Wednesday, December 31, 2014

12/31 Summary of 2014

It’s been a good year for me:  still teaching a couple of college classes each semester, been pretty healthy, haven’t fallen and broken anything, no major mechanical problems with motorhome, and my kids and grandchildren are doing well.  Can’t expect much more in life!    

I’ve made another loop around the country this year.  Spent the winter in Arizona, Nevada, and Southern California, even meeting kids and grandkids at Disneyland in January and double-camping with them.  Made it back to Michigan and Ohio last May and then headed to Colorado, where I was met a few weeks later by both sons and their families.  We spent some time double-camping near Rocky Mountain National Park and then Colorado Springs.  Kids all enjoyed playing with their cousins, which was nice.

I spent the rest of summer heading north and west to Washington State and the Olympic Peninsula, and then fall heading down the Washington and Oregon Coasts staying at some very nice state parks.  Made it to Napa to visit with that part of my family for a few weeks and had surgery done on my right hand for carpal tunnel syndrome because it was making it too hard to ride my bike.  I enjoyed my grandkids while I was there, even though the surgery wiped me out for a few days.

I made a three-week long bee-line from California to Florida.  Spent two weeks in the Florida Panhandle, where I had never really visited before.  Incredibly white beaches, but a lot of cold wind and rain, so bailed out a couple of days early from the last place.  The rest of the winter will be at various state parks and Corps of Engineering recreation areas in Florida.    

I will be in Ohio and Michigan most of May, June, and July, doing some visiting and also traveling up north and into Ontario, so I am hoping to see a lot of friends and what family is left in Michigan.  Then through Pennsylvania and New York to New England and maybe the Canadian Maritime provinces, and then who knows where???

I keep a travel log and decided to share some statistics for this past year:
  • I drove through 25 states and added Oklahoma and Arkansas to my map of states visited in my motorhome. 
  • I have driven 19,825 miles and used roughly 2,394 gallons of gas. (Yikes!  I know that’s a lot, but I am going to be driving a lot less in 2015. Glad gas was cheap this year!)  That’s about 8.5 MPG, which is not good, but considering I am hauling around 15,000 pounds of vehicle and belongings wherever I go, I can live with it.  This is my only vehicle, and I don’t have a “sticks and bricks” home to heat or air condition, so it isn’t too bad. 
  • I used 117 gallons of propane to heat water and motorhome, cook, and run refrigerator while driving.  I do use a small electric heater to supplement the propane furnaces, which is one reason I use so little propane.   
  • I don’t know how much electricity I used, but my home on wheels is small, and I was not in very hot places.  In fact, I probably used AC at night only a handful of times because most nights were pretty chilly. 
  • I average about 8 - 9 gallons of water per day for a hot shower and washing dishes, so that totals about 2,920 – 3,285 gallons per year.  (That does not count a couple of loads of laundry each 7 – 10 days or a very occasional car wash.)  The U.S. Geological Survey says most individuals use 80-100 gallons per day, or 29,200 – 36,500 gallons per year, so I did not do badly on this one.

I hope all of you who are my family and friends have had equally good years and hope you all have a happy, healthy, and prosperous year in 2015!     

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

12/23 Mote Aquarium, Sarasota

I guess I am spoiled after visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium so many times, but this one was decent.  One part of the aquarium had the usual jellies and reef fish.

These are jellies that live upside down.  I had never seen these before.

And on the other side of the road is the manatee and sea turtle center.  These guys eat 200 pounds of lettuce and kale each day. 

A hiding turtle.

This turtle has an infection, so part of her shell has been removed.  She is getting antibiotics and is doing better, but will never be released since she has lived all her life in aquariums.

Nice warm day today, but the humidity is almost 100% so I will be glad to get back to the campground and get my AC going! 

12/23 Save Our Seabirds Sanctuary

I headed out this morning to get a propane refill and visit the Mote Aquarium.  Right next door, I found this sanctuary for seabirds.  They really aren't all seabirds, but this was an interesting sanctuary.

