Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park – Camping With the Family

Hanna Map

Hanna Park is a 400 + acre city park in Duval County on Florida’s northeast coast. The park lies just South of Mayport Naval Station in Atlantic Beach, Florida. Atlantic Beach is part of the incorporated city of Jacksonville. Hanna Park is a rare treasure. A piece of mature, accessible oceanfront coastal hammock that has a little something for just about anyone who loves the outdoors.

Camping

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Hanna Park offers a beautiful campground that showcases great old Live Oaks, Sweet Gums, Palm trees, and many other coastal species. The campground has full camping hook-ups for tents and RV’s and other smaller campers. Some spots are more desirable than others. Checking the park map before you go helps, and while you camp for the first time be sure to look around for spots you might like to try in the future. The kids love meeting new friends around camp.

There are showers and restrooms but user be warned, they are kind of gross. They were probably fantastic in 1562 when installed by a small group of French Huguenots, but since then they have gone way downhill. Ok, I may be exaggerating on their age a little. Some of the trees and palmettos inside Hanna Park may have been around since the French landed in the area we now call Jacksonville, but pretty sure the French weren’t calling it Hanna park and the third tree on the left was the restroom. So bottom line, if you’ll need to use the facilities, bring shower shoes and some sanitizer! They do at least hose the restrooms down. Seriously… they hose them down. The campground has a small store where you can pick up a few basics and rent equipment.

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You’ll see lots of beautiful mature oaks, palms and other majestic trees.

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Mature trees in the campground itself.
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Hammock views are the best!

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One of many beautiful old oaks in the park.

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The sea fog looked cool wafting through the campground lights.

The campground provides easy access to all of the following activities.

Biking

Bring your own or rent one in the camp store. If you are going to ride the trails, a mountain bike is recommended. The technical trails are challenging, and you will need a bike that is up to the challenge.

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Hanna Park has biking opportunities for all skill levels. Whether you enjoy a leisurely ride down the hard-pack sand on the beach at low tide, riding the paved roads throughout the park, or the more technical mountain bike trails, there is something at Hanna Park for you. The mountain bike trails are marked with skill level and the direction of travel. With people riding the courses at speed, you definitely don’t want to be traveling in the wrong direction. Helmets are required for youth and advised for all.

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Nice spot to stop and smell the roses.
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Headed up the road to the lake and the next trailhead.
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Plenty of paved roads if trails aren’t your thing.
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Another cool old oak tree.
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Can you find this “Hanna” sign carved into a tree on one of the bike trails? Let us know if you do!
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The red trail is technical!

Hiking

Hannah Park offers great hiking trails that are intertwined with the bike trails, but separate from them. Unless someone is riding where they shouldn’t be, you are unlikely to run up against bikers when using the hiking trails. The hike around the Wellness Trail is approximately 6 miles.

This time of year is great because the mosquitoes are minimal, and the temperatures are relatively mild. This year has been an exception with mid to upper 70’s on NewYear’s Eve and New Year’s Day. If you’re going to be in the woods or campground, take precautions to protect yourself from ticks and be sure to check yourself occasionally, especially before bedding down for the day. Michelle and I both found one each on our legs. Hers was from camp, and I believe mine was from the trails.

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Fishing

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Hanna Park has several fresh water lakes, as well as the beach itself. You can catch an array of fresh and salt water species. Personally I wouldn’t recommend eating the fish from the lake. You can fish either salt or fresh water, but be sure that you obtain a Florida Fishing license if you are a non-resident, or if you are a resident who will be fishing from a boat, kayak, etc. If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse or two of the otter I saw this weekend!

 

 

 

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Kayaking and Canoeing

Rentals are available or you can bring your own. No motors allowed! The lakes hold a few alligators, but as far as I know of there have never been any issues involving the gators at Hanna and humans. Just keep your distance and don’t feed them if you do see them.

Wildlife

You’re not likely to see large mammals such as deer or pigs here, but there are a lot of raccoons and squirrels. A raccoon walked directly into our seating area as we sat by the fire on New Year’s Eve. There has been a recent increase in coyote sightings around the beaches and Hanna Park. As with many other areas facing an increase in coyote populations, vigilance is required to ensure people and pets remain safe. Be smart and don’t feed wildlife. The park provides food and shelter for birds of many kinds. We saw a big group of birds roosting on the small island in the middle of the lake.

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Birds roosting on island in the sea fog.

Invasive Species

Be aware of the dangers of spreading invasive species. The park asks that you not move firewood from areas outside the region, or that has been elsewhere. Firewood is available for purchase on-site if you want to purchase it there. There is information available in the campground about specific pests of concern and tips on helping prevent the spread of invasive species.

Fungal Finds

We’ve had a few wet weeks, and the first couple of days of the trip brought heavy sea fog, so there were of course plenty of fungi to be found in the campground and along the trails.

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Oyster mushrooms on Magnolia cone.

