Elizabeth A.S. Brooke

Crafting, traveling and everything in between.


Everglades, Miccosukee Reservation and Big Cypress, Fla.

For my final Florida post (it’s taken awhile, hasn’t it?) I saved the best for last. The Everglades! I was so happy to see a part of the park!

We went to the Shark Valley Visitor Center, Everglades National Park, near Miami. That’s the closest visitor center to Chris’ cousins’ house, who we visited the next day. (See my Bill Baggs Cape Florida post here.)

Word of caution … this is a very popular stop. We could not even find a parking spot inside the park. We had to park along U.S. 41 (which, by the way, Chris says runs to his hometown, Evansville, Ind.) and walk in.

And though it was just around lunch time (it took 5 hours to drive from Kissimmee to Miami), all bike rentals and spots on the tram were booked up for the afternoon. So we walked around a portion of the paved, 15 mile look.

No, we didn’t walk the whole 15 miles. There’s no way we could have done that, especially in the blazing heat. We just walked a ways around each side of the loop and along two paths that connect either side of the loop.

Walking along the paved road I felt like we were in a zoo. All the birds and gators were right along the path in pools of water. Interpretive signs explained that during the winter months (we were there in March) the wildlife hang out in the small pools of water. When the spring rains come, there’s more water and the animals move further out.

  All photos by E.A. Seagraves or Christopher Brooke
All rights reserved. Please do not use any photos without permission.

So it didn’t really feel like we were out in the wild. Which is okay. We were able to get a lot of photos of birds and gators, including this fella who was sunning himself right by the path:

Since it was cooler than 80 degrees, the gators weren’t moving around much. The need higher temps to move about and digest food. Lucky for us, I guess. đŸ™‚

Here’s some more photos:

Next we took an air boat ride, courtesy of the Miccosukee Indian Village. The boats were stationed across the highway from the park’s entrance so we just walked across the road. Here’s a shot from the boat:

The tour guide took us into the middle of the grassy river to a former chickee, or home. We got out and walked around, checking out the open shelters were families ate and slept:

Chris and I later ate at a Miccosukee restaurant down the road where I tried fried frog legs. I don’t think it tasted like chicken as many people say. I thought it tasted like fish and was appropriately served with tartar sauce. Though they tasted okay, I don’t think frog legs are something I will order again. It’s too hard to get past the fact I’m eating a frog. Blegh!

We briefly visited the Big Cypress National Preserve, which is just a few miles west of Shark Valley. The visitor center was already closed so we watched some lazy alligators lounging in front of the center:

Then we headed down the road to take the driving tour — the 16 mile Turner River Road Loop Drive.

It took us 3 1/2 hours to complete the drive. The dirt road had been washed out by rain and had lots of large potholes in it. A park volunteer, collecting trash at the trail head, said the road was passable. And he was right, it was passable, but I felt like the car needed an alignment after the long, bumpy trip. đŸ™‚

Here’s some photos:

I would love to go back to Big Cypress to check out more of the park. And, maybe, one day Chris and I will be able to make it down to the main visitor center of the Everglades — much, much further south in Florida.

Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales, Fla.

Besides Sunken Gardens in St. Pete, we also visited Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Fla.

Created by Edward Bok, an editor, the gardens serve as a nature preserve. President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the gardens in 1929.
I really enjoyed learning about Bok, editor of the “Ladies Home Journal,”and how he came up in the publishing world, starting with the Henry Holt and Company in 1882.
Before heading out to the gardens we had a quick lunch at the Blue Palmetto Cafe. It was reasonably priced and delicious.
The Singing Tower is the focal point of the garden and was designed and built by architect Milton Medary.
The Singing Tower looking across the reflection pool.
(All photos by E.A. Seagraves or Christopher Brooke. Please don’t use without permission.)
The designs decorating the tower were really beautiful. 
Sundial on the side of The Singing Tower.
The tower has bells built inside and carillon bell concerts are held at 1 and 3 p.m. There are also evening concerts during parts of the year. There’s an outdoor sitting area near the tower so people can sit and listen to the bells. There’s also a live video feed so you can watch the bellmen play the tunes.
Even if you don’t attend the concerts at the tower, you can still hear the music through most of the property.
Bok is buried at the foot of the tower.
A small pond surrounds the tower and there are two swans that you can feed. But be careful. One swan is mean. He’ll grab your toes if you don’t pay attention.
Chris feeds one of the swans.
There were lots of palms, azaleas and camellias throughout the garden. It was really pretty and it was nice to walk around taking pictures. (Sorry I won’t have any pictures of those flowers. Some of the Bok Tower Garden pictures are some of those that we lost from the trip.)
We also walked around the Pine Ridge Trail, which is 3/4 mile long and travels through different environments with interpretive signs explaining the significance of each. This is where we learned about live oaks and how to identify them. There were also lots of long leaf pines and grasses.
From there we could view an orange orchard and workers out in the field, standing next to what appeared to be bee hives:
These are orange blossoms. They’re really fragrant. There were also grapefruit blooms on the property, which look and smell similar.
There’s a little shed with a window facing a pond called “Window by the Pond.” You can sit and watch birds, squirrels and reptiles feeding and swimming by. Three stumps set out in the pond are filled with seed and attracts variety of birds … and squirrels.
We saw a variety of birds at “The Window by the Pond,” including a red winged black bird (left) and these other birds.
This squirrel figured out a way to get out to the bird feed. We saw him later run across the three stumps and leap onto a low hanging tree branch.

