside of Exit One and had lunch from the Tako Krew food truck. Lisa ordered a shrimp quesadilla and I ordered a tofu quesadilla. My tofu quesadilla was filling but I wish the tofu had been prepared more crisp as it was still a bit soft and soggy. My dining experience at Tako Krew was not terrible but could have been better, your results may vary.

Following lunch, we packed up the car, wrangled the dog up from our hotel room and headed back towards the national park to look for wildlife and adventure. We stopped at one of the parking areas for the Southern Glades Birding Areas but didn’t see any noteworthy wildlife or scenery. After a short walk we continued into the national park.

White Ibis in Florida

The evening light shone beautifully on the scattered Cypress trees in the sloughs along Main Park Road on this relaxing drive. I opted to turn the car towards the PaHayOkee boardwalk to look for roadside wildlife. Lisa and I were excited to spot a Barred Owl perched on an isolated Cypress tree. As we observed the bird, we heard a second owl responding to its vocalization. A few seconds later a the other Barred Owl, assumedly its mate flew in nearby to perch. The birds’ conversation seemed to get more excited in tone until one of the owls burst off of its perch to chase off a crow which was infringing on the same turf.

Sunset at Everglades National Park
Barred Owl at Everglades National Park

Day 7 (3/9/19)

After minor deliberations we settled on taking an 11AM guided backwater boat tour out of the Flamingo Marina. The Everglades backwater mangrove tours operate out of a covered motorboat which can hold at least a dozen people and is operated by a national park vendor. 90 minute tours depart Flamingo at 9AM 11AM 1PM and 3PM at a cost of $35/person in 2019. You can also inquire about offerings for Florida Bay Tours. Kayak rentals are equally popular and you can rent the kayaks right at the Flamingo marina.

Flamingo Marina Everglades National Park kayak

The backwater boat tour is led by both a knowledgeable and friendly captain as well as a park naturalist. Our naturalist was a friendly young girl and she was very up to snuff on knowledge of local wildlife, native & non-native plants, and interesting Native American history. Lisa and I found the boat ride peaceful and relaxing. We were fortunate that early morning rain had cleared but also deterred our boat tour from filling to capacity.

Everglades National Park Back Water Boat Tour guide

On our backwater boat tour we saw several American Crocodiles ranging from medium size down to small yearlings. We also saw Royal Terns, Green Heron, Tricolored Heron, and Snowy Egret. I enjoyed hearing about the different types of plants as we traversed the mangroves. We would recommend taking the backwater boat tour out of Flamingo.

Tricolored Heron Everglades National Park

After our boat returned to dock at Flamingo, Lisa and I headed to another nearby section of the marina to admire Manatees. On this particular day there was a group of between 4-6 Manatees feeding and surfacing close to the docks at Flamingo. It was a lot of fun to see the Manatees coming near the surface to breath and the animals will sometimes interact with each other. Oddly enough one boat dock a PVC pipe dripping water and the Manatees would surface for long periods of time to take advantage of their “water fountain”.

After enjoying wildlife viewing we drove back to Florida City to get ready for our last dinner of the trip. Lisa did more Yelp research and found the food and margarita reviews at La Quebradita Mexican Restaurant & Grill favorable. It is no exaggeration that La Quebradita gets very busy and with small staffing it may be a long exercise in patience to get any sort of drink refill. Lisa enjoyed her meal though I found my Chile Relleno a little bland and nothing to write home about. La Quebradita is a well maintained restaurant and staff is friendly but the lackluster food and long wait was not worth it to me.

Day 8 (3/10/19)

It was time to check out of Home2 Suites Florida City and attack the tarmac for a 20 hour drive home. By this part of the trip I had several real estate clients in New Jersey who were anxious to get out and look at homes to purchase with me. This means we would be driving straight back with no overnight stay. Lisa was not very excited about that but business waits for no man or woman. The drive home was expectedly arduous and we hit some misty patches making our voyage more strenuous. However, me typing a trip report on my imac is proof that we survived the 20 hour drive.

Everglades Trip 2019 Afterthoughts:

Bringing a dog on a trip to South Florida will limit some nature viewing opportunities due to park regulations. No dogs allowed at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, no dogs allowed on Everglades Boardwalks, and woefully no admission to the lush Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge with pets. I have visited “Lox” twice in the past and was overwhelmed by the beautiful trails, diverse native trees, myriad of freeflying butterflies, and avian/mammalian denizens.

Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge Florida picture

Regardless, Lisa and I had a lot of fun on our trip, ate some interesting food and had up close and personal run-ins with a lot of wildlife. We wouldn’t change a thing. I think that Everglades National Park and Big Cypress offer something for everyone. Dogs are permitted on the myriad of unpaved trails. Every time I return to the ‘Glades I learn more about local history and ecology. I also always have great conversations with others park employees and fellow travelers. I know I will be going back!

Anhinga Trail Everglades National Park

Any questions or comments about my Florida 2019 trip report? You can also email me directly at dave@daveblinder.com or find me on facebook.