05-19-2021 We Escaped the Snow…Mostly

When we went to bed after that gorgeous sunset we were in a bit of a quandary as to what to do.  The internet was iffy, and I had a hard time getting weather apps to show current information.  All I could see was the giant blue severe weather warning over most of the area we planned to explore on Wednesday.  It wasn’t encouraging.  There was always the chance that it was being over predicted, something that happens often.  Then again, driving the MoHo down the winding mountain road out of the snow zone didn’t sound good if the 5 inches predicted actually happened.  The 20F degree prediction for Thursday morning didn’t sound particularly good either. 

We were reasonably certain that the main snow event would hold off until Wednesday evening, so went to sleep without much worry about snow the next morning, but where did we want to be when it happened?  Did we want to simply give up and run home?  NO!  Did we want to try to run as far as Farewell Bend on the other side of Crater Lake?  Hmm, MAYBE.  Looking up the sketchy weather for Farewell Bend wasn’t possible because the only locations that would come in on the weather apps were Prospect, at a lower elevation with a decent prediction for rain, or Crater Lake with a LOT of snow predicted.

Maybe we should just stay at the RV park in Summer Lake?  But with bad weather predicted for the next 5 days we really didn’t want to be trapped for that long. When we woke up to cloudy skies and a tiny skiff of snow Wednesday morning, we made the decision.  We would drive the 5 miles east into the Summer Lake area to check for birds at the refuge before returning to the MoHo for a good breakfast. 

With the overcast skies and spitting rain and snow I didn’t bother to take the big camera, depending on the phone to document what I thought would be a rather boring quick trip around the refuge loop.  Big mistake!  My Samsung Galaxy Note20 does an excellent job with most photos, especially in good light, or even sketchy light.  However, zoomed in photos of birds are just a bit too tough even for the great phone camera. 

Mo drove and wouldn’t you know that all the good bird shots were on her side of the car.  As most people who watch birds know, staying in the car is the only way they stay around, with the car working as a great blind.  So Mo would drive, try to roll down the window, take the phone and try to focus.  We finally figured out that she could hold the phone and I could click the stylus to take the photo.  Then Mo would roll the window back up because it was so dang cold, and of course, another bird would appear.

We had a good time anyway, laughing sometimes and grumbling at each other at other times.  The water levels were low, and the numbers of birds seemed low, although it is a bit late for the big migrations.  We were a bit astounded at the variety, however, spotting lots of blackbirds, red winged and yellow headed, ruddy ducks, Canada geese with babies, a beautiful pair of sandhill cranes, with a dancing male.  As we drove deeper into the refuge, beyond the campgrounds, we began to see black necked stilts with their bright pink legs and the gorgeous avocets that we remembered from our last trip to Summer Lake a few years ago.  We saw a single swan in the distance, too far to determine which species it was, but as always the swan was beautifully graceful.

By the time we completed the viewing loop at the north end of the refuge it was getting close to 11AM and we were chilled to the bone.  Home to the MoHo and a nice big breakfast with eggs and bacon and toast and juice, a real treat when traveling.

As we were getting ready to pack up, a car appeared with two women we had seen the day before at one of the information kiosks.  They were looking for the rock. They had been up the trail and had been fooled by the fake mountain goat scratched into a smaller rock along the trail. We told them how to find the real one.  Shortly after that another car with a young couple showed up looking for the rock as well, and we told them about the trail and to be sure to look on the upside of the trail to find it.

By the time the slide was in and the jacks raised we had determined that our next stop would be La Pine State Park.  Mo took me there one time when we were visiting her brother when he lived in La Pine but we had never actually camped there.  It was only a bit over an hour away via Highway 31 toward Highway 97 and the road was wide and easy except for some rather horrific frost heaves on the pumice plateau that just about rattled us to death.

Once at the park, we first attempted to find a site in the upper north loop, where there was electric only.  We didn’t need sewer so thought it would be fine.  We attempted to settle into the rather narrow and unlevel site since there weren’t many available until we started to hook up the power.  Um…wait….20 amp?  On a very old post??  I think not!!  Not if we are paying rather than boondocking, we wanted to at least be able to run the microwave without turning everything else off. 

