Monday, February 11, 2019

The Beach, A Reserve and exploring the Suburban Jungle | A Fun Weekend in Florida

What is it with our quick trips to Florida that end up being in frigid weather? We shivered while visiting Universal Studios, and this last weekend was down jacket and winter hat weather, instead of the shorts and flip-flops that we'd hoped for. When we landed on Friday, the sun was out and the beach was calling to us. By the time we picked up J., made a Trader Joe's run, checked into our hotel and took the shuttle to the beach, the sun was behind the clouds and the cold weather had settled in for the Weekend.

To J.'s credit, this didn't deter him one bit. As we approached the white-capped ocean waves, J. announced to me that despite the sand being dry here, he knew that if he dug a bit he could find water. And that's what he did. And sure enough, the water he forecasted appeared. 45 minutes later, he had excavated a nice size 'lake,' and he was having a ball. After that, he made a few sand angels and we played a bit with some slow-motion video capture of him destroying some sand creations. This is how I want to see the beach. Heck, this is how I want to see life. Not whether the experience matches what the brochure promises, but simply to find joy in the now. Even if that means getting sand in your hair.

Saturday morning, we hit up the nearby Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, known more compactly as the GTM Reserve. We entered at the Guana River Dam, which let us snap picks of a heap of sea birds. There's also an impressive visitor's center there, which along with educational resources provided a nice place for us to warm up and use the bathroom.

Further on into the reserve, we started our hike proper. A short distance into the hike we did a bit of geocaching, which was fun, though I was disappointed that the container we found wasn't big enough to store a trackable tag. We then did about 4 miles of hiking on the well marked trails. We enjoyed wandering through the palms and live oaks, and were surprised to chat it up with an older couple only to find out that they too were originally from Rochester, NY. But the big treat of the hike was having two armadillos cross our paths. I'd never seen an armadillo in the wild (heck, I'm not sure I've seen one in the zoo) and they're terrifically interesting creatures. Their 'armor' makes them look like a DOD project gone awry.

I think this may have been J.'s longest hike with us, or at least longest one without complaining. So now it's time to start planning a proper backpacking trip!

In the afternoon J. and I had a bit of programming time. I'd brought a Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit with me for us to experiment with. The kit involves programming a Bluetooth 'wand.' I'm planning a full review on the kit as it left quite the impression on me, but I'll report here that we spent hours coding it and both J. and I really enjoyed it.

Sunday morning, I'd hope to swing by another geocache and drop off the trackable tag I'd hoped to deposit into the first cache we found. Leaving such a tag means that someone can come along and pick it up and move it to a new cache. It's a way of continuing our adventure, even after we're home and back to our regular routine. Alas, we had a 'DNF' (did not find) on this cache and had to register strike 2 in my hopes of dropping off the trackable.

At lunch, I was telling J.'s mom about our geocaching adventure and she asked how it worked. Checking for nearby goecaches, I realized there were some only a couple hundred yards away. Rather than tell her about it, why didn't I show her? So after lunch, the whole lot of us set out on a geocaching adventure. Mind you, we're in a suburban shopping center, not some secluded woods. The first cache was a micro one, and to my surprise we found it in just a few minutes. This was fun, but because the cache was so small, there was no loot for the kids to pick up. It was cool, however, to see how a geocache could be hidden in such plain sight.

Cache number two was around the back of a closed down Gander Mountain super store. Judging from the pile of beer cans, this is a preferred teenager hang out. With all the trash around, how would we possibly find it? And yet, using the hint and a bit of perseverance we prevailed. This cache was even more cleverly hidden than the last and was big enough to house some goodies for the kids. And I was finally able to drop off my trackable. The third cache brought us back to a busier part of the shopping center. This cache was an even more improbable hide than the previous ones. Seriously, I can't imagine how the person who planted the cache figured this hide out. So cool.

And there it was, the best string of geocache finds I'd ever had. Who knew suburban sprawl could deliver where reserves and parks failed?

What a fun weekend!

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