St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge

We set out this morning with the intention of walking along the man-made levee at the ocean’s edge next to the St Mark’s Lighthouse. I was expecting as quick, easy walk and then back home. It turns out there was so much more to explore at St Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge Currently, the Education Center and Visitor’s Center are closed due to Covid, so we’ll have to go back some other time to check them out. For today, we stopped and explored several stops along the 17 mile road between the Visitor’s Center at the entrance to the park and the lighthouse at the water’s edge.

Our first stop was a little pull off that had a levee running off perpendicular to the road. There was an informational sign there that I wanted to read. The sign turned out to be uninteresting, but as I was reading, Rob say to me, “hey, do you hear that?” Sure enough, we heard a repeated deep bellow from the marshy area just to the north of the levee. We could tell it came from a large animal. We figured it was probably an alligator or a wild boar (we’ve heard bears before and it didn’t sound like one of them). We walked out onto the little bridge that separated the parking area from the levee and looked for an alligator or boar or whatever was making the nose. It continued for several more bellows while we were there. I kinda got a little freaked out and started walking quickly back to the car. Rob laughed at me, but followed. In the car we looked up alligator sounds. It turns out they do not have vocal cords, but do make a deep bellowing sound just like we heard by pulling air into their lungs and expelling it. They bellow in May as part of their mating ritual, either hoping to attract a lovely female or to deter any fellow males from venturing into their territory. I really wish we had recorded it, but you can look it up yourself on the internet. It does sound kinda cool and kinda creepy.

Our next stop was called the Headquarters (not sure why). There were restrooms and a picnic area and a couple of short trails. We set off on one through the woods, but quickly abandoned the trail when I was swarmed by biting flies. They buzzed around my head an got stuck in my hair, bumped into my lips and bit my legs. I was not having an enjoyable hike! So, we turned back, but did venture on the much shorter trail that led out to an observation pavilion set up on stilts above the water. A couple was there, with some serious birding equipment. He pointed out 2 mudhens with their babies in tow in the water just below us. The babies were so cute! We could hear several other unidentified creatures from that spot, including another alligator bellowing. This one was farther away, so less creepy.

From here, we drove on out to the lighthouse. We did the walk around the levee there, as we had planned. As we rounded the 3rd side of the square we met a cute little vole hanging out in the grass. He was not afraid of us so we got a couple of pretty good pictures of him. Then, as we were about to get in the car and drive away, (literally the car door was open) a pair of boat-tailed grackles caught our eyes. They perched in a palm tree about 15 feet away from us and sang and sang. The one did a little wing flutter that made a sort of percussive sound from time to time. Then they would sing some more and then hold their beaks straight up in the air. While we were taking some video of the grackle show, a brown bird that may or may not have been a brown thrasher walked right up to us, literally less than a foot from my feet. He walked between me and the car, heading toward the open car door. I was a little worried he would hop up into the car, but he stopped just short of that. Then wandered away. Rob’s theory is that he’s been fed by tourists at their cars and was looking for a mid-morning snack from us.

Check out the video of the grackle song here.

And here is a video of an alligator bellowing (note, this is not my video, we never did see the alligator or get a chance to record it).

On the drive out of the park, we stopped to check out a soft-shell turtle being harassed by a pair of crows beside the road. Not sure what the crows wanted with him, he wasn’t dead. We also stopped to check out an old, rusty sluice gate. We’re pretty sure it doesn’t work anymore, but it made for a pretty place to take a picture.

A Hidden Gem and a trail through Hell

I have not been blogging much because we have not been doing much lately.  Today we did get out to explore a new Florida State Park.  Our first stop was the Ralph G. Kendrick  Boardwalk in Tate’s Hell Forest. The boardwalk takes you over into a wonderland of dwarf cypress trees and swampy water.  We were a bit uncertain about the route we had to take to reach the boardwalk.  It involved several miles of dirt road and we have a low-slung car.  But, the dirt roads turned out to be not too bad.  Rob drove slowly and it hasn’t rained for a while, so they were dry and not too bumpy.  As we drove along the gravel road, I had my first black bear sighting.  We’ve heard there are black bears in this part of Florida, even spotted some of their poo in our yard, but have not seen one until today.  It was a small one, way up ahead on the road.  By the time I called out to Rob that he was there, he had scurried off into the underbrush.  Rob never did see him.

