Happy New Year from the Florida Keys

Happy New Year! We’ve been continuing to bask in the warmth of the southern Florida winter weather. Here in the Keys we’ve enjoyed temperatures in the 70s and 80s while thinking about our friends and family in the Midwest and in Prescott who are enduring typical winter weather.

We know we are so lucky to be here, especially since finding an RV site is so difficult in the Keys. We had to work to piece together our reservations this time of year. Thus, we’ve jumped around a few times over the last few weeks.

We were able to book four nights at the newest KOA around. The Sugarloaf Key/Key West KOA was severely damaged in Hurricane Irma in 2017 and has been under renovation ever since. The newly opened, completely reconstructed campground features a beautiful pool, a pub, full service marina, and all new facilities.

We kayaked right from the resort, and Steve got in some good fishing in the channel next to camp. We also took advantage of the easy-to-access Overseas Heritage Trail to get in some good runs and bike rides along the water. The dogs enjoyed the sunshine too!

New Years Eve took us to nearby Mangrove Mama’s for a drink and then back to the KOA to enjoy a local band. As usual, we didn’t make it to midnight but it was still a fun evening with lots of festivities to enjoy.

After our time at the KOA we drove about 20 minutes north along the Overseas Highway to one of Florida’s premier state parks. Getting a campsite at Bahia Honda is like winning the lottery and we scored four nights. With some of the few beaches in the Keys and breathtaking views, this is the kind of place you never want to leave. 

A highlight of the park is the broken bridge, a remnant of the park’s beginnings when Henry Flagler’s railway arrived on the key in 1908 en route to Key West. The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane swept a train off the tracks, destroyed miles of rail lines, and seriously damaged the bridge. The railroad never ran again. The bridge found new life when they laid a concrete slab on top and opened it to cars. Now it’s a picturesque viewpoint from which to watch the sunset and a silhouette that makes for great photos.

Like at the KOA, we never left Bahia Honda while we were there, except to run the trail and to kayak the bay. Steve did some good fishing under the bridge pylons. If we can get reservations here again, we’ll jump on them!

We headed back towards Key West after this incredible stay and will report on that time in the next post. Spoiler alert: it includes appearances from our friends Tom and Nancy and a few more spectacular sunsets.

Gulf State Park – One of the Best!

In our travels over the past few years we’ve made a point of staying at state parks. We’ve found them to have more interesting features (trails, lakes, views) while being less expensive than private campgrounds. Most state parks are great but we think we’ve found the very best!

Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama impressed us from the first minute and we were sorry when the time came to move on.

Located on the Gulf of Mexico along the relatively small swatch of land that is the Alabama coastline, Gulf State Park encompasses two miles of white sand beach and over 28 miles of paved trails and boardwalks. Oh, and they have one of the best campgrounds we’ve seen, with nearly 500 full hook up sites.

During our 11 days at the park we checked out just about every trail (some multiple times) and met some of the local wildlife along the way. The park is home to deer, armadillos, snakes (including one that visited our campsite), alligators, bald eagles, gopher tortoises, and much more.

It was easy to just head out and cover 10-15 miles on the bike, something we haven’t found at other parks we’ve visited. With no traffic to deal with, biking was a blast! Along the way there are benches that offer encouragement, pay respects, or recognize those who have contributed to the park.

Steve got in some long runs in preparation for the Space Coast Marathon next week and I even got in some runs. Paths like this made it easy to just keep going!

On a few days we took our Bote kayaks out to the nearby protected bay and paddled the bayous and waterways. The weather was a perfect 68-75 degrees the entire time we were there.

Gulf State Park also has plenty of amenities, many of which we never got around to using. There’s a long fishing pier, a swimming pool, a nature center, restaurant, and lots more. This is the kind of place you could just keep coming back to.

We also used the time take care of business like getting an oil change, buying a hoist for the generator, and getting a pedicure. Our days here were full but leisure-filled with no rush to get anywhere or do anything in particular.

Several times we ventured east to the Florida/Alabama border and one of our favorite bars, the Florabama. We visited this legendary watering hole and music venue last year and loved it. Gulf State Park is just about seven miles away, so we had to stop in for some music a few times while in the area.

Mostly we just enjoyed being in a beautiful place, doing the things we love to do.

We’re now in Destin, FL to pay a visit to the headquarters of Bote. We love these kayaks so much we had to see where they came from and pick up a few accessories. The sunsets here are pretty spectacular too!

We’ll post another update once Steve’s next race is over. Cape Canaveral, here we come!

Theodore Roosevelt and the Maah Daah Hey

It’s a little out of the way compared to other western national parks, but we highly recommend a trip to Medora, North Dakota to explore the town, its history, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). We spent six days in Medora and loved every minute. The Maah Daah Hey Trail Runs brought us here to begin with but the scenery, the park, and Teddy Roosevelt’s story kept us enthralled.

To continue Steve’s pursuit of running a marathon in all 50 states, we made the Maah Daah Hey (MDH) Trail marathon our first priority.  The MDH trail runs a total of 144 miles from the north unit through the south unit of TRNP. The trail markers for the MDH is a turtle, which symbolizes patience, determination, and steadfastness, all of which are required when you run on this trail.

Steve ran the 27 mile race fast enough to win his age group. Yep, he beat all the other guys aged 50-59! I ran the 10K, which was closer to seven miles, through the beautiful and rugged Badlands. The race itself was enough of a draw but there was so much more!

TRNP, the only national park named after a U.S. president, was established to honor his contribution to conservation, having preserved and protected an estimated 230 million acres of land including 18 national monuments, five national parks, 150 national forests, and dozens of federal reserves. As national park geeks, we really like Teddy!

The park itself includes three units covering over 70 miles. Roosevelt ranched in this area in the 1880s and artifacts from his time are on display at the visitor center, including rifles and ranch clothing. We immersed ourselves in all things Teddy while we were here and enjoyed seeing his original cabin and the land he loved. 

In the park itself we drove the South Unit’s 36-mile scenic drive and took in the park’s numerous prairie dog towns, numerous bison, and the park’s herd of wild horses. In the North Unit, we took the 14-mile scenic drive and learned about the unique rock formations called cannonball concretions, created by erosional forces. The badlands are rugged, desolate, and yet, beautiful in many ways. 

The town of Medora is a living tribute to our 26th president. In fact, much of the neat town and its attractions are run by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. We attended two afternoon shows that paid tribute to T.R. and taught us about his impact on Medora. He came here to find solace after the death of his first wife and his mother on the same day. His ranching days here were short-lived, but his love of North Dakota endured. 

The Medora Gospel Brunch is also worth checking out when you visit Medora. In fact, all of the entertainment in town was top-notch. High quality singers and musicians, polished re-enacters, and New York-level productions. We were really impressed.

The star of the Medora entertainment scene is the Medora Musical which has been running since 1965. Set in a striking outdoor amphitheater with sweeping views of the badlands, the musical pays tribute to Medora’s history and the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt.

With a mix of classic country music and original tunes, the company sings, dances, and rides with high energy for a full two hours. In our second row seats, we had a great view of the action.  The Medora Musical is a not-to-miss event in Medora.

Of course we went back out on the Maah Daah Hey trail a bit on our bikes and just enjoyed being in this unique place. Beautiful views, a well-groomed trail, and sunshine always make for a good day.

We hope to return in 2025 once the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library is opened.