Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Archive for the category “Florida”

Turning North – Eastbank

Spring is here! Of course, it took three days of rain to see it. We arrived around 2PM on Thursday and it started raining around 6PM. And it didn’t stop until Sunday evening. This blew our plans for kayaking and fishing but we had a lovely site with a beautiful view so we didn’t mind too much.

eb2

The view towards the campground from our campsite, #3.

 

Eastbank is an Army Core of Engineers campground on the banks of Lake Seminole.  It has large, mostly level sites that will hold any kind of RV. The sites come with water and electric and there is a dump station within the grounds. The lake itself is listed as one of the best places to catch large mouth bass in the state of Georgia and it is pretty easy to launch a kayak from most sites. Some sites even had small motor powered boats tied up next to shore.

The campground is closest to Chattahoochee, Florida, a small town where one can get a few supplies but not much else. We did a bit of driving around the area to keep cabin fever at bay and have one suggestion: stay off the back roads during heavy rain. Most of the back roads were clay. Deep red clay that sticks to tires and turns them into slicks. While we didn’t get stuck we did a fair amount of sliding around – even four wheel drive doesn’t help much in soggy wet clay. Our GPS routed us on these roads and we were thankful we figured it out before driving on them in the short bus. We would have been stuck for days…

When the rain finally broke, the wildflowers came out. They were the tiniest flowers I had ever seen, each the size of a babies finger nail. There were thousands of them and I could have spent hours getting pictures. To get them, I used my 100mm macro, the only thing I have that can focus closely enough to have these tiny flowers fill the frame.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once the rains were gone, the sunsets were beautiful. But we only got to enjoy two as we needed to head north.

eb1

the view from our campsite

We had to change our plans. We were supposed to go to Savannah to spend a few days visiting with friends and family, then on to Charleston for some good low country food. Due to a death in the family, we needed to reroute to be in Maryland by April 15 instead of May 5. It wasn’t too much of a strain – we only had one reservation booked until June. We looked at the routes between Eastbank and DC and the shortest was right through the foothills of Georgia and South Carolina. Since we hadn’t spent much time in the area at all, rerouted our path north.

eb11

 

Advertisements

the Florida Panhandle

Friday morning I woke up wanting to move. I didn’t want to spend another day in Wauchula. I got lucky on Reserve America; someone had cancelled Saturday and Sunday at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in the Florida Panhandle. While Mike was meeting some friends in Sarasota, I looked for a place somewhere in between to lay over for the night.

Around 5PM Friday, we pulled out of Peace River and headed north. Our plan was to drive for a couple of hours, find a rest area, and chill for the rest of the evening. We don’t like to drive more than 250 miles a day and the distance we needed to cover was about 400 miles. Just outside of Ocala, on Highway 75, is a rest area with separate parking for RVs and trailers. We didn’t have to worry about truck engines, the RV spaces were separated from the highway, and the lot was level. We had a quiet night and, contrary to popular opinion, we were not mugged, raped, killed, or panhandled once.  In the morning, after a pot of coffee, we resumed our northward trek.

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, on the Gulf of Mexico, has some of the most beautiful beaches in Florida. pen8pen9

And, while we were there, they were mostly empty.

Our site, #55 in the Gulf Breeze loop, was very tiny, like most of the spots in the loop. We could just fit the short bus and wedge the jeep in front. We had a tiny sitting area but it was paved, helping to keep beach sand out of the RV. When our next door neighbor in site #54 arrived, they originally parked so that their tent side (hybrid trailer) was directly over our fire pit.  Yes, some of the sites are that small. If we ever get the chance to return, we will try for sites #1-4. They were right across from the beach, much more spacious, and had a little bit of buffer between sites. The best part  of the Gulf Breeze campground is its location just steps from a beautiful white sand beach. We could hear the waves from our campsite.

There is a lot of wandering to be done on the peninsula and that is what we spent two days doing.

There are beaches and bays, marshes and dunes, hillocks and hammocks. Part of the peninsula is a wilderness preserve, where one can wander for hours and not run into anyone.

We also checked out the town of Port St. Joe, a quiet uncrowded town with quite a few decent restaurants and a wonderful little marina. This is a great place to get away from it all without having to be too far from everything.

After two idyllic days, we pulled up stakes and headed further west, to St. Andrews State Park, where we managed to grab a spot on the bay for three nights. St. Andrews is the opposite of St. Josephs in all respects but one: the beautiful beach. The campsites are much larger and a bit more private with many backing to the bay. The campground itself is much larger, busier, and a drive away from the beach instead of steps. The park is located in a populated area rather than removed from it so a drive to the grocery is five minutes instead of twenty.

pen7

Our bay view campsite.

