A day in Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Sometimes you want to be able to do a little bit of everything and that’s what you find at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.  It’s one of those local places that are often forgotten about because it’s so close. Too often we’re looking to go far when sometimes your own backyard is good for some fun.

In my experiences there, I’ve camped, hiked, biked, kayaked, and even volunteered. Volunteering at a park is a great way to get involved and learn activities you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

Ok, so now you want to go, here’s my take on how to spend the day.

First off, go all the way to the back of the park and head out on a kayak. Early morning, the river is peaceful and you can see Osprey nests in the trees and the occasional alligator in the river. At the docks the river is wide, but kayak back a bit and you get into the narrow winding section. You’ll find dark black water that reflects the canopy of large trees and foliage. Turtles and alligators are regular seen back here.

Once back on dry land, grab your bike and head out for a ride. If you have a mountain bike, you can bomb down the many trails that Club Scrub maintains. Sugar sand, hills, planks, and other obstacles make for challenging trails. If that’s not your thing, you can still have a very nice bike ride.

The main road is suitable for cycling and you can explore the entire park on bike. One of my favorites is the old road that runs parallel to the railroad tracks. It’s not technical, but you’re off the beaten path and occasionally will see a hawk or turtle around. It has offshoots to connect to other areas of the park as well.

Now you’re probably hungry so head over to one of the many picnic areas and enjoy lunch near the river. The store also sells food and there’s nothing like an ice cold popsicle on a hot summer day.  While you’re in the store check out the times for the Trapper Nelson boat tour. It’s a motorized boat tour that will take you the historic Trapper Nelson homestead. You’ll learn a wealth of history of the park and its early caretakers. No paddling required, just relax and enjoy the ride. There is an extra fee for the boat tour so inquire before reserving.

After you’ve enjoyed lunch, visit the Kimbell education center and learn more about the park’s history, the variety of plant and wildlife, as well as the many programs offered. Kids welcome!  If you’re there in the summer, you’ll enjoy the air conditioning for sure.

For the rest of the day, it’s time to stretch your legs on the different hiking trails around. The Kitching Creek trail is a nice walk along the river. It connects with other trails so you can walk a nice loop by the river and return to the parking area. There are other trails near the Kimbell center and near the park entrance as well.

The finale of the day will be the walk up the observation tower to watch the sunset. The observation tower is a large platform with a 360 degree view. You can see the ocean Atlantic Ocean to the East and the expanse of the park to the West.

Well that was a full day; kayaking, cycling, boat tour, hiking, and sunset from the observation tower. With two large camping areas and cottages, you can spend the weekend and spread these amenities over a couple of days.

Next time you’re in the Jupiter, Florida area, be sure to spend a day at Jonathan Dickinson State park.

More info here:  http://www.floridastateparks.org/jonathandickinson/

Norton Art After Dark

That’s a guitar? I tilted my head and eventually saw it. Art is always subject to interpretation and this evening was no exception as I explored the Norton’s Art After Dark series. With the time change upon us I thought it timely to explore indoor excursions.

As a photographer, I find it interesting to see other people’s perspectives and in an art museum, you see quite a variety.  Like the long black acrylic plank leaning against the wall which was part of the West Coast Minimalism movement. Art After Dark

Or the 8 foot by 8 foot gunmetal grey square, with squiggly lines at the bottom and protruding dots at the top. I guessed something at night and was close. The artist’s depiction is of the beach, ocean and a starry night.

As I continue, I enjoy the mental challenge and enjoy how different artists break the normal rules; like the clay sculpture with finger impressions to convey the artist’s role in the creation.

History is always interesting and art has plenty.  For example, I didn’t know that Picasso and Braque developed the Cubism style in 1900. They challenged the Renaissance concept that a painting should present a subject from a single point of view. They looked at their subjects as if they were seen from multiple perspectives and then composed accordingly. See, now those pictures make sense.

Art After DarkI also found it interesting the effect of world events on art.  Paintings during the World Wars often were dark to convey the sadness and emotion of the times. Some were optimistic, but you didn’t know the interpretation till you read the accompanying story.  A picture is worth a thousand words but the artist’s story behind it is priceless.