Shortly after the bear sighting, we reached the turn off for the Kendrick Boardwalk.  As expected, we were the only people there.  We hadn’t passed a car on the road since leaving the town of Carabelle.  Swampy water ran along both sides of the road, which had clearly been built up by man.  I kept watch for alligators, expecting to see one at any moment.  No gator sightings for us today, but we did see a lot of other cool and creepy things.  

One of the first creatures that we saw after we got out of the car falls squarely into the creepy category.  Movement caught our eye in the water to the right.  As we watched, some kind of water snake slithered away through the water.  Thankfully he was headed AWAY!  Nonetheless, I hurried the last 20 or so feet to get up onto the boardwalk.  It ramped upwards until we were about 10 feet off the ground.  The main section of boardwalk follows what is now a submerged old logging road.  In the photo, you can see a straight section of growth that is lower than the surrounding area, which must be the old road.

View of old logging road

The Kendrick Boardwalk was built to allow visitors to enjoy the beauty of the dwarf cypress trees in this area.  They are so called because they only grow to a max of 15 feet. They really were cute, like looking at a doll world. It was a bit surreal to walk along at treetop level.  I felt like I was much higher than I really was.  The cypress have soft, bright green needles.  In the near distance, a great white egret sat perched on top of one cypress, watching the shallow water below for a morning snack.  We were fairly close to him and expected him to fly away as we neared the end of the boardwalk, but he stayed, perhaps knowing that we would go no farther.  All around us we heard constant bird song along with other sounds: a clicking sound, some bullfrogs, and a scratchy sound that reminded me of someone rolling 2 metal balls together in their hand.  We spotted a few pitcher plants (carnivorous plants that eat bugs) in the water below some of the cypress trees.  Dragonflies circled our heads and buzzed about.  Lilly pads floated on the water, many with bright white flowers blooming up to the sky.

Swampy area at Boardwalk

It was so peaceful and there were so many exotic things to look at here that it truly is a hidden gem.  We will definitely go back.  I understand the Cypress trees lose their needles and go stark white in winter, so that might be cool to see, too.

From here, we ventured back out on the dirt roads.  We traversed over rickety metal bridges that creaked and clanked under our weight.  This time we spotted a pair of deer running along the side of the road, their white rumps dipping up and down as they ran.  As we turned into our next destination, a medium-sized black lizard went scurrying across the busy highway.  He made it, but I would have been in a hurry, too, if I were him!

Our other stop for the day was a 3.5 mile hike on the eastern portion of the Tate’s Hell High Bluff hiking trail.  The whole forested area (over 200,000 acres) of land is known as Tate’s Hell.  According to the Florida Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Services, “Local legend has it that a farmer by the name of Cebe Tate, armed with only a shotgun and accompanied by his hunting dogs, journeyed into the swamp in search of a panther that was killing his livestock. Although there are several versions of this story, the most common describes Tate as being lost in the swamp for seven days and nights, bitten by a snake, and drinking from the murky waters to curb his thirst. Finally he came to a clearing near Carrabelle, living only long enough to murmur the words, “My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell.” Cebe Tate’s adventure took place in 1875 and ever since, the area has been known as Tate’s Hell, the legendary and forbidden swamp.”

Today’s hike was less than pleasant, so I can empathize with old Cebe Tate.  The first part of the hike (comprising about ⅓ of the total 3.5 miles, going counter-clockwise around the East loop) was down a sand road.  It was soft sand, like walking along the upper part of a beach, quite the calf muscle workout!  They had recently done a controlled burn through this section, so it was very exposed, no tall trees, only some very green new ferns and saw palmettos emerging through the blackened sandy earth.  In the hot sun, it was an unpleasant slog through the sand. 

