Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Some kids may grown up singing "Twinkle, twinkle, little star", but ever since I can remember, my refrain has been more like "Twinkle, twinkle, little shell!"  I have had a lifelong interest in shells, so when I read that my favorite group travel supplier---Road Scholar ( www.roadscholar.org )---had a program on Sanibel Island that fit in with open dates on my calendar, I was eager to sign up!  The program had the title "Beautiful Sanibel Island and the SW Florida Coast #20899.

Although I have not traveled much in Florida, I have perused enough travel magazines to know that Sanibel Island is one of the few geographic locations that has a "body position" named after it!  It is called the "Sanibel Stoop", and is illustrated in this photo.  The name derives from the often-seen posture of people along the beaches of Sanibel Island.  They are "stooping" over to pick up/examine some of the myriad of seashells that are to be found on the beaches of Sanibel Island.

was out before sunrise at the beach, located just steps from my hotel room, and quickly saw that there were dozens of folks already out combing the beaches for seashell treasures.  They were SERIOUS shellers, as evidenced by their use of flashlights to examine every inch of sand.  Each shell picked up has to be examined closely before putting it in your bag, because it is ILLEGAL to gather up the shells that still have a live critter in them.  They are to be returned to where you found them.  You can check out the islands' website ( www.sanibel-captiva.org ) to find out additional shell collecting guidelines.  

Each morning of the program, my pre-daylight beach stroll would have me ending up in the lovely restaurant of our resort, where I could enjoy the sun rising over the Gulf of Mexico horizon.  The lodging for this Road Scholar program was the beachside property called Sundial Resort ( www.Sundialresort.com ) and was an absolutely WONDERFUL place to spend the first full week in January of 2015!

According to the trained conchologist who gave a presentation on "How to shell" on Sanibel Island, this resort's location was where the most seashells were being found, during this time of year.  As seen in this photo, some collectors use a specially-designed "scoop net" to bring up sealife for closer examination.

I observed that not all of  the beach visitors were interested in mollusks.  Some folks were also trying their luck at surf fishing.  The sun shining on the beach highlights the reason very few people go barefoot on this particular beach.  It is absolutely COVERED in seashells!  Those shiny spots in the photo are not pebbles!

I mentioned earlier that I was able to see the sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico every morning, and likewise, I was able to enjoy the sunset over the water every evening.  This is because Sanibel Island is a barrier island that lies almost perpendicular to the Florida mainland, instead of parallel to the mainland, as is usually the case for barrier islands.  It is this perpendicular alignment that makes the shelling here so phenomenal.  The beaches are exposed to more wave action/tide changes/currents that many other Gulf of Mexico barrier islands.  Another thing that makes strolling the beaches of Sanibel Island so peaceful is the prohibition of high rise condominiums along the shoreline.

The Sundial Resort had many guest amenities, including use of beach chairs, beach umbrellas, beach towels, tennis courts, bicycles, and KAYAKS!  I was delighted to get the opportunity to do some ocean kayaking in the afternoons when our Road Scholar activities were complete for the day. 

After kayaking, there was usually time to do some sunset photography along the picturesque beach.  Sanibel is usually ranked in the "Top Ten" Florida beaches list, and I definitely understand why!

Our Road Scholar participants posed for a group photo on the lobby staircase at the Sundial Resort.  It was fascinating to get to spend time with such great folks from all over the USA!  Although we were strangers when we arrived on Sunday, we had made many new friends by the time the program ended on Friday!

All of our breakfast meals were at the Sundial Resort, but for most of the meals beyond that, we tried a variety of delightful restaurants located around the island.  I had wonderful meals at each and every one of them!  Plus, since there was a refrigerator in my resort condo, I could ask for a leftover box to take home some of the ample portion sizes we were offered!  The  young lady in this photo without sunglasses, was our leader for the week, Julie Cardenas.  She did a FANTASTIC job, and I hope to be able to attend some of the other Road Scholar programs she leads, that include kayaking adventures!