In addition to browsing the three different floors of the gallery, there was a short tour on surrealism, an artist’s talk, and a jazz band on the lower level.

Art After Dark is every Thursday night with a different theme. Doors are open from 5-9pm and the cost is $12. County residents have free admission to the museum at the following times though:

Palm Beach County residents receive FREE admission on the first Saturday of every month. *
West Palm Beach residents receive FREE admission every Saturday. *

* Must present valid photo ID


Cypress Creek Natural Area

er a long conversation with the staff at Environmental Resources Management about the vast Northeast Everglades Natural Area (NENA) trail system, I decided to take a drive there and found an interesting location.


The 2,083-acre Cypress Creek Natural Area is located on the north and south sides of Indiantown Road near Jupiter Farms Road, approximately one mile west of the turnpike. Parking is available at Gulfstream Citrus Road and Indiantown Road. The natural area is part of the Historic Jupiter-Indiantown Trail, the old road that connected Jupiter with Indiantown. The original road was cut in 1899 and was in use until the late-1950s. A hundred years ago, the rugged 16-mile trip to Indiantown typically took two days.

Grassy trail at Cypress Creek Natural AreaI followed the trail that leads east from the main parking lot. At first glance, it didn’t appear to be more than a straight dirt road. Once out of sight of the parking area, the trail wound under tall oak trees along a canal with the usual vegetation and flowers. What piqued my curiosity was a foot trail that led north. I had to find out where it went. Just beyond the main trail was a small meadow with large trees that would’ve made a nice lunch spot. Further along, I spotted a family of raccoons out for a stroll.Raccoons at Cypress Creek Natural Area

Passing through different ecosystems, I came upon an areathat reminded me of a forest from a fantasy movie: tall trees whose branches provided lots of shade over a forest floor covered in leaves, bark, and tall grass. Combined with the threatening weather above, it took on a spooky quality. This would be a good place for a haunted Halloween trail. We could call it “The Psycho Path!”

The Jupiter-Indiantown multiuse trail has been opened since March. There is a parking area for cars and equestrian trailers, a chickee shade shelter with an information kiosk, an equestrian pitcher pump well, bike racks, horse hitches, and mounting blocks located along the trail. I especially enjoyed the wildlife observation platforms that provide nice photo ops.

Lake at Cypress Creek Natural AreaThere are bright blue markers to help you stay on course. It was easy to find my way in, but more importantly find my way out. I turned back in a futile attempt to beat the rain. I’m not sure where the other trails in this area lead to, but I’ll find out when it’s not raining.

For more information about the Cypress Creek Natural Area and the Historic Jupiter-Indiantown Trail, please visit http://www.pbcgov.com/erm/natural/natural-areas/cypress-creek/

Tie Rod end replacement

After 133K miles, I figured it was time to replace the tie rod ends on my 4Runner. I’m not sure if they were original or not, but they looked like it.tie rod end for 4Runner

I’ve done this before and it’s not too difficult. For $98 delivered, I ordered OEM tie rod ends and set off to replace these.

With a vehicle of this age there is one thing that is a must; lubricant! PBblaster, Silly Kroil, ATF, or all of the above will work. I sprayed the bolts and alignment nuts liberally a few days prior.

tie rod end for 4RunnerWhenever I embark on these projects, I find the simplest things often create the most problems. On this job, it was the rusted cotter pins that secure the nut for the tie rod end. Liberal coating of lubricant, even a little bit of a torch to heat it didn’t phase it. It wasn’t budging and I ended up breaking off the ends. Then it was time to break out the real tool; hammer!! I used a screw driver to drive the broken pieces out the other side of the nut.

At least now the 19mm socket could fit over the nut. Loosening took some leverage, but it came off. The new tie-rod ends come with a new nut as well, but you’ll still need to get this one off.

Before removing the tie rod from the steering knuckle, I always loosen the tightening nut on the steering rack first.  This usually requires two wrenches; one on the tie rod and one on the steering rack side.

