Union Burger Review

Union Burger U.S.A.

Union Burger is a Canadian burger restaurant that is starting to open up locations in the U.S. –sort of. According to its website, the only location in the United States is in Clearwater Beach, Florida. Something tells me the owners took a vacation to Clearwater Beach not too long before this one opened up.

 

Union Burger Location

The Clearwater Beach Union Burger is right along a popular beach strip of Mandalay Avenue, with lots of tourist shops and hotels. The foot traffic is endless. Not a bad choice of location. I was looking for pizza but found the burger restaurant first.

 

Union Burger Service

Union Burger is not fast food. They give you a beeper to take to your seat. The seating is a little better than a fast food restaurant. Of course, if you are going to open upon Mandalay Avenue in Clearwater Beach, why skimp? The wait is longer than fast food but shorter than the standard sit down restaurant. What you get is a restaurant style hamburger, not a fast food burger. The wait is justified by several reasons. One, the burger is better than fast food. Two, your burger is cooked for you, not pulled out from under a heat lamp. Three, you are at the beach. Chill.

Suncoast Primate Sanctuary

Chimpanzee

 

 Rescued Primates

Monkey

The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary is on Alternate Hwy 19, also called Palm Harbor Blvd. The facility is privately funded and houses rescued and donated primates and other exotic animals. The entrance fee is ten dollars and with almost 70 animals to view, the price seems fair. The grounds are kept clean, despite the monkey business, making for a nice place to spend a couple of hours strolling and learning about the primates.

 

Local Gulf Coast Zoo

Alligator

The exotic birds, alligators and tortoises join the monkeys and the apes in the numerous displays. While this is not a zoo by name, it takes on a similar air thanks to the fact that the sanctuary offers an open invitation to the public. Some of the animals come from research facilities while others used to be exotic pets, which the owners chose to donate.

Tortoise

According to the staff, a number of the animals were never in their native habitat and when they came to the sanctuary, they got their first taste of true sunshine and rain. A staff member said that the monkeys, in particular, enjoy experiencing the natural elements.

 

Happy Primates

Monkey

The apes and monkeys are all behind either chain link fencing or metal bars. While this seems akin to imprisonment, a staff member told guests that for a good number of these animals, the conditions are a significant improvement. One need only look at the all-too-human faces of contentment to see that things are going quite well for these primates.

 

Local Pinellas County Attraction

Baboon

The staff is friendly and happy to answer questions. The smile at the door and the full parking lot suggested that the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary might be a popular attraction for local residents and area visitors alike.

Gorilla crossing

Paradise 101

Shells on beachI had heard of Pinellas County, Florida beaches receiving spots in the top ten list of beaches long before I found out why.

I looked at the satellite images of our coastal islands and decided to take on Honeymoon Island. Armed with a sun hat and a camera, I started off.

Sand pipersIt was to my great fortune that I am a seasoned hiker because this was no mean feat. The terrain offers several choices. The waves wash the sand smooth and pack it hard but traveling here means wet feet. Just beyond this is the largest collection of shells anyone could wish for. Most are broken and on their way to becoming white grains of sand. The third choice is softer sand, uphill from the waves an shells. Beyond this stretch the island turns to bushes and grass-covered dunes.

Small bird printsArmed with flip-flops, I traveled all but the plant-covered areas. This was more than just fancy. The areas of the island with plant growth are reserved for nesting birds and other wildlife. Plentiful signs warn of active nesting areas. Area residents enjoy the large variety of regional birds and leave these wild places alone.

I traveled north under a blazing sun that warmed the coast to upwards of eighty degrees. The sea breeze offered some respite from the Gulf Coast humidity. Overall, it was on the warm side of pleasant.

Bird printsAny thoughts of disagreement with the heat melted away as my eyes fell on the wonders the northern end of Honeymoon Island presented. Egrets, sand pipers and herons fed along the waterline while one shell-collectors treasure after another passed under my feet.

Fewer and fewer people passed me by the further I went. The walk passed beyond an hour and then two.

Around the two hour mark the sands became softer and only  few people were left walking the shoreline on foot. I had entered the domain most often traveled only by boat. The dunes took on the look of powdery snow drifts. Some had crisp edges that only very tiny grains of sand can create.

Sea ShellsAt two and a half hours I finally reached the end. Hot and a little weary, I could still only smile. The northern tip of the island was a wonder to behold. The sand gleamed with a nearly white tone. It’s grains were so small that they took on shapes I had not seen in other sands. Each foot print of passing birds showed with clarity and remarkable detail. Sand dunes bore various forms of wind created shapes, from sharp-edged dunes to tiny ripples.

SunsetWith my journey’s goal reached, I took off my flip-flops. I could only take in a breath of wonder as my feet sank into the sand. It had no rough aspects to it whatsoever and was distinctly reminiscent of baby powder. I stood a moment with my eyes closed in order to experience nothing more than the feeling coming to me through my feet.

I watched the birds flying and running along the shoreline, this time with a large flock of pelicans included. I chatted with the visitors who came by boat. I stayed roughly an hour but I knew I had over a two hour return walk ahead of me.

I was sorry to go but eventually I turned southward and began my return journey. The sunset arrived just as I reached the end of my walk. It has remained one of my top beach experiences to this day.

Originally posted February 2011

Sun Lovers

The beach has little room left on it today. A throng of sun-lovers descend upon the shore to enjoy the return of beach season.

Couple on beach chairsSome cooler days may intervene in between now and our actual summer weather. I think that is what has brought forth the crowds. That and the fact that we have just gone through a long spell of cold weather.