A highlight of the program for me was visiting the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum ( www.shellmuseum.org ).  They have an extensive collection of shells from all over the world, and they are organized in a way that is very pleasing to the eye, as well as educational.

I can assure you this is the biggest "gastropod" I have ever had the privilege to hold in my hands! 

Our Road Scholar group was treated to a special program at the museum where we viewed a video about shells, and then were allowed to touch examples of specimens we had seen on the video.

I have given a lot of thought as to why this kid who was born, and grew up in, "land locked" Arkansas, was so intrigued by shells.  I have traced it back to this very helmet shell (shown in the photograph), that belonged to my grandparents, who lived in Locust, Arkansas.  One of their sons lived on the California coast, and probably brought back the helmet shell to his parents on one of his return visits to Arkansas.  This photo shows my grandparents, with me in the center, and I am pretty sure that I am holding that beloved helmet shell.  When I was a child, that shell was like nothing I had ever seen before, and when they told me to hold it up to my ear to hear the sound of the ocean, it seemed to have magical properties!  I am thankful that helmet shell survived their move from Locust, into the big city of Harrison, and that I am still "keeping it in the family" today!

The fascination with the helmet shell, was the reason my eighth grade science project was all about mollusks! ( FYI-- Gastropods are the "single shell" specimens, and pelecypods are the "double shell" specimens).  You can see the delight in my face because of the First Place ribbon I won!  That early success in the marine sciences ( along with the Lloyd Bridges' Sea Hunt television series ) is probably one of the reasons I started out my college career, majoring in Marine Biology!  If you know me, you know that I did not become a marine biologist, and my goals/dreams have seen many revisions.  Thinking back about all the trials/tribulations/triumphs that have happened in my life since this photo was taken when I was 12 years old, I am reminded of one of my First Place 4 Health (www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses that says:  "Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish, in your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back."  Isaiah 38:17  .   So even though my vocation did not turn out to be a Marine Biologist, it was still fun to be a "wannabe" marine biologist during my week on beautiful Sanibel Island----it gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!!  Tricia

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge ( www.fws.gov/refuge/jn_ding_darling/ )is located on Sanibel Island, off the coast of the southwestern Florida panhandle.  It is a 5200 acre refuge established in 1976 to protect one of the country's largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystems in the U.S.    I had the opportunity to visit the refuge as a part of a Road Scholar ( www.roadscholar.org ) program held January 4 - 9, 2015. 
Because of the immensity of the refuge, Road Scholar had arranged for us to have a private tour by the official refuge concessionaire, Tarpon Bay Explorers ( www.tarponbayexplorers.com/ ) .
Our group of 28 folks from all over the United States boarded the open air shuttle shown in this photograph, to drive through the various private roads of the refuge, that allow you to get up close and personal with the wildlife.  Speaking of getting "up close and personal", if you are traveling alone on a Road Scholar program, you have the option of being assigned a roommate, or purchasing the higher priced "Single Room Supplement" option.  I chose to be assigned a roommate, and this cute lady (who I persuaded to turn around and look at the camera for this photo), was my roommate.  She was from north of New York City, and was an absolute delight to get to know.  At the end of the week, we both realized that getting to spend time with someone from a completely different region of the country, was about as educational as the tourist attractions and historic sites we visited!

One of the many enjoyable aspects of a Road Scholar trip is meeting very interesting people.  I was especially thankful to meet this couple from Tennessee, who demonstrated wonderful Southern friendliness to me.  It was especially nice to get to talk to them because their daughter has some of the same credentials after her name, as I do---M.S., R.D. (which stands for "Master of Science and Registered Dietitian"). 

As luck would have it, the seventy degree temperatures we had all week, took a nose dive on the day we were scheduled for the open-air trolley ride, so I was thankful I had lots of winter attire from my road trip, driving from Arkansas to southern Florida. 

refuge is famous for its bird population, and has the tagline, "America's Birding Hotspot".   One of the commonly seen birds in the refuge is the Great Egret.  The Refuge is part of the "Atlantic Flyway".  Flyways are routes that the birds fly (migrate) to get to their winter and summer homes.  There are four different flyways in the USA:  Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific. 

