02-17-2014 Florida Magic Morning

Fort De Soto Campground; Clear sunshine 70 degrees F

campground roadIt is the morning magic thing.  Florida brilliant sunshine, balmy air, light and shadow through the oaks and cedars and palms. Birds singing, a few voices here and there as folks leave the campground.  Actually Mo and I snagged a waterfront site this morning for our anticipated move. Mo just said, “This is privacy without privacy!”  What she meant was that we are in our private campsite watching the activity beyond the little bayou as people pull out of the park

watching them try to jockey that thing out of the site was great entertainmentMost entertaining was this huge rig pulling a huge trailer that hauls a huge Escalade.  The rig was in site 137, trailer and all.  It took them at least an hour to get set up to pull out, and then watching them pull out was incredibly entertaining. I think there must have been more than a million bucks tied up in that get-up and you couldn’t give it to me for free!  And according to a park volunteer watching their late exit,  they were only there one night! 

great entertainmentWe get to watch another big rig trying to pull into these gorgeous private waterfront sites. Two guys are waving their arms around and Mo is here talking to herself saying, “Why in the world don’t you go around and pull in the right way?!”  Unlike folks in our rv-ing life who have no qualms telling us what to do, she won’t go over there and tell them how to do it better. There are two guys waving their arms while another guy drives and three women standing around taking photos. Six people in one rig?  No matter how big it is that seems a bit tight for me.

another big rig attempting to get through the main campground road at Fort De Soto CampgroundAbby is snoozing on the grass in front of us as we sit in our chairs sipping and reading.  Although the entertainment across the pond definitely has superseded reading for the moment.  Jeremy is back in the rig after thinking he was spry enough to catch a pesky squirrel that was trying get inside the rig to eat whatever he could find. 

When I watch these rigs trying to manuever, I am so grateful for our 26 foot length and especially for our 11.5 foot heightMo just went to get the binoculars so she could check out the new folks more easily.  Tell me where you can find entertainment like this when you don’t have TV. Now THIS is what rv-ing is all about, right? 


waterfront site 105THIS! is why we are in Florida, once again, I know why we are here.  After the sun gets a bit less intense we will launch the kayaks nearby for another paddle on Mullet Bayou.  We originally planned to go explore a section of the park that we missed before launching the boats, but when we moved the rig we saw a huge line of cars at the entry station just south of the campground.  Some kind of biking/running/swimming thing called a Duatholon.  Do you bike and run or bike and swim?  No clue, but biking is definitely part of the agenda. 

our new homeWe have no need to go anywhere but right here in our perfect spot, with entertainment provided across the way by accommodating big rig folks.

But that sort of entertainment only last so long.  With scarcely a breath of wind and those bright sunny skies, the boats were calling us.  Instead of leaving the campground to launch, we decided to use one of the unoccupied tent campsites.  It was very quiet there, and we parked in the site, launched, and then moved the car to a quiet nearby spot to park. 

kayak routesOn this trip, we were again in Mullet Bayou, but on a different shore.  Decided to paddle east, and hopefully go under the bridge toward Tampa Bay.  Before we were out even ten minutes, suddenly there was a ruckus in the water in front of us and sure enough, it was a pod of dolphins.  I think there were at least three and they were cavorting and jumping and playing.  I didn’t have the camera…having decided that I didn’t need more photos of herons and egrets.  Can you believe it?

dophins playing right in front of our boatsThankfully I did have the iPhone, so grainy as the photos are, you can at least see that the dolphin was right in front of my boat.  With all the jumping around they were doing, Mo and I both wondered out loud, “Do you suppose they could dump us over?”  I suppose that could happen, in fact I think it did happen to someone with an Orca whale not long ago, but I wasn’t too worried.  It was great fun to see them playing so close.

kayaking in Tampa BayWe paddled under the bridge, north into the edge of Tampa Bay, and back around under the Pinellas Bayway making a perfect loop.  Passing up our launch site to slide into the bayou by our campground was fun, with another phone photo of the MoHo site on the water from the kayak.

there's the MoHo, behind the two chairs and our spinnerBy the time we returned, it was after 4 and we needed to get a few groceries.  Google sent us back out of the park to the north and east over the Pinellas Bayway again toward a decent Publix about 7 miles from the campground.  Somehow with all that water and all those bridges things seem much more distant than they actually are.  We were back home and had the grill started up by 5:30.