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Lycoperdon – Puffball Mushrooms
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Pisolithus tintorius – aka “Dog Turd” fungus, aka “Dye Maker’s Puffball”
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Dog turd… I wonder why they call it that?
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Clathrus columnatus Stinkhorn in egg form.
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You can see the columns developing inside the “egg.”
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Beautiful edible Pleurotus mushrooms.
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Oysters from the underside.
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Oysters growing in a rosette.
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May be a hygrocybe of some kind. Honestly not sure.
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Mushroom, possibly Tramates lactinea, exuding water droplets.
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Nice shot of Pleurotus – aka oyster mushroom and mycelium on wood.
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Spongipellis pachyodon – considered inedible. New mushroom hunters often think this is Lion’s Mane or some other edible toothed mushroom. This mushroom actually has a pore surface that quickly break down to look like teeth.

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Pachyodon being attacked by slime mold. Slime mold for the win.

Play Areas and Public use Facilities

The kids will enjoy playing in the small campground parks or taking a cool splash at the water park during summer months! There are water cannons, jets that shoot up from the ground, and several other cool things for the kids to play with when the weather is warm.

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The water park is all shut down this time of the year. Looks like it has truly gone to the birds! Can you see the large vulture in this picture?
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Now can you see it?
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Main campground park.
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Indoor gathering area. May need permit. Call park for details on this and other sheltered areas.
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Lots of outdoor picnic areas and open space around lake.

The Beach

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Heavy sea fog rolled in all day.
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Shells were plentiful Sunday up above this tide line.

The beach  at Hanna Park is beautiful. The sand is clean, and on days when the wind and waves work together to uncover them, Hanna’s beaches provide some of the best shelling around. Sharks teeth are plentiful, with large specimens being found on occasion. Are you one of those people who says they can’t find shark’s teeth? Believe me; you can! They are there by the thousands. If you believe you will find them, you will. If you believe it is impossible, then I’ll come behind and find them for you!

Surfing

Hanna Park holds one of North Florida’s premier surf spots, know as the “Poles”. Thanks to the way our St. John’s River jetties build the sand up around the inlet, the Poles provide what most locals describe as the best break in our area. The jetties offer great wind protection on good days, making the form of the waves that much better. If you are a surfer, bring your board and join me at the Poles!

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Surf Gators!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this review of Hanna Park. Let us know how your experience goes there!

Resources

Hanna Park Trail Map – http://www.coj.net/departments/parks-and-recreation/recreation-and-community-programming/docs/preservation-(1)/kathryn-abbey-hanna-park-trails-maps.aspx

Florida Invasive Species Listshttps://www.fleppc.org/list/list.htm

Freshwater Fishing Regulations  http://www.eregulations.com/florida/fishing/freshwater/

Florida Freshwater Fishing Regulations http://www.eregulations.com/florida/fishing/saltwater/

Mayport Poles Surf Report & Forecast – Surfline
https://www.surfline.com/surf-report/mayport-poles/5842041f4e65fad

Park Informationhttp://www.coj.net/departments/parks,-recreation-and-community-services/recreation-and-community-programming/kathryn-abbey-hanna-park.aspx

Park Informationhttp://www.coj.net/getattachment/Departments/Parks-and-Recreation/Recreation-and-Community-Programming/Oceanfront-Parks/Kathryn-Abbey-Hanna-Park/Hanna-Park-Brochure-2-Apr-2018.pdf.aspx?lang=en-U

Mushroom Forage and Sightseeing Near Middleburg Florida

It’s been raining hard the past few days, and we have the mushrooms to show for it! There were too many types of mushrooms and other forage to share at once, so I’ll go over some of the best. It needs to be very wet for Exidia recisa, or the Jelly Roll fungus to be noticed in the woods. IMG_20181215_101449808A trained eye might find it when it’s dry, but it wouldn’t be easy. Several fungi are bundled into the common name of Jelly Roll. Exidia recisa is brownish to amber in color and looks like small ear like appendages when wet. They can grow closely together but don’t usually joining into one large mass. The fungus can be found on oak and possibly other hardwoods in Florida. This is an edible fungus though reportedly without a great deal of flavor of its own. The mushroom expands impressively when wet, so it can absorb whatever flavors or liquids it is cooked in. You’ll look for this fungus on fallen wood when the ground is wet.

Yellow staining milk cap

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Notice the milky yellow latex?

Milk caps are mushrooms that exude a latex when cut or damaged. Many are quite tasty, but some are toxic or too bitter to be edible by all but the most desperate. The taste and color of the latex are significant clues to edibility in this group of mushrooms. This yellow staining milk cap is one of the toxic milk caps. We won’t be eating it!

Deer Moss

 

This is a lichen, not a mushroom but is edible when processed correctly. Processing involves boiling and disposing of used water multiple times. If you needed carbs badly enough, you could get them from this. These are reported to be slow growers, and some that I saw were as tall as six or seven inches.

Cortinarius (Cort)

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Not and edible mushroom, but beautiful just the same. There are said to be over 2000 types of cortinarius. Some are said to be lethal, and as a general rule many foragers don’t eat cortinarius of any kind.

Lactifluus paradoxus

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I love the colors of paradoxus.

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These are beautiful mushrooms. They boast a number of different colors, often showing several colors on one mushroom. Blues, greens, greys, pinks, peach and salmon are all commonly seen. The salmon colored gills are distinctive. These are edible but require care to get back home in one piece. They are delicate and break into pieces easily.

Baby Gopher Tortoise

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If I head, nobody will see me!