Rob in Tate’s Hell 1

The next section introduced a bit of shade and much more foliage along the sandy road, which also had some growth in it, making it a little bit easier to walk on.  Along with the shade and some damper ground came a lot of nuisance flies that buzzed around our heads and bit me on the shoulders.  We put on bug spray and that reduced the amount of them, but some die-hards still got through.  My favorite part of this portion of the trail is what I think might be wild hog wallowing spots.  It has been dry for some time, but in quite a few spots, the wetter edges of the trail had been all dug up, just like a wild hog had rolled around in the mud (last time it was wet enough to be muddy).  I even found what I think might be hog footprints.  Leave your comments below if you think I might be right or wrong.

The final ⅓ (or probably a bit less than that) was the best.  We left the wide, sandy road behind and traveled down a narrower, firmer path with lush vegetation all around us.  We passed a little meadow of flowers that looked like lavender on steroids and some other small white flowers in little clusters.  There was a bit of shade from the sun and the bugs mostly left us alone, except for a dragonfly that seemed to like Rob.

Lavender on steroids?

So, definitely not our favorite new hike.  I wouldn’t actually call it a trail through hell, but it was a trail through Tate’s Hell and that makes for a catchy title.  ; )

Ghost Sentries

Today’s daily walk took us down the beach in search of some big shells. Along the way, we spotted lots of skittery little guys amongst the debris of the wrack line. The wrack line is the most recent high water mark that holds whatever floated up, most often grass-like weeds and scattered shells. It tends to form a dark line all along the beach. Today, we kept seeing little skittering creatures out of the corner of our eyes. They were sand colored and seemed to escape before you could actually look at them. After a few tries, I managed to see one here and there that had stopped outside it’s burrow to stand sentry over the beach. They were ghost crabs, about the size of my hand and the color of the sand. When we got too close, each would zip so fast into it’s hole that we almost wondered if we’d really seen anything there at all. Today was cloudy and cool, so I suppose that explains why they were out at noon. On hotter days, they will spend the day inside their burrows with a bit of sand plugging the entrance to keep themselves cool and moist. They position their burrows at a 45 degree angle facing the sea, so that the sea breeze will blow inside to help keep them cool. I guess they do most of their hunting at night. Perhaps some night, soon, Rob and I will go for a night-time stroll and see them scuttling about under the moon.

Ghost Crab on Sentry Duty

A Day of Bug Discovery

We have discovered 2 new bugs today, well, new to us.

This morning, we were outside in the yard for a while. It was one of our first warm days and I was wearing shorts. After a little bit, I realized I was feeling several little bites on my legs, but kept ignoring them. After a bit longer, I looked down to discover a dozen or more little black spots on the back of my knee and scattered down my legs. They looked like mud spots, but mud spots that stung! I believe I was plagued by the famous Florida “no see ‘ums”. They sure were annoying! I slathered on traditional bug spray, but they just kept coming. Just last week, I had seen a post on the internet debating the possible deterrents to these pesky little pests. Many on that forum suggested using Skin So Soft from Avon. In fact, I spotted a selection of small and large bottles of SSS at the checkout counter at the local Ace Hardware earlier this week. I wish now that I had thrown a small bottle in with my order that day. For today, our time out in the yard was cut short; we retreated into the house.

Our second bug discovery for the day was at bookends to the first. After dinner, Mom, Dad, and I took a walk along the beach. The tide was low and so was the sun. We noticed as we walked along that there were dozens of tiny, white, jumping bugs in the hard, wet sand just above the surf. They jumped in all directions, a bit like the crickets that get trapped in our garage back home. You never know which way it will jump next. It was entertaining to watch them jump away from us as we walked. Mom had on capris, so I asked her if she felt any of them bumping against her bare legs. Sadly, she did not. I consulted my handy, dandy reference book “Florida’s Living Beaches, A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber” by Blair & Dawn Witherington when we got back inside and discovered that our little white jumpers are aptly named beachhoppers!