We also toured the gardens and yard around the Pinewood Estate. It would have been nice to visit the inside of the home too, but we still had a large portion of the gardens to see and I didn’t want to miss any of it. 
I really enjoyed the gardens and recommend it as a side trip if you’re ever in central Florida.
Here’s some more photos:
For some information about Edward Bok or the gardens, check out these books from Amazon:
Note: I linked to these books using Blogger’s new Amazon Associates program. I’m giving it a try to see how it works.

I haven’t read either of these books so I can’t give a full recommendation. My husband has read some books on Frederick Law Olmstead and some on Olmstead Jr., but I didn’t find those on Amazon. He did enjoy those, but I don’t remember their names.

Sunken Gardens, St. Pete, Fla.

While in Florida, Chris and I made a trip to St. Petersburg to see the Salvador Dali Museum, the downtown district and Sunken Gardens.

Since the Dali Museum is only $5 on Thursday evenings, we decided to head to St. Pete later in the day. (Regular admission is $17.) Taking advantage of the discount, however, meant we were joined by a bunch of other cheapskates, so it was loud and crowded. Not the best viewing atmosphere, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

My favorite Dali pieces were the jewelry and silverware. I thought I’d enjoy the paintings more, but fell in love with his other work. The exhibit was “Dali: Gems” and featured pieces selected by “celebrated friends of the Dali,” a.k.a. famous celebrities such as Susan Sarandon and Alice Cooper.

There was also an “Alice in Wonderland” exhibit of water colors. I wondered if it was on display because of the new Tim Burton movie, but nothing indicated that it was.

I picked up a set of salt and pepper shakers in the shape of the melting clock in “The Persistence of Memory” as a gift for my grandma. Chris didn’t think she’d know what it was — and she didn’t. She thought it was a shoe. But who else will ever go to the Dali Museum and bring her back a new set for her collection? (Note: To be fair, I also got her a more conventional set in Savannah.)

I was tempted to buy one of the silk scarves that have various Dali paintings on them, but resisted.

Before stopping by the museum, we walked around downtown and grabbed a bite to eat. The streets weren’t busy while we were in the city, though it was a workday afternoon. I was amazed there wasn’t more traffic. In fact, I wondered where everybody was.

It also sounded like a drag race was happening near downtown too. It appears, following a link from the city’s website, the Honda Grand Prix was held the day after we were there. I guess drivers were practicing?

Chris wanted to check out Sunken Gardens, a botanical garden created by a plumber in the1920s in the middle of the city. St. Pete now owns and operates it. So we headed there after supper and before visiting the Dali.

I loved walking around trying to memorize the different types of palm trees throughout the walled garden, checking out the koi fish and birds (including flamingos and parrots), and checking out the tropical plants, flowers and bromeliads.

My favorite palm is the triangle palm:

Here’s an overview shot of the garden. Pretty, huh?

And, here’s some shots of flowers. The last is a powder puff tree bloom:

Lake Kissimmee State Park

One of the coolest places we visited in Florida was Lake Kissimmee State Park.

Well, actually, I probably think it’s cool because we saw two armadillos. I squealed when I saw the first one. Really. I did.

All photos by Christopher Brooke/Do not use photos or reprint them without permission.

And it’s not because armadillo is the mascot of the community college I attended. It was just so cute . . . well, sort of.

