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Road Trip – Floyd Damascus Abingdon Travel During a Pandemic

Ok I really needed to get out of town! Yes we should still be staying home. But what if you are traveling in your own home? Doing your own cooking, taking your own bathroom with you? In 2014 Michael and I bought a Pleasure Way Sprinter RV and we had a lot of adventures in it. I was always the driver, I think he may have put 100 miles on it. The reason? I’m a terrible backseat driver and it just made us both more comfortable if I did the driving. Since he’s been gone I have continued to travel in it. From Florida to Maine to Michigan to Arkansas and all along the Gulf coast, I continue to have adventures, just wish he was here to share them with me. I’d love to take it to the west coast but obviously that won’t be for a while.

We always used to name our vehicles but haven’t the last couple including this one. Our 69 VW Bus was Poke. When we lived in Aspen and would drive to Denver by the time we got to the tunnel at the top of Loveland Pass we would be going 25 and be nice and warm. Once we exited the tunnel we could be going 70 but freezing. So this RV is just called the Sprinter.

I had plans to go to Maine and Nova Scotia this summer then over to see family in Michigan. When states started shutting down due to Covid 19 I changed it to just Michigan. Now cases of Covid are surging everywhere so I decided to stay closer to home. For some it’s no fun to travel if things aren’t open. For me I’m content to look at the outside of buildings (more interested in the architecture than the contents), walk a neighborhood, look at a vista, and just have a pleasant drive.

I have never been to Floyd or ridden the Virginia Creeper so decided this was a good time to do it. Of course if I AM around other people I always wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart, and wash my hands until they are raw. Floyd is 5 hours from New Bern.

This was my first trip carrying my new bike with me. I got TerraTrike (made in Michigan) that folds up so it would fit inside my RV. Yes I could hang it on the outside, I did not worry about someone steeling my old bike, I think I only paid $150 for it and it was well used. This one, would be more tempting to someone so I wanted to be able to put it inside.

Floyd is SSW of Roanoke, VA, a small town of only 428 but is definitely a tourist destination with cute shops, a distillery, vineyards, and in a beautiful location. Floyd County is situated on a high plateau of the Blue Ridge Mountains which divides the eastward flowing from the westward flowing waters. It is said that no water flows into Floyd County. My Dad would say this was “the height of land.” I always thought that was a phrase he made up but it’s not. Here is the definition I found “Height of land is used to mean a local high point on a trail, road, or along a ridge where you stop going up and start going down. It’s basically used to describe a high-point that’s not a summit.”

I stayed at Chantilly Farms, a beautiful event space and campground. If you just need electricity and water they place you way away from everyone else, it was beautiful. And at dusk I saw this deer on the ridge above me.

On my way out of town I spotted her…..

I’m always intrigued by grindstones. Partly because we went more than once to Grindstone City at the tip of the thumb in Michigan when I was growing up. We had a grindstone for a front step at our house and one by the back door. In those days you could just pick them up now I’m told the only ones left there are giant.

I ran across the Claw of the Dragon, a motor cycle route going up Virginia Route 16. I had heard of the Tail of the Dragon, which is a famous motor cycle route in western NC. But I didn’t realize there is the Back of the Dragon, Claw of the Dragon, etc. I tried to track down a map of the whole dragon but could not! I guess they are just motorcycle routes that don’t necessarily connect to one another. Here is a website that shows the different Dragon routes. I drove on a part of Hwy 8 in my RV that could be some part of the dragon!

I left Floyd and headed west to Damascus, VA. Another first visit.

On the way I spotted a lot of LOVE in Virginia!

Damascus is known as Trail Town USA due to the convergence of four scenic trails in the town, including the Appalachian TrailU.S. Bicycle Route 76The Iron Mountain Trail, and the Virginia Creeper Trail. Damascus also is on the route of the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail and the Crooked Road Music Heritage Trail. The Trail Days festival is held around the middle of May each year and draws in 20,000 tourists, making it the largest single gathering of Appalachian Trail hikers anywhere.

Like I said I was there to ride the Virginia Creeper Trail which is part of the Rails to Trails  a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors. This program and other trail programs have been an economic boon to towns along them. I wish our town would get with the program! We have the perfect topography for it since it is so flat in eastern North Carolina.

A shuttle service carried my bike and I to Whitetop Station – The elevation at Whitetop Station is 3500 feet, dropping down to about 1900 feet in Damascus. This is a 17 mile downhill ride. You can ride an additional 17 miles up to Abingdon with an elevation of 2087 feet which I did not do. Can’t say the ride was much exercise but the view was spectacular! At times the Trail runs along Whitetop Laurel Creek through a deep narrow gorge with views of both whitewater rapids and swimming holes.

A little history – The Virginia Creeper Trail Began as a Native American footpath. Later the European pioneers, as well as early explorer Daniel Boone, used the trail.

Shortly before 1900, W.E. Mingea constructed the Virginia- Carolina Railroad from Abingdon to Damascus. Its nickname, Virginia Creeper, came from the early steam locomotives that struggled slowly up the railroads steep grades.

The Virginia Creeper engine and tinder are now on display at the Abingdon trailhead.

Virginia Creeper is also the name of a vine that grows prolifically in the area.

  It’s a pretty plant with berries the birds like but it’s kind of like poison ivy so it’s nothing you want in your yard. Plus if you don’t keep it in check it would cover your entire home.

The Creeper ran its last train March 31, 1977.

Between Abingdon and Damascus, the trail right-of-way belongs to the two towns. Although the public legally has the right to use the trail, most of the actual land between Abingdon and the iron bridge East of Damascus is privately owned. The 15.9 miles of trail between iron bridge ( mile 18.4 ) to the state line are part of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in the Jefferson National Forest. Except for a short stretch through Taylor’s Valley, the public owns both the right-of-way and the actual property. Taylors Valley is a cute little town with a restaurant.

The trail is well traveled so I was assured by a female friend that it would be safe to ride by myself. Some trails that are more remote I probably would not ride by myself unless there were a lot of people on it. There were no issues whatsoever. Lots of people on the trail and I saw the same people over and over so felt perfectly safe.

My dream is to have some dedicated bike trails in and around New Bern. The closest thing we have is the Riverwalk that goes out to Lawson Creek park. I ride it at least once a week, but it is only a mile and a half or so long. The rails to trails, or any bike trails in the country have been an economic boon to the communities they go through. This would be especially true right now because bike sales have soared, to the point most bike shops can’t get any and in some cases can’t even get parts. I’ve joined a club of people with recumbent trikes and ride with them occasionally (retirement is wonderful)!

Here are some shots around Damascus.

I was camped in the middle of town, a perfect spot. This was my view.



