Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Palm Beach Area of Florida

Fri, Jan. 4th - Mon, Feb, 11th

We arrived in Lake Worth and got set up at our camp in John Prince Park where we will stay for a month.  The town of Lake Worth and the lake and Fort Worth, Texas were all named for Col. William Jenkins Worth who brought the Second Seminole War to an end.  John Prince Park is a county park of over 700 acres with Lake Osborne in the center and a paved bike path around the lake of about 8 miles, plus a couple little islands with trails.  This is a view from the bike path back toward the campground across the lake.  There are tons of birds in the park and at least a couple of very large alligators in the lake that we have seen.  This is mostly Ibis here with a couple of Wood Storks. The Ibis is a long, legged wading bird with a long, down-curved bill.  Most nest in trees, often with the spoonbills and herons.  There are 28 species of Ibis.  The American White Ibis is the mascot of the University of Miami because of its legendary bravery during hurricanes.  They are the last sign of wildlife to take shelter and the first to return after the storm has passed.  In the town of Hermopolis ibis were raised specifically for sacrificial purposes.  Archaeologists found mummies of one and a half million ibis and hundreds of thousands of falcons.

Muscovy Ducks are native to Mexico and Central and South America.  In the wild the males get up to 15 lbs. and the females only 7 lbs.  Domesticated they get up to 18 and 11 lbs.  Both have pink or red wattles around the bill.  There is also a White Muscovy.  They mate on land or in water, with the large drake completely submerging the female.  They don't quack, but occasionally make a quiet whispery sound.  They can be crossed with Mallards, called Mulard (mule duck) because they are sterile.  They are cross-bred in Israel for kosher duck, a status that has been a matter for rabbinic discussion for over 150 years.  They are banned as kosher in the U.S.  In the U.S. they are considered an invasive species and there is legislation prohibiting their trade and plans for their eradication.  If there is no owner, they may be removed or destroyed anywhere in the U.S. except for three counties in Texas where they are considered indigenous. 

The Wood Stork is the only stork in America.  When it is present in wetlands, it means there are lots of fish and the ecosystem is healthy.  They walk with their large bills open in the water swinging it in an arc or pushing it into the mud and vegetation.  When it feels a fish, its bill snaps shut in less than 1/40th of a second, one of the fastest reflexes in the animal world.  It has long been on the endangered list, but is under reconsideration in Florida where its numbers have increased.  Their knees bend backward from the way our knees bend.  When they sit down, their legs stick out in front of them with their big pink feet spread out in the grass in front of them.  Very funny looking.  

The Great Egret, aka Great White Egret, Common Egret or Large Egret.  One was known to catch a snake over two feet long, kill it and swallow it whole. 

The Great Blue Heron lives along the shores of open water and wetlands in most of North and Central America and the Caribbean and Galapagos Islands.  They are rarely seen in Europe and usually breed in colonies called a heronry.   Several of the egrets and herons stab fish with their beaks and fly with their necks tucked in on their backs.

I usually see 2 or 3 Great Blue Herons when I am biking or rollerblading around the lake.  I have been rollerblading 12 to 16 miles most mornings and biking 16 miles in the afternoon on the days we stay home. 

Here is an Ahninga with its wings spread out to dry.  It is Brazilian for Devil or Snake Bird, aka American Darter or Water Turkey.  It is similar to a Cormorant, but has a much wider and longer tail and a pointed bill.  The cormorant has a hook-tip bill.  When it comes up from diving for fish, it is too wet and heavy to fly.  It's spread feathers look like piano keys.  When it is swimming, all you can see is its long neck bobbing along in the water, looking very much like a snake.

The Limpkin, aka Carrao, Courlan or Crying Bird, is a large marsh bird found only in Florida in the U. S.  Florida is the northern limit of its breeding range.  It feeds almost exclusively on apple snails.  It is named for its seeming limp when it walks.  It has a loud wail or scream usually heard at dawn or dusk.  I hear them in the evening, but never at dawn, because as John says, "Dawn doesn't exist in my world."  He says I'm lucky to see noon, but that's definitely an exaggeration! 

There are lots of different herons.  I think this is the Tricolored Heron.   There are many other birds here like the Common Moorhen, American Coot,  Mottled Duck and Seagulls, which have the rare ability to drink both fresh and salt water.  They have a special pair of glands above their eyes designed to flush salt from their systems through openings in their bills.

