Next stop on the Florida Snowbird Express was South Bay County Park at the southeast corner of Lake Okeechobee. As with most of the country, winter has been cooler than normal this year. Here we were in south Florida but many mornings were still in the 30s. however daytime temperatures were a pleasant 60-70 degrees. Florida has a network of County Parks and these can be an alternative to staying in the all too popular state parks plus most allow stays longer than two weeks.
South Bay was a very well kept park with large well spaced sites and offers full hookups. Just across the street is a levee for Lake Okechobee with a walking/biking trail at the top. During our stay the weather was too windy and cool for kayaking on the open water. We’d hoped to see if the bass were really as large as they say but that will have to wait for another time. The surrounding area is primarily agricultural (sugar cane growing and refining) so the downside is you must drive an hour or more to sights and attractions.
We did use the biking trail twice for 10-11 mile trips. On the second trip we were on our way home and enjoying seeing pelicans and ibis roosting in trees along the lake. All of a sudden I heard Steve call out “whoa!” and swerve to the right into the grass. Right on the path in front of him was a snake. I past by on the left about three feet away. Steve missed the critter by inches and as he went by it lifted its head six inches, opened its mouth to show fangs and the classic white roof of its mouth. It was a cottonmouth. Way to close for comfort. Neither of us had a cell phone and it made us think a bit about carrying one. How would we have gotten help if he had been bitten? So from now on we’ll be more prepared.
We’d come here primarily to see friends recently relocated from Seattle. They have found many activities here and keep very busy. One place they spend a lot of time is the Life Long Learning Center at Florida Atlantic University. They were taking a four week course on the War of 1812 from Dr. Robert Watson. They invited us to come along and we were able to attend as guests for a small fee. Dr. Watson is a most knowledgeable and dynamic teacher. If we lived there we’d be regulars for his classes. In fact we enjoyed the first week so much we returned for the following week. Steve told him the story about his brother and the USS Constitution and was able to send him a copy of the inscription in the Java Bible. In turn when he learned we were going to Key West he told us to see if a friend of his who was the Director at the Truman Little White House would give us a tour.
Having seen what Henry Flagler built for other people we planned a visit to his Palm Beach estate, Whitehall. This 75 room, 100,000 square foot mansion was built for his third wife in 1902. We strolled the grounds and main floor while waiting for the next docent led tour. If you go definitely take one of the free tours. You will learn so much more than touring on your own. After Henry Flagler died in 1913 his wife moved back to St. Augustine. Upon her death the property was owned by a niece until the mid 1920s when it was sold and converted into a 300 room hotel with a second building consisting of ten floors attached to the rear. The original home was used for dining, bar and card rooms. The hotel operated until 1959. By then the once gracious mansion was in severe disrepair and threatened with demolition. Henry Flagler’s granddaughter organized a non-profit corporation to restore the property and opened it to the public in 1960. Through her efforts 90% of the original furnishings and artwork have been recovered. With rooms copied from the Vatican and Versailles this museum is a must see for anyone visiting south Florida. If you visit on a Sunday afternoon you may hear the largest pipe organ ever installed in a private home being played. During the winter “season” the museum also holds classical music performances in the grand ballroom for an addition fee. Enjoy a tour via our photos until you have a chance to visit yourself.
We also spent time enjoying two locations along the Florida Birding Trail: Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach and Loxahatchee NWR in Boynton Beach. We visited the later on twice, once walking the boardwalk and another taking the volunteer narrated tram tour. Here we spoke to two volunteers who encouraged us to pursue workcamping at NWR sites.
We learned about the Wakodahatchee Wetlands from another passenger on the Loxahatchee NWR tram ride. Not having anything planned for the afternoon, we decided to visit. What a wonderful surprise! This wetland is created by the county water authority from the discharge of treated sewage. A mile plus boardwalk has been built through the wetlands allowing birders, photographers and nature lovers to be up close and personal with hundreds of shore and wading birds. Here are some photos from our visit.