A friend of a friend picked me up and we went to Abingdon for lunch then went to Backbone Rock Tunnel. We climbed up these amazing stone steps to walk across the top of it. Glad I had him with me because I never would have made it on my own. Boy I need to do a lot more bike riding, I’m so out of shape! It was beautiful and worth the huffing and puffing! It doesn’t look like it but it’s 75 feet to the top of the rocks. It is known as the shortest tunnel in the world.




Backbone Tunnel is just a few miles out of Damascus. I then drove to Abingdon. I’ve visited here many times picking up pottery from Mary Curtin. Through the years I’ve seen it go up and down in prosperity. Sometimes I’ve gone and found it bustling with lots of neat shops, other times it’s pretty quiet. It looks like it is thriving right now, even with the Virus.

This is the Abingdon end of the Creeper Trail and one of the original steam engines.

Things Abingdon is known for is the Barter Theatre, the trails of course, The Martha Washington Inn, its 20-square block Historic District with homes and buildings dating from the 1860s, the Virginia Highlands Festival, lots of hiking including the Great Channels. I love the idea of seeing the Great Channels but would never do it by myself, and don’t think I’m up to hiking that far. Of course when I was in Rome and Amsterdam I had no trouble walking just as far but both cities are on flat ground, with lots of people to pick up up if I tripped and fell. Which I did do in Amsterdam, in the street, right in front of the train station. And people came from all around to pick me up!

Obviously this is not my photo of the Great Channels because I did not go, it looks like it would be really neat to see.


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I understand the Barter Theatre is doing performances at a drive in theatre. They have a stage then the performance is projected onto the movie screen.

I love the architecture here.

After leaving Abingdon I stopped in Blowing Rock. Always love the flowers there, I didn’t mind it was raining because it was nice and cool.


I then drove to see a friend that started and owned Craft Company Number 6 in Rochester, NY, a great gardener and woodworker.

We visited Collene Karcher at her studio Stone Crossing Studio and Gallery. She does contemporary folk artist carving free-standing and bas relief sculpture in marble, slate, and limestone, as well as hand-carved letters in stone. There are only a handful of people in the country that are still doing this type of work by hand.


I was particularly interested in the garden pieces that she casts in concrete from her molds she has made from her sculptures. I loved it ALL and of course came home with a few pieces. I don’t really need to be still collecting but I can’t help myself when I see such beautiful things.

One of the pieces I got!

All in all it was a great week and I will certainly return to the area. Where to next? Franklin, TN to a painting workshop in October.



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Road Trip My 10 Favorite Drives in the US and Canada

Granted I have not been everywhere in the US but I have been in every state but Alaska, Hawaii, and Oregon, and know there are many beautiful drives. These might not be the most spectacular but each speaks to me for various reasons. And while the title says 10 I thought of another favorite while writing! These are in no particular order.

1. The Tunnel of Trees US M-119 in the northwest corner of the lower peninsula of Michigan

I probably rode down the Tunnel of Trees when I was 1 or 2 years old for the first time. When we started driving home from Canada or the UP we would drive down the Tunnel of Trees. On the way there we drove on back roads, wandering from Mackinaw City, and I distinctly remember a corner that had a fence made of cement and glass bottles. I’ve asked people up there where it was but no one knows. I don’t think I’m dreaming! We’d start the Tunnel of Trees at Cross Village, which is a wide spot in the road. The tiny town is famous for Legs Inn, a Polish Restaurant in a beautiful stone building. The part of M119 that is officially The Tunnel of Trees is 20 miles long, a narrow road that twists and turns through the woods on a cliff above Lake Michigan with a peek here and there of the Lake. It would be a lot of fun on a motorcycle! There isn’t much development along the route just a lot of trees that meet above you creating a tunnel.

2. US1 through the Florida Keys

The Overseas Highway is a 113-mile highway carrying through the Florida Keys to Key West. Most of it was built on the former right-of-way of the Overseas Railroad built by Flagler and completed in 1912. It was severely damaged in a 1935 hurricane. Which ended the railroad. Starting in the 1950s it was refurbished into a highway. Funny I don’t generally like bridges but I have no problem crossing the 42 bridges you drive over on your way to Key West. Even the 7 Mile Bridge doesn’t bother me, probably because none of them are very high off the water. The first time I went to the Keys was in 1983, Michael had been going since 1970. When he started going you still drove over some of the original bridges left over from the railroad. Including the bridge at Bahia Honda where you drove over the top of the trestle. NO WAY could I have done that. It was not only rickety but very narrow. He also was at Sunshine Key when the Seven Mile Bridge blew up and he had to spend extra time there. Being from Michigan and there in the winter I’m sure it was no problem for him.

As you drive along the water is Carribean blue, you can peek through the mangrove, you see the birds, on one side is the Atlantic, the other the Gulf. I don’t know what it is but I love it. It was when I was there in 1983 that Michael and I decided to get married. We didn’t return again for 6 years, those years we spent in Colorado. When we returned we were in an RV towing our VW Bus and we stayed for a year. When we left we moved to New Bern! Since we’ve been in New Bern I’ve been back there at least a dozen times, and since I retired I go to Key West every year.

Here is a photo of part of the old and new Seven Mile Bridge, looking toward Marathon, this is not my photo it is from AP.

3. Beaufort

Closest to home is a drive I always take visitors on. We start by going over the Neuse River Bridge and out to Oriental, the Sailing Capital of North Carolina, then swing around to catch the Missosott Beach/Cherry Branch Ferry, going down Hwy 101 crossing the Intracoastal Waterway at Core Creek. There used to be a great swing span bridge there, then we continue into Beaufort. At Front Street we turn left and go down to Curtis P. Perry Park. That part I love with all the live oak trees alongTaylor Creek. A couple stories about that part of the drive, one of the last times Michael and I made the Beaufort portion of the trip I said “don’t you just love this part?” He said he could care less! I was crushed. But I continue to go out of my way to drive that stretch of Front Street whenever I go to Beaufort. The other story is my sister Betsey came to visit from Michigan and said “the main thing I want to do is see the horses on Carrot Island” (our friend John called it Pony Poop Island). I thought to myself, ugh, because you can go there 100 times and not see any horses. As you drive down Front Street you can see Carrot Island, easily it is very close, just across the channel. There have been wild horses living on the barrier islands since the 1500s. This particular group has been on our islands just since the 1940s. Well that day when we took Betsey there we must have seen 50! I’ve never seen that many before or since, if you do see any it’s usually 2 or 3.

4. Cabot Trail Cape Breton Island Nova Scotia

It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, in fact close to 50 years, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I had planned on going up there this summer, now hope to go next year. This is a ribbon of a road that goes across the top and through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, along the St Lawrence and with spectacular views of the Atlantic. There is art, hiking, tubing, sailing, kayaking, bike trails, villages and more…. it is stunning.