Like St. Joseph, there is a lot of wandering to be done here. It is a five mile walk from the campground, along the bay, down the channel to the gulf beach and back to the campground.

It is a great place to watch birds and we even had a ‘pet’ rabbit while we were there. Mostly, we just relaxed, wandered, and fought against daylight savings time and the change to the central time zone.

pen10.jpg

Around Sarasota

We left Fort Desoto heading south on a Friday morning with no reservation for the night. It was still snowbird season and Spring Training Baseball season had just started. I had looked everywhere, but no one had anything open. We had one hope, a county park on Tampa Bay: E. G. Simmons Regional Park.  The park did not take reservations so we were hopeful that, if we arrived early enough, we could secure a site for one night. As luck would have it, they had one last site left. It was a dry camping site, but it was large enough for the short bus.

E. G. Simmons is a great park if you like water. It is right on Tampa Bay and practically every site has access. There is lots of fishing, lots of walking, and lots of places to just sit and watch boats go by. There is plenty of room for larger rigs and many sites have electric and water. The closest town, Ruskin, was rather plain (to put it kindly) but had a grocery store and a couple of restaurants.

From there, we moved to Lake Manatee State Park for three days. We had managed to secure a site the week before and, since we couldn’t be picky, took what we could get. We ended up with a very nice site that had a distant view of the lake. We didn’t spend much time on the campground though – we had tickets to baseball games in Sarasota. Because Sarasota traffic is so awful, much of our time was spent in the car. We didn’t get a chance to see much of the park but will definitely stay there again.

From there, we moved, for three days, back to Myakka River State Park. This time we were in the full hook up loop, near the bathhouse/laundry. The sites are nice, the weather was beautiful, and we got a lot of laundry done.

Our plan had been to move north after the baseball games but Mike had to fly back to D.C. for a court case. It was a very old case but the defendant had been granted a retrial. Mike needed to go back to testify for a week, maybe more, so we needed to find a spot where we could sit without having to worry about check out dates. Because we have a zone pass for Thousand Trails, we booked into the Peace River RV Park.

Peace River RV Park is great in a pinch. It isn’t a place I would stay for any extended time if only because I get claustrophobic in the tight spaces after a while. And being as there isn’t much to do around Wauchula, it can get pretty boring. While the sites at Peace River are large by Florida snowbird park standards, there are lots of rigs in every direction and no buffer between sites. The exception is in the back corner along the river where there are many well spaced semi-private sites; if we ever stop for a couple of days again, we will definitely park there. Unfortunately, because we didn’t know how long the trial would take, we wanted a site with sewer. The sites along the river are electric/water only.

By the time we arrived in Peace River, Belle was extremely weak. She wasn’t in pain, she was old and dying.  At 17 and a half years old, she was old for a chihuahua and very old for a Jack Russell. On St. Patrick’s Day, she finally gave up. She tried to hold on until Mike got back, but didn’t make it. She will be sorely missed. Belle full timed with us for over two years, camped with us for two years before that, and was a boat dog before that. She traveled all over the country, hiked in some amazing places, and was coddled and pampered the entire time. She stood up to mice, hunted moles, and loved McDonald’s cheeseburgers. We were her pack and she was our constant companion.

belle

Belle,  March 16, 2016

Fort De Soto

Finally, back to the beach! The gulf side this time, as we had lucked into someone else canceling their reservations. Fort De Soto is definitely in my top 10 of Florida campgrounds. It has many large, very level sites, good power, strong water pressure, washers and dryers, some privacy between sites, and a beautiful location on the Gulf. What’s not to love? While we didn’t get a site that backed onto water (there are many, especially if you don’t have pets), we did have a very large site with plenty of room.

But what we came here for was the water. And there is a lot of it.

fd5

fd2

Sunset from the tent campground

fd1

Sunset from the camp store.

fd3

And, another sunset.

We did more than just gaze at sunsets, though not too much more as we only had four days.

We blew up our kayak and headed over to Shell Key, a little over two miles from our put in (an empty waterfront site in the pet campground).

fd8

The ride over was pretty uneventful, if you don’t count the part where we didn’t tighten the valve cap on one of our side chambers and we had to make a detour back to the campground for our air pump (Our new rule: carry the air pump). We saw a dolphin, a sting ray, and lots and lots of fish. The water in the lagoon is not really deep until you get to the channel – two feet in some places – that one could practically walk halfway there.

fd6

We wandered around Shell Key for a couple of hours on foot. Please, if you are in a remote spot, carry out your trash! Leave the place as you found it so others can enjoy it, too.

fd7

I had always wanted to find a giant whelk on the beach. We found one, but it was still being used so we put it back.