We retraced the entrance road and continued to the Middle and South Loop, where nearly every site was taken, but at least the few available had 30 and 50 amp hookups and the sites were paved and very level.  We picked one and settled in, grousing about the dreary skies, the complete lack of not only internet, but even a cell phone signal!  Neither of us was exactly happy with where we were.  The forest was thick second growth lodgepole with some skinny scattered ponderosa pine and everything was so flat and gray.  There wasn’t a bit of a view and the park was very crowded. It was disconcerting to discover that we had only a tiny bit of signal, enough for a text message but no access to any kind of internet, email, or maps.  It certainly wasn’t what we had envisioned for our desert trip, and as the snow flurries started falling it made it even less fun when we couldn’t track the weather to figure out what to expect.  We settled in, both of us a bit grumpy, which doesn’t happen very often.  After talking it out a bit, we decided to get in the car and try to explore the flat, featureless landscape and see what in the world people did when they visited La Pine State Park.

With just a short ride, we found the Dan MacGregor memorial overlooking a lovely trail on a wide bow in the Deschutes River.  With the sun appearing once again and the beautiful view of the river our mood began to improve considerably.  Mo had camped at a forest service campground a few miles back toward La Pine and on the road that goes to Paulina Lake.  Deciding to drive to that campground to check it out, we discovered a locked gate and a closed campground.  Not sure why it was closed, but I am glad we hadn’t planned on staying there for the night.

The night was surprisingly quiet considering how full the campground was.  I slept a bit fitfully, unsure of what the next day might bring.  The snow flurries continued throughout the night, but by morning they were gone and lo and behold the sun was shining. 

On the previous day I had photographed a map of the park with some locations that might be interesting to explore.  When we checked into the park, there was only a simple map of the campground and not a single map or brochure about the area.  Without the internet, we were basically following our noses, so I was glad I had photographed that park map. 

We drove north and found the road leading toward “Falls”, a dot on the map.  What we found was a magnificent surprise tucked away on that flat, featureless pumice plain covered with lodgepole and ponderosa.  Fall River was gorgeous, a well known river for fly fishing, but on this cold sunny morning there wasn’t a soul in sight.  We followed the trail to the Falls, not exactly sure how far it was, and as Mo asked me if I had any idea how much farther we needed to hike, both of us began to hear the roar of the falls.

It was lovely.  Brilliant in the sunshine and surrounded by thick blooming bitterbrush and grass still green from the winter.  In spite of our misgivings from the previous afternoon about La Pine State Park, the walk along the Deschutes River and the hike to Fall River Falls made a huge difference in our opinion of the place.  We might decide to rent one of the cabins with a nice RV hookup area to visit next year with our friends Maryruth and Gerald.  Just 20 miles south of Bend and not far from the Newberry Crater there would be lots to share in the area and Maryruth said they would love to rent the cabin. 

By the time we left the campground at noon or so, the snow flurries had disappeared but there were huge black clouds on the horizon.  Once we reached Highway 97 and I had cell service again, I discovered that we could expect more snow along our route to Farewell Bend west of the pass that is north of Crater Lake where we hiked last summer on our camping trip on the Rogue.

On that trip we discovered a sweet little boondocking camp site at Muir Creek, a tributary of the Rogue.  Mo wanted to see if that spot was open for us, so we set our sights for the Muir Creek Bridge.  It snowed on us a couple of times but by the time we drove in, the skies were a gorgeous blue.  There is a trailhead that is on the west side of the creek with a large parking area with room to turn around.  We parked there, unhooked the Tracker, and returned to the east side of the creek bridge to explore the campsite area.

We were thrilled to find it completely empty of campers, quiet and beautiful, and easily accessible with the MoHo.  Having scoped out the best location, we returned for the MoHo and brought her back to what I now think may have been an even better boondocking site than our previous amazing spot at Pictured Rock Pass.

