Thursday, March 30, 2017

Gasparilla Island

Port Boca Grande Lighthouse
Another sunny South Florida day found us headed in the direction of Gasparilla Island and the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse.
Gasparilla is a small barrier island separated from the mainland by the Charlotte Sound.
Popular folklore tells a story of Gulf pirate Jose' Gaspar and a fabulous lost treasure and claims that the island is named for that swashbuckling sailor.
It makes a nice story and one that is much more fun to believe than the one that historians will tell you about Spanish missionaries.

An Ospry nest in the parking lot of Gasparilla Island State Park.
The lighthouse is located in Gasparilla Island State Park at the south end of the island. There was plenty of parking in the lot and payment is by honor system.  Island residents travel by bicycle or golf cart and parking them doesn't take up much space.
The State Park has a picnic area and bath houses as well as miles of beach. The Port Boca Grande Lighthouse is a short stroll from the parking area. We spotted another Ospry nest here in the parking lot. I am beginning to think that they are a must have attraction for Florida Lighthouses.
Fred and I had visited the lighthouse once before in the late 90's and were enjoying lunch in the picnic area when a large iguana ran up the fence near our picnic table, perched on the top and started hissing at us.  It was a startling experience and one that we didn't expect to have repeated.
Then this guy showed up.

Black Spinytail Iguanas have become a nuisance population on Gasparilla Island
We later learned that the population of these non-native lizards has expanded at an alarming rate. They have no natural predators and their presence has been traced to a resident that brought them home from Mexico. He released them into the island environment when he realized that their sharp teeth and spiny tails make them poor pets.
After our encounter with the prehistoric beast we headed over the dunes to the beach.
Gasparilla Island beaches are good for shelling and also a great place to search for sharks teeth. We did find a few small ones to bring home to the boys.
The sand is rough with broken shells so bring your water shoes when you visit.
Port Boca Grande Lighthouse is a one story wood house on pilings with a square tower protruding through the roof like a giant chimney. On top of that tower is an octagonal lantern room that is lit with a drum lantern.
The assistant keepers quarters are a separate building, identical to the first except for the tower. The lighthouse is a museum and is open to the public.

A cleat from the old phosphate docks on Gasparilla Island
Museum displays reveal the history of Gasparilla Island starting with the story of Calusa Indians that used the island for hunting and fishing.
Additional exhibits reveal the effect that phosphate mining had on the area. Rock Phosphate was mined in Dunellon and shipped down the Peace River across the Charlotte Sound to Gasparilla Island where it was loaded onto ships heading Northward. Exports increased in the late 1800's when a railroad line was built to connect Gasparilla Island to the mainland. Increased shipping traffic lead to the need for a lighthouse. Port Boca Grande was established in 1890.
The lighthouse remains an active aid to navigation.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Boca Grande Entrance Rear Range Light
There is a second light on Gasparilla Island. The Boca Grande Entrance Rear Range light is an iron skeletal tower similar in design to the on at Sanibel. The Tower at Boca Grande is painted white. It has an interesting history of being recycled. The light began its service in Lewes Delaware marking Cape Henlopen and the entrance of Delaware Bay.  It was deactivated in 1918, dismantled and shipped South. The steel structure found a home on Gasparilla Island where it was reactivated in 1932.
It was sweet to see them both in one day.

Gasparilla State Park and Port Boca Grande Lighthouse
880 Belcher Rd
Boca Grande, Florida
Lighthouse open daily 10-4, Sundays 12-4

Boca Grande Entrance Rear Range Light
Gulf Blvd between Wheeler Rd and Seabreeze Ct.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sanibel Island

Sanibel Lighthouse shares the beach with sunbathers and beachcombers.
Our stay in South Florida gave us the opportunity to revisit one of my favorite places, Sanibel Island.
Sanibel  and it's sister island Captiva are part of the Gulf Coast's barrier islands. These tiny crescent shaped pieces of land off the coast of Fort Meyers are some of the most beautiful real estate in Florida.
Sanibel is only 12 miles long and 3 miles at it's widest. Captiva is smaller at less than 5 miles long and it's widest point is only half a mile. The islands are pretty easy to navigate since there are only 2 main roads on Sanibel and one that crosses over to Captiva.

The Visitor Centor is located in a small building on the right side of Causeway Road. We stopped to get the Lighthouse Society stamp in our Passport Book since the lighthouse itself is not manned. They were great about suggesting parking areas for the places we wanted to visit.

Causeway Drive and Periwinkle Way meet in a 4 way stop intersection that is manned by a traffic officer during high use hours.  He signaled us through with a wave as we turned left on Periwinkle to visit Lighthouse Beach, home to the historic Sanibel Lighthouse. There was parking available in the beaches automated pay by the hour lot. The parking lot has multiple beach access points over wood boardwalks to protect the dunes.
We took advantage of the closest one to cross to the beach and walked along the water around the islands easternmost point where the Gulf of Mexico meets San Carlos Bay and the grounds of the lighthouse are located.