Being the beginning of March, we had to tear ourselves away from the idyllic beach paradise and make our way into the absolute chaos of Sarasota traffic. It is Spring Training Baseball Season! We hit Ed Smith Stadium for the Orioles Opening Day.

It took us as long to drive there as it did to kayak to Shell Key. Even including the detour. The Orioles lost but we had a great time – we hadn’t been to a live baseball game in well over a year. Yes, it is great to watch on tv, but people at a baseball game are generally very happy people and the happiness is infectious.

While at Fort De Soto, we also ate out twice. Our first night, we didn’t feel like driving far so we went up to Tony and Nello’s, just outside the park. The place was empty as we were between lunch and dinner, so we didn’t know what to expect. I had pizza, Mike had pasta, and both were very good. Good enough that, when we didn’t feel like cooking after kayaking all day, we went back. And the food was just as delicious. While I wouldn’t order the house chianti again, the wine list did have some great choices. We took some cannolis to go and they were almost like being back in Vaccaro’s in Baltimore (yes, they were good). So Tony and Nello’s is on our list for a revisit, the next time we are in town.

On Friday morning, our departure day, I logged on to the Fort De Soto camping reservations site. At 7AM, they make available about 10% of their sites for booking for the next week. There were plenty of sites available (for the first five minutes) and I contemplated adding some more days to our stay. I loved it here, I can book a site, and we have no where to stay for the night. I ended up taking a pass. We had more baseball games to see, places we hadn’t explored, and if we were going to move an inch, we might as well move a mile. So we packed up and headed off the island.

Myakka River

We didn’t plan on being in Myakka River for the week. Our original plan was to go to Peace River Thousand Trails or the Escapees Resort in Wauchula for a couple of down days. But someone else canceled their reservations in Myakka River State Park so we jumped on it. We had no expectations for the park and really didn’t know what was there. We just weren’t ready for an RV Park and the thought of exploring another of Florida’s wonderful state parks overwhelmed our desire to get some laundry done. Turns out, it was a great choice and we even got some laundry done.

mr6

Myakka River State Park is huge. It has three campgrounds, a river run, a lake, and miles and miles of trails for bikes and feet. There is a boat tour, a tram tour, a restaurant, two stores, a tower – probably even more that we didn’t get a chance to discover. The three RV campgrounds have distinct flavors: the full hook-up, open aired, gravel sites of Palmetto Ridge; the W/E dirt sites near the dump station of Old Prairie; or the tighter, W/E dirt sites under the trees near the lake of Big Flats. We booked into Big Flats, not having a choice due to the fact that it was the only spot available. While the site itself was extremely small and we had no satellite and barely any cell phone, we grew to enjoy the site’s location.  There was wifi at the store not more than 200 yards away and, in the evening when the day trippers left, it was pretty easy to get things done. There were also washers and dryers at Palmetto Ridge and Old Prairie so we got our laundry done.

mr4

The view from the tower

mr3

the canopy bridge at the tower

mr2

one of the nearly endless number of walk/bike paths

We spent a few days just wandering the trails of the park. They ranged from wide open paths large enough for a car to bushwhacking-necessary animal trails through ankle deep water.

mr11

The hikes can be as easy or as difficult as you like. One of the motivators was the huge number of geocaches located here. It didn’t hurt that Leap Weekend was happening and we had access to all geocaches (not just beginner) listed in the app – probably over 150. While we only managed to find 30 or so, we had a great time doing it.

One thing we didn’t know, using the intro app, was how varied the caches were. While some were extremely large and easy to spot, others took time to locate. One was so well hidden we never did find it, even after twenty minutes of hunting. Just an FYI, the hunting was made easier as the best cell phone signal in the park was out on the trails on the north end – we had five bars on many occasions and were able to get hints when we desperately needed them.

mr13

The trails offered a lot more than geocaching, though. There are some amazingly old and twisted trees, beautiful tropical plants typically only seen indoors (where I come from) and birds. Lots and lots of birds.

mr1

One of my favorite trails, was marked with white blazes.

mr12

While it wasn’t any more spectacular than the rest of the trails, I greatly welcomed following the blaze, at least for a little while.  Kind of made me homesick for the Appalachian mountains.

We never ended up putting our kayak in the water, though it looked like a great place to do so. The lake is huge and the run is open and fairly slow. We did however, eat at the restaurant and decided it was best left to times we were desperately hungry. We did, however, enjoy the ice cream and the wifi.

