I really enjoyed attending the Tampa Twilight Criterium in downtown Tampa on Saturday afternoon. I took my son with me in a backpack, and while I took photos, he provided commentary – “Whoooooooah!” – I think he was impressed that they were just a little faster than his Red Ryder.
Having done a few of these myself, I can relate to the challenges of working with a city to orchestrate an event like this. But the organizers, police, and City of Tampa were all accommodating and everything seemed to go smoothly.
My camera doesn’t really have the chops for this kind of combined light and speed, but I made the best of it and am happy with how a few came out. I just feel lucky I didn’t get my block knocked off. Hopefully the guys didn’t mind!
I’ve lived in Tampa for nearly two years now, and I must confess that during that time I’ve never taken the initiative to go to a Tampa Bay Rays game. So, when I got the invite from a friend it was the only push I needed. It was a good game, and the Rays walloped the Angels 11-1.
I’m always envious of the sports photographers with their huge and expensive lenses. I can’t compete on that level, so instead I took a low res photo from my point-and-shoot and had some fun with it (see below).
To do this yourself with, for instance, a landscape of a city or a mountain range, all you have to do is the following:
How to Create Spheres in Photoshop:
Start off with a wide panorama such as the above. If you can use one that is full 360 degrees that is even better.
Under Image Size, uncheck Constrain Proportions, and match the Height with the Width.
Rotate the image 180 degrees.
Under Filter, choose Distort, Polar Coordinates, and in the resulting dialogue box choose the “Rectangular Polar Setting.”
Use the Clone Stamp and/or Burn tool to clean up the line where the two sides join.
In the case of this example, I also used the Marquee tool to select the area of the sphere I wanted, then did Select – Inverse to get rid of the exterior part of the image. Remember, you’ll need to Unlock the Layer to get a Transparent Layer.
As you can see, I also added an additional Layer of baseball threads.
Comment on this post if you ever end up doing something fun with these simple Photoshop tricks.
If you look carefully at this mural (click to enlarge) that is painted on the side of a building in downtown Tampa, you can see that it embodies much of the personality of the city. I hope the artist does not mind that I took a picture of it and posted it here.
Within the lettering you will see the Sulphur Springs Tower, Gasparilla Festival, Henry B. Plant Museum, Ybor City, and representation of the natural environment and countless springs, rivers, and bays that surround the City. Since I moved to Tampa, I have done my best to try and encapsulate the diversity of the area with the Sea Kayaking Tampa, Florida post bringing in a surprising amount of traffic to my website. Of course, there is much more.
My assumption is that very few people outside of Florida think not only about the agricultural production in the State, but also the ranching and equestrianism that goes along with it. Starting with the Spanish, horses have played an integral role in the development of Florida. Not far from where I live, Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders camped for several days in preparation for the Spanish American War. The City of Tampa has not forgotten, for you will find horses featured at the Tampa Bay History Center. Likewise, this statue is just down the street from me on Bayshore.
Horses are iconic symbols that have played a role in my professional life, and in the past two states I have lived in – Nevada and Florida. In my work with Twelve Horses, I have been fortunate to learn more about the history of horses in America, and the challenges they face. It is a fascinating story that is still being written.
Based on a tip from Tampa I Am, I decided to take a little stroll out at Brooker Creek Preserve this past Saturday. It sounded nice enough, and with its close proximity to downtown Tampa there was hardly any cause to consider it a huge commitment (even if it meant sacrificing precious weekend hours). Just throw the word, “preserve” into the same sentence with outdoors and hiking, and I am apt to be sold. Plus, how can one not be grateful for a morsel of land in the Tampa Bay area devoid of condos and mini porches with a compromised view?
Upon pulling into the parking lot, it seemed to be a nice enough place. I could hear some trigger-happy people popping off shots from their pistols somewhere in the distance, but aside from that there was relative calm. The boardwalk, albeit short, is quite nice, and the education center and corresponding facilities are obviously well-funded. The displays along parts of the trail are creatively composed and informative, but then they, well, just end.
Beyond that is the 4-mile wilderness trail, which I did in full, and while it held my observance I doubt I would ever do it again. Don’t get me wrong, there is subtle beauty in the pines and palms, but the trail was a road, and the pines had obviously been harvested not that long ago.
As further encroachment ensues land management becomes even more important and challenging. That is why I really am appreciative for places like this and would fork over additional tax dollars to protect more of the same. The diversity of wildlife, and the knowledge that one day those pines will be old growth is heartwarming. But it felt a little like being thankful for dissatisfaction. I wanted more!