No, this isn’t forage, but it is too cute and rare not to share! Saw this little one twice in a week’s time. Tiny little thing. Probably just dug one of its first of many tunnels in its hopefully long lifetime. These are endangered so look but leave them be when you see them. Take one of these for a pet, and it may be one of the costliest pets you ever get!

Lentinus

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This is the most beautiful lentinus I have ever seen! Not generally eaten, but beautiful to look at. Shiitake mushrooms are a part of this group, and they ARE eaten.

Russula (Possibly Murrill’s hixonii, a rare mushroom)

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The hixonnii russula were first noted around Newnan’s Lake just outside Gaineville, Florida. I camped there frequently while attending school. They are described by mycologist Arlene Bessette as “rare and beautiful.” The “Pepto” pink is a giveaway, as is their large size. Bessette reports that they smell like cake when drying. They may be found frequently in some areas, but overall are considered threatened. I find them in several areas from about 25 miles northeast of Gainesville to Pumpkin Hill Preserve southwest of Fernandina, Florida.

Coral Mushrooms

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You really must know these well to chance eating them, and I don’t know them well. I saw a lot of them, so I wish I was able to make a positively ID.

Turkey Tail Mushroom – Tramatese versicolor

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Look for white pores. If they aren’t white, it isn’t Turkey Tail.

We’ve written about this wonderful mushroom before. It has compounds which are currently used in the treatment of cancer and is said to be medicinal by many. Full disclosure, I know of no scientific studies that support that assertion and have read posts by experts saying the same. Don’t shoot the messenger. In the absence of proof that they do help, I don’t know of any that say they can’t help if you want to give them a try! I’ve made tea with them and found it quite enjoyable. You can find preparation methods online.

Clathrus columnatus, Stinkhorn

 

The first person to give these a common name didn’t need much creativity. They truly stink! They produce a smelly substance that stinks, which attracts flies, who carry the mushroom spores on their feet to new and exciting places. This particular variety looks really cool. These start out in an egg form underground before bursting from the sack to extend above ground. If you can find them in egg form, some are said to be edible. You can just see one busting out of its egg in the photo.

Amanita persicina

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Motherload of Amanita Persicina. Hundreds of them.

IMG_20181216_203402277This is a local variety of Amanita mushroom that is related to the Fly Agaric known in northern regions. It is the red mushroom with white spots on the cap that you see in so many pictures. Our local variety comes in shades from red to nearly tan when old. It is important to understand; the Amanita group contains some of the deadliest mushrooms known! When people imagine deadly mushrooms, they are often thinking about an Amanita even if they don’t know it. If you are not an expert, leave anything in the Amanita group alone! That being said, for the experts this is one of the Amanita mushrooms is toxic but tat can be prepared so as to be made relatively safe for consumption. I say relatively because this is also one of those mushrooms that reportedly sends some into an altered state of consciousness. The experience is reportedly not something to be taken lightly, and can include fits of projectile vomiting, sweats, and other less than pleasant physical symptoms. Some reportedly experience little to no physical effects, so I guess to quote Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, the question is “Do you feel lucky?” Not me! I’m guessing law enforcement would have something to say once you began processing for that purpose. If you are a binge tv watcher, this mushroom also plays a role in the Amazon series “Fortitude.” Great series if you haven’t seen it!

Please follow us on our blog, as well as Facebook and Instagram @ outdoorfamilyfunandforaging

 

Thanks!

Referenced Arelenne Bessette et.al. “Mushrooms of the Southeast”

Pine Island Florida

IMG_20180518_113443346Great news! We made it to our first wedding anniversary! I know, that shouldn’t be such a big deal, but these days it seems like maybe it is. I tend to agree with a former co-worker that the first year of any long-term endeavor is a bit special, and marriage is certainly no exception. Having loved the solitude we found on the water in the Keys, Michelle and I decided that we wanted to go somewhere a bit off the beaten path and a bit less expensive to celebrate our first anniversary in hopes of finding a similar yet unique experience.

While we considered several locations, including going back to the same home where we were married in Tavernier, Florida in the Florida Keys, we eventually settled on St. James City on Pine Island in southwest Florida. We enjoy getting in the boat and finding places where it is just us and Mother Nature. Pine Island appeared to offer just that kind of experience. It is of course tough to completely escape the sights and sounds of our city lives, but we sure like to try!

Pine Island is just north of Sanibel Island on Florida’s southwest coast, with access to the same fishing and boating areas but fewer people to compete with in town. If seeing Sanibel itself is your goal, then Pine Island may not be the ideal place for you. You can get to Sanibel by boat if you like, but the trip by road would be pretty long. We took my 16 ft. bass boat across the bay to the where the Sanibel Bridge meets the island one day just to do it, and the trip only took a few minutes. Unfortunately, it was getting too windy that day to make a run around the island to see the famous Sanibel beaches, so we went back to the mangroves near the house and spent the rest of our day there. With less wind it would have been easy to make the run.Pine Island

The length of Pine Island can be driven in about a half hour or so. There are a few boat ramps on the island that are available for public use. Each has its own hours of operation so be sure to check those out in advance if you visit the island. We stayed in St. James City at the southern end of the island. The one public boat ramp in St. James offers 24 hour a day launching and loading. There is a fee for use of the boat ramp that can be paid at a fee box. The boat ramp is monitored by camera to help encourage those who don’t do well with the honor system, so be warned if that is you!