Fort DeSoto_001To celebrate our great days here at Fort De Soto, we decided to have a campfire.  Here in Florida, that seems to be a rather pricey celebration.  We put down a $20. deposit for the fire ring which cost $3.50 per night, and bought an orange net bag of firewood for $9.  The wood was some kind of cypress or cedar and was stringy and damp and smoked a very long time before it finally caught. 

Still was great having a fire and a sunset to accompany us as we enjoyed the balmy evening on the waterfront.  Tomorrow we head south toward Fort Myers, and plan to take the slow route along the coast rather than jumping on 75.  Who knows who we might see along the way.  I guess we will find out tomorrow.Fort DeSoto_002

02-13 to 02-18-2014 Five Days in Fort De Soto

Current Location: Fort De Soto Campground 67 degrees F and sunny

Fort Desoto.NEF-006The front door is wide open to the dappled sun coming through the trees here in our campground.  It feels very much like some kind of tropical jungle, with lots of palms and thick vegetation surrounding the campsites.  The temperatures are cool but the sun is absolutely brilliant. 

My muscles feel like jelly in that good way that happens when they are getting properly used.  Mo is reading and napping in the back of the rig while I process photos and try to condense our days into something readable.  Mark Johnson, over at the Box Canyon Blog, is lately one of my favorite writers.  Last night he wrote about how so many of us, RV bloggers specifically, talk about all the wonders of this lifestyle and none of the downside.  Problem is, I can’t at the moment find a downside.  I think it might be like labor…when it is over, you forget.  Especially when the sun is shining.

Fort Desoto-010Because of the mix-up in our original reservation, we had to move after our first night here, and tomorrow will have to move again to another campsite.  It isn’t a big problem, though, and we like the new spot we are moving to as much as the first one.  This site, 147, is huge and is one of the few pull through’s in this part of the park.  Even though it is also private, it is so big that it feels a bit like a road and we are just plopped down in the middle of it.  Still, the shade on this warmish sunny afternoon is lovely.

Fort De Soto is actually a Pinellas County Park, south of St Petersburg.  It consists of five offshore keys, or islands, lying to the city’s south-southwest: Madelaine Key, St. Jean Key, St. Christopher Key, Bonne Fortune Key and the main island, Mullet Key. All are connected by either bridge or causeway to each other. The island group is accessible by a toll road from the mainland. Water everywhere!  Many of the campsites are waterfront, and half the park is dog friendly.  Campsites become available six months before your intended booking date, and when I attempted to book our sites, I had a bit of difficulty getting one, much less a waterfront site.  I keep forgetting about little things like holiday weekends. 

Fort Desoto-004It is a truly beautiful park, with gorgeous white sand beaches, calm bayous for kayaking, mangrove swamps and sea oats on sugar sand.  The campground is thick with palms and life oaks that hang over the roadways, with warning signs saying to watch for low hanging branches, yet I have seen many very large rigs parked in the private,  spacious campsites.  It is a bit spendy.  I keep forgetting what we paid for this park, maybe on purpose…maybe because it was prepaid six months ago.  With taxes and such, I think it was a bit over $40 per night, probably will qualify as our spendiest camp for the entire three months.

Fort Desoto-020It is worth every single penny.  As I said, water everywhere, even a large off leash dog beach and a huge doggie park with a cooling wash station for hot summer days or getting out the salt water after doggie swims. 

A paved bicycle trail runs the entire length of the key from end to end and past the campground with workout stations placed here and there and an occasional sign naming trees or plants in the area. 

The park is named for Fort De Soto, located at the point where Mullet Key intercepts the channel into Tampa Bay. It was first surveyed in 1849 and Union troops were stationed here during the Civil War to aid in the blockade of Tampa Bay.  It wasn’t until the Spanish-American war however, that the fort was built.  It operated as a strategic defense from 1898 to 1910 and was decommissioned after that time.There are a few cannon and some ramparts to view at the site of the fort, but the most interesting exhibit are one bunker with old photos of the history of the fort and old maps of the surrounding keys. 

on the bike trail at Fort DeSotoI don’t think many people come here to see the fort, however.  This place is all about the water, with a large boat launch area to the north, and countless spots where a kayak can launch.  On one of the blustery days when we explored North Beach, we saw kite surfers doing their thing on the wild water.  The winds were over 10 mph and watching those guys fly across the water was almost as impressive as watching them fall.  Neither of us could figure out how someone would go about learning this crazy sport.

