Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Returning Home - Day 2

We awoke around 4:30 at the Cartersville, Georgia Day’s Inn and quickly got on the road after making a couple of cups of tea and taking quick showers.  We were traveling north on I-75 before 5 am.  We figured the earlier we got through Knoxville the better we would be.

Although Knoxville wasn’t nearly as bad as Atlanta driving, we were happy to be through the city early in the morning.  We passed by Corbin, Kentucky, and thought about Colonel Sanders and the origin of KFC.  When we got to Mt. Vernon, Kentucky, we looked up the shows that would be coming to Renfro Valley soon and considered going to a show there.  We were especially interested to see that the Oak Ridge Boys would be there and that tickets are very reasonably priced.

We made it to our Georgetown, Kentucky home a little after 10 am.  We spent much of the morning unloading, packing the frozen wild boar meat into the chest freezer in the basement and calling family to let them know we were home. 
We were pleased that the meat remained firmly frozen and that most of the dry ice that we purchased on Wednesday morning remained in the cooler.  We could probably have done with far less dry ice, but we didn’t want to take a chance in case the trip was delayed for any reason. 

As always, we were happy to be back home although the temperature in the 30s was not like the 70s that we were enjoying in Florida.  The forecast is even calling for a few flurries in the next few days.  However, by Sunday we may see temperatures approaching 70 degrees but will have another cold snap by mid-week.  That is typical February weather for Central Kentucky. 

Along the 15 hour drive Mary and I reflected on the trip and the good times we shared with our friends there.  We value our friendship with Steve and Marcia and look forward to seeing them when they come to Huntington in May.  The hospitality they showed to us was sincere and warm.  We were made to feel welcome in their home. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Returning Home - Day 1

Mary and I awoke around 6 am and had a breakfast of cereal and tea from the Keurig machine.  We started packing a few things in preparation for our return drive back home to Georgetown, Kentucky. 

At 8 am Steve and I left to pick the processed wild boar from the Meat Shack in Okeechobee.  We picked the meat up and paid the $95 processing fee to grind most of the two hogs and prepare the tenderloins.  After getting the meat in the cooler, we stopped at a nearby Publix grocery store to get dry ice and duct tape to seal the cooler.  We also got several paper grocery bags to keep the dry ice spaced from the wrapped packages of meat.  Although the dry ice was a bit pricy, we wanted to assure that the meat didn’t spoil on the two day drive back to Georgetown, Kentucky. 

While we were gone, Mary had packed up our things and readied us for the 15 hour drive.  Although we had a Cadillac SUV for a rental, the space was limited with the coolers and all of our gear and clothing.  We got on the road by 11:30 am.

We drove east on Rt. 64 to I-75 where we drove north toward Atlanta.  The orange groves and cattle farms made for a pretty drive for us.  We ate our Walmart sub and fruit along the drive for lunch.  We got to Atlanta around 8:30 pm where we found traffic to be bad even at that hour.  We wanted to get through the city so we wouldn’t have to go through there on Wednesday morning. 

We stopped at Cartersville, Georgia just north of Atlanta and got a room at the Day’s Inn.  The room was fine since we would only be there long enough to get a few hours of sleep and the rates were good. 

Monday, January 27, 2020

Highlands Hammock State Park

Marcia had to take the “hippy bus” into town to get the crank window apparatus repaired so Mary ran into town with her.  Steve and I went to Walmart to get groceries for the pulled pork dinner than Marcia was planning.  We also went to Lowe’s to get a replacement dryer vent hose and a 90 degree fitting since the hose that we reconnected last week failed the first time that a load was run in the dryer.

After we returned to Steve’s house, we packed a lunch of sandwiches and fruit to head to Highlands Hammock State Park.  This 9,000 acre park is best known for trails through old sour orange groves and ancient forests of giant live oak trees. 