This one is the Little Blue Heron.   There is no swimming here in Lake Osborne as there are alligators and we have seen a couple 10 to 12 footers.  However, I saw a guy on a jet ski pulling tubers and a guy skiing.  The American Crocodile is a threatened species and protected by a wildlife refuge in Key Largo. The American Alligator has survived over 150 million years and was once widely hunted for its meat and skins, but is no longer endangered.

The Brown Pelicans are unusual among pelicans, as they feed mostly along ocean shores rather than inland lakes.  They are the only dark pelican and the only one that plunges from the air into water to catch food.  They have keen eyesight and can spot schools of small fish or a single fish from 70 feet above.   Diving steeply head first, it comes up with 3 gal. of water in its pouch, which is strained out before swallowing fish that remain.  

I came around the corner on my bike one afternoon and there were ten young raccoons right on the bike path.   They are frequently in the same spot in the late afternoon, because people drive by and throw out bread crusts and such for them.  One day I rollerbladed by about 2 or 3 feet from them.  Most of them backed up to the edge of the bushes, but several never moved and one started to follow me.  Kind of weird, but they sure are cute. 

Raccoon's hands resemble human hands, except without fully opposable thumbs and thousands more nerve endings, making its sense of touch much more developed than its vision or sense of smell.  They can be seen "washing" their food in rivers or streams, but not to clean it.  They are wetting their paws to enhance their sense of touch, so they don't accidentally swallow bones or sharp objects while eating fish and small mammals.  Coons eat eggs of alligators, birds and turtles and crayfish, baby alligators, berries and fruit.

This little playground area was on one of the small islands on the bike path.  It had a panel with little tiles you could flip to spell words or make designs.  I'd never seen one before and might not have noticed it here, except for the word spelled out.  I first laughed at children's sense of humor, but then I thought it could just as easily have been a teenager or adult.  Who knows? 

This is for my favorite son-in-law who has been wondering just how nerdy this old Granny looks when she gets all decked out to go rollerblading. 

It's kind of interesting to watch them putting in new palm trees.   This is right along the bike path near the campground.  They trim the tops all back and there is just a little ball of roots, hardly any bigger than a basketball.  I don't know how long they have to keep them braced until the roots grow strong enough to hold them upright. 

We drove over to the city beach in Lake Worth near the casino to go for a walk on the beach one afternoon.  They were just doing some new landscaping and these palm trees appeared to have just been recently planted, and were braced up when we came by a few days later. 

Our experiences walking on the beaches on the Atlantic side so far, seem to be much windier and bigger waves and the water feels colder. 

We saw a couple of Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish washed up on the  beach.  It looks like a single jellyfish, but is actually a colony of highly specialized polyps.  Above water the colony uses a float filled with nitrogen gas.  A crest on top functions as a sail.  Under water polyps hang down as toxic tentacles that trap fish and other creatures for food.  Other polyps digest the food that is caught, while still others create an exact copy of the colony that floats away on its own. 

There were red and purple flags flying to indicating no swimming allowed today, because of high winds and jellyfish.  However, there were still people out there swimming, some quite a ways out on air mattresses.  I thought it looked pretty scary even without the warning flags, especially when I saw this cross on the beach.

Thursday, Jan. 17th, we drove over to the West Palm Beach County History Museum in the old 1916 County Courthouse.  There is a beautiful new Courthouse building and complex across the street covering about two city blocks.  Thank goodness for technology.  I'd hate to have to carry this camera around with me.  There are 135 different languages spoken in Palm Beach County.  Their school district is the 4th largest in the state and the 11th largest in the U.S. 

Saturday we drove over to watch a little Jai Alai being played.  As you can see, they don't draw much of a crowd, about 70 this day.  They play singles or doubles like tennis.  There are 8 post positions, each with a different color jersey with their post number on the front, 1 thru 8, and their personal number on the back.  The players, called pelotaris, serve the pelota (just a hair smaller than a tennis ball, but harder than a golf ball) with a cesta (handmade basket using reeds imported from the Pyrenees Mountains in the Basque region of Spain and France). 

The front court player has a smaller cesta giving more control and precision for ramates, or kill shots.  The larger back court cesta is designed for more power and distance.  Each cesta is made to fit the size and style of each player.  The curvature is designed to decelerate and accelerate the pelota as it is caught and thrown, often at speeds in excess of 150 mph.  The cinta is a white cloth strap used to tie the cesta securely to the player's right hand.  They use such great force to accelerate the pelota, that the cesta would fly right off if not tied securely to the wrist. 