Myakka River was a great way to get away from the crowded coast of Florida, in spite of the huge number of day users the park attracts. There is a great variety of things to do or one can just sit back and watch the sun rise and set.

mr7

 

A quick stop in the Everglades

We needed to spend a couple of days around Marco Island Florida to visit family, so we headed southwest to Midway Campground, the only place close we could find space. RV Parks in the area are notoriously claustrophobic so they weren’t an option. Collier-Seminole State Park campground, our spot of choice, has been closed for a year and still isn’t taking reservations. Oscar Scherer State Park campground was full. To guarantee a space, we were left with Midway or Monument Lake. While Monument Lake is marginally closer to where we wanted to be, it does not have electric hook ups which, since we planned on being away from the RV all day, were important to us. Having a dog and having to worry about how hot the RV gets inside leads us to often err on the side of caution and book an electric site.

Midway Campground is a pretty nice park, in spite of its distance to anywhere. The sites, while not private in any sense, are paved and very level. They will hold any size RV (though they are all back in), and have 30 amp electric hook ups. The campground has a dump station and potable water also. The only negative is the marginal cell service, even using our booster. While there, we did check out Monument Lake Campground which has excellent cell service but no electric hook ups.  Next time in the area, we will probably choose Monument if it isn’t hot as we like the site arrangement better and prefer to have cell signal over electric.

eg2

While there, we spent much more time exploring away from the campground than we did in it. We visited family in Marco Island and had a wonderful ride on a boat exploring the water side of town. We did some back road driving around Big Cypress National Preserve and the Florida Panther National Refuge. While we didn’t see any panthers, we did see hundreds of alligators.

Another reason for our stop in the area was a return to check out Goodland, Florida, a tiny town on the water. We also wanted to check out Everglades City and Chokoloskee. Chokoloskee is about as far off the beaten path you can get in Florida. If you make it down there, stop by the Smallwood General Store.  Though we didn’t have the time, we could have spent weeks exploring 10,000 islands and the Everglades by kayak. Everglades City is a little bigger with a little more traffic, but good river/glade access. We stopped in the Camilla Street Grill for lunch. It opens at noon but people start taking their seats at about 11:45. By 12:15, the place is packed, with people waiting in line for seats. It has a beautiful location right on the water and a funky vibe that keeps your attention while you wait (a while) for food. The food itself is hit or miss and the prices are pretty high for the location. But it was enjoyable as we were lucky to have a seat on the dock and a beautiful spring day. Our experience at the restaurant, though, told us we didn’t want to live in Everglades City some day, or Chokoloskee either: every five minutes, an airboat went by. In the hour and a half we were there, there wasn’t a three minute time span where we didn’t hear the drone of at least one engine but typically it was three or four. Some times, it was so loud one couldn’t hear conversation across the table, even when shouting. And it was such a beautiful place otherwise…

eg1

eg

Goodland, Florida has all the benefits of Everglades City without the remoteness and noise. It is a ten minute drive to Marcos Island where one can buy anything under the sun but it doesn’t have Marcos Island traffic, noise, or frantic-ness. We liked Goodland  the first time we visited but we definitely fell in ‘deep like’ with it for our second visit. It doesn’t hurt that one of our favorite restaurant finds is here: Little Bar Restaurant. They prepare local fresh fish (among other things) and will prepare it practically any way you like it (my preference is blackened). They have live music at night and a busy bar scene with plenty of microbrew choices. It has a wonderfully laid back vibe and, if you are lucky enough to get a seat outside, great views over the water. The town of Goodland itself is small, walkable, and mostly uncrowded. It is unpretentious and gives off a vibe much like one would find in the Keys. We will return here again, someday…

Because of the rain and the lack of cell signal, we decided to pack up a day early and head North towards our next stop. We saw that the town of Immokalee, about a third of the distance of our planned jump,  had a casino and the casino had a parking lot that allowed overnight RV parking. So we went to check it out. We got lucky! Not only does the Seminole Casino Hotel allow RV parking, it provides about a dozen 30 amp electrical hook ups to those that stop. There was a spot open so we pulled in and hooked up. Registration requires signing up for their rewards card, so we did and each got $10 in free play. They were practically paying us to stay there. We ate a meal, played some slots and slept well. Including the meal, the stop cost us around $50; not bad for four hours of entertainment, an electric site, constant security, and dinner. While the town of Immokalee isn’t very notable, if one is passing through the area, the Casino is a great place to overnight.

