Sunset on the Gulf of Mexico

Mike and Danny splash around on Clearwater Beach, Florida; June 22,2006

The first full day of summer concluded with a red sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. Almost oblivious to the show, Mike, Danny and Chris enjoyed the sand and surf until it was too dark to differentiate the sky from the water. A short walk to Pier 60 followed, where we browsed the merchandise for sale and watched the street performers during Sunsets at Pier 60. The large playground next to the pier kept the kids busy for over an hour.


Unfortunately, the owner of our favorite old breakfast diner has passed away. Veli Arif (pictured on the left) died this week. I guess he just wasn't the same after he closed Veli's Kofy Kup in Oak Lawn. We used to drive over 50 blocks each Sunday morning to have breakfast at Veli's. Veli would always greet us warmly and walk us to our seats. The diner was always packed for breakfast, and it seemed like you knew everyone around you even though you never met them before.

Veli's obituary.


See my January Post


Egret hunting near a breakwater on Clearwater Beach, Florida

Kapok Tree Inn ...Today

A couple of months ago, I posted some photos taken in the 1970's of the Kapok Tree Inn of Clearwater, Florida. You can see the post here.
Since the Kapok Tree building was taken over by Sam Ash Music, the gardens are still in existence and used for parties and weddings. Last month, I was able to visit the Kapok Tree gardens and was pleasantly surprised - they looked better than they did about five years ago, but nothing compares to the way they looked in the 60's and 70's.

I have to say the statues and fountains show signs of aging such as staining and wear; they've taken on the look of the old world and actually look pretty good. The marble columns and floors also have the antique look and have worn well. The gardens don't look too bad, but could stand a little TLC by someone who really knows gardening, but overall, the place is still nice. It kind of reminds me of a person's garden that was once fantastic but they grew old and couldn't do much work in the garden anymore. After 20 years you stop by for a visit and it isn't what it once was, yet it still has great "bones." A few days of work and it could be great again.
At the front of the building, the Kapok Tree still stands. It seems to have lost a large bough and from the smashed marble benches and railing below, I'll bet it fell with a bang. I noticed some construction equipment in the area, so I'm hoping the smashed items are going to be fixed soon. If Sam Ash Music (or whoever owns the building) would restore the broken items and just pay a bit more attention to manicuring the gardens and cleaning the empty paper cups from the fountains, this place would look fantastic again.

There's always hope.

Fort DeSoto

Fort DeSoto Park, just outside of St. Petersburg Beach, Florida is another great place to visit for a trip back in time - to the Spanish-American War. This fort was constructed to guard the entrance to Tampa Bay, yet not a single shot was fired in defense in all the years the fort was manned.

During WWII, the island on which the fort sits, as well as a few others, were used by the US for bomb practice. Each time I visit, I get knocked back into the times when soldiers wore wool uniforms in the Florida sun, and fought a relentless enemy - the mosquito.

You can walk through the fort and on top of it. From the water, the fort appears to be a hill of sand with a few palm trees on it, but behind it are four mortars capable of sending a shell the weight of a Volkswagen over three miles!

There are lots of things to do at this park, hiking, biking, camping, fishing and swimming on what was named Florida's best beach of 2005.

There are tales of hauntings at this fort, and in the fort, one does get a strange feeling while walking through the dark, concrete rooms. Almost every time I visit, a distant thunderstorm adds random "booms" to the quiet sounds of birds and waves - like distant explosions from a battle that never happened.

I don't believe in ghosts, but I have to admit one rather chilling thing did happen at the Fort in 1995. I was walking with my wife along the outside of the fort, right next to the entrances to the various rooms when we heard the muffled conversations of a crowd of people coming from inside one of the rooms. We decided to peek in to see what was going on inside. A chill ran down our spines when we discovered we were the only two people within hundreds of yards of the fort. It wasn't until a few years later that we read about the supernatural activity at the fort. Somehow I'm a believer in supernatural activity at Fort DeSoto, somehow a sound of a crowd reverberated in the fort...but ghosts - no such thing!