Sanibel Island Lighthouse

The iron skeleton tower was established in 1844. It sits 98 feet above sea level so you can easily see the rust brown superstructure as you stroll in the sand.
Sanibel Light has an interesting history that began in 1884 when its iron superstructure was made in the North in Jersey City and shipped to site. The ship carrying the structure sank just 2 miles from Sanibel's shores. It was recovered from the floor of Gulf and took its place on the Island later that year.
As we got closer to the lighthouse we could hear the high pitched whistling cry of a bird.  There was a large Osprey perched on the railing at the top of the lighthouse. From that vantage point it could look down at the chimney of the keepers cottage where it had built a nest and warn us all to stay away.

An Osprey nest on the chimney of the keepers quarters
You will never be lonely on Lighthouse Beach.  Sanibel and Captiva  are known for their abundant seashells. The combined length of these barrier islands runs east to west blocking the current and providing a perfect place for shells to wash ashore.
Lighthouse Beach is full of them.  During our short stroll we saw dozens of angel wings, augers, scallops and tiny conchs  We even took the time to dig a starfish out of the sand. I don't bring shells home anymore, but still love to touch them and marvel at their delicate beauty.
Beachcombing posture here is called the Sanibel Stoop. You can't help but look around your feet to see what treasures can be found.

Brown Pelican taking a rest from fishing.
The current in the channel is strong so swimming is not recommended at Lighthouse beach, but the current makes this a great place to watch for dolphins.  There were 2 pods feeding close to shore on the afternoon that we visited. I was happy to see my favorite brown pelicans fishing in the same area.

Sanibel Lighthouse is an iron skeleton tower.
 Sanibel lighthouse is a fully automated active aid to navigation and is currently lit with a drum lens.It's former third order Fresnel lens can be seen at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village.
We enjoyed walking around the lighthouse, it's restored oil house and 2 hip roofed keepers cottages which are not open for public viewing.

Oil House
It was hard to leave such a beautiful beach but we wanted to make one more stop before heading home. We left the beach and drove Periwinkle Way through town stopping for a quick lunch of shrimp and fish sandwiches  before cutting over to Sanibel-Captiva Road which brought us to the J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge.

Sanibel and Captiva are unique in that they have a source of fresh water, a river that runs through them, creating an estuary where salt water meets fresh in a brackish combination that attracts hundreds of birds.
More that 250 species have been identified by birding enthusiasts in the J. N. 'Ding' Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Mr. Darling recognized the significance of Sanibel's watery environment and advocated for the creation of the Wildlife Refuge.  The 7600 acres of mangrove filled wild areas were saved from development in 1945 by the order of President Harry S Truman. It is now part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States and comprises a large portion of Sanibel Island.
Darling, a Pulitzer prize winning cartoonist, was a conservationist and was involved in the creation of the National Wildlife Federation. The name of the refuge was later changed to bear his name.

Roseate Spoonbills 
We followed the refuges 4 mile Wildlife Trail which allowed us several viewing opportunities for birds and other wildlife. We were lucky enough to see White Pelicans, Roseate Spoonbills and Yellow Crowned Night Herons in addition to the more common Hawks, Osprey, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis and Great Blue Herons. We were lucky enough to meet an experienced bird watcher who helped us to identify the less obvious species we were looking at.

The creepiest creatures of all, climbing mangrove crabs.

We spotted the creepiest creatures on the Mangrove Boardwalk where tiny crabs climb up the trunks of the Red Mangrove trees. They moved slowly along the branches like spiders with suits of armor. Not my favorite sighting of the day.

J. N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge has opportunities for bike riding and walking as well as small boat launches for kayaks and canoes. The Wildlife Trail is a shared use space for cars, bikes, and walking. There are many vantage points for watching birds and amphibians. Fishing is permitted.

Sanibel Island Lighthouse
112 Periwinkle Way
Sanibel, Florida
(239) 472-3700

J. N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge
1 Wildlife Dr
Sanibel, Florida
(239) 472-1100

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Solomon's Castle

Solomon's Castle. A shining tribute to one mans imagination.
There is a castle in the center of Florida.
It has a moat and turrets and unique stained glass windows.
There is a lighthouse in the moat and a bridge, through a ship that is a restaurant.
Did I mention that the castle is in a swamp?
The 3 story 12000 square foot shining structure is the creation of one man, Howard Solomon, an internationally recognized artist and sculptor.

Mr. Solomon hadn't intended to be the butt of a joke by buying swamp land in the middle of Florida.

He bought the lush woodland during a dry spell. When he came back with his family to build his home Howard discovered that there wasn't enough high ground to construct the sprawling home that he had envisioned so he built a levee to control the water in Black Creek then
started with a small footprint and went vertical.
Stained glass windows in the castle walls.
Howard Solomon invented his house using home grown skills and other peoples junk.  Unfettered by conventional building styles and materials he created a unique and whimsical place to live.

