RiverBend Park

This past Sunday I revisited one of my favorite parks, Riverbend Park. I call it one of my favorites because it’s not like a park at all. You won’t find concession stands, ball fields, bleachers, acres of concrete, or the usual signs of civilization.

It’s a place to get away from it all without being too far away. I can totally immerse myself in nature and not contend with tons of people. Sure the parking lot is full most of the time, but thanks to its size, you don’t encounter a lot of people.

This Sunday was really nice because the park was brimming full of water. While the rest of the country is in drought, we’ve been fortunate to have rain every day. The canals and ponds are full which gives the park such character, color, and of course brings in more wildlife.

One of my favorite spots is at the end of bridge that dead ends. When you first ride or walk up, it just looks like another bridge over water. Stop for a minute, drink your water, take a few pictures and the natural beauty will appear. You’ll see Garr swimming, turtles coming up for air, Apple snails on the bank, or the reflection of the hawk soaring overhead. It’s like stumbling into a play in the middle of a scene; the actors may pause while you sit down, but once you’re settled the story resumes.

My second favorite place is a trail opposite the picnic area and across the canal. It’s a place where the trees are surrounded by glass like water which makes it perfect for capturing beautiful reflection pictures.

Course one of the main attractions is the variety of wildlife. I always see hawks, wild turkeys, deer, and the ever present vulture. Each visit is unique and this time I stumbled upon a group of woodpeckers enjoying their community of trees. I particularly enjoyed watching one skip along the railing of the bridge. Every so often he give it a few resounding raps with his beak and move on. 

If being on land is just not your thing, you can also kayak through the park and down the Loxahatchee River. Kayaking, wide smooth trails for walking, running, biking, lots of photographic opportunities, and a variety of wildlife. Now you know why I think it’s almost perfect.

Shhh…don’t tell anyone.

For more information go here: http://www.pbcgov.com/parks/riverbend/index.htm

WeCar Car Sharing Program

If you take public transportation to work, you know how nice it’d be to have a car to use for those occasional errands, last minute meetings, doctor’s appointments, or just go somewhere different for lunch.

The City of West Palm Beach Transportation Management Initiative (TMI), in partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation, has introduced the WeCar car sharing program, a division of Enterprise Rent a Car.

The new service comes with an added incentive to commuters and residents already using an alternative mode like carpooling, vanpooling, riding transit, bicycling or walking to work at least three days a week. These individuals can receive free membership for the first year and 10 free rental hours over the 12 month period.  (Restrictions may apply)

Since I take the bus to work, I qualified for the new incentive. Nothing like free!!  Normal price is $8/hr. and when I registered for an hour, taxes and fees brought the total to $11.20.  If you’re a commuter, definitely sign up for the free 10 hours.

Registration required a valid driver’s license and credit card, no surprise there. A few days later my WeCar member card arrived in the mail. The card unlocks/locks the car to start/end the rental period. It also has directions on it, which is a huge plus.

The Toyota Prius WeCar is located at 333 Evernia Street in the SE corner of the garage right next to the entrance.

It was really easy to use. I reserved my time online (just a few hours prior), then arrived at my 11:30 time, held my member card over the reader inside the windshield. The lights went from yellow to green and the doors unlocked.

Once inside, the keys are in the UPPER glove box. Course, now I had to learn how to drive a Prius. I pushed the Power button by the steering column and nothing happened. I held my foot on the brake and still nothing happened. I removed and reinserted the key and then it started.

I stopped by a store to grab some lunch and had to remember to take the keys out of the glove box. You need to take the glove box keys with you to lock/unlock the car during the rental time. Don’t use your member card till you’re completely done!

Returning is just as easy. Unload all of your stuff, leave the keys in the glove box and hold your member card over the transponder and the car locks.

A nice surprise is that I also can reserve WeCars in the Miami area. In theory, I could take the train down and pick up the car for a few hours of sightseeing. If you need a car for short periods of time, definitely check out the WeCar.  It’s very convenient and easy to use.