I did have the chance to spy a pygmy rattler; although, I was not quick enough to capture a picture. I also picked up this turkey feather (see picture), and spotted a small buck cruising through the trees. In each case, I am glad they have room to roam.
My guess is that the city of Tampa offered up Picnic Island as a concession to give a large amount of oceanfront land over to industry. They also built a bunch of lifeguard towers, but later realized they would have to pay trained people to sit there. No matter, a lifeguard tower is a great place to watch the sun set.
Yesterday evening I took my regular bike route along Bayshore, also known as the Boulevard of Dreams, to Davis Island and back when I came across this dolphin corralling fish. I pulled out my little Powershot A620 and shot some video. At one point he or she leapt from the water with a fish at the tip of its mouth. It went on for a while and was quite amusing.
If you are going to go sea kayaking in Tampa, Florida you better bring lots of gas, a big outboard engine, and your racing stripes. We take sea kayaking here seriously people! Personally, my paddle converts into numb chucks just in case I get pissed off, which is a lot. To get ready I generally shove cigs, cold corn beef hash, and Folgers Crystals into my craw. I then chase it all down with a Big Gulp from the 7-11. This magic combo gets me fired up to convene with nature even though I would really just prefer to shoot everything that comes near me. Also, don’t get too close. My kayak has an exploding tip, and I won’t hesitate to paddle into your’s if it suits me. You should see me coming though. I generally have my tunes playing pretty loud.
Actually, it is quite the opposite. I really like the health and stealth a sea kayak brings me. A motorboat can be a good option, but if you are looking to get into places where they can’t go, achieve a nice upper body workout, and maybe even sneak up on some fish in the flats, a sea kayak is a great way to get out and explore.
In the time I have been in the Tampa, Florida area I have managed to discover quite a few nice places to explore in a sea kayak. Many of them are within an hours drive of downtown Tampa and can easily be accomplished in a day or less. Choose from brackish rivers, saltwater estuaries and white-sand beaches; it is all up to you as to what you want to experience.
What is amazing about the state of Florida is that it pumps out an estimated 8 billion gallons of spring water on a daily basis. Percolating up through, around, and down the limestone layers that make up the state, a significant portion of this water either finds its way into Tampa Bay, or in close proximity to it. What’s more, Tampa Bay constitutes 300 square miles of open water filled with opportunities to dip a blade. There is a reason why it was such a favorite hiding place for pirates back in the day.
Here are a few sea kayaking trips around Tampa to get you started.
Weedon Island Preserve
The Weedon Island Preserve offers a 4-mile long canoe and kayak trail that winds through mangroves, lagoons, and across open water. It takes about 3-4 hours to complete and is marked with numbered signs to help keep you from getting lost along the way. There is a Cultural and Natural History Center close to the put-in that details the life of the former inhabitants, and right across from the entrance are sea kayaks for rent in case you need one.
The paddling through the narrow alleyways is a great experience. Look for the countless little fiddler crabs that cling to the mangrove roots, and keep a sharp eye out for mammals crossing the passages. You will most certainly see a myriad of bird life including, herons, egrets, ospreys skimmers, spoonbills, white pelicans, and wood storks. If you are lucky you might see a bald eagle or even a manatee. There are also some hiking trails and an observation deck if you want to do some more exploring on foot.
Be sure to make your plans around the high tide; otherwise, it gets too shallow in the places you really want to see. There are some great fishing spots in the area, so you might also want to bring a rod. Finally, bring bug spray for that afternoon take out. Every time I’ve been to Weedon Island the gnats have been ferocious in the afternoon, and there is nothing more agonizing than trying to tie your kayak on the car while being molested by these little creatures.
The Hillsborough River is just northeast of downtown Tampa and offers several sections to explore by kayak. You can choose to set a shuttle to avoid retracing your steps, or paddle in and out. There is easy access at the Hillsborough River State Park, and you can ply upstream or downstream and still return with relative ease. The mix of hardwoods, palm, and cypress knees make for a beautiful combination, and it really lends itself to that feeling of “Old Florida” you so often hear about. Alligators, turtles, and birds abound, so you must be comfortable with the rustling and bustling of wildlife around each turn.
If you are fortunate enough to witness dozens of white ibis take wing over the course of the river that alone is well worth the trip. I for one was completely enamored with the beautiful reflections off of the brackish waters, the calm stillness, and the fact that hardly anyone was around even on a weekend.
If you want to mix it up you can also bring a bike with you. There is a maze of trails in the park to explore and a nice loop that equates to about 25 miles.