5. Utah

It was a four hour drive from Aspen to Moab, Utah and we went whenever we had the chance. As I said I’m not a fan of bridges (funny since I love driving down the keys) but I loved the Dewey Bridge on the way to Moab. It was an 8 ft. wide bridge crossing the Colorado River. You could feel the boards bounce as you drove over it! It was replaced at about the same time we were getting ready to move so did not see the replacement. Then some kid set it on fire so all that is left is a sign I think. It was replaced in the 1988 by a metal and concrete 2-lane bridge. Once in Moab we went to Arches National Park – where there are 2000 natural arches! A memorable evening was spent sitting near the double arch and seeing them glow red as the sun went down. We would also drive out to Dead Horse Point on a cliff above the Colorado in Canyonlands. Once on the way out 3 giant big horned sheep ran in front of us then abruptly stopped in unison and turned to look at us. And another time on our way to Arizona we parked our VW bus Poke right beside some  petroglyphs in Canyonlands and spent the night.

6. Old Frankfort Pike

It appears the trail this road follows has been traveled since the 1770s and probably Indians long before that. The region’s first known Thoroughbred Farm was founded on this road in 1790. What caused us to go on this road was to visit Excelsior Motors, owned by a guy that has spent his entire adult life restoring Citerons. After Michael retired and was diagnosed with cancer he said he was getting brain fog from the treatments and wanted something to keep his mind sharp. When he got home from VietNam his dream car was a 1970 Citeroen SM but he could not afford one. Instead he collected an even dozen Crosleys! He said the Citeroen is the most complicated car ever built and it would be a good puzzle for him so he got his dream car, and it was in need of some tlc. Unless you are a great mechanic like he was I would not choose this car to work on yourself. We did have fun with it.

Anyway back to the road. In addition to the shop this road is lined with a stone fence and some of the most well known horse farms in the world. Some of them are Stonestreet Farm, Lane’s End Farm, Airdrie Stud, Darley America and Three Chimneys Farm plus nearby Calumet Farm, WinStar Farm and more. One time as we were driving along we came across a fawn that still had its spots. He was so small he could not get over the stone fence so we slowly followed him, so the cars behind us would not run over him, until he came to a gap in the fence and could escape. It is a lovely drive.

7. Driving around the lake

The Lakes are Round and Devils Lakes in Lenawee County in southern Michigan. I grew up on the south side of Round Lake. Every Sunday after church we would go for a ride. In the 50s and 60s we were one of the few families that lived on the lake year round. During our rides it was fun to see all the activity on the water. As we would approach Christians Corners in unison we three kids would cry out “Ice Cream!” And more often than not we would stop because Dad liked it too. My folks moved away from the lake after 50 years when my Dad started to decline (1997) but I still go up and ride around the lakes when I visit.

8. Driving up the Delaware north of New Hope on Route 32 AKA River Road

It’s a narrow road that follows the river, at times twisting and turning. I don’t know what it is about it that I like so much, maybe the history, maybe a little bit of interesting architecture, but If I’m anywhere near I always go out of my way to make the drive. Click here to read a blog post about the last time I was there.

9. Glenwood Canyon

We lived in Aspen Colorado for 6 years in the 1980s, at that time US 70 through the Canyon was still 2 lane, the four lane part was not completed until 1992. I don’t like it as much now, it’s still beautiful, but with the four lane there aren’t many places you can stop and take photos. The Canyon is about 12 1/2 miles long, you drive along the Colorado River and the Union Pacific Railroad with 2000 foot peaks around you. At the end of the Canyon you arrive in Glenwood Springs. Michael would always say, can you imagine what it would have been like to ride the train from New York in 1888 and get the opportunity to soak in the hot springs. The hot springs pool is the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool. We would soak there every chance we got and spent every Christmas Day we were in Colorado there, soaking is 104 degree water, surrounded by snow, with the steam coming off the water. I also distinctly remember the day we moved to Colorado. We were in a motor home towing a car. As we started into the mountains we realized the motorhome didn’t have quite enough power so we unhooked the car and drove separately. I was awestruck. Seeing the small towns along the way, there was house racing with mudslides as we went through Vail It was raining as we drove through the canyon and it was very dark at the bottom of the canyon, then all of a sudden wow, out into the light we came! Then off to our right we saw the huge hot spring pool. I thought right then, we’re going to like it here.

10. Independence Pass

Going out of Aspen heading east you immediately start the long rise to Independence Pass on Hwy 82 and over the highest paved highway in the continental US. The summit is at 12,195 feet. The pass is 32 miles long and goes along the Roaring Fork River. It is the site of the first road in the Roaring Fork Valley, which was pioneered over Hunter Pass, the original name of Independence Pass, in 1881. An old stage road still remains visible from several locations. The road was built in its current location in 1927 and was paved in 1967. I worked at the Aspen Times and the owner/editor Bill Dunaway rode his bike to the top of the pass every day for at lunch, at that time he was in his 60s.

In addition to spectacular scenery and hair raising narrow curves with 200 foot cliffs up on one side and 200 foot cliffs down on the other, with barely enough room to pass another car you will find the remnents of the town of Independence. It’s sixteen miles east of Aspen and was once a thriving mining town with over 40 businesses and an estimated population of 1,500. Now you can see the remains of miner’s cabins, the Farewell Stamp Mill, stables and a general store.

My favorite stop is the Grottos which are 9 miles east of Aspen. There are hiking trails that lead to waterfalls, rock formations, and ice caves. It’s an easy hike and an interesting one through the boulders where you can barely see sunlight.



On another longer hike you can reach the site of the town of Ruby. It’s about 5 miles off Hwy 82.

Then once you get to the top of the pass you are at the Continental Divide The midway point between Aspen and Twin Lakes and is the dividing point between watersheds that drain into the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, at 12,195 feet. What a view! You are surrounded by 14,000+ foot peaks. Once when friends were visiting they were just starting up the pass going from east to west and my friend said “look at those idiots way up there!”. By the time they got “way up there” I believe she said she was on her second Valium.

It could be scary doing that drive. Once I showed my work at an art show in Buena Vista, which was on the other side of the pass. Michael joined me later so we had 2 cars. It was in early October. After the show Michael took off (I was not happy, this was before cell phones) and so I was driving over this wilderness pass, close to dark, by myself. As I approached the summit it started to snow, and by the time I got to the tight curves near the grottos it was snowing pretty good. As I rounded a corner I came upon a car that had nosed into the stone cliff rising above the road. Two people were trying to get it unstuck. I got out to help, I would have stopped anyway but the fact that the road is very narrow there I could not have driven around them even if I wanted to. So the wind is howling, the snow is flying, the man is quiet and the woman is having hysterics. I finally determined that he could not hear. We finaly got them unstuck and he started getting into the drivers seat and she screamed “you can’t drive you can’t see!” I thought to myself, great, I’m following someone that is deaf and blind down this steep mountain road in a snow storm. I did make it safely but they closed the pass that night shortly after I made it to Aspen. I’ve tried to go back to Aspen every year the past few, here is a link to one of my blog posts about the Pass.