For more information: http://www.1800234ride.com/section/WeCar/231/

Jupiter Lighthouse Moonlight Tour

The rain was pouring like a waterfall on the windshield and lightning frequently opened the sky to the West. Climbing a lighthouse to watch the moonrise didn’t seem like the brightest of ideas.  Pun intended…. 

We all know that if we don’t like the weather just wait a few minutes. That was true again and the cloudy skies parted and the rain left just in time.  As we made our way toward the base of the lighthouse, we had a brief history tour of the grounds. The day time tour spends more time exploring the history of the grounds so keep that in mind.  Just to the right of the lighthouse has to be the biggest Banyan tree I’ve seen. It’s been here 100s of years longer than me and I can’t  help but wonder what stories it could tell.

Who planted it? What children played in it’s branches? What changes has it seen? I wish it could talk, I would love to hear the stories.

After some photo ops, it was time to climb to the top. There are over 100 steps up, almost every landing has a window to rest, take pictures, or just poke your head out and look down.

Reaching the top, we are met with a cool breeze and a panoramic 360 degree view. To the west the storm clouds still lingered and set the stage for an incredible sunset.

As dusk fell, the 1000 watt light came on and the lighthouse was active. Each lighthouse is identified by its own distinct sequence of flashes. I thought each one just shone the same bright light into the ocean so shipgoers wouldn’t run aground. It’s amazing what you learn when you take a tour.

You have to poke your head in and see the Fresnel lens. This particular lens is of the first order, denoting the highest quality. I believe the range in pitch dark, no obstructions was either 26 or 29 miles. Considering the actual size of the bulb, that’s impressive.

The massive light and lens assembly is so well balanced it’s turned by only a 1/3 horsepower motor. It’s almost silent in operation.

Looking to the east, we watched the spectacular moon rise over the water. The moon rise over the beach is great, but from the top of the lighthouse is incredible. Instead of seeing the moon’s small reflection off the water, you see a large reflection stretching for miles.  It’s another one of those experiences that makes you feel small.

The magnificent sunset to the west, the inspiring moon rise to the east, and the cool breeze combined to make it one of those moments that could’ve gone on forever. 

When you’re in the area take one of the light house tours, you’ll learn a lot of history about the area and enjoy some great views. For more info: www.jupiterlighthouse.org

Trailer hitch install on 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander

The 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander has the factory roof bars but lifting mountain bikes up there was going to be tedious.  We decided a trailer hitch was the next best option. A trailer hitch can accomodate a variety of bike racks as well as a small camp trailer.  On my 4Runner the trailer hitch is like a second bumper. For the Outlander I wanted something less conspicuous.

An email to the folks at etrailer.com confirmed that this hitch would be hidden from view and work well for our needs. Hidden Hitch Trailer Hitch Receiver with Drawbar – Custom Fit – Class I – 1-1/4″ # 60824.

The instructions are very clear, which is a refreshing change. It’s really only a 30 minute install with basic tools. Here’s what you need to do, complete with pictures.

First off, remove the two tie downs on the passenger and driver’s side. They are held in place by three 14 mm bolts. Two horizontally attach to the frame and one vertically on the side of the tie down. Remove the vertical one first and then tackle the two easy to reach ones. Just remember that gravity will take over so don’t lay directly under the tie downs! Safety goggles are a must because of the dirt that falls off.

Next I did a test fit of the hitch and found the heat shield on the passenger side needed to be trimmed. The instructions said so, but I wanted to verify first. I used a pair of garden snips to trim the thin metal away. Trim enough so you can see all 3 bolt holes and then beyond so you can maneuver the hitch into place. I filed the newly cut edges and applied duct tape so I wouldn’t cut myself while working in there.

Now it’s just a matter of lifting the hitch into place and bolting it down. You need two people or at least a floor jack to do this. Fortunately, I had help so I could hold it while she bolted it in.

Don’t tighten all the bolts yet!! Crawl out, look at the hitch and make sure it’s centered. A few gentle taps with your fist will move it either direction. Once centered, now bolt everything down securely.