Our camping spot was a perfect dream of whispering forest, gurgling creek, brilliant sunshine and blue skies.  Until it rained.  But between the rain and snow showers, the sun was warm and Mo built a beautiful fire in one of the nicest firepits we have ever seen. 

We sat outside in the afternoon sun with our kindles by the fire, reading till a shower ran us indoors, and then returning to the fire when the sun came back.  Mo had only to step out the door to keep the fire going.

I hadn’t planned on dinners for this 4th night, and we thought about driving the 24 mile round trip to Beckie’s Cafe in Union Creek.  It seemed like such a waste of precious time in the sunshine with our books so we made do.  Dinner was tuna sandwiches and pickles and was perfect.

There was no need to close any of the blinds or cover the windshield here, since there wasn’t a soul around.  The night was dark, and snow and rain came and went, but I was delighted to see that there was no snow on the ground when we woke.  Funny thing happened when I looked out the front windshield and did a double take.  It looked exactly like we were crossing the creek in the MoHo.  Our front fender was less than 4 feet from the edge of the water, but from inside it looked exactly like we were in it.

I have no idea if this perfect boondock site will remain as perfect as it was for us on this weekday in May.  Last year there was a tent and a trailer there when we visited in August.  I also have no idea if the huge crowds of RVrs that are inundating almost every available site in the west will find our two perfect boondocks, one in the desert and another in the mountains.  All I know is that for us everything was completely absolutely perfect!

The final leg of our trip home the next morning was just under two hours of familiar highway roads via the Rogue River route along Highway 62, crossing the Sam’s Valley on Highway 234 from Shady Cove to Gold Hill, and along Interstate 5 toward home.  The skies at home cleared enough that we did our usual quick unloading of the rig, putting the food away, piling laundry into the laundry room, and letting the rest of the MoHo cleaning wait for the next day.

We managed to fill up 5 days and 4 nights with a LOT.  It took me several days to process the photos, and several more days to write the stories.  Hope my readers enjoy it as much as I have, but at least Mo and I won’t have to question which day we did what.  Thank goodness for the blog to force me to write it down so that we remember.



Out the door and down the road, another day on the water, Odessa Creek Launch

Current Location: Rocky Point Oregon 59F with a predicted high of 83 and sunny

Odessa kayak_001 When we returned from our gorgeous paddle the other day, I thought, “Let’s keep the kayaks on the truck and then we can go out again without reloading!”  It isn’t that much trouble loading up our lightweight boats, but it is still nice to put on the hats, grab the sunscreen and simply jump into the truck on a sunny morning for another day on the water.

Odessa kayak_003 Mo suggested that we drive down the road a piece to a launch site that we haven’t been to for some time.  Odessa Creek Campground is about 6 miles east on Highway 140.  It is a quiet little camp with no fees and a small launch site to the wide creek that meanders out to Klamath Lake proper. 

Odessa kayak_010 It is a pretty place, with lots of cover and shade, but it as usual, for this time of year, the mosquitoes are horrendous.  There was someone camping in a big tent and I didn’t envy them in the least.  We made quick work of the launch knowing that once we were out on the water, we would escape the nasty little critters.

Odessa kayak_011 We were on the water by ten, a bit later than originally planned because we waited for the temperature to rise a bit.  The weather was perfect, and the lake was calm and glassy for most of our 7 mile paddle.

Odessa kayak_022 We love paddling meandering streams, but being on the lake near the shoreline has meandering ins and outs as well that provide interest.  Paddling around the hills west of Bell Bay, we found the little cabin that was one of our first paddle destinations when we got our first kayaks back in 2005. 

odessa route This time, with the glassy water and good weather, we decided to strike out across the bay toward another peninsula, marking the entrance into Shoalwater Bay.  We camped on the east side of this bay back in 2011. 

Odessa kayak_040 Being on the lake, even as close to the shoreline as we were traveling, was surprising.  The perspectives change and shift so much when traveling at lake level.  Klamath Lake seems huge!  It is a magnificent lake, in spite of its quirks.  A shallow lake formed in volcanic sediments, the lake is naturally high in phosphorus, and thus home to lots of algae during the summer months.  The algae is actually harvested and sold as a food supplement.