Once the steering rack side was loosened enough to remove by hand, I set off to remove the tie rod from the steering knuckle. None of my pullers would fit in the tight space. A few well-placed wallops with my hammer knocked it out of the steering knuckle.

Installation was easy, just screw the new one back into the steering rack and then bolt it into the steering knuckle and install new cotter pins.  A  new alignment will be needed, even if you line up the marks close to what they were previously. 4Runner tie rod end

The steering is a little tighter, the clunk in the front end is gone, and now I know those critical parts of the steering section are good for awhile. On to the next project…..

My First Take on Paddleboarding

“You ever done this before?” Dan asked. “No but I have kayaked”. “Well this is more like canoeing than kayaking” he said. “I’ve done that too so I should be good.”

This was my first experience paddle boarding so I was nervous and curious at the same time. Myself and nine other first timers met a boat ramp in Hobe Sound Florida.   As we watched Dan unload the paddle boards we all had the same questions.  Would it be hard to balance? How do I get on this thing? How about off? If I fall off, what do I do?

We picked our paddle boards and the adventure began. Thanks to Dan’s great instructions, we found it’s not that difficult. To launch the paddleboard, place it near the dock. Then sit down on the dock and place your feet on the board. You’re basically using the board as a footrest at this point. Gently, climb on and kneel on the board. This wasn’t too difficult, but you’ll be free floating at this point so stay to the center for best stability.

Ok, we all survived that part. Now was the real test, standing up.  To stand up, you lean forward and almost do a pushup. I gently stood up and the board began wobbling side to side. After a few side to sides, I settled in to a fragile balance and began to make my way.  Paddling helps keep you balanced so moving is good.  It is just like canoeing though; you steer yourself based on the side you paddle.

Once I got into a rhythm the wobbling subsided and I could focus on enjoying being on the water. It’s a bit like riding a bike; once you get going and stop thinking about falling it is fun. I saw stingrays, pinfish, and mullet. One advantage of paddle boarding is that you stand up so you have a much better view of the marine life and surrounding areas.

We paddled along and then came our main challenge; crossing the river among the boat traffic.  The boats didn’t concern me because it’s a “no wake” zone and they were going very slow.  I could just see falling off in the middle of the channel. The water would be dark, deep and even with a life jacket, I’d be scared.  Some of the group wiped out here, but fortunately I made it.

We made it to our halfway point which was a small beach on the barrier island. Getting off the board was easier than getting on; just walk off the board into the sand. We walked across the sandy barrier island to the Atlantic Ocean.

As we crested the top, we were met with a post card view.  The ocean was sea green and turquoise in color with rolling waves set against a clear blue sky. The water was that perfect temperature to just sit in.  During the trip over we did our best to stay out of the water. Here, the water was so inviting we stayed in.  A few adventurous souls paddled out into the rolling waves with varying degrees of success.

After enjoying some time in paradise, it was time to make the trip home.  The rest was much needed because the return trip was facing into the wind. It wasn’t the strongest wind, but enough that if you weren’t paddling, you were going backwards. Using shorter strokes, I was able to maintain momentum into the wind.

On the way back we saw a large Osprey nest with both parents. They eyed us warily as we went by and we all looked up in awe. You see so much more wildlife when you’re on something that’s quiet.

I mentioned that paddle boarding is like riding a bike and just like riding a bike, you’re most likely to crash in your driveway. I was just across from the dock watching a boat go by when a small wave caught me by surprise and down I went. Fortunately, I caught myself and didn’t end up in the water. Just a reminder from the water gods that I’m not on land yet and to pay attention.

It was time to disembark and Dan warned us about this part. He must’ve seen this story unfold hundreds of times. People start off tentative, gain confidence, then return to the dock and crash. You’re supposed to slowly glide up to the dock and slowly sit down.  I slowly pulled up and promptly sat down. My butt went one way and the board the other. I didn’t go in the water, but it was far from graceful.

Another fun day and I survived in spite of myself. If you’ve been wondering about paddle boarding, definitely give it a try. You don’t need any experience, it’s not that difficult and it’s fun to explore on the water.


