Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

The Christmas Golf Cart and Boat Parades are over and Christmas Day has arrived. The Leek and Smoked Mahi Mahi tart is ready for breakfast. May God bless all of you on this special day.

Merry Christmas, and of course clear skies!

Mark and Renita

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Day of Kayaking at Fort DeSoto

The splash sounded like a large hand slapping the water. I looked over and expected to see a brown pelican, but to my surprise a dark black shape leaped again and I could actually see its waving wings. They seemed to ripple as the manta ray slammed back into the water’s surface.

We had picked up Jenny at her place on Treasure Island and the days plan was to explore the kayaking opportunities at Fort Desoto County Park. Armed with the toll money, pretty unusual for Wyomingites, we entered the park and turned right arriving at the kayak concession. We were going to use ours but Jenny needed to rent one for the day.

The person in charge asked if we were going to brave the cold, it was about sixty five degrees, and he recommended a two hour tour of Soldiers Bayou. Providing us with maps we headed out to the usual jumping mullets and dashing schools of baitfish.

Larger fish were working the schools and so I stopped to cast my chartreuse bodied jig but was again stymied by no takers. It might seem like I am destined to go fishless here but I am an eternal optimist, (I do go jade hunting in Wyoming after all.) Continuing on past osprey nests it seemed unusual to see the large birds sitting on nests in December.

Passing a brown pelican roost we were surprised to see them perched in the black mangroves, but I guess it’s not unexpected to see them taking advantage of any place to rest. A little further and we had come to the end of Soldier Bayou and only half a hour had passed.

Gliding between the small islands we headed out into Mullet Bay, trying to find the pass between Fort Desoto and Shell Key. Turning several large corners we fought the north wind and while it was somewhat strenuous it felt good to get a bit of a workout. Each corner turned out to be another cove and we finally stopped for a bit of a breather.

It was time to turn around and the wind pushed us back in a gentle quarterly direction. Giant mullet continued to leap around us and it is no wonder that they smoke mullet here and make the very popular mullet spread. If I get some large mullet with my net I may actually try to smoke some myself as the one we ate at the smokehouse was really quite tasty.

Returning to Soldier Bayou we stopped and tied up for a relaxing lunch. An immature brown pelican starred at us hoping for a free handout but we all know better than to encourage such behavior,( I leaned this in Texas when I had a brown pelican take the fish off my line and I ended up having a hooked bird. It was scary to land and release such a large billed bird).

We passed several other fishermen casting jigs toward the mangroves but they didn’t seem to be having any more luck them me. At one place a Green Heron flew and landed right in front of me and didn’t seem frightened. It was probably looking for a handout and so Renita and I both snapped images.

Latter we drove around the park and looked for more places to launch our boats. One place that offered promise was very near the Shell Key pass. Jenny warned us however to watch the tides and not paddle with a strong outgoing tide as people are washed out to the Gulf. She has taken the local Coast Guard small craft and seamanship course and it always pays to listen to the locals.

We had a good day at Fort Desoto. Later we walked a bit of the beach and saw lots of washed up horseshoe crabs and Renita filled up a bag with more shells, (one can never have enough). I cast a silver spoon at the mouth of the pass and actually caught another strange ocean fish, (My score is five different species of which I can identify one, a whiting). We enjoyed the beach but Jenny, like a Floridian, complained about the cold. Laughing we headed back to the warmth of her house to decorate Christmas cookies. Clear skies

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Kayaking and Diving with the Manatees at Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River


It was a long drive from Pinellas Park to Crystal River. Sure only seventy four miles but there must be at least fifty thousand stop lights and I think I hit them all. I was feeling bad about subjecting Jenny and Eric to such a road trip when we finally reached Crystal River and the boat launch.

Sliding our kayaks into the canal, Eric and Jenny helped us before they entered their yaks and soon we were all paddling towards Three Sister Springs and all hoping to see some manatees. Before we even reached the mouth of the spring we spotted out first manatee and then another.