We started our visit at the small CCC Museum, where exhibits describe the role of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1920s to build this and many other parks across the country.  There were displays of the tools and techniques used by the young men working in the CCC during the Great Depression.  One of the things that we enjoyed most was a loose leaf binder with information on CCC projects organized by state. 

We drove around the road, stopping to view areas that were likely to hold alligators, snakes or birds.  Because the weather had been unusually cool and dry, there were fewer alligators than when Steve had visited before.  We saw a red-shouldered hawk on the side of the county road.  The bird flew up into the trees when we neared but didn’t move far then returned to his spot after we passed.  We could not see what the hawk was after there, but it was interested in something at that spot.

There was a boardwalk through one of the areas of the hammock that is a wetland.  The boardwalk was secure but had a rail only on one side which made Mary a bit uneasy.  We saw several people along the walk but not many.

We moved on to the Ancient Hammock Trail where we saw several huge trees that had probably been there for many hundreds of years.  We talked with a couple visiting the area from Louisville and pointed out many spots where wild pigs had caused significant damage to the forest.  We picked one of the sour oranges and found it to have a good orange flavor but was very sour. 

When we got back to Steve’s house, we chatted with Marcia who had been working out in her small office out back while we were out.  She had made pulled pork in her instant pot while we were out.  We had an early dinner of pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw, potato salad and chips.  Everything was very good.

After dinner, Steve took Marcia to pick up her van while Mary washed dishes and I connected the new dryer vent.  We visited for a while then Marcia went back out to her office to work while Steve and I watched the movie, The Missing, on Netflix.  I enjoy any movie with Tommy Lee Jones and this was an interesting western.  By the time the movie was over around 10:30 Marcia came from her office and everyone was ready to turn in for the night.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Brevard Zoo

We checked out of the Day’s Inn Titusville at 8:45 and drove the 30 minute trip south on I-95 to the Brevard County Zoo in Melbourne.  Our Cincinnati Zoo membership got us half price admission to the zoo when it opened at 9 am.

The Brevard County Zoo is only 25 years old and is still growing.  The lady at the entrance told us that several new exhibits have opened recently and several more are scheduled for opening in the next few months. Among the new exhibits are a sloth and the black bear.  In addition, the entire rain forest section has been completely renovated. 

We started in the Africa section and saw the zebras and rhinos enjoying the sunshine on the late January morning.  Not long after we got there five, giraffes came out to browse on branches placed on the viewing platform by the zoo staff.  We were very impressed by the number of local volunteers at the exhibits to inform visitors and provide assistance. We were also struck by the number of sponsorships at the zoo.  Most of the animals on display were named by community members who had purchased naming rights. There were plaques on sections of fence, benches and many other areas of the zoo indicating contributions from donors. 

We stood at the lemur island for a long time watching them playing and romping in the morning sun.  The volunteer told us that the lemurs are unable to swim and will not enter the water to leave the island.  In fact, if one of the lemurs falls into the water,  it will likely drown. They had nine of the ring tail lemurs with seven males on one island and a male and female pair on another island. 

We went into a walk through aviary with lorikeets and one with cockatiels. Visitors can purchase sugar water for the lorikeets and seed sticks for the cockatiels while walking through the exhibit. There was a large cockatoo outside that would laugh and do flips on the perch. 

In all, we spent about three hours in the zoo, staying until around 12:30 when we found a picnic table outside the zoo entrance where we had our peanut butter sandwiches and fruit for lunch.  Day was sunny and pleasant and we enjoyed the company of our friends, Steve and Marcia.

After lunch we made the 2 ½ hour drive back to Steve’s house in Sebring.  The sunny afternoon made a pleasant drive west across routes 60 and 98.  We especially liked the small town of Yeehaw Junction along the way.

After unpacking from our trip, Mary and I walked northeast along Lake Jackson doing a 3 mile walk that Steve does on many days.  We stopped briefly at the public beach and chatted with a nice couple form Minnesota.  We were still interested in walking after returning so we continued southwest on Lakeview Drive to a community center area where there is a library, theater, fishing pier and public beach.  We walked past some interesting homes and several large live oak and banyan trees.  