This is a black vulture.  They hang out with turkey vultures but are a bit smaller and have a black head and beak.  The sign said they have a sense of fun and are more inventive than turkey vultures. In fact, when I walked up to this one, he jumped off his perch, picked up an orange toy, and dropped it in front of me!  A real charmer, even though I am not fond of vultures.

These are barred owls.  You can identify them by their "Who cooks for you?" call. 

I had never seen this bird before, but he is a crested caracara and is native to southern Florida but endangered.  It was a little hard to take photos because of the wire mesh on cages.  Signs warn not to stick your fingers through the mesh!

Santa Pelican?  They have drop boxes, by the way, for birds after hours.

This is a great egret.  There are a lot of white birds in Florida, but this one has black legs and an orange beak so it is easy to identify.

And a bunch of Florida brown pelicans.  One was blind and so was hand fed by the keeper while I was there. 

And sandhill cranes are among my favorite birds.  They are huge!  Note that three of the four in this cage have artificial legs.  They are working to make them more comfortable and easier to walk with, but the birds seemed to do OK walking.

The sign here describes these birds and the efforts to make better prosthetic legs for them. 

They have an assortment of other birds in residence.  This is a parrot of some sort. 

And while most birds need cages to keep them in, this one apparently is out and wants to get in.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

12/19 & 12/21 Myakka Visitors & More Wildlife

I was very happy to have Ron and Jan visit me this past week.  They share my love of wildlife, although Ron is a much better photographer than I am.  (He also has the advantage of a humongous camera and telephoto lens!)

It is hard to avoid animals in this state park.  One of the best places to see alligators and birds is the bridge over a wide spot in the Myakka River.  Alligators like this area because it provides sunny places to warm up and birds and fishermen like it because of the plentiful fish.  Here is an anhinga drying his wings.  He dives for fish, but his wings are not coated with oil as a duck's are, so he has to dry them out after diving.

And one of the alligators floating around.  I like that you can see much of his body underwater in this photo.

Wood storks are ugly birds, but they are the only true storks in the United States and are endangered because their habitat is diminishing. They use their large beaks to sift through shallow water.  They eat fish, frogs, baby alligators, and snakes.   

Most of the alligators were dozing with their heads down, but this guy had his head raised.  He was about 7' long.  Would you believe lots of people kayak in this area????

This is a three-in-one photo:  the alligator, a wood stork, and a little blue heron.

Ron and Jan on the canopy walk.  This is a platform that takes you up into the trees so you can see the plants and trees from the top.  In the distance, you can see the taller of the two towers.  Rough climb up all those stairs, at least for me.

View from the highest tower of part of Myakka State Park.

It was hard to see but easy to hear.  This was a raucous osprey sitting in this tree.   There was another osprey flying around, but I have no idea why this one was so loud.  Osprey eat fish, so this is a logical place to find one.  People build towers with platforms on the top to encourage these birds to nest since their usual areas of tall trees have often been replaced by houses or condos. 

And this is a great white heron.  Same size and shape as a great blue heron, but a different color.

The road through the park is 8 miles long, so today (the 21st) I rode my bike the entire length.  Found this pretty river view at the northeast end.

This bird was way down at the end.  It is hard to see, but the bill curves down which makes it a white ibis.  Check out the reflection.  Also there is another bird on the same branch, but I have no idea what it was because it was so far away. 

I also saw a turtle sunning on a log, but the photo did not turn out well.  And saw a deer on my way back to my campground. 

While I don't ride it every day, my electric bike does an excellent job of getting me around.  My ride was 14 miles today. I could never do that distance on my old bike because of my sore knees. 

There are tram and boat tours here, which I took two years ago when I stayed here.  I am probably going to take those tomorrow or Tuesday, depending on the weather--we are supposed to get rain tonight.  Since temperature was in upper 70s today, I don't mind a night of rain!   