Birding at Bald Point

It has been quite some time since I posted anything to my blog. For obvious reasons, my husband and I have not been doing any travel. But, we are currently in Florida for an extended bit of time, riding out what we hope will be some of the last months of the Covid threat. My Mom and Dad are also here staying with us. We are on Alligator Point, Florida. Part of Florida’s Forgotten Coast. It is calm and peaceful here. Not as warm and sunny as southern Florida, but it sure beats winter up north! From time to time, when we have an interesting adventure, I will try to post.

Yesterday, was warm and sunny, one of the first such days we’ve had. We ventured out to nearby Bald Point State Park. Rob and I had been here once before and seen quite a lot of shore and marsh birds, so we expected to see them yesterday. Such was not to be. We literally saw 5 birds (1 tall white one -too far away to identify) and 4 pelicans sitting on a spit of sand. So, not much in the way of birding for us, but we did enjoy watching mullet (fish – about 12 inches long) jump out of the sea in the sheltered curl of water near the fishing pier. The water here is quite tea stained (looks brown, just like a cup of tea) but at the very edges we watched hermit crabs amble along in the their stolen shells. When our shadows fell on the crab it would stop and retreat into the shell. Not sure how it could see the shadow, since most of its body was inside the shell even when walking around, but I guess it’s eyes must be located on the small part that is exposed. We also saw one bigger blue crab scuttling along in a little inlet. They are always so funny; looking like they are walking sideways.

Bald Point State Park has both beach access and trails through the brush/forest (not sure what to call it). After we’d had our fill of watching the sea life, we set off on the trail through the woods. The beginning of the trail was filled with scrub oaks, many covered in Spanish moss. I just love Spanish moss; it is so quintessentially Southern. As we walked, the terrain turned more toward low growing saw palmettos and bare, dead tree trunks. It was like a tree graveyard, beautiful in a sort of creepy way.

From various vantage points during our time at Bald Point we could see 3 distinct smoke trails off in the distance. They have been doing prescribed burns of forest land in the area, so we figured these were just 3 more. It seemed like a good day for it. As we walked toward the beach at the end of our walking trail, I caught a pretty cool shot of the smoke making a wave-like pattern in the sky as it blew eastward.

Scooting around San Diego

Monday, Feb 10

The rain continued throughout the night and into mid-morning.  There was a short break in the rain and Rob went out to get his daily donuts.  Since I didn’t eat a large breakfast this morning, I asked him to get me an apple burrito from Lucky’s donuts.  It’s a large tortilla filled with apple pie filling, deep fried, then coated with crunchy stuff. It’s huge, probably 9 inches long and 3 inches wide.  Boy, was it tasty, if rather crumbly from the crunchy outer coating.  

There was another break in the rain about an hour later, right around high tide, so I bundled up and ventured out to check on the status of the waves this morning.  They were nice and big, just like yesterday. I only stayed for about 10 minutes. There were still some sprinkles coming down, and I couldn’t really sit on the sea wall because it was wet from the rain.

Around 11:00 I was starting to get a little stir crazy and the rain was looking like it would end soon, so we ventured out for our last day of exploring San Diego.  We walked south along the Bay (we are staying on a narrow peninsula between the ocean and San Diego Bay. When we reached Belmont Park (the amusement park we checked out on Friday) it had started to sprinkle in earnest.  I had seen a little Mexican restaurant on the corner of Mission Blvd that claimed to be the best Mexican food in San Diego and was in the mood for a shrimp taco. We had good timing, by the time I had ordered and we sat down, it was fully raining outside. I took my time eating my taco – easy to do since it came out piping hot – and the rain was back to just a few sprinkles by the time we were ready to go.  While I was eating, Rob spotted a cute little bird (probably a sparrow) that had come into the restaurant and was hopping around the floor looking for crumbs. He seemed pretty comfortable there.

After lunch, we continued south, but along the ocean side.  We walked all the way to the end of the peninsula, a total of 2.2 miles.  It was pretty much the same all the way, but with different houses lining the boardwalk.  We started back, but our feet were already feeling tired. When we spotted a couple of Bird scooters (rentable by the minute via a phone app) we hopped on and scooted back up the boardwalk toward our house.  We had used this kind of scooters about a year ago in Austin, TX. It took me a little bit to get used to them again, but this time we got to ride on the boardwalk and not on city streets. And because the morning had been so rainy, the boardwalk was only just coming to life, so there weren’t very many people to dodge.  It was actually kinda fun to ride. And the beauty of these scooters is that when you are done you just find an out-of-the-way spot to park them and then just leave them for the next person who wants to rent one.

