Coloring the Void

living nomadically

Pine Mountain, GA

We looked around Macon and Augusta, Georgia, for the next place to land and quickly realized: 1) there aren’t many public RV parks in that area and 2) the Masters Golf Tournament was soon to begin and anything there was was booked. I started looking around around Helen and Dahlonega, in my favorite area of Georgia. It was kind of out of our way but the area is so beautiful it would be worth it. In my browsing I stumbled across F.D. Roosevelt State Park in Pine Mountain. The campground was booked solid for the weekend. I kept checking for two days (my OCD kicking in) and on Wednesday, someone cancelled. We immediately booked, starting Thursday, for the weekend. This cut our stay down in Albany to two days, but we got the highlights of the area, and managed to see what we wanted to see.

We got an early start (for us) to the campground and made it there just before 1PM. This is important in Georgia State Parks because, while you can reserve a site large enough for your RV, there is no guarantee you will have a site you like. The later you get there and the more crowded the park, the more likely you will end up with an unlevel, hard to get into site next to the dump station. Okay, it isn’t always that bad, but we have had some pretty awful sites in our time. We got extremely lucky. The sites around the lake were completely empty and we pulled into the first one – a pull through overlooking the lake.

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The view from site 101

The site was nice and large and open with a beautiful view of the 25 acre lake the campground surrounded. It could hold a 45′ RV easily though a bus that size might have to back out as the turns and trees deeper in the loop are a little tight for a 35′ short bus. By Thursday afternoon, the campground was nearly full. First thing Friday morning, any remaining sites were gone as people raced in (beginning at 8AM) to claim their favorite site or what they could get.

We explored the very tiny town of Pine Mountain, which took all of five minutes. We ended up eating at Aspen’s Mountain Grill, one of the few restaurants open at the time. We stuck with our standards, Steak Salad for Mike and burger for me, and both were good. The burger was supposed to have pimento cheese on it – a South Carolina staple – but I couldn’t taste it.

Friday it rained. and rained. and rained. We had more rain in the last week than we had even in Alaska, where it rained a lot. Maybe that is why someone canceled their reservations. Further north and east, a tornado touched down and took out a few houses. We felt safe where we were, in spite of the trees. They seemed to have been there a long time and had probably seen more adverse weather than we have.

We had wanted to go to Callaway Gardens on Friday, to avoid some of the weekend crowds, but put it off until Saturday. The gardens were one of the reasons we had stopped here: 6,000 acres of wild and cultivated rhododendrons, beautiful gardens, a butterfly center, lakes, ponds, walking and biking trails… If that isn’t enough, they also have zip lines, golf, cottages, a beach, boat rentals, and at Christmastime, a light show that might rival Disney. We packed a pretty full day in, wandering around the various areas.

Yeah, I love butterflies. And the Day Butterfly Center is the perfect place to practice shooting them and to get images of the ones I will rarely see in the wild. Because they move so fast and the Center is pretty shady, I had to use an ISO of 800 with the smallest aperture on the lens: 4.5. I probably would have had better luck with focus had I brought my 100 mm macro; at the same distance (about 6′) it has a deeper depth of field than the 75-300mm with which I was I was shooting. But, because the depth of field was so tight, I got better bokeh. There are always trade-offs…

Because of the previous days brutal downpour, some of the azaleas and rhododendrons looked a little worse for the wear and tear. But for the most part, the gardens were beautiful.

And there were also plenty of other flowers to photograph.

The walking paths and biking paths wandered all over the property – I think there are 30 miles of trails – more than enough to while away an entire day.

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We took a break for lunch at The Gardens Restaurant which had just opened for lunchtime for the spring season. The food and service was great and the location and ‘ambiance’ was excellent. We would eat here again if ever in the area.

All in all, we had a wonderful spring day in the gardens, got a lot of walking in, and some shooting practice to boot.

At about 10PM Saturday night, while relaxing on the couch, I saw it: EEK! a mouse. It came out from under the bathroom door, saw us sitting there, and did an abrupt U-turn. ACK! I like mice but I’m not fond of sharing my tiny little house with them. We looked in the bathroom – it must have squeezed behind the sink to escape. We moved the sink pedestal against the wall so tight that ants could barely crawl through. We started looking around the RV. It had gotten into  the toilet paper drawer, the pot drawer in the kitchen, and the trash cabinet under the sink. We actually had two traps left over from our experience in Cody, Wyoming: a live trap and a not-so-live trap. We put them out and went to bed.

Sunday morning our plan was to visit the Wild Animal Safari just up the road. Our plans changed, as we had our own wild animal to take care of. We ran up to LaGrange, the closest town with a Home Depot/Lowe’s to stock up on supplies. We got a few more mouse traps and some spray foam to seal up whatever gaps we could find.

