Category Archives: FL SP

Posts related to our visits to Florida State Parks.

2016/02/22-24 (M–W) 1 SP, 2 S-A-H

2016/02/22 (M) Myakka River State Park

Our destination today was Myakka River State Park (MRSP).  We agreed yesterday to pick up Mara and Michael at 10 AM.  That allowed us to sleep until 8 AM, have coffee and breakfast at our rig, and take showers before leaving for the day.

MRSP is only 25 miles from Arcadia so we did not stop for fuel or coffee.  We stopped at the visitor center near the main entrance to study the maps and displays before heading deeper into the park.  As on previous visits, our first stop was the bridge over the stretch of the Myakka River that runs south from Upper Myakka Lake to Lower Myakka Lake.  We hiked south along the east edge of the river for quite some distance.  Unlike previous visits we did not see the quantity or diversity of wildlife that we expected.  Absent from our visit today were Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills.  We saw alligators, but only one somewhat up close.

We stopped at the Forest Canopy towers and suspension bridge which is one of the special treats of this park.  After that stop we drove to the vendor area on the southeast shore of the Upper Lake to have our picnic lunch.  The parking lot was full but our timing was lucky and we waited as someone backed out and then took that spot.  This area has a boat launch, restaurant, pontoon boat tour, wheeled vehicle train, gift shop, and restrooms.  After lunch we walked out to the weir across the outflow of the Upper Lake, which maintains it at a slightly higher level.  We saw a few more alligators and birds there.

We drove to the end of the road at the north gate and checked out the other picnic area that someone at lunch told us was there.  On the way back we stopped at the Birdwalk, a boardwalk that goes out through a marsh to a point near the eastern edge of the Upper Lake.  We saw a few more alligators from a distance and got a close up view of a couple of birds.

By the time we were done at the Birdwalk it was approaching 4 PM.  We drove slowly back to the Visitor Center to use the restrooms and then exited the park and headed back to Arcadia.  On the way back Linda and Mara decided that, in spite of a nice weather forecast, we would stick around the RV Resort tomorrow and have dinner together.  Not only will that give them time to plan/prepare the meal, it will give us time to do laundry and relax at the swimming pool.  It will also allow me to finish proofreading and correcting articles for BCM.  The forecast for Wednesday has an 80% chance of rain so that was already planned as a stay-at-home day.    My hope is that I will be able to upload the rest of my blog posts for October 2015.  I do not like being this far behind.

For dinner Linda made a dish with vegan Italian sausage on a bed of angel hair pasta with onion, garlic, and broccoli sautéed in EVOO.  Yum, yum.  After dinner I off-loaded the photos I took today.  We then watched the Nightly Business Report and NewsHour on PBS followed by the X-Files and Lucifer on FOX, NCIS Los Angeles on CBS, a few minutes of news and weather, and then Charlie Rose’s interview with Bill Gates on PBS.

So many shades of green.  A view to the south from the observation platform atop the north tower of the Forest Canopy Skywalk.  Myakka River SP, FL.

So many shades of green. A view to the south from the observation platform atop the north tower of the Forest Canopy Skywalk. Myakka River SP, FL.

2016/02/23 (T) Green Taco Wraps

It rained briefly last evening and more rain was forecast starting later this afternoon and extending through-tomorrow.  Today and-tomorrow were planned as stay-at-home (S-A-H) days so we got up just before 8-AM and had coffee, juice, and granola with bananas.  My plan was to take care of our fresh- and waste-water tanks and do the laundry before settling in to work on computer-based tasks.  Linda received a package yesterday of year-end accounting documents from the bakery and planned to work on those today.

The skies had clouded up late yesterday and gotten darker and thicker by sunset.  We had dark clouds to our west this morning and had just finished breakfast (granola, bananas, fruit juice) when it started to rain lightly.  I had no sooner closed the bathroom vent/fan when the rain came down hard.  I closed down the awning style windows until they were only open about an inch at the bottom.  We planned to roll up the patio awning before the rain came today but now had to wait for it to dry off, assuming the rains let up and the sun came out for a while.

We dropped below 1/3rd tank of fresh water yesterday.  When the rain stopped I went out to check the level visually.  It was barely below the 1/3rd sensor so I decided to forego dumping and filling for a couple of more days.  I might even run off the city water for a day or so to push the whole dump/fill/recharge routine off until the weekend.

I moved my laptop computer to the dining table so Linda could on work at hers on the desk.  The accounting work she had to do for the bakery required space to spread out the paperwork she got from Dave (the controller) yesterday.  I decided to just keep editing blog posts from November 2015 in preparation for eventually uploading them.

At 12:45 PM I started sorting the soiled clothes and linens.  Linda quite working on the accounting and made sandwiches for our lunch.  She made a grocery list and then walked to the supermarket.  At 1:30 I loaded the laundry and my iPad into the car and drove over to the laundry room.  By 1:45 I had four washing machines in operation.

I connected my iPad to the Resort’s public Wi-Fi signal at the activity building and connected through to the Internet, which always takes some doing.  The problem is that the various browsers load cached versions of the tabs that are open and I have to go to a new webpage in other to trigger the filter and connect to the Internet.  Until I have done that successfully I cannot check e-mail or update apps.

By 2:25 I had transferred all of the wash to three dryers and started them.  I had six apps with updates available totaling just over 400 MB (0.4 GB) and initiated those.  On our 12 GB Verizon data plan that is more than a whole day’s average data usage for a typical month (0.4 x 30 = 12.0).  I also noticed that I had two new updates for apps on my phone but when I looked more carefully I discovered that I had 22 app updates pending.  I had been deferring them until I could use the resort (or other) free Wi-Fi.  When the last iPad app update downloaded and installed I connected my phone to the Resort Wi-Fi and initiated the app updates.

I worked on the draft of today’s blog post and played a few games until the laundry was dry and then folded it and put it in the car.  It was 4 PM at that point and only 10 of the 22 apps had updated, so I pulled the car around in front of the activity building with a clear, short path to the antenna on the roof.  I had a much stronger signal in that location and the updates progressed much more quickly.  23 apps were updated and the process finished at 4:18 PM.  I noticed that my phone had somehow gotten set to show Homestead, Florida as my “home” location so I enabled Location Services, changed it to Arcadia, Florida, and then disabled Location Services.  I checked to see if we had any snail mail and then drove back to our coach and put the clean laundry away.

When I got back to our coach Linda was cooking her part of this evening’s meal.  We would be dining with Mara and Michael at Mara’s rig having “green taco wraps.”  Linda made a crumbled meat substitute from brown lentils, walnuts, sautéed onions, and peppers.  She also supplied the tortillas, lettuce, and vegan sour cream.  Mara made salsa and avocado cream and a side salad with cauliflower, tomatoes, and lemon juice.  We brought a bottle of Chardonnay and Mara had a bottle of Spanish Rioja, a very dry red wine.

We walked over with our contributions just before 6 PM and were greeted by Michael.  Mara had walked to Walmart for some tomatoes and other last minute items and returned not long after we arrived.  Good wine, good food, and good friends made for a great meal.  We were still there at 8 PM and it turned out that we like to watch the same TV programs, so we all watched NCIS.  Linda and I walked back to our coach when the show ended and watched NCISNOLA and Limitless before going to bed.  I watched most of Charlie Rose before falling asleep.

An Egret tries to swallow a fish that it caught near the Myakka River.  Myakka River SP, FL.

An Egret tries to swallow a fish that it caught near the Myakka River. Myakka River SP, FL.

2016/02/24 (W) Another Tornado Warning

Today was planned as a stay-at-home day.  The forecast was for wind and rain with a marginal risk of severe weather.  I was up a little before 7:30 AM and thought about going to the Wednesday coffee “social” but decided against it.  I began preparing our morning coffee but waited until Linda was awake to grind the beans and finish the process.  Linda got our Verizon Mi-Fi and Wi-Fi Ranger online and checked the current weather, which we compared to what was being reported on the local TV news.  Wind and rain were expected in our part of southwest Florida by 10 AM and the Wundermap app radar showed a large storm front drooped from southwest to northeast in advance of a cold front and moving our way.

I finished my first cup of coffee and then went outside and put up the two window awnings on the driver side of our coach.  While I was out there I drained the auxiliary air filter / water separator and stored the two folding bag chairs in the front bay.

We had granola and blueberries for breakfast and it started raining while we finished our coffee.  We both had computer-based work to do today but Linda needed to update some things first.  The rain stopped, at least temporarily, so we packed up our mobile technology and drove over to the activity building to use the RV resort’s public Wi-Fi system.

We set up our tech toys in the library and connected them to the resort’s public Wi-Fi system; two laptop computers, two iPads, and two smartphones.  I had three app updates on my phone and Linda had 14.  She had eight app updates on her iPad and I had one OS-related update on my computer.  Linda downloaded a new audio book.  I downloaded/installed the OfficeSuites Free – Mobile + PDF app on my iPad and the 2016 U. S. RVers Edition (PDF) of The Mobile Internet Handbook by Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard from the Mobile Internet Aficionados membership website.  We also checked our e-mail while we were there.  Between our six devices we greatly exceeded our average daily data allocation of 0.4 GB that our 10+2 GB Verizon data plan provides.  Our normal 10 GB plan averages out to about 0.3 GB per day, and it is not sufficient for our needs when traveling in the motorcoach.

As we were packing up at 1:30 PM to return to our coach the skies opened up and heavy rains poured forth.  Moments later both of our phones notified us that a tornado warning was in effect for our location until 2 PM.  Our car was parked near the front door of the activity building so we decided not to wait for a lull in the rain.  It was raining even harder by the time we got back to our coach but we had our technology in ballistic nylon travel bags and got them inside without getting them wet.

Linda set up her computer on the desk and I set up mine on the dining room table.  We did not need to be online so we left the Verizon Mi-Fi turned off.  Linda worked on accounting for the bakery while I proofread and annotated corrections for two BCM articles.  When she was done for today I moved my computer to the desk, plugged in the power supply, and spent some time reading and responding to e-mails.

By 3 PM the severe weather threat had passed but densely overcast skies continued with occasional lighter rain.  All of this was, once again, in advance of a cold front that will bring high temperatures only in the upper 60’s for the next four to five days.

For dinner Linda improvised a sauté of onion, garlic, kale, and turmeric with boiled red potatoes.  It was a hardy dish; perfect for a cool, dreary evening.  We watched a PBS Nature episode on Emperor Penguins, a Nova episode on rescue robots, and another program on Big Data.  We then went to bed as we had to be up early in the morning.


2016/01/11 (M) – 15 (F) Family and Friends

2016/01/11 (M) Jack and Paula

Linda was up at 7:30 AM and read quietly.  I got up at 8:15 AM and made coffee.  We had granola for breakfast with fresh strawberries which finished the current batch of cereal.  Linda got another batch out of the freezer to thaw.  We have five batches remaining.

