Friday, January 30, 2015

Paddling Silver Springs

Post by Henry

The last time I was at Silver Springs was somewhere around 1970 with my parents when it was a privately owned Florida tourist attraction. 

Silver Springs

The glass bottom boats were the main feature but there were exotic animals and an amusement park, too.  Mostly I only have a vague memory of the boats. Silver Springs was one of Florida’s first tourist attractions and the springs are one of the largest artesian spring formations in the world, producing nearly 550 million gallons of crystal clear water daily.

Glass Bottom Boats

The glass bottom boats actually date as far back as the 1870's, which is a few years before I was born.  Just recently Florida acquired the attraction and made it part of the Silver Springs State Park.

We decided we should paddle this so we headed a little over an hour north of our Sumter Oaks Campsite to the park just east of Ocala. It cost $8 to get in the park and then $4 launch fee for each kayak. They also rent canoes for the day.

The first thing you do is paddle a narrow channel towards the main spring where the glass bottom boats still operate.

Launching Area and Narrow Channel

When you arrive at the main spring it’s like WOW! The spring is deep and crystal clear! It’s amazing to look over the side of the kayak and see to the bottom 30+ feet down.

Silver Springs

We spent the next 3 hours paddling on the clear water going down stream with the current then returning on a narrow canal called the Fort King Waterway. It was a beautiful day with mostly blue skies and temperatures in the upper 70’s. We saw ospreys, wood storks, blue herons, egrets, ibis, cormorants and many gators and turtles. 

Turtles Resting on Log
Little Blue Heron

We had seen all of these many times before but had never paddled on such crystal clear beautiful water as the Silver River

Henry Paddling Silver Springs

After our paddling trip we checked out some of the rest of the park. The campground was one of the best we’ve seen in a Florida State Park and there didn’t appear you could pick out a bad campsite as they were all spacious with lots of privacy. We drove past the cabins too and they have an ‘Old Florida’ look with big screened in porches and lots of privacy as well. 

Cabin in Silver Springs State Park

We may return here for a few days of camping and we would definitely recommend paddling Silver Springs.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve and More

We have been pretty busy this week!

Some of the parks we have checked out include the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve, the Withlacoochee River Park, the Veterans Florida National Cemetery, and Silver Springs State Park, among a few others.

The Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve West Tract is located just East of Dade City, Florida and encompasses over 37,000 acres.  

Green Swamp Wilderness West Tract

The first day we visited, we walked to the Ashley Campground and the Cumpressco Campground on the packed dirt road. 

Ashley Campground

Both of these campgrounds are primitive, but beautiful, with loaded orange trees and live oaks.  Oranges are in season (in January!) here in central Florida, and I actually picked a few right off the tree!  

Fresh Picked Oranges

Water is available at each campsite.  No power or sewer.

We went back there to bike the day before the hunting season started.  Our bikes are considered ‘comfort’ bikes.  They can handle a dirt, graveled road as well as paved. Road bikes are best for pavement, but are no good in dirt, sand and gravel.  Basically, the main difference is the tire width – skinny tires for road bikes and fatter tires for comfort bikes.  We biked from the entrance to the end of the dirt road, about five (5) miles. 

At the end of the road, we sat down to eat our lunch we had packed.

Henry eating lunch

We heard a rustling in the woods, and a little buck pranced out on the road and looked at us.  He was not too frightened and pranced about some more, pausing to look intently our way.  Then he flashed his white tail and fled back into the woods.  We ate our lunch and prayed the little buck would make it through the hunting season about to begin.

As we headed back, we encountered a big road grader coming our way.  The road really wasn’t in that bad of condition, but it was being graded.  That made the road less packed and more difficult to ride on.  We had to pedal much harder for most of the way back to the vehicle.  At least we’re getting some good exercise!  A little over eleven (11) miles of biking.

We drove through the Withlacoochee River Park and consider it to be an attractive park.

Withlacoochee River Park

It has a really huge open field where they hold several events annually, with a few camping spots and an actual campground with about fifteen (15) sites. 