We walked along a trail at the park that was pretty much flooded. We tried to keep to the side of the trail as much as possible, but by the time we got back to the car, our feet were pretty much soaked.

This is the trail, not a creek. It was flooded from recent rains.

Most of the trail meanders through open grassland, perfect for birds and, obviously, armadillos.

Before looping back around, the trail follows along a section of the Everglades. We could hear air boats out on the water, although we couldn’t see them.

I know it’s hard to see, but the Everglades can bee seen in the back.

In the water we saw ducks and various herons and other water birds. No alligators though. I guess we weren’t close enough to view them.

The park also has campsites, playgrounds and picnic tables at the park, but we didn’t take advantage of any of them.

St. Augustine, Fla.

On our way from Savannah, Ga., to Kissimmee, Fla., Chris and I made a stop in St. Augustine, Fla.

I expected this stop to only be a couple of hours, but it quickly turned into a six hour stop over!

St. Augustine prides itself in being the first permanent settlement (1565) in American and as the site of the oldest wooden school house in the U.S.

Oldest wooden school house in the U.S./All photo rights reserved/E.A. Seagraves

St. Augustine isn’t usually credited with the first European settlement in America because the settlers were Spanish. The U.S., after all, was eventually created by British subjects rebelling against the crown. So, usually, American history only refers to the settlement of Jamestown as the first settlement in the United States, although that settlement wasn’t until 1607.

The historic district, accessed mostly on foot, reminded me of Gatlinburg, Tenn. There were some old buildings (I think 36 are still left standing) that housed shops, so it was possible to get a feel for what it was like back in 1565.

Several people braved the rain to hang out in St. Augustine’s historic district.

We spent a lot of time in the Spanish Quarter, talking with living history interpreters — a carpenter, blacksmith, leather worker, church scribe and wife of a soldier. St. Augustine was settled as a military outpost so was home to a lot of soldiers.

A carpenter in the Spanish Quarter Museum.
A leather worker in the Spanish Quarter. (Heaven forbid you call him a leather maker!) đŸ™‚

A women making a netted bag.
She would have been the wife or mother of one of the soldiers.
St. Augustine was a military outpost

A church scribe.

Most of the homes would have been built without glass in the windows and cooking took place outdoors on hornos, or ovens.

Only after the English took over the Spanish settlement (first time in 1763) was glass placed in the windows and cooking take place indoors.

The admission ticket we bought also got us access to the Mesa-Sanchez House that was home to Spanish, then English and then again Spanish families. The guide stopped in each room and explained when and how each section was added. It began as a one room house and eventually was a two-story home by the 1830s.

We also got to go through the Government House Museum of History and Archaeology.

We could have gotten a discount at the Taberna del Gallo, but we didn’t have time to grab a drink before heading to Kissimmee.

Columbia Restaurant is a delicious restaurant offering Spanish fare. We hid out there for lunch until rains subsided. (It rained lightly most of the day.)

Besides talking with the living history interpreters about life for the Spanish in the 1500s and enjoying the food at Columbia, I really liked the architecture.

It’s worth a stop. Next time, Chris and I plan to stop at the fort, which we didn’t have time to explore but did drive by.

Trips ahead

In the coming weeks, Chris and I will head south for a pre-anniversary get away. Our anniversary isn’t until April 26, but we’re heading to Florida the end of this month. It should still be cool(er) in Florida then.

On our list of must dos: Everglades, Salvador Dali Museum and Butterfly World. None of those selections should be a surprise to anyone. We love state and national parks, I am a big Dali fan and we both love butterflies, although Chris is the one you’ll find chasing the winged beauties with a camera. I swear he has thousands of butterfly photos on our Mac.

A coworker also suggested the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Houses in Fort Myers and the Ringling Museum in Sarasota. If we have time and make it out that way, we’ll investigate.

Chris also has two cousins in Florida we hope to visit. So far we haven’t heard back from them. One lives near Tampa and the other near Miami.

To make traveling easier, we’re going to stop in Savannah, Ga., on the way down and back. So far we haven’t made any plans for this city. We’re planning on getting lost and exploring all we can with the little time we’ll have to spend there.

Sidney, unfortunately, won’t get to come along. She’ll hang out with her grandparents in North Carolina. Hopefully she’ll get along with their new puppy and share her water bowl and food dish if the puppy wants to stick her snout in.

I plan to take plenty of pictures and will share some of our adventures with you. If anyone has any suggestions of places to check out, let me know by posting a comment below or sending an email here.