11. Leelanau Peninsula Michigan

The Leelanau Peninsula is north west of Traverse City and the drive around it is on M22. I start in Traverse City and end at Sleeping Bear Dunes. A lot of what I like about this drive are the small towns that line it, Suttons Bay, Northport, Leland, Glen Arbor, Empire to name some of them. They all have neat art shops, there are wineries, and outdoor things to do.


To some people there are probably drives that are more beautiful but to me part of the beauty are the memories the drives evoke.

I’m anxious to discover more once we can readily travel again!



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A short trip to Norfolk to clear out the cobwebs

I’ve loved being home but have to admit I’ve suffered from wanderlust since I was a child. I’ve always loved maps and planning a trip almost as much as going on one. Since the places we are allowed to go are shrinking I wanted to go SOMEWHERE before I could go no where. BTW I write these blog posts as a kind of visual diary for myself. Once a year I print it into a book form. I make it public because friends have told me they like reading it and get ideas of where they might want to go next.

My friend Irene and I arrived in Norfolk and were armed with lots of masks, hand sanitizer, and we wiped the hotel room down the moment we walked in. There were NO people on the street at 2 in the afternoon. The people we did see were all wearing masks. We stayed at the Glass Light Hotel, which is decorated with blown glass, in a landmark building that has been renovated making all the rooms very contemporary. It’s beautiful.

Every floor has a signature pies of glass as you exit the elevator and our room even had a little glass carrot laying on the desk. They are going to have a glass gallery next door eventually.

The building, The Royster Building, was constructed CA. 1911–1912, Ferguson as the headquarters of the RoysterGuano Fertilizer Company. It’s 13 storeies and was once Norfolk’s tallest building.

While a lot of shops were closed we found a great independent bookstore called Prince just around the corner from our hotel and we met an artist, Derek Shaw, who makes leather wallets and beautiful his partner cousin Aaron McLellan canvase and leather bags. They have their shop in the Selden Market.

The Selden Market is an innovative space for entrepreneurs to develop new street-level business ideas. The market provides a low-risk environment with short-term leases, a supportive development program, and a community atmosphere that fosters learning and growth. 

The market is comprised of 12 retail spaces, 7 pop-up booths, multiple lounges and seating areas, and even a shared kitchen. What a fabulous idea!

The bag from my purchase at Prince….

It reads

Shopping locally preserves the character and vitality of the community , strengthens our local economy and makes this a better place to lives.
Local business owners care deeply about the well being of our community
Money spent locally stays local.
Local business owners are your friends and neighbors. They make buying decisions based on local tastes and interests.
They care deeply about the wellbeing of the local community, the vibrancy of our downtown, and the health of the local schools.

Local business owners have a vested interest in the community, they live, work, and pay taxes here.
Shopping locally reduces energy consumption and cost. It is good for the environment.
Locally owned businesses and retail stores, and restaurants, help to make our town unique. Support them!
By supporting local businesses you help to sustain our community.

The Chrysler Museum had a Munch display and we saw one of his original Scream Lithographs. I guess I forgot what I learned about him in art history class so this was a good refresher. He had emotional and psychological trauma throughout his life which contributed to the dark nature of his work.

A $4 ferry ride across the river was a nice break from the heat and gave us a good look at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

The Neon District has a lot of murals…….

I can’t believe it’s so close but have never been to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens before. I’m big on them and have visited dozens. Two special exhibits they had were the flamingos……70 scattered around the garden…

… and handmade paper art by Caroline Hardy.

My favorite flower I saw were the lotus. They were so perfect.


Back downtown we sought out the Pagoda and Koi Pond Park which was just a short way from our hotel in the Freeman District which is a beautiful neighborhood. The Marine Observation Tower also known as the Taiwanese Pagoda is the centerpiece for the tranquil garden. The tower was a 1989 gift to the Commonwealth of Virginia and the City of Norfolk honoring Taiwan’s trading ties with Virginia. The two-story pagoda, with Chinese architectural details and ornamentation, sits on the concrete foundation of an old molasses tank. The Pagoda is the centerpiece of the Oriental Garden. This unique building provides a panoramic view of the beautiful Oriental Garden, the USS Wisconsin, sunsets over the Elizabeth River, and is a beautiful venue for weddings, receptions, and other events.


We ate dinner out twice, one great, one not so much. The hotel has it’s own French restaurant, we didn’t eat there for dinner but did eat breakfast, and it was great. There is an Irish pub Grace O’Malley’s Irish Pub & Restaurant  next door, they got an A for masks and social distancing but the food was just ok.

But the 2nd night dinner at Freemason Abbey Restaurant a few blocks away was great. It’s located in a 147 year-old renovated church. One thing they are famous for is their She Crab Soup and it WAS tasty. They have a wide variety on their menu.

Just before we left we walked around the Downtown. Most of the buildings are new but here and there you’ll find a glimpse of the architecture that must have filled the area. We went to the visitors center and saw an interesting display about General MacArthur . Both he and his wife are buried here too, Norfolk was the hometown of his mother.

And of course we saw dozens of the mermaid sculptures, Equivalent  to our bears.

We rode up to Yorktown just to check it out. They have a nice beach on the York River and it was packed. The town is most famous as the site of the siege and subsequent surrender of General Charles Cornwallis to General George Washington and the French Fleet during the American Revolutionary War on October 19, 1781. Although the war would last for another year, this British defeat at Yorktown effectively ended the war.


On the right is the Victory Monument, the cornerstone was laid in 1881. It was struck by lightening in 2018 and had extensive damage which has been repaired. It is 84 ft tall.

I always stop at the Dismal Swamp Canal State Park, and remembered when boats still used it. The Dismal Swamp Canal is located along the eastern edge of the Great Dismal Swamp at the Virginia/North Carolina line.   It is the oldest continually operating man-made canal in the United States, opened in 1805. And part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

In May 1763 George Washington made his first visit to the Great Dismal Swamp and suggested draining it and digging a north–south canal through it to connect the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the Albemarle Sound.  

Work was started in 1793. The canal was dug completely by hand; most of the labor was done by slaves hired from nearby landowners. It took approximately 12 years of back-breaking construction under highly unfavorable conditions to complete the 22-mile long waterway, which opened in 1805.

And on the way home stopped and had a picnic at Merchants Millpond State Park. Here are a few pictures I took the last time I paddled there. It is an enchanting and eerie place.

Settlement in the area began in 1660. Residents of early rural communities made a living by farming and lumbering. In the early 1700s, Hunters Millpond was built at the head of Bennetts Creek to provide a means of processing and marketing regional produce. Highway construction destroyed this millpond in 1922. But further downstream, Norfleets Millpond, which was built in 1811, thrived. Gristmills, a sawmill, a farm supply store and other enterprises made the area the center of trade in Gates County. Thus, the pond became known as Merchants Millpond.