Back on our end of the beach we stopped at a surf shop for some Dippin’ Dots for Rob.  Then we headed to the Baked Bear for an ice cream sandwich for me and 2 chocolate chip cookies for Rob.  They make the ice cream sandwich right there for you, so when you walk in you are greeted by a display case full of about 10 varieties of cookies.  You choose your cookie (you can choose 2 different cookies for top and bottom). Then you choose from about 10 different flavors of ice cream. Finally, you can choose a topping to be smooshed around the outside of the ice cream part.  I chose 1 chewy butter cookie and 1 white chocolate macadamia nut cookie filled with salted caramel fudge ice cream surrounded by crushed Oreo pieces. As a sandwich, it was somewhat lacking – nearly all the ice cream smooshed out of it when I bit into it.  But, the flavors were great together and they give you a spoon to eat all the ice cream that falls out into the little paper boat that it comes in. I would definitely recommend this place to anyone visiting San Diego!

Gaming with the Gang

Sunday, Feb 9

As per usual, we began our day with a trip to Breakfast Republic.  Today I had the avocado toast. Just as yum as the other things I’ve had there.  Rob stuck with his usual bacon and then got a couple donuts at Lucky’s again.  

Unlike the previous days, the weather today called for rain and clouds.  The waves along the beach were much rougher. High tide was only a little ways off, so after we grabbed Rob’s donuts, I added a couple of layers (it was really windy and cold) and headed back to the boardwalk to spend some time watching the waves while the tide came in.  Rob was keen to stay indoors where it was warm. I sat on the cement wall that separates the boardwalk from the sand and just watched the waves crash onto the beach. I probably sat there for 20 minutes. I really enjoyed it! By the time I came back to the house, my glasses were coated in salt spray and my hands were nearly numb.

Our big outing for the day was a board game afternoon at our friend Christine’s house.  We played our all-time favorite game, Agricola, which we used to play quite a lot when we all lived in Boston, but none of us have really played much of lately.  It was such a nice trip down memory lane! Her friends, Lauren and Ron joined us later for a couple more games. We played Terraforming Mars and Bohnanza. It was a good time had by all.  My step count is considerably lower today (only 6500) but it was the perfect day to stay indoors while it rained outside and get some gaming in.

Saturday in San Diego

Saturday, Feb 8

We started today off exactly the same as we did yesterday, with breakfast at Breakfast Republic.  This time I had Mr Presley French toast (pb and bananas with bacon). Also very yum! Rob had his same order of bacon and then we walked to Lucky’s donuts for him to get a couple of donuts.

Our next outing for the day was to meet up with a friend of ours, Christine, from Boston who moved out to San Diego about the time Rob & I moved to Asheville.  We met her at Torrey Pines State Reserve. We, along with a lot of other people hiked up the hill, stopped at a few lookout points, and then down to the beach and back along the water to the parking lot.  At the first lookout point we spotted several dolphins making their way south. Rob got a good look with the binoculars. The scenery was really nice, with great views from the cliff tops up and down the coast.  We spent a lot of the time catching up with Christine. It was really great to see her after these several years. The walk back along the beach was just possible – the tide was going out, but at times some waves came in pretty far, so that we had to scramble onto the rocks below the cliffs to avoid the waves.  For the most part, we tried to stay out from the cliffs because rocks and debris often fall from their sandstone heights. In fact, as I posed for a photo in a little alcove under the cliff, I felt a small sprinkle of tiny rocks fall on my arm. We quickly took that photo and moved back away from the cliff, although nothing larger followed the sprinkle.

