Hiking in South Florida can sound about as enticing as swimming in snot. It's hot, it's muggy, it's buggy, and -- let's face it -- those breathtaking vistas are few and far between. But if you pick your spots carefully, you'll discover that the natural wonders of the area extend far beyond the beach. The 747-acre Royal Palm Beach Pines proves that hiking in South Florida is not just oxymoronic or even just plain moronic. A stunning example of what the area used to look like before it was sliced and diced by developers to make room for well, us, it features what environmentalists call pine flatwoods and wet prairies. To enjoy this wonderland, put on some boots or some trashed-out shoes and walk. Along the way, you'll undoubtedly run into a wood stork or two, surely some anhingas drying their wings, and, if you're lucky, a bald eagle. Plants along the well-marked trails are among the rarest in South Florida. So go slowly. Observe. It's a hike, after all, not a jog. The hardest part is finding the western Palm Beach County preserve in the first place. It's north of Okeechobee and Royal Palm Beach boulevards, at the far end of the Saratoga subdivision. Call for directions so your walk in the woods doesn't turn into a frustrating drive through suburbia.

Junior wants to try his inline skates, Mom hopes to play tennis, and Dad hankers to go fishing. What's the easy solution to this battle of recreation wills? John Prince Park in central Palm Beach County, where virtually every form of recreation or leisure can be accommodated. From a stroll, bike, jog, or skate along the 726-acre park's five miles of paved paths to fishing or boating on its 338 acres of shimmering lakes to a family reunion in one of its numerous picnic areas, this county park -- one of the state's oldest -- is truly an outdoors-lover's paradise. Need to alleviate stress? Check out the batting cages. Want to prepare the kid to be the next Tiger Woods? Play a round of mini-golf. Looking for an international hobby? Venture over to the pétanque (that's pronounced "pay-tonk") courts and try your hand at one of Europe's most popular outdoor games. All you have to do is toss or roll steel balls as close as possible to a wooden ball, which is called the "cochonnet" (piglet in French). Best of all, you don't have to leave this patch of paradise at day's end. With a campground that can hold 266 tents and RVs, a romp in the park can be more than a temporary diversion. It may become a permanent address.
The Panthers suck. Center Olli Jokinen knows this, and the fact that he isn't afraid to say it should give fans some hope for the future. The team may have a real leader. In March, as the cats wound down a disappointing, losing season and missed the playoffs, Jokinen showed true leadership by doing the simplest thing. He spoke the truth. "We can't win if we don't have guys showing up every night," he said. "... At least when you put the jersey on, you have to pay the price and play hard. It's frustrating that we have five or six guys showing up to a game... We have people hiding in the corners." Then Jokinen, who scored more in the dismal season than any Panther in history not named Pavel, came down with the hammer: "Things will change, though, you know? We're playing for jobs. There's 25 guys in the minors who want to play in the NHL. Every single guy has to realize that." After reading those words, we know there is a fire burning somewhere in this team -- even if it's only in Jokinen's heart.
The name of this waterway, which cuts through a barrier island, supports the urban legend that the route was used by rumrunners during Prohibition to smuggle liquor into the United States from the Bahamas. The narrow, generally slow-moving creek runs at a nice pace, giving you just enough time to absorb the sprawling mangroves and hammocks that line the route. Sometimes you can spot ospreys and manatees. The soothing, tame paddleway is about three miles long and perfect for first-timers. Whiskey Creek is part of John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, an area that was inhabited by Tequesta and Seminole Indians for years before that damn Henry Flagler built that accursed railroad and brought all of those obnoxious tourists to our tranquil, subtropical home.

Any South Florida resident knows the best swimming pool is the one in his or her own back yard. But that one gets bugs and stuff in it. It needs to be cleaned, chemicalized, and otherwise maintained. A better choice, and one with a scenic view, is the perfectly proportioned body of water atop the AutoNation Building's seventh-floor outdoor terrace. It belongs to the Fitness Co. Maybe you should jump in before your workout to stretch and decompress, or maybe take a quick dip after your tummy crunches, to do the same. Another plus: It's too far above the ground for leaves to cause a problem -- though even if they fell in, it wouldn't be your concern. High above it all, you can float your cares away. But don't dilly-dally: the pool's empty much of the time now but won't be after all the new condominiums nearby are filled to capacity. Hours are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Sunday, it's closed.

All else being equal (i.e., assuming that his back doesn't act up again), this one is no contest. The numbers don't lie: .304 career batting average, nine straight All-Star starts, and a streak of ten consecutive Gold Gloves that began before the Marlins had even played their first game. So head on down to the ol' ballpark and enjoy his cannon arm and deft bat while you can. Once he's proved he's healthy, you think he'll stick around this train wreck of a franchise after his one-year contract expires? Face it, Marlins fans: Pudge is about as likely as Mike Piazza to go into the Hall of Fame wearing a fish on his cap.
Yeah, you're an outdoors person, fearless and all. So you want to go the rugged independent route? You want to go out on your own and snorkel without a guide or a boat? That's great. Jump in the Atlantic and swim. But if you're hankering for a guaranteed good time, get yourself to South Florida Diving Headquarters. They'll take you on a three-hour expedition in a glass-bottom boat about a quarter-mile off Pompano Beach where you can snorkel a natural reef and the 103-year-old shipwreck of the S.S. Copenhagen. You're sure to get up-close and personal with nurse sharks and to see all the colorful angel fish, moray eels, turtles, soft coral, fan coral, and sponges your heart desires. But like most good things, it will cost you -- $30 for the tour and another $10 for the gear if you don't have it ($15 for kids under 12). Or you can do just a glass-bottom boat tour for a quarter C-note. That's a small price to pay for uncovering the treasures of the sea.
The 221-square-mile refuge occupies the last of the northern Everglades. The wetlands were once connected with the Loxahatchee River (hence the name) 50 miles away, but the area between the two was dredged and developed long ago. For more than a half-century, the refuge has been kept alive by a series of pumps, canals, and levees. And we're happy to report that the project has been an astonishing success. Trek there yourself to see the thriving ecosystem of tree islands, sloughs, wet prairies, sawgrass, cattails, and open water. Alligators are everywhere, as are great blue heron, owls, anhingas, white ibis, and egrets. It's open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and it's good for a day of hiking, biking, or canoeing, all for five bucks a carload.
So this young right-hander is an odd choice. He's barely 23 years old, and he flamed out last season, ending up on the disabled list three times. But Josh Beckett was the second overall pick in the 1999 free-agent draft and boasted a 14-1 record in the minors in 2001. His earned run average that year was a mind-numbing 1.54. Then came the blisters on his right middle finger, blood on his pants, and a broken-up bathroom. Finally, after pickle brine and rice cream, the kid discovered Stan's blister cream, which he applies every day. Now his 96-mile-per-hour fastball is set to light up the league. And hey, considering the pathetic showings of the other major sports teams -- the Heat, Panthers, and Dolphins -- why not pick potential over performance?
If ever there was a place built for rollerblading, it's Broward County's finest beach, between Las Olas and Sunrise boulevards. There's a wide sidewalk and plenty of challenging obstacles (otherwise known as tourists) to maneuver around. The soothing surf and cool ocean breeze are on one side, and bustling bars and shops are on the other. Both offer particularly good people-watching opportunities. There are public bathrooms and showers when you need them. And there are fellow bladers to commiserate with after a nasty wipeout or collision. When you get tired, you can always stop at the Elbo Room for a beer, a soda, and maybe a song. This isn't exercise; it's the good life.

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