As we continued to the spring two dive boats anchored and unloaded their cargo near the mouth. It seems like everyone here buys a pontoon and starts a manatee dive service but it didn’t really matter as  there were manatees resting in the prohibited area. Paddling into the spring itself we spotted two more manatees and I had long since forgotten the tiring drive.

We floated in the springs and watched the sleeping giants before heading back out and turning toward Kings Bay. Two turns later and one of side canals was filled with sleeping giants. Their grey brown bodies, some with dabs of algae growth, would periodically lift their snouts into the air for a quick breath.

This time of year many areas are buoyed and ban boat entrance to protect them, but there were so many manatees that even outside the banned areas one has to be on the lookout. Trying not to disturb a large male I missed spotting another and it rose and gently collided with my kayak, reminding me to be more careful.

Besides the massive males, mothers and pups were in good numbers, and we were all rewarded with the sight of them slowly swimming past us. Heading into Kings Bay we saw other buoyed areas and a flag marked the King Spring. A strong breeze was blowing however and we decided not to go too far into the main bay. Eating our lunch Jenny and Eric both decided they wanted to swim with the manatees and so we headed back to the clear spring water.

You are not allowed to tie up to vegetation so they anchored in the shallows  and were quickly in the water. Jennie had brought her dive camera and we were later able to watch the movies of the manatee’s underwater ballet.

I wished I had a wet suit, (and maybe I should purchase one), as I envied their swim. Eric hadn’t brought his but that didn’t stop him. He was rewarded with a face to face encounter with a large calf; perhaps it thought he was a really weird looking manatee. Too soon he was shivering in the cold water and returned to his craft while Jenny kept snorkeling.

Watching them I saw a large snook and other fishing swimming into and out of the roped off area. Jenny finally headed back to her yak and they steadied each other’s craft as they boarded their boats. It had been four hours since we had launched and so it was time to return.

Our manatee encounters hadn’t yet ended as four of the graceful giants were feeding near the last bend. You could see them vacuuming the bottom with their round hose shaped mouths, releasing bubbles of methane as they plied the canal bed.

The drive back was filled with talk of the manatees and the day had been all it had promised. Some adventures we take are too beautiful and we spoke of returning to Crystal River and another day with the manatees. Clear skies


Ps we don’t advertise on our blog but we do recommend good service and the place we launched and rented kayaks from, A Crystal River Kayak Company, provided us with a great launch site and a friendly dock hand. We recommend them if you are into a self guided kayak trip.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wheeden Island Preserve, Kayaking the Tunnels 2013

Finally, the tides were just right and we could enter the mangrove tunnels. Renita went first as I wanted to see how she handled her kayak in close quarters. The first tunnel seemed to be pretty easy and the path was wide enough so she didn’t have to take her paddle apart.  The tide was starting to fall and we wanted to run the tunnels before it became too shallow and forcing us to get stranded and wade.

The second tunnel was quite a bit narrower and we both took our paddles apart to row with just half. It went surprisingly well, and I had to row hard to catch up with her. Black crabs dotted the trees and I thought to myself that the tunnels were not for the squeamish or the claustrophobic.

We had been watching the tides charts for Gandy Bridge and Wheeden Island and the predictions were for a high tide of 1.4 feet starting to fall by 10 am and falling six inches by noon. Both other times we had paddled Wheeden the tides were low and the tunnel entrances were blocked by sand bars. So this was probably the last chance we would have this year and Renita readied our gear as I loaded the kayaks.

It’s only a short drive to Wheeden and soon we were pushing off from the dock. The parking lot was pretty empty, (we only saw two other kayaks all day), and after reaching marker three, we entered the tunnels. The first set of tunnels was all against a slow falling tide, and we entered some slack water just after the number nine trail marker.

Soon we reached a stretch where the tide was going out in the same direction we were taking and we could stop paddling. Riding the outgoing tides is a treat and the mangrove tunnels made it especially so. The trail was still narrow and I got wedged crossways between the two sides of mangrove roots, but again no one was coming and so I finally got unstuck.

