3-08-2014 Fort Pickens Day

Current Location: Natchez State Park, Mississippi 62 F this evening with partly cloudy skies

Fort Pickens-066This morning (Sunday) we are sleeping in, sort of.  Daylight Savings time kicked off at 2am and it is now 7 and just barely light out.  We thought an early departure would be in order, expecting to travel a bit over 300 miles or so northward today.  Options are plentiful, and I am leaning toward the direct route from Mobile through Hattiesburg to Natchez. 

power station installed in 1903, the generator roomI didn’t want to get on the road, however, before remembering the haunting experience of visiting the actual fort at Fort Pickens.  Just another way of realizing how much can be learned from being on the road.  I had never heard of Fort Pickens, other than bloggers posting now and then about camping here. 

Fort Pickens_019Until I visited the fort yesterday, I didn’t have a real grasp on what the Civil War meant in the state of Florida.  We have seen many references to the war in other sites in Florida.  Somehow I never realized how important Pensacola Bay was to the South, and to the Union trying to control the south by controlling its major ports.

Fort Pickens_024As I have said in the past, I don’t attempt to be either a travelogue or a history book, as there are so many fine resources for this kind of information.  However, if you are like me, being in a place triggers my imagination, and I found myself wanting to learn more and more about how this area was affected by the Civil War. 

Fort Pickens_027The National Park Service had some great books at the fort Visitor Center, and I wanted to stand and read them all, and maybe even buy them, but managed to refrain.  Instead, I found most of the information written by the park service is online, specifically, the role of Pensacola Bay  and the four major forts in the area in the Civil War is summarized here.  I was especially fascinated reading about the Battle of Santa Rosa Island, with troops losing their way in the dunes and scrub, among other human details.

At Pensacola Bay, there are four major forts and a bunch of batteries, most built long before the Civil War, fortified and rebuilt again in the early 1900’s around the time of the Spanish American War, and then rebuilt and refortified again for World War II.

Fort Pickens is a “real” fort, almost medieval in appearance, with bricks fired in the early 1800’s creating thick walls, much like those seen at our visit to the Dry Tortugas a few years ago.  There is even a moat, albeit a “dry moat”.  Fort Pickens_049

A few cannons are on display, with information about the smooth bore cannons and rifled cannons, and 300 pound cannon balls made of iron.  Geez.  Fort Pickens_029

A fascinating thought from the brochure about the Advanced Redoubt of Fort Barrancas across the bay, and also true of Fort Pickens: “This fort is a study in changes.  The construction began with slave labor but was finished by free men.  In an age of brick and stone, its walls were filled with cement.  Although it was designed to last for centuries, it was outdated before the last brick was set.”

Sounds like some of our defense stuff from the current times, I would say. Evidence of this kind of shift in defense is displayed extremely well at Fort Pickens with the “fort within a fort”.  Battery Pensacola (the dark walls in the photo) was constructed in 1898 to withstand the new heavier cannon power that the brick walls of the original fort could no longer handle.Fort Pickens_035

Funniest oops of all was the accidental explosion of one of the powder magazines that blew out a big hole in the north side of the fort and was never repaired.Fort Pickens_036

Fort Pickens_044Another bit of information that was totally surprising to me was that Geronimo was incarcerated at Fort Pickens for a time.  I had no clue, even though I knew that he was brought to Florida and never again saw his homeland.  Somehow history becomes much more real when you are standing in the actual location.  I am reminded again of moments standing at the scene of the Battle of the Little Bighorn on our trip in 2012.