Linda was checking e-mail and noticed that we had been billed yesterday for almost $500 by iPage for web-hosting services.  I originally signed up with iPage in January 2013 for three years.  I transferred everything over to QTH in August 2013 but did not cancel the iPage account.  I did not realize that the account was set up for automatic renewal.  I logged in to see if I could close the account and cancel the transaction or initiate a refund but the website just gave me a number to call.  I did and finally got to talk to Scott in billing.  He was obviously a native English speaker and was able to take care of everything quickly and efficiently and provide a confirmation number.  If iPage’s technical/customer support had been that good I might never have switched to a different web-hosting service.  I am, none-the-less, very glad that three of the four websites I work with are on‘s web-servers and wish that all four of them were.  The technical and customer support there is second-to-none.

Linda wanted to send another postcard to grand-daughter Madeline so I downloaded the photos I took yesterday and selected one of a heron to use.  I post-processed it at several different sizes and copied it to the NAS.  She needed it on her iPad, however, so I e-mailed it to her.  Even though our iPads (and phones) can connect to our secure Wi-Fi network they are not able to access the network resources such as the NAS and printer.  I really should take the time to figure out if there is a way to do that.

On the drive home last night the Honda Element started displaying a message to “Check Gas Cap.”  I pulled off the road and checked but it was on tight.  The message, however, did not clear.  When we got home Linda Googled the message and found several sites that indicated it was a periodic system check and would clear the next time around, assuming the cap was not, in fact, loose.  That could take days, however, depending on how much we drove the car.  The answer for most of this week will be “not much.”

Linda went for a late morning walk.  The Element needed fuel so I drove to the Shell station on FL-70 to fill up the tank.  Linda had walked to Winn-Dixie and was just returning as I was pulling out so she rode along to the filling station.  She ran into Claudine Elbisser at the produce market and found out that she and Paul were still at Jack and Paula Conrad’s place south of town.  Jack and Paula started the Arcadia Bussin Rally and ran it for the first 10 years before turning it over to Bill and Brenda Phelan.

Back at the coach Linda heated some Amy’s vegan chili for lunch.  She opened a new (sealed) pack of saltine crackers as we like to crumble them in our chili and have a few on the side with vegan butter spread.  They did not taste quite right but we were not sure just why.  They were not spoiled but it seemed as if they were slightly stale (not crisp) and the flavor was also “off.”  They were Publix branded and all of the grocery items we have ever gotten from there have been good quality but we decided to throw the crackers away.

A Green Heron at Myakka State Park, FL.

A Green Heron at Myakka State Park, FL.

We went for a walk after lunch during which Linda got a call from her sister-in-law, Mary.  They agreed that we might do something together tomorrow if Spence and Nancy had not made other plans for them.  It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon but cool with highs in the upper 60’s.  Rather than sit around the coach I called Jack to see if we could stop by for a visit.  He and Paula did not have anything specific going on so we drove to their place about 10 miles south of Arcadia.

When we arrived we were greeted by Jack and Paula but found out that Paul and Claudine had pulled out this morning, so we did not get to visit with them.  We then realized that when Claudine told Linda she had to run “because Paul was waiting for her at Walmart” he was waiting in the bus.  John and Lois Vickrey were there, however, and the six of us had a nice visit.  There were two other converted buses at the Conrad’s but the owners were not around.  We did not recognize their names but both coaches were at the Arcadia Rally 2016 and we would probably have recognized them on sight.

By 4:45 PM the sun was low in the sky and the temperature had dropped into the low 60’s.  We were getting cold so we excused ourselves and left.  We stopped at Walmart on the way back to our RV resort for a box of angel hair pasta and a box of Nabisco saltine crackers.  Back at our coach I closed the two roof vents and we closed all of the windows.  I checked e-mail and Linda started working on dinner.

She started with a nice salad of baby kale, scallions, olives, and pumpkin seeds dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.  The main course was angel hair pasta with a vegan mushroom cream sauce.  She used the Miatake mushrooms we bought yesterday at the Farmers Market in Punta Gorda.  It was outstanding and we really liked the taste and texture of the mushrooms, which were a new culinary experience for us.

We went for our usual after-dinner stroll around the resort and stopped by the activity building where lots of residents were playing bingo and smaller groups were playing cards and games.  In another building a dozen men were playing pool.  It was a beautiful clear night with the constellation Orion rising in the eastern sky.  Although the air temperature was crisp folks were out walking, just like us.

Back at our coach we settled in to watch our usual Monday night TV programs (CBS).  They were all re-runs, which we thought was odd, but we watched them anyway.  We were off to bed at 11 PM and straight away to sleep.  I turned on the electric heater pad and set it on 3.  Toasty.

2016/01/12 (T) Myakka River State Park (FL)

The overnight low temperature was 47 degrees F; not cold enough to warrant turning the heat on in the coach but cold enough to cool off the interior by morning.  We pulled up the blankets when we went to bed and I turned on the electric heater pad on my side of the bed; a more efficient use of energy than heating the whole coach.  As a bonus, the cooler the coach the less the refrigerator runs, although the new one is much more efficient than the old one.  When it gets cool enough in the coach Juniper (the cat) gets under the covers between us and puts her head between our pillows.  She is such a princess.

A pair of alligators in the Myakka River, Myakka SP, FL.

A pair of alligators in the Myakka River, Myakka SP, FL.

We finally got out of bed at 8:15 AM and slipped into out sweats.  I made coffee while Linda talked to Kathi at the bakery back in Michigan.  We doodled on our iPads while we drank our coffee and let the coach warm up.  By 9:30 it was 72 inside.  I turned off the heaters and we sat down to a breakfast of homemade granola with blueberries and bananas and a small glass of orange juice.  We doodled for another half hour after breakfast and then got dressed.  In preparation for meeting Linda’s brother, Ron, and his wife, Mary, at Myakka State Park at 11 AM Linda made a picnic lunch and I got the camera gear ready to go.

We had planned to be on the road by 10:30 AM but actually left at 10:39.  The 29 miles to the park entrance was not all 60 MPH, so we did not get to the visitor center until 11:20 AM.  Ron and Mary were already there waiting for us.  We looked at maps and discussed what we wanted to do.  Ron and Mary wanted to see alligators in the wild, so they had come to the right place.  The main park road crosses the Myakka River about a mile into the park from the entrance / visitor center with parking at both ends of the bridge.  We knew from our visit two years ago that this was an excellent place to see alligators, as well as a variety of birds and so it was again today.  After spending some time on the bridge we walked along the south/east bank of the river and found two more alligators sunning themselves on the opposite bank.

A little farther down the road was the parking area for the Canopy Walk and Nature Trail.  We climbed the tower, walked across the suspension bridge, and then climbed to observation deck at the top of the second tower.  The suspension bridge goes through the forest canopy about 35 feet in the air and affords a view of the forest that most of us rarely see.  At 76.1 feet AGL the observation level put us well above the top of the trees with a commanding 360 degree view of the park and beyond.  I shot a nine frame panorama from west through north to east.

By the time we got back to our cars we were all ready for lunch so we drove to the developed area on the south shore of Upper Myakka Lake.  This area has one of the two campgrounds, a boat ramp, air boat tour concession, restaurant, restrooms, picnic tables, and a trail that leads out to a platform where the lake flows out and becomes the river.  We found a picnic table in the sun near the shore and had our PB&J sandwiches, oranges, pretzels, and water.  After lunch we walked out to the platform and were rewarded with more views of wildlife.

Ron, Linda, & Mary atop the 76.1 foot observation tower, Myakka SP, FL.

Ron, Linda, & Mary atop the 76.1 foot observation tower, Myakka SP, FL.

Our next stop was the “Birdwalk,” an elevated boardwalk near the northeast corner of the lake that goes out into an open harsh and gets people close to the shore.  There was lots of wildlife out there but most of it was some distance away.  A sign indicated that the donation box was to raise money to build an observation tower at end of the boardwalk above the existing viewing platform.

Our final stop for the day was the parking area for a trailhead in the northeast corner of the park.  The main trail led to primitive campsites as much as 10 miles away.  We did a loop of about 2.5 miles (by my estimate).  Although the entire trail (park) was level terrain the footing was rough or soggy in places.  Portions of our hike were through the forest and the rest was through prairie.  It was our most vigorous hike of the day and I did not take any photos even though I carried the camera along.

By the time we got back to our cars it was 4:45 PM.  The sun was low in the sky and the temperature had dropped.  We discussed our plans for Thursday and then headed our separate ways.  We had just left the park entrance and headed east on FL-72 when I spotted a group of 6 to 8 feral hogs on the north side of the road by a stream about 100 feet from the road.  Linda did not spot them in time so I turned around and went back.  As I slowed down they took off but Linda got to see them.  I turned around again and headed towards Arcadia.  Less than a mile down the road I saw four more in the ditch just off the north side of road.  They were very large adult animals.

We were back at our coach by 6 PM and had left over Asian salad for dinner.   It had been a slightly more physical day than normal so after dinner we settled in to watch our Tuesday evening TV programs on CBS.

2016/01/13 (W) Coffee Clutch

Today was our second Wednesday at Big Tree RV Resort.  The only significance to that factoid is that Wednesday morning is the weekly resort coffee.  As new arrivals in the resort we received a coupon for free coffee but forgot to go last week so we made a point of getting up and going this morning.  The coffee starts at 8 AM but we had been “advised” by folks to arrive early if we wanted a seat.  We got there around 7:50 AM and the place was packed.  We got in line to get our coffee and found out that today’s gathering was sponsored by an insurance agency and was free of charge. We found seats and made the acquaintance of the people sitting near us.

Ron, Mary and Me atop the 76.1 foot observation tower, Myakka SP, FL. (Photo by Linda)

Ron, Mary and Me atop the 76.1 foot observation tower, Myakka SP, FL. (Photo by Linda)

This was not a coffee clutch where folks stand around, mingle, and chat.  There are somewhere between 700 and 800 people in this park and I estimated that at least 400 of them were present at the coffee.  Everyone was seated on both sides of long tables for the entire duration of the coffee, which lasted until 9:15 AM.  It was very organized and consisted of introductions, lots of announcements, lots of door prizes, and a 50/50 drawing.  For the seasonal and permanent residents the information is probably useful, but it was not that interesting or useful to us.  We might go one more time just to take advantage of our free coffee coupon but the nature of the gathering won’t afford us any opportunity to meet people and talk to them over coffee so we probably won’t make a priority of going.