 

Jonathan Dickson State Park

There were entirely too many things to do at Jonathan Dickson State Park. We tried to do it all during our six days there, but alas, we fell short. We hated to leave but, we had places we had to be…

First, the park itself. JDSP is huge. There are two campgrounds, lots and lots of walking trails, and a good river to kayak on, with both rental boats and a place to drop your own.

We stayed in the Pine Grove Campground, which has wide paved sites with full hook ups. Though it can get crowded in the center of the loops, we had an outside site (#8) where our patio overlooked what we called our ‘african savannah’ tree.  Yes, the campground is pretty bare – all the trees were knocked down in a hurricane a few years ago – but the rangers are out planting trees and shrubs with the hope they will grow. Some day it may again be a pine grove. The other campground, River Campground, is closed for remodeling. In the future, it will be our campground of choice – it still has some trees, the sites are pretty large and flat, and it is right near the river boat launch. You really can’t go wrong with either, though there is some road noise from the highway up at Pine Grove.

If you like hiking, there are probably 100 miles of official and unofficial trails here. While we only covered about 10 of them, we felt we got a pretty good overview of the park. JDSP was also our introduction to geocaching. Our motivation was pretty thin on a couple of the hotter days but, if you throw in a goal and a surprise, we can get moving pretty quick! We ended up with about 15 caches without trying too hard, and that was with the free “Intro” app. There are over 100 caches in the park, some really easy to find, others nearly impossible.

We also managed to blow up our kayak and drop it into the The Loxahatchee River. We had a few fun hours of kayaking but vowed to remember NOT to do it again on a weekend. The power boaters are mostly friendly and courteous, but every once in a while, you run into a ‘hotdog’ who isn’t.

A great place to visit while there is Blowing Rocks Preserve. Owned by the Nature Conservancy, Blowing Rocks protects about a mile of Florida coastline where limestone cliffs jut out of the sand. While they aren’t the cliffs of Oregon and California, they are a neat thing to see on the Florida coast. They get their name from the waves crashing into the cliffs at high tides. We got lucky and didn’t even have to make high tide – a storm was coming in and the wind had pushed the sea inland – the waves were huge much of the day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We also did a little bit of wandering around the area – there are some trails back through the sea grapes, across the road, and onto the inter-coastal side.

jd2

A great place to visit in the area is the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a refuge and hospital for Florida wildlife with great walking trails between the animal enclosures. They have a ton of various bird species among the animals and, the reason we came by, Florida Panthers. Having never seen one in the wild, I was interested in the ones they had rescued and rehabilitated. We spent a wonderful afternoon wandering around.

jd5

We ate out quite a bit while we were there, probably because we were suffering from a withdrawal of eating out while in Ocala. Our first stop was the Shipwreck Bar and Grille. To be honest, we only ate here because the place we wanted to go was packed with a waiting line out the door. I’m pretty sure we would have been better off waiting for a seat at the other place. The second place we tried was Hogsnappers, which was fairly well reviewed. Maybe we just went on the wrong day or ate the wrong things on the menu. The sushi was okaaaaayyyyy, and the fish tacos aren’t even worth mentioning. We made it to Dune Dog, a very highly rated ‘hot dog stand’ with a great beach vibe and some pretty good beer choices. Yes, I would eat there again. Try the nachos.

dd1

We met up with Deas and Jennifer (Nealys on Wheels) through RVillage and joined them at Tequesta Brewing. The beer was good and the conversation better, and we got to meet John and Jen, ex-fulltimers who are soon to be fulltimers again. We continued the night with The Crafty Crust which had great service, great beer, and great pizza.

We didn’t have a lot of down time while at JDSP, but we did have a great time and fell in love with the area. While we wouldn’t live there, we will definitely visit again. There is just so much to do…

Ocala and Orlando

After leaving the beautiful beaches of Gamble Rogers State Park, we headed into Central Florida: Ocala National Forest. We had snagged a few days at Juniper Springs Campground in a site that offered a couple of hours of noon day sun, almost enough to keep us from running the generator. Juniper Springs is a dry camping spot though they do have water available around the campground and a dump station near the exit. Two sites in the campground will hold a rig over 35′ while a dozen will hold up to 35′. The rest are for smaller rigs and tent campers. Our site, #02, was very spacious, gave us satellite access, and about four hours of decent sun on a cloudless day.

The area itself is beautiful, offering lots of shaded hikes and a swimming hole for those hot, humid Florida days. We didn’t have any of those during our stay but the temperatures were perfect for our reason for being there: kayaking Jupiter Run.

