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


  1. I didn't know that about the ship sinking, Bonnie. It's amazing to think of the things people did back then without the use of the modern technology we have at our disposal today. Great post; thanks for the tour!

  2. I was surprised at that detail Too. That ship was actually carrying the ironwork for the Cape San Blas at the same time. Both were recovered and put into service. It made me wonder if the "diver" the article referenced was one of the sponge divers that worked the Gulf coast at that time.