Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sawgrass Lake Park in St. Petersburg

Sawgrass Lake Park is in the middle of a city. It's near highway I-275, a gun firing range, and neighborhoods of single family homes. We weren't sure how big the park was or what to expect. After parking the car in an area shaded by large oak trees we followed a sidewalk along a creek. A large alligator quietly swam by.

"Did you see that?"
"A big gator."
"No kidding. Look.  There it is!"

I double checked the edge of the creek to see if there were any more lurking around. People idly walked by with dogs on leashes.

We followed the path to a bridge that went across the creek and looked in the water. A man walked up to me and asked me about my camera. He said he was looking for a camera to take wildlife photos around the park.

I showed him some of the photos I had just taken of an anhinga in the creek. He was impressed. I showed him the model number of the camera. Then he told me about the big alligator that lives under the bridge. I said that I just saw a big gator swim by, and he said that it was probably the one.

I saw the gator swimming back to the bridge and take up position directly underneath us. Then the man told me about snakes under the bridge, the mama alligator with babies, and all the cool trails in the woods. We talked for a little bit about different nature preserves in the area. After talking about snakes and gators I wasn't sure if I really wanted to go across the bridge. I saw ladies with strollers and squealing little kids running across the bridge and decided that it couldn't be that bad. I shouldn't be a sissy. So I went down the trail to where the mama alligator was.

The wetland areas have elevated boardwalks over the alligator habitats. It was like walking through a fantasy land of giant ferns.

The female alligator with hatchlings is near an observation deck.

Hatchling alligator.

There's an observation tower by Sawgrass Lake. The water is clear. You can see turtles, fish, birds, and yes, there are alligators of various sizes. It looks so peaceful, but you can hear the sounds of the city around us. There was the wooshing sound of the highway and pops from the firing range. The wildlife didn't seem to mind.

There were huge Florida softshell turtles in the lake and creeks.

The Hammock Trail is wide enough that I felt comfortable walking through the woods. Parts of the trail are dirt, boardwalk, and bricked.

We saw an armadillo.

The Hammock Trail was beautiful. In some places it almost looked as if someone had arranged the oak trees and palmettos.

There were more trails than we had time to explore. Sawgrass Lake Park is 400 acres in size. It is one of the largest maple swamps on Florida's Gulf Coast.

More pictures of Sawgrass Lake Park

Address: Sawgrass Lake Park
7400 25th St. N.,
St. Petersburg, FL 33702

Hours: 7am - sunset

Admission: free

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Alderman's Ford Park on the Alafia River

Alderman's Ford Park is near the headwaters of the Alafia River. This scenic bridge goes over the north and south prongs of the Alafia. There are creeks and springs that flow into the river all around the park.

Here's the view from the bridge. Most of the Alafia River water is brown. In some places it is clear enough to see the bottom of the river and appears orange.

There's a paved jogging trail that is part of a loop. It smells woodsy and spicey along the trails, but every so often there's the sweet smell of spring water. I looked around, but couldn't find a spring.

A large playground and picnic area is near the main entrance.

The light reflected like rainbows in the river.

I walked along a dried up creek bed to get down to the river. It's an interesting park to explore.

More photos of Alderman's Ford Park in Lithia, Florida.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunshine Skyway Bridge Picnic Area

This is the picnic area at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge south rest area. We pulled in to have a picnic lunch on our way to St. Pete Beach.  A large lawn with shaded picnic benches is past the rest area building. There is a lot more seating space here than on the entrance side of the rest area.

The scenic views are great!  You can see St. Petersburg and Tampa on a clear day.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Swimming at Lithia Springs, Florida

There were a lot of people at the park. The water was pale blue with a white sand floor. The setting around the water looks like a beach, but walk a few paces and you're in the woods.

Blue spring water peeking through the woods.

I put on my mask and snorkel, quickly got in the water, and jumped back up just as fast. Brrr! The spring water was really cold. I was determined to snorkel in the clear water, but it took a while to acclimate to the cool temperature. The first three tries I went under I found my body involuntarily coming back up. So, I took off the mask and swam around to get used to the temperature.

When I got back underwater the visibility was great. Despite all the screaming kids splashing around there were schools of fish by outcroppings of rocks. They weren't concerned about sharing space with people unless they were chased. The sand was full of small snail shells. I had heard that this was a good place to look for shark teeth, but after sifting through the sand with my hands for a while I gave up. I looked around the rocks for life and swam with the fish. It was quiet underwater. As soon as I came up I heard the noises of kids at play.

Water flowing from Lithia Springs major to the Alafia River.

The big spring is a 2nd magnitude spring, which means that a lot of water can flow from the aquifer. The flow from Lithia Springs major can go up to 50 cubic feet per second. There's a cave with a grate over it in the deep end where the water comes out of the ground. As I swam closer to the source the water got colder and the current became stronger. It felt like swimming in place. I tried to get as close as I could to the cave and got a look at it, but the current was too strong to touch the grate.

If I get a chance to take scuba lessons, a Florida spring would be a good place. The water is sweet and doesn't sting your eyes. Getting a mouthful isn't as unpleasant as a mouthful of seawater. Scuba diving isn't permitted at Lithia Springs, but there are plenty of first magnitude springs in Florida for scuba diving. Weeki Wachee is closest to where I live. Ginnie Springs may be another good spot for learning how to scuba.

Florida springs are beautiful, fascinating settings. The water is a refreshing break from the summer heat.

More photos of Lithia Springs, Florida.

Related links:
Florida Springs Database
Ginnie Springs
Lithia Springs
Weeki Wachee Springs

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Lighting a cannon on the 4th of July

It's really hard to keep your hand on the cannon after the sizzling starts.  It's the anticipation of the BOOM that gets ya.