We rented a recently upgraded double-wide mobile home on a canal which also had a new boat lift. Many of the neighborhoods are composed mostly of mobile homes, so unless you are willing to spend top dollar, be prepared for that. Ours was very comfortable, and for $99 per night I have zero complaints!IMG_20180518_072118606_HDRIMG_20180518_165506771_HDR

The scenery on the water around Pine Island was amazing. We were able to motor out about 100 yards or so from our dock before turning north into the preserve and trolling the beautiful mangroves. We did take some longer trips, but it was windy for much of our week there so most of the time we kept close to home base in the calm water of the mangroves. One of the great things about the island is that you can pretty much always find a spot on the downwind side of some cover to fish. Just getting inside the mangroves helps immensely.IMG_20180518_201602476

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Pelicans looking for a handout.

We managed to catch a variety of nice fish, and even cooked a few up at the house. Some of the best fishing we found was within eyesight of our own dock! Save yourself some searching and pick up a nautical map that shows depths and local fishing spots. The maps aren’t exactly cheap but can be helpful when visiting new water. We had dolphins and manatees swim directly under our boat while cruising in and out of the canal. The water was so clear in the canal that we saw one of the dolphins rolling over under the boat and looking up at us as it passed below. It was a new experience for me, and I see dolphins all the time at home. The sunsets were second to none! One of the few things we took pictures of that week.

 

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Pine Island Sound
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Sunset over Pine Island Sound

 

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Mangrove sunset
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Colorful sunset in the mangroves
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Purple mangrove sunset
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Storms brewing
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Golden sunset over Pine Island Sound

 

Restaurant Reviews

Low Key Tiki
3135 Stringfellow Rd, Saint James City, FL 33956

Menuhttp://www.lowkeytiki.com/

We really enjoyed our time at Low Key Tiki (LKT). The atmosphere was laid back as one might expect given its name. The food was fresh and tasty, and the service was friendly. Michelle and I tried the Po-boy and fries. They came with a sauce on them which was ok, but both of us ordered with sauce on the side when we went back. The sauce was good, but we wanted to maintain some of the shrimp’s crispiness. Obviously, they were good enough that we had them twice!

Woody’s Waterside Island Rum & Grille • 3051 Stringfellow Road • St. James City, FL 33956 • 239-283-5555

Menuhttp://woodyswaterside.com/waterside-menu.html

A.K.A. The Drunkenmost Point – Being at the southern end of Pine Island, this is one of their claims to fame. Bouy

Our Selections:

Here we tried the most amazing Blue Crab balls we’ve ever tasted. Don’t blame me for the name of the dish and get those dirty jokes out of your mind! Think of crab cakes about the size of a healthy hush puppy. They were exactly as we fans of crab cakes like them to be… more crab than bread crumbs! We also had the Coconut Fried Shrimp and they were crisp and delicious. The Mandarin Orange Sauce was a great accompaniment. The second time around we ordered the appetizers once more, but I also ordered the pulled pork sandwich, which was fantastic. Woody’s was the closest place to our home away from home, at only about 3 blocks. We loved the place! We recommend you stop by and say hi to the staff at Woody’s when you visit Pine Island. We think you’ll be glad you did!

Saltwater Smokehouse

Menuhttp://nebula.wsimg.com/ab421adf330ddeba807f9c480c608dfb?AccessKeyId=DF7F2D2E2BCA45BA76B8&disposition=0&alloworigin=1

This place will offer you much more than the appearance would suggest. The building is a small blue building with a dusty parking lot on the side of the main road running North/South across the island. You might not stop if somebody didn’t give you the heads-up. Heads-up!

Our Selections:

Surprise, we ordered Coconut Shrimp again as we so often do, and they did not disappoint. The BBQ was good, as were the sides of slaw and fries. I ordered a brisket sandwich plate and we really don’t remember what Michelle had there because the real star of the meal turned out to be the dessert! Although there are no desserts printed on the menu, they were offering a special of Apple Pie topped with vanilla ice cream, which was topped with candied bacon. Sound crazy to you? It was amazing!!!! We regretted only getting one to split between us. Do over?

Pine Island Getaway Cafe
5281 Doug Taylor Circle, St James City, FL 33956
(239) 283-3602

Menuhttps://www.facebook.com/Pine-Island-Getaway-Cafe-1021500157986400/

If you are looking for a great breakfast stop, this is your place! It is off the beaten path and it is small, but the line that forms soon after opening tells you that it is known and loved by the locals. We stopped by twice.

Our Selections:
Michelle is a pastry lover, so she was on cloud nine! She tried the chocolate croissants one day, and we both had a breakfast sandwich on a fresh roll on our second trip. The bread was so fresh and crusty I just wanted more! Most of the items are limited availability, so get there early for the best selection. Once they are gone for the day, that’s that!

No doubt there are quite a few other great places to try on Pine island, and if we get to go back to stay in Matlacha on the north end of the island, we’ll try to let you know!