Shortly before World War II operations around the millpond came to a halt and millers sold the land to developers. In the 1960s, A.B. Coleman of Moyock purchased the property and later donated 919 acres, including the millpond, to the state. His generous donation led to the establishment of Merchants Millpond State Park in 1973. In the same year, the Nature Conservancy contributed an additional 925 acres of woodlands to the park that now encompasses more than 3,250 acres.

You could easily get lost paddling around but the park has a set of buoys of different colors to help prevent getting lost in the “maze” of the swamp.

We took the back roads as far as we could on the way home, checking out roads we’d never been on. We saw LOTS of horses….

…. and the cutest herd of 7 goats gathered by the side of the road. They took off before we could get a good photo of them…. the end.

The 3 day trip will last me a couple weeks. Next I think I’m taking my RV and bike and go check out Floyd, VA, then continue on to Damacus, VA and ride the Virginia Creeper trail. Travel makes my life so much richer. I learn alot, I get new ideas for my artwork, and it gives me confidence that I can handle whatever comes my way because the best laid plans don’t always work out.




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A jaunt into the Croatan

Pitcher Plant Janet Francoeur Fine Art Blog

I hadn’t been in the Croatan in years, like maybe 20 or more, but I saw photos from a friend and decided I had to go. I’ve now been twice, once with a friend and once by myself. I was a little leery to go by myself but I went anyway, it wasn’t the animals, snakes or bugs I was worried about, it was other people. Luckily I only saw some bicycle riders the first time and no people the second.

I thought it would be really hard to find the carnivorous plants thinking (I don’t know why) that they were like morel mushrooms and you never knew where they would show up. And I would have to wander aimlessly through the woods looking for them. That was not the case! They were just off the road. As I was driving in I could see that the forest had been burned this year, at least the part I was in. This helps the plants thrive and also makes it easier to see the plants and walk into the woods to them. More about that later. The easiest ones to spot were the green pitcher plants with their chartreuse green color, and the fact that they are tall.

The first spot had about 100 green pitcher plants, 1000 flytraps, and a half dozen orchids. Wow!

The second spot had 1000 green pitcher plants and purple pitcher plants, no orchids and no flytraps, interesting!

Another spot had a different type of tiny pitcher plants, sundews, bladderworts, and butterworts and there were lots of other types of wild flowers scattered about.

It was like a fairy land!

Of course as instructed I had on boots, long pants, and lots of bug spray. Because the wind was blowing both times the bugs were not a problem anyway but I guess the danger of ticks was still there.

This is a panoramic view of a field of green and purple pitcher plants.
Yellow Pitcher Plant Sarracenia flava
Yellow Pitcher Plant Sarracenia flava in Bloom
Sarracenia psittacina, Parrot Pitcher plant bloom
Sarracenia psittacina, Parrot Pitcher plant
Yellow Pitcher Plant Sarracenia flava
Yellow Pitcher Plant Sarracenia flava
Sweet Pitcher plant – Sarracenia rubra
Venus Flytrap
Venus Flytrap in bloom
Wild Colicroot Aletris farinosa
Spring draba. Draba verna
Snake mouth orchid Pogonia ophiglossoides
Sidebeak pencil flower Stylosanthes biflora
Sidebeak pencil flower Stylosanthes biflora
Robins Plantain Fleabane Erigeron Pulchellus

I’m amazed at how this photo above turned out, I was at least 10 feet away with my hand held camera wondering what the flower was because I was too far away to see.

SO many wildflowers, I was blown away.

Maryland Meadow Beauty
Inundated Clubmoss – Lycopodiella inundata
Another flytrap bloom
Butterwort – Pinguicula

There are over 80 different species of the Butterwort. Like other carnivorous plants the leaf is like sticky flypaper, the bug lands on it, can’t fly away, and the leaf slowly rolls up around it.

Spoon leaf Sundew –

Sundew – Insects land on its sticky leaves and are trapped there. It slowly rolls up the leaf and digests the insect.

lizards Tail – Saururus cernuus

I should have gotten out of the car, I just shot this out of the window, this flower is supposed to be very aromatic but can be toxic if you eat it.

Dense spike Blackroot – Pterocaulon pycnostachyum

About fires in the forest. We lived in Colorado when Yellowstone burned, in 1988. We were 9 hours away yet our valley filled up with smoke from it. People were in an uproar but historically, before people built homes in the forest, the forest burned naturally. This kept the undergrowth under control and weeded out the dead trees allowing the important tree species to grow with less competition for nutrients.

Before the late 1960 fires in forests were put out as soon as possible but as people began to realize the benefit of fire for the ecology the managers began allowing natural fires to burn under controlled conditions which reduced the areas lost to wildfires each year.

When fire clears the thick undergrowth sunlight can then reach the forest floor and encourage the growth of native species, like these carnivorous plants. They burn our forest regularly which is one reason we have so many of these plants. If they did not eventually the undergrowth would smother them.

I was able to identify these plants easily with an app I have on my phone called Picture This. You have to pay for it but I thought it was worth it and have used it a lot.

There is a great page on the internet featuring Tom Glasgow from our North Carolina Cooperative Extension Office with videos about the different types of carnivorous plants in the Croatan. You can watch it here!

It won’t be the last time I go into the forest and it won’t be long before you’ll see some of these plants showing up on my pottery.

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Artwork Explosion During Lockdown

This was posted on facebook and it surely describes me and many artists I know!

That being said I have found the last few months to be very productive and inspiring. I have been wanting to do paintings of my travels but there are so many places to paint I am too impatient to do large paintings of all of them.

While I was in Florida for the month of March I found a little (6 x 8″) watercolor block (A watercolor block is a stack of watercolor paper that is attached together. The sheets of fine art paper are trimmed to some uniform size and then stacked upon each other. That stack of art paper is then attached to a backing board with a padding glue. This glue is applied to all four sides of the paper.) of hot press paper that I really liked. I also started experimenting with gouache (gouache is an opaque, matte, watercolor). Those two things together lit my fire and off I went!

I have been fortunate the past few years to be able to travel quite a lot to Europe and around the US and have always dreamt of having the time to put some of what I saw down on paper. Since I sold Carolina Creations I finally have the time to do that.

These pieces measure 6 x 8″, all except the middle one on the top row which is watercolor on board – another experiment! I keep doing more and post them on the paintings page on this site.

Also while I was in Florida I saw this gopher tortoise. Gopher tortoises are found in all 67 counties in Florida and are an important species of the rapidly disappearing longleaf pine forest and wiregrass landscapes. The gopher tortoise originated in North America 60 million years ago, making it one of the oldest living species, and they may live up to 80 years.

This tortoise is called a Keystone species because more than 350 other species depend on their burrows for shelter and protection. This makes them a Keystone species – one without which many other species would not survive. (from the Nature Conservancy website). Neat!