We wandered around for along time, following along with the self-guided tour booklet an marveling at the fascinating story of the evolution of homeland defense for more than 100 years, all now obsolete with the advent of air power  and missiles.  Large forts no longer protect our harbors and bays, but Pensacola still houses a huge military presence.Fort Pickens_034

With Abby safely napping in the MoHo while we toured, Mo and I took the time to go to the beach together for a bit and enjoy the gorgeous white sands and beautiful waters one last time.  There was so much to do in the area, and we barely tapped the surface.  In spite of our desire to visit Fort Barrancas and the Advanced Redoubt, (a fortification before the major fortification, built to slow down the attackers before they get to the real thing) the need to slow down and rest a bit before dinner won out.Fort Pickens_079

We would have loved especially visiting the Naval Aviation Museum, the best in the country I have heard, and if we had been here a bit longer, we may have been treated to a practice performance by the Blue Angels.  Yes, so very much to do.Fort Pickens_084

Our last night in Florida was celebrated in true Pensacola style with a drive across the bridges from the island to the mainland for dinner at McGuire’s.  On a Saturday evening the place was packed, and it is first come first served, no reservations.  In spite of the giant crowds jammed at the door, in the bar, in the gift shop and everywhere we looked, within 20 minutes we were seated at a cozy table.  We even managed a seat in the bar for pre dinner drinks! 

DSC06804McGuires is an amazing place, and with the huge jammed full parking lot, somehow the interior of the restaurant is designed such that it feels like a small rather intimate pub.  I have no idea how they do that.  We had one of the best waitresses ever, who treated us as if she had all the time in the world, and saw to our every need.  Dinner was simple fish and chips, with those fabulous Rueben Egg Rolls for an appetizer.  Mo loved them as much as I did!

I lugged the camera along, but took not a single photo, either of the pub, the people, or the food.  It was just too much to try to take pictures while we were having fun and thoroughly enjoying the people watching. 

90053023Right across from us was a couple on the date from hell.  The girl was adorable, and the guy was a dork, on his phone half the time, and you could tell they didn’t know each other very well.  It was so obviously a first date and an awkward one at that.

Then we noticed a lot of guys dining together, most of them with very spiffy military haircuts, and even a group of incredibly well pressed Marines sat down next to us.  Whew….there must be a LOT of loose guys running around in this town on a Saturday night. Now, of course, I wish I had taken some photos to illustrate all this interesting humanity, but you will just have to use your imagination.

imagesIn spite of the no photos problem, I couldn’t resist stealing a few from the internet, just to give you a bit of a feel for the place.  They even have their own Irish Piping Band, and a St Paddy’s Day run, their own double decker busses and who knows what else.  I guess it is a bit like Irish Disneyland.  Fake but fun. And terrific food!

We both thought it quite fitting that we started our sojourn into Florida with dinner at McGuire’s in Destin, and ended it with dinner at McGuire’s in Pensacola. 


3-06 to 3-08-2014 North and West to the end of Florida

Fort Pickens Campground: overcast and 54 Degrees F  Partially sunny day predicted

Juniper Springs on a rainy dayIt is with a bit of melancholy that I leave behind the magical springs and forests of north-central Florida.  In spite of our need to see as much as possible of the state, and in spite of the amazing wonders we found in many areas, the beautiful campgrounds at the many springs, both state and national forest, and the gorgeous waters were still the best part of the trip.

For much of our travels, we both thought that while we loved biking through Shark Valley, driving the Overseas Highway, meeting friends new and old all along the route, we would probably have no need to return to Florida.  That made me a bit sad, because I knew how much I loved being in some parts of Florida during some parts of the year.

Juniper Springs_027After camping at Alexander Springs, and Blue Springs, and driving through the nearly empty and quiet roads between Orange City and Perry, Mo was echoing my own thoughts.  “Yeah, maybe in a few years we will have to come back”.  As I drove, she was reading about several springs, state parks, and rivers that we didn’t manage to kayak.  Names that aren’t easy to roll off the tongue, Ichetucknee, Appalachicola, Aucilla, Blackwater, Chipola, Choctawatchee, Ochlockonee, Alapha, Oklawaha, Rainbow River, Juniper Springs Run, Steinhatchee River, Waddasassa, Withlacoochee, Alafia….and it goes on and on.

Juniper Springs on a rainy dayThis morning, she said emphatically, “I would be willing to come back here to explore the springs and rivers, we could spend a whole month just doing that, I just don’t want to go back to all that crowded stuff with all the traffic!”  Yes!!  So that bit of nostalgia that I felt as we left Blue Springs on Thursday morning was mitigated a bit as I realized that I will one day return to the Northern Florida I so dearly love.