Odessa kayak_037 Paddling through some of the green stuff yesterday, I thought how great it would be if we could eventually figure out a way to create fuel from algae.  Then again, the empty solitude of Klamath Lake on a sunny warm early summer day is quite a treasure.  So many places we have traveled, and many waters we have kayaked, don’t offer that great empty silent solitude.

Odessa kayak_032 The only noises we heard were the birds and from 20 miles away across the lake we could sometimes hear the trains that follow along Highway 97 north from Klamath Falls.Odessa kayak_014

The most fun to watch were the grebes, both Western Grebes and possibly Clark Grebe, and either a pair or rednecked grebes or eared grebes.  They dove too fast for me to get close enough to them to be sure.  The best part was watching the grebes do their amazing water dance, again too far away to photograph, and too sudden to catch them in the act.  It is really something to see, however, and worth just sitting around in the water waiting for the pair to do its thing.  Of course, I was delighted to find several of my white pelican friends soaring over the water.  Such amazing birds.

grebes I did steal this photo from the internet with kudos to whomever managed to catch these birds doing their mating dance, running along the surface of the water.  Before they start the run, the pair will paddle beside each other with their heads going up and down, extending their necks and retracting them, and then suddenly they take off in perfect unison. Odessa kayak_044As we approached the shoreline on the east side of Ball Bay, I was surprised to see eagles in the trees.  There were two adults and a very large youngster with the brown and white colors typical of juvenile bald eagles. 

Odessa kayak_069 By afternoon, as we meandered back to our launch site at Odessa, the sun was high and hot and we were glad we were ready to get off the water.  We even had enough time to get back home, unload the kayaks, and fill up the truck for a load to the dump.  Our rural dump is now only only open one day a week, and we were surprised that there wasn’t a line of waiting folks.  With the price raised to $13. for a small load, I am glad we don’t have to go very often.

Odessa kayak_070 Evening was a treat with wine and snacks at Wes and Gayle’s place next door.  It is always fun when they come back from Arizona to spend a few months here in Rocky Point.  We have some fun plans in the works for the summer with them, including an evening at the Britt in Ashland for Lyle Lovett and His Large Band.  Looking forward to sharing our favorite little camping spot with them as well, with a trip to Medicine Lake in the works for late July.Odessa kayak_007

The flowers are blooming, the iris and peonies are opening at last, the lupines are reaching their full height.  Ahh…June.  Probably the best flower time here at Rocky Point.  Odessa kayak_004_01

 

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 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!

 

2-20 to 2-21- 2014 Midway Campground Big Cypress Preserve

Current: Midway Campground at 5am 71 degrees and some dramatic moonlit clouds overhead

Shark Valley_121After a couple of days at Midway, it is amazing how disconnected I feel.  I woke up at 4 this morning worried.  Worried about the Everglades, worried about the gorgeous fresh water springs in Florida, worried about Sherry and David and where they are going to stay next winter.  Worried about…..whatever.  When I wake up like this, I know it is time to just give it up and get up and write.  But then, I feel as though I am in a bit of a vacuum, no connections, no phone again and no way to check in on the world or my kids or my friends.  I sometimes am appalled at my addiction to that connectivity, to simply reading email or blogs or a text to remind me of the real world and my place in it.  Such a lesson.

My worries about the Everglades are directly related to spending a day dipping into the northern part of the park. With only one day to spend, we decided to follow Sherry and David’s advice and see Shark Valley.  Here at Big Cypress there are some wonderful ranger led activities, but our timing was off.  After seeing all the alligators at the visitor center, both of us were a bit leery of doing our first “alligator” kayak on our own, and checked into the ranger led paddle down the Turner River. 

gators at Big Cypress Visitor CenterWe decided that we would attempt to get an extension for an additional night at Midway in order to participate in the Saturday paddle.  First thing in the morning we drove back to the Oasis Visitor Center to use their phone to see if there was an opening.  Reservations are required on this paddle, and we discovered that even with our own boat there was no room for us. Only ten paddlers are allowed on the river at one time.  The next step would have been to use the visitor center phone to try to snag one of the two remaining campsites at Midway for Saturday night.

