Rubbing Elbows with the Mega-Wealthy and a “Darling” of an Island

We are settled into the lovely Neopolitan Cove RV Resort in a city that has been called the “crown jewel” of southwest Florida, “well-known for its high-end shopping, world-class culture and sophisticated dining”.  This city has the 6th highest per capita income in America, the second highest proportion of millionaires in the US, and showcases some of the most expensive real estate around.  This is Naples, Florida and no, not where you would normally find us, rubbing elbows with the mega-wealthy, out on the town for a night of elegant dining.  My silk suits and fashionable pumps have gone the way of my stressful corporate job as have Terry’s suits.  We much prefer hiking boots, walking shoes or bouncing about on our bikes these days.

I was not going to be quieted until I knew I would be within striking distance of a day-trip to the darling of an island I had heard so much about, and Naples offered us this springboard when other locations were already booked.  Florida is snow-bird haven so if you hesitate, you lose, when it comes to making winter RV reservations.

There is no denying the striking beauty found in Naples.  We have oohed and aahed our way through the charming historic district, both on foot and bikes while on our way to the Naples Fishing Pier, one of the city’s better-known landmarks, tucked away in a residential neighborhood.  It is where we have spent much of our time, walking the white-sand beach and enjoying picnics, while waiting with the locals and tourists alike to take in the spectacular sunsets, and there have been a few of those.

Even in the lap of luxury, white-sand beaches and stunning sunsets to entice, there was nothing I wanted more than to head to Sanibel Island and breathe in the symbiotic essence of J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the most visited wildlife refuge and one of the hottest birding spots in the country, with ~ one million visitors yearly.

The story of how this sanctuary came to be is one built on passion and a reverence for the world’s natural resources.  The man, Ding Darling, was best known for what paid his bills, a career as an esteemed editorial cartoonist, appearing in 150 newspapers nationwide, which earned him two Pulitzer Prizes. But it was his passion for nature and wildlife that breathed life into this most precious of refuges.

In the early 1940’s, Ding was distressed by news that the State of Florida was ready to strike an agreement with developers to sell off over 2200 acres of Sanibel Island’s virginal mangrove wetlands.  He sprang into action and with the help of a few friends, convinced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lease the land, protecting this important wildlife habitat.

When Ding passed away in 1962, admirers and friends came together to form the J. N. “Ding” Darling Foundation.  Their 5-year struggle to take these leased lands, acquire them, and place them under the Federal ownership of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service secured these pristine wetlands for an abundance of wildlife, our enjoyment, and secured the profound legacy of this very special man – J. N. “Ding” Darling.

Land meets sea, saltwater melds into freshwater, and temperate climate kisses tropical warmth as you step inside this wildlife preserve.  The 4-mile drive takes you through sea grass meadows, tidal flats, and mangrove forests, with birders and photographers waiting around every curve to share their knowledge and love of this precious refuge.

We arrived as the gates opened at 7am.  The quiet beauty of this place greeted us and we knew we had come at the perfect time.   We meandered along the drive, stopping when yet another unique bird made her appearance.   We then walked four miles of trails in the hopes of finding a few other hidden treasures. Neither alligators nor the resident crocodile greeted us, although we are assured of seeing plenty of both during our stay later this month in the Everglades.

I could not entice some of the birds to get within my lens’ reach, particularly the roseate spoonbill, who is on the top of my “up-close and personal” to see list.  For that treat, I urge you to check out Raven and Chickadee’s (better known as Eric and Laurel) post on Sanibel Island, or Ingrid of Live, Laugh, RV, who didn’t have to trek to Sanibel to see this “pretty in pink” beauty.

Sanibel Island is best seen on bike, sporting 22 miles of paved trails and is the ultimate way to afford stress-free travel, as the roadways onto and off the island get pretty congested.  Some of the best shelling beaches in the world can be found here at Sanibel, although we could not attest to the variety of shells we had seen in photos.   That might be because I didn’t practice my “Sanibel Stoop”, digging with a net along the shoreline for these little treasures.

