Archive for August, 2014

Hey, guess what? I have a new book out and it is available on Amazon! I write Travel Romance stories that are classified as “Boomer Lit.” They are romance stories for 50+ and the problems they encounter.  The stories also read like travelogues. “Journey Beckons”
takes place in the Pacific Northwest. “Journey To Port” takes place in Wisconsin and Michigan. And, my new one “Journey to The Tropics” takes place on cruises to both the Bahamas and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

In my new book, the ship stops at Key West so I thought that would also make
a good travel article in case you are looking for a warm place to visit next winter.                         The Florida Keys are a coral cay archipelago in the southeast United States. They begin at the southeastern tip of the Florida peninsula, about 15 miles south of Miami, and extend in a
gentle arc south-southwest and then westward to Key West, the westernmost of
the inhabited islands.

The islands lie along the Florida Straits, dividing the Atlantic Ocean to the east from the Gulf of Mexico to the west.As I mentioned in my St. Augustine article, Henry Flagler, an industrialist, began building hotels in St. Augustine in the late 1800s. His goal was to turn that city into
an exclusive winter retreat.  However, the temperatures were not as warm in northern Florida as
they were in the southern part of the state. So he began building hotels further south, eventually all the way to Key West. However, there was just one problem; getting tourists to the island

Flagler had started a railroad which stretched from the Northeast states to St. Augustine to get his hotel guests to that city. Next he laid the railroad track that became the roadbed that put the Keys in easy reach. In that way, he could transport the wealthy Northerners to his hotel there. Eventually a two lane road was built, which stretched one hundred thirteen miles on US Highway 1, from the Florida mainland down to Key West. The road was a marvel in the making with forty two bridges connecting the different islands. Key Largo (made famous by the Humphrey Bogart film and in song) was the island next to the Florida mainland in the upper keys. The road ended at Key West, the southernmost city in the U.S.

At the nearest point, the southern tip of Key West is just 90 miles from Cuba.The population is only about 25,000 but naturally that figure is higher when the tourists are in
town.  The island has long been a haven for writers and artists such as Ernest Hemmingway, Tennessee Williams and Robert Frost.

Naturally so close to Cuba, the island has been a refuge for Cuban political exiles. The island has also served as a base against pirates as well as a large salvage business from the many shipwrecks in the area.

When my brother and I visited the island, the shuttle bus from the ship dropped us at Mallory Square where you can catch the conch tour train. The trolley is a ninety minute narrative about the island and it is a good overview of the area. We saw both the old and the new Key West including Hemingway’s house, the waterfront, and a stop at a sign that said we were at the southernmost point of the United States

The island’s look reminds you of a coastal New England town but with lush vegetation as found on many Caribbean islands. As we rode the shuttle bus for the 10 minute trip to the downtown, we could see palm trees, hibiscus, and bougainvillea. The architecture is predominately Bahamian and the ship captains’ used wooden pegs instead of nails to build their homes. Living in a salt environment, they did not have to worry about the rust and corrosion that comes
with using nails.

Today tourists flocked to the area for the beautiful sunsets and nightlife, as well as margaritas and key lime pie.  But don’t forget to tour the Hemmingway house if you have a
chance. The mansion was built in 1851 and Hemmingway bought it in 1931. The
lush tropical garden, planted by the author, is home to more than fifty cats
descended from the author’s felines. No worries about rats or mice getting into
that house. And you can see a penny embedded in the concrete at the head of the
pool.  Hemmingway supposedly did that when he found out what the pool would cost to install.  You can almost picture the author sitting in his house writing “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” as he watched his cats running around in the yard.”

In the evening you can take a ghost tour and hear all the legends of haunting and shipwrecks. And just before sunset, everyone flocks to Mallory Square to watch the various street performers. Musicians, jugglers, and contortionists vie for the attention and donations of the spectators gatheredto watch them.

That seems a great way to make a living.  Be sure and have a margarita in hand as you wait for the sunset.  There are also several museums you can visit or even go diving on some of the shipwrecks in the area.  Just remember, you are now on “island time.”

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This last February my brother and I took the train to Yosemite National Park (well sort of…).  We got on the Pacific Surfliner
at 8:00 a.m. from Oceanside, California to L.A.   The ride from Oceanside to San Juan Capistrano was awesome.  We followed the Pacific Ocean sometimes high up on bluffs and other times right down next to the beach.  We saw a lot of surfers with pelicans circling around them

San Juan Capistrano was a mission established in 1776 and the swallows used to come back every year on March 19th on their migration from Argentina.   Unfortunately since 2009 the swallows now migrate a little further north.

After the train stopped at Capistrano, we headed inland towards L.A.   There we boarded our thruway bus to Bakersfield.  Then it was another train, the San Joaquin, up to Merced, the gateway to Yosemite.   We arrived at 4:30 p.m. and picked up our rent a car before going to our hotel for the next two nights.

The next morning we were up early because we had a lot of miles to cover.   The area we stayed in is referred to as the Valley and many of
California’s fruits and vegetables are raised in this area.  The land is very flat and we drove the long way south to Madera before cutting over towards the Sierra Nevada Mountains where Yosemite is located.