Withlacoochee River Park Field

The park offers paddling access to the Withlacoochee River headwaters, nice biking opportunities and hiking trails, which includes a portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail for a $2 parking fee. 

The Veterans Administration Florida National Cemetery is only a couple of miles from Sumter Oaks RV Park, where we are staying.  

Florida National Cemetery

It is somewhat overwhelming to actually see the number of tombstones that represent the veterans who served this country, many of whom gave their life so we can enjoy the freedom of this lifestyle.

The price they paid

And this is only ONE of the Veterans Cemeteries! I have two in my family currently serving, both of which have just recently returned from overseas duty.  We walked almost five miles (exercise) around this seemingly endless sea of tombs.

I don't want to leave you with a downer, so let me show you another neighbor here at Sumter Oaks.

Bring me a carrot?

Silver Springs will be covered in the next blog post.  Be sure to check back for this one!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Trip to Tampa

Saturday we decided to make a run to Tampa

Henry’s parents are buried there and that is where he was raised. 

We hit I-75 here close to the campground to make the hour trek into Tampa.  Little did we know that there was basically road construction the whole way down!  We anticipated the traffic to be less than rush hour traffic through the week, but we still hit some traffic jams due to wrecks and construction.  It looks like they are adding lanes to the south bound lane and making all kinds of adjustments to exits and side roads.  Some are closed.  It will be years before all this work is completed.

We made a stop by his parents’ gravesite to pay our respects.  It is a lovely cemetery, with well manicured grounds, a pond with a fountain and a rose garden. It’s a very large cemetery and most graves are marked with the flat to the ground markers. 

Henry has talked about a place where he used to get Cuban sandwiches when he lived here in the 70’s.  He said it was just a little hole in the wall type place and didn’t know if it would still be open.  When we got there it was still there, open, and he said it looked just the same.

Place to get Cuban Sandwiches

They had not changed anything.  But the airport across the road was another story.  It was just a little airport back then, but now has grown to a pretty major airport.

Anyway, we purchased a Cuban sandwich, a crab roll, and a Mango Madness.  They have a double sided grill that they use to grill and press both sides of the sandwich at once.  The same grill they used 30 years ago.

We took our lunch to a local park and found a table facing a large body of water.

View as we ate lunch

  A nice view and a great sandwich, just as he remembered.

Crab Roll and Cuban Sandwich

We decided to go for a walk at the park, since it had a very nice walking trail.  It wound through a forested area, through a playground, across the water, and we walked about three miles.

Along the way, I spotted two Loggerhead Shrikes just posing at the tip top a large bush.

Pair of Loggerhead Shrikes

 I got a lot of photos of them.  They seemed to enjoy getting their picture taken.

I'll pose if you will take my pic

Toward the end of our walk, I spotted two green birds on a power line.  NEW BIRD for us!  I didn’t know what they were, but I got a good view and a few photos of them as well.  When we got back to the car, I looked it up and found they were Black-Hooded Parakeets.

Pair of Black-Hooded Parakeets

These birds aren’t native to this area, but escaped from captivity.  So now they have a population here.

Another reason for making the trip to Tampa was to run by Trader Joe’s for a few items we like to have on hand.  This was the busiest Trader Joe’s we have ever seen!  They had several people in the parking lot directing traffic and telling you where to park when a space became available.  Geez!

It was quite a disappointment because two items we like to get, they did not have.  So we got out spending less money than ever at Trader Joe’s!  That’s a positive.

Headed back toward home, Henry spotted these on the side of the road:

Wood Storks

There were about twenty-five Wood Storks and some were resting, some were trying to dry their wings, and some were just strutting their stuff.  And preening.

Aren't I beautiful?

We went back to the Cuban sandwich shop and bought two more for lunches later this week, then back to Sumter Oaks – home, sweet temporary home!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Escapees Sumter Oaks RV Park

Our next destination after leaving Sopchoppy is about a couple hundred miles further south to the Escapees Sumter Oaks RV Park in Bushnell, Florida.  We have a reservation for a month stay! 