We didn’t know what to expect on the river. From various notes across web pages, the water level would be high, forcing us to worrying about low trees and branches, or it would be very low, which meant we would bottom out and potentially have to port our kayak over the sand. As it turned out, we saw quite a bit of both. For a seven mile run, there are quite a bit of obstacles! Being lake and bay kayakers, this was a completely new experience for us. We are really glad we tried it; though it didn’t live up to expectations it was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. We saw a few alligators (cool) and lots of smoke from a forest fire (not so cool) but overall, it was a great trip. And to be honest, the only let down (in expectations) was the fact that we didn’t see any sapphire blue pools to swim in. Granted, there was one back at the campground, but it isn’t the same when there are 50 people there with you.

Important to note about Juniper Run: it isn’t easy to get to the drop in point and they don’t allow inflatable kayaks. The drop in point is a good 1/4 mile walk from the parking lot. This wouldn’t be bad at all if you didn’t have your kayak with you. A very large awkward kayak or canoe. Luckily, you can use a wheelbarrow to get down to the drop point but bear in mind you need to run it back up to the start before you hit the river. This adds 3/4 mile of walking to your trip which some people might need to take into consideration before going.  And not allowing inflatable kayaks is a good thing. The Run is very remote and, if your kayak pops on one of the many downed trees or snags, you are in for a very long walk to anywhere.

js1

js4

low branches

js3

js2

smoke from fires!

js5

shallows

All in all, Juniper Springs was a great experience. It gave us some confidence in handling Florida’s Rivers. They move so slow! But, there is always something great to look at.

While we were in Juniper Springs, we ran into Jim and Laura, who were winding up their work camping time in the forest. They also have a 33C Bounder and we traded stories and updates over beers when the weather cooperated. Jim was on his way to get new lithium batteries installed so we were interested in following up with them over time to see how the batteries worked.

Between rainy days, we did quite a bit of walking – there is a short hike around the campground along a trail and a section of the Florida Trail passes through the recreation area. We also did a little bit of off-roading (Florida style) and found a couple of lakes, one of which we are sure we can get the short bus to if we are ever in the area again.

We did manage to get out to eat once, at Bubbaque‘s in Silver Spring. It was the closest restaurant we found and it is serviceable – it fed us -and well priced.  We wouldn’t go out of our way to eat there but would choose it again in a pinch if we happened to be passing through.

js7He visited us a lot while in Juniper Springs

From Ocala we made a short jump down to Orlando to Thousand Trails Clermont RV Park.

It was a purpose visit, as we really needed to do laundry. It didn’t hurt that the campground was free for the four nights we were there (our Thousand Trails Zone Pass). The Park is good enough for us considering the price but we really hate the site selection process: get there around 11AM and drive around and around and around until you manage to find an empty spot. Considering there are about 1000 sites, it can take a while. We headed over to the 30A sites about as far away from the clubhouse we could find and managed to get a decent site overlooking a cow field. Each day we had two visitors.

 

We also wanted to visit with our friend Marie, who lives not too far away. We had a great time meeting up with her for a walk and lunch and with she and her husband for dinner. Walking around Eola Lake was our first time every in downtown Orlando. It is a pleasant walk around a well cared for lake and the Pizza at Anthony’s Pizza is very good.

We thought about going to Disneyland or Epcot or one of the other parks, but we never got sufficiently motivated to actually get there. It is much easier to motivate me to hike, kayak, or the like, but I barely budge when being enticed with loud, crowded, hot, traffic-y places. Oh, well. there is always next year.

 

 

 

The beautiful town of Flagler Beach

Flagler Beach will now be my gauge of what a perfect beach town should be. It is small, laid back, mostly uncrowded, and beautiful. There are great restaurants, parks galore, and plenty of places to just stop, sit, and relax. Gamble Rogers State Park is the perfect place from which to enjoy all the town has to offer.

gr9

There are two sides to Gamble Rogers: the beach side and the river side. Both sides offer electric and water hook-ups, access to showers and washing machines, and enough space to keep one comfortable. Neither campground provides much shade, which may be a problem during the hot summer months. The beach side is right on the beach, with a few sites overlooking the beach. The river side sites are a little more spread out and the facilities are much newer. I wouldn’t hesitate to return to either campground again and again.

gr16

Because I booked the campground in December, I took what I could get as far as sites go. But I got lucky! We ended up with four days in site 23, with a view over the bushes to the beach, and four days in site 8, which backed to A1A. The noise on A1A wasn’t so bad, especially at night. Even on a beautiful weekend, with a surf competition going on in town, A1A wasn’t a super highway. I was surprised by how quiet it was. Of course, it was January and not many people head to the beach, so it could be worse during the summer.

gr1

The full moon from our bus.

gr14

Sunrise from our campsite.