Our plan, in order to see as much of the park as possible, was to drive in the south entrance and drive out the west entrance.  Yosemite’s elevations start at just under 3,000 feet and are as high as 13,000 feet so we had a steep climb from the valley floor to get there.

First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, beautiful meadows, ancient giant sequoias, and a vast wilderness area.   Over 95% of the park is wilderness with the main part of the action in Yosemite Valley where hotels and campsites are located.

Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is known for its geographic and biological diversity.  Most of the trees are the Western Red Cedars (the Sequoias) and Ponderosa Pines.  The Ponderosas were so round and tall I thought they were 200 years old (since they tend to grow a foot a year in most areas) but a ranger told me they were 300 hundred years old.  There are not many places left in the U.S. today that you can see old growth forests like we saw in Yosemite.  There are also two rivers, the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, that begin in the park and flow west to the Central Valley.

For tens of thousands of years humans have lived in this area. The Ahwahneechee lived here for generations, followed by the arrival of Europeans in the mid-1800s. The rugged terrain challenged many of these early travelers who came by horseback or stagecoach.   By 1907, construction of the Yosemite Valley Railroad from Merced to El Portal eased the journey, thereby, increasing visitation.  Historic mining sites remain from miners who came to the Sierra to seek their fortune in gold.  And, today 3.5 million people enter the park every year to explore.

John Muir helped spark the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890.  He was also instrumental in getting Sequoia and the Grand Canyon named as National Parks.   In 1869, Muir landed a job as a shepherd which gave him the opportunity to study the flora and fauna.  When he saw that the grazing sheep were destroying the area, he lobbied for a National Park.

Yosemite was also a favorite place for photos by Ansel Adams and you may want to read more about both Adams and Muir since space here is limited.  A third person important to the area if you would like to read more is Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service. He used his wealth and political connections to take the national park idea in important new directions when he saw how poorly the parks looked in 1914.  He even hired staff to help him and paid them out of his own pocket.

When you arrive in the valley area you see El Capitan, the 3,000 foot monolith and it is one of the world’s favorite challenges for rock climbers.   You can only climb up because it is way too dangerous to go back down so the trail must be taken.  And right by El Capitan you can gaze upon the 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America.  Across from El Capitan there are some other granite monolith rocks, like Half Dome.  These rocks were carved out by the glaciers that came through the area.   But I am getting a little ahead of myself.

We drove for almost an hour after we entered the south entrance and it truly was wilderness.  The only bad thing was it was February and we were over 5,000 feet and there was no snow!  That does not bode well for this summer’s fire season.  Finally we entered a tunnel.  The tunnel was constructed by the WPA in 1933 but as people came out of the tunnel there were so many accidents and the Overlook was a very dangerous place to pull over.  So the Tunnel View Overlook was renovated and re-dedicated in 2008.

The Tunnel View scenic overlook is a historic site, and has beautiful views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and Half Dome. Both the Wawona Tunnel and Tunnel View were determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 because of their exemplary designs.  The overlook is such a popular site that there is an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people who visit every day during the
height of the tourist season.  But even more special to us when we pulled off onto the Overlook was the sun was positioned in such a way it created a huge rainbow on the distant Bridalveil Falls that was an incredible site to behold.

If you ever get to a National Park there is a book about the great lodges of the West.  I have written about the lodges at both Yellowstone and Glacier.  Whenever I get to a new Park, I always try to visit the famous lodge built there.

The lodge in Yosemite is called the Ahwahnee and is quite unique since it was Mather who lobbied for it to be developed.  Many of the
other famous lodges were built with materials found in their areas.  But all natural resources in National Parks are protected now and building materials cannot be used from the parks any more.  Since the lodge was not built until 1926, trucks had to haul all the building materials in over primitive roads seven days a week.  The lodges in Glacier and Yellowstone used existing timber and stone but that can no longer happen.  The primary building materials were steel, granite and concrete and then the outside of the granite and concrete was stained to look like redwood.

There is a central tower several stories tall and three separate wings with huge fireplaces.  The west wing has a dining room that seats 350 people.  The room is 130 feet long, over 51 feet wide and the ceiling reaches 34 feet.    It is a massive room and very beautiful.   During World War II, the Ahwahnee was a rest and relaxation hospital for the Navy.  Over 90,000 troops rested there and almost 7,000 patients were treated at the lodge.

Not too far from the Ahwahnee is Curry Village where you can rents tents and Yosemite Lodge where you can also stay.  There are also little towns just outside the park with lots of hotels and motels so you have a lot of choices when visiting the park.

As the sun was setting we drove down out of the park and back to our hotel in the Valley.  The next day we headed home and that also turned into an adventure.  Our Amtrak train was late; almost an hour by the time we got to Bakersfield.  We were rushed onto out thruway bus to LA.  Our driver was excellent and took several back roads in LA to avoid rush hour.  We actually made our train back to Oceanside with ten minutes to spare!


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