The Myakka River State Park is about an hour south of Tampa on the outskirts of Sarasota, and it is an absolutely wonderful place to visit. It is one of Florida’s first state parks and Wild & Scenic Rivers. Even if you just want to walk or drive around it is well worth the trip, but the people that really get it bring a bike or a kayak. You have to obtain a permit if you want to paddle into the Preserve. The ranger station only gives out 30 per day, and there is no advance reservations allowed. I saw nary a soul when I went and had no trouble getting one. Even if for some reason a group grabbed all the permits you would still have plenty of worthwhile places to paddle, including the Upper Myakka Lake and the parts of the river that are not in the Preserve.
If you are looking to see alligators, this is the place. In fact, I would strongly advise never putting yourself in the position of tipping and having to swim. What is it about a thin colored piece of plastic that convinces a 2 million year old mind that you are not easily edible? At one point I was paddling around a very narrow and overgrown sluiceway when I rounded the corner and locked eyes with an alligator that was easily 12 feet in length and just a few feet away. There was a pause, and then there was an explosion as both parties hastily went their separate ways. I marveled at the raw power of the alligator and the rapidity of my heart before deciding I had experienced enough.
After successfully exiting the river, one should take time to explore the Canopy Trail and the bird walks, for there is plenty to see and experience here as well. It is these well-organized and cared-after parks that makes me take pause to appreciate what tax dollars and motivated individuals can do to protect a very valuable place. Stop by the coral monument and give thanks, and then give a high-five and a big smile to the rangers when you leave.
Anclote Key Preserve State Park is located two miles off of the coast of Tarpon Springs and approximately 45 minutes north of downtown Tampa, Florida. It is a beautiful island that features both back and open-water kayaking with abundant bird life and great fishing opportunities. The best way to sea kayak it is to launch from Fred Howard State Park and paddle straight across. It is best advised to have a spray skirt and pump in case it gets choppy, for you will cross some exposed open water and a waterway for motorboats.
There is an old abandoned lighthouse on the island that was built in the 19th century, as well as a campground if you want to stay overnight. According to the website, “these northernmost barrier islands are considered by experts to be among the top five sites in the state for diversity and numbers of beach-nesting birds.” I can tell you this, I saw a multitude of birds and more. It is absolutely beautiful out there, and you will feel like Robinson Crusoe walking down that white-sand beach. Paddling back to Fred Howard State Park I watched a a very large Tarpon launch some 4-5 ft out of the water and caught several blue fish on an artificial lure.
My suggestion: plan to have time to check out Tarpon Springs after your paddle. It is an old Greek community that has made history from the practice of diving for sponges. The town is rich with colors, sounds, and smells of the Meditteranean, and a photographers dream with the old boats, nets, and people laying about. You will certainly get an appreciation for time and place despite the town’s attention to tourism.
Fort de Soto State Park
Emerge from the ubiquitous development and the pervasive amounts of people, cross the bridge, and boom, paradise. It would serve you well to go on a weekday, but if not, it is still worth the venture. Fort de Soto has consistently been voted as one of “America’s Best Beaches” because, well, it is.
Palms, white-sand, and blue water stretch for miles in either direction. Choose to put in a rigorous 10-mile loop, or just cruise around and catch trout and bass on the fly. Put your kayak in on the front or back side of the island, and no matter what you will have plenty of paddling options. You can even make the 2-mile trip out to Edgemont Key if you don’t mind open water. Just remember it is 2-miles back.
If and when you are done sea kayaking, you can proceed on foot and explore the old forts that are located on both Fort de Soto and Egmont Key. At one point these were major staging grounds for soldiers, but now they stand vacant in the tropical sun.
There are kayak rentals and tours out at Fort de Soto if you need them.
Honeymoon Island State Park
This island can get quite crowded on the ocean side, but behind the island you will often see nary a soul. I like this paddle because it is a good distance for me from the causeway, just before the entrance to the park, to the far point of the island and back again. If you are feeling especially expeditious then you can paddle across the Saint Joseph Sound to the far island between Anclote and Honeymoon.
There are several stops along the way, including Pelican Cove. Bald eagles nest here along with many other shore birds. Paddling close to the mangroves you will see snook, bass, and several other tropical fish. If you paddle around the horn to the ocean side you will generally see several dolphin schooling about, for this seems to be a popular spot for them.
I highly recommend picking up a copy of John Molloy and crew’s book, “Canoeing & Kayaking Florida.” The descriptions are excellent, and there are helpful guides for running the shuttles and navigating the various nuances of Florida’s waterways.
Also, the folks at Osprey Bay Outdoors are extremely knowledgable and friendly, and they organize regularly scheduled trips all over the Tampa Bay area.