This was important because in order to do the paddle, we would have to leave Abby with Jeremy in the rig for the day, and with the heat we would have to have the air conditioning going.  The days are about 86 F or so, but the rigs do heat up even with the windows open and the fan going.  No dry camping for us.  And no Abby on the rivers, since the alligators most often ignore people, but DO perk up a lot if there is a dog around.  Lesson learned.

Shark Valley_020It was all irrelevant anyway, since we couldn’t get a reservation.  So the next step was to figure out when the Shark Valley tram tour was scheduled, again the brochure said “reservations recommended”.  With all the people here in Florida this week, I could only imagine how full that trip could be.  We learned that the route was fifteen miles round trip if we chose to bike it on our own.

Arriving at the Shark Valley Visitor Center to a crowd of people loading up a tram, the thought of two hours with all those folks sounded less and less appealing.  When we went inside to check out the tram information, we were shocked to discover that the cost was $22 for adults and $18 for seniors!  For two hours on a tram???  In fact, we could bike the route at our leisure in that length of time if we didn’t get sidetracked too often.

blue heron 1Be sure to click on this one to make it larger and see the chicks!

Once again, we were so glad we had our bikes, and plenty of bug juice (some kind of nice lemongrass/citronella/geranium oil I got from the evil KOA), sunscreen, hats, and water.  I had to make the decision about which lens to carry on the bike since there was no way I could manage the whole setup, so I opted for the heavy telephoto.  Once again, I put on the rather hot but extremely handy Cotton Carrier to manage the camera.  Only problem was that the lens would bump into the handlebars whenever I tried to dismount.  I was about as graceful at that as I am getting out of a kayak.  NOT

What a gorgeous ride!  I can’t imagine that we considered going on the tram.  We could travel at our leisure, (except when there were a few groups of rude people who kept stopping and then passing us and then stopping again).  What is with these people that have on spandex on skinny bikes with helmets and don’t bother to warn of their passing?! They were some of those very fit old and snotty people that make me ….can I say what I am thinking here>>>>want to puke.

Anhinga chicks in the nest.Shark Valley_007

Once we got away from the rude bunch, the ride was magnificent.  Fifteen miles of perfectly smooth, perfectly level paved trail is pretty darn sweet when it is surrounded by the magnificent Everglades.  Midway through the ride is the Observation Tower, high above the landscape and the only way other than an airplane to grasp the vast expanse of the River of Grass.

I knew a bit about the problems with the Everglades, but the park brochure lines the whole thing out in one page of very graphic detail.  It is the story of water, our need for it, our abuse of it, our thoughtless expansion of agriculture with its chemicals and runoff, with dams to protect people from natural overflows.  There is no place on the planet, not one place, that is like the Everglades, and we very nearly killed it.  I woke at 4am wondering if it is at all possible to change the outcome, no matter how many people from all over the world are trying to do so.  My 4am thoughts were fairly pessimistic.

I took so many photos of the wood stork, my first sighting of this big crazy looking bird, before I knew about its status as an indicator species reflecting the health of the Glades.  I saw a lot of them yesterday, watching them swing their big bills through the mud to catch fish with a reflexive snap. 

Shark Valley_068After we visited the tower, we continued in the counter clockwise direction recommended by the park signs.  The snotty fit folks were complaining a lot about the wind and chose to return via the straight route rather than continue the loop.  Hooray for us!  The sun was hot and riding with the wind instead of against it was nice as well.  The second half of the loop is much more open, with fewer alligators and mangroves but a wider view of sawgrass prairie.

Shark Valley_094The wider expanse of sawgrass, and more open water with a few mudflats yielded a bright pink surprise.  I hollered at Mo, tried to get off the bike without banging the lens on the handlebars, and got another bazillion photos of the one lonely roseate spoonbill swinging his bill through the mud.  Another mile or so yielded another couple of spoonbills, so I saw three in all.  We were almost completely alone on our return trip since most folks opted to return the other direction.  I have no idea why.  The Observation Tower is at 7 miles, almost halfway around the trail, so why not ride the loop?  We spent just a little under three hours biking the loop.