Caladesi Island State Park

Right next to Clearwater Beach is Caladesi Island State Park. In the mid to late 1980's, a hurricane connected the state park to Clearwater Beach, so if you're crazy enough to walk along the shore from the south end of the beach you'll run into it. It's got to be a 4 mile walk in the sand one way (if not more) so I always have to give myself enough time to get there and back. About 3/4 of the way there, you notice the lack of builings and people and finally you arrive in "The real Florida."


The beach narrows due to the dense vegetation

As much as I don't like to lay on the beach, this is one of my favorite places to visit - no motels, no crowds just natural beauty to explore. There are three miles of trails winding through the island beneath the Sabal Plams and Pine trees, but you'll have to watch out for the occasional Diamondback Rattlesnake. (I've never seen one).


View of a path leading to the beach

According to the guidebooks, the only way you can get to Caladesi Island is by boat. You can pick up a ferry from the Dunedin Causeway. It's a fun ride, but I really like the walk from Clearwater Beach.

Day Two on the Road

The second and final day of driving took us from Ashburn, Georgia to Clearwater Beach, Florida.
Right down the street from the motel we stayed overnight was the world's largest peanut, a monument to the peanut growers of Georgia. I remember seeing this next to interstate 75 when I was a child; it was one of those landmarks we would search for along the way (and continue to do so today). It's interesting to see how many things have remained and how they've changed.
Since it was right next to the road, we stopped for a picture or two, then on to our next stop in Lake Park, Georgia - a $3 book sale where we always find some cool books.
They must advertise this bookstore for 100 miles north and south, it's the "King Frog" or "Rock City" of southern Georgia. At least they have some good books.
After a few more hours of driving, we'd arrive on Clearwater Beach!

Lookout Mountain, Tennessee

The first day of our annual trip to Florida began at 6:00 am on June 15th as we pulled out of the local Dunkin' Donuts with two coffees, three chocolate milks, and a dozen donuts. This year we were planning on driving from Chicago to Ashburn, Georgia as we have done in the past. That's about 870 miles, a good distance for a single day of driving.

Just after dinner- a few miles west of Chattanooga, Tennessee, we decided to take a little detour to Lookout Mountain. A couple of years ago the mountain was covered in fog as passed, so this year since it was clear, we drove up. I remember a place called Point Park that had great views of the valley and memorials to the battles of Lookout Mountain.

We arrived and parked a couple of blocks away on a residential street. Beautiful homes lined the road, most with views of the valley. We arrived at the park and began to explore the cannons, panoramic views and monuments. We were the only five people in the park-my kind of place!

A view of the Tennessee River from the top of Lookout Mountain (elevation 2392 feet)

The views are great and it is said you can see seven states from some points on the mountain.
With all of the Civil War era cannons around, it's easy to slip back in time to the Civil War era and imagine what it was like for the soldiers to keep watch and fight on this plateau.

Mike aiming the cannon!

The kids enjoyed being able to see an entire city from above. They began picking out landmarks along the interstate below so they could turn around when we passed the landmark and look up at the mountain to find Point Park.

The kids look out over Chattanooga at sunset

We left the park just as the sun went down, and prepared for our three to four hour drive to Ashburn, GA. We drove down the narrow, twisting two land road to the foot of the mountain and picked up I-24 east. As we drove east on 24 we hit the landmark the kids and I picked out from the top of the mountain (a yellow billboard next to the river). They turned and searched for the mountain and then for the stone building where they stood previously scanning the valley below. Christopher was able to find it and couldn't believe how long it took us to drive to the little yellow dot we picked out in the valley.

Fun on the 4th!


Tommy waiting for the village fireworks to start.
3 second time exposure

Happy 4th of July!

Hope you all have a great 4th!