I don’t remember how many days of lockdown I’ve been in but I think it started the middle of March. So what could I do but paint! In addition to painting paintings I was inspired to do some nature scenes on my pottery of all the neat things I saw in the swamps. The pieces are flying out but what I still have is posted on my Celebration Pottery page. I’m always doing new pieces!

Jan Francoeur Celebration Pottery Nature Series with egret
Celebration Pottery Jan Francoeur Nature Series with bee
Celebration Pottery Nature Heron S
Celebration Pottery Jan Francoeur Egret Flat Vase
Celebration Pottery Jan Francoeur Nature Series square bowl with hummingbird
Celebration Pottery Jan Francoeur Nature Series square bowl with hummingbird dark

I should say that during the time we lived in Aspen, then a year in the Florida Keys, I did a lot of drawing of birds. I would do the drawing in ink then add color just to the birds. So this work is just an extension of that work – 30 years later. More pieces are shown on my paintings page.

Then I got a call from Carolina Creations asking me to do some Mother’s Day pieces so here are some of them.

Of course all my work can be found at Carolina Creations. Their hours for the time being are 11-4 Mon-Sat. with all the precautions necessary to create a safe environment. And their website is available 24/7. Carolina Creations Website.

A few more travel paintings…..

Jan Francoeur Blue Heaven Watercolor painting
Jan Francoeur Key West Cuban Food watercolor

And now I HAVE to clean my house!! That is one problem with living where you work or work where you are living you are constantly torn about where you are and what you are supposed to be doing.

I can’t wait to get out and about again, like everyone else. In the mean time I’ll travel in my mind and in my art!

If you don’t know much about me you can read my story.

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Road Trip – More Art, Swamps, Flowers, and Birds

Mural in immokalee

I stayed in Florida after the big breakout of the Virus but was careful about social distancing, cleaning, washing hands etc. When I visit a place I’m always worried I’ll miss something so … my motto… leave no stone unturned.

Thank you Nancy Morgan for sharing your drawing.

To get out of the house I took a drive to Pine Island. Some of the things I saw along the way … art on the electric poles…

… Pretty sure it’s a sheepshead…

… and not sure what this guy is!

Another day I visited Six Mile Cypress Slough. It’ s over 3,400 acres of wetland in Fort Myers, Florida, that measures approximately 11 miles long and 1/3 mile wide.

Six Mile Cypress Slough has been here for a long time, but there was a time during the 1960’s and 70’s when some things occurred that saved the Slough. The key event was the 1961 arrival of a young environmental educator, Bill Hammond.

Bill took a job as a science teacher. Since he did not have the funds for supplies he would go out to the Slough on the weekend and collect specimens and samples. Soon, he would be leading students from his environmental classes through the Slough. They called themselves the “Monday Group”. This was the beginning. Other key players were civil engineers Archie Grant and Ben Pratt. Most of the Slough was privately owned and when Bill heard that a permit had been filed for cypress harvesting he and his “Monday Group” convinced the County Commissioners and the public to vote for the funds to acquire the land. Door to door work was done by the students and others which is why the Sough has been preserved. I’ve been told by a local that adjacent land is now being acquired.

The boardwalk is 1.2 miles long.

All along the boardwalk are quotes. This was my favorite.

In between visiting the natural areas I did some watercolors (you can see more of my work on my paintings page). These are all tiny, 6 x 8″.

Riverhead, NY
Nantucket, MA

Driving down to the Fakahatchee Strand I passed through Immokalee, a town in the middle of a huge agricultural region. I caught a glimpse of a huge tile mural. It was fabulous!

The artist is Judith Inglese. Check out her website to see more of her work. The mural is huge 88 feet long. depicting the history and people of Immokalee, most of whom are migrant workers. It took the artist 8 months to complete. Here is a quote where she describe the value of art “Art, and in particular public art, has creative power. It can define and enrich a space. It can restore a sense of community by expressing its values and ideas. It can humanize an environment by adding form and color. Most importantly, art can represent feelings and celebrate hope and dreams, which are essential to human existence.”

What a treat visiting The Fakaatchee Strand was! This is the location that the book “The Orchid Thief” describes and the author Peter Matthiessen writes about in his book Shadow Country. At more than 120 square miles, Fakahatchee is Florida’s largest state park. More native orchid species, including the famous ghost orchid, grow in the wilderness than anywhere in the country. I saw an Everglade Mink, alligators of course, ibis, blue heron, various types of egrets, a wood stork, a various flowers and huge royal palms. Other species living there include manatees, black bears, and Florida panthers.

It had been pretty dry but I did find one deep hole where I watched an alligator, swirl, dive, bite, flop around for 20 minutes, went further on, and when I came back he was still at it and watched him for another half hour. I’m told he was digging the bottom of the water hole out so that when the water dries up he will still have some in the hole he dug out.

It is heart breaking to think what this area looked like before the swamp was drained and the area logged.

Babcock Ranch Preserve is another natural area not far from where I stayed. It is occupies 67,618.81 acres in southeast Charlotte County, approximately 17.5 miles east of Punta Gorda and 34 miles west of Lake Okeechobee. It represents one of the single largest purchases of conservation land in the state’s history. The Preserve protects regionally important water resources, diverse natural habitats, scenic landscapes and historic and cultural resources in the rapidly developing southwest Florida corridor. There are a lot of public recreational opportunities there include hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing, bicycling, fishing, camping and horseback riding. It’s just a short drive from where I stayed so I’ve gone there many times. The last time I was there I saw more wildlife than I ever have. You can be back in there and not see another soul.

If you were casually driving through Babcock most of it looks like a savannah, but if you get out and walk and look down you can see all kinds of tiny wild flowers! The most unusual one was a tiny orchid. Here is a closer photo of it.

Behind the County Administrative Office in Venice Florida is a rookery where you can stand on the shore and with no binoculars, you are that close, you can watch Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Anhingas, Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Glossy Ibises, Wood Storks, Spoonbills, Green Herons, Tricolored Herons and Black-crowned Night-Herons building nests, courting, sitting on their eggs and raising chicks. busily building or enhancing nests, courting, incubating eggs, and raising chicks.

A sunset cruise out of Fort Myers through the Matlacha Pass Charlotte Harbor estuary was beautiful, seeing dolphins and lots of birds. There is a small rookery island not far from Picnic Island that was covered with birds at dusk.

Then it was time to return to reality or unreality since the Virus madness by this time was at full force. Driving up I-95 was kind of surreal. At the Florida/Georgia line there were about 30 state troopers stopping all cars going into Florida. In Georgia there were signs that read visitors must go into quarantine, there were NO signs in South Carolina then when you got to North Carolina they read GO HOME. I had been wavering about going home early but I was staying away from other people in Florida and it was WARM so waited until April 1 to return. I had no idea what to expect on the drive, I took my own food and drink and only stopped for fuel and a half hour nap. I didn’t think I could still do a 12 hour drive in one day anymore but I did it. Glad to be off the road.