Entering some open water I spied some fish working the surface and went over to cast my jig, but no success. Florida fishing is such a far cry from Grand isle and Matagorda, but then again I have been spoiled by fishing such great places. Meanwhile Renita was birding and I finally rejoined her for lunch.

We stopped in a cove shaded by the mangroves, and ate our lunch. It’s been quite warm here and the temperature was again in the low eighties. The wind picked up and as we entered the open water rowing became harder but it was still easier then when we were in the canoe.

The last marker passed by, marker 38, and we pulled up to the dock tired but happy. It had taken us three and a half hours of paddling to cover the four mile distance. The day had been all that we had hoped for, a peaceful and quiet paddle among the black mangroves. Clear skies



The tide had fallen eight inches in the time it took us to travel the tunnels. If you go be sure to check the Gandy Bridge Tide Chart. If you do get stranded the bottom is almost entirely sand, just watch for stingrays!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Walking the Beach at Fort Desoto

Monday is a good day to head to Fort Desoto. There was no one else at the beach and so we enjoyed the solitude. I took some images and waded along the shore soon spooking a small southern stingray. Oystercatchers fed in the surf along with the usual sanderling and dowitchers.

Renita and Jenny paused as I took a mother daughter shot, before we all looked for the perfect seashell. I kept an eye out for any baitfish or anything for that matter. The tide was coming in and the end of the island was marked by a pass that reminded me so much of the passes at Grand Isle.

There were actual standing waves at the mouth of the pass and of course I wished I had brought my fishing pole. However our beach search found two really unusual sea creatures, a sea slug and a flying fish.

The sea slug washed in the surf and as I touched the creature it released a bright crimson ink, probably a defensive response. Carefully nudging it I guided it into deeper water, looking out for any stingers and it must have been ok as for once I wasn’t bitten, stung, or impaled.

A little further a flying fish lay washed up among weeds at the high tide mark. I had never seen one before and so I arranged it for a better shot. U thought of the book Kon Tiki and the passage where the explorer wrote of making a meal from them. Seagulls instantly flew overhead as their ability to spot a potential food always amazes me.

Returning to the truck we next drove to the fishing pier, stopping to look at potential launch sites for our kayaks. Walking out on the pier we saw several fishermen cleaning fish and they were happy to show off their catch.

Many had Spanish mackerel, one had a flounder and three sheephead, and another filleted sand sea trout. I watched as a man cast his heavy rig and fished for the mackerel. He explained he was using his own home made spoons and used a long leader so the silver lure fluttered when he paused.

Others were catching small jack creville and even a few Florida pompano and so of course I started to cast my lure. I only succeeded in catching a snag and broke off my rig, but that was ok as I haven’t paid enough dues here in Florida to actually catch any fish.

At another spot I watched a man wading and throwing a large cast net. I have quite a bit of difficulty with my six foot one and his was at least eight feet in size! It really was a thing of beauty as his every throw resulted in a perfect circular splash.

After out picnic we headed back to Jenny’s house but not before a stop at the grocery store to purchase three pounds of clams, Back at her cottage I watched as she instructed me on one way to prepare them and of course they turned out to be a tasty dinner delight.

So we had another fine day at the beach, special time with our daughter, and a great seafood meal. Of course Renita collected a few sea shells, and that’s ok as they are destined to be added to our seashell collection in Star Valley. Every day is a blessing and this one especially so. Clear skies

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

We are going to have Thanksgiving with Jenny, Eric, and friends and our contribution is a new recipe for us. Its a sugar free apple tart. Now if I can just keep it in one piece and away from Renita.

Clear skies always and we both want to wish you and yours a happy and loving Thanksgiving!