We took the back roads rather than the interstate and it was a very nice ride through the Florida country side.  This is where you can see some of the ‘old Florida’ – nice little country towns, sprawling farmland, Spanish moss trailing from the trees, swampland and rivers.

Sumter Oaks RV Park is part of the Escapees club.  They own a number of parks across the country and members can stay for a discounted rate.  We joined Escapees a couple of years ago and this is the second member park at which we have stayed.  The Escapees parks favor retirees, therefore are very quiet and peaceful. 

And this park is a winner!  We are surrounded by huge live oak trees hanging full of Spanish moss and resurrection fern.

Home for a month

When we found our site, we were greeted by four Sand Hill Cranes.

Sandhill Crane

They seem to be locals and show little fear.

Sandhill Crane

The back of the campground looks like a natural wildlife area, swampy with Cypress trees and Cypress knees protruding from the ground and white ibis feeding in this area.
White Ibis feeding under Cypress

Cypress Knees

This is an established park and has been here for years.  It has dirt roads with cute names like Sandhill Crane Lane, Cow Patty Road, and Gator Alley.  There is an activity center, where daily activities are held. 

Road in Sumter Oaks RV Park

We pulled around to our site before unhooking the HHR (our toad) and evaluated the site.  We were told at the office that it was a back in site, but that would have put our hook ups on the wrong site.  We went back to the office, where a different gentleman told us that it was a pull in site.  We are a little closer than we would like to be to our neighbor, but all is good.

It didn’t take long to get set up.  Henry hooks up the water, power and sewer while I open the slides and get the inside situated.  I verify the fridge has switched from propane to electric. It is easier to get set up when you are ‘living’ in the RV instead of just taking weekend trips.  Everything can basically just stay in place instead of loading and boxing everything up.  Simple.

We took a walk around the campground and on the way back we meet our neighbors.  They are from Montana. We strike up a conversation and find that we have a lot in common.  They have been fulltiming for four years and love it.  They tell about the winters in Montana and how their eyes even hurt with the below zero wind whipping about their face.  No, thank you.

Grapefruit - you won't see these growing in Montana!

Another great day – nice ride, great campground, new friends.  We like it!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Birding at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

We enjoy visiting the National Wildlife Refuges and St. Marks is one of our favorites.

St. Marks NWR is quite large with several parcels located in the area but the main unit is located about 20 miles from our Sopchoppy campsite.  This spot starts with a very nice visitor center followed by 7 miles of road winding past ponds and forest and ending at a lighthouse on Apalachee Bay.

This place never disappoints and this trip was no exception.  We spent 2 full days out here in cloudy, chilly (for Florida) temps making our way up and down the road and saw lots of good stuff.

We saw about every kind of heron and egret possible for the area.

Great Blue Heron and White Ibis

The ponds near the lighthouse are a great spot for ducks and there was quite a variety to be seen.

Ring-Necked Duck


Northern Shoveler

We saw plenty of raptors like Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Northern Harriers and Red Shouldered Hawks. We even saw a pair of Bald Eagles with one sitting on a nest. Look hard - she's in there! 

Bald Eagle on Nest

There were a few gators out too, including one ‘whopper’.

Big Daddy

Smiling Joe

We didn’t see anything new to add to our lifelist, though we had heard that a Vermillion Flycatcher had been spotted on the refuge recently.  This bird is more commonly seen in southern Arizona and in Mexico.  We inquired about it at the visitor center and was given the location it was seen a few times, but we weren’t able to get a glimpse of it.

Later on at one of the other St. Marks NWR units closer to Sopchoppy, we were able to get a good but brief look at a bobcat!

St. Marks Bobcat

Yep, we love the National Wildlife Refuges!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Sopchoppy Camping

We are staying at Myron B. Hodge City Park in Sopchoppy, Florida

There are several full hook-up sites along the fenceline 

and several water and electric sites next to the river. 

