Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Watery Escape from the Desert

I really, really wanted to go someplace warm and sunny and sandy for Christmas this year, so last February I asked my parents and siblings and their families if they'd be interested in a trip to Florida. Everyone agreed. We figured out one week we could all get away and found a house that could fit all of us that was on the beach. We had months of anticipation (which is a huge part of the fun and kept me from getting my usual December dark doldrums). And then finally it was time to leave. Our family met my brother Ed in Vegas and we took a flight to Tampa and drove to the beach in the wee hours of the night. Before we went to bed, we had to peek out at the ocean waves crashing against the shore. I went to sleep smiling.

The next morning we were eager to explore. The white sand was just footsteps away from the patio door, and then the the water stretched out to the horizon. It was warm and there were birds.

I had a lot of fun watching the birds. Willets, most likely. They liked to peck into the sand and then ran when the bigger waves came. I never saw one get knocked down by a wave, even when their backs were turned.

Sea oats were one of the dominant beachside vegetation communities. The rental house had a balcony so we could look out at the beach.

We went down to the beach a lot. Dusk and dawn were the best for seeing a variety of birds. Here are a Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Sanderlings, and gulls all looking for food.

My brother Andrew was a great organizer, and he directed us to the beautiful botanical gardens to see the lights on Christmas Eve. It was a bit odd seeing Christmas lights on palm trees. And to be able to walk around with heavy coats.

Christmas Day was spent looking at more birds. :) Ha, ha, okay, we did a little more than that. But you have to admit, this Snowy Egret was gorgeous.

The kids loved taking boogie boards out into the water. The water temp was 70 degrees, which to them was warm enough. I guess swimming in a mountain creek from spring to fall toughens you up.

 When they had enough of the water, they just came back on shore and dug in the sand with their cousins.

 Then it was time to go back out again.

 The waves were gentle, no more than a couple feet. And the salty water made us all extra buoyant. The kids definitely went out the most, but even the adults spent time in the water.

Digging in the sand also turned into creative burying in the sand.

 I went running most mornings, enjoying the opportunity to run on flat land at an elevation with lots of oxygen. It was also a fun way to get to see a little more, like this pier. (And the cute sanderlings by the edge of the water.)

 As the days passed, the sand creations became more elaborate. We had a huge sand fort, but that eventually got decimated. Then it was time for the giant sand alligator. It spawned many other creatures around it.

 We saw dolphins swimming in front of us almost every day. There were also quite a few brown pelicans, and watching them dive so fast into the water was quite a sight.

On one early morning walk to look for shells, Desert Girl found a half-eaten fish on the shore. She got very excited. "Mom, can I get a shell and dissect it?"
"Sure!" How could I refuse that?

The shell didn't work so well, so we left the fish to the Herring Gull, who was happy to consume it rather than study it.
 

 Our big adventure away from the beach was taking a boat ride from Fort De Soto State Park to Egmont Key, the site of a fort built during the Spanish-American War. It's at the entrance to Tampa Bay. Keys, by the way, are islands without water sources. (At least that's what I learned, but when I just fact-checked this, the more common answer was that keys are low-elevation sandy islands atop coral reefs.)

It still has a working lighthouse.

We checked out some of the ruins.

And some of the brick-paved streets from when hundreds of people lived here. We also did a little snorkeling and saw a gopher tortoise and more dolphins. It was an interesting spot to visit.

Then we went back to our beach. Desert Boy was ready to make more sand sculptures.

Later we went down to the beach by Treasure Island and saw some huge sand sculptures. These were made in a contest in mid-November and most were still in pretty good shape.

They gave us some ideas for snow sculpting, but alas, there's not enough snow for that this year in Nevada.

As the week came to an end, we had time to reflect on the beautiful world we live in, where we can see so many great ecosystems. It sure is fun to visit other ones from time to time.

And we'll remember the gentle sounds of the ocean waves rolling onto the beach.

On our last morning, Desert Girl came with for the run.

We stopped a lot to look at shells, including these live ones.

We had an evening flight, so during the day we went to a couple county parks and got to see alligators.

This little baby alligator was right under the viewing platform (see Desert Girl's pink polka-dotted reflection?)

We also spotted a limpkin, a bird native to Florida. I was so excited that I knew the name to it, and I'm still not sure how I did.

We braved the very-crowded Florida Aquarium.

And then it was time to head back to our special part of the world. We take fond memories with us (and in the case of Desert Girl, a pile of sea shells that have a bit of an odor to them.) It was great to spend time with family and be warm--especially with the brutally cold weather some of the family was headed back to. We really enjoyed being able to spend so much time outside at Christmas, something we usually don't get to do.

Hope you all had a good Christmas! And Happy 2018!

2 comments:

Carolyn James said...

It would be fun to hear a description of what the ocean air felt like to you, first thing. Since you are desert dwellers.
Could you feel that there was a lot more oxygen? How about the humidity, and could you smell more things than usual?
(I have always lived at 1000 ft elevation of lower, and when I drove to Colorado last year, the air ... just wasn't there, it seemed. Could barely talk for running out of air.)

David Evans said...

Just finished viewing your warm vacation....Looking out my window the snow is still coming down...
Oh Well.....:+)....

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