Cary State Forest and Campground

Recently Jake and I spent a weekend at Cary State Forest and Wildlife Management Area. We’ve been to Cary before, but hadn’t really been all that impressed. At first glance, you might feel the same. Driving through the main roads, which are mostly sand, you’re likely to think the place is just young pine flat woods and scrub. This year, we found out that is not the case. One just needs to know where to look to find some beautiful woods. While it is true that the area is mostly pine and cypress bottoms, it is the transition zones between the mature pine and swampy areas that we really enjoyed. The cypress bottoms here are not as thick as I have seen in other swamps, and can be walked when dry. This was the case on the weekend we recently spent there. Find some of those transition areas between the two types of woods and you won’t be sorry. I found that once I knew what to look for we were able to find great spots that were open and provided great views.  These woods were different from any we normally spend time in, and we really enjoyed the novelty. As with most places off the beaten path, protect yourself from biting insects such as ticks and mosquitos and watch for venomous snakes.

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During rainy periods this would be a swamp bottom. 8 inches short on rain, and you can walk it.
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More of the bottoms.
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View of transition area. The pines got larger a little further in.
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View of transition area. We really loved this spot. You could have walked quite a distance through the pines. There were game trails crossing in all directions here.

There is always a possibility that you will see wildlife when you visit a forest. There is a healthy population of feral hogs at Cary, as well as deer, turkey, gopher turtles, etc. Watch for sows with piglets, as they can be very aggressive. The area hosts management hunts through the fall and spring but remains open to other uses. If you are hiking or spending time in the woods during hunt periods, it would be wise to wear some hunter orange. You can find some cool plants on your walk, like the Sundew carnivorous plants I there.

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Little piggies running the road.
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Fox tracks in the mud.
Cary Sundew
Beautiful Sundew specimen. One of Florida’s carnivorous plants.

Although we weren’t camping, Jake and I did check out the campground facilities, and everything appeared to be brand new. There are full shower and restroom facilities, along with powered and primitive campsites. Although I don’t recall reading anywhere that walk-up sites are available at the Cary campground, there was signage on some of the sites stating that they were walk-up sites available. All the camp sites were spacious relative to other camps I have seen and were well spaced offering a good deal of separation from the few fellow campers inhabiting the seven available spots. That weekend it looked like only two or three were taken. There is also a dump station on site. Campsite Welcome SignFee Area Sign

Primative Campsite
Primitive camp site.
Hook-up campsite
Site with full hook-up. Brand new concrete pads.

Michelle found a page on the web that talked about a little girl who haunts the forest and hangs out at the camp. Jake and I had to go check that out! Jake found her sitting on the bench in front of the restrooms. IMG_20181103_191522614She seemed nice. Pretty sure all that stuff about her killing people is nonsense. Or is it…

 

Chicken of the Woods (Southern Style) Laetiporus…cincinnatus and gilbertsonii var. pallidus

Okay, so this week I’m going to talk about what has become one of my favorite finds in the woods. Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll see them from quite a distance, and if you’re like me you’ll get a big smile on your face when you do!

At least two varieties occur in my area:

Laetiporus cincinnatus which usually grows at or near the roots of Live Oaks and causes butt or root rot.
Laetiporus gilbertsonii var. pallidus is said to be pale pinkish orange to nearly white and is considered common on dead oaks in the Gulf states. They typically grow higher on the tree in the form of overlapping shelves or brackets. These mushrooms also cause a brown rot. When I’ve found them, I’m pretty sure they have been on dead or dying Live Oaks. Dead oaks? For what it is worth I have seen what I believe to be examples of each within a mile or two of one another near my home in Northeast Florida.

The common name for this group of mushrooms is “Chicken of the Woods” and as mentioned above they seem to grow primarily on Live Oaks in Florida. Our Florida varieties of Chicken of the Woods can go from light yellow, to a much deeper yellow with hints of orange. The inside of the mushroom is white and has a stringy texture like chicken breast when cooked. I know people say lots of things taste like chicken, but seriously… these taste like chicken! I think Chicken of the Woods could make the most convincing vegetarian chicken tacos one could hope for. Unfortunately, mass production would be an issue, so I wouldn’t go out anytime soon looking for “COW” taco specials at your local eatery. Of course, if you are a forager and your local fast food place is a park, forest or property that allows collection, while holding the right trees, then get you some!

COW
The Chicken of the Woods from the pictures below getting the wok treatment.

The inner part of the mushroom closest to the tree can become tough or dry in age with a brittle, mealy texture. The outer edge of the mushroom is where the good stuff is found, so if you find them focus your efforts there! Of course, how much you can harvest from that outer edge depends on the size of the whole specimen, and they can get big. Many pounds of big. You’ll feel the difference between the inner portion of the mushroom and the outer edge when you find one for yourself. If you take only the soft outer edge with a sharp knife, you may be able to come back later for seconds if the conditions remain conducive for growth. If you don’t frequent an area often and you see one I vote for taking it if you are allowed, because if you don’t get it something else probably will. I can say with great confidence that you aren’t the only one in the woods that is looking to capitalize on this delicious resource. The mushrooms will become infested with maggots and/or beetles when the weather conditions are poor for mushroom growth, and I sometimes find these mushrooms with the outer two or three inches of the edges eaten away by squirrels when they are fresh. Squirrels giving us lessons in sustainability? Maybe. I don’t mind sharing with the squirrels, but I hate seeing great food go entirely to the bugs!