We said our goodbyes to Sherry and David on the previous evening, with plans to depart as soon as it was light.  Our travel plans have a bit of wiggle room, now, and are weather dependent, but it still seemed like a good time to make some miles.  The original thought was to leave early, and drive the interstates 75 and 10 west to Pensacola as quickly as possible, hoping to do a 500 mile day, as we have often done out west.

Juniper Springs_014Instead, the weather gods brought us dark, driving rain, and a LOT of dirty laundry that was piling up in the MoHo.  Mo looked at the map and my proposed route and said, “Why don’t we take some of these side roads?”  Well, that would be fine but we surely won’t be making 500 miles doing that.  We backed off from the aggressive plans and decided a leisurely route to Fort Pickens was a much better idea.

I had made reservations previously for three nights, but with our senior pass the cost was only $13. per night, not a lot to lose if we could find a boondock site somewhere along the route. The choice gave us the opportunity to meander along highway 40 to Ocala, and stop to explore Juniper Springs.

Juniper Springs_028In the driving rain, and again with no dogs allowed’’ rules, Mo opted to stay in the motorhome while I wandered in to explore on of the first places in Florida that captured my heart.  Bel brought me to Juniper Springs in March of 2000, during my first visit and we often came here during my Florida trips.  I loved seeing the old mill house, reading about the efforts of the CCC, and loved the beautiful color of the spring.

Juniper Springs is a small spring, with only 13 million gallons a day feeding the Juniper Springs Run, but it is charming and lovely.  It has been altered a bit with cement and rockwork, but CCC rockwork is lovely and doesn’t detract at all from the beautiful springs.  I was surprised to see the old arched rock bridge collapsed and closed off due to erosion and degradation of the limestone.  I have photos that Bel took of me sitting on that bridge and couldn’t resist taking another photo of it in its present state.Juniper Springs_026

juniper7Continuing west in the pouring rain, in northeast Ocala, we found a great laundromat.  After I got over the sticker shock of 2.75 for a tiny machine and 5. for a big one, and 9.50 for the huge ones, I settled in to refresh all our dirty damp river clothes, our clammy bedding and moist towels and wet bathing suits. 

Juniper Springs_024We couldn’t have picked a better day for such meandering, since the rain was heavy and the skies were dark and murky.  Not a day for sightseeing or fighting interstate truck traffic.  After laundry was finished we meandered up to Gainesville where Mo found a Great Clips and got a haircut that she had been wanted for weeks now. I shopped at Publix for a few needed items and we were then again on our way, via Highway 27 toward Perry.

I started looking for possible overnight stops, preferably free ones to make up for the fee we had already paid for Fort Pickens and decided on the Cracker Barrel in Tallahassee, on the north side of town near I-10.  Our approach to town, however, was the easier southern route and using GasBuddy to find a good fuel price led us to the Costo on the east side of Tallahassee.  Perfect, and just across from us, in the pouring rain, we could see a big Super Walmart parking lot. 

Tallahassee WalMart all to ourselvesI called the management, and they said, go ahead and park at the far end of the lot, but we are not responsible for anything.  Ok Sure, we know that.  Looking at that big empty lot in a nice area of town, we thought it seemed a lot more inviting that trying to get through Tallahassee late afternoon traffic to find the Cracker Barrel.  It was a great choice.  We had the entire lot to ourselves, with plenty of parking lot lighting, and a heavy rain making any kind of hassles non-existent.  There appeared to be no security in this lot as well, but there also is no security at Cracker Barrel.

I took a little bit of time to review Erin’s blog about their time in Tallahassee, and would have loved the opportunity to see some of the great art and buildings that she photographed so beautifully.  I would have loved to visit the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park as well, but the dark rainy skies made it OK to continue west toward Fort Pickens and what was left of our three day reservation.