On our way back to Midway, we opted to take the Loop road from milepost 40 on Highway 41, several miles of back paved road along the mangroves and then several more miles of dirt road through the heart of the bald cypress forest and through several “strands”. Strands are areas of deeper flowing water through the swamp. Blackwater Strand was as beautiful as we were told, and several photographers with monster lenses and big tripods were attempting to capture the magic.

Shark Valley_135Speaking of magic…and photography… on our way back to camp between the visitor center and the campground is the Clyde Butcher Gallery.  Stepping into the lobby of the gallery simply took my breath away.  Clyde Butcher has been hailed as the Ansel Adams of our time.  Long ago I studied B/W photography in college, and the Zone System of exposure developed by Adams was our bible.  It is all about exposure, not manipulation of the image after it is taken.  Of course, with modern day photo tools that are available, I have become lazy.  I shoot  and process, and my old gray scale cards are packed away in a keepsake box somewhere.

Shark Valley_134Looking at Clyde Butcher’s photos, I saw all the amazing detail in the darks and the lights that is the goal of truly good photography.  Just simply breathtaking.  His prints go for hundreds of dollars for a tiny one, and tens of thousands of dollars for the big ones.  I opted for a calendar for $20, and then discovered to my delight that the calendar was focused on the fresh water springs of Northern Florida.  Hence worrying about the springs.  The information in that calendar about the degradation of the gorgeous Florida springs is as disheartening as the brochure information about the Everglades.

Shark Valley_136Our campground at Midway is quite lovely, with grassy open sites and paved RV pads.  There is only electricity at the site, but a dump station and fresh water are available in the campground.  Until recently, this campground was first come first served, with folks lining up early in the morning for a spot.  Thanks to Sherry, I learned about the recent change to reservations required, and three weeks ago snagged our spot.  Good thing!  The campground had been full every night. 

Today we will begin the journey south toward Key West, crossing the long bridges with views of gorgeous turquoise water on our way to Sigsbee Field to camp.  I think this Military Family Camp in Key West is probably one of the greatest benefits of Mo’s military service. (She may disagree, of course, because I am sure she has other benefits that mean more to her, such as retirement and health care.  Ha!)  Without the ability to camp at Sigsbee Field, we wouldn’t be visiting the Keys, much less Key West.

Shark Valley_010We know that we will be dry camping at Sigsbee, with hookup sites in a rotational system that we won’t be there long enough to get.  We will be loading up on water and fuel to run the generator for the five days we will be camping there.  Usually the temperatures in Key West are moderated by the surrounding water, so we hope that it won’t be as hot as it has been here.

John and Carol gave us lots of tips about camping at Sigsbee, about where to go near the campground, and where to park in town for free since we do have Abby and can’t bike that far with her any more.  Next on our buying list is one of those baby carrier biking things that Mo can pull behind her bike so that Abby can go along.  She does so well with the leash and the bike, but only lasts for a short distance now.  Don’t want to wear the old girl out before her time.

Shark Valley_104On another note, reading comments from the last couple of blogs, folks are repeating a refrain, “Think I won’t come to Florida ever”.  Or to that effect.  Just gotta say here, saying “Florida” in one big catch all, is a bit like saying you didn’t like  the California desert so you won’t ever visit Mt Shasta.  Florida is a large state with all sorts of variety and there is a huge difference between north and south, east and west , Gulf and Atlantic.  Being from the west, I understand how different a state can be from one part to another. 

I suppose states in the midwest and east are probably fairly uniform throughout.  Not here.  I would probably not return to southern Florida, even though it is one of the more unique environmShark Valley_032ents in our country.

I might still return to northern Florida someday.  I love the springs and rivers even more than the beaches.  Remember all those wide open roads with no cars that we traveled earlier this month?  Remember all those state parks where we had no problem finding reservations? Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water when thinking of Florida because of what I have said about southern Florida.