Our cold weather means forty degrees. While the north received loads of snow, we dipped nearly down to the thirties. We rebounded well, however. The last round of bad weather to pass through the United States missed us entirely. We only dropped into the fifties.

From there the temperatures steadily climbed. This week has seen some of the best weather Florida has to offer. Warm sun and cool wind have combined for a very comfortable climate. This is our spring.

Today the beach has brought in sun worshiping seniors along with loads and loads of young beach-goers. The temperature allows for full-on beachwear, covering the sands in shorts and bikinis.

The crowds are not dipping much into the water, which is still a little cool. Volleyballs, kites, footballs, Frisbees, beach balls are among the objects joining the seagulls in their flight.

A good number of out-of-state license plates are sitting in the parking lot.

We are enjoying mingling with the crowds and even standing in line for expensive food. This is the beginning of beach-going season. Each passing week will bring different crowds from different places. The weather will play its role and the waters will warm.

I’ll be here too.

Originally posted 19 February 2011

Sun and Sand of Spring

Tall palmOur summer can have a humidity that makes swimming pools very popular additions to area homes. Today we enjoyed cool breezes and warm sun. The beach had more people than I have seen in many months.

Armed with a Frisbee, we headed for the sand.

I had almost forgotten what Frisbee was. My first throws went wild. But years of training returned to me, and the disc began to fly far and true. I took off my shoes and let my toes sink into the soft sand so unique to the Gulf Coast. Its granules were so small they almost felt like baby powder. The sand was cool and warm at the same time.

Spring starts a full month away by the calendar but it seems it may have found its way here early again. Each week becomes warmer than the last. Today we wore shorts. Perhaps in a couple of weeks I can put my long pants back in the drawer. There they will sit until a cold day November. It seems so odd when they come back out of that drawer each winter. The summers almost make me forget that long pants are needed at all.

Today’s visit to the beach filled my lungs with new air, the air of the coming year. Soon it will be time again for relaxing, slow walks down long, warm beaches. For now, I will enjoy what our early spring has to offer.

Originally published 17 February 2011

Tiny Islands

In Clearwater Harbor you will find a string of tiny islands. They are in too perfect an alignment to truly be natural.

tinyislandbanner

Boaters in the region know the nature of Clearwater Harbor. It is a very long channel with very shallow waters. In order to make it safe for navigation, a dredged channel runs through it. Workers created the islands many years ago with deposits dug from the channel. Boaters learn quickly to stay between the channel markers. A kayak, on the other hand, needs only a few inches of water.

Island trees

Each island in the chain has its own unique features. All of them have wild growths of weeds, bushes and trees. Some are completely forested with shaded and mysterious interiors.

Some have shores of soft sand while others have rougher edges created by innumerable shellfish creating shoals upon the shores. Many-a-kayak bears scars from passing over these beds.

Horseshoe CrabA casual glance at the shorelines gives the viewer an odd sense of primal landscapes despite the nearby cities.  A closer look along the waterline reveals an aquatic world, all its own. Uncountable shells line the shores, giving evidence to many lives spent. Crabs and shellfish appear to the careful observer.

Exotic birds use the islands for foraging and resting. Osprey hawks sail high over head before diving down to hook a fish while egrets and herons wade along the shores looking for a meal.

Mangrove rootsThe visitor can stroll the shores, explore the small interior areas, picnic, sunbathe, or do whatever they like. My strangest encounter came when I happened upon some boaters who had camped in a nook among the shoreline trees of a forested island. They had brought their dogs along, all nine of them. The pack consisted of a mother and eight full grown pups. The last thing I expected when I set out on my kayak was to be so completely surrounded by dogs that I could not paddle. I was glad they only wanted to say hello with half a dozen wet noses.

flyingpelicanEach time I visit these tiny islands, I find that I am taken away from it all, much like the feeling one gets on a vacation. No buildings rest on the small pieces of land and visitors can do as they please. I have set foot upon many of the islands but more wait to be explored. With some free time and my kayak, I will do just that.

Originally published 14 February 2011

 

Introduction to Pinellas County

Everyone has to live somewhere. I live in on the Gulf Coast of Florida, USA, very close to beaches which are named the best in the United States year after year. I have chosen the name for my blog based on this proximity.

Tall island palmsLong walks on powder-soft white sands have given me a love for the area. The region is also known as the lightning capital of the U.S., giving us grandiose and sometimes frightening displays. After the storms have quelled, we enjoy our other name-sake, because we are also known as a best-sunset capital. Grand storm clouds lit by a setting sun are a wonder to see, sometimes taking on the colors best-known in our northern states as an alpine-glow. The orange, gold and pink clouds are a photographer’s dream.

Aquamarine seas, under-lit by the light-hued sands, make for a dazzling display. Many of our beaches are difficult to reach, meaning that if you find your way to one of them, you can sometimes have a portion of the waves, sea breezes, shoreline palms, exotic coastal birds and soothing sands completely to yourself.

Florida park sunsetA relaxing visit to the beach needs only a fold-out chair with a sturdy umbrella. Sitting in the shade, I soak up the heat and the sea-breeze across the surface of my skin and close my eyes, entering a half-sleep state. The sound of fellow beach goers or just the waves washing into shore only serves to enhance the effect. The cries of sea birds take me off to places I have never been.

Originally published 11 February 2011

Another Pinellas County Writer?

If you have seen another blog entitled Pinellas County Writer, you are not seeing double. My original blog is posted on Google’s Blogger, also know as Blogspot. While the blog you are reading is focused on all things Pinellas County, my Google blog is themed Writing Tips and Writing News. The address is http://www.pinellas-county-writer.blogspot.com/. Feel free to browse this other blog with a very similar name.