Wildlife is everywhere, the small variety, especially raccoons.  They are so dang cute, and of course they raid the garbage cans and campsites.  Signs everywhere proclaim, don’t feed the wildlife!.  And the birds!  There are birds everywhere, especially shore and water birds.  Mo keeps saying…oh another egret?  How many photos of egrets and herons can you take? Egrets here seem a bit like robins in the north country in springtime.

into the slough north of North Beach on Mullet KeyWe have so enjoyed our time here.  With good weather most of the time and several days to enjoy it, we have biked the trail, walked the beaches, kayaked the bayous and taken Abby to the dog beach.  I do not remember when we did what at all, everything is running together.  I think that is how it is supposed to be when relaxing at a great camp, right?

All the spacious restrooms are an open design with round buildings and open drains around the inside edge.  Interesting and functional.  At each restroom there is a washer and dryer for a buck each outside on the breezeway.  There are also a great number of garbage cans, almost a pair for every few sites, and it seems they are emptied quite often. There is a boat launch, and a small camp store.  Getting back to town for any kind of shopping requires a bit of driving and two bridge tolls of less than a dollar each, so it is better to come here with all that is needed for your stay.

Pass a Grille-006What I do remember is early yesterday morning, rising before sunrise to get over to Pass a Grille Beach south of St Pete Beach for my little ceremony for Bel.  I had promised her I would take her to the beach, so after almost a year since her passing, I finally was able to keep that promise.  Bel was honored with a setting full moon over the gulf as the sun rose in the east over the bay. 

Pass a Grille is a tiny treasure, a peninsula less than a mile wide south along the gulf with a long lovely beach.  Unlike much of the Florida coastline, here the houses are less than two stories and are on the other side of the road from the beach walk and access to the beach is completely public.  Much of the town is on the National Historic Register. No dogs again, but that wasn’t a problem for us on this early morning since we left Abby back at the MoHo to keep Jeremy company.

Pass a Grille-010Afterward, Mo and I decided that a good breakfast was in order and driving north past the gorgeous Don Cesar Hotel toward St Pete Beach, we found a funky little place called the Toasted Monkey.  With friendly down home waitresses in shorts, mimosa’s on the breakfast menu, and several menu items with gravy, we had a great breakfast. One shared plate was plenty for the two of us. We even got a touch of TV.  I think there were at least a dozen in the restaurant and we could see 4 or so from our table.  Maybe it was a sports bar.  We did get to see the US hocky team playing Russia and were glad to hear that they won.

We then tried to find somewhere to buy our traditional Sees chocolates, with the official Sees website stating that a kiosk was available in St Petersburg.  Suddenly we were in Florida hell, the Florida that all the westerners cite when they say they would never come to Florida because it is too full of people and traffic.  It was nasty.  I kept thinking about how awful it would be to actually live here. 

Pass a Grille.NEF-003I found the Sees at Dillards, my favorite department store, but I wasn’t in the least bit of a mood for shopping and got out of there fast…in time to get back on a busy road and try to find our way across a busy town back to our idyllic little island campground.  Whew!

More excitement came on Saturday as we waited for the month’s mail to arrive USPS Express.  With a guaranteed Saturday delivery, we were a bit anxious when nothing had arrived at the campground by 4 pm.  Finally the desk help, and old southern boy, said, “Well, I don’t think anyone went to get the mail today.”   Seems as though the mail is delivered in a box on the other side of the bridge and the post office refuses to come out to the island.  (Sure wish they had told us that when they insisted we should have our mail sent directly to the campground!)

Pass a GrilleThe help decided they could make the 15 minute run to the Post Office to pick up mail after all, and after another half an hour I returned to the office to find that the expected packet of mail did NOT come with the Saturday delivery.  UhOh.  There is a lot of stuff in that packet, including a big refund check for our Michelin tires and all our income tax papers.  Sheesh.  With the holiday I was in a panic thinking we would have to figure out a way to wait around until Tuesday afternoon for the mail to be delivered.

Home to the rig to check the tracking number which said the packet was out for delivery on Saturday at 10 AM.  ???  I went back up to the office, where the old southern boy sheepishly held up our packet saying, “I guess someone delivered it this morning and it was on the desk.  No one thought to look on the desk”.  Ok Then.  All is well that ends well and we got our mail.  I am glad we only have to do this one more time on this trip and hopefully the mid March mail delivery will be without incident.

Mo on the beach at Fort DeSotoI used the crock pot again to make some carnitas beef and as it was cooking, instead of those wonderful smells wafting through the MoHo we kept thinking, “What IS that smell?!”  I had purchased a carnitas spicy sauce slow cooking packet at Whole Foods, one of my few luxury purchases. After several hours it was so bad that I had to put the crock pot outside and turn on the fan.  I can’t even give the meat to the animals because it is too spicy.  I have no idea what the weird flavor in that sauce was, but I hope I never encounter it again.