Alfonze is ready to take pictures, and Ehrin is about to pack the cannon.

No, we didn't shoot cannon balls. Everybody asks me that. I don't think the neighbors would have appreciated holes in their houses. The cannon was packed with a wad of foil containing gun powder.  The dog ran into the house after the second BOOM.

Who needs fireworks when you have a cannon?  We answered the neighorhood fireworks with BOOMs from the cannon.  Baking soda was added to the gun powder mixture after dark to make sparks.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The view from The Hurricane restaurant

After a great day at the beach, we went up to the roof of The Hurricane to enjoy the view.

Pass A Grille beach with Egmont Key in the distance.

The water was a clear turquoise blue.  I like this beach in the summer, because you can park close to the beach, set up camp, and the water is right there.  That makes a big difference when you're walking in the blazing Florida sun.  There are no buildings directly on the beach and it's a beautiful setting.

The pink palace on the right on the horizon is the historic Don Cesar hotel at St. Pete Beach.  To get to Pass A Grille, keep driving south past the Don Cesar along Gulf Boulevard.

After taking in the scenery from the third floor roof we went down for a walk on the beach.  The colors in the clouds became more vibrant after sundown.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Boogie Boarding at Madeira Beach

It was great to get up in the morning and go for a walk on the beach. The wind was still whipping up waves. After we left the hotel in St. Pete Beach we went out for breakfast and went to Madeira Beach. The waves were even bigger than the night before.

This man was fighting the fish and the waves.

We had so much fun that we stayed most of the afternoon.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Staycation at St. Pete Beach

I needed to get away from it all and booked a hotel on the beach for one night. The Rainy Season has just begun and off season rates are in effect. The day before going to the hotel I checked the weather and it was supposed to rain all weekend. Drats!

It's very unusual for us to have non-stop rain all weekend. Usually small thunderstorms blow around the area. They can dump torrential rain in 15-20 minutes and then the sun comes out again.

When we got to the beach it was overcast and windy. The waves were perfect for body boarding! We had a great time.

We watched the sun go down over the Gulf of Mexico from the steps of the hotel.

Here's my view from the porch.  The sunset was beautiful. I think I have about 100 pictures of these palm trees with the sunset.

The colors became even more brilliant after the sun dipped below the horizon.  We went for a walk on the beach after sunset.  I felt like I was far away, even though I was less than an hour away from home.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Blue Sky for Last Launch of Shuttle Atlantis for STS-132

We got lucky and were able to get tickets to the NASA Causeway to view the shuttle launch from about 6 miles away.  The sky was blue and it was a beautiful day for a launch.  This was to be the last launch for Shuttle Atlantis.  The crew of mission STS-132 is delivering a Russian module for the International Space Station.

People at the NASA Causeway before launch.  The Vehicle Assembly Building is on the horizon.

Everything was go for launch until the last meeting before launch called the 9 Minute Hold.  A small 1/8" ball bearing was discovered in the payload bay.   The bearing had come loose from a camera.  They were discussing whether or not it created a "No Go" constraint for launch.  When it came time for rollcall, everyone responded, "Go."  The flight director wished the crew of Atlantis godspeed, and the commander made a short speech.  We saw the access arm and fuel tank beanie retracting.

There were sparks from main engine ignition, and smoke began to rise around the launchpad.

Shuttle Atlantis silently rose above the launch tower.

The space shuttle ascended into the sky on a long orange flame.  It was beautiful.  We heard a rumbling sound about 30 seconds after liftoff.

The rumbling sound built up to a loud roar accented by pops, bangs, and claps.

Three pinpoints of light show Solid Rocket Booster separation.

The wind started to blow apart the contrail very quickly.  The top part of the cloud formed into a loop.

Here we are with the dissipating contrail on the left side of the photo.

This could be our last time at the NASA Causeway.  There are only two more space shuttle missions left.

More photos of the launch of shuttle Atlantis for STS-132

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Full Moon Tide at Fort DeSoto Park

The tide was so far out that the water was only ankle to knee deep. The water was clear and there was a lot of sea life to see. It was like snorkeling without having to swim in the water.

A spring tide happens every month at the full and new moon and has nothing to do with seasonality.  That's when the tides are at their highest and lowest levels.  This evening's tide is about the season.  It's a springtime low tide and sea creatures have gathered to mate.  Walking at Fort DeSoto Park tonight was like walking through an aquarium.

The trail of a tulip snail was easy to follow through the clear water.  Once springtime is over we'll only find remnants of their striped shells.

We found all sorts of starfish.

There were crown conchs everywhere.  At low tide the smaller animals gather to find their own kind.

At high tide the predators come out to feast. We found a small octopus clinging to a pen shell.

The octopus was in a pool of water around an old stump.  It must have been left behind when the tide waters receded, because we rarely find them at the beach.  There were a lot of other creatures around tree roots in the water such as sea urchins, fish, conchs, and tulip snails.  We nicknamed this area the habitat.  It was teeming with life.

A nearby crab was hunting for munchies.

The pink ruffles on the pen shell are tulip egg casings.  The little pink spots are embryos.

Sunset colors reflected on the water in tiny waves and ripples.  The ultraviolet light reflected as deep blues and purples.  Yellow, amber, orange, and red contrasted against the blues.  The colors flickered in the water like a psychedelic festival.

People continued shelling after sunset.  We laughed when a woman screamed when a fighting conch suddenly emerged from a shell she was carrying.  As we drove home we saw people shelling in shallow areas with blue flashlights.  It looked like blue fireflies hovering over the dark water against a sky still dimly lit with sunset colors.

More photos of April 2010 Full Moon Tides

How to Clean Sea Shells