Current Location: Fort De Soto Campground Tierra Verde, Florida
Weather today: Highs in the mid 60s and Sunny
Visiting northern Florida can be a step back in time, enjoying what they call in the state park brochures, “The Old Florida”. I think that is what is most appealing to me about this part of the state, and there is no better example of the old Florida than the little town of Micanopy.
We had a short drive on this day, just a little over 60 miles from Manatee Springs State Park to Ocala. An additional 20 miles or so led us through Micanopy, a place I wanted to share with Mo. It was a damp, rainy morning when we embarked on the big move for the day.
Once we arrived in Micanopy, there was plenty of parking, with few people on the streets and most stores not opening until 11AM. (It was just 10:45 when we got there). Mo was impressed with the long streetside parking available for large rigs in such a small town. We walked Abby around a bit to explore and then let her keep Jeremy company in the rig while we visited the Micanopy Café for some hot chocolate and some of their great homemade soup. Of course, only on Thursdays does the owner make chicken and dumplings, but her chickens were cooking in the big roaster with lots of herbs and broth and smelled wonderful.
Next door to the café was a great art gallery that drew us in. Earlier we visited the local coop gallery as well but managed to get out of there without buying something. It was a different story at this place and we emerged with some beautiful watercolor card prints and one amazing framed collage, 3 dimensional, of great egrets. At less than half price, it became our “Florida Purchase”. I am tickled pink.
Micanopy was originally founded in 1821 and on a local street information sign, claimed to be the oldest inland town in Florida. Named for Chief Micanopy of the Seminole Nation and immortalized by Michael J. Fox in the movie “Doc Hollywood”, it still feels like a slow, southern small town, where you could sit and sip sweet tea on a porch and enjoy the beautiful curtains of Spanish moss on the incredibly huge old oaks.
One of the stores, The Shop, wasn’t open, but the website gives an idea of what kinds of gracious southern living goodies can be found there. I oohed and aahed through the windows. Antiques seem to the the most plentiful with several shops in historic buildings that are a delight.
Another piece of old Florida that is going through many changes is Silver Springs. Once an original Florida theme park attraction, the park is now part of the Silver Springs State Park, formerly known as Silver River State Park. The history is well worth reading if you are so inclined. Here is an interesting link. Silver Springs (The Historical Theme Park)
Silver Springs was Florida’s first tourist attraction, dating back to the 1870’s With much complexity, the state acquired several thousand acres of land around the spring. In 1993, the state acquired the spring as well, though it was still privately run. With profits dwindling, the company released control of Silver Springs and it was merged with the Sliver River State park to now become Silver Springs State Park.
I am here in Ocala to take Bel’s ashes (my friend who passed almost a year ago) to her chosen resting place, and Bel’s parents lived in Ocala for several decades. Bel had wonderful memories of visiting Silver Springs as a child, and we would often go there when I visited. The park was very commercial, with a bear exhibit, birds and alligators, a jeep ride through the “jungle” with animals from around the world. There were busy shops, restaurants, a huge Christmas boat parade and light show, a ferris wheel.
It was all great fun, but getting to be more and more expensive. The last time I visited Bel we declined visiting Silver Springs. I was a bit sad about the change, but reading in depth about the contamination of the springs with run-off from development and the animal exhibits, I felt much better about the state take-over. Bel’s sister Iris isn’t quite so happy about it. Silver Springs remains in her youthful memories as it once was.
Florida’s natural fresh water springs are a national treasure and should be protected and honored as the sacred gifts that they are. I hope that the state park will take care of the springs while keeping some of the local history of Silver Springs as an original Florida attraction. The glass bottom boats are still there and rides down the river and over the springs are still allowed. They will continue in the future as one of the historic parts of the springs to be retained. We heard that they also had the Christmas light show last December, minus the boat parade, and that Willie Nelson performed there recently.
I chose not to make reservations at Silver Springs State Park, assuming it wouldn’t be full on a rainy, cool mid-week day. It wasn’t, but it was definitely more popular than I expected. Once settled into our site 32 in the Fort King Loop could see why. This campground is gorgeous! With huge wide open sites that are well spaced, completely level shell/limestone aggregate pads with enough room for a big rig, a big table, a car and who know what else.
The evening we arrived, a huge storm was brewing, with a red line of thunderstorms coming our way fast. I never took any photos of that great site. There is the river to kayak, with new launch areas near the headwaters of the Silver River at the old parking lot of Silver Springs. There are miles of dog friendly trails and biking paths. There is a replica Cracker Village and a nice small museum. In addition, with a camping permit, there is free access to the old Silver Springs Theme Park….now in the process of restoration and reconstruction.
Of course, Ocala has anything one might need in the way of shopping and entertainment, and the Ocala National Forest with its beautiful springs and byways is nearby. I love Ocala. I would have been happy to stay here a week at least. But one night was on the schedule, with time to meet Iris, and enjoy a great dinner at Horse and Hounds, a lovely pub type restaurant that was just a mile or so from the campground.
Mo enjoyed meeting Iris, and listened patiently while Iris and I did a lot of reminiscing about Bel. It was a nice time and the rain was irrelevant. Our campsite was so big and open, and while it was surrounded with beautiful trees, there were no overhanging branches or limbs over the site, so the high winds weren’t scary. Early the next morning, I took advantage of the dark hour to use the one set of laundry machines at our loop restroom, and take a nice hot shower.
My thoughts regarding staying a week in Ocala very nearly came true. I made our reservations for Fort De Soto Campground the minute they came available 180 days before our planned arrival. Fort De Soto is a Pinellas County Park, and extremely popular. Most everything was already filled within minutes of the campground website accepting reservations, but I snagged a decent site in what I thought was the dog-friendly part of the campground.
The morning of our departure from Ocala, as I was reviewing the documentation, I realized that my reservation was not in the pet-friendly area. Knowing how hard it was to get a reservation, I didn’t panic, I just thought, “Well, if we have to stay in Ocala, so be it.”
With a phone call to the park, all was resolved without too much difficulty. We were reassigned a new site, actually three new sites, and we will have to move from our first site to a second site for three days, and the last day of our stay will be at a third site. All in the dog friendly area. The park staff was extremely kind and very accommodating, in spite of our stay through the upcoming holiday weekend.
On our way to the Tampa Bay area, we decided it was time to purchase a Florida SunPass card. Bridges and toll roads are everywhere in this part of Florida, and most of them cost money. Purchasing the mini sticker transponder for the windshield was easy, we found one at a Publix grocery store. The activation, however, was a bit more complex, and I decided to call rather than attempting to do it online with the iPad in a grocery store parking lot.
The agent was great, very deliberate and clear with her instructions, and she suggested that we possibly buy two transponders so the the baby car would also register through the gates. However, the sensors usually catch all four of the axles in the rig and the toad, and we were unsure how this would work if we had two separate transponders. The only problem with only having one, however, is that they are inactivated if removed from the windshield, so if we cross bridges on day trips in the baby car, we will have to pay as usual.
Daughter Deanna (the trucker who plies Florida highways quite often) suggested the Sun Pass card because there are some bridges in Florida that don’t take cash. They simply photo your license plate and send you a bill. With our mail coming to Oregon and only sent along every month or so, we could easily become delinquent with the bill. According to the agent, you have about 28 days to pay. Instead, we need to check the website to see if we were charged for 2 or 4 axles, and tada…all 4 showed up right away on our crossing of the Pinellas Bayway on our way to this park.
The activation is set up with an initial amount using a credit card, and you can choose to add additional funds automatically in specific amounts if your account drops below $10. When you leave the state you can apply for a refund of any excess funds. It was great fun just flying through the Sun Pass lanes for the first time in the 13 years I have been visiting and driving in Florida. Success, and Thank You, Deanna!!
We are now settled in, the sun has risen and it’s time for some breakfast! Happy Valentine’s Day. Among the plans for the day is a trip to the See’s candy store in St Petersburg for some traditional chocolates> Yippee!!
Happy Valentine’s Day!