Today was laundry day for us.  Linda needed a few things from Winn-Dixie, including a few Powerball lottery tickets, and walked down to get them.  I gathered up the laundry, sorted it by color and temperature into three batches, and drove over to the laundry room in the activity building.  The washing machines only took about 25 minutes so I stuck around until they were done.  After getting those loads into dryers I went back and got the bedding, returned to the laundry room, and put it in a washing machine.  I took my iPad with me but ended up in a conversation with a few folks.  By the time I was done with the laundry and back at our coach it was 2 PM.

A flock of birds takes flight at the north end of Upper Myakka Lake, Myakka SP, FL.

A flock of birds takes flight at the north end of Upper Myakka Lake, Myakka SP, FL.

I took a long a long nap during which Linda went for a long walk, prepared ingredients for tomorrow’s lunch, and worked on her counted cross-stitch project.  I finally got up just in time for dinner.  After dinner we watched a fascinating documentary titled “Autism in Love” as a result of which we did not watch Nature.  We did, however, watch NOVA. It was also a fascinating program exploring new discoveries and understandings about the role and relationship of minerals in the origin and evolution of life on earth.

I watched some of the evening news on channel 11-1 and also checked the weather on channel 11-2.  A strong low pressure system was moving east from New Orleans across the Florida panhandle with strong storms coming ashore in that area.  A long, comma-shaped cold front extended from the low far down into the Gulf and was advancing on the peninsula.  It was forecast to come ashore starting north of Cedar Key after midnight and then progressively affect all of the shore communities south to Marco Island with strong thunderstorms along the front and a low possibility that some of them might become severe.  Rain, possibly heavy, was due in Arcadia starting around 4 AM and getting heavy by 5 AM.  Knowing this obviously doesn’t change whatever is going to happen, but knowing what is expected allows us configure the coach properly and to be prepared and react appropriately to events as they unfold if needed.

2016/02/14 (R) Ron and Mary

We were up by 7:30 AM this morning, had showers, got dressed, and had breakfast.  Linda finished food preparations for lunch today and then straightened up the inside of the coach while I dumped the holding tanks and filled the fresh water tank.

I was outside a little later in the morning and learned from a neighbor that the sewer line that services row K (where we are parked) had developed a blockage and sewage had “backed up into a couple of rigs.”  No one, however, was able/willing to be more specific than that.  A plumber was called and I chatted with him briefly when he arrived.  He confirmed that the sewer line ran from our end of row K south towards the front of the park by Hwy 70.  He determined quickly that there was indeed a blockage and I learned from him later that it extended along a considerable length of the sewer pipe.  This was not the first time he was called to deal with this and was able to get the drain line opened up.

Piecing together the available information I figured it was entirely possible that the sewage that backed up was from our tanks but that the blockage was not something we caused.  Linda, however, was of the opinion that the plumber had been summoned before I dumped.  Regardless, I’m sure it was unpleasant for those who were affected and I hope we do not have a repeat of this situation while we are here.  While in no way our fault, we would hate to have contributed to the situation in any way, however inadvertently.

My reasoning was that we are the second rig from the far end of the drain line and the tops of our waste tanks are almost 4 to 5 feet above ground level.  The tanks are large and if they were near full would release a considerable volume of effluent with a significant head pressure.  If the drain line was mostly constricted (reducing its  available volume), and the blockage was not very far down stream (also reducing its available volume), the weight of the contents of our waste tanks could cause the drain line to quickly fill and then force the effluent up through any available path, such as another rig’s dump hose.  This would continue until the levels reached equilibrium.

In a trailer with its floor not that far off the ground sewage could, hypothetically, back up into waste tank(s) and then into the toilet and/or sinks. None of that would happen, of course, unless the dump valves on the other RV(s) had been left open.  We have always been told that leaving the dump valves open on an RV is a very bad idea but the reason is that getting a good, thorough, dump requires a nearly full tank.  Today’s events have given us additional reason to keep the valves closed except to dump.

 Now that’s what I’m talking about!  We have got to get one of these.  A 4-wheel drive, Sprinter-based Class B conversion from Sportsmobile as seen at the Tampa RV Supershow, Tampa State Fairgrounds, Tampa, FL.

Now that’s what I’m talking about! We have got to get one of these. A 4-wheel drive, Sprinter-based Class B conversion from Sportsmobile as seen at the Tampa RV Supershow, Tampa State Fairgrounds, Tampa, FL.

Ron and Mary arrived a little after 11 AM.  We gave them a tour of the interior remodeling work we have done and then sat and visited.  Eventually we were hungry and spread the tablecloth on the outside picnic table and had lunch out there.

After lunch Ron drove us to Joshua Citrus a couple of miles south of our resort where we bought a variety of citrus fruit.  We then drove to downtown, parked, and walked around poking our heads into some of the antique shops.  Mary was looking for a pair of clear glass lamp chimneys with a 2″ diameter base.  The closest she came was a pair with a 2-1/4″ base.  Apparently 3” diameter bases are common, 2” diameter bases, not so much.

We returned to the coach for a while and then took two cars and went to El Pirata for dinner.  It was our first time there although friends had told us it was OK and it was the #4 rated restaurant in Arcadia.  Linda did not care for her margarita and also did not care for the veggie fajitas or any of the sides that came with the dish.  I had Dos Equis Amber in a bottle, so it was fine.  I thought the food was OK; not outstanding but not disagreeable, so perhaps she just wasn’t in the mood for Mexican food tonight.

The restaurant wasn’t full so we lingered and chatted for quite a while but eventually it was time to leave.  We were only a few minutes from home but Ron and Mary had an hour’s drive to get back to Spence and Nancy’s place.  Back at our coach we settled in to watch our usual Thursday evening CBS TV programs and then headed off to bed as we planned an early departure tomorrow morning to get to the Tampa RV Supershow.

2016/01/15 (F) Tampa RV Supershow

As forecast, the rain started around 4 AM and by 5 AM was fairly heavy.  I was not, however, aware of any lightning, thunder, or strong winds.  We got up at 7:30 AM, got dressed, and had some of the Honeybelle tangelos we bought yesterday.  Honeybelles are only available for about a month starting this time of year and are highly touted so we bought a quarter-Bushnell bag.  We were, however, quite disappointed in their taste and texture.  We will eat them anyway, of course, but they will not be the treat we were counting on.

We planned to leave at 8:30 AM to drive to the Florida State Fairgrounds for the Tampa RV Supershow.  It was still raining and was forecast to continue through the morning.  I took the vertical grip off of the Sony SLT-a99v to lighten it and make it easier to carry in the Cotton Carrier camera harness/holster.  I packed a couple of extra batteries, we took our raincoats, and headed out.

We encountered very heavy rain between Arcadia and Tampa, especially along FL-70 between Arcadia and I-75.  We arrived at the fairgrounds around 10:15 AM, got our tickets, and made it into the Expo hall just as another heavy band of rain moved through.

A Prevost H3-45 VIP conversion shell on display at the Tampa RV Supershow.  The driver side of the coach is elevated on ramps and mirrors on the floor allow show attendees to see the underside of the bus.

A Prevost H3-45 VIP conversion shell on display at the Tampa RV Supershow. The driver side of the coach is elevated on ramps and mirrors on the floor allow show attendees to see the underside of the bus.

Just inside the door to the right was the major display of Prevost bus conversions and to the left was a major display of Airstream trailers and Class B motorhomes.  We crossed paths with Steve Zigler, Prevost Sales Manager for conversion shells and chatted briefly.  We met Giesle from the home office in St. Claire, Quebec and also met Melanie from Millennium Coach.  We found out from Melanie that Millennium is now the primary corporate support for the Royale Coach Club.  Apparently Liberty Coach took over sponsorship when Royale Coach folded around 2005 and Millennium took over from Liberty some time more recently.  We were members at one time but have not paid dues in several years.

The Prevost coaches were one of the main things we came to see and meeting people from the company was a bonus.  Our other objective was to check out all of the parts and accessories vendors, of which there were many, and RV Parks and Resorts, of which there where an equal number.  We mostly picked up literature until we found Bill and Brenda Phelan’s booth.  One of their products is tire covers made from heavy nylon mesh material.  It blocks most of the sunlight while allowing moisture to escape.  We have meant to get tire covers for years but never have so we ordered six in a dark brown material.  They are a significant purchase, but not compared to the tires they are designed to protect.  They will make the covers based on our tire size and ship them to us.  They also make nylon mesh windshield wiper covers but I need to measure the length of our lower wiper blades and send Brenda the measurement.  Another product of theirs are windshield and side window covers.  These, however, are custom made on site.

 The interior of the Prevost H3-45 VIP motorcoach conversion shell. This coach was actually in the process of being converted by Millennium for a customer.  Note the interior layout marked out on the floor.

The interior of the Prevost H3-45 VIP motorcoach conversion shell. This coach was actually in the process of being converted by Millennium for a customer. Note the interior layout marked out on the floor.

In the other vendor building we stopped at the booth for Williston Crossings and Belle Parc RV Resorts.  Alan, who is the managing partner for both properties, was staffing the booth so we chatted with him briefly.  We also stopped at the booth for Florida Grande Motorcoach Resort in Webster, Florida.  This was the other RV Resort that our friend, Ed Roelle, suggested we check out two years ago.  Unlike Williston Crossings, where we ended up, the lots in Florida Grande are all for sale as deeded properties with a fractional ownership in the common grounds and structures.  At least that was our understanding.

The sites at Florida Grande sell for about $48K and a coach house can be added for about $31K.  HOA fees currently run about $550 per quarter but we did not inquire about how the level is set or what limits might exist on them being raised.  Lots can be placed in a rental pool when unused but we did not ask if owners can arrange their own sublets.  We heard from someone later than only about half the lots are sold.  That means lots are still available for purchase, but also makes such a purchase potentially risky.  It means plenty of unsold lots are available to rent and if the rest of the lots do not eventually sell in a reasonable amount of time the future of the whole development would be in doubt.

We are not planning on purchasing a lot anytime soon, in Florida or elsewhere, but it is an idea that interests us longer-term.  We might drive up in the car to check it out or, more likely, stop there for a few days in the bus when we finally leave Big Tree RV Resort in March.

We eventually found our friend, Al Hesselbart, manning his Antique RV booth at the far end of the fairgrounds.  He was asked by the RV Show organizers to put together an antique RV display but relegated him to a remote corner of the show.  He had commitments from the owners of eight antique RVs, plus his own 1978 Newell, but four of them backed out at the last minute and the other four simply did not show up.  Whatever their reasons it was disappointing and inconsiderate.  Al had a large TV monitor with a slide show of about 500 images running automatically in a loop.  He had them in a shelter to protect them, and him, from the worst of the rain.