Myakka River State Park

Numerous friends had recommended that we visit Myakka River state park.  They said we’d love it because of the kayaking and all the wildlife. After all the recommendations, we had to check it out.

Located about 2 hours from the East coast of Florida, it is an easy drive through the center of the state. Along the way you’ll see the historic section of Florida; wide open prairies and cattle ranches.

We had reserved a cabin and sometimes those are a hit or miss depending on the amenities. This one was perfect; decent size kitchen, with a large great room that housed a fireplace, dining room table, and bed.  Out back was a small porch and a picnic table. Of course, it had the most important thing; air conditioning.

Once unpacked, we set off on our bikes to explore. I really enjoy biking around parks because I see so much more by going slow and I can explore trails along the way.  We peddled down the main grade past a bridge with an overlook into a canal. A perfect place to view alligators, but they were not to be found this time.

Continuing on, we saw vast grassed prairies that would be perfect for a giraffe or Rhino to roam. Further along, the road is enclosed by a canopy of trees with that beautiful hanging Spanish moss. Hanging like a sheer curtain, the moss gives the trees such character.

In the “middle” of the park is a large lake complete with a boat ramp and boat tours. A large concession stand and store are conveniently located there too.   A variety of foods were available, but on this hot summer day it was two words: ice cream!!!  Sitting upstairs, we had an unobstructed view of the lake and boat launch. Anhinga, a small gator, herons and the like were easily spotted.

Continuing on, we ventured further away from civilization and found a long boardwalk that had a panoramic view of the area. There wasn’t anyone else out there so it was perfect. Course, I’m sure in the winter when the weather is nicer, more people wil l be there.

The afternoon was winding down so it was time to head back to camp. Late afternoon is always a great time to see wildlife and this was no exception. Numerous hawks flew over and sat in the trees just above us.  A few deer trotted across the road and into the woods.

As we entered the cabin, sweaty and hot from the long ride, we were thankful for the air conditioning. We had heard about a drum circle and great restaurant at Siesta Key so we cleaned up and headed out for a more “civilized” evening.  About 30 minutes away was everything you could want in civilization. Great restaurants, pristine beaches, and more.

Arriving back at the cabin around 9pm, we still had a sense of adventure and knew that there would be wildlife out at night.  A blast of the bug repellent, a couple bottles of water, and a camera and off we went exploring.

I opened the moon roof for a view of the stars and gently drove around the park at a meagerly 10mph. Wow!!! The things we saw that night were unforgettable.  Frogs, snakes, and all kinds of crawly things were everywhere. We couldn’t drive more than 10 feet without seeing something interesting.  We stopped so much and saw so many things, I felt like I should be shooting one of those wildlife by night shows.

One of the most memorable scenes was a barred owl that flew down from the tree into the road, picked up a frog and flew up into the tree. To see that right in front of you is truly unforgettable. I had my camera, but there are times it’s just better to watch life unfold. Yeah, I miss a few shots, but I have some fond memories.

And this was just day one!  The next day we did even more exploring of the trails including a boardwalk that provided a 360 view above the tree canopy.

So my friends were right; Myakka River state park is a very fun place to visit. You can kayak, bike, experience nature first hand and civilization is not far if you need it. For more information, check out their website:


1998 4Runner Timing Belt replacement

$800?! That was the quote from an independent mechanic to replace the timing belt and water pump on my 1998 4Runner. $400 of the total was labor and the other $400 was parts. As a certified professional myself, I don’t mind paying someone for their time.

However, I really wanted to tackle this myself and understand how it worked. I’ve pulled rear ends, replaced fuel injectors, installed lift kits, and the like.

Plus I was pretty sure I could do it myself for cheaper than $800.  Although I’ll never forget a friend who said “why pay someone $400 when you can do it yourself for $600”.  I’ve had projects like that and was determined this wasn’t going to be one of them.

Thanks to the internet, I read every article I could find about replacing the timing belt and the problems encountered.  I even found some PDFs of service manuals and printed them.