In Pauze – a sign I saw last year in a window in Bruges, Belgium, I wrote a blog post about that trip, thats where we are in pauze. Who could have ever dreamt this would happen. What’s next for me? Stay home and make art.

If you are new to my posts and artwork here is some background information on me. And this trip also influenced an entire new line in my Celebration Pottery, Nature Series.

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Road Trip Murals Gardens and Birds

I went back to Ft Myers again this year for a month of painting. Of course I can never visit a place and not look around too. And I can never drive by Savannah without taking a few photos and stopping at Dick Blick Art Supply.

Like last year this month is my time to work on my oil paintings, becoming more comfortable with the medium. I did do several successful (In my opinion!) oils paintings this year, I still don’t feel like I’ve gotten to where I want to go with them. Where is that? I’d like them to be a little more exciting. I’ll always paint architecture and gardens but want to work on my color.

If you subscribe to my blog posts you already saw some of the oil and cold wax paintings I did in a workshop in Ft Myers. Here are a few more.

I set off to meet a friend in the Everglades for an afternoon of observing nature and painting and on my way I stopped at the Naples Botanical Gardens. I had been there shortly after it opened 10 years ago and was thrilled with the difference. It wasn’t much then but is beautiful now.

I met my friend on the loop road. I’ve driven by the entrance to that road many times but had never driven it. The road is 25 miles long, is dirt 3/4 of the way, and generally the south side is wet and the north side is much drier. In a very few place you can see what the Everglades once was. Pretty much anything anyone could do to destroy it was done. Canals dug to drain it, fire burning a million acres, a dyke around Lake Ocachobee not allowing water to flow from it. The Everglades today receives less than one-third of its historic water flow, the water is contaminated by fertilizer and other runoff, and the wetlands are half the size they were when the federal government started its draining projects in the 1920s. At one point orchid hunters went in and removed entire trees filled with orchids, put them on ships and sent them to Europe. Logging and so many things have contributed to the demise of the Everglades, yet it is still a beautiful place.

I continued on to Miami to the Fairchild Botanical Gardens. It is named after one of the most famous plant explorers in history, David Fairchild (1869-1954). Dr. Fairchild traveled the world in search plants. As a young man he created the Section of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction of the United States Department of Agriculture, and for the next 37 years, he traveled the world in search of plants of potential use to the American people. He visited every continent in the world (except Antarctica) and brought back hundreds of important plants, including mangos, alfalfa, nectarines, dates, cotton, soybeans, bamboos and the flowering cherry trees that line the basin in Washington D.C.

He retired to Miami in 1935 and joined a group of plant collectors and horticulturists and together they created Fairchild Botanical Garden. It’s 83 acres were opened to the public for the first time in 1938. There is an Amphitheater, Library and Museum, 11 lakes that were dug by the CCC, A Science Building, an Arts Center, a Butterfly House and Tropical Plant Conservatory, and many more buildings. Their collection of plants is astonishing, their Palm collection is one of the things they are most famous for, but the part of the garden I am in love with is the Rainforest. I was the first ticket sold in the morning and I was able to wander in this part of the garden by myself for quite a while. I could have sworn I was in the jungle. It’s usually the flowers I am interested in but this time it was the trees and lush growth.

The Garden is divided into 2 distinct parts, where the lakes and palms are is called the lowlands, only inches above sea level, and the highlands where the buildings are and the rainforest (and other gardens) is the highlands, about 17 feet above sea level. The lowlands gets flooded in hurricanes so most things planted there can withstand being covered in salt water for a few days. I did not know that the Banyon Tree and the Ficus Tree are from the same family. Our guide Nancy Cliff was outstanding. She also told us that the influx of the iguana is fairly new, over the past 10 years their numbers have really grown in south Florida with them coming up from Mexico and South America.

They had just finished the new paved walks in the Garden and in many places the leaves they used to impress designs in the concrete were still there.

I saw a lot of public art in Miami but the traffic was so bad, and the parking, that I was going to give up until I decided to check out Wynwood. The neighborhood was previously an industrial district and had gone through 100 years of boom and bust. In the 90s it was in a low period and, as often happens, the art and some developers with vision made something out of it. On the way there I drove through some pretty sketchy neighborhoods and was pleased when I saw the sign …

…and the streets there were crawling with people, mostly young people. And there is barely a surface that doesn’t have art on it. I would say there are a several hundred murals. Sometimes I feel I live under a rock. This neighborhood has been developing for the past 10 years and is internationally known, except to me until now.
WynwoodMap.com

Wynwood was referred to as “Little San Juan” at one point, from its beginning 100 years ago the neighborhood has been up and down and until the art started happening it has been in its down period. Early in the 2000s there was a little investment with abandoned warehouses becoming occupied by artists, restaurants and lounges. A developer, Tony Goldman, assisted in the growth of Wynwood by creating a mecca out of the already present graffiti.  In 2009, Goldman commissioned artists to create the Wynwood Walls. Located in the Wynwood Art District, this is an outdoor exhibition of rotating street art.

In 2010, the abandoned Wynwood Free Trade Zone, at 2235 NW 5th Avenue, was reconverted into a working film studio.

Back in N Ft Myers I finished a watercolor I had started 2 years ago!

I went to a lecture about the Burrowing Owls found in Cape Coral, the largest population of the Florida species of the Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia floridana) in the State, with an estimated 1000 nesting pair.

At only 5-8.5 ounces and 7.5-11 inches tall, the Burrowing Owl is one of the smallest of all the owls, and of the 171 species of owls worldwide, the only owl that lives underground.  Unlike the Western species of the Burrowing Owl (athene cunicularia hypugaea) that lives in abandoned prairie dog burrows, here in Florida our Burrowing Owls dig their own burrows.  Cape Coral has upwards of 2500 burrows within the City limits, but not all of them are actively being used by owls. (from the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife Website).

They are so easy to see and photograph. Just look for white stakes surrounding the burrows. Why do they like Cape Coral? Because of the way the city was built. Land speculators come in 1956, totally cleared the 100 sq miles that make up the city and dug canals, leaving a barren landscape, just what these owls like. If you drive around the neighborhoods there are a lot of empty lots so the burrows are easy to see. During the breeding season the entrance to the burrow may contain adornments such as paper, shells, glass, pieces of plastic, animal fecal material, clumps of grass, animal parts, or other items. The best time to see them is at dawn and dusk. I was there in the middle of the day, saw one guy, who quickly disappeared then I saw the dust fly, he was working on his burrow.

This is about the time the Virus alarm really started to wail. Art shows cancelled, lots of thing closed. Time to make more art. Next post more Florida (all outdoor stuff), and more art. Feel lucky to be an artist when confined for a long period of time. There is never enough time to make art. Stay safe everyone and wash your hands. If you are new to this site here is my story.