The Faja, red cloth pant belt (a tradition for over a century) is part of a colorful uniform that denotes a pelatori enjoying the game of Jai Alia (the merry festival).  The serve has to hit the front wall and bounce on the floor between lines 4 and 7.  Then it can be caught and returned by the opponent or he can wait for it to bounce off the back wall or left wall and then catch it and return it against the front wall.  If he fails to return it, his opponent scores, he rotates out and the next guy takes his place.  So each of the 8 players has an individual score.  So you can bet three numbers of those you expect to win, place or show and if you get all three in order (trifecta), you are the big winner.  There are three umps or refs.  Since there is no wall on the right side, all players must play right-handed.  It has to be served, or caught and returned, in one fluid motion with no holding or juggling it in the cesta.

This is a bullet proof glass shattered by a pelota moving over 150 mph.  Helmets have been required in the U.S. since 1969.  Red helmets are worn by the back court players and yellow by the front court players.  It is promoted as the fastest sport in the world, because of a once held world record for ball speed of 188 mph.  The record was broken in 2009 when long drive champ, Jason Zubach, hit a golf ball 204 mph.  The speed of the ball has led to injuries that caused players to retire and fatalities in some cases.   

Then we went to Haulover Beach Park and Sunny Isles Ocean Walkway.  Named that because of a man who used to haul over fishing boats from the bay to the ocean.  In 1926 the first dock was built with a permit from the War Department, the foundation of the international sport fishing tourist industry as charter boats searched for Marlin, Sailfish and other big game fish in Miami's abundant Gulf Stream waters.  The weighing station of the Metropolitan Miami Fishing Tournament, the oldest and largest fishing contest in the world, was here.  Many celebrities came here to fish, such as Robert Mitchum and Arthur Godfrey.  There were treacherous currents under the Haulover Bridge and the threat of enemy subs just outside the inlet in 1942 and 43.  It was a strategic military site for the Coast Guard and sub-spotters.  

Whoever owns this "Stray Cat" should feel free to park it in my harbor slip anytime.  Oh, that's right, I don't have a harbor slip.  An RV on water to travel the world.  I would love it!  There were lots of yachts like this along the walkway. 

We finally made it to South Beach Miami and cruised behind this Lamborghini for a while.  I remember our number one daughter one time said that was what she wanted, so my folks got her a little toy one for Christmas as a joke.  As I recall, she was not amused. 

I thought this was a cool looking building and I didn't even notice there was one of those touring "Duck" vehicles in front of it when I snapped the picture. 

There were 7 or 8 cruise ships in port.  We are hoping to find a good deal on a cruise while Mom is here, so she and I can go and John can be King of the RV for a few days.  I'm sure he will miss me, because how will he know what to do if I'm not there to tell him?

Thursday, Jan. 24th, we went to Palm Beach to tour Henry Flagler's home and museum.  He left his home in Ohio at age 14 to seek his fortune.  He was involved in several successful business ventures, but ended up $40,000 in debt at the end of the Civil War.  Then he partnered up with John D. Rockefeller and Samuel Andrews and they founded Standard Oil (the most profitable corporation in history) and he became one of the wealthiest men in America.  He was the legal mind behind the company and helped determine the form of the modern industrial corporation by establishing the business trust, making it possible to conduct business in many states from a single corporate office. In his fifties he turned to the development of Florida.  The iron and bronze fence around Whitehall was one of the most complex and largest of all Gilded Age fences.

He did the same thing on the east coast of Florida that Henry Plant did on the west coast.  He bought up small railroads and merged them into the Florida East Coast Railroad.  He also had steamships with routes to Havana, Nassau and the Bahamas and built a string of fabulous resort hotels.  The state was eager for development and traded him land for miles of railroad built.  He ended up with over 2 million acres.  He sold the land to families and farmers encouraging them to produce things that would need to be shipped on his railroads, developing the economy and building his own wealth at the same time.  The earliest settlers didn't arrive here until the late 1800s and faced an untamed wilderness, hurricanes and "millions of skeeters to the square inch".  What Flagler had already accomplished here in the 1880s was amazing.  The legendary Barefoot Mailman route started in 1885 and lasted until 1893 when the stagecoach started running from Lantana to Miami.  There is a book and I think a movie about the Barefoot Mailmen.  They walked barefoot along the beach in order to avoid slogging through inland swamps.  It was a six-day round trip and covered 136 miles, 80 on foot and 56 in small boats.  Over a year they walked about 7,000 miles.  In 1887 one died in the line of duty.  He drowned or was attacked by alligators or sharks, after someone "borrowed" his skiff, forcing him to swim across Hillsboro Inlet to retrieve it.  His clothes and mailbag were found hanging from a tree, but the body was never found. 