CaptureWe chose to drive Highway 20 west, the most direct route to Pensacola, avoiding the meandering route along the coast that we drove on our way south, and the heavily traveled I-10 that was the parallel route to our north.  Turned out to be a great choice, with a well maintained mostly 2 lane highway with a smooth surface passing through small rural towns and north of the great Appalachicola National Forest.

road into fort Pickens subject to overflowArriving in Fort Pickens in late afternoon, we were glad that we hadn’t attempted the entire trip in one day.  We most certainly wouldn’t have made it by gate closing time and would have had to spend the night outside the park anyway.  If you haven’t already checked in, you can’t get in after 5PM when the gates close.

Fort Pickens campground is on a barrier island that is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, a national treasure that spans 160 miles from Cat Island, Mississippi, to The Okaloosa Area east of Fort Walton Beach.  There are 12 major areas, including several historic forts, the whitest beaches anywhere, picnic areas, nature trails, and campgrounds. 

Fort Pickens-031There is so much to do in this area and we will only tap the surface with our day and a half at the campground.  The weather is the coldest it has been in years, and the ranger at the check-in office was exceedingly grumpy about that.  She was emphatic about dog rules, camping rules, no car tires on the grass rules, and generally informed me of as many rules as she could remember.  Emphatically.  I think the cold weather and the fact the the campground was jammed full for the next three days had put her in a grumpy state.  I did my best not to contribute to her grumpiness, but internally I was thinking not nice thoughts about how condescending and rude she was. Don’t argue with a cop, right?

campsite at Fort PickensWe settled into our site in Loop C, site 37,chosen for its more open and spacious grounds, and accessibility to the trail where we can take Abby. Mo offered to stay with the animals while I walked over to the beach, actually I drove to the beach parking area and then walked the boardwalk to the beach.  No remarks, here, I was worn out!

Once on the beach, in spite of the chilly winds at the campground, the air was almost still and the temperatures were warm enough I had to take off my vest.  I even waded in the beautiful water.  I caught myself laughing inside and even sometimes out loud at how many photos I took of the water, the gentle waves, the blue line on the horizon, the white sand.  Just how many photos of blue and white and turquoise and emerald do I really need?  Processing photos last night, I did eliminate some, and hopefully after a bit of time I will be able to let more of them go.  Still, if I put them in a slide show, it is almost like I am walking the beach again.Fort Pickens Beach Gulf Island National Seashore

Fort Pickens Beach Gulf Island National SeashoreFort Pickens-015Later in the afternoon, we took Abby on the Florida Nature Trail that leads south to the Battery Langdon, but with Abby along we refrained from climbing up on the battery for the views.

Fort Pickens-046Fort Pickens-032A little side trail called the Blackbird Marsh Nature Trail provided trailside signage of some of the local plants and a loud chorus of birdsong.  Note to self:  carry the binoculars as well as the camera.  I still don’t have the will to carry both the regular lens and the telephoto lens, so no real bird photos.

I spent much of the evening looking at weather pages, paper maps, google maps, and trying to determine our route north when we leave here. 

Fort Pickens-049With all the ice storms and polar plunges and such, I don’t want to get trapped in Missouri in the thick of it, but so far it looks doable and we will be traveling north to Joplin, Missouri beginning Sunday morning.  This time, however, I am not trying to do it PDD style, and we will give ourselves three days to get there.  The Natchez Trace Parkway is part of the plan, and with that area being completely new to us, I am excited about the route.

In spite of the completely full campground, the night was dark and quiet and I slept extremely well.  It is nice to have electricity so we can plug in our little space heater for gentle warmth without noise.  Mo cooked breakfast for us this morning and we are planning our day ahead, including a visit to the beautiful Fort Pickens grounds just south of the campground, and possibly a trip across the bridges. McGuire’s Irish Pub is calling! We experienced a great meal at the McGuire’s in Destin and don’t want to miss out on the Pensacola location.  We are just a breath away of the most western point of Florida.  Tomorrow the Florida part of this trip will be only a memory.Fort Pickens-063

3-05-2014 Manatee Morning and Snake Creek Afternoon

Blue Springs State Park Currently 56 degrees F High today 76

Blue Spring SP_023I have been thinking about what to write about yesterday for hours.  The day all just blends together in my mind and words seem useless. Yesterday was a experiential visual delight, so much so that my senses are almost overwhelmed with the magic of it all and I am at a complete loss for words.  I may just give up and resort to a string of photos to try to catch the magic.

