Friday, November 13, 2015

Palmetto Bay: A Peaceful Retreat from Mad Miami

Canoeing Off Deering Point
My kinda morning commute. Deering Point in Palmetto Bay.

Because I love backyard traveling ...

Why are we more attached to all that's crazy hectic about routine life in Miami -- the traffic, the delays, the rudeness -- instead of being drawn to the magnificent nature that blankets some parts of the city? Is it because we prefer the familiar comforts of drama? Nature isn't crazy, hectic or rude -- it aint got time for that! Instead, it has all the time in the world to just be.

I recently had the chance to stay at a friend's house in Palmetto Bay, a city in southeast Miami-Dade skirted by Biscayne Bay and lush Old Cutler Road, shaded for dozens of miles by enormous banyans and oak trees. After a spell in South Beach, Palmetto Bay seemed like a peaceful sanctuary, far from the busyness and jarring energy of urban life.

Peacock Crossing the Road
This was about all the traffic I encountered during morning walks.

Although I often dream of traveling around the world, I don't have to dream to be an explorer in my own backyard. Here are a few places I discovered while exploring on foot, some which, ironically, were the homes of famous world travelers.


Chinese bridge at Charles Deering Estate
Chinese Bridge at the Deering Estate.

The most well-known historic site in Palmetto Bay is The Deering Estate, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The estate was once the home of Charles Deering, a wealthy businessman and art collector, whose brother, James Deering, built the famous Vizcaya estate further north along Miami's shore line.

The estate, which I had visited a few times before my most recent sojourn in Palmetto Bay -- is well-known for its cultural significance. But it's the undeveloped environment surrounding the estate that has cast many a spell on me. A few years ago, I took sunrise yoga classes at the estate's visitor's center. We practiced in a room with glass walls separating us from the Pine Rockland preserve outside. The experience was magical.

It's no surprise the area is also where archeologists excavated the Cutler Fossil Site, where they found ancient animal and human bones as well as human artifacts.

Last month, when I ambled about the perimeter of the preserve with my friend's daughter, I told her that watching the sun rise through the mist of the forest felt primeval. "What's primeval?" she asked. The observation turned into a a vocabulary lesson for the eight-year old girl. And then I really thought about it: the word "primeval" connotes everything I love about this place: prime, primeval: a land of firsts, of beginnings, of nature untainted by man.

I feel this way for any neighborhood that respects its trees. They speak to me.

Well hello morning glory!
Morning glory vine on the trail.

One Sunday morning, I discovered a paved pedestrian trail just north of the Deering Estate from which all manner of joggers and cyclists emerged. The trail is parallel to Old Cutler Road and while you can still hear cars rushing by, the scenery is natural and feels completely removed from civilization. This area is also a nature preserve -- part hardwood hammock, part mangrove and all coastal environment -- with Cutler Creek running below the bridge.

That day I just happened to bump into the director of the Deering Estate, who was taking photographs of an endangered plant species. She told me the bridge wasn't supposed to be so colorful, but that those who had restored it thought it should be. Deering built the bridge in 1918 to cross the creek on the way to his home. The Chinese theme reminded him of his role as a Navy officer in Asia.


Thalatta Estate
The main house at Thalatta Estate.

When I first set eyes on the coral-colored mansion off Old Cutler Road, I thought it was a private residence off-limits to the public. Little did I know that it was one of five historic bay front homes that dot Miami's coastline which is also the location for neighboring Deering Estate as well as The Kampong, The Barnacle and Vizcaya further north.

One morning, the gate was open and I entered the lush, tropical entrance of the estate. I thought I was crashing a party -- or rather -- the preparation for a wedding party. No one said a word because I wasn't trespassing. I was walking, in fact, inside a public park.

Thalatta Estate
The lawn seemed endless at Thalatta Estate.

Thalatta Estate is an exquisitely preserved 1925 Mediterranean Revival home with an expansive lawn that stretches out to Biscayne Bay. The Connett family built the home that features unobstructed views of the water. The name Thalatta is a Latin variation of the Greek "thalassa," which means "the sea." In 2005, the City of Palmetto Bay acquired the land to prevent further development. I'm glad they did.

For more information, visit The Thalatta Estate.


Shore Fishing at Deering Point
My kinda relaxation. Shore fishing on Biscayne Bay at Deering Point.

This small park is part of the Deering Estate and sits in between the Deering Estate and Thalatta Estate along the C-100 drainage canal. Deering Point is a great spot to launch a canoe or kayak.  Although there isn't much here, it's a great spot to enjoy a view of the bay among some native plants and catch sight of some herons, egrets and other birds.

At Palmetto Bay, my eyes saw a different kind of beautiful. See more photos on Flickr.

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