Monday we woke up to another beautiful day, sunny and upper 70s. We had no idea where we were going so headed out to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm an hour early. We found it easily so decided to drive around and see the sights. Right across the street was the entrance to Anastasia State Park. We drove back to check it out and found they charged an $8 entry fee. Hmmm. Probably worth it, but we had less than an hour before we were supposed to meet Lisa. There was a free trail at the park entrance so we hiked back into the woods. I don't think I ever stopped smiling at the live oaks covered in moss, all the palms, the green, the flowers, the tiny lizards, the EVERYTHING! We eventually came to a small pond and were busy watching and unsuccessfully trying to identify several warblers when Meghan looked down into the water and realized more than a dozen turtles were stalking us. I assume they were hoping for food, but it was really funny to watch them all looking up at us.
We met Lisa at 10am and toured the Alligator Farm. The place was awesome! Their collection of crocodilians is impressive, but what we truly loved was the huge swamp area that was teaming with gators all bellowing and calling to one another. There were probably hundreds of gators of every size everywhere, both in and out of the water. Very, very cool! Even cooler were all of the native birds. Different herons were everywhere. A huge tree was filled with dozens of nesting great egrets. The egrets were displaying and mating and building nests. I would LOVE to return when the chicks hatch out! I imagine the gators snack well for a few weeks. Meghan had never seen roseate spoonbills in the wild so was thrilled to see several. We watched an educational presentation and then left the park to find some lunch.
We ate at a taco place run by a couple of local surfer dudes and then headed back to the state park and paid the $8 entry. It was completely worth it! We first stopped at a beach covered with tiny crabs. We watched the crabs for a while and then went to another area where we walked on a long boardwalk to the real ocean with crashing waves, surfers and lots and lots of brown pelicans. Did I mention how much I love pelicans? I counted at least 50 :) We finished our state park experience with another hike on a forest trail. We didn't see too many animals other than some tiny lizards and a few squirrels, but many of the trees were labeled and some had informational plaques, so we actually learned quite a bit about the plants.
We said goodbye to Lisa and sadly headed out of Florida and North toward home. We stopped at a couple of junky souvenir stands and just had a fun time looking at the birds and scenery on the way. Our plan was to meet Meghan's aunt at Zoo Atlanta the next morning, but it was pouring rain and she cancelled. Unfortunately, we didn't have a backup plan of somewhere else to meet so decided to blow off the zoo and head on home. By the time we made it through the horrible (but not as horrible as Chicago) traffic and another two hours to Chattanooga, we decided to go ahead and stop at the Tennessee Aquarium before powering our way home. That place was awesome! I was impressed with everything, but the highlight of my day was watching an octopus move all over its enclosure and check out some plastic toys its keeper had put in as enrichment. I've seen lots of octopi in aquariums, but they're always jammed into a corner or under a rock. It was So. Cool. to see this one moving all over the place. Other aquarium highlights were the seahorse exhibits (especially the foot-long leafy sea dragon), the many turtle exhibits and the floor to ceiling aquarium with views on every level from above to below. I had been told over and over how cool this place is, but I guess I had to see it for myself to understand!
We took turns driving and napping and somehow managed to arrive home around 11pm. It was an incredibly fun trip. We did five zoos/aquariums in five days (six in six days if you include Peoria,) went to two beaches and stopped at several places to check out the wildlife. We basked in the sun and warmth and were beyond happy to be among old friends and flowers and green everywhere. I could not possibly have had a better travel companion. We had pretty much the exact same interests and wanted to do all of the same things. It was a good, good time.
That said, it's good to be home! I think Duncan has been physically touching me for the past 12 hours. Tiger braved the evil dog to sit on my lap and purr and was very happy when I brushed the um, Spaghettios? out of his coat. The kids were asleep when I got home so it was fun to surprise them this morning. I need to clean out my car and unpack and do laundry, but I'm exhausted and just want to veg in front of the computer and maybe take a nap. I don't have to go back to work until Sunday so I guess I CAN. Yay!