We are at Blue Springs State Park, arrived Monday afternoon to sunny skies and a nice campsite.  Of course, the big surprise of the day was that we were right next to Sherry and David, with no clue that they were even still here, much less in the site next to us.  What a delight, especially since Sherry has so much knowledge to share about the local treats, including manatees, secret kayak places, and ice cream.

Blue Spring SP_037I was surprised as we arrived in Orange City at how big the area seemed to be, how developed.  I somehow imagined Blue Springs to be as remote and quiet as Alexander Springs was, tucked away in the Ocala National Forest.  Instead, Blue Springs is an oasis of state land in the midst of a well developed urban zone. Today I saw a sequence of aerial photographs that depicted the change in urbanism around the island of protected state land since the 70’s.  Such a gift that  this place was saved.

Blue Spring SP_029After settling in, we took Abby for a walk down to the boardwalk where dogs are allowed, a nice benefit at this park.  Although Abby can’t go on the upper boardwalk to the main spring, we can take here all the way out to the St John River where most of the manatees seems to hang out anyway. On our first walk that afternoon we saw several manatees hanging out, resting and moving quietly.

Yesterday morning, however, I walked through the early dawn light to the boardwalk again, and to my delight found 8 manatees playing near the spring.  As I watched they began moving slowly back toward the river, and I had the moments all to myself, with no sound but the gentle “whuff” of manatee breath now and then. As the morning progressed, a few more people showed up to visit the manatees, including Sherry, and we laughed at the serendipity of our chance camping choices and talked about manatees and kayaking.Blue Spring SP_046Blue Spring SP_056

Blue Spring SP_064Kayaking was a priority for us for the two days we had to spend here and Mo and I were on the river by 11, heading south into the St John toward the oxbow and then into the narrow channel of Snake Creek.  kayak snake creek

This is the point where words just completely fail.  Mo and I decided that this paddle was probably our premier paddle of all time, just beyond perfect.paddling into Snake Creek

The weather was perfect, the skies were perfect, a bit of cloudiness to dress things up and then brilliant sunshine to illuminate everything. paddling into Snake Creekpaddling into Snake CreekBlue Spring SP_046_01Blue Spring SP_032_01

Can you imagine being led into a wilderness by four great egrets, lifting in front of us, flying a bit farther into the channel, and landing.  Waiting till we got close, lifting again to fly further down the river.  They did this all the way to Dead Hontoon River, and then did the same thing all the way back to the St John River on our return trip.Blue Spring SP_047_01

We saw baby alligators and big daddy alligators, more turtles than I could possibly count, saw red shouldered hawks, and heard barred owls and saw wild turkeys on the shore.Blue Spring SP_058

Big Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, green heron? night heron? cormorants, anhingas, cardinals, and what Carol Herr called “little brown birds”.  Blue Spring SP_073_01

The water was so still, just barely moving, and the forest so silent except for bird calls.  Not a single boat marred the perfection of our 3 hour paddle into that primordial place.Blue Spring SP_106

It felt exactly as if we were in some kind of prehistoric jungle place, a world only imagined and not even in the vocabulary of our gorgeous Pacific Northwest sojourns.  I feel as though I am in a foreign land here in Florida, a magic place full of green and warmth and water and birds. Blue Spring SP_112_01

I am simply out of words.