Course, I wanted to use the right tools and this was the perfect time to upgrade and add some tools to my collection. Here’s what I used:

Timing belt: eBay kit that included; Toyota timing belt, Toyota thermostat, Toyota seals, Koyo bearings and Asin water pump.  Asin and Koyo are the manufactures of the parts for Toyota so it’s the same thing, just doesn’t say Toyota.

Pulley holder:                  to hold the crankshaft pulley while loosening/tightening the crankshaft bolt

Idler tensioner holder:   secures the lower idler so the timing belt can be installed.

Wheel puller:                    removal of the crankshaft pulley.

10mm hex socket:           removal of lower idler.

Torque wrench:                needed to torque crankshaft bolt to 217ft lbs.

Pliers:                                 removal of hose clamps.

Metric sockets                   19mm is the size for the crankshaft bolt

1/2 in breaker bar

Safety goggles

Disassembly isn’t that difficult, just a bit tedious at times. If you’ve replaced the belts and hoses, you’ve done about 50% of it.  Here’s a tip that helps me keep things organized. Each time I take a piece off, I put all the bolts into a plastic bag and label it. This way I can find all the parts later. In this case, I had to wait a week to reassemble so this worked well.

The book says to remove the A/C compressor but fortunately I didn’t need to do that. The hardest part of disassembly was removing the crankshaft pulley bolt. The infamous crankshaft bolt…..it’s torqued to 217ft lbs. so it doesn’t come off easily. And if you don’t torque it back right, it’ll come off easily and that will trash your engine.

Before I removed the crankshaft pulley, I used the ½ in breaker bar to cycle the engine by hand to see how the timing marks lined up. I wanted to get a feel of how it worked before I took it all apart.

When it came time to loosen the infamous crankshaft bolt, I used all the leverage I could, but still couldn’t get it loose. So I resorted to the starter bump method. The engine turns clockwise so I connected the 19mm socket to an old ½ inch drive torque wrench (set to loosen) and laid the wrench on top of the driver’s side frame.   When the engine turns, it pushes the wrench down into the frame which will force the bolt to loosen.

I had visions of my 1/2 in ratchet taking flight at supersonic speeds so I double checked everything. I even did a few test starter bumps so I’d know exactly how to bump the starter. Once I was sure I had a grasp of what was going on, I went for it.  The first bump sounded horrendous as the ratchet tightened against the frame, but everything looked fine. The second bump loosened it. So it was pretty easy to use this method, but be very careful and triple check everything. Especially which way the engine rotates and if you’re having someone bump the starter for you, stand clear.

So the bolt’s off, I’m home free. Not quite….that pulley isn’t coming off with just bare hands, at least not mine anyway. I had to make a store run to grab a wheel puller. Even that tool took some effort, but it did remove the remove the pulley. It’s 11lbs so don’t drop it on your toe. Don’t ask how I know this.

The pulley has a notch for the key on the crankshaft. If the crankshaft bolt isn’t tightened properly, it allows the pulley to wobble and loosen. Guess what I saw inside of my pulley? Not only was the key notch rounded, the pulley itself was cracked. I’m glad I found this now instead of far from civilization! 

A new pulley is over $300 from Toyota and off brands run around $200.  I found a used one for $99 shipped that only had 40K miles on it. That took a week to arrive so it was a good thing I had put everything in bags and labeled them.

If you think the crankshaft pulley is hard to remove, try reinstalling it! I could get it on the end of the crankshaft, but it just would not slide on. I smoothed out the inside with sandpaper and applied a liberal coating of synthetic ATF fluid. It slid right on effortlessly. ATF is the BEST lubricant!!

After that, the hardest part was lining up the belt and marks, but after numerous tries I made it. If you have an extra set of hands, this will be much easier. The water pump and idler pulleys were easy to replace. I had to compress the lower one to get the timing belt back on though.

After double checking and in some cases triple checking, I put everything back together. Now was the real test. I turned the key and the engine roared to life! Whooo Hooo, I did it!!! No pieces went flying, no odd noises. In fact it was much quieter.

So how did I do pricewise?