Flagler's first headquarters and home were in St. Augustine, but he later decided Palm Beach was warmer and built Whitehall, with over 75 rooms, as a wedding gift for his third wife.  His first hotel in Palm Beach was the six-story Royal Poinciana in 1885 facing Lake Worth and very close to where he built this home.  At the time it was the world's largest resort hotel and the world's largest wooden building with 1,150 rooms for 2,000 guests.  His railroad delivered guests to the hotel where an orchestra greeted them on the veranda.  He was 71 and she was 34 when they married in 1901.  He also had a 60 room home on a peninsula on Long Island Sound in New York and another in St. Augustine.  This pavilion houses "one" of his private railcars, built in 1896.  There is a restaurant along the windows overlooking the Lake Worth Intercoastal Waterway and a couple of Palm Beach Chariots in the center (invented in Palm Beach) and popular at many resorts at the time.  Flagler preferred horses, and autos were not allowed on Palm Beach.  Over 200 chair men were employed by Flagler's hotels in Palm Beach.  You could hire a chair for an entire day for $5.00, one day's wage for the average worker in 1900.  In the 1920s they were nicknamed Afromobiles for those who usually provided the pedal power.  Their use declined after Flagler's death in 1913, but were still used another 60 years. 

This is the view out the restaurant windows of the Lake Worth Intercoastal Waterway and the West Palm Beach skyline.  Henry platted out the city of West Palm Beach and was responsible for establishing Miami.  Easter Sunday they have an egg hunt on the front lawn with over 7,000 eggs.  The Gilded Age game of "egg rolling" began on the south lawn of the White House when President Rutherford B. Hayes welcomed children to the first White House Easter Egg Roll in 1878.

This is the Grand Hall as you enter Whitehall through large bronze doors.  This almost 5,000 square foot reception hall was the largest and grandest of any room in a Gilded Age private home.  The term Gilded Age was coined by Mark Twain and referred to the period after  the Civil War 1865 until the stock market crash of 1929.

From the Grand Hall we walked through the beautiful Library and into the Music Room with art gallery and organ, where Mrs. Flagler hosted her bridge parties, took her afternoon tea and held meetings.  There is a huge portrait of her in this room in which she is wearing several engagement gifts from Henry, including a five foot string of perfectly matched natural pearls with a 12 carat diamond clasp.  Perfectly matched strands were extremely rare before the advent of cultured pearls.  In pro-rated dollars, the necklace remains the most expensive item of jewelry ever sold by Tiffany and Company to this day.  There is a 1,249 pipe organ at the far end of the room and an organist was in residence to play it for them for the six weeks they spent here each winter.

Grand Ballroom.  They only spent six weeks here each winter from New Years until Washington's birthday, which was the highlight of the social season and celebrated with the Bal Poudre, or Powdered Wig Ball, that was held here in full period costume with powdered wigs.  In 1903 a rickshaw covered with tropical blossoms was pulled around the room by children, as a woman nearly buried in flowers handed out miniature sterling silver loving cups (tiny silver wine glass) to the dancers.  Also, pots with silver trees with jeweled "cherries" were given to the ladies and silver hatchets to the men.

Dining Room with silver wine cistern, front left.  It is very tarnished, but they don't polish it often, as polishing it too much wears off layers of the silver.  Many illustrious guests were entertained here such as Greta Garbo, Mr. and Mrs. Walt Disney, Col. John Jacob Aster, Admiral Dewey, Frederick Vanderbilt, and famous actor Joseph Jefferson, best known for his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle and a close friend of President Grover Cleveland.  The rug was specially woven for the room and is recessed into the parquet floor.

Drawing room where the ladies retired to after dinner.  Aluminum leaf highlights the plaster ornaments instead of gold leaf.  It was more expensive than gold at the time, because they had not yet figured out a good way to extract it.  Above each door and mirror is a cameo of Marie Antoinette, ill-fated wife of Louis XVI, who was seen as the symbol of style and femininity by society women. 