Blue Spring SP_111

3-02-2014 Alexander Springs with Alison

Current Location: Blue Springs State Park Overcast and 58 F High today 76F

DSCN6739When I managed the soil survey project in Sonora, California, I had a delightful young woman from Illinois “detail” into my project for two seasons.  With an emphasis on completing millions of unmapped acres out west, my agency would send folks from other parts of the country to help out with soil survey where they were needed most.  I was lucky enough to get Alison.  I don’t think I have ever known a more vibrant, strong, hard-working, constantly positive, cheery person ever, and that girl could dig a pit faster than any guy on the crew!  We all called her “Scoopy” for the way she handled those shovels

Soil sampling with my crew in Tuolumne County, Alison in the cowboy hat

DSCN0684We had great times together in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, and have remained good friends.  Alison took a promotion to Florida, and I have visited her a few times since that move.  Last year I came to her lovely new home just after her baby boy was born. On this trip I planned specifically to be somewhere near Eustis on a weekend so that we could get together again this year.  Alison’s parents are in Eustis for the winter, so they all decided to drive out to Alexander Springs for an afternoon.

Alison visits_016With warm sunny skies, after some snacks and drinks and visiting, we decided a walk to the springs and a swim was in order.  I wasn’t so sure I was warm enough to swim, even in the 72 degree water, but after watching that little baby laughing and playing in the gorgeous crystal clear pool I decided to join in as well.

I just wish there was some way to show in a photo what it felt like to swim out over the roiling water of the spring.  The pool is very deep, more than 30 feet or so, and deeper into the depths of the cave where I couldn’t see.  It is cobalt blue in the deepest part, and various shades of turquoise and pale blue along the edges where the underwater grasses don’t grow.

Alison visits_040Alison visits_047While Mo visited with Alison’s parents who watched the baby, Alison and I put on snorkel masks and swam across the white sands and dark green grasses to the spring. Then the breathtaking blues opened up below us.  I had no idea, just looking at the spring from the shoreline that it held all this complex rocky reef of blues and crystal water. Of course, since I was swimming, I have no photos to document what for me was an incredibly magic moment.

Floating over a spring emitting 70 million gallons a day of crystalline water is a surprise.  Alison and I both laughed afterward about how hard we were swimming and not getting anywhere.  It was a magnificent moment, and a thrilling end to our last day at Alexander Springs. It was also great that after sharing so many good memories of working together in California, Alison and I had a chance to experience this little bit of magic.

Alison visits_044There are 27 first magnitude fresh water springs in Florida, each of them completely unique, and I have only seen a few.  There are rivers and spring runs to keep a kayaker happy for a very long time, so many that we can’t begin to see them all this time around.  In spite of giving ourselves a month in Florida, we have only scratched the surface of the amazing network of Florida’s fresh water wonders.  Still, many of them are either dark and spooky, or the manatee are there so there is no swimming allowed, or they are completely commercialized and artificial. 

Alexander Springs was an afterthought, a piece of the travel puzzle that wasn’t planned.  I am so grateful for the serendipity that brought us to this beautiful gem of the Ocala National Forest.  Alison visits_030

Up next: Blue Springs State Park, Manatees, and Magic Kayaks, and Sherry and David are our neighbors.

3-02-2014 Florida Heaven

Current Location: Alexander Springs Ocala National Forest CG

Alexander Springs RunIt is a little after 9am, and the sun just emerged through the misty fog shrouded trees.  Alexander Springs campground is a forest service campground in the heart of the Ocala National Forest.  I love this forest.  There aren’t many places in the US where several varieties of pines and oaks are interspersed with palms and magnolias.  The trees are huge, many topping over 100 feet tall, and the understory is thick with vegetation of all sorts, dominated by the saw palmetto.

on the way north_068Mo and I walked the Timucuan Trail yesterday, before the fog lifted, and it felt like we were in some primordial space where dinosaurs could emerge at any moment. I guess alligators are as close to dinosaurs as we will get in this lifetime, but the fact that bears also roam these forests is another crazy juxtaposition.  Bears/Alligators = Palms/Pines.  It all seems just goofy to someone well versed in the habitats of the western forests of the US.  Guess that is why I love it, it feels so foreign and unique, and so incredibly lush and full of life.