See, Mark Johnson?  All isn’t perfect in the RV world.

fort desoto imageryTomorrow the forecast is for even warmer temperatures, clear skies and no wind.  That calls for another kayak, another walk on the dog beach, another bike ride and hopefully something tasty for supper.  Tonight it will be tasty cheese quesadillas, with lots of jalapenos and no meat.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

yellow crowned night herons are not the least bit skittish

01-12-2014 Micanopy and Silver Springs State Park

Current Location: Fort De Soto Campground Tierra Verde, Florida

Weather today: Highs in the mid 60s and Sunny

Micanopy oaksVisiting northern Florida can be a step back in time, enjoying what they call in the state park brochures, “The Old Florida”.  I think that is what is most appealing to me about this part of the state, and there is no better example of the old Florida than the little town of Micanopy.

We had a short drive on this day, just a little over 60 miles from Manatee Springs State Park to Ocala.  An additional 20 miles or so led us through Micanopy, a place I wanted to share with Mo.  It was a damp, rainy morning when we embarked on the big move for the day. 

Micanopy styleOnce we arrived in Micanopy, there was plenty of parking, with few people on the streets and most stores not opening until 11AM.  (It was just 10:45 when we got there).  Mo was impressed with the long streetside parking available for large rigs in such a small town.  We walked Abby around a bit to explore and then let her keep Jeremy company in the rig while we visited the Micanopy Café for some hot chocolate and some of their great homemade soup.  Of course, only on Thursdays does the owner make chicken and dumplings, but her chickens were cooking in the big roaster with lots of herbs and broth and smelled wonderful.

Herlong Mansion MicanopyNext door to the café was a great art gallery that drew us in.  Earlier we visited the local coop gallery as well but managed to get out of there without buying something.  It was a different story at this place and we emerged with some beautiful watercolor card prints and one amazing framed collage, 3 dimensional, of great egrets.  At less than half price, it became our “Florida Purchase”.   I am tickled pink.

Micanopy was originally founded in 1821 and on a local street information sign, claimed to be the oldest inland town in Florida. Named for Chief Micanopy of the Seminole Nation and immortalized by Michael J. Fox in the movie “Doc Hollywood”, it still feels like a slow, southern small town, where you could sit and sip sweet tea on a porch and enjoy the beautiful curtains of Spanish moss on the incredibly huge old oaks.

hanging out in MicanopyOne of the stores, The Shop, wasn’t open, but the website gives an idea of what kinds of gracious southern living goodies can be found there.  I oohed and aahed through the windows.  Antiques seem to the the most plentiful with several shops in historic buildings that are a delight.

Another piece of old Florida that is going through many changes is Silver Springs.  Once an original Florida theme park attraction, the park is now part of the Silver Springs State Park, formerly known as Silver River State Park.  The history is well worth reading if you are so inclined.  Here is an interesting link. Silver Springs (The Historical Theme Park)

Silver Springs was Florida’s first tourist attraction, dating back to the 1870’s  With much complexity, the state acquired several thousand acres of land around the spring.  In 1993, the state acquired the spring as well, though it was still privately run.  With profits dwindling, the company released control of Silver Springs and it was merged with the Sliver River State park to now become Silver Springs State Park.

at the Micanopy CafeI am here in Ocala to take Bel’s ashes (my friend who passed almost a year ago) to her chosen resting place, and Bel’s parents lived in Ocala for several decades.  Bel had wonderful memories of visiting Silver Springs as a child, and we would often go there when I visited.  The park was very commercial, with a bear exhibit, birds and alligators, a jeep ride through the “jungle” with animals from around the world.  There were busy shops, restaurants, a huge Christmas boat parade and light show, a ferris wheel. 

It was all great fun, but getting to be more and more expensive.  The last time I visited Bel we declined visiting Silver Springs.  I was a bit sad about the change, but reading in depth about the contamination of the springs with run-off from development and the animal exhibits, I felt much better about the state take-over.  Bel’s sister Iris isn’t quite so happy about it.  Silver Springs remains in her youthful memories as it once was.

Micanopy_028Florida’s natural fresh water springs are a national treasure and should be protected and honored as the sacred gifts that they are.  I hope that the state park will take care of the springs while keeping some of the local history of Silver Springs as an original Florida attraction.  The glass bottom boats are still there and rides down the river and over the springs are still allowed.  They will continue in the future as one of the historic parts of the springs to be retained. We heard that they also had the Christmas light show last December, minus the boat parade, and that Willie Nelson performed there recently.