Its a simple recipe:

Sugar Free Apple Tart

Line a tart pan with the crust of your choice, I used store made crust
Peel slice and fan apples on the crust, sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar and cinnamon, and bake at 400 degrees for forty minutes

Mean while cook the peels and cores in a sauce pan, covered with water, until done.
Then strain, add one half cup of splenda, and reduce in the pan until it thickens.
(Ok its not really sugar free as there is sugar in the apples, but it is Thanksgiving)
Brush the glaze over the tart.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sandcastles 2013 and Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes, a Week of Sand and Food

Treasure Islands 2013 Sandcastles Competition arrived and so we had to see it. Last year we also visited the sandcastles and it made for an enjoyable day. Driving to Jenny’s house and parking there made it a short walk down the beach to the exhibits.

There were fewer sandcastles this year, only ten, but the artist’s quality was exceptional and we admired their work. We both had different favorites, so I voted for the dancers and Renita choose the emerging human. As usual hers ended up being the favorite, (Jenny returned to the event that evening and sent us an image of the sand carvings lit with colored lights).

Another day saw us at Jenny’s house as she made birthday pineapple upside down cupcakes for her friend. She made a few extra and of course I had to try one, fresh from the oven. This is one of the best desserts I have ever eaten. Jenny made it using whiskey but the epicurious recipe calls for rum. Also one of the recipes is for cup cakes and the other uses a cast iron skillet as a pan. For the cupcakes she used foil cupcake liners and sprayed each lightly with oil.

Respecting copyrights I am adding the web address and not publishing them. They are well worth visiting and making the cupcakes!

Mini Pineapple Upside Down Cakes makes one dozen. Adapted from

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Another Day at Wheeden Island Preserve, Rosettes and Tarpon

Wheeden Island is getting to be a staple kayaking place for us. It’s only a short drive away and provides us with a nice place to bird and fish. So we loaded up the yaks, much easier then the canoe, and headed out on a hot and sunny day.

We knew the tide was running out which meant no paddling through the mangrove tunnels but we still had a nice main channel and plenty of places to explore. As soon as we pushed off I stopped to cast a Dead on Arrival, (DOA), tipped jig. It’s one of my favorite jigs to cast as it’s a shrimp imitation and most gulf fish love shrimp.

Having no takers I paddled on to the next spot, (I am fishing places where I have seen other boats), but still no strikes. I had a popping bobber on and was hoping for some speckled trout, but nothing stopped the retrieves and so I continued to the next spot.

Meanwhile Renita was off taking images of American white ibis. There are so many here, along with the ever present great blue herons. A pink rosette flew over head and she followed it, with me not far behind. It’s so good to see her enjoying her fast and maneuverable kayak. I felt good about her safety as most places we were at are less than a couple of feet deep.

Our kayaks both have a large opening and so if we did flip we would simply fall out and then stand up. Thank goodness we don’t have to worry about Eskimo rolls. We still wear our life jackets,(unless its really shallow) and we have the prescribed whistles so help is always as close as each other.

There were quite a few baitfish hanging along the edge of the drop off and so I continued my casting along these edges. At one place I saw a large fish slice through a school and as I neared it slashed through again providing me with a glimpse of its silver side and large scales. I cast and cast to no avail, but at least I can say I was trying to make a hookup with a tarpon, (at least that’s what I think it was).

Two couples in double kayaks caught up to us near the southern tunnel entrance but they ran aground. Renita spied a wading rosette and glided near it. The birds here are quite used to kayakers and she got some great close-ups with her small camera.

Ospreys fished above us and we watched as one flew away with a large mullet. It had the fish grasped in its claws headfirst, as they carry their prey in its most aerodynamic shape. Several pelicans flew by and I was reminded of the book Silent Spring, and how we had almost wiped out so many birds by using a pesticide called DDT.

Thank goodness the birds have recovered so well. It’s almost hard to believe how rare ospreys, eagles, and brown pelicans were when we were kids. I have even been accused of being a hippy in some comments because of some of my posts against oil spills and developments.  That’s ok and kind of funny really, (I am a geologist). There are many voices that speak of their love for wild places, the birds and fish need people to speak for them as money rarely hears their call.

