We’ve made it to our turnaround point, at least for the Prius. There is no more road left to drive. We’re still deciding whether or not to sail out to Dry Tortuga National Park. We’ve got a couple of nights here. Let the party begin!
We spent the day nature loving. Our first stop was a mile from the motel, the NOAA HQ for the keys. Emphasis here on the ocean aspect of the acronym, It was just a government office, so we never made it past the entrance, but the two people that we spoke with were very helpful. I ran our itinerary by them and they offered helpful suggestions.
They’re first suggestions was breakfast, a Cuban grocery and café. Locals rule! The Cuban coffee was precious, every single drop of it. The rest of the meal was not too shabby either. We dogged a bullet, by not going to the local sea circus. We visited Long Key State Park instead. A much better investment of time and money. The park still shows signs of Irma storm damage, as does the rest of the keys, but on the other hand, everything is amazingly uncrowded here, leaving us to be treated like royalty. You should come visit too! I hear it’s cold up there.
The high point of the day was to the turtle rescue hospital. This non-profit is dedicated to rescuing sea turtles in the keys. They have ambulances, operating rooms and recuperation facilities. It is an amazing place. Our last stop before Key West was Blue Hole on Big Pine Key. This fresh water sinkhole promised alligators, but instead, we saw key deer, the smallest species of deer in America. A Peru dinner nicely bookended our day.
Anne, Joanie and I attended the Eagle Days festival at the Riverlands. These seasonal river fêtes celebrate our winter migratory avian visitors. Bald eagles are the main draw and we saw a few of these, but there were way more Trumpeter swans to see than all of the other birds combined. I’m guessing about a thousand were present. They are the largest North American waterfowl. I’ve since learned that it also holds the dubious epitaph of being the heaviest North American bird. We also saw a kestrel, American pelicans and a host of other birds. The captive Red-shouldered hawk was on display at the Audubon center. It is a rescue bird.
Both the Mississippi and the Missouri are ice covered. The water is low and it looks like barge traffic has halted. In addition to the swan’s honking, we also heard the deep almost sub-audible creaking of the ice. People were walking on the ice, which seemed risky until I saw that someone had been heaving thirty-pound paving stones on to the ice, without making a dent. The paper said that this is our longest, continuous subfreezing cold snap in thirty-five years.
Afterwards, we headed over to Alton, IL, for lunch at Just Desserts. This eatery and quilt shop is always a fave with the ladies. The food is good, but the pie is to die for and is why we dine there. The day’s menu is written on chalkboards and items are erased when they run out, but sometimes new items also appear. We always order our desserts first, because life is often short and uncertain and the very best pie slices run out first.
Florida Gulls and Terns
The latest east coast blizzard left in its wake sharksicles washing up on the shore of Cape Cod and frozen iguanas falling from the trees in Florida, but it did not stop Dan. La Guardia began accepting flights again and he was able land last night and was back at his apartment around midnight. Meanwhile in Boston, Dave has been making it into work. Dave reported a foot of snow, while Dan reported a little less in Brooklyn. I spent the day putting Christmas away.
Trumpeter Swans at Dawn
After I dropped Anne off at school this morning, I drove up to the Riverlands. I got there not too long after dawn. The Mississippi was high, but wasn’t in flood. This seemed strange, since we have been experiencing red flag warning for the last couple of days. These warnings result from a combination of dry tinder, low humidity and high winds, similar conditions to those in California, except for no spark yet. I didn’t see any ice on the river, but the inland sloughs were halfway covered. There was a myriad of swans, geese and other water fowl on these waters. The Trumpeter swans roost overnight on these sloughs, but come dawn they fly off to the surrounding cornfields, in search of fodder. Most of the trails in the Riverlands are closed to the public at this time of the year, giving winter migratory birds plenty of sanctuary, but you can still see plenty from the road.