Dick and Gayl's Cruising Adventures

Fun Around Fort Myers

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Fort Myers, Florida  February 19-March 10

Fort Myers, aka City of Palms

Our journal entries are arranged chronologically, so even if this part of the page looks the same to you as it did last time you visited, please scroll down to see if we have added anything since you last checked. 

If you have seen everything on this page, click here or on the blue section at the bottom of this page for more Fort Myers adventures.

We will be using the Centennial Harbour Marina in Fort Myers as our base of operations for at least two weeks, we think.  So, we will probably have lots more to say about this area than anyplace else we have been so far.
February 19, 2005 Edison Festival of Lights

Sun Trust's illuminated balloon

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison maintained side-by-side winter retreats in Fort Myers.  The homes and their grounds have been preserved, and are a major tourist attraction.  Capitalizing on Edison's appeal, the town has declared President's Day weekend the Edison Festival of Lights.
The focal point of the festival is an evening parade that lasts over two hours.  Every organization and business imaginable participates, and people stake out and mark their spots along the parade route early in the day.  There are marching bands from local schools and from northern schools looking for an excuse to go someplace warm to perform.  Fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, and disaster response vehicles from towns all over the state are plentifully represented, all with sirens wailing and lights flashing.  Precision team motorcycle cops do tricks like standing on their seats with arms outstretched while speeding down the street. Lots of Shriners are there with their miniature cars--Flintstone log cars, clown cars, zippy race cars.
The most unique aspects of the parade were the lighted floats.  All kinds of businesses and organizations sponsored them.  What they all had in common were lots of lights and lots of riders.  We were particularly impressed by the number of floats featuring babies snugly secured in baby seats.  At the other end of the spectrum, one of our favorite floats featured a geriatric chapter of the Red Hat Ladies shaking their purple pom poms to Madonna's recording of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." 

Gayl talks turkey

Because people stake out their parade territory early, the festival had other attractions to keep people occupied until dark.  There were beer and food booths aplenty in the park next to our marina.  Although lots of the food offerings were old favorites, Gayl couldn't resist trying something new--a smoked turkey drumstick big enough to serve a hungry Viking, available for the same price as an Italian Sausage,  Yum!
We also watched a mini-marathon, with runners of all ages and sizes.  The last runner in looked to be in his 90s.  The Craft Festival lasted two days, and we visited it the next afternoon--we were too concerned about finding a spot to view the parade to take the time to see it on Saturday.
Sunday, February 20, 2005 "Ding" Darling Nature Preserve on Sanibel Island
We kept the car we rented to get to the Miami Boat Show over the weekend, so we could visit the "Ding" Darling Nature Preserve on Sanibel Island, just 20 miles from Fort Myers. This was our third visit to the Preserve, and it remains one of our favorite places in the world to watch birds.

Roseate Spoonbill

Conditions were perfect for bird photography--the tide was low early in the morning when the sun was low, bathing the birds who feed at low tide with warm light.   There were lots of photographers with very impressive equipment along the 5 mile road that passes the ponds, marshes, mangroves and mudflats of the preserve.  We experimented with our new digital camera, and learned that it won't work with our telescope like the camera that now rests on the bottom of the sea, but our new camera's zoom is more powerful, and its shutter delay is shorter.


These few pictures can't begin to capture the wonders of our three hours at "Ding" Darling.  The ponds were filled with birds. We saw more than 30 different species, and had the chance to observe their behavior closely for long periods, so that we could understand them and differentiate them better.  We were in birding heaven.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
A Little History of Fort Myers
Every Wednesday, volunteers from the Southwest Florida Museum of History lead walking tours of the historic downtown area of Fort Myers.   We couldn't resist.
But first, we needed to fuel up for the walk.  We found the perfect spot for a real breakfast just a few hundred feet away from the Museum.  The minute we walked into the door of the Oasis, we were greeted warmly, over and over again, by multiple members of the staff.  You can get bacon, egg, toast and home fires for $2.67, and the coffee is good and plentiful.  The owner and her servers are chipper beyond belief, and stop by to check and chat often.  If only there was an Oasis in Cincinnati, we'd never eat breakfast at home again.


Thus fortified, we wandered over to the Museum for the tour.  We already knew a bit about the recent history of Fort Myers. Thomas Edison had his winter estate and workshop here, his friend Henry Ford built his winter home right next to Edison's, and Firestone frequently visited them here. It was here that Edison discovered that a goldenrod native to Florida could be used to make rubber.  Also because of Edison, Fort Myers was one of the earliest places to have electric street lights. These facts we learned when we toured the Edison/Ford estate complex last year led us to think of Fort Myers as a pretty progressive leading edge sort of place. 
Our walking tour provided fair balance to those early impressions.  Basically, Fort Myers is a cow town.  The Spaniards who settled here early brought over their cattle, then abandoned them as they abandoned the region.  Enterprising settlers moved in and adopted the abandoned cattle.  They were the original Florida "crackers," named for sound of the whips they expertly wielded to herd the cattle.  Cattle were driven through Fort Myers until 1951, when an ordinance was passed prohibiting it.