Monday, December 15, 2014

12/15 First Day at Myakka State Park near Sarasota, FL

Got my bike out and rode to the lake, almost four miles down the road.  This is one of my favorite state parks anywhere.  It is huge and has a ton of wildlife.  There are two older campgrounds here and one newer one.  Based on experience with partiers last year, I chose the newer one this time.  Nice full-hookup campsites with lots of privacy and space.  I really appreciate clean gravel instead of dirt because it means a lot less tracking inside!  Would you believe they rake each site and clean the fire pits when each camper leaves and before the next ones check in? 

Two other advantages to Florida state parks is that there are washers and dryers in restrooms and they are gated at night with big, heavy-duty gates.  You get the combination when you check in so you can come and go, but he gate keeps any late-night cruisers out. (Also, occasionally keeps campers who forget their code out or who arrive late, but those are other stories.)

A half-mile down the road is a river.  If you look carefully, you will see some alligators sunning themselves on the banks of that little island.

Here is a close-up.
And a wood stork taking a rest.

One of the fishermen threw a too-small fish onto the bank so the wood stork came up for a look.  I left  so as not to scare it away, so I did not see if it found it. 

What makes Myakka so full of wildlife is the varied terrain.  There is the river, marsh, lake, prairie, and dryer forest. 

This is one of the two lakes.  The other is south and off-limits to visitors.  Check out the warning sign about the vultures.  Not too many here today, but when they are here, they like to tear windshield wipers apart, plus any other rubber parts on vehicles, hence the sign.

I took this tour boat when I was here two years ago.  It is the world's slowest air boat, but it takes you across the lake where you can see more wildlife.  FYI, they rent kayaks here, but considering the number of alligators, I would pass.

I had some ice cream at the cafĂ© and gift shop at the lake, and finished just in time to see a flash of pink wings arrive.  In all the years I have visited Florida, this is the first roseate spoonbill I have ever seen.  Check out this video I uploaded.  It shows how they use their large spoonbill to find food in the mud. 

Stopped at the river on my way back to the campground and saw this guy headed towards us on the bridge. I expect he thought we might be fisherman who might have some leftovers.

He was about 8' long.

What a big mouth you have!


12/14 Blue Beacon Truck Wash

I used to struggle with all of my 5'1" height to use an expandable brush, bucket of water, and hose to wash my RV.  I was afraid of truck washes because many of them are automated and use brushes on top, which I did not want because I have stuff like vents and my satellite dish and AC on top of my rig. 

The other option is to use one of the washing services that will come to an RV park, but they charge from $150 to $250 per wash, depending on whether they do any detailing.   MUCH too expensive!

Finally, I found Blue Beacon Truck Washes, which are all over the country.  They charge $28-$30 per wash for a vehicle the size of mine.  They tend to be next to or behind big truck stops off major interstate highways.  This one is at Exit 285 off of I-75 near Dade City, FL.

 You pull around back and then wait in line with the big trucks. Usually it takes at least a half hour before you get in.  There is ALWAYS a line!  This one is from the Blue Beacon in Portland.  They were washing out the inside of this truck.  (That day, in the next bay they were also washing out a truck where the piggies had already gone to market--a really big stink!)

They were only washing the cab of this truck.  A lot of truckers who own those nice shiny cabs keep them nice and shiny this way. 


Now, it's my turn.  You have to get out fast and go into the office to pay before the swarm of workers start washing your vehicle.  This time I skipped the $13 clear coat wax.  They will also polish your tires and do some other minor things for a few extra bucks.  My vehicle was so dirty from the road, salt, and beach sand storms, a plain wash was enough.  

They don't do any drying, but whatever they use really does an excellent job of getting off bugs and does not streak windows.  In fact, after I hand wash it myself, I always have to do the windows, but they looks great right now, sitting in my campground the next day. 

So, I have fallen in love with Blue Beacon!  I don't have to wear myself out, get soaked, or try to find a campground (very hard to find) that will actually let me wash my own vehicle.  The few coin-operated washes that my vehicle will fit into end up costing me about $20 in quarters anyway, so Blue Beacon is a real bargain and a true luxury! 

There is also one in the southeast part of Florida, so I'll probably go there later in the winter for another wash.