It was almost 5 PM by the time we got back to our car.  We discussed calling Ed and Betty Burns, who live near Bradenton, to see if they were up for a visit but we were at least an hour away and decided it was too short a notice, too late in the day, and we were too tired.  We fought our way through Friday rush hour traffic across US-301 to I-75 and headed south to exit 217, which is FL-70 to Bradenton (west) and Arcadia (east).  We stopped at the Speedway for gasoline and bought two coffees to scare away the cobwebs.  It had been a long day.

As we continued east on FL-70 Linda got a call from her sister, Marilyn, to finalize plans for tomorrow.  We got back to our coach around 6:45 PM and had a light dinner of garbanzo bean salad sandwiches and a small glass of wine.  We then watched a program about Agatha Christy on PBS/Create followed by two episodes of Miss Marple.  Linda headed off to bed before the second episode was over while I remained up to continue working on my blog posts from today and the previous two days.

I stayed up to watch the WINK evening news (channel 11-1).  They reported that the storms this morning included a confirmed EF-1 tornado in south Fort Meyers and wind damaged property in Lehigh Acres.  The meteorologists made it clear that the January tornados from today and last weekend would normally be quite rare for this time of year but were not unusual in an El Niño year like this one.  We are headed to Fort Meyers tomorrow for the first time to visit with Marilyn and the weather forecast looks fine if a bit cool.  Another round of strong storms is forecast for Sunday morning in connection with the passage of yet another cold front trailing from a strong low pressure center moving east across the Florida panhandle.  We plan to stay home Sunday but Marilyn is flying back to St. Louis, Missouri, weather permitting.


2014/04/17 (R) Pensacola NAS Photos

Here are some photos from our visit to Naval Air Station Pensacola where we saw the Blue Angels practice and then toured the Naval Aviation Museum.  Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version of the image in a separate tab.  Maximum size is typically 600 pixels.

2014/04/17 (R) The Blue Angels

No, we have not been visiting religious resale shops.  Today we drove US-98 west all the way to Pensacola, Florida to visit the Pensacola Naval Air Station (NAS).  Along the way we stopped at the Panera in Sandestin again.  The outlet mall shops were not open yet so there was very little traffic and not much of a crowd.  We took 20 minutes to enjoy some coffee and a bagel before continuing on to Pensacola.  The 100 mile trip was probably a little slower than taking I-10, but it was a leisurely, pleasant drive that allowed us to take in the coastal sights.  Photographs from today are in a separate gallery post.

As we got to the end of the bay bridge we did not see a sign for the Pensacola NAS so we picked our way through downtown and finally pulled into a Walmart parking lot where we put the address in our GPS.  As soon as we resumed driving we saw a sign for the NAS and Museum and the GPS wanted us to take a different route.  In this instance the signs won, although the GPS way would also have worked as the NAS has a front and rear entrance and our destination was closer to the rear entrance.

Four of the six U. S. Navy Blue Angels in diamond formation.

Four of the six U. S. Navy Blue Angels in diamond formation.

The Pensacola NAS is the U. S. Navy’s primary flight training facility and is home to the Naval Aviation Museum and The Blue Angels Navy Combat Fighter Flight Demonstration Squadron.  The Blue Angels’ practice sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday are normally open to the public.  They did not fly on Wednesday this week due to weather conditions so they flew today instead.  The session was open to the public and the public showed up in large numbers.  They started at 11:30 AM sharp (this is military stuff, after all) and flew for about one hour.  The practice session consisted of the same maneuvers, in the same order, that make up the “show” The Blue Angels do almost every weekend somewhere in the country from mid-March through early November.  They might repeat a maneuver or leave one out based on how the routine is going, how the equipment is performing, or the weather conditions.

The security personnel also acted as “play by play announcers,” letting the audience in their section of the grandstands know what maneuver was coming next.  While we were waiting for the practice session to start they also provided information about The Blue Angels, the NAS, and answered whatever questions people had.  The gentleman in our section had spent 30 years as a Naval aviator and was very knowledgeable.  He also had the right personality for working the crowd.

When the flight demonstration was over we toured the Naval Aviation Museum.  The museum is adjacent to the runways where the Blue Angels practice and is served by the same parking lot.  While not as extensive as the Smithsonian Air and Space Museums or the Air Force Museum, it is an excellent facility with a superb collection of aircraft and artifacts focused exclusively on Naval flight operations.  We took about three hours to wander through the exhibits, but you could easily spend two or three days here if you wanted to read every placard and study the displays more carefully.  Admission to The Blue Angels practice session and the Naval Aviation Museum are both free.  The museum has an IMAX theater, flight simulators, and other attractions that charge a fee.

We left the NAS around 3:30 PM via the rear gate and headed west towards Perdido Key.  Along the way we found the entrance to Big Lagoon SP and went in to check it out.  We had heard about BLSP from Jimmy and Sadie Clay, who spent March there as volunteer campground hosts.  (I did an article on their converted bus, the Iron Horse, which appeared as the cover/centerfold story in the April 2014 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine.)

From BLSP we continued west to Perdido Key.  Just past the entrance to Perdido Key SP was the Perdido Key Visitor and Community Center, which housed the Perdido Key Chamber of Commerce offices.  Four miles down the road was the Alabama State line.  Our reason for stopping here was that Jimmy and Sadie had mentioned that their daughter was the director of the Perdido Key Chamber of Commerce and we thought it would be fun to meet her.  She was there (Tina Morrison) and we introduced ourselves and chatted for a few minutes.  They pulled up the website for Bus Conversion Magazine on a computer and there was the Iron Horse on the cover!  We got a nice map of the greater Pensacola area to help guide us back to I-10 using parkways on the west side if town, thus avoiding downtown during the late afternoon.  The drive back on I-10 was through heavily wooded rolling terrain with light traffic.  I was still tired from my night of no sleep earlier in the week and nodded off while Linda drove.

After a simple dinner Linda read while I processed photos from yesterday and today.  I updated a plug-in on all four of the WordPress sites I run and got my personal blog post for yesterday uploaded, but not the photographs.  The rain started around 9 PM and quickly intensified.  It did not take long for the bedroom vent-fan leak to re-appear.  A powerful low pressure center south of Pensacola was pulling copious amounts of moisture north into Florida, Alabama, and Georgia.  This was forecast to be a long-duration rain event, but without severe storms.  River flood watches and warnings continued for the area along with urban flash flood warnings and high surf and rip current warnings for the coastal beaches.  We decided to put a pot on the end of the bed to catch the drips from the leak and slept on the couches.  I guess that’s a good reason to keep a sleeper sofa big enough for two when we redo the living room and dinette.


2014/04/16 (W) Emerald Coast Photos

Here are some photographers from our visit to Camp Helen SP and St. Andrews SP along Florida’s Emerald Coast.  Click thumbnails to view larger version of image in a separate tab.  Largest dimensions is typically 600 pixels.

2014/04/16 (W) The Emerald Coast

Powell Lake at Grayton Beach SP, FL.

Powell Lake at Grayton Beach SP, FL.

As forecast, it dropped into the upper 30’s overnight.  By the time we got up at 8 AM the temperature had rebounded a bit into the low-mid 40’s.  I switched on the coach chassis batteries to power up the Pressure Pro TPMS and checked the pressures in all of the tires.  They were all 1- 2 PSI lower than the cold pressure readings I took before we left Suncoast Designers in Hudson, even after having Tires Plus in Spring Hill add air to all of the tires.  But the temperature in Hudson was in the 60’s at the time, and in the eight mile drive to Spring Hill the pressures had risen 5 – 8 PSI.  How much air to add to each tire under those conditions was an educated guess at best and I had not guessed as well as I had hoped.

The DS steer tire, in particular, was reading 107 PSI this morning.  My target was 110 PSI.  The forecasted low for early Saturday morning is 53, and it will likely be closer to 60 degrees F by the time we pull out, so the cold tire pressures will be fine for the next leg of our journey.  The issue, and the problem I was trying to solve, was to make sure we had adequate cold pressures for the colder overnight lows we may (will?) encounter as we travel north without having the tires overinflated for where we are currently traveling.  The overnight lows for next week at our home are currently forecasted to be in the low-to-mid 40’s through mid-week then in the mid-to-upper 50’s.  I really need to rig up a way to travel with an air compressor that is adequate for adjusting the pressure in our bus tires.  We are still at the point where bus projects seem to get added to the list faster than they get checked off.

After breakfast Linda was reading, and I was reviewing, the blog posts I had put up last night for the 12th through the 15th.  Between us we found a dozen errors.  The Note app on my iPad2 has an annoying tendency to change words in an attempt to correct my mis-typing and less-than-perfect spelling.  I usually catch the change, but not always.  I also have a tendency to miss little words such as “we” or use “a” instead of “an” or “were” instead of “where” (or vice-a-versa).  I think most of these are typing errors; I actually know when to use which word.  (I even know the difference between “farther” and “further”, a distinction that seems to elude even professional journalists.)  I upload my drafts to my computer and finish them in MS Word where the spelling and grammar checkers find most of these kinds of things, but introduce their own unique set of rules about what words should be used.

I logged into our WordPress site and made the corrections.  I also rearranged the layout of some photos.  The posts looked fine on my computer but resulted in very narrow columns of text next to left- and right-justified photos, so I centered them without text wrapping.  I am still trying to figure out the optimum width for inline photos that can be left- or right-justified with text wrapped around them on an iPad.  I think it is around 400 pixels, but at that size details can be difficult to see.  If I center them without text wrapping, they can be up to 600 pixels wide with the theme I am using.  This is not an issue with gallery posts, if course, where the limitation on the size of photographs is the how large of a data file I want to upload and store.

We left the coach around 10:30 AM.  Photos from today’s outing are in a separate gallery post.  Our itinerary was to head towards Panama City via US-98/Co-30/Co-30A (the Emerald Coast Parkway) and then work our way back as close to the Gulf of Mexico as possible, stopping at several state parks along the way.  Before we got to Panama City we saw the sign for Camp Helen State Park and pulled in.  Formerly a private retreat, and then a private vacation resort for a company in Alabama, it became a Florida State Park in 1997.  Camp Helen was yet another example of the FSP system acquiring formerly private homesteads and roadside attractions and preserving them for the historical, educational, and recreational use of the public now and into the future.

Besides the buildings that survive from the resort days, the park property extends from the Gulf of Mexico through white sand dunes and scrub forest along the west edge of Phillips Inlet to the other side of US-98 were it runs along the southwest edge of Powell Lake.  Powell Lake is a costal dune lake, one of the largest in Florida.  Costal dune lakes are rare, found only along the northwest Gulf coast of Florida and in Australia, New Zealand, and Madagascar.  A large number of different bird species have been recorded here by members of the local Audubon Society and American Bald Eagles and Osprey are often seen.