$264 for the timing belt kit, $99 for a new Craftsman Torque wrench (I’d been wanting a new one!), $25 for a Craftsman 1/2 inch breaker bar, $13 for the wheel puller, $33 for the idler tensioner holder, $50 for the pulley holder, $99 for the used crankshaft pulley, $12 for antifreeze, and $75 for all new belts and hoses.  Total to do it myself, including buying some tools and a crankshaft pulley: $670.  The fact I know how it all works was totally worth it. I hope that I don’t have to go in there for another 90K miles, but if I do, at least I know what to do.

Here are a few links that are a huge help:



White Lightning Clean Ride chain lube

The chain on my mountain bike takes a beating; sand, mud, dust, grass, water, etc. I’ve tried numerous lubricants with a variety of success. Teflon, bike oil, motor oil and even automatic  transmission fluid. The ATF was really smooth, except it attracted everything and constantly slung off on my legs.

Wandering in my local sport store, I found a product called  White Lightning Clean Lube Wax lubricant that says it’s a wax lube. Something new that I haven’t tried so I bought a small bottle. 

The first thing I did was clean my chain and sprockets with Simple Green and a tooth brush. Who knew my sprockets actually were chrome plated? I hadn’t seen those in awhile.

I cleaned all the dirt, grime, and sand from all the crevices. I usually wash my bike after a ride, but obviously I have been missing a few spots.

Once it was all dry, I applied the wax lube. It says to coat the chain, wipe the excess and let dry. I liberally applied it as I rotated the chain several times. I let it sit for about an hour and headed out for  a 5 mile ride.

I’m not sure if it was because everything was clean or the lube, but pedaling was significantly smoother. The shifting worked properly and didn’t click or miss. I only rode on pavement for the 5 miles, but the difference was significantly better.

My next trip I’ll take it in the dirt and post an update.

Check your ground wires

Everytime I flipped on my driving lights, the fuel gauge would begin dropping. I knew that had to be a ground problem, but wasn’t sure where to start. I noticed the right hand light was dimmer so I started there.

I had grounded my driving lights using the bolts under my chrome bumper. I removed the ground wire from the passenger light and connected it to the horn mount. All I did was unbolt the horn and placed this connector around the mounting bolt.

Wow, the light was significantly brighter than the left one!  I grounded the left light to the other horn mount and now it matched in brightness. Oh and my fuel guage stays put too.

The night time ride was really impressive. The lights really noticeably brighter now! So if you’re experiencing any kind of issues, remember to check your ground points. Grounding through chrome bumpers and paint works okay, but a direct connection yields great results.



Philip Hulitar Sculpture Gardens

What do you do during lunch? Surf the internet? Seriously, you do that all day long anyway.  It’s time to get out of the office and enjoy some fresh air. If you work near the downtown West Palm Beach,  we have the perfect place to enjoy lunch. It’s also open on the weekends so now you have somewhere to go this weekend.

The sculpture gardens are another shining example of preserving the land and yet allowing public enjoyment.  You’ll have to read the interesting history, but some of the contributors included; Mrs. Folger, Mr. and Mrs. F. Warrington Gillet, Jr., and Marjorie Whittemore to name a few.

Located due east of the Society of the Four Arts and surrounded by a fence, it’s not readily visible. An open wrought iron gate is your only clue. Quick side note, can you name the Four Arts? Answer at the end, so no skipping ahead!

As the name implies, the sculpture garden contains an eclectic mix of landscapes and art. Immerse yourself in the tropical plants and pools of the Chinese garden. Stand in wonder at the funky art reaching skyward and wonder just what defines art and why you didn’t think of that.

Step inside the large pavilion with the gigantic fruit art and the fountain flowing from the kids’ statue faces. Sit under one of the trellis areas and enjoy the shade. Or go all the way into the NE corner and sit in the solitude of the trees. Back here you’re also out of view of the general public so it’s like having the place to yourself.

The gardens are free and open 7 days a week from 10am to 5pm. Ok, so here’s the answer to the Four Arts: Art, Music, Drama, and Literature.

For more information: