We changed our plans and ended up staying in Palmdale through most of February. Our original plan was to leave early in the month for Tampa and stay at the military campground at MacDill Air Force Base. The earliest they could give us a full hookup site was the 28th. We’d have to dry camp until then in MacDill’s spacious dry camping section. But with the much warmer weather expected and having to leave Shelley indoors without power while we were out and about visiting, we opted to wait till we could get the full hookup site. Hendry’s Sabal Palms Campground is very laidback and accommodating, so we extended our stay by a couple of weeks.
We continued our morning walks with Harry, Marie and Linda. After we’d return, the gals would hop on bikes to pedal down to the post office. We were part of the “Bike Brigade”, one of several groups from the campground that would daily check mail. Palmdale is so small, the post office is the only central meeting place that most folks routinely visit.
One day we talked at length with Evelyn, who runs the post office in Palmdale. She told us that the last census showed Palmdale’s population between 300-400 but she feels it’s closer to 250. She told us that the building housing the post office used to be someone’s house that was modified to meet the area’s postal needs. It’s not often one has a chance to find out how things run at the post office, so we asked Evelyn how the mail gets picked up and delivered to the building, especially when it’s only manned weekdays during certain hours. She told us that every morning, Monday through Saturday, the post office truck delivers the mail, accessing a small closet-sized room (probably the house’s old mud-room) where incoming mail is deposited and outgoing mail is picked up. The room opens into the main part of the post office building but the driver has a key only to the outside door. Evelyn says this procedure is followed along the entire route – the driver must have a huge ring of keys – there is no master key. The driver will then return later in the afternoon to pick up mail in the shotgun box (the blue mailbox located outside). She said that between handling the day-to-day activities, filling out reports, and chatting with customers as they come in, she’s never bored being by herself. Since 9/11, there are weekly security reports to complete and specific procedures to follow with incoming packages. The post office bulletin board is where we also found out that our campground was having a breakfast one Saturday morning – what better place for a public notice!
Back to our morning walks – birds and cows are always there to entertain us. One day we watched a river otter swim around in what little water was left in the ditch; another day a small alligator was spotted there. And at last, we caught a glimpse of a pair of sandhill crane chicks (as Marie calls them – puffballs on sticks).
Because of Palmdale’s size, it has no retail businesses. Our Saturday morning trips to LaBelle, about 15 miles away, became a regular part of the week. Harry was the designated driver because his Ford F350 truck has more bed storage than ours to hold our weekly purchases. Great produce is available at the weekly farmer’s market. Ace Hardware was also a popular stop, for propane refills as well as hardware needs. Winn Dixie would be a final stop where we stocked up on groceries. Tongue-in-cheek, we said that our Saturday trips were the highlight of our week, but we always managed to have a good time at the campground, no matter the day. As mentioned last month, the campground has no planned activities. Hendry’s is great if you are interested in nature and peace and quiet, and can provide your own entertainment. Otherwise, you may be bored and wonder why we stayed there as long as we did.
Some factoids about the area: Palmdale is located in Glades County, which covers 763 square miles. The population of the entire county is less than 11,000 and the only municipality is Moore Haven. Can you imagine that large of an area with so few people – picture your city or town in comparison. There are only three schools in the entire county – two elementary schools and a junior/senior high school.
One Sunday, we took a cruise on the Caloosa River, conducted by the river’s citizens association and the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation. Reservations are a must – seats are limited on this monthly cruise. The cruise is on a covered pontoon boat with open sides – it was cool and overcast that day. We dressed warmly but it was still chilly. When we disembarked, we looked forward to Rich’s bean soup for dinner that night, a great meal to warm us up. As cool as it was, someone was out on the river, water skiing, without a wetsuit – brrrr…..
The cruise left from the WP Franklin Lock and Dam Park off of US80 on the way to Fort Myers. We kicked off the cruise by going through the Corps of Engineer lock, which was interesting in itself. We’ve watched several boats passing through locks before but this was a first to be in the boat and have others watch us. We learned that the huge gates, on either end of the locks, have a safety feature built in if they sense a manatee in the way. The gates will stop until the manatee swims clear. Because the water is warmer in the lock, the manatees like that area.
The Caloosahatchee (Seminole for Caloosa River) flows from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Okeechobee. Its original terminus was west of the lake but developers saw a need to bring in boat traffic from the Gulf to the lake, then on eastwards again from the lake to the Atlantic Ocean, via the St. Lucie Canal. One of the purposes of our tour that day was to tour the oxbows on the river. But first we had to learn what an oxbow was. A little bit of history will explain:
Between the dredging that straightened and channelized the Caloosahatchee and the installation of the WP Franklin Lock and Dam in the mid-1960s, the river was transformed from a small, crooked river with headwaters located in a lake above a waterfall, into a wide, straight, deep channel. The dredging eliminated the meandering course of the river, leaving some of the original bends of the river outside the main river channel. These bends are the oxbows and are all that remain of the historic, narrow, meandering riverbed. There are over 40 oxbows on the river--we saw about eight of them. They are like watery cul-de-sacs, protected somewhat by trees and mini-islands. One in particular was very scenic and very much like it was before the river was straightened. Rae Ann, our guide, identified the trees and shrubs alongside the banks, as well as giving us history of the river and some of the homes there. At one point, we spotted a home with quite a bit of river frontage with a camel and a llama grazing. Seeing the camel was a surprise. Apparently, the camel came from a circus that had closed down and is now enjoying retired life in Florida.