I have a lot to write about, and the only way I can seem to do it is to step into the moment and write about the here and now.  Eventually this particular blog post will work its way backward to the events of the last few days as I slowly write about “now” and let “then” slip into my thoughts.  Gimme a break folks, I am on vacation, and the best vacations allow us to completely lose track of time.  I have done that very well, it seems.

on the way north_056Campsite:  This story is fun, actually.  I originally planned for us to spend three days at Patrick AFB, Merrit Island, but speaking with some new fellow military famcamp friends recently, we thought better of that plan.  (More on the new friends later, I don’t want to get sidetracked)

I picked a site here unseen, with a bit of difficulty, since we needed three days over a weekend, and most campgrounds were already booked.  Alexander Springs is a bit more remote, and there are no hookups here, and I imagine that contributes to the availability of sites. 

on the way north_058When we arrived on Friday night after a lovely day exploring Merrit Island NWR (more on that later, remember I don’t want to get sidetracked), the park was nearly full.  Driving through the campground we were tickled to see private shaded spaces that looked pretty nice.  Until we got to ours.  Space 65 didn’t look bad on the internet, but in reality it is in the center of a large group area and there were already several large families settling in for the weekend.  Before we even set up, there were small children running and screaming through our camp, climbing our lantern pole like monkeys, and crawling all over our picnic table in their shoes.  Hmmmm.

on the way north_063For the first time on this trip, I felt tears come up.  The campground was so lovely, how in the world did I manage to screw up this badly?  I told Mo, “Don’t set up yet”, and sought out a camp host.  Terry was a great guy, new at camp hosting for this park, and an employee of the concession that now runs the NF campgrounds in this area.  He was sympathetic, talked to the families with all the kids (there seemed to be at least 12), and said that while he didn’t have any encouraging news, he would talk with the campground manager to see if it would be possible for us to move.

on the way north_062A bit later, he came back to our site and said we could move to site 56, but would have to move again on Sunday, and that it could be possible that there would be no place for us to be on Monday.  He said for me to come to the gatehouse and talk to the manager.  The gatehouse was just closed, but they let me in.  I was nice as I could be, dripping sugar as I said, “Of course children should have camping space as much as retirees, but it IS just a bit much and we would be happy to take number 56 and then move”.  The manager, Phyllis, took a look at me, and then looked at her employees and said, “Put them in Andy’s site”.

on the way north_065What that meant was that we got to park for the entire three days in a camp host site with power and electric right at the back of the nicest bath house in the park.  Our price for this bit of serendipity is possibly being mistaken for camp hosts, in spite of the black plastic sack placed over the camp host sign.  The US flag still brings some folks our way.  The other funny part is that our parking area looks a bit like a pathway to the bathrooms, and we have a parade of various kinds of people coming through our site on the way to the bathroom.  Makes for some interesting conversations. 

on the way north_067With the little kids, Mo just says, “Please walk over there rather than going through our site”.  With some high school boys, she started talking with them, and they turned into the most polite creatures imaginable, saying “yes maam” and “no maam” and such.  Seems as though they were ROTC kids doing an orienteering weekend in the park.  They turned out to be really sweet kids, who still say hi, but walk around behind the rig rather than through our site to get to the bathroom.

Yesterday morning was Mo’s birthday, we we began the day with her favorite poached egg breakfast in the MoHo before exploring the area and hiking the short trail.  The springs were full of divers taking an instruction class, and the happy children were everywhere on the trails.  The Timucuan Trail boardwalk was quiet, however, and we met only one couple walking.

Checking out the little camp store was nice, and the new manager has added a great inventory of swim and snorkel gear, flotation devices, and reasonably priced snacks.  This is definitely a diving, swimming, snorkeling, and family park.  There is a canoe concession with a great supply of canoes, and a launch that costs $6 per boat.  However, another one of the park hosts, a nice guy who knows everything about the area, told us about the free walk in launch back on the highway on the south side of the bridge.