We went to dinner with Steve and Marcia at one of their favorite restaurants in Sebring.  We had been to Dimitri’s Restaurant with them in 2019 and enjoyed it very much.  Steve had a lasagna, Mary and Marcia had Cuban sandwiches and I had a fish sandwich.  Several of us had their Greek lemon rice soup, which was quite good. We all agreed that the meal was excellent and did well to finish.  After our meal the waitress gave each all take-home servings of their rice pudding because of Steve’s military service.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Canaveral National Seashore

We checked out of the St. Augustine Day’s Inn at 8:30 and headed south on the A1A (US 1) to explore Merritt Island and the Canaveral National Seashore.  The weather was in the 50s with a promise of being beautiful with temperatures approaching 70.   We enjoyed the drive along the oceanfront and watched the wind pushing waves up on the beaches.  

Because Steve would come to this area with his family nearly every summer when he was a child, he knew the area very well.  Even as an adult, he continued to have a great deal of affection for the Atlantic Coast of Florida, especially the Space Coast.  I recalled hearing him say many times that he hoped to live in the Titusville area some day.  He had a number of relatives who lived in the area, many of whom worked in various aspects of the aerospace program. He still has a few family members living in the Cocoa Beach area which gets him here from time to time.  We were happy to rely on his memory of backroads and places where we stood a good chance of viewing alligators and interesting birds. 

Our first stop was at Scragg’s Grove, a fruit stand in Oak Hill, Florida where we bought fresh picked navel oranges, pecans and boiled peanuts.  The two ladies at the store were both from West Virginia.  One lady was from near Morgantown and the owner and her husband were from Logan.  We had a nice chat with them and made our purchases of locally grown fruit.  They gave us directions to the Seminole Rest section of the Canaveral National Seashore. This historic area consists of a restored house from the 1880s that was built on an ancient Timucuan and Ais midden. These tribes lived in this area from about 2000 BC until 1565 AD.  Although the small visitor center didn’t open until noon the ranger let us in at 11 am. Mary bought a T-shirt and had her National Park Passport stamped. We enjoyed looking at the pine paneling and the old glass in the windows. 

After touring the building and visiting with the ranger, we had lunch in the parking lot. We still had plenty of lunch fixings from our Winn Dixie visit when we started the trip. We were having our usual peanut butter and crackers when an older couple pulled into the parking lot in a car with Florida plates and a WVU bumper sticker.  We chatted with them and found out that they were from Whitesville, WV in Boone County and had retired to Central Florida. We enjoyed visiting with them before starting back south on US 1. 

Our next stop was at Playalinda Beach. The sunny Saturday had a lot of people out at the beach despite the cool breeze. Several people were fishing or playing volleyball. One man had a small kite flying, and a surfer was out in the waves. Lots of people were just walking on the beach like us. We didn’t stay at Playalinda very long and decided to continue to move on.  We did not stop at beach 13 which is the nude beach. We figured that the January wind was cool enough that no sane person would be nude today. 

We continued on US 1 to Haulover Canal to try to see some manatees.  Haulover Canal is a small manmade waterway connecting Mosquito Lagoon with the Indian River and Atlantic Ocean.  The canal was initially dug in the late 1800s but has since been moved, widened and deepened to accommodate the movement of cargo.  Because the water is usually shallow and warm, manatees congregate in the canal from time to time.  The National Park Service constructed an observation deck so visitors can observe manatees when they are in the waterway.  There were only a few manatees in the canal while we were at the canal so we didn’t stay long. 

When we entered the Canaveral National Seashore area, we took the “Biolab Road” which took us 6 miles along the shore where there were a lot of alligators and birds.  We drove along slowly and spotted a number of alligators of all sizes and quite a few birds. 

We made a quick stop at the visitor center for the Canaveral National Seashore and picked up some information on the Black Point Wildlife Drive This one-way seven mile drive is one of the best places we know to see alligators, snakes and birds of all type.  While we were at the visitor center we walked out the boardwalk nature trail that was short but interesting. We saw signage for a number of plants that we had seen. We also saw a couple of alligators and several huge basking turtles. 

A short drive on US 1 took us to Gator Trail Road, a short gravel loop road. The area had several small to medium sized alligators and a number of cranes, egrets and ibis. The drive was very pretty and pleasant. 

We found the Black Point Wildlife Drive, an area very popular with birders. This seven mile loop had a good deal of traffic since there was a birder’s conference nearby. Like other areas that we visited, we saw many bird species and several alligators of all size. We had been to this drive when we were here in 2015.  At that time there was a large meeting of birders in the area and many of them were out on Black Point Road.  We learned that there is sometime similar this weekend with a large expo in Titusville where vendors were selling camera equipment and other items of interest to birders. Like five years earlier, there was several cars moving slowly along the road viewing birds, alligators and other interesting wildlife. Since this is a beautiful Saturday afternoon it was not surprising that there were more people in the area that usual.  We also learned that SpaceX would be doing a number of major launches beginning on Monday morning reportedly placing communication satellites that would provide high speed Internet to previously inaccessible areas. Some of the people in the area could be there to observe the upcoming launches. 

The seven mile drive around Black Point was very nice.  We cruised around with the windows open driving at near idle speed looking for interesting birds.  We saw a number of heron and egret species as well as many backing alligators of all sizes. This has become one of our favorite wildlife viewing areas in Florida since there is a helpful guide to specific sites along the drive and the number and variety of species on the drive.  

We left Black Point and continued back on US 1 driving to Titusville checking into the Titusville Day’s Inn by around 4:30. We drove by Dixie Crossroads restaurant on the way and noticed that they were already busy at 4 pm. While that isn’t surprising for South Florida restaurants, we considered that we may not be able to get in for dinner when we were ready after 6.  

Our rooms at the Day’s Inn were very nice and appeared to have been remodeled recently. The motel is just off I-95 which will be nice when we leave tomorrow morning.  After unloading the rental car, Mary and I went for a walk around the group of motels and restaurants at that exit.  It felt good to move around and work up an appetite before dinner.

We had several dinner ideas based on TripAdvisor reviews and decided to give them a call to see about wait times for a table at dinner.  Dixie Crossroads had a 90 minute wait time.  Mary called a local Cuban restaurant, El Leoncito, and learning that they had a 40 minute wait so we opted for a popular local diner with an American theme, Steve’s Family Diner Mary and I ordered Mahi Mahi, hers grilled, mine lightly battered and fried. Marcia had a strip steak and Steve had the seafood platter.  Although we all enjoyed our meals, no one was able to finish their dinner. We would highly recommend Steve’s Family Diner to anyone looking for a great meal at an affordable price in Titusville. 

We drove back to the Day’s Inn to rest up for our day at the Brevard County Zoo on Sunday. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Garden

We awoke around 5 am this morning and did some reading and our German lessons in the room at the Day’s Inn. Breakfast was Raisin Bran, yogurt and bananas from the Winn Dixie. We called Steve and Marcia around 7:30 to confirm plans for the day. 

We decided to go to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Garden this morning when it opened at 9 am. We made the short drive on A1A to Anastasia Island and parked in the Alligator Farm parking lot. We were pleased that our membership in the Cincinnati Zoo got all four of us in at half price. Although we had been here just 5 years ago, we hadn’t remembered a lot of the displays and some things had been upgraded since we were here. For example, there is now a sloth display that wasn’t there before.  There were lots of displays of birds as well as a few lemurs and other mammals. Displays held many species of crocodiles and gavials as well as alligators.  Informative signage gave background on each species range, diet and description as well as the status of the population in the wild. 

We were impressed with the varieties of crocodilians and other reptiles but the qualities of the displays. The enclosures gave the animals a suitable habitat while allowing visitors on opportunity to see them and compare features with similar species. For example, we were impressed by the gharial crocodile which has a large heavy body but very long, very narrow mouths that seemed out of place. We learned that this species, native to India, is one of the larger crocodiles and subsists primarily on fish.

We went into the display to see the stuffed body of Gomek, the extremely large 80+ year old crocodile that resided at the alligator farm for many years. From there we went to see Gomek’s replacement, Maximo and his mate, Sydney. These two giant saltwater crocodiles are still young and may grow to surpass the size of Gomek. They were living the enclosure that was built for Gomek and seemed to have adapted well. 

We finished the day at a feeding at the swamp area. At noon, a keeper fed the alligators a mix of preformulated alligator food as well as large rats. The rats were held above the heads of the alligators on a string and the alligators jumped up to eat them. He gave an informative talk on the alligators and their nutritional needs for about 30 minutes started at noon. 

We arrived back at the Day’s Inn a little before 1 pm and had lunch of peanut butter and crackers as well as the cheesy grits and green beans from last night’s dinner.  After lunch Mary walked over to the Our Lady of La Leche Shrine and I walked into the nearby neighborhood to see if I could find a large tree that I remembered from here when we visited in 2015.  

We met Steve and Marcia at 2 pm to drive south on the A1A to go to the Fort Matanzas National Monument. There is a very small fort near the mouth of the Matanzas River to protect upstream towns and the Castillo de San Marcos from invaders. The rangers and volunteers at the park were very helpful and showed us a brief video history of the fort.  

Storm damage prevented us from taking the ferry over to the island to see the fort, but we could look at it from across the river at the visitor center.  Like the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, this structure is made of coquina and had fallen into disrepair until it was taken over by the park service and restored for visitors.   It was built by the Spanish in the 1740 and restored by the National Park Service in the 1920s.

We walked out to the beach area along the Matanzas River and looked across to the fort.  We saw a number of tracks from raccoons and other animals  We didn’t stay long since the beach area was small so we headed back to the car to drive the short distance to the parking area managed by the National Park with access to the beach on the Matanzas River as well as the Atlantic Ocean. The beach was very nice and clean.  Even though the weather was a little cool and there was a steady wind, there were several people walking at the beach, many with small dogs.

We picked up a few shells as we walked along and watched the shore birds picking in the sand. We walked down the beach on the river then went for a short distance on the Atlantic until we reached the parking lot.  The arrangement of the parking lots was nice since walkers could park at one lot then walk on the beach for about a mile ending up at a parking lot that is across the road from the starting point. 

We saw a rain cloud coming our way so we walked the last 100 yards or so at a faster pace to avoid the shower.  We saw cars in the parking lot with both West Virginia and Franklin County, Kentucky plates. It was a nice afternoon and it felt good to get moving. 

We drove the 27 miles from Matanzas Beach back to the Day’s Inn to clean up before dinner. There is a Denny’s Restaurant in our hotel, so we opted to go there since we were all tired. Everyone had a double cheeseburger with Mary and I splitting one. Steve and Marcia both had the wavy fries, but we split an order of onion rings. Everyone enjoyed their meals and came away full. We will get this cheeseburger again because it was well prepared and used very flavorful meat. 

We agreed to meet at 8:30 tomorrow morning to drive south on US A1A. We would spend Saturday in the Merritt Island area near Titusville just looking at wildlife. We are looking forward to the day. 

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Sipping from the Fountain of Youth

As we do most mornings, we were awake early this morning.  We lingered in bed a bit before getting up around 5 am.  We turned the local news on the television at the Days Inn and had Raisin Bran, milk or yogurt that we bought at Winn Dixie last night.  We made tea with the motel coffee maker and took our showers.

We reviewed the maps of St. Augustine and decided to go to the Fountain of Youth area this morning.  Steve and Marcia were up and moving by 7:30 so we chatted a bit before leaving the room around 8:30.  

Since the Day’s Inn is very near the attractions in Old Town St. Augustine, we decided to not get the trolley pass in favor of walking to the sites.  The walk to the Fountain of Youth museum was less than a half mile, and we enjoyed the walk in the cool morning air.  

We walked past the walls made of the local “tabby” concrete that uses shells in place of gravel aggregate.  We arrived at the Fountain of Youth shortly before they opened and bought our tickets with the senior discount.  There was a display of a two story tall globe showing the paths of early explorers from Europe to North America.  We were amazed at the technology that was used when the display opened in 1956.  

From there we went to a planetarium showing how the explorers used the stars to guide their travel to unknown parts of the world.  We were in the display with a nice group of elementary students from a nearby charter school. 

We walked a short distance to the area where water from the area that Juan Ponce de Leon identified as the Fountain of Youth.  We all took drinks from the water source but so far none of us could see any rejuvenation. 

We walked around the grounds to a demonstration by a blacksmith, firing a cannon that would have been used at the time that St. Augustine was founded and several gardens.  By 11 am we were ready to take a break for lunch and to rest before the afternoon. We returned to our rooms at the Day’s Inn and had fruit, peanut butter, crackers and water that we bought at the grocery store last night.  

After a rest and lunch we decided to visit the fort at St. Augustine.  The fort, known as Castillo de San Marcos or Fort Marion, was constructed in the 1670s by the Spanish from a local material called coquina This is a compressed block of shells that have been fused over time in the shallow water of bay.  When freshly removed from the water, the coquina is easily cut and shaped.  However, once the material dried over the course of 5 to 12 months, the material hardened to become an excellent building material. 

Using Marcia’s National Park pass, we got admission to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument at no fee.  We were amazed at the thickness and strength of the 12 foot thick coquina walls. The material is strong yet will not fracture when struck by cannon fire.  The fort is surrounded by a dry moat and is located in an open area where attackers would be vulnerable to fire from gun ports on top of the fort.  The fort has two drawbridges so if invaders breached one layer of protections they would be trapped between walls of the fort and easily killed. 

We went through areas where the troops slept as well as a powder magazine and other areas supporting warfare and daily life at the fort.  There are a number of artillery pieces on display representing many of the cannons, howitzers and mortars that were used throughout the history of the fort.  

We chatted briefly with a National Park ranger about how troops living the fort got water, and he pointed out the wells and cisterns in three of the four corners of the fort that served the soldiers living there.  There was a good deal of informative signage throughout the fort explaining the role of the fort since it was constructed in 1672.  It is the oldest and largest fort in the United States.  The fort has been occupied by Spanish, English, US and Confederate forces throughout its lengthy history. 

After exiting the fort we walked around outside particularly to see a large oven that heated cannonballs to be shot at enemy vessels to potentially catch the decks on fire.  We took several snapshots of the fort then started walking back to our rooms at the Day’s Inn where we rested a bit before preparing for dinner.

We decided on Sunset Grille for dinner since it was closed the night before.  We were seated and looked at some excellent menu options.  The restaurant is best known for their chowder and especially their chowder fries.  Although we love chowder, we don’t tend to like French fries with gravy or other liquid on them.  Mary had mahi mahi covered in crushed macadamia nuts and a mango sauce.  She had a baked sweet potato and sautéed green beans on the side.  I had Menorcan Datil shrimp, sautéed shrimp in a sauce made with local datil peppers, over a bed of rice and black beans.  I also had a side of cheese grits that had been deep fried on the side that were shared at the table.  Marcia had a bowl of their signature chowder and a fish sandwich that she reported was excellent.  Steve had coconut shrimp with French fries that he also enjoyed.  Everyone enjoyed the meal and couldn’t possibly eat one of the highly rated desserts.  In fact, Mary’s green beans and most of my grits came back to the motel to be for lunch on Friday. 

We came back to the motel for the evening.  Marcia worked on a couple of her cases and the rest of us were lazy and crashed for the evening.  We are looking forward to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm on Friday then heading to the Space Coast on Saturday.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Drive to St. Augustine

We had a quiet morning and enjoyed eggs with the leftover pork steaks from yesterday. It was just as good as the day before. After breakfast we started to pack for our trip to St. Augustine and the Space Coast. The morning was very cool again in the mid 30s with a breeze. Packing was complicated because the next two days will be cool and rainy then the weekend will be back in the 80s. 

We left the house at 11:30 to make the two hour drive to Sanford airport to pick Mary up from her Allegiant flight from Lexington. Her friend, Itchy, dropped her off at the airport so she wouldn’t have to leave her car there. 

We were disappointed that our EZ Pass didn’t work on the Sunshine Parkway so we needed to pay the $10 in tolls along the way. There was rain on and off on the drive but was otherwise uneventful. We picked Mary up at the terminal and made the 90 minute drive to St. Augustine where we checked into the Day’s Inn. We talked to the desk clerk about the trolley and tickets for area attractions.  

Based on TripAdvisor reviews we selected Sunset Grille for dinner. It is about 5 miles from our hotel in nearby St, Augustine Beach. We were surprised that the parking lot was empty but there was music playing at the restaurant. The lights were off and the doors were all locked. We later learned that they were closed for the day for cleaning and repairs so we consulted TripAdvisor and went to Panama Hattie’s which was only a block away from Sunset Grille. 

Steve ordered the shrimp dinner but Marcia, Mary and I had the fish and chips. All our dinners were huge and delicious. Everyone enjoyed the meal. The food and service were both excellent. We saw another couple there that we met trying to get into Sunset Grille earlier. Our only criticism was that the upstairs room where we were eating was very noisy. The open room with vaulted ceiling made it difficult to have a conversation at the table. 

After dinner, we made a quick stop at a Winn Dixie grocery store to get food for breakfasts and lunches this week. Unlike most Day’s Inn motels, this one didn’t appear to offer an included breakfast, probably because there is a Denny’s Restaurant in the motel. We got cereal, milk, yogurt, fruit, peanut butter, bread and crackers. 

We returned to our rooms at the Day’s Inn and unwound watching television before turning in for the night. We are looking forward to exploring St. Augustine tomorrow. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Wild Boar Hunting in Florida

We woke early to arrive at Clay Gully Outfitters near Lorida, Florida to meet our guide, Tyler, by 5:30 am.  We packed our guns and clothes in the rental car and made the 30 minute drive from Sebring. We were laughing about taking a Cadillac on a hunting trip but since it has a big cargo area and is 4 wheel drive was perfect for our needs. 

After passing through the gate to the ranch we met a guide who has us complete the waivers and other documents online. Tyler, our guide arrived and informed us that hunting would be difficult since the temperature was in the40s and there was a strong breeze.  He suggested that we try hunting from stands that are placed near known hog trails. He wanted us in the stands ready for the hogs before 6:30 since they tend to move just at daylight. Tyler said that they may stay in heavy cover and not move with the cold weather. 

The stands were well placed and about 20 feet off the ground. Steve and I were about a quarter mile apart so we could hear is one of us got a shot. While in the stands we saw lots of cattle, many birds of all type including vultures, Osceola turkeys, owls, crows and Sandhill cranes. Steve even saw a black snake on the trail. Neither of us saw any wild boar. I did witness a funny scene. Two cranes were standing in an open area and a very young bull calf went over to investigate. He apparently got too close because one of the cranes pecked him on top of the head. He jumped back in surprise but gave it another try resulting in another head peck. He even made a third attempt with an identical outcome. That is until the mother cow moseyed over to see if there was a problem and the cranes flew away. 
Tyler texted about 10:15 to see if we had seen anything or if we wanted to try another approach. By then we were very cold and willing to give something a try. He picked us up in the truck to go back to the lodge to decide our next option. Since the hogs were bedded down in the palmetto thickets, Tyler suggested that we try hunting with dogs. He told us that stalk hunting is seldom successful since the hogs can be in the brush and unseen even at close range. In addition, they have us outnumbered there. He told us that some hunters recently insisted on trying to flush hogs out of the palmettos despite his caution that it may not a great idea. The hunters were chased out of the palmettos by the angry hogs with no one having killed a hog. Fortunately, none of the hunters were seriously hurt. 

