Monday, August 25, 2014

Ortona South COE, Lake Okeechobee Waterway, Florida

Our plan was to visit the Keys after Orlando. To do so, we didn't want to go there directly. That said, we stopped for a week in St. Lucie then headed west towards Fort Myers for a week before heading back towards the Keys. The Corps of Engineers has a park on the west side of Lake Okeechobee so that's where we headed. Rumor had it that this particular park was in the middle of nowhere but we thought that might be fun. Here are the pics....

Leaving St. Lucie, we headed west on Hwy 76, south on 98 and west on Hwy 80. We thought we would be able to see the Lake and anticipated driving around the perimeter of the lake later in the week. Unfortunately, there is a dirt berm that surrounds the Lake so it's not visible from the roadway.

There are very few cities along this route and I developed a small glitch with the coach. My warning light came on indicating water in the fuel. Water in a diesel is not a good thing. I had to stop twice to purge the system before I was able to extinguish it. We completed the trip with no further issues.

We passed many fields of sugar cane. I thought this sign was really appropriate.

Finally on Hwy 80, the road opened up and traffic moved well. You can see the dirt berm on the right of this picture. This berm surrounds the entire lake. Because the lake is very shallow, it's prone to major fluctuations during a hurricane. The City of Lake Okeechobee on the north shore has suffered major damage and loss of life, so they constructed the berm as a life saving measure.

Once we turned off Hwy 80 our road became somewhat narrower. I was glad there was no other traffic. Two 15 mph turns later, we were almost to the campground.

Ortona Lock Campground is on the Okeechobee waterway and is part of the same water system as the St. Lucie Lock and Dam. As such, one may only stay a total of 14 days total and any of the three campgrounds on the waterway. The front campground was open but the back one was closed for the season.

Checking in and getting our site assigned. All the sites on this end of the campground are on the waterway. Large spacious sites with ample room and lots of tropical vegetation.

This is a picture of the rear campground. The locks are on the left and a river runs on the right. Each site has 50amp service and water. There's a dump station as you exit. Each site is a waterfront site.

Shortly after setting up the coach, we had a rain shower come through. Originally this was a double rainbow but then it simply grew and became a complete arch. My camera's lens could not capture the entire arch but it went from ground to ground.

Taken at sunset from our site as the sun set in the west over the river canal. The fencing you see in the foreground is a fishing pier.

Another day, another sunset. I had to put down my fishing pole to take this picture. Just outside out coach.

Ahhh! Life is good!

While looking for a good place to fish I spotted this tortoise trying to get some sun. He stayed there for over an hour.

A Florida egret paid us a visit. I think he thought I was going to get all the fish. Ha Ha....silly bird....I got skunked!
We went out to dinner for our anniversary.  Perfect and Delicious!

The Breakers Hotel ... Palm Beach, Florida

While we were traveling through Palm Beach, we discovered a beautiful hotel called The Breakers which sits overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Originally built in 1896 by oil and railroad magnate Henry Flagler, it was designed to accommodate travelers on his Florida railway. It occupies 140 beachfront acres. The original wooden hotel was consumed by fire in 1903 and was rebuilt and reopened in 1904. Rooms started at $4.00/night and included three meals a day. Motorized vehicles were prohibited on the grounds, which also included a 9 hole golf course. The second hotel caught fire again in 1925, twelve years after Henry Flagler's death, when a curling iron was accidentally left on. The new 550 room hotel was rebuilt and modeled after the Villa Medici in Rome, Italy. Built, using over 1200 workers, it reopened on December 29, 1926. This hotel inspired the famed Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba. The hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Here's a glimpse inside this beautiful hotel.

Approaching the hotel entrance, you're met by a gate guard who verifies your business at the hotel. You're then directed to a separate parking lot. Only authorized hotel vehicles are allowed at the entrance.

We parked in a small parking lot near the entrance and toured the grounds which were spectacular and impeccably manicured.

Entering the hotel, we walked past the concierge's desk and entered a side foyer. To the left of this hall was a large bar area with luxurious seating areas.

Even the bathrooms were spotless and exquisite. They had no paper towels, only fine linen. That is all solid oak wood.

 This is one of the hotel's spacious dining areas. It also doubles as a meeting room. Note the super big television screen in the back.

The hotel surrounds a center piece garden and fountain. The statuettes appeared to be gold plate.

Every room in the hotel would have a view of either the fountain, one of the backside bodies of water or the vast Atlantic Ocean. 

The architecture of the hotel is inspiring. As noted previously, this hotel was modeled after the Villa Medici in Rome. Note the four balconies on the upper right. These provide views of the ocean.

I wanted to go upstairs and check out the rooms and views but we never did. Instead, we visited the fountain area for a bit and then visited some of the fine shops they had on site.
This is the entrance fountain leading into the hotel

As we left the hotel, it was obvious this was a very private upscale neighborhood. Check out the height of the hedges surrounding all of the homes. These are not fences but rather large hedges. Very similar to Beverly Hills, 90210.


We decided to cruise around and take a look at some of the nearby homes. This one was on the market for a mere $32 million dollars. It has 6 bedroom/10 baths and is a mere 11,000 square feet.

It does come with a spectacular ocean view.