Artistry on Sanibel Beach
Artistry on Sanibel Beach

From Naples we head to Midway Campground in Big Cypress National Preserve, where we venture into the swamplands of the Everglades.  I am told we may be without both cell phone and internet coverage so until we return to civilization once again, have a wonderful week! 🙂

69 thoughts on “Rubbing Elbows with the Mega-Wealthy and a “Darling” of an Island

  • Sitting here surrounded by snow, with icicles hanging from the rain gutters, and more snow in the forecast (twice) for the coming week…… your post was a great respite! It looks heavenly. Enjoy!!! 🙂

    • Thanks sharechair! I feel so for those dealing with such a harsh winter, which is most of my family. I’m glad I could give you a few moments of relief. 🙂

  • Ah, you seem to be mastering that new camera beautifully. Love your capture of the roseate spoonbill – thanks for the mention. Beautiful photos 🙂

  • Beautiful pictures! It’s so nice to see birds I have never seen before; an education, as it were. Your pictures are getting better and better. We’ll all be anxious to see your post about the Everglades. I know you’re not looking forward to the alligators, etc, but that’s part of what it is. I can hardly wait for THOSE pictures. Have fun, but do be safe!!!

  • Glad you enjoyed J.N. “Ding” Darling. It was on our list for a return trip to Sanibel to bike the island a little more extensively, but the weather just didn’t cooperate. Oh, well, some other year.

    Sounds like you made the most of your time in Naples. Such a great area. Your sunset was beautiful:)

    Someone made a gorgeous starfish with shells. Very cool!

    Have fun in Big Cypress!!! Hope the bugs aren’t bad!

    • We have enjoyed our time in Naples but it’s time to head into the swamps! I haven’t heard too much about the bugs in Big Cypress but have been hearing a lot more about the mosquitoes in Flamingo – yikes!

  • I am so happy that you are back to being able to enjoy your adventures and share them with us. I will most likely never get there but do get to get a feel for places through your words and wonderful pictures. THANK YOU!

    • I love your photos of Old Naples. I recognized many of those images as we wandered the streets. It is certainly a gorgeous city. Thanks for the shout-out.

      For some reason your posts no longer come into my emails. Perhaps I need to go and re-subscribe.

  • “Land meets sea, saltwater melds into freshwater, and temperate climate kisses tropical warmth as you step inside this wildlife preserve.” -It sounds beautiful, LuAnn. Thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures. Great post.

    • That spoonbill would not venture closer for me. Perhaps he knows how much I lust over him and is frightened! We had not intended to stay in Naples but given our late date in booking some of our reservations, this is what we found. Glad to have had the experience.

  • So happy you got to experience Sanibel and the Ding Darling refuge — wonderful photo of the yellow crowned night heron, and the sea star sand sculpture is beautiful! I’m glad you like the photos we took, too. It’s a wonderful island, and we’re hoping to return next year — as you said, we need to make those reservations early!

    • I am still hoping for a better shot at that roseate spoonbill but if not, I can always hop over to your site and drool. I am also on the lookout for a wood stork. We saw one in the trees heading down to the Everglades today, but could not convince hubby to stop in the middle of the road so I could get a photo. 😉

  • As I may have said LuAnn, we lived in St. Augustine for a few years, and it enabled us to travel extensively in FL. So I’ve been enjoying your posts that remind me of all the cool places the state has to offer. In case you haven’t been, don’t miss the Ringling Bros Museum in Sarasota. ~James

  • We loved our time in Naples and oooo’d and ahhhh’d at the shops too as well as the beaches and shopping centers. Even though we don’t have the urge to rub elbows with the rich and famous, we had to admit the place was beautiful. We couldn’t find one bad ‘part of town’. We liked it so much we looked at some condo’s that were surprising affordable (their still down from the recession) One was just down the road from you off Rattlesnake.

    We were lucky to be there in November and got half price rates at the Naples RV Resort with our Passport America membership. Thanks for sharing – I’m attaching our post from that date.

    • We didn’t think there would be anything affordable in Naples and we too think it is a fabulous city, beauty and elegance everywhere we looked.