We did check out the river campground during our stay and were quite impressed with how clean and well organized it was. It wasn’t far from the boat ramp, so it would be a great campground if one has a canoe or kayak. While the campsites aren’t very private, they are well laid out, level, and spacious.

gr2

Boat ramp at Gamble Rogers

There are some good restaurants in Flagler Beach, though we limited ourselves just a little. A short walk from the campground, along the beach, is High Tides. There is indoor/outdoor seating, a great happy hour, an amazing view, and some pretty good grub.  I think the hush puppies are great while Mike would advise to avoid the chicken – it was very overcooked. The tuna steaks were extremely well cooked, and done perfectly to order. They have a decent beer line up and, while I’m not sure it was allowed, we walked our happy hour cups back to the campground to finish out the sunset. Another popular place a little further in town is Oceanside Beach Bar & Grill. While the food isn’t inventive, it is well priced and tasty. The sandwiches and salads are fresh, the service is good, and one can see the beach across the road. The best place we found to eat was Break-Awayz. Had we known it was there and that good, we probably would have spent more time there. You could tell that who ever was cooking really cared about how the food tasted; he/she worked hard to blend  unexpected flavors. While it looked like a biker-beach bar from the outside (and from the inside for that matter), the food was anything but standard bar food.  There was also an excellent selection of on-tap micro-brews, local and not. This would definitely be my local hangout if I lived in Flagler Beach.

There isn’t much hiking to be done at Gamble Rogers but there are other parks not too far away. We took a morning walk at Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park to check out the kayaking and the sugar mill ruins. While we never made it back with our kayak this trip, we did mark the spot for a future trip; the creek was serene and looked to be a great place to while away an afternoon.

gr4

Sugar Mill Ruins

gr3

Fall comes to Florida. Kind of.

We spent an afternoon at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, a lovely place with both lagoon access and ocean access. We spent some time wandering in the gardens where many people hold weddings (there was one while we were there) or just come to relax and take in the views. In spring it is probably a magical place with everything abloom.

gr5

a path along the lagoon to the gardens

gr6

the garden gazebo

gr7

some winter color in the garden

gr8

coquina rocks along the beach

gr11

The lagoon side of the park where one can watch the boats pass up and down the ICW

Most of our time at Gamble Rogers was spent wandering up and down the beach or hanging out and watching the birds. We hated to leave but our reservations were up and we had to go.

gr15

A beach and a rally

It took me a long time to get around to writing this blog post because I didn’t want to write this post. I don’t want to dislike something so much, particularly a beautiful state park, that it makes it hard to write something about it. But that is what happened with Anastasia State Park. I thought time and distance would temper my opinion but no, I still don’t like Anastasia and I probably won’t stay there again if I can help it.

The park itself is in a beautiful location: on the beach about three miles from the beautiful city of St. Augustine. The beach is wide, clean, and empty (in January). The town of St. Augustine has a ton of things to do and is absolutely beautiful. The state park is huge with lots of photo opportunities and quite a lot of things to do.

So what is so bad about it?  The campground. The campground is everything I hate the most about campgrounds in one squishy, claustrophobic package. The campground has 124 sites, 80 RV sites and 44 tent sites. The sites are spread out on six loops that wander through the woods. The park lists five sites that will hold a 40′ RV and 16 additional sites that will hold an RV 35-39′ long. 27 sites are for RVs 29′ or less. The campground provides water and electric and an abundance of shade. Our site, #80, is rated for a 36′ RV though we could have fit two of our short buses in the space. So why the hate? I need to say here that the Campsitephotos.com photo of the site is much closer to reality than the ReserveAmerica campsite photos of the site. And even that picture must be a couple of years old as the tree and shrub cover seems to have grown exponentially (like my claustrophobia here). The site was easy to get in to – it is parallel to the top of a loop so it is an easy back in, which is what we did. At first, we didn’t back in too far as the connections are closer to the front than the back. We got out to check our slide clearance and could have stepped right into the tent of our neighbors who were setting up on our right. So we got back in and backed up a ways (we needed to use extension cords and long hoses to reach water and electric) and set up. We sat down for lunch and realized our windows had a perfect view of our neighbor to the left – into their trailer and their camping area – and since we were a little higher than them, we could look down at everything they did.

We were there for three days. Two days it rained or wanted to rain so it was dark in our little tunnel, and cold and damp. One evening, the water shut off. We had water in our fresh tank so it wasn’t much of a bother. For one day, the electric went out. It had been marginal anyway, averaging about 109V, and we had our solar panels. Okay we didn’t have our solar panels (nothing penetrated the deep shade we were mired in) but we did have healthy batteries with a charge. It probably would have been less bad had it been sunny or warm. Or if we had had a different campsite. Or if it had been closer to the beach (it was about 1.5 miles to the beach).

