We drove to Kentucky on Jan. 6, stopped for dinner in Louisville at a place called Lynn’s Paradise Café, recommended by a “Road Food” book lent to us by friends—the best food on the trip, especially the delicious fried apples—& then drove a couple more hours to stay the night in Cave City. On the 7th, we spend the day at Mammoth Cave. On the morning tour, we had the ranger to ourselves, so we could ask all of the questions we wanted & go at our own pace, which was great! We learned a lot of history about the cave. In the afternoon, we were in a fairly large group, so not as fun, yet the rock formations & colors were so much more interesting--& we saw cave crickets & hibernating bats.
On Jan. 8, we drove to Montgomery, AL. We drove around the capitol area that night & I found it an odd juxtaposition of Confederacy & Civil Rights history. We ate dinner at another place recommended by the book—pretty good food—a ton of it—but the people were definitely not-so-friendly. The next day at the rest stop in Huntsville, AL, I saw a real rocket, Saturn 1B. On the 9th, we finished the 1st leg of the trip & arrived at Panama City, FL. It took us several tries & phone calls to get to Amy’s sister Lori’s house—it’s really out in the boonies. But it is in a really pretty area, & she has palm trees in her yard & other tropical Florida trees like live oaks & long-leaf pines. Amy & her mom both made a huge effort not to drive each other crazy & mostly succeeded. Lori & I hit it off, had some good walks & talks together. On the lake near their house I saw a lot of coots nesting. We went to Tallahassee one day to have lunch with Lori & Pete's son Ben, & then watched his baseball practice. He is a starting pitcher for Florida State & has a unique pitching style, almost underhanded, aptly named the “submarine.” We also walked around the old state capitol building since we were there & had a few minutes (more history lessons). Another day we went to the beach & felt the soft, ultra-white “sugar sand.” Also ate something I’d wanted to try for years—boiled peanuts—you put the whole shell in your mouth & bite it—hot salty brine, then scoop out the soft peanuts with your teeth—messy & very delicious! I ate them through the trip until I was sick of them.
We started the next leg of the trip on Jan. 14 by going to the center of the state to a town called Lake Wales, where some Quaker friends stay for the winter. They had invited us to stay in their camper—it was really tight quarters but ok for one night. We saw several sandhill cranes. Our friends took us to the Bok Tower carillon & gardens the next day—on the highest point in Florida at a whopping 284 feet above sea level. I learned a lot about carillons--they have the largest collection of books about carillons in the country, which GVSU's carillonist Julianne Vanden Wyngaard had told me. The gardens & walking trails were beautiful & reminded me of Australia. The lush tropical plants & then the dry desert with scrubby trees, cacti, & lizards. Late that afternoon, we drove down to a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, Weston, to stay with Amy’s ex-brother-in-law & his wife. The road there went along miles of sugar cane fields—I’d never seen it flowering before & it just looks like tallgrass. Had a nice visit with the Proni’s and then went to the Everglades on the 16th. Oh wow. We went to the Royal Palm station & saw alligators galore (from the safety of a boardwalk), some as close as 5 feet or so. They are so prehistoric. And we saw amazing birds, new to me, like the Anhinga (& nestlings), white ibis, snowy egret, wood stork, tri-colored heron, little blue heron, green-backed heron…. Also saw many cormorants & great blue herons up-close-and-personal. Then we drove down the Keys to our other Quaker friends from Holland, who are staying on Big Pine Key. What a ride, from island to island, over the 7-mile bridge with only miles of water on either side, seeing the train trestle which was destroyed by the 1935 hurricane so that huge chunks are missing from it, seeing the little mangrove trees which seem to sprout in the water & create new little keys from themselves. On Big Pine, there are tiny deer called Key Deer, which wander around in people’s yards. They have been there since at least 1575 & are small because of their environment—they’re a variation of our big white-tailed deer. There were many brown pelicans everywhere. On the 18th, we took a ride in a glass-bottomed boat to the Florida Atlantic Reef, but when I tried to look down through the glass bottom at the fish & reef, urp, I felt very seasick & had to go back up on deck to look at the horizon. Once we got going again & the wind was in my face, I was fine. But I surely didn’t feel well for awhile. Amy said my face went white then green. I did see a few pretty fish, and then a ballyhoo when on deck. That fish went flying by us like an arrow skipping over the water! We also had another 1st in birdwatching--a brown booby (really!).
One oddity in Key West at the public library was the sheriff who worked at the Circulation Desk. Made me wonder why....
We had perfect weather, colder than I had expected. Even with 70 sunscreen every day, I got a little tan. I saw billions & billions of stars at night, more than I think I’ve ever seen before. Orion was especially bright, but the dippers were so low on the horizon they weren't visible most nights.
On the way home, we stopped at Rock City ("See Rock City!"), where there are paths through the huge limestone boulders (as big as houses), & some of the paths were very narrow tunnels so that Amy was scared of getting stuck. But it was beautiful, despite the hokey gnomes & piped-in music. We also stopped at the Kentucky Derby Museum for an hour, which was long enough to see the exhibits & have a tour of the grounds. No horses since they are all in California or Florida training! I had Amy take a picture of me on a horse (statue) in the starting gate. I also tried sitting in the saddle in the jockey position for the 2 minutes it takes for a race but my thigh muscles wimped out so I lost the race.
Got a lot done on the sabbatical project while there. Good to have a laptop & wifi in many places!