When we reached the parking lot, we parted ways with Christine and headed downtown to check out the Gaslamp District.  So named for the gas lamps that are still to be found. Today it is a several block area that is comprised mostly of restaurants and some shops.  I was hoping for more shops and less restaurants, so I wasn’t very impressed. We did, however, have some great ice cream at the Ghirardelli shop.  I had a raspberry sundae with house made hot fudge sauce and Rob had chocolate ice cream in a chocolate dipped waffle cone. Yum!

After the Gaslamp District we headed toward the water of the Bay just a few blocks away and stumbled across the Seaport District.  I found the Seaport much more lively and interesting. Here we found the shops (mostly touristy shops, but not just run-of-the-mill tourists shops) and still more restaurants.  There was a nice path along the water’s edge that we walked. The marina is there, so we ogled at the expensive boats in their moorings.

By this time, we’d walked nearly 18,000 steps for the day and our feet were getting tired, so we got in the car and headed for home.  We relaxed for a bit, then had dinner in the house. After dinner, the sunset looked kinda cool, so Rob suggested that we take a little walk along the boardwalk.  We haven’t been out after dark yet, so we set out to catch the last of the sunset and just take in the vibe along the boardwalk on a Saturday night. It was only 6:00 so there weren’t too many shenanigans yet, but the bars along the beach were packed and plenty of people were out walking.  Rob remarked on the number of couples sitting out on the beach. Sure enough, as far as the eye could see, all the people on the beach were in groups of exactly 2. The tide was out, so the waves were quite a ways out from the lights of the buildings, but that just made the white of the breaking waves stand out in a really cool way.  Our final tally step tally for today was 22,633.

Seals and Sea Lions in San Diego

Friday, Feb 7

Being East-coasters, we went to bed very early last night and woke up very early this morning.  I figure that’s fine. We don’t really need to adjust to West Coast time, we’re only here for a few more days and then have a really early flight home on Tuesday.  It will be easier to get up for the flight if we never really adjust to the west coast. So, we were up by 5:30 this morning and having a light breakfast in our rented house.  About 8:30 we set out for 2nd breakfast (as the hobbits would say) at Breakfast Republic, a hip little breakfast joint just a 7 minute walk from our house. Rob had bacon and I had a scramble with bacon, cheese, and ham.  The bacon was a little bit sweet, adding really nice flavor to the cheese and eggs.  

After breakfast we wandered out to the end of Pacific Beach Pier.  There are a few little cabins that you can rent like a hotel room at the beginning of the pier.  It could be kinda fun to stay in one of them, you’d definitely hear the roar of the ocean all night, since it is directly below you.  There were about 50 surfers in the water to the north of the pier, so we stopped and watched them for a bit. I could watch surfers for hours!  As we walked back to our house, we stopped at Lucky’s Donut House for doughnuts that we took home to eat. Rob was still hungry after just having bacon for 2nd breakfast.  

Our next destination for the day was the ocean-side attractions in La Jolla (pronounced “la Hoya”) just north of San Diego.  It was just a 20 minute drive. We parked near the Children’s Pool. This time of year, the protected sandy cove is closed to people so the native seals and their pups can beach themselves for some needed r&r and warmth in the sunshine.  They, and the sea lions a little further up the beach, spend 7-8 hours a day on land. It was so cute to watch the lumbering seals wiggle their way along the sand, blubbery bodies wobbling in the effort. They were, for the most part, very quiet, seemingly happy to just bask in the sun.  See YouTube video here.

When we tired of watching the seals, we followed the sidewalk north along the beach.  We admired the pelicans and cormorants as we walked. Shortly we came across a raucous section of beach filled with sea lions.  They are much noisier and much stinkier than the seals. As we watched, the 2 largest sea lions were barking and swimming around in agitation.  They eventually ended up next to each other, trying to bully each other out of the way, while also bullying the smaller sea lions, who quickly gave way.  Check out the video here. Sea lions have bigger flippers and so move with a bit more grace when on land and rocks.