We did manage to spend a dry afternoon wandering around St. Augustine and the fort. I love the city, its architecture, its age.

Gratefully, we left Anastasia State Park and headed to Lazy Days Campground in Seffner, Florida. Back in December we found out about a Fleetwood Rally in Florida and since we would be there, we signed up. As far as private campgrounds go, Lazy Days is pretty good. They have excellent hook ups, enough space between campsites to be comfortable, and a large clean laundry room – all things we find important in a private park. They also have a pool, tennis courts (or is that pickle ball?), a huge clubhouse, and wide easily navigable roads.

The Fleetwood Rally wasn’t quite what we expected but we did have a lot of fun. Our previous rally experience is limited to Escapees, which packs each day with seminars and talks. This rally was much more laid back, with few seminars, and a lot of time to mix and mingle with attendees. In fact, it seems more a reason for old friends to gather somewhere warm; the fact that next year’s rally (same time, same place) is already over half booked with this year’s attendees bears that out. Over five days there were three dinners, three open (beer and wine) bars, and about a dozen talks, seminars, and crafting opportunities. There was also a flea market, a vendor show, and a Fleetwood RV mini-show. The best part was the opportunity to have Fleetwood techs repair up to two functional or safety problems with your RV.

When we first signed up for the rally, we had the opportunity to sign up to have the techs look at two problems we were having with our RV. We really don’t have many so it took us a while to think of one – the hesitation in our landing gear (leveling jacks). The first one was easy – the bracket holding our microwave snapped on an Alaska road and we still didn’t have it fixed. It was still on the wall but we had a piece of wood holding up one side in case of a really bad bump. The jacks took ten minutes to diagnose and ten minutes to fix; they replaced our touch pad (we pay for parts, they provide labor). Unfortunately, they did not fix the microwave problem, though they did provide me a part number to replace it.

We met many great RVers at the rally. Most were snowbirds or locals but all had something to share and we learned quite a bit from their experiences. One important lesson is that we have been extremely lucky with our Fleetwood Bounder. Considering this is the only Class A we have ever owned, we have not had half the problems others seem to report (with both Fleetwoods and other products). We also learned that Fleetwood is opening or planning to open more factory service centers which seems to be a good thing according to other owners. From our limited experience and their knowledge, RV dealers are awful to deal with when trying to get repairs.

We spent some time browsing the hundreds of Class As on the lot at the Lazy Days dealership located right next door to the campground. We spent some time in the new 2016 Bounder and came away glad we got the 2014. The two big changes that we wouldn’t want to live with: the driver’s side understorage doesn’t come out with the slide and the windows barely open. To increase the amount of pass-thru storage, Fleetwood separated the storage from the slide. For us, the inconvenience of having to crawl under the slide to get to anything outweighs the added storage space. And the windows (everyone loves the flush mount windows) now only open just a little bit at the bottom, barely wide enough to get a breeze let alone any real air circulation. But it looks nice… One other thing we noted, the cargo capacity on the particular 33C we looked at lost about 800 lbs of cargo capacity. For us, it kills any thoughts of trading in ours. Right now, that 800 lbs. is made up of solar panels and wiring, batteries, and fresh water. Losing that would mean a lot less dry camping and boondocking, two things we just aren’t ready to give up. Of the dozens of other Class As we viewed, none of them had the complete package that suited us quite as well as our current short bus: layout, cargo capacity, sturdiness. While we really want to get rid of the carpet and newer models have much less, there was too much of a trade off to get that. So we decided that next year, we will replace our carpet ourselves.

All in all, the Fleetwood Rally was a great experience and, by our calculations, free! Or maybe my math is lousy. The cost of the rally was $299 for five nights of camping. But, take out three dinners ($20 X3 =$60) and 12 beers ($3 X12 =$36), you are down to $203. Lazy Days gave us coupons for four free breakfasts, and five free lunches at their RV store. And the food was pretty good. We ate two lunches there – burritos and stuffed shells – and ‘saved’ another $20.  We got our leveling gear touch pad for $146 with tax; online, the cheapest I could find it was $256+tax – a $110 savings. Plus, we saved probably a $100 or more in labor at an RV dealer, who would charge us at least an hour of time. So, with the meals and the beer and the part and the labor, the campground charges were essentially free! Which is a great thing when you are on a budget.

 

 

Post Navigation