Billiard Room where the gentlemen could play billiards, pocket billiards or skittles.  Skittles was played on a small pool table and was similar to bowling.  Plaster ceiling panels painted to look like zebra oak. 

Master Bedroom Suite shared by Mr. and Mrs. Flagler, a practice uncommon at the turn of the century.  Louis XV style with the original furnishings.  Two separate dressing chambers with large walk-in closets and a bathroom larger than a typical bedroom with a telephone and a jet spray shower.  There were 14 huge, beautiful guest rooms each with large closets, bathrooms, thermostats to the central heating system, and call buttons for servants in the hallway.   There were also 13 very nice servant's rooms on this floor and a sitting room, with a total of 17 bathrooms on this floor.

Central Courtyard with a copy of a statue of Venus in the Boboli Gardens of Florence, Italy.  They sometimes had dinner parties here.  A sunroom on the second floor and another just opposite overlook the courtyard.   The annual Christmas tree lighting is done by Flagler's youngest descendants on a 16' tree in the Grand Hall.  Everyone receives a box of animal crackers.  The iconic box with string was designed during the Gilded Age as a Christmas tree ornament.  President Calvin Coolidge lit the first White House Christmas tree in 1923.

Just outside the corner of the estate is Seagull Cottage, the first home purchased by Flagler when he arrived in Palm Beach and the oldest home in Palm Beach, built in 1886.

Walking down the bike path from Seagull Cottage is "Millionaire's Row".  This view is looking back toward Whitehall.  The sandy beach along the front is a lovely city park with beautiful fountains and incredible trees next to Seagull Cottage.

This Pine Walk with hundreds of parrots and flowers led from Whitehall to the Palm Beach Hotel, which was later replaced with "The Breakers Hotel".   It's just a couple blocks from his home.  As we walk over here, we are surrounded by golf course on both sides.

There was a huge bush just covered with these clusters of flowers.  I don't know what they are called, but they are very beautiful.  One of his smaller hotels, the Hotel Royal Palm on Biscayne Bay 1897, also served as headquarters for some of the troops heading to Cuba for the Spanish American War in 1898.

Grounds and gardens between the hotel patio and the golf course.  The Breakers is the only one of Flagler's hotels still in operation as a hotel.  When his wife died in 1917 (four years after Henry), Whitehall was left to a favorite niece, and most of her estate went to her brothers and sisters, making her two sisters the two wealthiest women in the country.

Ocean view and terrace on the other side of the hotel.  It's hard to comprehend how much money they had and yet he said at his death, if it hadn't been for all the money he sunk into the development of Florida, he would have been a wealthy man.  Palm Beach became known as "The American Riviera" in the early 1900s. 

Main entrance.  Originally built in 1886, it was modeled after an Italian Renaissance Palace.  It burned down twice and was rebuilt in 1903 and 1925.  After all this he decided to pursue his dream and build a railroad to Key West, because of the opportunities its deep seaport would provide when the Panama Canal was being built.  Everyone called it Flagler's Folly and said it couldn't be done, but it was finished when he was 82 and he said he could now die a happy man, and so he did the very next year 1913.  The railroad was the world's largest privately funded project and was a great success. Unfortunately, the hurricane of 1928 wiped it out.

On Wednesday, the 30th, we went to Jupiter Island and did the tour and museum at Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse.   After America joined WWII, German subs sped to the Gulf of Mexico to stop the flow of fuel being shipped to Allied troops in Europe.  They hunted and sank merchant marine tankers and freighters.  One that was sunk in 1942 was carrying 7 million gal. of fuel, the loss of which brought an entire Allied armored division to a standstill for a month.  The Naval Radio Station here was classified "secret" and monitored the transmissions of the subs, so they could hunt them down.

It was designed by Lt. George Gordon Meade, later General commanding troops at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.  This is a view of the inlet into Loxahatchee River from the top of the lighthouse.  The aqua-blue water was so clear we could see a manatee swimming.  This is a working Coast Guard Station with 11 homes on the grounds.  The lighthouse began protecting ships in 1860.  It was dark during the Civil War when southern sympathizers hid the mechanism.  It was relit in 1866 and has not missed a night since. 

Looking the other direction toward the ocean and Jupiter Island where they have recently torn down Perry Como's home for new building projects.  To the north the Indian River flows into the inlet and meets with the Loxahatchee.

This is the laundry room behind the pioneer home on the grounds. Aah, the good old days. Sure glad I missed out on them.