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It was growing at base of dead live oak and is a rosette, so should be cincinnatus.
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Nearly this entire mushroom was soft enough to eat!
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Notice two different colors of the Chicken of the Woods in this picture. Not all of the other mushrooms in the basket were edible, or desirable if technically edible.

David Arora states in Mushrooms Demystified that the Chicken of the Wood mushroom is one of the “foolproof four” – an unmistakable mushroom. I have his book and use it for reference, but I don’t know if I’d go that far because there are multiple varieties of chicken, and anything can happen. Then again, I don’t have my own book nor his years on knowledge about mushrooms, so… These are quite distinctive mushrooms so once you have identified them correctly once, you’ll probably be good to go.

According to Kuo on mushroomsexpert.com the group of mushrooms known as Chicken of the Woods are now known to contain at least five different varieties which can act as parasites on living trees or saprobes feeding on decomposing trees. Like bounty hunters in the old west, they’ll take them dead or alive. These mushrooms produce various forms of brown rot, and if you see it on your trees there is not much you can do but monitor the tree for safety hazards. I think you should assume that eventually large branches or possibly the whole tree will become unstable. Your own environmental situation will have to be considered when assessing safety concerns. If you decide that you can allow your tree to die a natural death, enjoy your harvests to come!

There are also northern varieties of Chicken of the Woods that look a bit different from our Florida varieties and I have zero personal experience with them, so I can’t really offer much on those. If you live in the Northeast I have seen it mentioned that you should be wary of Chicken mushrooms growing on conifers. If you live up there, I recommend doing research on that variety so that you recognize it when you see it.

Be safe and as with any edible wild plant or mushroom, eat only a small amount the first time you try. Only try mushrooms or other wild edibles you have researched and feel 100% confident on ID of, and always be sure that you have your specimen identified by an expert before you try it yourself. Even better if you can see them eat it themselves and live to tell you how it was! Occasionally people do show sensitivity to southern varieties of Chicken of the Woods. If you aren’t sensitive, you’re in for a treat! If you live in my area, and see what looks like Chicken of the Woods on your trees, I am happy to check it out for you!

Enjoy your hunt for Chicken of the Woods!

 

 

Reference:

Arora D. 1986. Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi (2nd edition). Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. ISBN 0-89815-169-4.

Kuo, M. (2017, November). The genus Laetiporus. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/laetiporus.htm

 

 

Tavernier, Florida, and the Upper Keys

 

When my wife and I met, neither of us was in a position that provided us a great deal of disposable income. When we became engaged, we knew that coming up with the money to get married would be challenging. As I’m sure many of you may know, there is really no such thing as getting married inexpensively once you decide to hold the ceremony somewhere other than a courthouse lobby.
My opinion from day one was that we should go to the Keys to get married, as we really didn’t have the money to get married at home and still afford to have a honeymoon. In my opinion combining the two in some fashion was the way to go and I felt I could afford to make it happen. Initially Michelle felt differently and wanted to marry close to home where she believed as many people could make it as possible, so we agreed that we could take a serious look at having the wedding near home. We looked at many venues, and all were well outside what we had available to spend if we also wanted to have a honeymoon trip. Decisions, decisions…
We decided to explore having our ceremony at Michelle’s grandparents’ home that had the space and a nice view, as well as the emotional bonus for the simple fact that it was her grandparents’ home. Over the first few weeks of planning my wife cried nearly every day (I have come to understand since then that this is common) as she tried to satisfy the opinions and suggestions of her fellow wedding planners. I became frustrated at seeing my wife crying so frequently and again pressed for a destination wedding. My thought was that this would reduce the size of the wedding somewhat, lower the overall expense, and still allow us to have a great wedding and amazing honeymoon. There will always be some people who can’t attend a wedding no matter where it is, and if you are unsure how many times you will be able to take such a trip I say that as a couple you do what is best for you during this special time in your life, and hope that everyone understands. After a few difficult discussions about what we could and could not afford and discussing whether the people who absolutely had to be there could be there we agreed to change direction and start looking more seriously at getting married in the Florida Keys.
To prevent a blog from becoming a novel, we settled on renting an amazing home in Tavernier, Florida on the bay side that was able to house us, our parents and the wedding party. The home was on a canal with access to the bay, had the space we needed for the wedding ceremony and had a great feel to it. We managed to have an amazing wedding thanks to help from Michelle’s parents and a couple of their best friends, along with an amazing vacation for about the same amount of money that the wedding alone would have cost us at home. Those memories will live on with us for the rest of our lives. Winner, winner chicken dinner!
Now with the back story complete, on to the reason we are writing this blog entry. We want to kick off our vacation destination and restaurant reviews now as we await our next camping trip in December. I hope you’ll find some reviews of the amazing restaurants we visited in Tavernier and the Keys useful, or maybe they will just remind you of the amazing times you spent there yourselves. If so, please feel free to comment! You may notice that we tend to be appetizer people. Both of us really like to have a variety of flavors available, and this allows us to satisfy our tastes. Coconut shrimp was a thing for us in the Keys, so if you like those, we may have a few places for you!