The last bolt above the muffler was the most difficult because I had to fully hand tighten it before there was enough room for my ratchet and socket. Aside from that, it was an easy install and looks great.

Tools required: socket set, tin snips or similar, safety goggles (of course!), and a floor jack if working by yourself. Two people make it much easier so grab a friend.

It was truly only a 30 minute install and you can barely tell the hitch is there. The Outlander is now ready for a bike rack or small trailer.

Shark Valley

“I don’t see any sharks here”. I’m sure I’m not the first one to make that ironic statement standing at Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. Alligator alley, river alley, or prairie alley would all be fitting.

I came to see the “river of grass”, the great expanse known as the Everglades. I’ve seen the Western side of it and it looked similar to where I live. Mangrove trees, dark water, and of course alligators and mosquitos.

Shark Valley is unique in that it has a 15 mile paved bike loop. You can also take a 2 hour tram ride that takes the same road.

For some reason I find myself in the Everglades in the dead of summer. My last trip was in August and this time was July. In case you didn’t know, that’s the hottest time of the year. The upside is there are fewer tourists. The downside is it’s really hot. It is like being in a sauna; the sweat just pours off you.

I really enjoy biking because it’s quiet and you can go most anywhere. We weren’t on the path more than 5 minutes when a deer came sauntering up from the east. It was just grazing along and eventually walked across the path just a few feet in front of us. It didn’t care about us at all.

The expanse of the Everglades reminds me of places I’ve visited out west. You can see forever and it’s all grass. Not a lush meadow, but tall spindly grass, much likes a prairie. The grass isn’t in dry dirt though. It’s growing out of a couple of inches of water. The Everglades is often called a river of grass and it’s easy to see why.

Biking along the path, I notice these drainage areas that allow the water to flow under the path. The water in these little pools is crystal clear. I bike past one and hit the brakes immediately! In this little oasis was a medium size alligator. The perfect little hiding spot to cool off.

We saw more alligators in those little oasis’s then in other parts of the park. Course the water was crystal clear which made it easier. At one point the path is near what looks like a large river. Of course there is an alligator there. The snout and eyes are the only thing visible. I’ve seen plenty of alligators, but they’re still intriguing. As I grabbed my camera, it decided to stand up out of the water. Holy crap, it was huge!! The snout didn’t look that big, but behind it was at least 10 feet of reptile. I just stood there amazed and very glad I wasn’t in the water.

The halfway point of the path is marked by the lookout tower which has real bathrooms, nature trail, and a ramp up to the tower. Looking across the 360 degree view of prairie grass and trees, I felt like any minute I’d see a giraffe walk by. Or maybe a group of zebras grazing. It just looked like a scene from Africa.

It was amazing to see such a vast landscape of grass. The clouds and grass seemed to meet at one point. Looking out at such a vast expanse always reminds me of my place on this planet.

Before we left, we hit one of the nature trails and were met with quite a surprise. Just off the trail about 20 feet was an alligator somewhat camaflauged in the roots and shade. I actually walked right past him and didn’t see it.  It was a great reminder to pay attention to what’s around.

The bike path up to this point had curves and had vast expanses on both sides. From here on to the visitor center, the path was straight with a canal on one side and the prairie on the other. It was an easy ride back, although not as pretty as the ride in. There’s just something about riding in the wide open spaces.

Looking at the mile markers, we rode the trail backwards, which worked out well. We experienced the wildlife and open spaces before the heat of the day and avoided the crowds.

JW Corbett Wildlife Management Area

With seminars at work, things going on around the house, it’d been a long time since I just took a day to go exploring.  I really miss doing that! I’ve always wanted to visit JW Corbett natural area so today we headed out there.

From Martin County, I took the Pratt Whitney Road to the Beeline highway. Then headed south to Northlake Blvd. Then west on Northlake till it ends. There are no signs at the end of Northlake, but you need to take a right and go north. The road turns to dirt and you’ll be on your way soon.