We hiked the nature trail through part of the dunes and the scrub forest which had a different mix of plant life than we have seen anywhere else.  The forest included Sand Pines, whose range is limited to Florida.  Unlike many other pines, the pine cones of the Sand Pine do not require fire to open and release their seeds.  We did not encounter any other hikers on the trail and this was one of the nicest little hikes we have taken in a Florida State Park.  Camp Helen is a little gem of a park amidst the over development of Florida’s Emerald Coast.

We put the address for St. Andrews SP into the GPS and then continued on towards Panama City Beach.  East of Powell Lake US-98 gets renamed the Panama City Beach Parkway.  We followed the signs to the park which took us past the Naval Support Activity facility and the Navy Diving and Salvage Training Center.  St. Andrew SP is at the tip of a peninsula that forms the south side of the Grand Lagoon.  Just past the tip is the entrance to St. Andrew Bay, which opens into East and West Bays, and forms the southwest edge of Panama City.

There was a costal defense battery installed at the tip during WW II to protect the bays from German submarines and one of the two gun platforms is preserved under an open-sided pavilion.  We hiked along the southwest edge of St. Andrews SP Pond, a short but excellent trail.  The pond, and the island in the middle of it, are home to many different birds as well as alligators, and is an egret rookery.  We did not see any alligators on our hike, but we saw and heard lots of birds.

We left St. Andrews SP and followed Thomas Drive to Front Beach Road (Co-30) and followed this along the Gulf until we were forced back onto US-98 just before Western Lake and Grayton Beach SP.  It was after 4 PM and we were getting a little tired but we pulled in to Grayton Beach SP to check it out because Chris and Cherie of Technomadia had rated it one of their top 10 + places to camp.  The campground was fully booked, but we were able to drive through and agreed that it looked like a charming place to put down the leveling jacks (if only we had some and if only we could have gotten a reservation).  Continuing west on US-98 we spotted the entrance to Deer Lake SP and pulled in.  The entrance road was in bad shape, one of the few times we have encountered this at a Florida State Park.  It led to a small parking lot that was right up against some large fancy housing on the east property boundary.  All of the park lay to the west and was only accessible by hiking.  It was probably lovely, but we were hiked out for the day.  We switched drivers and headed back to our RV park.

We got back to the coach around 5 PM.  I dumped the waste tanks and filled the fresh water tank while Linda got dinner ready.  We had skipped lunch today, so we were hungry.  She made a simple green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing and seasoned couscous to go with the left over Tofurkey roast and steamed green beans.  A glass of moscato and some fresh pineapple chunks for dessert completed the meal.


2014/04/10 (R) Dunedin (FL) Photos

Here are the photos from our visit to Dunedin, Florida and Honeymoon  Island State Park.  Click to view entire photo.

2014/04/10 (R) Dunedin (FL)

[Photos related to this post will appear in a separate gallery post.]

I confirmed yesterday that our awning windows would not be reinstalled until Friday, which left us free to go do something today.  We made sure the office had my cell phone number and then left around 9:20 AM for Dunedin, Florida about 30 miles south of where we are currently “camped” at Suncoast Designers.  Most of the drive was on US-19 with road construction and moderate-to-heavy traffic the whole way.  US-19 from Weeki Wachee south to St. Petersburg is just not an interesting or pleasant drive.

The destination was worth the drive, however, and we arrived at the eastern edge of Dunedin around 10:30 AM and parked near the Serendipity Café.  Over the next hour we walked through Dunedin’s historic downtown area to the marina on the Gulf of Mexico and back to the car.  Dunedin is the sister city to Stirling, Scotland and the historic downtown area reflects some Scottish heritage; at least the Scottish Heritage Center is there.

It was a gorgeous spring morning for a leisurely stroll with clear skies, bright sunshine, and temperatures around 70 degrees F.  This was the sort of day that shows a town like Dunedin in its best light.  Dunedin had a nice look and vibe to it–a bit upscale yet funky at the same time–with an assortment of unique restaurants (no chains), shops, and art galleries.  It was visually interesting without being pretentious.

We were back at the Serendipity Café a little before 11:30 AM.  We got a table for four and Donna and Michael arrived shortly thereafter.  They had suggested this restaurant because it was approximately midway between our respective locations and it had some vegan items on the menu.  Donna and Michael are members of our FMCA Freethinkers chapter and spent a few nights at Williston Crossings RV Resort in early January where we had a chance to finally meet and get acquainted.  They have been vegans for a very long time, so we also have that interest in common.  We were glad we could arrange another get-together with them before we left Florida.

We lingered over lunch for 90 minutes enjoying good food and good conversation.  I had a “Green Monster” smoothie made with spinach, pineapple, mango, and papaya.  Linda and I split the Asian kale salad which included carrots, red pepper, and roasted pumpkin seeds in a ginger/sesame/tamari dressing.  We then split the Penne Fresco; brown rice penne pasta with tomato, zucchini, kale, capers, white beans, olive oil, and dill.  The ingredients formed a light sauce that tasted like butter.  Served slightly warm, it was pleasant and delicious.  We split a muffin with dried cherries in it for dessert.  It’s always a treat to find a nice little restaurant with vegan choices and even better when we can share it with friends.  BTW: every dish at Serendipity Café is organic and gluten-free.

Donna and Michael had been on the Holistic Holiday At Sea cruise in early March so we compared experiences.  They were on a different/newer ship than the one we sailed on so we could not directly compare notes on that.  They found the educational aspects of the program very informative and decided to drastically reduce the amount of oil they use in their cooking.  They were less impressed with the dining, finding many of the dishes bland compared to how they cook, the serving sizes too small, and the meals generally lacking in an adequate quantity of fresh vegetables.  They ended up supplementing the special vegan dining with vegetables from the regular buffet.  I think that IF you want to go on a cruise, and IF you are a vegan, and IF you would like to take something home from your experience other than a few extra pounds, then the HH@S cruise uniquely meets those requirements.  If you are not really that interested in a cruise and/or gourmet vegan dining then VegFest in Pennsylvania provides the same or better educational experience for a lot less money.

We left the cafe around 1:00 PM and made the 3 mile drive north up the coast to Causeway Blvd, so named because it crosses two bridges on either end of a sand bar to form the causeway that connects Honeymoon Island to the mainland.  We had to wait briefly for the drawbridge to lower to get onto the island, which got its name when someone many, many years ago built 50 cottages there for honeymooners to use.  The first part of the island has some commercial development, but most of the island is Honeymoon Island State Park; the reason for our visit.

We used our annual Florida State Park pass to get in and headed to the nature center to rendezvous with Donna and Michael.  The nature center is elevated, probably as protection against hurricane storm surge, but as a result it provides an unobstructed view of the park and surrounding water from its wrap-around deck.  We got some good tips from the ranger about an active Bald Eagle nest and a Great Horned Owl at the north end of the Osprey Trail.  We also noted the cautions about Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes that inhabit the island in significant numbers.  The largest North American rattlesnake, it is one of the six venomous snakes found in Florida.

We drove to the trailhead, parked, and headed out, but not before changing lenses on my DSLR.  Any chance I had of capturing wildlife images would require my 100-300 mm zoom lens.  The trail out was level, dry, and firm but not hard, with adequate shade. The trees were mostly shorter palms with occasional taller pines, and a light breeze found its way in from the water.  The Osprey Trail was appropriately named.  We saw at least a dozen Osprey nests, most of them occupied with immature birds.  We eventually found the Great Horned Owl roosting high up in a pine tree.  The Bald Eagle nest was at the very end of the trail, by definition, as the park had closed off the entire tip of the island to keep human visitors and their pets from disturbing the birds.  The pair of adult eagles had successfully hatched two eggs and the immature birds were already fledged and out of the nest.  We only saw one adult bird soaring high up and far away, but the nest was impressive enough even without the eagles in it.

We took part of the Pelican Trail on the return hike thinking it might run along the water, but it was separated from the shore by high, thick vegetation.  The trail was sandy and lacking in shade, making for a slightly more difficult hike.  The air temperature was only 77 degrees F, but the sun was very hot, and we were all glad to get back to our cars.  We chatted a while longer in the parking lot, said our farewells, and went our separate ways.  Well, initially we went the same way; we were on an island after all, and there was only one way off.

Causeway Blvd becomes FL-586 which we followed east for about five miles to northbound McMullen Booth Road.  We followed McMullen Booth Road, which became E Lake Road, north for about 10 miles to Trinity Blvd.  Trinity Blvd cut ENE to the southern terminus of Little Road, which we followed north for about 12 miles back to New York Ave.  From there it west just a mile or so back west to Suncoast Designers.

We were surprisingly tired considering that it had been a relatively easy day.  Linda had some Tofurkey brand “fake bacon” made from tempeh so she made vegan BLTs for dinner along with a simple green salad.  We went for a walk after dinner and strolled around the Suncoast property with Bill and Nancy who own the Newmar Essex next to us.  A Country Coach Affinity 770 pulled in after we got back and the owner, Steve, came out and joined the conversation for a while.  As dusk turned to night the air temperature dropped.  We all started to feel the chill and retired to our rigs.



Here are some of our photos from Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.  If you are ever near the Suncoast of Florida, north of Tampa / St. Petersburg, be sure to put this place on your list of things to see and do.

2014/04/02 (W) Weeki Wachee

Today was probably our last visit to a Florida State Park in this part of Florida.  In this case “this part of” refers to north central and southwest to the Suncoast.  Our destination was Weeki Wachee Springs SP.  WWSSP is another one of those FSP gems where the state park system took over a former “old Florida” roadside attraction.  We were glad they did because otherwise this iconic old Florida attraction would no longer exist.  The New York Times ran an excellent article on Weeki Wachee about a year ago.  Most of the photos from today are in a separate gallery post.

Peakcock with tail fanned.

Peakcock with tail fanned.

We left WCRVR around 9 AM and headed towards Dunnellon to pick up John and Marian Hagan.  We arrived around 9:40 having been delayed a few minutes by road construction that had traffic down to one lane on US-41.  We got everyone on board and were on our way quickly.  The park is located on US-19 just west of where FL-50 (Cortez Blvd) ends and it took an hour to get there.  We arrived at WWSSP a little before 11 AM, but not in time to see the 11 AM Mermaid show.  Mermaids?  Oh yes; mermaids are the reason to go to Weeki Wachee Springs SP.

Linda, Marian, & John at the entrance to WWSSP.

Linda, Marian, & John at the entrance to WWSSP.

Weeki Wachee Spring is a Class 1 spring issuing over 100,000,000 gallons of fresh water every 24 hours to create the Weeki Wachee River that meanders a mere 12 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.  The water is 99.8% pure, and technically it safe to scoop it up out of the river (near the source, anyway) and drink it without any treatment.