So we tired and headed back to the dock. It was an easy day paddling and it wasn’t the first time I went home empty handed. Some think we eat a lot of fresh fish, but we also eat lots of cornbread. I always keep several packages on hand when the fish out think me. Clear skies

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ringling Art Museum, a Day of Glass, Style, and Art

Last year we traveled to Sarasota to spend a day at the Ringling Brothers Circus Museum and while there we were also treated to the Ringling Art Museum. Learning that the Art Museum was free on Mondays, we planned on returning to spend a full day of Art.

Renita had discovered that the museum had two special shows. One was a private collection of art glass and the other was a display called Icons of Style. So as we entered we headed to the special shows starting our tour with the Glass Exhibit.

Now Renita and I sometimes work with glass, and while we love its beauty it’s a frustrating material that flaws and fractures easily, like amethyst, so as we walked into the gallery we both stopped in amazement as we saw the massive glass works.

Knowing something of glass castings, at least for telescope lenses, I had no idea that such large glass pieces could be made without shearing off and cracking. I never saw a single flaw or fracture. The colors were amazing and the flowing glass had allowed the glass makers a freedom that we who work in rock can only stand in awe. The glass free forms made me realize that we both could and should explore more shapes with our rock and now I regret leaving our grinding wheels back in Wyoming, (I am possessed with the need to work rock).

Next we entered the Icons of Style, an exhibit of designer sketches and dresses, all worn by famous women. Again I was captivated at the artist ability shown by the designers. I laughed at a ruffled outfit worn by Joan Rivers and wondered what she would say of it today as she bullies so many with her fashion television show.

One room was composed mostly by the theme of Jackie Kennedy’s impact on the fashion world of the sixties. In another we were treated to a Dior Dress covered figurines of crystals and gold wire. The most surprising dress was a gown covered with dyed chicken feathers.

We spent so much time on the two special exhibits that the time flew by and so we were again rushed through the rest of the Museum. Still we had time to pause and be moved by The Blue Madonna, attributed to Carlo Dolci. It’s an oil painting and the color brings out the sadness in Madonna’s down cast face. It speaks of all the sorrow we all have in our lives and brings humanity to Mary that I had never appreciated before.

Too soon it was time to leave, but not before we purchased a print of Dolci’s work. It’s obvious that one day at the museum is simply not enough and so we hope to return another time. If not this year perhaps next and again I am sure will  not have enough time to do justice to the art.  Clear skies

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Dunedin Arts and Crafts Fair

It was amazing really, watching a master potter form the clay into a beautiful bowl. Its always a pleasure seeing any artist in any medium transform crude materials into an individual work of art. While thanking the Rock and Roll Potter for his demonstration, I was reminded of the Mad potter who works his craft in the ghost town of Jeffery City, Wyoming.

We had driven north to the Dunedin Arts and Craft Show, of course in Dunedin, Florida. There I carefully parked and we strolled past the many booths. Unlike many, this show is a juried show and so the quality of the work was outstanding.

One booth was filled with wire wrapping and the couple not only does their own lapidary but also matches each piece with one of their custom made kumihimo necklace cords. Which is pretty much what we do now, along with chain mail.

The lady was making a necklace using small crystal  beads and she said the finished project would contain about 1100  three millimeter beads, (I am pretty sure we will be buying lots of small crystal beads). In another booth a master glassmaker worked the glowing molten glass while carefully watching the hot flame. As he was doing this he would state that he would carefully wrap all purchases in lots of tissue paper. Talk about multi tasking!

Stopping at the booth in charge we asked about the show, as its one that we would fit into, but the lady said they already had filled their allotment of jewelry makers. That was fine as we aren’t interested in showing this year in Florida, ( no Florida sales tax license).

As we walked past the last few booths it started to rain and Renita opened her umbrella. I had to laugh as being from the far west its considered a sign of weakness to use an umbrella, besides the wind would destroy it!  In case your wondering I had my own along with me.