Approaching the castle is quite an experience. It's gleaming 3 stories can be blinding on a sunny day. The exterior walls of the Medieval style castle are covered in shiny silver metal that used to be offset printing plates discarded by a local newspaper.

Dragon window of reclaimed stained glass.
What looks like riveted steel from a distance is actually those aluminum plates attached with roofing nails. There are stained glass windows on every side and each wall of the castle has windows depicting a specific theme.
There are 9 planet windows arranged in order of their distance from the sun, there are 12 zodiac windows.
We saw windows representing nursery rhymes and ones that depicted the 4 virtues:

Throughout our tour of the home and gallery the guide was happy to point out the quirky materials used by Mr. Solomon in the construction of the house and also the design of his artwork.

One of the dozens of train cars designed by Howard Solomon

Referring to Howard as the "Savior of Salvage" the Rembrandt of Reclamation" and the DaVinci of Debris" our tour guide pointed out aluminum cans, oil drums, bicycle gears, coat hangers, and sea shells used in unique ways.

The beginning of the tour lead us through 3 gallery rooms. Mr Solomon demonstrates a love of the ridiculous in the punny way he names his art pieces.
Guarding the gate of the castle are 2 suits of armor. One is painted black, the other white. They are Knight and Day.

Jeb the Bushman
A not quite life sized statue of and elephant is called Jeb the Bushman. It is constructed of oil drums and has clam shells for toenails.
A sculpture of a race car has a V-8 engine. Yes it really does.
There is artwork large and small. Some are freestanding and life size, some so tiny that dozens fit on a small shelf. Chess boards, trains, animals, and carousels made of wood glass and metal. The variety is astounding. I don't think the man ever slept.

The stained glass windows are beautiful seen from  indoors with the sunlight behind them.
The castle has 5 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. It even boasts and elevator that runs of a car battery.
Our tour took us through the house and back outdoors to the moat where the Boat in the Moat, a 60 foot replica of a Spanish Galleon, serves as a restaurant that seats 250 people.
Near the boat is a lighthouse.
Made of balsa wood.
Because its a light house.

At the end of the tour you are invited to stay for a meal and to walk around the grounds and gardens.
If you decide to explore you will come across a replica of the Alamo complete with a Come and Take It cannon and bowling ball cannon balls. You will pass sheds full of future building materials and you may be lucky enough to be visited by a castle cat.

A replica of the Alamo on the castle grounds
Solomon's Castle is located in the south central community of Ona in Hardee County. We drove through miles of farm country roads past orange groves, swamp land and cattle ranches following tiny hand lettered road signs that pointed the way to Solomon's Castle.
Take your sense of humor and a love of the absurd and ridiculous with you or don't bother to go.

Howard Solomon died in 2016 at the age of 81. His family is preserving his legacy and plan to keep  Solomon's Castle open to the public.

Solomon's castle
44533 Solomon Rd
Ona, Florida
open 11-4 Tuesday-Sunday
closed July through September

Castle cat

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Southern Pines and a New Crafting Opportunity

Florida pine needles are huge.
One of the categories of household items that we had to divest ourselves of before selling the house and moving into the Behemoth was craft supplies. It was one of the most painful categories to pare down. Fred and I both enjoy making things. We saved only those tools and supplies that we knew we would use again. Most of those things are stored in our daughters garage but we did bring along a few of our favorites that wouldnt take up a lot of space.  Fred brought along his woodworking tools and I have yarn, drawing pencils and my camera. We are both always on the lookout to find new ways to feed our creative sides.

Basket Class
The Manatee County Library in Bradenton Florida offered a crafting class in November that I was able to attend.
We spent 2 consecutive Wednesdays learning how to make baskets out of pine needles.
Not just any pine needles either.
Florida long leaf pines have leafs (or needles) that grow 12-18 inches long. The pine trees are plentiful and they shed like crazy so finding basket supplies is as easy as taking a walk in the woods with a pocket full of rubber bands.
The basket making craft requires few supplies. Our instructor gave each of us a small bunch of pine needles, a few pieces of raffia, a darning needle, a cloths pin, and a short length of drinking straw.
That we were able to turn that confusing array of materials into a finished product is a testament to her teaching skill. Like many artistic projects getting started and becoming comfortable handling the materials was the hardest part.
Pine Needle Basketry is a simple and mindful technique of adding needles and stitching the sections together.
The artistic part of the process emerges as you use your hands to shape the basket into a pleasing form.

My first basket completed
My first basket is a wonky sort of work of art. I love the shape but next time will be more attuned to stitch placement and to keeping the sections of needles even.

Our second lesson had us practicing different types of decorative stitches that can be used to decorate as well as strengthen a design. We stitched them all into pieces of cardboard like those giant shoelace and picture projects that toddlers do to develop hand eye coordination. It worked for me and now I have a visual reminder of how to create each stitch.

I have gathered enough needles to make several baskets and am working on a second one now.  I will be interested to meet other basket makers and to see the materials that they use in their creations as we travel on down the road.

My second basket in progress

Florida Long Leaf Pine needles washed and drying in the sun.