One evening, Harry and Marie’s friends, Jim and Jennie, staying at the Marina in Moore Haven, treated us to a fish fry. Jim is an avid fisherman and not only shared some of his catch but he prepared it for us at our campground’s clubhouse. The rest of us provided potluck dishes to accompany the fish fry. Fresh strawberries and shortcake topped off a wonderful meal.
Some of the “wildlife” that entertained us during the month: a broad-winged hawk that landed on our satellite dish. We had a great view of him from our bedroom window, just a few feet away. The sandhill cranes performed their mating dance several times. The male bobs up and down, then jumps up and spins around several times with his wings spread – fascinating to watch but hard to photograph. The campground owner’s cows wandered through the campground one weekend when he was out of town. The cows were accompanied by a ram, who thought he was a shepherd, keeping his herd together. On our way to the post office one day, a neighbor called us over to a driveway and pointed out a dog in a tree. Somehow, a Jack Russell terrier managed to get up into a huge live oak tree, about 30 feet high, but he couldn’t get back down again. Help was on the way.
Just before we left the area, we made a quick trip to Lakeland, about two hours north, to join Lone Oak’s annual reunion of seasonal residents and workampers wintering in the Florida area. It was fun seeing Rick, LaVerne, Norm, Ed and Mary there, all of whom we’d worked with in Connecticut last summer.
We visited Vanishing Species Wildlife, located on US 27 in Palmdale. Vanishing Species is a haven for a variety of non-releasable wildlife such as primates, big cats, raccoons, birds, reptiles and some proud strutting turkeys. The facility is located about a half mile from the campground – from our site we often heard the lions and tigers roaring in the evenings or early mornings. It was reassuring to see during our tour that they are safely secured in their pens. That kind of wildlife doesn’t need to be roaming around the campground.
The majority of the animals here are from former owners who either didn’t realize their pet was going to be so big or they could no longer care for them. Some of the animals have health problems, thus disqualifying them from being in a big city zoo. Some are rescues from the various hurricanes. One ostrich was found wandering around with a deep gash in its throat after one of the 2004 hurricanes. Fourteen stitches were needed for the wound, probably incurred while jumping over fences looking for shelter. This same ostrich was so stressed and traumatized from the storm, it plucked out most of its feathers that are just now starting to grow back.
The National Geographic Society periodically lends out some of their critters to local zoos for educational purposes – this facility had one particularly cute little guy, whose species we’ve forgotten. Vanishing Species often entertains and educates school groups. The four of us were a mini-group and we sure got a lot of information the few hours we were there. Our guide, Roger, was knowledgeable and very much cared for the animals there. As we approached some of the big cat cages, the lions or tigers or whatever cat would spot Roger and lean against their cage waiting for a back scratch. We enjoyed watching two tiger cubs, a male and a female, both under seven months old, romping in and around a huge tub of water. Anyone standing too close was apt to get wet.
They have quite a collection of snakes and other reptiles, some of which Roger brought out of their cages for us to see up close and touch (or not…) Larry looked stunning (or was that stunned?) with a boa wrapped around his neck; Marie looked like she was backed into a corner when a huge water monitor lizard started towards her. Larry seemed to be the only one that wanted to handle any of these guys while the rest of us watched from a distance. Roger said that kids are more receptive to the touch and feel part of his tour than the adults and we didn’t prove him wrong.
This facility is not government-subsidized but depends on gate fees and generous donors for their support, as well as local grocery stores and farmers providing them with donated food. It also doesn’t have the luxury of large fenced in areas, similar to a big city zoo. It would be nice to see more room for the bigger animals to wander but the facility doesn’t have the funding for that. But all the animals were well fed, had plenty of fresh water, and clearly loved the attention that Roger gave them as we toured the grounds. Some of the animals are there till they can get placed in a regular zoo; others will remain because of their ailments or handicaps. But they all seem to be well cared for and will live out their lives like the overgrown house pets most of them think they are.
We were treated to a burger cookout our last night at Hendry’s. Harry, Marie and Rich provided most of the food. (Linda returned to Ohio a week earlier to a job to which she was committed before she found out how much fun we were all going to have during these past two months.) It was a pleasant way to end our stay there, and thoughtful in that we didn’t have to worry about a meal or cleanup the night before leaving. Rich surprised us by giving us one of his scrumptious peanut butter pies for the road. We told him we’d remember him every time we weighed ourselves!
And so ended our longest stay in one place at which we weren’t working. We enjoyed our stay so much that we’ll be back next winter.
The route to MacDill AFB in Tampa took us past citrus fields and cattle country and some old towns – very scenic. Although mainly two-lane roads, they were in good shape. We encountered traffic near and in Tampa, but by mid-day, we were already checked in and set up on our site here at the military campground. More on our Tampa stay next month.
Coming up after Tampa—Crooked River State Park near Saint Mary, Georgia; a month at Jekyll Island, Georgia; a return trip to Mountain View, Arkansas in April.
Oops! Shelley wants to include the pictures of the Jack Russell stuck in a tree. She thinks all small dogs are dumb!