Anglers Cafe & Live Bait Islamorada – 90515 Old Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33070

Anglers Cafe Storefront

First, let’s talk about a little place called Anglers Café & Live Bait. Islamorada. Unless you fish, you would probably never see it despite driving right past it on your way through Tavernier. It’s a small place with a limited menu. The building is divided in half between the bait and tackle shop and diner. Customers can pass freely between the two when inside, and don’t let the idea of it being a bait shop throw you off. There are no foul odors or anything gross. All the bait is handled outside. There are just a few small tables to sit at on the diner side of the building. Since we were visiting early in the day we had the BLT’s. If you like mimosa’s, rumor has it that those are pretty good as well! The bread was fresh and crusty, and the lettuce and tomatoes were cool and crisp. We went back a few times for breakfast throughout that week before taking our boat out on the bay. The owners/operators were friendly and provided great service and a little free local fishing advice. We’ll certainly stop again if we go back to Tavernier.

Our Food Selection:

BLT – $6.99

MEAT Eatery & Tap Room – 88005 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036

MEAT storefront

 

MEAT, what can we say about this place? Want to know what they’re known for? MEAT! Yes, if you are a fan of some delicious, juicy, meaty goodness, this is the place for you! What’s that you say? You also enjoy fried food? Then oh my gosh, a day that involved a meal at MEAT would be a lucky day for you! Now to be honest I have never been a big fan of pimento cheese and burgers are not a food I crave very often, but this Inside-Out Juicy Lucy burger was A-Mazing! The cheese is stuffed inside the burger and the burger was cooked perfectly to order. The cheese mixing with the juicy burger was delicious! Being a fan of onion rings and bacon, they were in my opinion the perfect topper for this burger. You could add more, but why? Some things are great just the way they are, and outside of a dip in some ketchup I didn’t add anything else to mine. But you do you! The fries were crisp and tasty. I hate a soggy fry, and these were not at all soggy. We both enjoyed the flavor that little sprinkle of parmesan cheese provided.
The establishment has a selection of adult beverages, and of course sodas and tea. If you spend any time in Tavernier, this is a great choice for the meat loving crew! This is another one that we visited more than once. We ate in and picked up carry-out for the house on one occasion.

Our Food Selections:

Inside-Out Juicy Lucy Burger with fries on the side  – pimento cheese and bacon stuffed Angus burger topped with American cheese, lettuce and tomato served with house fries – $12.00
Truffled Bistro Fries with parmesan and rosemary a la carte – $7.50
Fried Onion Strings with beer cheese dipping sauce $4.50

Marker 88 – 88000 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33070Marker 88 Bouy

 

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Marker 88 was a beautiful place to have a meal. The bayfront tables were fantastic, and we loved the food. As with several of the other places we visited, we earned at least a couple of frequent flier miles with this place. The coconut shrimp was amazing. If you’re a fan of Bloodline on Netflix, you’ll recognize the scenery and tables at Marker 88. Michelle and I saw the exact table we sat at in one episode. We stopped here on the way back from Key West and picked up a carry out order to take out on the boat to eat as we watched the sunset carry us into one of our last nights in the keys. That night we were also treated to an amazing lightening show from a thunderstorm that was out over the Gulf Stream. It was such a great way to close out our week.

Our Food Selections:

Crab Cakes – $17.00
Hot Blue Crab dip – $16.00
Coconut Shrimp – $16.00

Hogfish Grill – 6810 Front St, Stock Island, FL 33040Cool Hogfish signsHogfish front

You’ll wonder where you’re going as you’re following your GPS to this hidden treasure. Luckily, they have signage to help you out! This isn’t in the upper keys, but we took a day trip to Key West and I imagine most people do the same so I’m sharing a place or two from the day trip that we really enjoyed. Hogfish is well off the beaten path in what I would describe as a keys fishing village. You’ll see lots of work trucks and some residential areas with flavor, but when you get to Hogfish, you’ll know it. The building is eclectic and seems perfectly suited to its location. Parking is slim, but we lucked out and found a spot right in front of the building as soon as we pulled up. Upon entry, it seemed as if there were more locals than we tourists, which is a good thing. We just had one appetizer at Hogfish. The fried Dragon Shrimp with special Dragon sauce and pineapple salsa. The shrimp was crispy, and the sauce was sweet and spicy. The food was great, and it was worth the trip off the main drag to get there.
On our way out, we stopped at their t-shirt stand and bought a few things, including a t-shirt for each of us. Michelle absolutely loved her Hogfish t-shirt, but unfortunately soon after returning home she accidentally splashed a small spot with bleach, and of course it was in the front where it was highly visible. I hated seeing her upset over her shirt so I checked the Hogfish website in hopes they would have an on-line store, and unfortunately, they did not. Unwilling to give up I called Hogfish a couple of times over the next few days until I was able to catch a manager there and asked if I could purchase a new shirt over the phone and have it mailed to our home. He agreed to help me out, sent me pictures of the shirts they had available (not the same ones they had when we were there previously), and accepted my payment over the phone. He even went out on his own time to mail the package to me. I am so appreciative of these guys. If you find yourself in the middle or lower Florida Keys, go check them out.