It was a nice fair and I wouldn’t be surprised if we would go back next year. However like most of our fellow Escapees, next year’s plans are written in sand, or as our friends Joe and Marcia like to put it, written on an etch a sketch. Clear skies

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Yaking Around Wheeden Island Nature Preserve

This year we headed south without the trusty red canoe. Its provided us with six years of use and  we have never tipped it over, (We have been lucky a few times especially on the Gunnison). Still we wanted to try kayaks ever since we yaked with Alan and Sharon on Convict Lake in California.
So reaching St Petersburg we started to look for  kayaks, specifically single sit inside ones, with pole holders. We also were looking for kayaks that were stable and easy to get into and out from. Furthermore we didn't want them too long as we needed to use them on Wyoming streams with lots of turns.
Surprisingly there are no major outdoor stores in this area, but we did find one that had  a kayak I was interested in, an Old Town Vapor. The store also decked it with pole holders and an anchor system. So now we needed to find the right one for Renita.
She spent some time on Google and found several ones including a Perception ten footer at a Sports Authority. When we stopped at the store we lucked out and the yak was on sale for two hundred and forty nine bucks, three hundred off the list price!
Now we had planned to go to the art museum in Sarasota but as it was Veterans Day, instead we loaded the kayaks and headed to Wheeden Island Nature Preserve. Renita was pretty nervous as I pushed her away, (she can't swim), but her nerves quickly changed to smiles as her new yak is way more stable then the canoe.
We paddled to a shallow area and practiced turning. Both the kayaks turned on a dime, compared to the canoe, and sped across the shallow water. Soon we were exploring shallow coves and taking images of the numerous herons.
Stopping for lunch in a shaded spot we were able to easily tie up in a raft. the rest of the day was simple paddling and it was even easy when the tide shifted and ran out. Two dolphins jumped right in front of us, it seems the yaks allow us to approach nearer to the wildlife/
So we are both quite happy with the change. Now if you see a white chevy truck with two bright yaks, its probably us. Of course the Wyoming plates are another clue! Next we hope to drive up to the Crystal River and yak with the manatees. Clear skies

Thursday, November 7, 2013

An Afternoon Birding in Sawgrass Park

A line of American white ibis marched by us.  They were engrossed in their relentless search for grubs, uninterrupted by the presence of two lesser beings. We had never been so close and we could see their rear black underside, something I for one had never noticed. The end of their beaks was darkened by the black muddy soil and one pulled a worm out of the ground and then proceeded to slurp in kind of like watching someone eat a piece of spaghetti.

We had decided to make a quick trip to the boardwalk at Sawgrass Park and do a little birding. This year we actually have a list of things to do and parks to see, (it’s too easy to just sit and read and before you know it’s time to move). Sawgrass was the first thing on the list, along with buying kayaks, and of course Wheedon Island and Crystal River to name a few.

As we stepped onto the boardwalk a helicopter flew over head, and plane after plane roared by as they approached the Tampa airport, but the birds didn’t even raise their heads. There were lots of small alligators and marsh hens and we quickly learned the distinctive call of the red beaked birds.

A startled blue jay flew into the thick swampy brush, where it was quickly hidden by the dense foliage. We both know so little of south Florida’ wild plant’s, there is so much to learn and so little time. It always takes me a while each winter to reorient myself to the coastal birds, beak and leg color is so important. Renita knows the shore birds better than I do.

So when we saw a white wading bird with a yellow beak and black legs it was easy to identify it as a great egret and not a snowy,(black beak and legs). Renita spied a pileated woodpecker; we had already seen the numerous large oval holes. She also noticed a red belied woodpecker, feeding high in a dying tree. Its mate was not as colorful but it did pose and allow us to see the distinctive markings on its belly.

The walk along the boardwalk turned into a really nice birding stroll. When we reached the tower two anhinguas rested in nearby trees and preened themselves after successful feeding on the numerous fish. Spotted gar where everywhere and it looked like tilapia had invaded the large pond. A tricolor, (Louisiana), heron walked on top of the vegetation and all ignored the ever present gators.

The park itself is boarded on one side by Interstate 275, and yet it was an oasis of life that we both enjoyed. The birding had been surprisingly good and it’s a place we will return to, a nice break from the many beaches. Clear skies