Micanopy_027I chose not to make reservations at Silver Springs State Park, assuming it wouldn’t be full on a rainy, cool mid-week day.  It wasn’t, but it was definitely more popular than I expected.  Once settled into our site 32 in the Fort King Loop could see why.  This campground is gorgeous!  With huge wide open sites that are well spaced, completely level shell/limestone aggregate pads with enough room for a big rig, a big table, a car and who know what else.

The evening we arrived, a huge storm was brewing, with a red line of thunderstorms coming our way fast.  I never took any photos of that great site.  There is the river to kayak, with new launch areas near the headwaters of the Silver River at the old parking lot of Silver Springs.  There are miles of dog friendly trails and biking paths.  There is a replica Cracker Village and a nice small museum.  In addition, with a camping permit, there is free access to the old Silver Springs Theme Park….now in the process of restoration and reconstruction. 

Micanopy_018Of course, Ocala has anything one might need in the way of shopping and entertainment, and the Ocala National Forest with its beautiful springs and byways is nearby.  I love Ocala.  I would have been happy to stay here a week at least.  But one night was on the schedule, with time to meet Iris, and enjoy a great dinner at Horse and Hounds, a lovely pub type restaurant that was just a mile or so from the campground.

Mo enjoyed meeting Iris, and listened patiently while Iris and I did a lot of reminiscing about Bel.  It was a nice time and the rain was irrelevant.  Our campsite was so big and open, and while it was surrounded with beautiful trees, there were no overhanging branches or limbs over the site, so the high winds weren’t scary. Early the next morning, I took advantage of the dark hour to use the one set of laundry machines at our loop restroom, and take a nice hot shower.

Micanopy_023My thoughts regarding staying a week in Ocala very nearly came true.  I made our reservations for Fort De Soto Campground the minute they came available 180 days before our planned arrival.  Fort De Soto is a Pinellas County Park, and extremely popular.  Most everything was already filled within minutes of the campground website accepting reservations, but I snagged a decent site in what I thought was the dog-friendly part of the campground.

The morning of our departure from Ocala, as I was reviewing the documentation, I realized that my reservation was not in the pet-friendly area.  Knowing how hard it was to get a reservation, I didn’t panic, I just thought, “Well, if we have to stay in Ocala, so be it.”

Micanopy_034With a phone call to the park, all was resolved without too much difficulty.  We were reassigned a new site, actually three new sites, and we will have to move from our first site to a second site for three days, and the last day of our stay will be at a third site.  All in the dog friendly area.  The park staff was extremely kind and very accommodating, in spite of our stay through the upcoming holiday weekend.

On our way to the Tampa Bay area, we decided it was time to purchase a Florida SunPass card.  Bridges and toll roads are everywhere in this part of Florida, and most of them cost money.  Purchasing the mini sticker transponder for the windshield was easy, we found one at a Publix grocery store.  The activation, however, was a bit more complex, and I decided to call rather than attempting to do it online with the iPad in a grocery store parking lot.

Micanopy_038The agent was great, very deliberate and clear with her instructions, and she suggested that we possibly buy two transponders so the the baby car would also register through the gates.  However, the sensors usually catch all four of the axles in the rig and the toad, and we were unsure how this would work if we had two separate transponders.  The only problem with only having one, however, is that they are inactivated if removed from the windshield, so if we cross bridges on day trips in the baby car, we will have to pay as usual.

Daughter Deanna (the trucker who plies Florida highways quite often) suggested the Sun Pass card because there are some bridges in Florida that don’t take cash.  They simply photo your license plate and send you a bill.  With our mail coming to Oregon and only sent along every month or so, we could easily become delinquent with the bill.  According to the agent, you have about 28 days to pay.  Instead, we need to check the website to see if we were charged for 2 or 4 axles, and tada…all 4 showed up right away on our crossing of the Pinellas Bayway on our way to this park. 

Happy Valentine's Day to UsThe activation is set up with an initial amount using a credit card, and you can choose to add additional funds automatically in specific amounts if your account drops below $10. When you leave the state you can apply for a refund of any excess funds. It was great fun just flying through the Sun Pass lanes for the first time in the 13 years I have been visiting and driving in Florida. Success, and Thank You, Deanna!!

We are now settled in, the sun has risen and it’s time for some breakfast!  Happy Valentine’s Day.  Among the plans for the day is a trip to the See’s candy store in St Petersburg for some traditional chocolates>  Yippee!!

Happy Valentine’s Day!