Weeki Wachee is a large, deep spring; amazingly clear with beautiful shades of green and blue in the bright sunshine.  The name cones from earlier Native American words meaning “large spring.”  Go figure.  In the 1940’s a former Navy frogman bought the property and created the underwater viewing theater on the west side of the spring.  He also invented the air hose underwater breathing technique that has allowed young women (and some men) to perform the underwater mermaid shows ever since.  On our visit they were doing two different shows: Fish Tales (a historical retrospective), and The Little Mermaid (adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson tale).  Campy?  Of course.  Delightful?  Absolutely.

Weeki Wachee SP is small at only 528 acres, but we managed to make a nice, relaxing day of it.  Admission is $13 for adults and our FSP Annual Pass was only good for admitting two people.  The other major attraction is the Buccaneer Bay water park.  It was open but the water slides were not operating.  This time of year the slides are only open on weekends.  They are open every day during the summer season.  We were surprised by how many people were here on a Wednesday in early April, swimming, sunning, walking the grounds, and enjoying the shows.

We went to the animal show at noon.  The young man who did the show was very entertaining but also provided important information about the snakes, turtles, and small alligator he showed us.  He kept the 18″ long alligator out after the show for people to touch and photograph.  The park also has a resident population of pea fowl that roam the grounds freely.  We encountered them numerous times and I took quite a few photographs.  Several of the peacocks were fanning the tails and they were very impressive.

The park service operates a pair of pontoon boats that take visitors on a 25 minute round trip on the upper part of the river.  There is almost no development on this stretch of the River and we saw turtles, an Anhinga drying its wings, and a Bald Eagle nest with an immature eagle in it.

The park operates several concession stands and we patronized one for a light lunch.  They also have a gift shop.  The park is open from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM.  We left at 5 PM feeling that we had gotten value for our entrance fee.

From the park we headed east on FL-50 / Cortez Blvd to Buffet City.  We had been to this Chinese buffet once before with Al Hesselbart and thought the variety and quality of food was sufficient to make the $11 per person cost reasonable for us.  All four of us got our monies worth.

We headed back to Dunnellon by way of the northbound Suncoast Parkway (FL-589 Tollroad).  The Parkway ends at US-19 south of Homosassa.  From there we reversed our route from the morning, taking US-19 back to Crystal River and then taking the road that runs northeast back to US-41 in Dunnellon.  We stopped at the Hagan’s house for some coffee and conversation.  Marian had taken a few photos of us at the park and John transferred them to a DVD.

We arrived back at our coach around 9:30 PM and were greeted by our two cats who demanded our undivided attention for a while.  A small serving of coconut milk “ice cream” put the finishing touch on a long but very satisfying day.


2014/02/12 (W) Dudley Farm Photo Gallery

Images from our visit to the Dudley Farm Historic State Park in Newberry, Florida.  Click once on each image to open a larger view.  Maximum dimension is 640 pixels.

2014/02/12(W) Back In Time

We woke to an overcast sky with rain in the forecast for the afternoon.  One of the closer state parks to us is the Dudley Farm Historic State Park.  I don’t know how many types of state parks Florida has, but so far we have been to: “Regular” (un-designated/default); Preserve; Buffer (Preserve); Wilderness (Preserve); Archeological; Geological; and Wildlife/preserve.  This was our first Historic(al) park and I know they have Battlefield parks.   I will not be surprised to find out there are other types as well, such as Marine or Bird Sanctuary.

Located in Newberry, Florida the Dudley Farm Historic SP is NW of Williston and due west of Gainesville.  We also needed to do some shopping today, so a trip to the state park in the morning (before the rain started) followed by a swing through Gainesville was our plan for the day.  We were on our way by 10 AM, taking US-27/41 NNW out of  Williston through Archer to Newberry where we headed west on Newberry Road (FL-26) about a mile to the park entrance.

Although there was plenty of room to park, we were surprised by the number of cars in the parking lot.  The park is not open on Monday’s and Tuesday’s, but the reason for the crowd became evident when we entered the visitor center.  In addition to the normal park staff and volunteers there where at least six women in period clothing working on an old large quilt and another woman weaving at a small loom.  Wednesday mornings is when this happens and it added a touch of “living history” to our visit.  I have posted a separate photo gallery of our visit to the Farm.

There were a few buildings by the visitor center for display and demonstration, but the main farm was a quarter mile walk through the woods on a level path.  The Dudley Farm was a thriving, successful family enterprise that began before the Civil War and continued until after WW II.  The farmstead, consisting of 18 buildings, equipment, and furnishings, was donated to the State in the early 1980’s along with 23 acres of the 600+ acre farm.  The State later acquired an additional 232 acres and more recently another 80 acres for the visitor center, entrance road and parking lot area.  This is not a “recreated” farm; all the buildings are in their original locations except for the General Store, which was moved to the farmstead from its location near the main road.

We roamed the farmstead for over an hour looking at, and going in, buildings and taking photographs.  We had the place to ourselves except for some birds, chickens, turkeys, and three mules.  Although the farm was “rough” by modern standards, it was interesting to try to imagine this place as a “state of the art” operation full of generations of Dudley’s and farm hands engaged in the slow but steady work of farm and domestic life.  The tendency is to romanticize and envision this place as somehow idyllic.  It wasn’t.  The farmhouse was certainly comfortable compared to being outside, and life was good (at least for the Dudley’s), but it was no doubt a hard life.

By the time we were done touring the farmstead the overcast had lowered almost to a ground cloud and it had started misting.  Although we lacked bright sunlight, blue skies, and intense colors, the soft, even, subdued light was ideal for making lower contrast images and seemed somehow appropriate in mood to the empty, gray, weathered buildings of this now quiet farmstead, preserved so that we might glimpse a moment back in time.

If the Dudley Farm HSP was the past, Gainesville is definitely the here and now.  As we got to I-75 on FL-26 we encountered heavy traffic.  We had not been to this part of Gainesville yet, but now we know where the major shopping area is located!  You name it, it’s here.  Conveniently for us the Office Max, Michaels, Trader Joe’s, and PetSmart were all in the same mega shopping center (one of many).  Trader Joe’s had a quite a selection of house brand wines for $2.99/bottle (750 mL) so we bought several.  I hope they are to our liking, because I sure like the price.  They did not, however, have a house brand moscato 🙁  A final stop at the Kangaroo filling station for fuel and we were on our way back to WCRVResort.

Linda made one of our favorite dishes for dinner; whole wheat capellini (angel hair) pasta with garlic, onions, mushrooms (two kinds), sun-dried tomatoes, and basil lightly sautéed in olive oil; simple, but absolutely delicious.


2014/02/11 (T) Manatee & Fanning Springs SPs (FL)

Manatee Springs Tributary to the Suwannee River, Florida.  (MS-ICE composite of 7 photos.)

Manatee Springs Tributary to the Suwannee River, Florida. (MS-ICE composite of 7 photos.)

Loblolly Pine at Manatee Springs SP (FL).  (MS-ICE composite of 4 photos.)

Loblolly Pine at Manatee Springs SP (FL). (MS-ICE composite of 4 photos.)

Another beautiful day here in the elbow of Florida.  Seriously; look at the map.  The panhandle is like an arm outstretched from the shoulder and the peninsula is like the rest of the arm from the elbow down.  That places the area around Cedar Key and inland to the northeast towards Williston as the crook of the elbow.  We left the WCRV Resort late morning and took US-27 Alt WNW through Bronson to Chiefland where it joins up with US19/US-98 N.  By the time we got to Chiefland we had blue skies, little to no breeze, and temperatures were moving into the mid-70s.  Just on the other side of Chiefland we turned on to FL-320 and drove the final 6 miles to the entrance to Manatee Springs State Park.

Manatee Springs is one of many springs that flow into and form the Suwannee River.  Yup, that Suwannee River.  From Manatee Springs the Suwannee River flows approximately 25 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.  Like all of the springs fed by the Florida aquifer, Manatee Springs puts out millions of gallons of water every day at a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit.  Several visitors reported seeing two Manatees, a mother and a  youngster, swimming upstream towards the headsprings, but we were not able to catch a glimpse of them.  We did, however, see SCUBA divers.  It turns out that this spring is popular for swimming and SCUBA diving.  Consistent with our experience in other Florida State Parks, the developed areas were very nicely done.  There was an excellent boardwalk that ran along the tributary and over  swamp area that was obviously full of water at other times (high tide) and out to an observation platform at the Suwannee River.

When we were done at the headsprings we drove to the trailhead parking area for the Scenic Trail.  As we have seen in other parks, there was an extensive trail system, but a specific combination of trails looped us back to our car after hiking approximately two miles.  This trail, like others, took us through a woodland that underwent subtle, and not so subtle, changes with only minor changes in elevation.  A trail guide keyed to numbered markers explained these changes as we went along.  In the time we were on the trail we did not encounter any other hikers.  These forests are beautiful, peaceful places, but the beauty is subtle rather than dramatic, and you have to slow your pace and elevate  your senses in order to experience and fully appreciate them.

The headsprings at Manatee Springs SP (FL).

The headsprings at Manatee Springs SP (FL).

Small alligator in Catfish Hole Spring at Manatee Springs SP (FL).

Small alligator in Catfish Hole Spring at Manatee Springs SP (FL).

Linda on the Suwannee River Boardwalk at Manatee Springs SP (FL).

Linda on the Suwannee River Boardwalk at Manatee Springs SP (FL).

A view of the forest on the Scenic Trail at Manatee Springs SP (FL).

A view of the forest on the Scenic Trail at Manatee Springs SP (FL).

From Manatee Springs SP we returned to Chiefland and continued north on US-19/98/27A to the little town of Fanning Springs.  The Suwannee River runs through the center of town and just before you get to the river is the entrance to Fanning Springs SP.  This small park is set up as a place for people to swim, and during the warmer months it is undoubtedly overrun with people.    But today there were only a few other people there, including a couple who were swimming in the headspring.  I took a phone call from Pat, who was working on resetting the DDEC I engine computer on his bus, and then we walked out to the end of another wonderful elevated boardwalk, crossing over/though a cypress swamp before reaching the banks of Suwannee River.  It was a very pretty place but challenging to capture in photographs.  I took some, but I didn’t care for how they turned out, so I did not include any with this post.

There is another trail in this area named The Nature Coast Trail, but we did not hike it today.  It was built on an old railroad bed and runs for over 31 miles, crossing the Suwannee River north of Fanning Springs on an old wooden trestle.  The trail is available for use by hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians, and we will likely hike part of this trail, but not today.  The drive back to Williston took approximately 45 minutes, not including a brief stop at the Winn-Dixie supermarket on the west edge of town for grapes and bananas.  Dinner was green salad, Tofurkey brand vegan pizza, and a small glass of Blueberry-Rhubarb Wine from Forestedge Winery.