The fort for which Fort Myers is named was held by the Union Army in the Civil War.  Its strategic importance was as a base from which troops could herd cattle to feed the Union troops, and recruit Blacks to join the Union Army.  Of course Florida was  a confederate state, and the historic loyalties of those in the area are made clear--Fort Myers is the county seat of Lee county, named for Confederate General Lee.
Today, Fort Myers is working mightily to overcome its image as a cow town. The downtown area is under major renovation, with the goal of preserving the historic look, while establishing retail and retaurant attractions on the ground level and housing for young professionals on the upper floors of all the buildings.  It is a successful formula that has made developers rich so far.  Rents and sale prices have doubled and tripled in just a few years' time. 
On the riverfront, high rise condos can't go up fast enough to supply demand.  Next to our Marina, a complex of five high rise condo towers is being constructed.  The first phase has been fully sold out, although it is hardly more than a hole in the ground.  The second phase, to be completed in 2007, is going fast.
Unfortunately, we think that when the city of Fort Meyers achieves its vision for its future we won't want to visit here anymore.  When the baby boomers hit retirement, will there be any charming towns without high rise condos towering over them left in Florida?
We won't leave Wednesday on a depressing note.  In addition to being Walking Tour Day, Wednesday is also Centennial Harbour Marina Potluck Day.  So, at 6:30, armed with our potluck dish (a lemony cous cous salad with sweet red pepper, feta, and faux crab), we headed for the tiki shack to meet our fellow boaters.  The food was fabulous, our fellow boaters were friendly and fascinating, and time flew by.  We are already looking forward to next week's potluck.
Thursday, February 24  Farmer's Market

There is a Farmer's Market every Thursday in Centennial Park.  Since the nearest grocery is four miles from the marina and Centennial Park is right next door, we went to market with a shopping list, intending to stock up, and we were not disappointed.
The market reminded us of market days we have enjoyed in small towns in Provence, except that this market was set up in the shade of the Highway 41 ramp to the bridge over the Caloosahatchee River.  Around 30 vendors had booths selling fresh cut flowers, fruits and vegetables, fragrant breads and pastries, fish, nuts, and other tasty treats, most of them locally procured.  We left with lots of vegetables and some sweet Plant City strawberries, a basil plant, bulldozer tails (a sort of local lobster), grouper fillets, and light airy cheese rolls.

Friday, February 25, 2005 Geocaching Cape Coral
Once again we took advantage of the Enterprise weekend car rental deal to get terrestially mobile for the next three days.
For the first time since we docked here, we had a rainy day.  The pre-dawn rains were heavy -- one dinghy that wasn't covered or draining held four inches of water -- but by the time we were up and about, the rain had tapered off to intermittent light and pleasant showers. 
We had a list of errands and shopping to do, and a list of geocaches to find in Cape Coral, across the river from Fort Myers.  First we did some errands--mailing tax return information to our accountant, returning a marine monitor that wouldn't interface with our computer and searching for miscellaneous parts to complete other boat projects--then we rewarded ourselves with the thrill of the hunt.
Most of the ten caches we searched out were in parks developed by the Rotary or Jaycees.  We walked for over a mile on a boardwalk through mangroves, with a couple serene river overlook points. Another long boardwalk at Glover's Bight took us to a three story observation tower that we climbed to look over the tops of  mangroves stretching at least a mile in every direction.  A trail along marshes and ponds led to an observation tower where we had great views of Blue-winged and Green-winged teals, as well a our favorite herons and egrets.  We got lots of exercise, and enjoyed the wild side of Cape Coral.
Cape Coral provides lots of navigational challenges by land, since it is veined with more canals than Venice. Get on the wrong side of  a canal in a residential area, and you can spend a long time working your way through a maze of streets to find a bridge over to the other side.  Waterfront real estate is advertised by the number of bridges between the property and the river. 
This is a place where you can still find lots of cozy old bungalows with waterfront locations. The phenomenon of ripping down little old houses and replacing them with big new ones that fill every inch of the lot is not common practice here yet, as far as we could tell. In fact, there are still lots and lots of scruffy vacant lots available along the canals. Based on our observations, Cape Coral is not truly a hot real estate zone yet.  We haven't looked at prices, but we get the idea that we might be able to afford to live on water someplace here, but we wonder if we would want to.

Click here to see our adventures and discoveries during our second week in Fort Myers.