At the gate, you’ll need to either pay $3/person or $6/vehicle. With two people and one vehicle, either way it was $6. I placed the receipt on my windshield, briefly looked at the map and headed off.

Laurie is studying Florida native plants so this was a perfect time for her to catch up without being rushed. 

Heading down the dirt road not more than a mile or so, we took a right and headed toward the Hungry Land Slough boardwalk. Initially the trail was wide open with sporadic pine trees. Along the way, we saw a large pileated wood pecker hanging out high in a tree. Pileated wood peckers are large black birds with bright red heads. They don’t fly like regular birds either. They flap their wings once, then coast, and then flap their wings once. It’s just enough to keep them afloat.

Leaving that boardwalk, we continued along the trail and came to a fork so we took the right one hoping it was a loop. We came to another very long boardwalk, but the scenery was dramatically different. Here the Cypress trees were tall and thick. Wax myrtle and other species of growth filled in the area. Just a few minutes ago, we could see in all directions and now we were in a dense forest.

I love being in the forest.  The way the light makes it way to the ground and the clean fresh smell of the foliage is just relaxing. You can really gain some new insights if you just let go of everything and soak up the surroundings.

The boardwalk meandered through the forest curving around and through the dense foliage. Along the way there were benches to stop and just take it all in. Today there was a nice breeze and low humidity so we were free from those pesky mosquitos and other flying annoyances.

We exited this boardwalk right onto the forest floor and immediately it felt 10 degrees cooler. It was darker, cooler, and I felt so connected being here. The boardwalk kept you high up, but here on the forest floor you became one with the area.

Another boardwalk stretched before us and along the way I saw a white cup and lid off in the distance. People!! I climbed over the rail, retrieved the trash, and climbed back onto the boardwalk. I continued to find trash along the way and it always amazes me the trash I find in the woods.

Turned out the trail was indeed a loop and we began the trip back. I looked up and high in the sky was a group of white birds riding the thermals. The white birds in formation against the blue sky looked like a scene you’d see in the Serengeti. It was a group of Wood storks, who are very large birds with black heads, black wing tips and black feet. They were just flying free wherever the wind took them.

After that beautiful hike, we head down the dirt road which seemed to split the area in two. As the dirt road progressed, we kept seeing trails going every direction. Trails through the forests, trails into the wet lands, trails into who knows were. Some had signs saying “road closed” and others were wide open and obviously well used with recent tracks.  .

At one point, I turned off onto a well-used trail that went into the woods. Maybe a quarter mile down the road, we came to a field of beautiful yellow flowers. Of course we stopped to take pictures.

A few minutes later, Florida Wildlife Commission pulled up behind me.  I figured he wanted me to move. Uh, no….apparently I’m not supposed to drive on those well marked trails unless it’s hunting season, I have a hunting permit, it’s the 5th day of the 10th month, the moon is in phase, etc.  He was polite and we shared photography stories. but I still received a $55 fine.

I was a bit miffed because I wasn’t tearing up the trail and even had a pile of trash in the back that I’d been picking up along the way. So the lesson is to follow the rules and  don’t think because you’re not destroying the area, they’ll just ask you to leave.

That little incident put a damper on the exploring mood to say the least. Now we weren’t sure the difference between a road or just a very, very well used trail. I didn’t want to risk another fine, so I just stayed on the gravel road. In my opinion, if the public shouldn’t be on a road put up a sign and keep the signs consistent!

We drove the next 10 miles down the road and saw tons of alligators along the canals and a variety of flowers ranging from yellow to pink to orange.

The last stretch of the road has several camping areas that even have floating docks. It appears you can launch kayaks from there, but I didn’t see any signs to confirm or deny that assumption. Lord knows, we weren’t going to make any more assumptions that day…..

As we left the dirt road and hit the pavement, there was that feeling of “civilization” and returning home. As I looked at the dirt road in my rear view mirror, I could feel a part of me being left behind.

I enjoy the comforts of civilization, but those dirt roads just keep calling my name.