2014/02/09 (N) Crystal River State Parks (FL)

Our destination today was the two state parks near Crystal River, Florida; Crystal River Archeological SP and Crystal River Preserve SP.  We left around 10:45 AM and headed down US-41 to Dunnellon, Florida where picked up John & Marian Hagan from their house.  John navigated us over to the town of Crystal River.  From the heart of downtown a short drive north on US-19 brought us the iconic brown state park sign telling us to take the next left turn to get to the parks.

Crystal River Archeological SP preserves an important pre-Columbian site with burial and midden mounds as well as mounds that once supported temples.  Evidence of occupation goes back before the Common Era and there is a small, but nice, museum explaining the modern history of the site and the archeological activities that led to our present day understanding of the people who built and used the site send its mounds.  The trail system is paved and less than one mile in total length.  It was a quiet place for peaceful if thought-provoking stroll on a beautiful late winter afternoon.

Crystal River Preserve SP is listed on some maps as Crystal River Buffer Preserve SP, and that is an apt name for it.  About equal in size to the archeological state park, it surrounds it and buffers it from encroachment and most recreational uses.  The archeological park has a picnic area, but no place to launch boats, canoes, or kayaks, or to flush.  The buffer preserve, by comparison, has a much longer trail system with lots of access to water.  We hiked approximately 2 miles in pleasant temperatures on a trail through the woods along the water’s edge and saw a number of people fishing.  The light was good and the wind was light which made for nice reflections.  The following photograph is a panoramic composite of three images made using the Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE) and post-processed using Faststone Image Viewer.  MS-ICE is an amazing little free program.  The three camera images were hand held with auto-focus and auto-exposure.  The rules for compositing photos to make panoramas are: 1) tripod, 2) special pan head, 3) fixed/manual focus, and 4) fixed exposure.  This image violated all of these rules and still came out well.

Crystal River Buffer Preserve SP (FL).

Crystal River Buffer Preserve SP (FL).  [Click to enlarge to 1280 pixels wide.]

By 3:00 PM we were all getting hungry so we looked for vegetarian friendly options in Crystal River.  The only place that came up was the Brooklyn Dockside Deli but the website indicated they were only open for breakfast and lunch.  We stopped there anyway and they were open until 4:00 PM, so we had a late lunch /early dinner.  John had a Cuban sandwich, Marian had a Reuben sandwich, Linda had a spinach wrap veggie sandwich, and I had a veggie sub.  Everyone enjoyed their food and the un-assuming setting by the water.

We drove John and Marian back to their house and returned to Williston.  We arrived back at our coach before it got dark; something we have rarely accomplished on our recent outings.  Our neighbor, John, invited us to join them later for a small campfire at another neighbor’s rig a few doors down.  Since we were not having dinner as such I off-loaded today’s photographs from the camera, created the panorama, and worked on this blog post.  We checked a couple of times but never saw a campfire where the campfire was supposed to be, so we figured the plans had changed due to the cool temperatures.  Sunday evenings is Masterpiece Theater on PBS, so we settled in for the evening.


2014/02/05 (W) Jacksonville (FL)

Prevost Service Center, Jacksonville, FL.

Prevost Service Center, Jacksonville, FL.

Prevost Car Inc has a major service and parts facility in Jacksonville, Florida and had the (one way) check valve I needed in stock.  Jacksonville is a major metropolitan area in the northeast corner of Florida, about two hours northeast of Williston.  We took FL-121 to Gainesville where we picked up FL-24 over to US-301 northbound at Waldo.  US-301 runs up to the west edge of Jacksonville, but the Prevost service center is in the southeast part of town, so the GPS routed us onto FL-16 at Starke and then onto FL-21 and up to I-295 eastbound.  We found the facility easily and ended up having a nice chat with Dann Wiltgen, the VP of Pre-owned Seated Coach Sales and New Key Accounts, who we bumped into at the coffee station.

At the parts counter Service Advisor Jennifer Beardslee got the check valve and also pulled the new auxiliary air filter assembly for me to see.  I decided to buy it, but had to order the mounting bracket from Canada as it was not in stock anywhere in the U. S.  This was the first time we had been to any Prevost facility so I took a few pictures of the exterior before we left.

Looking north from North Beach at Little Talbot Island SP (FL).

Looking north from North Beach at Little Talbot Island SP (FL).

Our business concluded at Prevost we got back on I-295 headed north.  Just after crossing back over the river/bay we headed east on FL-105 (Heckscher Dr.).  We crossed Little Marsh Island, Pine Island, and Fanning Island before Ft. George Island and Ft. George Island State Park.  Fl-105 joins up with FL-A1A which runs along the coast and includes a ferry to the south side of the inlet.  But we were headed north to Little Talbot Island State Park, which occupies the entire Little Talbot Island.

Us on the boardwalk at North Beach, Little Talbot Island SP (FL).

Us on the boardwalk at North Beach, Little Talbot Island SP (FL).

We stopped at the Little Talbot Island ranger station, trailhead, and beach area, parked, and walked out to the shore on a boardwalk across low dunes.  The weather was pleasant enough and we had a nice stroll down the beach and took a few photos.  We continued on to Big Talbot Island, most of which is Big Talbot Island SP.  We parked at the trailhead for the Big Pine Trail and hiked out to the marsh through a beautiful forest.  This area had been most for a while and was very green. I took a few photos, but it’s difficult to capture the nature of such a place which is both grand and intimate at the same time.  Lenses do not “see” the world the same way our eyes do.

The Big Pine Trail at Big Talbot Island SP (FL).

The Big Pine Trail at Big Talbot Island SP (FL).



From Big Talbot Island we crossed to Amelia Island, the southern tip of which was Amelia Island SP and the location of the George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier SP.  The GCBFPSP is the former bridge connecting the toe Islands.  When a new bridge was built the state left the old one, closed it to vehicle traffic, and made it a state park.  Thus was another example of why the Florida State Parks system is the only two-time winner of the award for best state park system in the U. S.



The marsh at the end of the Big Pine Trail, BTISP (FL).

The marsh at the end of the Big Pine Trail, BTISP (FL).

As we left Amelia Island SP for the Nassau area we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of a very high-end resort community.  FL-A1A eventually joined up with FL-200 headed west towards Yulee and across I-95 to Callahan where it becomes US-301/FL-200 headed SSE through the west edge of Jacksonville and then on to Gainesville and Ocala.  Along the way it passes through the little town of Lawtey.  About 5 miles north of Lawtey there is a billboard warning drivers of the “Lawtey Speedtrap.”  We thought it might be a gimmick ad for a restaurant, but it turned out be an actual warning.  As we entered Lawtey there were dings saying “Speed Strictly Enforced” and a Lawtey police car checking vehicle speeds.  We don’t speed when. We drive, so we were not at risk of being trapped, but I don’t understand why states permit little towns to do this sort of thing.  Law enforcement should not be a major source of revenue for any municipality; it distorts the whole purpose and process of law enforcement.

Fungal growth on a dead tree along the Big Pine Trail at BTISP (FL).

Fungal growth on a dead tree along the Big Pine Trail at BTISP (FL).

I had received the Feb 2014 issue of Bus Conversions Magazine a couple of days ago with my article on the Arcadia Bus Rally as the cover/centerfold story.  Many of my photos were used for the expanded digital edition and I had several e-mails going back and forth with Gary Hall, the owner/publisher, and Mike Sullivan, the editor, as is often the case.  Starting with the January 2014 issue they are producing three separate versions of the magazine.  The print version is currently 32 full-color glossy pages.  Gary would like to up the page count, but needs to build the subscriber/advertiser base to do that.  The digital edition now cones in two versions, SD and HD, both of which have expanded content over the print version, especially photographs.  The SD (Standard Definition) version is e-mailed to subscribers and can also be downloaded by online subscribers.  The HD (High Definition) version has the same content as the SD version, but the photographs are much higher resolution, and can only be downloaded.  The SD version for Feb 2014 was ~10 MB while the HD version was ~ 25 MB.  They can be viewed online or downloaded as PDF files.

The beach at Amelia Island SP by the George Crady Fishing Bridge SP (FL).  (4x4 vehicles permitted.)

The beach at Amelia Island SP by the George Crady Fishing Bridge SP (FL). (4×4 vehicles permitted.)

I also had some e-mail correspondence with Don and Kim Greene of Harvest Hosts. We received the February newsletter a couple of days ago and read that they were extending subscriptions for subscribers who mentioned the program on their websites or in their blogs.  We stayed at four “hosts” in 2013 and blogged about each one of them.  We also have Harvest Hosts listed on our website as one of our travel resources.  The posts were a bit dated but I sent an e-mail with the direct links and they were kind enough to extend our subscription by four months.  They also requested one of the photos from Acres of Land Winery and Restaurant to include on their Facebook and Flickr sites.

It seems that when our days are full they are full right up to the brim, and that’s OK. We’re tired at the end of such days, but it’s a good kind of tired.


2014/02/02 (N) HSWSP Photo Gallery

This is a more extensive photo gallery (56 images) of the animals at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa, Florida.  Click once on each image to view in a separate page/tab.  Maximum dimension is 640 pixels.

2014/02/02 (N) Homosassa Springs Wildlife SP (FL)

At sunrise in Williston we had pleasant temperatures in the upper 50’s with heavy fog.  The forecast for the afternoon was partly sunny and dry with a high near 80 degrees and the forecast for Homosassa was basically the same so we decided to head to the State Park located there.  I have included a few photos with this post as a gallery at the end.  The maximum dimension is 400 pixels.  I have posted a separate photo gallery for this date with more photos in a larger size with a maximum dimension of 640 pixels.

The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park (HSWSP) in Homosassa, Florida is a unique place.  Located at the headsprings of the Homosassa River, it is a rehabilitation facility for injured wildlife, including the endangered West Indian Manatee.  Located WSW of Dunnellon, Florida and about 50 miles from Williston, there are several other state parks in the area, most notably the two at Crystal River and the one at Weeki Wachi, as well as several National Wildlife Refuges encompassing miles of Gulf Coast shoreline and thousands of acres.

Although Williston is a small town of ~2,200 permanent residents (and another 600 – 800 RVers) it is something of a crossroads.  There are three major roads that intersect at the heart of Williston creating six radials in/out of town.  US-27/41 runs NNW to Archer while US-27/FL-500 runs SW to Ocala and US-41 continues S to Dunnellon.  FL-121 runs NNE to Gainesville and SSE towards Homosassa.  US-27alt/FL-500 heads WNW to Bronson where it intersects US-24 heading SW to Cedar Key and NW to Archer.  The I-75 exit at the SW corner of Gainesville is only 15 miles away via FL-121 and the exit 354 on the west edge of Ocala is only 22 miles via US-27.  At our site at Williston Crossings we do not hear any highway noise, yet we have ready access to this part of Florida and are within two hours drive time of Tampa / St. Petersburg and the greater Orlando area.