Here is a map of the locations discussed in this post:
What can I say, there has been a lot of this lately. But being new to Tampa, Florida, it is nice to at least be making some friends that are encouraging it.
A few places that I enjoy around Tampa for hanging out, grabbing some food, and tossing back a few are:
Mangroves: A hip little joint in the SoHo district of Hyde Park. They serve good food, and after 11pm the DJ thumps some beats upstairs if you want to get your groove on. This is a good place to find out if your wardrobe has fallen out of fashion.
Fly: Located in downtown Tampa not far from the theatre, this has a great little outdoor deck upstairs with seating area and bar. Downstairs the ambiance is cool and the food is excellent. You can choose to sit inside or out.
Mad Dogs: Don’t let the Irish pub theme fool you. This place has amazing food, great wine, and of course, plenty of different beers to choose from. The vibe is great. People come riding in on bikes, walking with dogs, or in shiny luxury vehicles. In each case, no one is disappointed.
Ceviche: If you are looking for a great Tapas bar and restaurant then check out this place. A relaxed atmosphere, good sangria, and great food. It is quite difficult to decide what to get.
Byblos: Think spices, soft pillows, and a warm ambiance; oh, and also really good traditional Lebanese food. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of eastern food, and Byblos definitely ranks at the top. Stick around for the belly dancing while you puff away on your hookah.
The Rack: This one doesn’t have its own website, but you can Google the location. The reason why I include it is because of its rather strange combination of billiards and sushi. You first thought might be, “frightening,” but the sushi is actually really good even if it does come with a sports theme. If you don’t mind being in the midst of cute college girls and male football enthusiasts, while you savor some good sushi, then this is the place.
Obviously, there are many more places that I have been and need to visit, but these are some I definitely recommend and would patronize again. Hopefully by the time you’ve checked these off the list I’ll have some more for you. Until then, enjoy!
It is hard to believe that it has been almost 3 months since I left Reno-Tahoe, but time flies when you are busy getting on with it. What is even more surprising, however, is that I have not yet done a real blog post on my new locale. But first a word from the Florida Gators.
Okay, here we go….
Tampa, Florida encompasses much more than a cartographer’s little star would imply. The city draws its strength from the fact that it is situated on Tampa Bay, which constitutes a 400 square mile basin fringed with white-sand beaches, dotted with islands, and fed by channels and rivers. Because of Tampa’ Bay’s unique geology, it has become Florida’s largest port, carrying more than 50 million tons of cargo per year. It has also served as a destination for ancient tribes, Spanish conquistadors, Civil War troops, Spanish-American War battalions, entrepreneurs, and of course, “snowbirds” escaping the colder climates of the north for the warmer retreats of the south. Suffice to say, each faction has left its own mark on the city’s history and evolution.
Tampa contains some very distinctive neighborhoods that have evolved over time due to ethnicity, affluence, and geographic position. You have Hyde Park, SOHO, Palma Ceia, Channelside, Davis Island, Rocky Point, and others. But one clear indication of this is Ybor City.
Ybor City was once the cigar-making capital of the world. This phenomenon brought on an infusion of Cuban, Mediterranean, and European culture that melded together to create a unique and vibrant area filled with excellent restaurants, live music, and beautiful architecture. Imagine old red brick buildings, mixed with classic European construction, set against the backdrop of rusting tankers resting in the water next to a modern city rising into the sky.
Something especially interesting to me are the social clubs that dot the downtown district. In the early 1920s, social clubs served as the heart of the community. It was where members went on the weekends to dance, get married, receive medical attention, or just hang out over cigars and dominos. Nowadays, the surviving social clubs hang on with the help of their historical designations, donations, and a constant stream of events. Walk around inside, for instance, the Centro Asturiano or the Cuban Club, and you will discover beautiful theatres and ballrooms made of materials that are no longer affordable or readily available.
The Tampa Bay Hotel
Another place recently visited that I found very interesting is The Tampa Bay Hotel and the Henry B. Plant Museum, located on what is now the University of Tampa’s campus. It is an incredible building that combines Moorish architecture with a Victorian, European style that seems more applicable to some foreign land. Even now the lights burn bright with old Edison electric filament bulbs, and the rooms are decorated with furnishings that came from Paris in 1891. At one time, Teddy Roosevelt relaxed there as he and the rest of his Rough Riders readied for the Spanish-American War.
So Much More…
Of course, Tampa has much more to see and experience, and I will have to cover those in subsequent blog posts. Needless to say, it is proving to be an interesting place with much more depth than I would have ever originally guessed. Stay tuned for more! In the interim, here are a few pictures that I have gathered thus far.