Wishing to get away from the stink, we moved on a bit more quickly from the sea lions, continuing north.  Our next stop was Sunny Jim’s sea cave. According to the sign in the store, “In 1902, Prof Gustav Schultz (presumably no relation to me or Rob) commissioned two Chinese workers to dig a tunnel into the sea cave through the cliffs of La Jolla with the idea of charging visitors a few cents to enter.”  The tunnel they dug is still the same one we descended today. I was expecting the cave to be a bit bigger. The most interesting part was probably the steps leading down. The quality control on stair height was rather lacking; some were a short 4-5 inch rise, while others were more like 8-10 inches.  You really had to continually watch the steps and you stepped. The cave was kind of small, and the tide was mostly out, so there wasn’t a lot of water in it. It is clearly a favorite haunt of kayaking groups, as 2 separate groups lingered at the mouth of the cave in the few minutes we were down there to take our obligatory photos.  

After the cave, we continued a little further north on the cliff walk then headed into town to walk past a few shops as we made our way slowly back toward the car.  There were a few art galleries that we stopped in just to look around. My favorite were the photographs of Nathan Myhrvold. He had a couple different ones of the contents of a sandwich all separated out into the individual layers.  I especially liked the pb&J with bananas (see photos), but there was also a hamburger with the works and a pizza split into its layers. We also ran across a bakery with Donald Trump in a diaper cookies. Pretty funny. When we got back to the car, we headed for home to take a little siesta.  

As we drove along Garnet Ave, we noticed a guy running full tilt across the road and down the sidewalk.  We watched as we approached and realized that he was chasing a guy on a bike. The guy on the bike kept looking back to make sure the runner was not catching up to him.  I think we were witness to a bike heist! The runner sure looked pissed!

After an hour of so of siesta and we were ready to head back out.  The day was beautifully sunny with not a cloud in the sky. Temps were in the mid-60s so warm, but with a cool breeze now and then.  We have rain coming, so wanted to make the most of this nice day. This time we took the boardwalk along the ocean to the south. The tide was way out, so we walked for a bit on the sand near the water’s edge.  It was fun to check out the varied architecture of the houses that butt right up to the boardwalk. Some are old, with peeling paint and retro styling; others are modern with curved lines or dramatic balconies and tons of tall windows to take in the view.  Our destination was the Beaver Tails kiosk inside Belmont Park amusement park. We had Beaver Tails in Canada a few times; they are fried dough smothered in some kind of sweet spread and topped with candy (there are a few different flavors). Today I had the Avalanche, spread with cheesecake spread (probably just sweetened cream cheese) and topped with Heath bar pieces.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself. When we arrived, the Beaver Tail kiosk was closed. The guy inside said he’d be ready in about 10 minutes, so we wandered around and looked in some souvenir shops. 10 minutes later, we came back to the kiosk, only to find it still empty, but with signs of life inside. So, Rob talked me into playing some arcade games. This arcade is all digital; you load up a “credit card” with money and then swipe it to play the games.  Any tickets you win from games like skeeball and the like are digitally added to your card balance – no more watching the machine spit out a few or a slew of tickets. : ( We went to the guy and asked him to put $13 on the card (there was a special – pay $13 and get $16). He had some trouble with his machine, but the transaction finally went through. When we slid the card for our first game, Rob noticed that the card said we had $46. Rob had paid cash, so we definitely only paid $13.  Oops! Well, that’s a lot of arcade games. We played and played. Our final tally was enough to get a cute stuffed pig and 4 pieces of candy. Only now, as I’m typing this up, do I realize that we probably should have notified the guy that something had gone awry instead of just playing through all the extra credits. With our haul of booty, we made our way back to the Beaver Tails kiosk, which was finally open for business. I ordered my Avalanche and we sat down at a table and chairs shaped like ice cream to eat it.  I must say, the ones in Canada were better; this one was a little too thin and crispy. The toppings were good, but I missed the softness of those to the north.

Our walk back home along the boardwalk was a chilly one. But, in true California style, we were passed by multiple people on roller skates, roller blades, and skateboards. Many carried some sort of music player, so they could blast their music while rolling along. We heard rap, pop, and some 80s hair bands. So very California!

Soggy, but then San Diego!