I love views of skylines over the water. This one is of West Palm Beach near the Flagler museum.
This is where you go when you need some work done around the home, and there's no Home Depot

West Palm Beach, Florida

Today was a tourist day. We headed to Vero Beach and then south all the way to West Palm Beach. Our goal was to stay as near the water as possible. Having spent much of our time along the coast of California in Newport Beach, we are used to roads like Pacific Coast Highway, (PCH) and Hwy 1 which run with an unobstructed views of the ocean, the beach and the sands. We were hoping Florida would provide a similar experience. What we found were most of the beaches were occupied by high rises, homes and in some instances, run down houses filled with abandoned cars and trash. A little south of Vero Beach the town of Stuart appears to be a more vibrant and more modern city. You could sense an air of excitement about the town as you drove through. Farther down still, in Palm Beach and West Palm we were met with more upscale housing, wider, cleaner streets and more diversity. That said, we still had to seek out the beaches and the sands. Small narrow roads dipped between huge houses offering parking for maybe a dozen cars. From there it was a short walk to the beach. We were hoping for a leisurely drive along the beach but were given a hectic drive through hotels and businesses with only glimpses of the beach and ocean.While we have lots more of Florida to see, I'm hoping to see more of the Atlantic as we head up the coast in a few weeks.

We found this small secluded beach outside Stuart in a place called Hutchinson Island. The ocean was calm and the beach nearly deserted. Beautiful area.

A fishing boat was anchored just off shore but this stretch of beach was completely deserted.

As I stated earlier, most of the area along the beaches are occupied by homes or hotels. This beautiful home was adjacent to the small parking lot available for beach goers. It was like having your own private beach.

Leaving Vero Beach, we proceeded south on Hwy A1A. In this picture the ocean is off to the right side of these high rise hotels and condos. I can only imagine the spectacular views offered from their rooms.

Hwy A1A slips along the coast between the ocean and several bays with the mainland to the west.

We started the day under fairly cloudless skies, but a storm was certainly brewing in the distance.

We stopped at a very nice restaurant on the boardwalk near Hobe Sound. I took the time to do a quick selfie !
The weather was holding but still appeared threatening.

As we caught up again with Hwy A1A, we drove east again to catch the ocean. The tree canopy here made the road look like a tunnel.

Just one of the many canals and inlets that we crossed.

On the inland side of Hobe Sound is the Jonathan Dickson State Park. We wanted to see their campground so we stopped in to visit. The park is huge and beautiful. They have two campgrounds, one inland a ways which is great for small rigs and tents. The outer one is newer and caters to any size rig. They have full hookups.

This walkway goes to the Hobe Lookout which you can see in the background on top of the 'mountain'.

The top of Hobe Mountain is the highest point in Florida, south of Lake Okeechobee rising 86' above sea level.

This park encompasses what was once Camp Murphy. Here, in 1942 the Army trained it's servicemen on the use of radar. It accommodated 854 officers and 5,752 enlisted men. The camp had close to 1000 buildings including a bank, movie theater and bowling alley. It was decommissioned in 1944 after the war and given to the State of Florida in 1947. It was opened as a State Park in 1950.

Continuing down the coast we arrived in Palm Beach. This portion of Florida A1A runs alongside the beach. There is a park running the length of this stretch of roadway, all with beach access.

Coming into West Palm Beach, we again moved inland and the high rise hotels and condos again dominated the shoreline. The streets were very wide and extremely clean with manicured plants and greenery.

Some of the boats anchored in the bay while crossing the bridge from Palm Beach Shores.
This statue stands watch over Singer Island welcoming all visitors.

St. Lucie Corps of Engineers Park, St. Lucie, Florida

We decided to visit the Keys, but before we headed that way we wanted to stop and visit other parts of Florida. Rather than take the short route from Orlando, we figured we'd stop at St. Lucie on the 'east coast' then cross over to the 'west coast' and work our way down back to the 'east coast' in Key Largo. Presented on this page are pictures of the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, COE park.

The St. Lucie Lock and Dam controls a portion of the St. Lucie canal, which is part of the Lake Okeechobee waterway in eastern Florida.

The relatively small campground consists of three waterfront sites, three waterfront tent sites and  six off water campsites. There is a bath house with showers, a butterfly garden and an information center located on site. We secured a waterfront site for a week.

There are also four boat docks with hookups for overnight guests. Being right on the water has the advantage of being able to fish right from your front porch. While not shown in this picture, we put up our screen room off the shelter and could enjoy the outdoors without the skeeters and 'no see ums'.

The lock operates seven days a week. Boaters call ahead and enter the lock up or down stream. The lock then fills or empties allowing the vessel to continue it's journey up or down stream. It's close proximity to the campground allows you to sit on your front porch and watch the action. You also can walk over to the locks and get an up close and personal view of it's operation.

Once the vessel is inside the lock, the gates open slightly allowing the 'high' water to enter the lock, floating the boat to the desired water level so it can continue.  Any size vessel is able to use the lock at no charge.

The water was pretty ugly, but we've found that to be pretty much the norm east of the Mississippi. West Coaster's are spoiled.

This photo and the one below were taken at sunset from our front door. This is an example of why we appreciate and use COE parks when available..