We weren’t interested in a stalk hunt but we were all for trying something else so we opted for a dog hunt. 

We piled into the 4 passenger UTV and went to the barn where Tyler picked up to small Jack Russell terrier mix dogs. These dogs were excited to get out on a hunt. Steve was in the back seat of the UTV and the dogs were between Tyler and I. They had their rear paws on the seat and their front paws on the dashboard with their noses high in the air. When they got the scent of hogs they jumped out onto the hood of the vehicle and looked in the direction of the scent. Tyler would drive the vehicle in that direction if possible in the heavy palmettos. When we were near the hogs the two small dogs would launch from the hood and go tearing through the brush at light speed barking increasingly faster as they neared the hog. 

We followed the sound of the dogs as far as we could in the Polaris then grabbed our rifles and ran toward them. The two tiny dogs had a fair sized male wild hog surrounded. The hog was snapping angrily at the dogs but they were far too quick for him. I was able to get a head shot and put the boar down with the Remington 30-06. Meanwhile, the shot caused another dozen or so hogs hiding nearby to sprint away as the dogs gave chase. 

Despite the wound, the hog required a shot to the head from my Smith and Wesson Model 66 in 357 magnum caliber to stop the twitching. We loaded the dead hog into the UTV and took off after the dogs. They had a very small young hog pinned down in the palmettos that we didn’t want to shoot so we pulled the dogs off to look for a larger hog. It wasn’t long before they had another hog at bay. This was a larger male hog that was so deep in the scrub that we had difficulty getting to it. Once we arrived we could see only a little of the black hair. Steve got a gut shot with his .308 caliber Mini 14 then we and the dogs gave chase. While the dogs distracted the hog, Tyler and I grabbed back legs and pulled it out of the brush and Steve dispatched it with a shot to the head from his .45 auto pistol. This young boar will be good eating. 

The dogs didn’t want to stop harassing the hog even after it was dead but we finally got them loaded into cages on the UTV then loaded Steve’s hog with mine in the bed. We drove back to the lodge to finish the paperwork and pay the balance of the hunt fees. We then drove to the barn where Tyler skinned and quartered the two hogs preparing them for us to take to the butcher. 

We were impressed with two dogs that were in kennels there that were “catch dogs.”  These larger mixed breed dogs are trained to catch and hold a wild hog. Both dogs were kennel to recuperate following prior fights with boar but it was obvious that these two dogs were tough customers. 

Tyler got the two hogs skinned and quartered quickly putting the sections in our large cooler that we borrowed from Rex’s scout troop. The meat appeared to be very lean as expected and wasn’t damaged much since we both got head shots. 

We thanked and tipped Tyler promising to return for a future hunt with him then we headed for the “Meat Shack”, a small local butcher shop in Okeechobee where the meat would be prepared, wrapped and frozen for our trip back home. We told them that we would be there on Tuesday to pick the meat up. The owner there was very pleasant and promised to make some good sausage and tenderloin for us to share. 

We made a quick stop at a local bait and tackle shop that is on the shore of Lake Okeechobee. We hope to come back here to bass fish on the lake at some point in the future. 

We returned to Sebring having the lunch that Marcia packed for us along the way. We crashed at Steve’s house since we were very tired from our hunt. We washed the cooler then unpacked our firearms and gear. 

To celebrate our successful hog hunt, Marcia made pork steaks for us which were very good. They were so large that each of us saved half for breakfast tomorrow. 

We watched television for a while then had a celebratory sip of John J. Bowman bourbon before going to bed. I am certain that we both will sleep well.