National Wildlife Refuges are located along the flyways so birds can use them to rest and eat, while making their long journeys.  Refuges are important stopover sites for migrating birds.  Likewise, the refuges give visitors an opportunity to see wildlife that might otherwise be too remote for viewing.  Since nearly a million people visit refuges each year, it is important that visitors follow the rule of "Leave nothing, but footprints; take nothing, but pictures."

This elevated viewing tower is just one of many "photo blind" locations where dedicated wildlife photographers and birdwatchers can set up their tripods, to get some prize-winning wildlife photos.

When you look at the gigantic size of the lenses on this couple's cameras, it is a pretty good clue that these are some SERIOUS photographers!

Our guide told us that the mud flats visible in this photo are usually covered in water, and full of birds.  However, on the day we were there, the recent dry weather and the strong winds, were causing all the birds to huddle on the far  side of the viewing platform out of the path of the wind  ( the small white dots  that you can see in the distance in this photo, are the birds).

Just about four feet from the pavement where our trolley was driving, this very long alligator was out "soaking up some rays", as they say in Florida.  We were cautioned NOT to feed alligators because it causes them to lose their fear of humans.  This may cause them to approach humans, thinking the human will feed them.  In fact, we were told there had been two human  fatalities on the island recently, because of attacks by alligators. 

Once back at the Refuge Visitor Center, many of the folks enjoyed shopping at their gift shop that was stocked with all kinds of Florida souvenirs, as well as items related to wildlife. 

This antique sign was part of the Visitor Center Museum exhibits, and provided the perfect visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses that says, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble."  Psalm 46:1 . 

The museum provided an "arts and crafts" area, where visitors could make rubbings with crayons and paper, of various types of wildlife found in the refuge.  I made some of the rubbings, got the Information Desk Volunteer to stamp it with the official , dated Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge stamp, and "Voila", I had a (FREE!) souvenir of my visit!

For those that prefer to do their wildlife viewing from the comfort of the indoors, there is an area overlooking the refuge that has large windows, binoculars, and explanatory kiosks available to tell you the names of what you are seeing.  

I did not realize until I made this visit to Sanibel Island, that J.N. "Ding" Darling, played a significant role in the development of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  He is credited with initiating the Federal Duck Stamp program, and designed the first stamp.  He was instrumental in securing funding for the National Wildlife Federation in 1936.   I am thankful for his realization of the need to protect habitat for the animal species that make their home here.

Education of our youth to the importance of the plant and animal kingdom on earth, is of prime importance to seeing that we do not lose species, due to hunting or habitat destruction.  That is why I was thankful to see numerous exhibits in the Visitor Center Museum that engaged youngsters to feel and touch things that might otherwise be "off limits" to little hands!  In addition, the Refuge sponsors numerous contests for students to foster their creative talents, while at the same time, raising their awareness of God's great outdoors.  We saw examples of photography contests, scenic artwork contests, as well as a contest that used "cartoon art" to get a conservation message across.

It is especially appropriate that the Refuge sponsor cartoon art contests, since J.N. "Ding" Darling was a cartoonist, who signed his work with the nickname "Ding".    His studio has been re-created as a part of the museum exhibits. He won two Pulitzer Prizes in the category of editorial cartoons. 

After learning that Ding Darling established the Duck Stamp to protect waterfowl, and that funds generated from the sales of the annual Duck Stamp issue go toward the purchase and operation of National Wildlife Refuges across the country, I have a much greater appreciation for the framed duck stamp wall hangings I often see in doctors' offices and people's homes.  I am thankful for the efforts of these Duck Stamp purchasers, and everyone, who made a visit to this refuge on Sanibel Island so enjoyable---it gave me "Miles of Smiles"!!  Tricia


The DeSoto National Memorial is located 5 miles west of Bradenton, Florida, and commemorates the 1539 landing of Hernando DeSoto on the Florida coast.  The DeSoto expedition is considered to be the first extensive, organized exploration by Europeans, of what is now the southern United States. 