There was only two ways for it to get in: up the water hose into the utility cabinet where, from there, it could follow electric and waterlines to anywhere; or up the front passenger leveling jack, where wires would allow it into the propane cabinet where it could follow electrical and propane lines into the space under the fridge and from there, into the bathroom. We spray foamed both areas extensively, where water and electrical lines entered the house and for good measure, spray foamed under the TP drawer so we wouldn’t lose any more TP. We didn’t know if we had blocked the mice in or out, but they would eventually need to eat. Then we spent the rest of the day cleaning, vacuuming, and sanitizing anything and everything in the bus.

Our conclusions on where it may have come in were proved correct when we found a mouse in the propane cabinet. We couldn’t get him out, but we set a live trap there, just in case. We also ended up catching one (in a not-so-live trap) in the water closet under the house. In the few days since, we have seen no sign of any mice and are hopeful that the one we caught is the only one that was here.

 

 

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Albany, Ga

While waiting out the rain in Eastbank, I looked around for a place to stop next, somewhat north, that had a laundry and something of interest to do. My first go to is always US Campgrounds, a website with maps of every public campground in the US. It includes the smaller city and county parks that are typically very hard to find without knowing the area. And that is how I found The Parks at Chehaw. They have a zoo! It was 100 miles from Eastbank, in the general direction we were traveling, had laundry, and was within an hour of driving to Ashburn, GA.

The reception at the front desk wasn’t the greatest when we arrived and the short road into the campground could use quite a bit of work. If one overlooked the trash strewn about (some kids obviously had a fun easter) the campground was quite pleasant. The sites are not private but they are wonderfully shaded by tall pines and very level. The power and water pressure is good and we had a sewer hook up. While the laundry room only had one washer and dryer, they were both clean and worked well. The park was mostly empty so we had no problems doing four loads of laundry.

Our reason for a quick run to Ashburn, GA was to visit Carroll’s Sausage and Country Store. We had visited there a couple of years ago while staying in Wanee Lake Golf and RV Resort, a wonderful place to stop over on a trek north or south. Carroll’s Sausage is probably the best hot pan sausage we have ever tasted. So good in fact, that two years later we were willing to drive 45 miles each way to get some more. As luck would have it, on our way into Chehaw Park, we saw a Carroll’s Sausage store right near the entrance. No visit to Ashburn needed, and we stocked up on quite a few pounds of hot pan along with thick peppered bacon and some smoked jalapeno link.

Chehaw Zoo is a very small zoo, with about 85 different species. But, the enclosures are large and open and the different animals have space to move around, hide if they want to, get away from the crowds if they need to. The draw for me was the black rhinoceros, a critically endangered species that may not survive in the wild for much longer due to poaching. There are only about 5,000 left in the world.

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Chehaw Zoo works with many conservation groups, including the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Right now, there are only about 10,000 cheetahs in the world, and the Conservation Fund is working hard to fix that. The two at Chehaw Zoo seemed very happy, though I didn’t get a chance to see the Cheetah Run.

cp9Some of the other animals we spotted on our walk…

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I was fascinated by this bird’s head and how abruptly it erupted in feathers

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The bobcats had a very open enclosure, enabling them to climb about 30′ or more up into trees. This one was sleeping sitting up about 20′ over my head (the walkway is a raised platform).

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The meerkat enclosure was small, at least the visible part. This particular one was looking for any way to get out.

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A frog in a pond of the lemur enclosure. The lemur enclosure was huge – open air – and viewers were more enclosed then they were. Unfortunately, while we were there, they were all sleeping and looked like furry lumps.

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Colobus Monkey and baby. They were fun to watch.

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The zoo had the biggest alligators I have ever seen in a huge open swampy area where the people were confined to a raised walkway and they were not. That 800 lb. gator recently killed in Florida? I’ll bet there were at least three here that would rival that one.

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I love camels, as long as they aren’t close enough to spit on me. These were almost that close but seemed good natured. This is the first time I remember seeing two hump camels (bactrian).

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Chameleons are so cool. The skin texture, the colors, the way they move…

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There were also Kangaroos, emus, wolves, snakes, various birds, and a petting zoo. The walk around the grounds made for a very pleasant afternoon.

Chehaw Park also has a very large frisbee golf course, a lake one can fish in for free, lots of walking and biking trails, a huge kids playground, and a bmx race track. If we had had more time, we would have stayed a while longer.

 

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sunset from the tent campground

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Sunset from the camp store.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The view from the tower

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the canopy bridge at the tower

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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low branches

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smoke from fires!

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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