Our Food selection:

Fried Dragon Shrimp with special Dragon sauce and pineapple salsa – $13.95

What’s the Fish? Rolls and More – 90775 Old Hwy Unit 6, Tavernier

What's the Fish logo

This was a small location that was easy to miss if you weren’t looking. Don’t let the small size fool you. The flavor is anything but small. We split a blackened fish sandwich. While it was not blackened New Orleans style in a white-hot cast iron skillet, the blackening seasoning was flavorful, and the fish was cooked perfectly. We enjoyed a cold soda and our sandwich outside in the tiki area. It was a nice light lunch and the service was great which is as much the reason for our positive review as the tasty fresh food. Give them a shot if you are in town, and tell them we sent you. They won’t know us, but I’m sure they’ll appreciate it anyway!

Our Food Selection:

Fresh Catch Sandwich with coleslaw and fries – $17.00

Islamorada Fish Company – 81532 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036

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Nurse Sharks and tarpon

It was cool to watch the tarpon and Nurse sharks being fed right off the deck where the tables are located! The little spit of land that sticks out and is lit up at night is beautiful, and offers up some great photo opportunities.

Our Selections:

Neither of us really remembers what we had there. The fish tacos and crab cakes look familiar, but that’s about all we can say about the menu, except that we know we didn’t have a bad food experience and the view alone is a good reason to stop so we don’t mind sharing.

We could offer a few other suggestions of cool things to see, but exploring is half the fun so maybe it’s best we don’t. Food isn’t cheap down there, so at least we can point you in the direction of a few places that it just may be worth it. Enjoy!

1985 Coleman Newport Pop-up Camper Leak Repair

Repairs and MaintenanceColeman camper.jpgIt’s inevitable. If you own camping equipment, particularly the kind you sleep in, you’re going to eventually deal with a leak of some kind. Metal skins flex, sealants dry, and accidents happen. In our case, the camper is a 1985 Coleman Newport that I picked up to use as my home away from home on school weekends in Gainesville a few years ago. I picked the camper up for about $1700 and I paid $15 a night to camp. It was worth every penny! Had I stayed in hotels every weekend that I needed to be in Gainesville for class, the expense over two years would have totaled more than $8000. Not a bad savings! Now we use the camper for our family camping trips, and I am so happy that I bought this little Coleman camper!

That being said, the camper has had a couple of minor issues. Over the last year or two I have noticed little piles of wood dust around the corners just under the top where it rests when closed. A quick examination told me that whatever sealant they used under the corner caps was no longer working as designed, and is allowing water intrusion at the corners which is in turn slowly deteriorating the wooden structure inside. Given that this was previously owned by people who may or may not have done their own repair attempts, I was unsure what I would find when the caps were removed. The material appeared hard and dry, and upon removal of caps, it appeared that someone had used something along the lines of construction adhesive as a stop gap solution.

So before I even started I knew I needed sealant. I searched blogs, and saw various recommendations from caulk to various glues. Eventually I ran across the CORRECT method, which is to use what is called “putty tape”. The tape is a sticky, putty material separated by layers of paper. It comes in various lengths and widths, depending on the need. I purchased tape that was 1 inch wide and it was perfect for this job.

The repair process was as follows:

  • Remove screws from corner cap and place in spot where they will not be lost.
  • Use flat scraper to slowly work between corner cap and camper topper surface. In my case it is aluminum sheeting. Be careful here. The plastic may be brittle, and you don’t want to have to replace something that isn’t already broken.
  • Remove corner cap slowly.
  • Clean surfaces of inside of corner cap, and the newly exposed metal surface that will likely be covered with old dried out putty tape, and who knows what else. Keep the corner cap surface you are working on pressed against a flat hard surface so as to support the possibly brittle plastic as you scrape it. Be careful!
  • Use a stripper of your choice to get as much of the remaining old tape, caulk, etc. off of the surfaces as you can, then wipe clean with denatured alcohol if available. Use mineral spirits or thinner if not, but do clean the surface before placing new tape.
  • Place new tape. Watch spots where pieces over-lap to ensure you don’t leave gaps, especially near the top where water would run down into gaps, and subsequently into the area you are trying to protect.
  • Place small ink marks of some kind on camper just outside of screw holes where edge of corner caps will meet camper surface. This will help when you need to align the screw holes in the corner cap with the screw holes in the camper which are now covered over by the new take, and therefore can’t be seen through the screw holes in the cap. I didn’t do this, and it was more of a pain than it needed to be as a result.
  • Press the newly cleaned corner cap into place, being careful to line up the screw holes in the corner cap with the marks you made on the camper top shell. Test a screw to make sure it will start. If the holes are aligned then screw in snugly, but do not over tighten. The aluminum is soft, and the cap could crack.
  • Use a latex/rubber gloved hand, dip your finger in water and smooth out the area where the caps and roof material meet to improve the cosmetic appearance and ensure that all small holes are filled with material.
  • You’re done! Now repeat three more times.

If you have ever had to remove old caulk from a surface after it has cured, you will understand why caulk is not the material of choice for this job. It is horrible to remove if you need to do additional repairs down the road, doesn’t play well with paint (which the camper also needs badly) at all, and is also a bit messy, especially when compared to this putty tape. If you own a camper, you need this product! I paid about $15 for the role I have. It may or may not finish all four corners. A must have for anyone with a camper.