      I just looked at your website. Thanks so much for the link. Is there a way to subscribe and receive notification of new posts?

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  • We haven’t seen Naples. What a gorgeous place. Your sunset photos should be framed and hung in a museum….fabulous!

  • love your post title, LuAnn. [smiling] sometimes it’s nice to take a small peek at how a few get to enjoy the lavish lifestyle. of course, some don’t enjoy it even with all the extravaganza…but that’s another story. of course, lovely photos – my favorite being the pink one, the Roseate spoonbill.a beauty. 🙂

  • 2 Pulitzers as a cartoonist, whoa! And amazing that a cartoonist can be such an environmentalist. Cool story, indeed.
    The clouds added to the wow factor of the sceneries. The pier looks really beautiful. Now, I don’t feel as sad leaving Okinawa being excited now to see even just the piers in Cali.

  • Loved that you saw the best of Naples. My aparents retired there in the 80’s so we have been visiting for many years, way before it was so “upscale”. Used to be a quiet, sleepy village, home to a some wealth, with big homes on the gulf, but overall beautiful beaches and not much pretense. Needless to say, we don’t enjoy the new Naples although will be there visiting my sister in March.

    • It is certainly beautiful and we did enjoy riding our bikes around historic Naples and all the palatial estates there. Much too rich for our blood I’m afraid. 🙂

  • Fantastic bird and sunset photos. LuAnn. That pier party looks like quite an occasion, and good fun. What a lovely setting! The sand art is beautiful. Enjoy The Everglades, and wear your mosquito repellant. 🙂

    • Thanks Sylvia. So far we have not noticed the mosquitoes too much but when we venture further south in a few weeks, I am told the mosquitoes are horrible in Flamingo. I am armed and ready for them, I think! 😉

  • Oh girlfriend, you were right in my city!!! I wish I would of known, I would of loved to meet you on Sanibel and have a cup of coffee with the both of you. This is where I work everyday♥ You did the place a great justice with your beautiful images. Thanks for your kind words on my blog this morning.

    • Thanks Chuck. We are now in Big Cypress. Wish I would have known about this before we left. We will have to save it for our next visit. Thanks for the tip and for stopping by. 🙂

  • Well, as ever, this is wonderful, your mixing of nature and the part it plays for us as a way to forget the ‘real’ world is wonderful and always brings a smile to my face.

    Those animals like to avoid the cameras, it’s as if they know, like they are more intelligent than us and as I see no proof that they have invented game shows then I have to assume that they are.

    A week with no internet or mobile coverage sounds like bliss when you don’t have the temptation…I hope you have a fantastic technology detox.

    • I am still chuckling over your game show comment! A week with little to no internet was a bit stressful at times but I must admit was also quite relaxing! 🙂

  • Gorgeous photos and a truly wonderful story about preserving our natural resources!!! You show it so very well and tell it magnificently! I keep staring at the photos and sighing….so very beautiful…serene!!! So much love and hugs to you!! ❤❤❤!!!

  • Hi LuAnn 😀 What a great post. I just love the “blue” green heron. Women always confuse me 😉 Have a great Valentine’s Day today my friend. Ralph xox 😀

    • Ralph, I have to apologize for not getting a proper Valentine wish out to you. Perhaps it is better this way as I may have sent something rather hokey. Instead I want to send a heartfelt wish your way and let you know that any woman would be honored to have you as their Valentine. Your compassion and your sense of humor, combined with just the right amount of perversion 😉 makes you the perfect Valentine gift. I feel blessed to be a part of your blogger family. 🙂

      • No need to apologise LuAnn. These words of yours are worth more to me than a thousand cards. They were so unexpected and have given me a lump in the throat (could be you slipped in a “blue” Everglade frog 😉 ) Do have a lovely weekend, both of you. And thank you. Ralph xoxox 😀

  • Beautiful birds, gorgeous sunsets and an inspiring back story! What a treat of a post LuAnn! I consider myself fortunate to be tagging along with you on your adventures 🙂

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