Sunset in the Coconino National Forest, looking northeast toward Sedona, AZ, 4/17/15

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reflections From Home

Great White Egret in the swamp among baldcypress and airplants,
Big Cypress National Preserve, Loop Road.  Click to enlarge picture. 
I arrived back home in Fall City about 10 days earlier than planned due to family illness. Gratefully my mother- and father-in-law are doing better now. I enjoyed Easter with the grandkids and have mostly caught up on housework, finances, and some John time :). Now I need to catch up on blogging. So, this initial blog is an overview and some general impressions of my recent trip around the Gulf of Mexico coast, January 8 through March 27.
Large Crocodile among the mangroves at the
 Everglades National Park, Flamingo District.  I saw only a few crocodiles.
As you know from my last couple of blogs, I spent several weeks in Quartzsite, Arizona with friends and a couple more weeks in Big BendNational Park before reaching the Gulf Coast at South Padre Island, Texas. From there I stayed as close to the coast as possible as I traveled toward the Florida Keys. I focused on exploring the National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and the coastal back roads. I camped in National Parks and National Forests when available. I overnighted at many Walmart parking lots while on my way to my next destination.
Aligators warming themselves at Big Cypress National Preserve.
I saw many aligators all along the Gulf Coast -- Texas to Florida.
I saw an astonishing amount of wildlife. I followed a migratory flyway so the birding was exceptional. The swamps and mangrove islands were so full of life that it's totally mind boggling … from tiny bugs to huge crocodiles, aninghas to manatees, fish, turtles, reptiles, raptors, shore birds, cats, deer … so much life. To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the swamps and would love to go back to explore more in a kayak of my own.
I saw hundreds of beach communities of houses-on-stilts, from full-size homes
to mobile-homes-on-stilts, raised up to 30' to protect them from storm surges. 
Many appeared to be new construction, likely rebuilt after hurricane damage.
Having enjoyed the roads along the Pacific Coast of the US, I expected a similar experience on the Gulf. But, for the most part, those roads had scarce views of the water. Instead multistory condos or houses-on-stilts stood between the road and the water. Still I persisted to hug the coast down to the Keys and even up the Atlantic side of Florida. As I traveled those many thousands of miles along mainland and barrier island beaches, I was taken aback by the material wealth of so many in this country as evidenced by their gated-communities and vacation homes. I am deeply saddened that so much natural beauty has been covered and hidden by these developments.
Great Blue Heron, sugar sand, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Okaloosa Area
Just off of US-98, Fort Walton Beach, Florida.  Click to enlarge picture. 
So, the scattering of wildlife refuges and national parks that I visited along the way were especially treasured and will be the focus of my blogs to follow. I'm grateful that they have been set aside, free of development, for wildlife to thrive and for the public to enjoy.

Cardinal defending his territory from the "intruder" in my side view mirror.
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, northwest Florida Gulf Coast
In the days to come, I will begin blogging and posting many pictures from my explorations along the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and a few more inland stops on my way back west to Washington State … be watching!
Swallowtail Butterfly at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, FL