HSWSP is another state park that was originally a private “attraction.”  As a private attraction it had a small zoo with many exotic animals that were not native to Florida.  When the state took over the facility I the 1970’s a plan was put in place to relocate all of the non-native animals to appropriate zoos and shelters and turn the grounds into a place to care for sick and injured animals while making them accessible to the public.  The Florida State Park system has accomplished this goal and parks like HSWSP are no doubt one of the reasons that the FSP system has been voted best in the nation twice in the last 14 years.

We spent four and a half hours at the park.  The Visitor Center is on US-19/98 with ample, easy access parking.  Daily admission is $13 per person, but our annual park pass was good for admission for two people.  To get to the actual park we rode one of the river boats.  The trip took about 20 minutes and was narrated by the captain in an entertaining and informative way.  There was also a “tram” that goes back and forth on a park road.

There was one animal that the FSP system was not able to place, a hippopotamus name Lou.  A petition drive was launched asking the Governor to let Lou stay at the park as a result of which the Governor issued an executive decree granting Lou status as a Florida citizen, thus making him a “native” and allowing him to stay in the park.  Lou is an average sized hippo at ~6,000 pounds and has been at the park (private and state) for 48 years.  He was 6 years old when he came to the park, and is now 54 years old.

HSWSP is not wilderness and except for some of the birds and the manatees the animals you see there are not “in the wild.”  Most of them are there because they were sick, injured, orphaned, or otherwise unable to survive in the wild.  If they can be rehabilitated and released back into the wild they are.  If not, they have a safe place to live out their lives.  Two of the Bald Eagles have a badly deformed wing and have been at the park since the state took it over in the 70’s.  There were no records on them and their age is unknown.  Because they cannot fly, they are in an open area where you have a clear view of them unobstructed by fences or netting and can be as close as 8 feet away to not more than 40 feet.  You are simply not going to get that close to a Bald Eagle in the wild.  Many of the animals, including the Bald Eagles, have enclosed areas where they spend the night to keep them safe from wild predators.

In addition to the resident animals and birds there are a large number of wild birds who are free to come and go but have chosen on their own to stay.  After all, they are in a safe place where they are fed regularly.  We found it interesting to consider that “wild” animals are not necessarily as keen on being wild as we are on having them be wild.  Animals will, given a choice, chose a safe place that is free from predation with a reliable food supply.  The birds especially seemed to be oblivious to the presence of people unless they happened to buy some bird food from the quarter machines placed around the boardwalk.

2014/02/01 (S) San Felasco Hammock Preserve SP (FL)

Having spent a long day Thursday visiting Pat and Vickie at Fort Wilderness, and with the weather still wet and cool, we stayed around our coach on Friday and relaxed.  Linda worked on her cross stitch for much of the day.  I did a load of laundry.  We went for a walk around the RV resort.  We met another group of campers from Michigan and stopped to chat briefly.  Linda made her wonderful vegan pancakes for dinner and then we went to the fire pit at 6:30 PM.  We visited briefly with Kevin, who is in charge of the fire pit, before he took off to play Texas Hold’em.  John and Ali, our next door neighbors to the east, were there as they are every Friday and Saturday night.  A few other folks showed up, but not as many as we have seen in past weeks, and they did not stay.  By 8:30 PM it was just the four of us and we had a nice, long visit.  Kevin came back after Texas Hold’em and visited for a little while before turning in.  I’ve included a photo gallery at the end of this post rather than insert the photos inline.

This morning we awoke to temperatures in the upper 40’s with dense fog, but the forecast was for a high near 80 degrees with only a 30% chance of rain.  We waited until noon for the temperatures to rise into the mid-60’s and then headed for Gainesville.  We had two State Parks to check out plus some shopping to do.

Our first stop was the Devil’s Millhopper State Geological Park.  A small park on the NW side of Gainesville, Florida the Devil’s Millhopper is a sinkhole to drains water back into the Florida aquifer.  It is 500 feet across at the top and 120 feet deep.  Water flows in from streams that become waterfalls, and seeps out of the steep side walls.  A wooden staircase gets you from the top to the bottom and back up while keeping hikers from destroying the vegetation which leads to serious erosion.

About 6 miles farther west on the same road is the trailhead for the hiking trails in the southern section of the San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park.  The southern 2/3rds of the park is restricted to hiking only with over 12 miles of trail.  The area is pine flatwoods, with sinkholes and ponds and was the site of a Spanish mission a long, long time ago.  We went for a very pleasant three mile hike and rarely saw anyone else on the trail in spite of a very crowed parking lot at the trailhead.

My birthday is on Tuesday, and rather than make a special trip into Gainesville for dinner, we decided to dine out while we were there today.  Our hike completed, we drove to Karma Cream, a vegan friendly ice cream / pastry / sandwich shop on the north edge of the University of Florida campus.  We ordered a Tofurkey Rueben sandwich and a vegan “bacon” and Tofurkey club sandwich.  We each had a half of each sandwich.  Karma Cream has a good selection of non-dairy and dairy ice cream.  Linda had chocolate peanut butter and I had a Sunday with Lunaberry ice cream, dark chocolate hot fudge, whip cream, and crushed peanuts; all vegan.  Karma Cream is a hole-in-the-wall kind of place, staffed and patronized by college students many of whom had tattoos, but we enjoyed it.  It has a four and half cow rating on Happy Cow, and we felt that was an accurate assessment.

Just around the corner from Karma Cream is the Gainesville Earth Origins organic market, so we did our weekly grocery shopping there rather than at the Publix supermarket.  By the time we got back to our coach and put the groceries away it was time to go to the Saturday night campfire.  Even though the humidity was high, the milder temperatures brought out the crowd.  Jeff and John brought their guitars and played/sang some of their favorite country songs.  While country I not our preferred genre, we appreciated their musicianship and willingness to entertain their fellow RVers.  We can only sit for so long on hard chairs and made our exit from the campfire around 8:30 PM.

2014/01/28 (T) Myakka River SP (FL) Osprey

I photographed this Osprey in a tree by the picnic area parking lot at the Myakka Outpost.  It was eating a fish it had just caught in the North Lake at Myakka River State Park.  Left click once on each image to view separately in larger size.  Maximum horizontal size is 800 pixels, maximum vertical size is 480 pixels.

2014/01/28 (T) Myakka River SP (FL) Gallery

I posted two photo galleries on our visit to Myakka River State Park today.  This one has a variety of images.  The other one is photos of an Osprey.  Left click a thumbnail image to view at a larger size in a separate window.  Maximum horizontal size is 800 pixels, maximum vertical size is 480 pixels.

2014/01/26 (N) Paynes Prairie Gallery

The pictures in this gallery post were taken along the La Chua Trail on  the north side of the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, an amazing wilderness on the southern edge of Gainesville, Florida.  Click once on a thumbnail to open it in a separate window.  Maximum dimension is 600 pixels.

2014/01/21 (T) Paynes Prairie

South entrance PPSP.

South entrance PPSP.

On the southern edge of Gainesville, Florida lies a surprisingly large and biologically diverse area known as Paynes Prairie.  Fifteen miles long and 50 miles in circumference, most of this ecosystem is now owned by the State of Florida and managed as the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.  Our winter encampment in Williston is only 15 miles SW of the SW corner of Gainesville, and so less than that to the south entrance of the park on US-441.

Live Oak with Spanish moss, PPSP.

Live Oak with Spanish moss, PPSP.

Although there was a 30% chance of rain for the mid-afternoon we had blue skies in the morning and pleasant if somewhat cool temperatures, so we decided to drive over to the Preserve and check it out.  Members of our FMCA Freethinkers chapter had planned their arrival in Florida to include a couple of nights at Williston Crossings, so we knew we would be sticking around the RV resort to visit with them while they were here.  Besides, with our annual State Park pass we don’t have to worry about paying entrance fees only to have our plans cancelled by weather.

Egret, PPSP.

Egret, PPSP.

The south entrance has a ranger station and is where the Visitor Center, campground, observation tower, and several hike/bike/horse trails are located.  We watched a 20 minute film on the history and current restoration of the area.  By the time it was over it had started raining, so we spent some time in the Visitor Center looking at the exhibits.  The rain let up so we hiked out to the observation tower and walked up to the top platform (50 feet high).  The rains returned and we waited out the light showers on the covered observation platform.  The view from the tower gave us a sense of the expanse of Paynes Prairie.

Along the Cove Dike Trail, PPSP.

Along the Cove Dike Trail, PPSP.

The skies cleared from the north and we hiked part of the Cove Dike trail along the southern edge of the prairie.  You have to pass through a narrow serpentine entrance to get onto the part of the trail that runs along the edge of the treeless and wet prairie.  The sign includes a warning that you are entering a wilderness area and that the prairie is not a zoo or petting farm; the animals (alligators, bison, horses, etc.) are wild.  The serpentine entrance is presumably to keep these larger, wild animals from escaping the preserve, which appears to be completely fenced.  It’s odd, and yet very cool, to read such a sign with the broadcast TV antennas of Gainesville visible on the horizon some 15 miles away.  Wilderness is not always remote.

Snake, Cove Dike Trail, PPSP.

Snake, Cove Dike Trail, PPSP.

The Cove Dike trail was high and dry for the most part, but the prairie was very wet.  The only animals we saw we birds and a small snake that I almost stepped on.  We saw evidence of larger animals including bison and horse scat, hoof prints, and areas of earth that had been disturbed, perhaps to create a resting place for the night.

This place is not a zoo or theme park.

This place is not a zoo or theme park.

The area has had a lot of rain the last few weeks and part way out the trail was closed, so we turned around.  Once back at the car we drove around to the north entrance, which you get to by driving through a subdivision.  Again, we had to pass through the serpentine entrance with wilderness warning signs.  From this entrance there is a boardwalk that leads to an old dike that goes out into the prairie.  The best wildlife viewing, including alligators, is purported to be from this trail.   We had just gotten to the beginning of the boardwalk when the rain resumed.  Concerned about getting the camera wet, and wanting to photograph the area, we decided to return another day with better weather and headed back to the car.

Egret, north boardwalk area, PPSP.

Egret, north boardwalk area, PPSP.

After a day on the edge of wilderness Linda made Farro with mushrooms, onions, garlic, and Swiss chard.  She added a few hot red pepper flakes which gave the dish a nice edge. We finished up a bottle of Yellowtail Moscato we had opened the night before.  A very sweet, relatively inexpensive wine that we can get at the Grocery Depot in Williston, walking distance from the RV resort.

Egret, north boardwalk area, PPSP.

Egret, north boardwalk area, PPSP.