For those of you that don’t understand full hook-up – that means the site has sewer, water and electricity available.  It is usually a few dollars extra for full hook-ups.

This campground has so much to offer!  It is rather secluded even though it is on a city street.  There is not much traffic here.  It is quiet and peaceful and scenic!  There are hot showers and restrooms available, a nice playground for non-existent children (while we have been here), several swings and pavilions, a boat launch, 

and horseshoe toss.  And one of the best things – it is only $15 per night for any site.  Good deal!

The resident Red Shouldered Hawk has been hanging around close by and offering many photo opportunities.

As you can tell from the photos, we have had mostly overcast and misty days.  This puts a little chill in the air even though the temperatures are in the 60’s.  But the ambiance is dreamy.  As night falls, the fog creeps in over the river and covers the campground in a soft, grey mist.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Launch Day!

Since our last post, we have been frantically finishing up some last details in preparation for our departure.  Loading the Rambler with all our belongings that we plan to take with us has been ongoing. 

Another exciting thing is that we now have a contract on our house!  We attempted to sell by owner for about a month, but that did not produce the results we had hoped.  So we listed it with an agent and have a contract in hand three weeks later.  Perfect timing – two days before leaving!  Fortunately, everything can be completed online.

Saturday morning, in 17 degree weather, we loaded the remaining items and our food.  Henry loaded our kayaks and bikes, we gassed up, hooked up the HHR (toad) and hit the road! 

 This first day was spent driving.  In anticipation of leaving the cold weather behind, we drove all the way to Florida to the cute little town of Sopchoppy.  Sopchoppy is south of Tallahassee.  We have visited here before and discovered a nice little city owned campground right by the Sopchoppy River.  And this is where we plan to spend the next couple of days.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

About the Holiday Rambler

After years of backpacking and tent camping, then a year or so of ‘Scamping’ in our 13 foot Scamp trailer, we got bit by the bug.  RVing bug, that is.

We attended an RV show and wandered through about twenty-five (25) different rigs, taking note of the things we liked and the various qualities of the build and materials.   We traveled to many RV sales lots and toured the used RVs.  Most of the used RVs had lingering odors – pew! 

We also did extensive research online to determine what type of RV suited us the best, and we settled on a motorhome.  We did not have a large truck to haul a fifth wheel or trailer, and we did not want to purchase one.  We reasoned that a small vehicle (toad) would serve us best and would be less expensive to operate.  Once we arrive at our destination, we could unhook the toad (RV talk for towed vehicle) and use it for our everyday transportation. 

Searching on Craigslist, Henry found an ad for a Holiday Rambler motorhome that was close by.  We went to look at it and immediately fell in love!  It was like new, had low miles, and had been well maintained.  It appeared to be well built and we liked the size and layout.  So we became the owners of a 2005 Holiday Rambler Admiral SE!

The Rambler is 30 feet, has a gas-powered, V-10 engine, an Onan generator, two slide outs, a queen sized bed, a microwave/convection oven combination, large basement storage bins, and adequate inside storage. One of the best advantages is the better-than-average carrying capacity – around 3,000 pounds.  Our only wish is that the kitchen had more countertop space, but we are going to make it work.   

The past few years, we have taken the Rambler on numerous trips, mostly local.  We learned something new about it each time we camped.  We now feel comfortable with all operations and are still very happy with our choice of coach.

One week until our launch!  Happy Dance!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Our First Blog Post

 We would like to welcome you to our blog, Yahoo Ramblers, and hope you will find something of interest in our future travels.  This blog will serve as a way to maintain communication with family and friends as well as document our ramblings. 

You may see RV tips, photographs, campground reviews, and lots of other fun things covered here.

You will find our interests to be nature related.  We much prefer to be in a secluded, woodsy location rather than an action packed tourist attraction.  The National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, and State Parks are some of our favorite destinations. 

Please check back often.  We are about to start making our dreams come true!  And we will share these dreams with you.