In 1539, Hernando DeSoto, along with an army of over 600 soldiers, arrived in 9 ships full of supplies---220 horses; herd of pigs; war dogs; cannon; matchlock muskets, armor, tools, and rations.  They were following orders of King Charles V of Spain, to sail to La Florida to "conquer, populate, and pacify" the land. 

The Memorial is operated by the National Park Service and has a visitor center, where folks can actually try on reproductions of the 70 pounds (or more) armor that the Conquistadors wore on their marches.  Do you recognize this modern-day conquistador, trying to take a "selfie" in the Visitor Center?

The mission statement of the Memorial says it exists to "preserve the controversial story of this exploration of America by the Spanish, and interpret its effect on American history".   The grounds of the park include nature trails, living history demonstrations, fishing areas, picnicking areas, bird watching, clean restrooms, and a fascinating Visitors Center/Bookstore.  There are many special events held throughout the year, and you can find out more by visiting www.nps.gov/deso/index.htm   .   There is no charge to visit the park.

There are numerous picnic tables and benches located throughout the park, that enable the visitor to sit and contemplate how this place must have looked when the early Spanish explorers first set eyes on it. 

Adjacent to the Visitors Center, an area called Camp Uzita depicts a 16th century encampment.  Between the months of December and April, there are daily demonstrations of various living history programs.  On the day I visited, a re-enactor was giving a demonstration of the various weapons used by the conquistadors.  This included the actual (VERY LOUD!) firing on a reproduction musket firearm of the era. 

The well-maintained nature trail winds along the peninsula where the Memorial is located, and goes alternatively through mangrove forests, open beach, and marshes. 

Several small beaches are located within the park, and provide access to the current of the Manatee River and the waves of Tampa Bay.  However, one beach called "Cove Beach" is more sheltered from the waves and current, and that is where I saw small pleasure boats taking advantage of the popular temporary anchorage that is allowed in that area. 

When the trail leads through marshy areas, or highly sensitive vegetative locations, board walks have been built that not only keep the visitors' feet dry, but also protect the natural habitat.

I enjoyed looking for shells as I strolled along this section of beach.  It was, in fact, a large pile of shells found in this area, that alerted archaeologists to the historical significance of this location.  The pile of shells---called a midden---were left by the Native Americans who originally inhabited this location.  They would use the organism inside the shell for food, then discard the empty shells into a pile.  Later, the discarded shells might be used to make tools, needed for the daily tasks of survival in this maritime environment. 

A large memorial is located near The Cove Beach that recognizes the significance of the 3 Jesuit friars that accompanied the DeSoto Expedition.  Catholic Spain of the 16th Century had a strong missionary zeal, because they had been engaged with struggles against the Muslims for the last four centuries.  Therefore, they were eager to convert those in the Americas to become Catholics, rather than Muslims. 

Seeing the large cross as I approached the Catholic Memorial, brought to mind the history I had read on the placards throughout the park, that spoke of all the insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties that those Jesuit friars ( and those they accompanied ) endured during their four-year expedition.  It was the perfect visual aid for my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verse that says, "For Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."  2 Corinthians 12:10  .   As a native of Arkansas, I studied about Hernando DeSoto, in my required Arkansas History schoolroom classes, so I knew that DeSoto had explored in Arkansas, and that four years after arriving in Florida to start his expedition, he had died of "a fever"  in Arkansas, in a place now known as Ferriday, Arkansas.  However, this visit to the DeSoto National Memorial very much broadened my knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the DeSoto Expedition, and gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!  Tricia   
(Editor's Note:  I want to say a big THANK YOU to the ladies behind the front desk of Cedar Cove Resort (www.CedarCoveResort.com ) on Anna Maria Island,  for telling me about the DeSoto National Memorial.  When I mentioned to them that it was my first visit to this part of Florida, they suggested The DeSoto Memorial as a great place to visit---and they were right!  Sometime I would like to go back and spend more time at the lovely, seaside Cedar Cove location, but for now I will just have to use this photo I took from their beach, to take a "pretend vacation in my mind" when I yearn for the beaches of the Gulf!