This palapa or ramada or whatever they call them here was built on the grounds four years ago by the Boy Scouts with 3,500 palm fronds.

We stopped at the Dune Dog for lunch, so John could have a kraut dog.  I had the Bourbon Street Shrimp and it was awesome.  Yum, Yum!

This cute little guy made out of PVC pipe was just across the street at a plumbing place.

Public beaches along the Intercoastal Waterway.  Very shallow and very warm.  Jupiter Inlet is where Ponce de Leon returned to start a settlement and was fatally wounded by the Calusa Indians.  On his first trip here he discovered the Gulf Stream, the world's largest and warmest river-like current that comes closer to land here than anywhere else in the world. It helped to speed the Spanish treasure ships home, and on his return to Spain he was the first New World Conquistador to be knighted.  It is also the third  most dangerous current on the east coast here at the inlet, causing many shipwrecks and sunken treasures.  The Coast Guard won't even let their cutters come into Jupiter Inlet.  In 1888 President Grover Cleveland entertained his bridal party on a paddlewheeler at Jupiter Inlet.

Celebrities like Celine Dion, Tiger Woods, and Alan Jackson live in this area, and Burt Reynolds who grew up here.  His museum was recently torn down to make room for new developments. Time marches on.  I guess nobody cares about old Smokey and the Bandit anymore.  This is Hobe Sound Beach Park where we took a walk on the beach and collected a few sea shells.

We picked up my Mom late Monday night the 4th and took her on a drive Tuesday to Palm Beach to see Flagler's home and The Breakers Hotel and up to Jupiter and Hobe Sound.  Wednesday we left about 9:00 and went to Key West.  We didn't get home till midnight.  This is Mom looking at the Key West Aids Memorial at Memorial Beach and Pier.

This is a view from the pier looking back toward the hotels on the beach.

As we were looking down into the seagrasses next to the pier, we spotted this Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish.  We also saw some Florida Gar (a perhistoric and predatory fish) and some cute little striped fish.  The Naval Station was established here in 1823 as a supply station for a 17-ship, anti-pirate squadron and was active until 1974 through 7 conflicts with personnel as low as 17 in 1932 to over 15,000 military and 3,000 civilians in 1945.

Here's Mom standing at the southernmost point (established in 1773 while still part of Spanish Empire) in the U.S. only 90 miles to Cuba.  It became an American possession in 1822.  There was a big club of bicyclers here and a huge group of jet skiers out in the ocean.   The International Ocean Telegraph Company laid cable in 1867 connecting Cuba, Key West and Punta Rassa (Ft. Myers).  The only southern port to remain in Union hands, it played a key role in the defeat of the Confederacy.   In WWII the Sonar School here trained over 18,000 operators to detect and track German subs.  Thomas Edison stayed at the Naval Station working to develop underwater weapons. 

We rode this Conch Tour Train the first time we were here a few years ago, while on a short layover in Miami on our way to Peru. They also have a City Trolley Tour or a brochure you can pick up to do a free walking tour.   Several famous people have lived here. We took a tour of Hemingway's home the first time we were here and I highly recommend it.  Very interesting and entertaining.  His home is less than a block from the lighthouse and they said he chose it, because it would be easy to find when he walked home from the bar.

We also toured Harry Truman's Little White House the first time we were here.  Also a very good tour.  It was built in 1890 as quarters for Navy officers.  It was used by Taft, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter and Clinton.  Truman spent 11 working vacations here.  It was the birthplace of the U.S. Dept. of Defense and the U.S. Air Force as a result of the Key West Accords in 1948.  Ike recuperated from a heart attack here in 1956.  In 1961 Kennedy held a summit here during the Bay of Pigs incident and during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.  Colin Powell held an international summit here in 2001.

This building was built in 1898 when the USS Maine was sunk, because there was no building here to hold hearings to determine who had sunk it.  The incident was used as an excuse to start the Spanish American War, but it was later determined that it probably sank because its boiler blew up.  The dancing sculpture in front is called "Time for Fun". 

They have a daily Sunset Celebration at the city plaza with street performers, concessions, music, etc.  This isn't a very good picture, but this 55 year old man stacked three pop cans like a pyramid on top of this garbage can.  Then he did a running back flip over the top of the can and picked the top can off without moving the other two.  He said he had to hurry and do it before the sun went down, because he was black and we wouldn't be able to see him.  

They get a huge crowd for the sunset every night.  As people were crammed along the seawall to watch, a sail boat way out at sea passed in front of the setting sun and a huge "Booo" went up from the crowd.  This guy was juggling flames while rolling back and forth on a board at the sea wall.

Thursday, the 7th, we drove up to see Lake Okeechobee, the second largest body of fresh water in the nation after Lake Michigan.  It is known as the Bass Capitol of the World.  This is Port Mayaca Dam and Lock.  The lake averages 12' deep and covers 730 sq. miles.  The 110 mile Okeechobee Scenic Trail encircles the lake on top of the 35 foot high Herbert Hoover Dike, 62 miles paved, the rest crushed rock.  It is part of the Florida National Scenic Trail 1,300 miles from Pensecola to Miami dedicated to foot travel.  The lake trail is open to hikers, bikers, bladers and horses. 

There are 13 campgrounds adjacent to the trail with a maximum of 10 miles between each.  Four are in towns with fees charged and the rest are primitive Corps of Engineer camps.  Nearby is the mass burial site of approx. 1,600 killed when the 1928 hurricane came ashore near Jupiter Lighthouse traveling west to Lake Okeechobee.  The dike collapsed flooding the populated south side of the lake.  Another 743 are buried in West Palm Beach and many were never found.  Mom walking back to the car.

Friday we went to Flamingo and took a boat tour through the Everglades.  There is a 99 mile Wilderness Waterway connecting Flamingo to Everglades City in Everglades National Park, the largest wilderness area east of the Rockies with the largest contiguous Mangrove swamp in the western hemisphere.  The flow of the 50-mile-wide "river of grass" started at Lake Okeechobee, one to three feet deep in the center to 6 inches elsewhere, it flowed south 100 feet per day across the Everglades sawgrass toward the mangrove estuaries of the Gulf of Mexico.  Since the early 20s when lots of dams, canals, roads, etc. were built, a lot of the Everglades has been lost due to changes made in the natural flow.   

Mangroves are the only highly salt-tolerant trees.  These Red Mangroves grow down in the water and the tannic acid from their decaying leaves colors the water red.  The aerial roots make it one of the most impenetrable forests in the world.  The White Mangroves grow behind them, on a bit higher ground where they get some wet and some dry.  The Black Mangroves grow further back on even higher and drier ground.  They are named for the color of their bark.  Mangroves give "live birth", with the seeds sprouting before dropping from the parent tree. 

Airplants (look like pineapple tops) growing on the tree like the many orchids in the park and the bromeliads like Spanish Moss that grow on trees here.  Epiphytes are not parasites, but get their nutrients from the air and rain and debris.

This is a Manchineel Tree, one of the most poisonous trees in the world.  It grows in Florida, the Bahamas, Caribbean and Central and South America and is found near or on coastal beaches.  Its fruits and leaves resemble an apple tree and the Spanish origin of its name means "little apple of death".  Its white sap produces strong allergic dermatitis.  The fruit is possibly fatal if eaten.  Burning the tree may cause blindness if smoke reaches the eyes.  The Calusa and Caribs used it to poison arrows.  The Caribs poisoned the water supply of their enemies with the leaves.  Ponce de Leon was shot by the Calusa with one of these arrows and died a few days later in Cuba.  The Calusas lived here for 8,000 years, but by the 1700s were completely wiped out by white men and their diseases.  In the 1956 film "Wind Across the Everglades" a notorious poacher named Cottonmouth (played by Burl Ives) ties a victim to the trunk of a Manchineel Tree.  There are many mentions of the tree in literature as far back as the 1700s and in novels as recently as 2010 and 11. 

The canopy of mangroves used to grow completely over the river.  I think it was Hurricane Andrew with winds of 140 to 180 mph that settled in for 36 hours and just ground up the mangroves.  In the 1980s the count of wading birds nests in the Everglades was as low as 5,000.  In 2009 the count was 77,000.  Elevation in the park is 3 to 4 feet above sea level with coastal sawgrass prairie, mangrove swamp and hardwood hammocks, which look like a mound or small hill, but are just a bit higher and drier area where the hardwood trees are able to grow.  

This old crocodile was sunning himself at the boatramp when we returned.  We saw a few others along the cruise.  The American Crocodile is at its northernmost range in South Florida and is much more rare than its cousin, the American Alligator.  The crocodile has a narrow, pointed snout and grayish color.  The alligator has a broad snout and black color.  Flamingo is the best place in the U.S. to see crocs.  Unlike the alligator, the crocrodile prefers salt water.  Twenty years ago it was hard to find a croc here, but now there are about 2,000 compared to about two million gators.  American crocs are less aggressive than those in other parts of the world and get up to 15' long compared to 25' around the world.  South Florida is the only place in the world where crocs and gators coexist. 

Hiking the Pay-hay-okee Overlook Trail on the coastal sawgrass prairie gives a panoramic view of the "river of grass" in the dry season.  In 1893 there were over 1,000 flamingos here, for which the town was named.  By 1902 they were all gone, over hunted for their meat.  They just finished a month-long contest for hunting Burmese Python here with cash prizes for the largest caught and the most caught.  Last we heard only 40 or 50 had been caught.  It is estimated that there are thousands of Burmese Pythons in the Glades.  Approximately 99,000 were imported between 1996 and 2006, only 17,000 from 1970 to 1995.  Ironically, they are classified as nearly threatened in their native range in southeast Asia.  Thousands are captive bred each year in the U.S.  You can buy one for $20 to $80.  You can take home a 20" hatchling and within a year have an 8' predator.  People just turn them loose.  Boa Constrictors, Green and Yellow Anacondas and Reticulated Pythons are also common here. 

Hiking Ahninga Trail around Taylor Slough at Royal Palm Park in the heart of the Everglades, slow-moving channel water flowing through sawgrass prairie.  The Black Vultures have bare black heads and wings tipped with white.  There is also a Cormorant with its wings spread.  Gator lounging in the water and weeds.  Tilapia, native to Africa, have escaped into Taylor Slough.

Ahningas nesting in the pond apple trees and gator swimming in the foreground with boardwalk in the background.  Jan. thru March is the Ahninga mating season and they were crazy noisy.  Both male and female have a bright turquoise eye ring during mating season.  They dive and spear fish.  When they surface they flip it in the air and swallow it head first.

We walked by a big gator lounging just a few feet from the trail.  When we reach the end of the trail there were about twenty gators lounging here and swimming nearby.  Someone said they had counted forty just a little while before we got there. 

Flamingo Skeeter Meter.  The Mosquito Fish, aka Gambusia, are the most abundant fish in the Everglades and eat skeeter larvae.  There are 43 species of mosquitos in the Everglades.  The majority at Flamingo are the "salt marsh" species.  May thru Oct. they yield fantastic numbers.  They lay up to 10,000 eggs per sq. ft.  Both scientists and the military have selected Flamingo as one of the best places to test repellent.  Old timers in Flamingo would say..."you can swing a pint cup in the air and get a quart of skeeters."  They are scarce this time of year until the rains come in May and June.

T-shirt of the day.  A lady from New Jersey was wearing this shirt advertising the jellyfish festival in their community.  Seems like they could use the same slogan here in Flamingo for a Skeeter Festival. 

On Saturday we took Mom to watch Jai Alai for a while and then we were off to the races.  Jai Alai and horse racing were the two gambling sports brought here from Europe.  And they're off!  There was a really huge crowd here at the Gulf Stream Casino at Hallindale Beach just north of Fort Lauderdale.  Must have been a special event.

We didn't do any betting, but they had a horse named Itchy Pickle and I said that would be the one to bet on, if we were betting.  Just then a lady came up behind us and she was talking on betting on Itchy Pickle.  How could you go wrong with a name like that.  When the race started all kinds of people were cheering for Itchy Pickle.  But he came in 5th or 6th.   I think a lot of people lost money on that bet. 

After a few races, we moved on to the Mardi Gras Casino to watch the Greyhound races.  A much smaller crowd here.   They walk the dogs around to warm them up, be inspected and have their names announced.  Then they put them in the starting blocks and send the bunny around the track.

As the bunny passes the start, the dogs are released.  And they're off!  After a few races here, we stopped for a quick bite to eat, and headed to Pompano. 

Isle Casino in Pompano is the Winter Capitol of Harness Racing.  This was the first weekend of the World Harness Handicapping Championships.  They start by following a truck with big wings sticking out.  About half way around the track they reach the start and the truck pulls away lifting its wings and.....They're off!  We watched a few races here, before heading home.  No wagers made.  Nothing lost, nothing gained.

Went to Sweet Tomatos for lunch on Sunday.  Did laundry on Monday and headed for Orlando on Tuesday, where we will spend the next month.  Our kids will be joining us and we will be busy.  No more blogs until second week in March. 

Over and out,

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