At first for whatever reason, I wasn’t all that anxious to get on the water.  Seems pretty crazy, since the main reason I came to Florida was to kayak the spring runs!  Somehow photos of the tangled vegetation and low water made me a bit nervous.  I have no idea why I felt this way, but thank goodness Mo didn’t take me up on my tentative comment, “Well, we don’t HAVE to go kayaking this afternoon.”free launch at the bridge

The launch just off the highway was perfect, with hard packed fine sand and only 50 feet or so from where we parked the Tracker.  Slipping into the water was a perfect moment, and I knew that finally I was in my version of Florida Heaven.  heading upstream in the Alexander Spring Run

The water at the bridge was crystal clear, although a dark tea color from staining by the organic matter in the riverbed.  We slipped into the gentle current, paddling upstream toward the spring and took our time going the 1.37 miles or so to the barrier between the spring run and the actual spring.  The sun was gorgeous, the plants were brilliant green with some trees beginning to leaf out.  A single kayaker and another canoe passed us going back downstream, but other than that, it was totally quiet.Alexander Springs Run

I marveled at how different this forest sounds in the breeze.  The palm fronds almost sound like waterfalls, and the splash of turtles dropping into the water is another different sound.  On our morning walk, the birds had been fairly quiet, but this afternoon they were in full song, and I heard a barred owl although we didn’t see him.Alexander Springs Run

When we first got on the water we were greeted by a very playful, and very curious otter, who swam right under my kayak, surfacing in front of me.  He was too fast for me, and by the time I dropped the paddle to pick up the camera he was already swimming away in front of the boat.  We saw a couple more on the lower edge of the run.otter wants to play with us

As we got closer to the spring, the water lost its tea color and turned a gorgeous shade of blue and then to no color at all.  Alexander Spring is another first magnitude spring, with more than 70 million gallons a day of fresh pure water pouring from its depths.

Spring Run kayak_025I loved seeing all the fish swimming beneath us and my favorite bird of the day was a happy little blue heron who wasn’t the least bit concerned about me being close by watching.Spring Run kayak_092

Just thought I would mention here that I decided to skip hauling the big lens on the river and only took the 17-70 for photos.  So this photo of my favorite little bird is without telephoto.  I was literally this close to him and didn’t disturb him in the least.Spring Run kayak_095

We also finally found a small gator, very well hidden in the brush along the bank.  The turtles were wonderful, enjoying the sun.  I guess it is time for me to get up on the different kinds of turtles found in these waters.  I know there are several varieties.Yup

Backtrack writing is still in the works, of course, but I am in the present moment, listening to birds, enjoying the sunshine, and thinking about preparing for a visit from Alison, one of my favorite soil scientist friends who lives nearby in Eustis.  Alison will be bringing her  baby boy Damen ( old time readers might remember the quilt I made for Damen) out to visit us here at the spring.  I can’t wait to see her again.Spring Run kayak_053

We did have a magnificent day, our last day in Key West, and an even more magnificent evening.  While camping at Sigsbee, one of the greatest delights of the place is the friendly atmosphere.  We got lucky our first day there, and met a lovely couple from Panama City, new to RVing, but accomplished sailors.  Judy refers to her RV as their “land yacht”.  The two of them also had new Trek bikes that were pretty darn sweet, and a couple of kayaks with sails. 

friends 001Judy sends down the sun Florida styleSomething about kayaks in your campsite makes for easy conversation, and on our last evening there, Tom and Judy invited us for wine and sunset.  I must say, being a Florida girl from Panama City gave Judy some big points on sunset viewing and she honored us with her conch blowing skills to accompany the setting sun.  Such a great moment.

I have a feeling these are friends that we will see again, whether in Panama City as they invited us, or in Rocky Point where we invited them to visit.  the take out

I can’t keep going back in my mind any more, and writing about our first night at Cracker Barrel in Fort Pierce, visiting the beach at Fort Pierce, our flat tire and AAA experience on a rainy night, and exploring the Merritt Island NWR will have to wait for another post.  Next time hopefully I can get caught up before more stuff happens.  You know how it is when you are traveling and having fun and I just decided the heck with it…I’m not going to try to keep everything in order, it is too much work!