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New Work in Cold Wax

While my work is representational I also love contemporary abstract art, I haven’t done any since college – 45 years ago – and have frankly been intimidated by it. So while in Ft Myers I took a workshop in Cold Wax. Cold wax painting blurs the line between oil painting and encaustic painting. The medium consists of unbleached beeswax, alkyd resin, and odorless mineral spirits and is used to make oil colors thicker and more matte.

While I don’t intend to give up the way I normally work I have been working on painting in oils and thought I could find a way to incorporate the cold wax into them. In the meantime here are some of the pieces I did in the workshop that I really like.

These are all quite small.

Sunrise – image 3 x 6″ – oil and cold wax on panel
Mountain Lights
Mountain Lights – Image 5 1/2 x 5 1/2″ – oil and cold wax on panel – SOLD
Movement of Teal – image 4 x 4″ – oil and cold wax on panel
It’s Hot! – oil and cold wax on panel – image 4 x 4″
Distant Shimmer – oil and cold wax on panel – image 4 x 4″ – SOLD
Down the Cravasse – oil and cold wax painting on panel – image 4 x 4″

I’m really pleased how they turned out. There are more! Next post, Road Trip Ft. Myers

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Road Trip – Key West

This was the 37th Anniversary of my first trip to Key West, Michael had accompanied friends on their honeymoon and I flew down, it was our 3rd or 4th date! While here we decided to get married, and that happened in August of that same year. I’ve been here about a dozen times since. Why do I keep coming back?

  1. Nostalgia – where we started.
  2. The architecture
  3. The light
  4. The shadows
  5. The colors
  6. The flora and fauna
  7. The art
  8. The only place in the continental US you can be assured of being warm in the winter
  9. The water
  10. The live and let live attitude

I should really start out by saying I write this blog for myself, like a diary, but hear from others that they like reading it, so I share it.

Back to Key West — I visited my favorite spots but found some new ones too!


This was a road trip with stops in Savannah, St Augustine, Vero Beach, and Palm Beach on the way.

I got into Savannah late so the light was nice.

A quick stop in St Augustine.



Then Palm Beach was next. Whether or not I buy anything I love walking down Worth Avenue. Great galleries and it’s beautiful!

I stop at the Laughing Dog Gallery in Vero Beach whenever I’m close. When I owned Carolina Creations we shared some of the same artists.

I’ve been fascinated by railroads, the architecture and the trains themselves, since I was very young. I ride a train whenever I get a chance. Of course Flagler was single handedly responsible for the development of the tourism industry in Florida. By the time I started coming to the keys in 1983 the new seven mile bridge had only been open a year. Before that you drove on the old railroad bridge that had been recycled. Michael had the privilege of driving on the old bridge that goes between Bahia Honda and Spanish Harbor Key. You drove over the top! Yikes! I could have never done that. The new bridge was completed over that stretch in 1980 I think. Michael was also at Sunshine Key when the old seven mile bridge blew up in 1981 extending his stay in the Keys for a while.

No way could I have driven over this bridge! Bahia Honda

I arrived in Key West just in time for the Polar Bear Plunge – which I did NOT participate in!

I love the raku murals at Salute at Higgs Beach.

My favorite thing to do in Key West is to just walk and look at the flowers, the buildings, and the art.

Ate some interesting looking fruit.

There is poetry on some of the side walks, “The Sidewalk Poetry” project was initiated by the Key West Art in Public Places Board in 2012. The goal of the project is to spread appreciation for the Arts through the installation of winning poems on sidewalks throughout the City of Key West. Click here for a map so you can find all 17.

I love people that can “turn a phrase”. Loosely owned is so much more poetic than feral!

Key West isn’t quite as funky as it used to be but there are still some vestiges of it.

Of course the chickens still roam.

And you can’t forget to close the door because you never know who will wander in like this guy.

If you’ve never been here in my opinion the only place to stay is in the historic district since everything you want to see is there. While it is compact you can still wear yourself out walking. There are no parking structures so parking is at a premium. A few years ago, maybe 2017, they started a free bus service called the Duval Loop, you can hop on and hop off, it’s a lifesaver. Michael and I stayed in the Shipyard condos probably 8 or 9 years ago which is part of the Truman Annex, that’s where I stayed again this year. It’s a great location 2 blocks off Duval near the Green Parrot. It’s quiet, there is parking, and it’s gated so the only weirdos that might wander in is someone like the guy pictured above. Of course the weirdos are part of what I like about Key West, both human and animal!


As I said I did several firsts this trip, I’d never been to Fort East Martello Museum. I’d been to the West Martello Fort many times at Higgs Beach, they have a small botanical garden. But the Fort East Martello is larger and very interesting. Robert resides there for one thing. I’d never heard of Robert the Doll. He’s kind of creepy but has an interesting story. Gene and Robert were ‘best friends’ growing up. Legend speculates voodoo played a part in Robert’s formative years, while interviews with those close to the Otto family indicate a great deal of emotional energy was placed upon the doll during Eugene’s lifetime. It is said that young Gene would shift blame when he misbehaved as a child, pointing to the doll and saying, “I didn’t do it. Robert did it”. The story goes that weird things happen when Robert is around. He even has his own website ROBERT THE DOLL.

I had never heard about Carl Tanzler either, a love story that took place in Key West. Reading THAT story is not for the faint of heart.

The museum has displays that talk about Key West’s early years, the cigar industry, the Indians that first inhabited the Keys, and so on. They also have an extensive collection of work by the folk artist Stanley Joseph Papio. He was a welder and created art from the junk he accumulated. Some say it was a way to justify his junk yard on Key Largo. Today he would be called an outsider artist.

Another first was a visit to the Key West Museum of Art & History at the Custom House. Highlights of this museum for me were the artworks by Mario Sanchez. He is considered one of the most significant Cuban American folk artists of the 20th Century. A Key West native, Sanchez worked with wood and paint, mostly creating bas relief carvings that reflect images of earlier times on the island that were never captured in photos.

Right now there is an exhibition that closes soon called Literary History of Key West which tells about 20+ writers who worked here. I learned that Tennessee Williams was a painter as well as a writer. He took up painting as his literary career began to wane. The display of 15 of his paintings are on permanent loan to the museum.


This was my favorite.

And there is an extensive permanent display about Henry Flagler and his building of the Overseas Highway.

I noticed that my favorite directional sign of all time has changed a little since last year. I have photos of directional signs like this from all over the world. One of these days I’ll get one erected at the corner of my house. Two pieces of the sign disappeared since last year, one said “my uncle once killed a squirrel with a gravy boat” and the other “the key west chicken ate my cat”, and his choice for president changed too!

LOVE LOVE LOVE roaming the streets.