Sunday, January 25, 2015

Honeymoon Island State Park, Florida

Honeymoon Island, a barrier island across the St. Joseph's Sound from Palm Harbor, is home to the Honeymoon Island State Park. The park is 385 acres in land area with 4 miles of beach, and 2400 acres of submerged land. According to the Florida Park Service, Honeymoon Island was introduced to the public during the 1940's through newsreels and magazines with advertisements promising undiscovered pleasures for newlyweds. Formerly known as Hog Island, in the early 1940's honeymoon-type huts were built on the island for vacationing, and the name was changed. The thatched huts fell into disuse during World War II, and were eventually torn down, however, the name stuck. Although no longer a destination for honeymooners, nature lovers will find osprey nests (we saw plenty of these!), a wide variety of shorebirds, and one of the few remaining virgin slash pine forests in South Florida. We also came across a very busy armadillo, rooting and digging for something, who seemed completely unconcerned with humans. There are several nature trails, some of which we rode our bikes on, and visitors can also swim and snorkel in the warm waters of the Gulf, collect shells, picnic, and take advantage of an onsite gift shop and snack bar. Here are some pictures of our bike ride on Honeymoon Island State Park.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sponge Docks (Tarpon Springs, Florida)

The Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs is a unique area in Pinellas County (Florida), and is home to the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the United States. The first local sponge business was started in the 1880's, and the industry quickly grew. Soon spongers from Key West and the Bahamas settled in Tarpon Springs, and by the 1890's a few Greek immigrants arrived here to work. In 1905 John Cocoris introduced the technique of Sponge Diving to Tarpon Springs and recruited divers and crew members from Greece. The sponge industry soon became one of the leading maritime industries in Florida, and the most important business in Tarpon Springs, generating millions of dollars a year. A red tide algae bloom occurred in 1947, wiping out the sponge fields in the Gulf of Mexico, and much of the industry in this area. Eventually the sponges recovered and there has remained a consistent but smaller sponge industry since then. Visitors to Tarpon Springs can often view sponge fisherman working at the Sponge Docks on Dodecanese Boulevard, as well as enjoy the many Greek themed shops, restaurants, and museums detailing the Tarpon Springs' Greek heritage. The January day we visited the area was sunny and bright, perfect for walking around the village and enjoying the sights.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Port Richey, Florida

The suburban area of Pasco County where we are staying is called Port Richey, but often it is difficult to tell where Port Richey and New Port Richey (and previously Old Port Richey) begin and end, as in reality they seem to be one and the same. In the early 1900's a "new" part of Port Richey built up around Orange Lake, and residents began to refer to this neighborhood as New Port Richey. Eventually this designation became official with the establishment of a Post Office, and over time, New Port Richey surpassed Port Richey in both geographical size and population. The downtown area of New Port Richey wraps around Orange Lake, which is surrounded by parks and neighborhoods of pretty lake houses, but what Dan and I found most interesting were the murals painted on several of the buildings. One afternoon we took the time to walk through the heart of the city and take pictures of the historically themed murals, as well as enjoy the surrounding area. Here are pictures of our visit.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

J.B. Starkey Wildneress Preserve (Port Richey, Florida)

On November 10, 2014, we left Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and drove to Savannah, Georgia where we stayed for a few days before finally arriving in Port Richey, Florida. (The trip to Savannah was a second visit for us, the first being in 2011, which I blogged about here.) In the past we've spent our on-the-road winters in different South Texas Towns, and various Arizona locations, but this year will be the first year we spend an entire winter season in Florida. Five other RV'ing couples we know who also like to come to warmer southern climes this time of year will comprise our small neighborhood of friends and golfers in the RV Resort we are staying in. In addition to golfing and reconnecting with old friends, Dan and I like to explore what the area has to offer for biking and hiking, and here we found the J.B. Starkey Wilderness Preserve. This gem of a park nestled in the middle of a very busy city is filled with miles of walking, hiking, equestrian, and biking trails that wind through forests of pine flatwoods, cypress domes, freshwater marshes, stream and lake swamps, and sandhill and scrub covering an 8500 wetland ecosystem. We've been to the park a couple of times to ride our bikes, and plan to make this a regular destination while in Port Richey. So far we've spotted deer, a red rat snake, an armadillo, lots and lots of lizards, and a variety of water birds. On our first visit we stumbled into a winter Christmas Wonderland as well, very fun and timely!