States visited: 49!

visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800

Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reddington Beach: Wed Dec 30th

Beth suggested we check out the seabird sanctuary, which was very close to where we were staying. They rescue injured seabirds and nurse them back to health. We saw a lot of pelicans and cormorants with injured beaks, some had an entire top or bottom part missing. We didn't linger too long though, it was a tad smelly - they're seabirds, they eat a lot of fish, there were lots of doggy bowls filled with dead fish for them, it made the air quite pungent (and therefore somewhat unappealing for the little ones)!

A couple of blocks south was the public access for Reddington Beach, complete with parking, toilets and showers - why can't NJ have these facilities every few blocks? The beach was almost deserted when we arrived but gradually got busier throughout the day as the sun really came out and it was lovely and warm.

The Gellers came to meet us for a couple of hours and the kids had fun playing in the waves, digging holes, building sandcastles and challenging the Dads to a game of soccer/football. It was such a relaxing day, we ended up extending our parking ticket, we just couldn't rush off. Knowing that Blue Bell was waiting for the snow to fall made us appreciate our day all the more!

The kids finally made it into the pool when we got back, which is kept at a balmy 85*! Left with a few minutes of peace and quiet, I was able to journal a bit. I am close to being caught up with the blog - still the pictures haunt me, why does it take so long to upload to blogger?!

Dave and I got on the wii in the evening and he thrashed me in a game of tennis - never been good at tennis! Caitlin then beat us both in bowling. Yesterday Becca raced ahead of me in Mario Kart, I feel that practice is in my future! I can't wait to set up the WiiFit, I think maybe skiing will be more my thing, maybe...

Manatees: Tuesday Dec 29th, '09

The Gellers are also staying in St Petersburg this year, visiting family. They kindly brought down a box from Blue Bell for us, so we got to open Christmas cards this week, which was fun, always love reading everyone's letters and hearing about their lives over the past year.

We had planned to meet up on the beach on Wednesday but Beth called early today to see if we wanted to join them on a trip out to Tampa Electric's manatee viewing area. What an incredible motivator for the kids to buckle down and complete their school requirements before they arrived later in the morning. I was really impressed, obviously need to introduce more incentives!

The drive over felt as though it should have been shorter, we only needed to go 'just across the water', of course, there is no direct 'across the water' so it was a bit of a trek. Thankfully an hour goes by pretty quickly when you're chatting and 6 kids are playing their DS's in the back - inventor of the DS: you are awesome!

Seeing the two huge towers spewing out clouds of smelly smoke wasn't exactly conducive to viewing wildlife and as a background to the beauty of the manatees, it really wasn't wonderful. However, there they stay, seemingly unperturbed by the pollution around them. Apparently this is an amazing year for manatees in this area of water, record numbers have been seen. There were about 100 in front of us, the area was covered with gray humps, it was very cool. In addition, there were a couple of bonnethead sharks swimming around, which periodically did some spectacular flips out of the water and were therefore, a little more interesting to the kids than the manatees which move at a far slower pace!

The exhibit room inside was good, there was a pedal game, puzzles, neat models, informational wall posters and a touchable skeleton. Nate was just thrilled to be with Jon and Drew, he loves Jake's friends and they are so good and patient with him.

We stopped for delicious creamy ice cream on the way home, this may have been the highlight of the afternoon for the kids!

I love how different this state is from back home (eg: climate, palm trees, landscape), not necessarily better, just different. We are really enjoying our time in the south.

Monday, December 28, 2009

From Ft Myers to St Petersburg: Sun Dec 27th

Kids spent the morning playing with their friends on the playground, walking the nature trail and swimming in the pool. Dave and I had a relatively relaxing pack-up and we didn't leave the campground until 1pm.

It was an easy drive up the coast, across the Skyway Bridge to St Petersburg. We did question a little bit where we were going, as the GPS directions to the KOA require that you enter via a slightly less salubrious neighborhood of St Petes' but once in the campground, you would never realize!

Boxing Day (Dec 26th): Ft Meyers Beach & Sanibel Island

We weren't sure how busy everything was going to be today but traffic wasn't too bad as we got out and about reasonably early. Also the weather wasn't as wonderful as it had been, it was a bit windy (I know, still 30+ degrees warmer than PA, LOL!), so we made our way out to Fort Meyers beach, at the tip of the mainland. There is a partially protected area here for tortoise, you can see their burrows all over but there wasn't a lot of evidence of them. As we walked along, we were lucky enough to spot one - and get photos - just inside the fence, when we turned quickly to walk away, we must have startled it as it moved very swiftly, far faster than you'd expect, backwards into its burrow, which was deep.

We walked the trail onto the beach, seeing evidence of small horseshoe crabs, sadly no dolphins or manatees were spotted, just quite a few osprey in their nests.

Rather than go back to the campground, we drove to Sanibel Island as we were already relatively close. It's quite strange driving between all the Causeway Islands via many bridges to get onto Sanibel, fishermen were everywhere!

We went to the closest end of the island first to look at the lighthouse, which is quite different to the one we visited on St Simons Island. This one is perched atop a metal structure, no housing or winding staircase in sight.

I'd read that Bowmans Beach was a nice, secluded beach to go to, so we headed towards the opposite end of the island. Clearly, I was not the only one who'd read this information as the beach was pretty busy, despite the wind. The tide was reasonably high and still coming in, which made for somewhat of a narrow beach. The waves were breaking at a 45 degree angle to the shore; the surfers were doing well but when they came in, they were commenting that the currents were incredibly strong. The water temperature did not make it especially inviting anyway but we certainly did not encourage the kids to put their suits on.

The playground on the way to the car park was cool, it had a huge spider's web for the kids to climb in. Additionally, there was a rock wall for them to climb up and across - glad I was 'spotting' Nate, he has a profound belief in his own abilities which is sometimes a tad misguided....

Our intention was to get the kids into bed at a reasonable time, however, we got chatting and the kids headed off to play with their friends, before we knew it, it was close to 11! It was our last night there and so nice to be able to sit, chat and relax with friends, also knowing our journey the next day was somewhat shorter than previous moves, made it easier to be flexible.

Christmas Day...finally!

Having dealt with the daily countdown since December 1st, it was somewhat of a relief to have it finally be Jesus' day!

Becca got up at 2:30am, saw the gifts and came in to check that she really had to wait until 7am before she was allowed to wake up. Oh boy, there followed hourly trips to the loo by the girls (you know, the 'I just need something to do') until 7 rolled around, at which point Jake and Becca appeared at our door the very second the clock changed from 59 to 00! I know I always used to be that excited too so I do understand!

A fun and relaxing morning of eating, unwrapping, lots of phone and skype calls to family and friends and finally a quick get-ready for the campground Christmas Dinner at 1pm. Around 80 people came to eat a wonderful meal of ham, potatoes, green bean casserole, corn, sweet potatoes, sauce and gravy, along with a side salad and dessert - we got all of this for the 6 of us for the bargain price of $35! Absolutely worth it, we didn't lift a finger, no potatoes to be peeled and no washing up - brilliant!

We spent the afternoon with the Slater's, while the 7 kids played their DS's, before heading to the pool and hot tub. It truly was a very easy way to spend Christmas Day, extremely relaxing and not very often that we could add time in an outdoor pool to our list of activities!

Lovers Key State Park beach: Christmas Eve

The Slater Family joined us on Christmas Eve at the beach. I had finished all the present wrapping the night before and there was no school or work so it was a perfect day to relax but do something that occupied all the very excited children, the wait was almost unbearable for them.

We were thinking to go to Sanibel Island but figured Lovers Key would be less busy. It was a perfect location, the beach wasn't terribly clean, lots of washed ashore seaweed but that didn't hamper our enjoyment. Jake was excited to learn that Brett was a fisherman and had all the necessary kit for ocean fishing, he borrowed weights and lure and waded out into the water with his rod. Sadly, he wasn't able to catch anything but was happily occupied for a couple of hours.

The kids found two beautiful, large starfish at the edge of the water during the day and very close to the shore, where Jake was fishing, he spotted quite a big stingray, resting in the sand under the water. There were lots of pelicans, diving down to catch fish (they seemed to be finding a large number and were very successful, even when our fishermen weren't!). The pelicans were amazing to watch, very mesmerizing, they dove in perfect formation.

It was a relaxing day, sitting and chatting, watching the kids play and dig deep holes. We left to get showers and dinner before attending the Christmas Eve service at the Campground. The service was good and as a total bonus, according to the kids, there were plates and plates of cookies and sweet punch to follow.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Woodsmoke Campground, Ft Myers, FL

Quite a lot of 'double-wides' at this campground, these are the permanent homes, bigger than a camper, kind of like a camper, without wheels, with a side extension. There were also a large number of permanent winter residents, all whom we met were very sweet.

Thankfully, there was also another family there for the whole week we were. They had three girls the same age as our girls. We all got along really well and it was such a blessing to spend Christmas week with new friends.

The campground had a heated pool which the kids spent a great amount of time in. There was a also a hot tub, which they enjoyed (as did their Daddy!). The playground was a little further away by the ponds and nature trail and was a good location for spy games, tag and Jake's favorite: lava monster.

On the Monday afternoon, we spent over 2 hours in the local library, it had a large children's section and you could tell we hadn't visited a library in a couple of months. The kids were thrilled, they all sat and read, and read, and read! The suggestion we leave was met with horror, I literally had to drag them away, they asked to go back but time ran out. I guess this means I should try to find local libraries more often!

As Dave finished work a little earlier on the 23rd, we were able to take advantage of the short trip over to nearby Manatee Park. This is a protected area to allow the manatees to come and go freely without the worry of too many boats. Manatee typically reside in shallow water and are therefore extremely susceptible to injuries inflicted upon them by boat propellers. They have no natural predators and are most closely related to elephants. Despite their size, they move incredibly gracefully in the water.

The manatees tend to congregate in this park as the water is much warmer than elsewhere because it is part of the cooling system for the nearby water treatment/electric plant. When the water comes from the plant, it is significantly warmer and apparently very appealing to them. We saw a lot, including a couple of calves. It was awesome to watch their noses pop out of the water and see them roll over and flip their large 'tail'. We could've stayed to admire them for longer, they're gorgeous creatures.

Dec 20th: From Key Largo to Fort Myers

The drive to Fort Myers took us back past The Everglades again and onwards to 'Alligator Alley', which is the part of the freeway that runs along the edge of Big Cypress National Park. It was incredible, we spotted the first couple of alligators and Jake and I were glued to the windows! We began to count how many we saw and in less than 20 minutes, we reached 100 and stopped counting. The water was separated from the road by a very sturdy metal fence but the alligators were clearly visible, some were so big, Dave was even able to glimpse them whilst driving. It was a really great experience, so glad we spend our journeys looking out the windows and observing the wonders of the changing landscape.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Coral Reef State Park

It was hot at the beginning of the week but gradually cooled. Consequently heading out in the middle of the day to the playground on bikes wasn't the ideal choice! We had better luck in swimsuits, playing in the water and on the beach (stony by the water's edge so walking into the ocean was a tad painful). Playing tag with parents was also one of their favorite activities: at least it got us moving!

There were some good trails around the park as well, so plenty to do for outside fun.

At one of the beaches, there was a reconstruction of a a 1700's shipwreck, complete with 14 cannons and a huge anchor. It was reasonably well marked from the shore and not too far out, so Dave was able to go out with each child individually to take them to look at it. It was neat and helped them become a little more accustomed to swimming in the waves and looking under the water.

Reef Snorkeling: Tues, Dec 15th

We'd heard that snorkeling around the reef in Key Largo was well worth the trip. We chose to go out on a tour with 'Reef Roamer' on a catamaran, which stopped at two different reef points.

crocs and alligators: Dec 13th

The night in the Everglades was worth the mosquito nightmare to be so close to such a diverse area. You can see how few people were in the campground by the photo of our camper in the middle of nowhere!

We took a walk around the campground trails in the morning, saw some great birds, the turkey vulture and hawk posed very nicely! It was fun to walk around all the palm trees to see the coconuts up in the trees, they did go on a coconut hunt, Jake found a good one, which Dave opened but it didn't seem ripe and although they all tasted the it, the unanimous conclusion was that it tasted bad!

We attended the Croc Talk at the Flamingo Marina and saw 2 crocodiles. Everglades National Park is the only place in the US where crocodiles and alligators co-exist. Crocodiles can survive in salt water, as they have a gland that can process the salt. The marina water is brakish (a mix of salt and fresh) so is a great location for them.

As we were going towards the Visitor Center for the kids to receive their Junior Ranger badges, we passed the marina when Dave suddenly realized there were a couple of manatee swimming around. It was awesome to see them in the wild in such an unexpected location.

Alligators prefer fresh water so a little further up, along the Anahinga Trail, we were able to see a great number of alligators, one was a little too close to the path for comfort! There was all sorts of wildlife along the trail, other than the alligators, the anahinga birds were quite spectacular. They dive and swim underwater extremely gracefully for quite some time. Once out of the water, they fan their wings in the sun to dry them and have little fear of the tourists on the trail.

Next stop, couple of hours south into the Keys. We made our way to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, had a bit of a battle getting the camper into a very narrow site - we realised we'd be getting friendly with our neighbors this week!

Everglades NP: Sat, Dec 12th

Little did we know that we walking into mosquito hell!

We opted to stay in the park for one night, thank goodness, only one night, grrr, we were so bitten, they were everywhere! Dave became 'mosquito killer' and was on duty all night, not fun.

Last day at FW: Friday, Dec 11th

We had a slow morning, mainly due to the extremely late night (or as Caitlin continued to point out, VERY EARLY morning!), completed the campground craft of a cowboy by the pool in the late morning.

Walked around in the evening admiring all the lights, some people had SO many, they were really impressive. The kids played a little more before heading over with Dave to the huge screen to watch some of the Lilo and Stitch movie before the rain came down. I got the boat across to the Contemporary to try and buy the dominoes set I'd seen the day before and had been unsuccessful in finding anywhere else, unfortunately I was unsuccessful again, evidently a hugely popular item, all of their end displays were completely gone: frustrating!


Due to being currently SO far behind, I think I'm going to give quick 'facebook-like' updates for each day and then add detail as time allows (and pictures, I know, so terrible about posting pics, but Blogger just takes FOREVER to upload pics, especially when we're on a slow connection).

So, let me try and give the highlights up to Christmas Eve - it's CHRISTMAS EVE and the kids are beside themselves with excitement!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party: Thursday Dec 11th

Another day of school, followed by a great afternoon and a long evening, worth it though!

We caught the small inter-park boat from the campground to the Contemporary and spent a while looking around (and getting a cool family picture with the Mickey sculpture) before getting the monorail to Magic Kingdom.

It wasn't our intention to go into the Disney Parks at all but Mickey's Christmas Party sounded fun and had lots of special, festive parades and shows so temptation got the better of us.

Our tickets were valid from 4pm until midnight, needless to say, we were there right when we were allowed in, a special band gave us access to stay through the evening and it wasn't at all crowded, virtually no lines. It wasn't a particularly warm afternoon/evening and there were intermittant showers so presumably that kept some people away, we managed to avoid getting too wet though and had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Having spent a couple of days here in the spring, we knew exactly which rides we wanted to go on and which ones we were happy to miss. Nathan did really well, even going on rides which he hated in April and then discovered that he actually loved and wanted to go on again (Thunder Mountain!).

We managed quite a few rides: Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Pooh, Peter Pan, Snow White, carousel, Philarmagic 4D, Space Mountain, Car Track, Transit Authority, Buzz Lightyear, Stitch....

We had a couple of photos with characters, loved the one with Goofy. He lined us all up in height order and demanded that Dave and I be in the picture too - the kids listened to him!

As we were in the park when it got dark, we were able to watch Cinderella turning the lights on the castle - it looked amazing. Disney do a brilliant job of adding those special touches of magic.

We saw the Tomorrowland Christmas Show with Mike, Buzz and Stitch, partied with Mickey and Minnie while enjoying complementary hot chocolate and cookies (kind of OD'ed on those - Jake does love a freebie, especially when it's food!), ooh'ed and ahh'ed at the fireworks and of course, loved watching the Christmas Parade.

It all got rather late for poor Nathan who fell asleep before the end of the parade. We'd had the foresight to buy a cheap stroller before going into Seaworld and it more than paid for itself when he fell asleep, bless him.

Dave and the kids went off in search of one more ride while I wheeled Nate around the shops where I could keep him warm. Of course, the downside of wandering around the shops is the temptation to spend money, sigh....

We had a wonderful time and would recommend it. It did mean an extremely late night, we didn't get back to the campsite (via boat and bus) until almost 1am. Caitlin was so excited that it was already tomorrow and she hadn't been to bed on Thursday night at ALL! We paid for the late night the next day but it was still worth it!

Downtown Disney: Dec 10th

After school, the kids and I caught the inter-park bus to Downtown Disney. We hadn't made it anywhere beyond the parks when we visited in the spring, so the shopping area was a new one on us. The idea was for the kids to find some different things that they might want for Christmas from family, they did well on their hunt (not hard)!

There were some great photo ops and they had fun in most of the stores. As with everything, Disney knows how to keep everyone entertained. Their favorite store was Lego as they could build and race their own cars, just outside the entrance, to the point where entering the store wasn't high on their agenda. It was a surprisingly fun afternoon given that shopping was involved!

We caught the bus back but I managed to get off one stop too early on the campground bus, which resulted in a walk - of course, Nate fell over (SO tired!), so I had to carry him back. Dave couldn't come and get us because he was at the other end of the campground picking up (a very yummy) pizza, so a good day with not such a great ending.