Thursday, Feb 6

We had a bit of a rough start to this trip.  It was raining in Asheville and the gate we flew from did not have a jet way, so we had to schlep through the moderate rain from the terminal, up some stairs, and onto a soggy plane.  My leggings were wet enough when I got on the plane to make for a chilly start to the flight. The nasty weather continued throughout the flight, so it was pretty bumpy for the entire 35 minutes we were in the air to Atlanta.  We had a short connection, but easily made it to our next flight. After boarding, the weather turned even nastier. We sat and we sat, inching toward the runway, but often just sitting in pouring rain with the wind gusting enough to rock the plane while it was standing still.  We were nearly at the 3 hour limit for sitting on a plane not going anywhere when the weather cleared up enough for planes to start taking off again. We were about 15 planes back in the queue, but it was heartening to see planes taking off to our right as we inched forward. So, what would have been about 4.5 hours on the plane from Atlanta to San Diego was actually more like 7.5 hours.  A big shout-out of thanks to Mom and Ginger for helping me pass the time by texting with me. Thankfully, the sun was shining brightly when we touched down in San Diego.  

I had a window seat for once, because Delta had not saved our seat choices, so Rob was sat in the dreaded front row, (where you have to put all your hand luggage up in the overhead bin), while I was back in row 5.  For the last hour or so of the flight, I enjoyed watching the desert scenery below. I think we flew over Lake Mead, but I couldn’t see Hoover Dam, and over Las Vegas (I think). Slowly the land changed from desert sand and brown mountains to some cultivated fields, and greener forests with lusher vegetation as we neared the coast.

We discovered one final annoyance with the morning’s rainy weather when we retrieved our suitcase in San Diego.  It was pretty damp on the outside. A quick inspection of the contents as we put the suitcase in our rental car revealed that about 60% of the stuff was wet, not just damp, but actually wet.  Ugh!

We couldn’t check into our Airbnb until 4:00 and it was about 1:00.  So, we headed over to Balboa Park to check out the San Diego Model Railroad Museum and wander around a bit.  Balboa Park was originally set aside as a reserve in 1835, making it one of the oldest dedicated public parks in the US.  It held the Panama-California Exposition in 1915-16 and another exposition in 1935-36, leaving some interesting buildings within the park that today house several museums and performance spaces.  Surrounding the buildings are various green spaces. We only walked through about half of the park. The first thing we encountered after parking was a really cool tree with these great roots that crawled over the rocky ground like so many giant’s fingers.  If anyone knows what kind of tree this is, let me know. (See photos)

On our way from visiting the tree we passed a sign telling about the nudist colony that used to live and perform in the little ravine where the tree was.  During the 1935-36 Exposition, there was a nudist colony located here. According to the sign, “several times a day, the mostly female troupe conducted rituals to the Sun God.”  And “To enter, visitors were charged 25 cents, later raised to 75 cents, for unlimited observation time.” And “Conveniently placed knotholes in a wooden fence surrounding the upper rim of the garden provided a free peek inside.”  I would imagine this garden was quite a scandal in the 1930s!

Next, we stopped in the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.  Neither of us are great big model railroad fans, but it was interesting to look around.  My favorite parts were the little vignettes of car accidents. They just seemed like such a strange thing to include in what one would expect to be an ideal scene.

After the museum, we wandered toward the Spanish Village Art Center.  It is a collection of little buildings that are now used as artists’ studios and sales spaces.  The paving stones are painted in colorful tones, adding to the artfulness of the space. There were potters, jewelry makers, enamel workers, painters, glass blowers, etc.

The time had finally reached nearly 4:00 so we could head for our Airbnb and get our wet things hung up to dry.  We’re staying in a house that is about a block from the ocean, in an area called Mission. After getting our stuff hung up, we walked a bit along the boardwalk toward the local grocery store and got our first feel for the San Diego Mission beach.  There were a few surfers out bobbing in the sea, waiting for that perfect wave, although the waves weren’t very big. Lots of people were enjoying Happy Hour on the outdoor terraces of the few bars that dotted the section we walked. At the grocery store, we grabbed some dinner, then headed home.  With the time difference and long day on planes, we were in bed by 8:00.