07-17-2021 Fun times in Early July


Early July began with record breaking temperatures for Southern Oregon, and for much of the west.  For us, the 116 degree temperatures moderated a bit to a livable 100 degrees.  Amazing how good that feels even when the thermometer hits 100 several days in a row.  So far, a couple of weeks into the month we haven’t experienced those awful 100 teens plus days since that first week.  I hope we don’t get them again.  In addition, in spite of the seriously hot weather and afternoon winds, we don’t have any fires locally.  The biggest fire in the country right now is the Bootleg Fire, northeast of Kamath Falls, but the smoke is heading east and here in Grants Pass the skies are a gorgeous clear blue.

Going to the Lavender Festival inspired me and on the first day of the month I decided I should cut the lavender.  The bees weren’t happy with me. They seem to love lavender more than just about anything in the yard, except for the bird bath which they have taken over completely as their very own summer water fountain.  I try to be sure it is full every day.  Bees need water and these are very sweet friendly honey bees that buzz around like crazy but never bother me.

A photo from my little shop in Wallace, Idaho

I decided it was time to make a wreath.  I used to make so many of them when I was making a living growing and selling crafted dried flowers on the show circuit and in my little shop in Wallace, Idaho.  After I let that business go to once again make my living digging holes in the dirt, I never made another wreath until now.  I tried a small wreath of lavender.  It took four full large bushes of fully blooming lavender to finish that wreath.  Hanging it on the door, I delighted in the fragrance, if not the tiny little lavender flowers that shed all over the porch every time I open and close the front door.  Who knows how long it will last or how long it will keep shedding.

July 4th this year was a treat.  Especially after our nothing celebration last year because of Covid and everyone feeling much safer just staying at home.  This year I asked Daughter Melody if we could come to her house for the day.  She was thrilled, and even gave up the annual Fourth of July party that she traditionally shares with her Albany friends.  Daughter Deb was going too, and decided to drive her own car since we had a bunch of “stuff” in our car.  Grandson Matthew was going to go but at the last minute he had to opt out due to concerns with the couple that he helps to caretake.  He had no one at the house to help and couldn’t leave Karen alone with the blood pressure and heart rate issues she was having.  Next year we will celebrate minus Melody, but with a local picnic maybe Matthew will be able to participate.  So hard to get everyone in the same place anymore.

The drive north on the Fourth was easy, just 3 hours to Melody’s house in the car.  We opted to leave the MoHo at home since there really isn’t any place to park it at Melody’s house.  Daughter Melody and Robert did a great job fixing up the guest bedroom with a cooling gel mattress pad, new comfy sheets and pillows, and a big fan in the window.  Such a nice retreat it was for us.

By the time we arrived just after 11, Deborah was already there helping Melody lay out the huge feast of goodies she had prepared for the family.  Somehow the giant tray of veggies and dip went by the wayside as we all gobbled up Robert’s traditional deviled eggs.  No longer just for Easter, Robert’s eggs are a tradition whenever we all get together.  Deborah made a delicious guacamole which kept me quite happy. 

Grandkids,  Axel and Xavier, with Axel’s sweetie, Pi, showed up by early afternoon. Axel and Pi are “new” even though they have known each other for over two years.  At 28 years old, it is a good thing that Axel now at last has a solid, good relationship to enjoy.

My grandson Xavier was looking wonderful as well, putting on some weight and working at a job he loves. He is working in telephone sales for Cricket.  Indoors, air conditioning, no heavy lifting, and plenty of percs and benefits.  He likes it a LOT better than working in the produce department at Fred Meyer, which was the job he had before COVID required that he not work in that unsafe environment.  Type 1 Diabetes is nothing to fool with, and he couldn’t risk being exposed to COVID. The entire family is fully vaccinated now and it is such a relief to worry a bit less about exposure to the virus at last.

The day was simple and easy with lots of talking and visiting.  Melody and the kids and I walked the two blocks to the city park and the river.  Pioneer Park is a popular place on the fourth and many families were camping and enjoying picnics at the big tables in the shade.  Mattie went completely crazy with all the excitement of the river, the kids, and all the people. I did not manage to take a single photo of the excitement.  It was hot and we were all quite happy to return to the cool living room for the rest of the afternoon.

Somehow we didn’t manage time for games, and by 3:30 Robert fired up the grill for supper by 5.  It was amazing watching him manage all the different requests from each guest.  Robert cooked filet mignon steaks, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken legs, and four racks of ribs.  Everything turned out perfectly, well almost.  Some of us thought the ribs were a bit too done, but the kids loved them and took all the leftovers home.  Not a thing went to waste….then again I am sure much went to our waists!

After dinner we visited some more. The kids left around 7 since they didn’t want to drive back to Albany after dark.  It’s only a 20 minute drive or so for them, but with holiday crazies running around on the highway between Brownsville and Albany they thought it would be better to lay low in their own apartment for the evening.

The five of us ate some more goodies and waited until about 9 to gather up our chairs and walk down to the park once again for the fireworks.

The show was put on by the Brownsville Fire Department and they did a spectacular job.  I have seen shows in much bigger cities that weren’t as wonderful as this show.  It was also good to know that the fire department was making sure that everyone was safe and no stray sparks were unattended.  I loved every minute of it.

The next morning we had a wonderful breakfast with bagels and Deborah’s egg bake casserole and more visiting before Deborah left for home and Mo and I headed south toward our next adventure.

July 5 Visiting Wildlife Safari in Winston

I think I went to Wildlife Safari a very long time ago, when Melody lived in Medford.  All I remember is being with Melody and her mother-in-law, Donna, and Axel who was just a little one.  I remember the cheetahs behind the fence and how much Axel loved cheetahs.  Mo had never been to the Wildlife Safari.  It isn’t far from Grants Pass, maybe 80 miles or so, and is a popular place to take out of town guests.  Crater Lake, the Coast, Wildlife Safari, and the Hellgate Jetboats on the Rogue are the go to activities for company. Pretty sure Crater Lake and the Coast win hands down.  We have talked about going the Safari a few times, and yesterday when I mentioned it again, Mo said, why not tomorrow on our way home from Brownsville.

In spite of the mid day hour, the heat, and the holiday, we decided to give it a try.  We were happy to learn that even though dogs are not allowed in your car when traveling through the park, there are nice kennels provided for them to be safely housed during your visit.  The kennels are free if you bring your own lock, but they will provide a padlock that you can keep for $5.  Not bad to keep Mattie cool and safe while we explored.  We decided to do the walkable portion of the park first.  The area isn’t too big to walk in a short time and the gardens and shade trees are lovely.  Most of the animals were lounging in the shade, too hot to move around much, and often hidden in their dark lairs so we weren’t able to see all of them.  The tortoise was slowly meandering around his enclosure with a leaf in his mouth.  Such fascinating creatures!  The lions were pacing near the feeding area, but too far from the viewing platform to see them very well.  The wolves from South America were completely zonked in the heat, very little movement from them.

The rest of the area is geared to families and kids, with a couple of eating establishments for snack food, and some exhibits geared to kids enjoyment.  I think we stayed maybe an hour at most before getting in line for the slow meander in our car around the wild animal area where most animals roam freely and humans must remain in their cars. 

Some of the animals from Africa, who seemed to be immune to the intense heat, were roaming about.  Several were eating in the shade shelters which made photography a bit difficult, but as we rounded a curve to the area where feeding cups could be purchased, the emus, rheas, and several varieties of young deer were milling about begging for food from people in their cars.  A lovely rhea poked his head in our window and looked rather disgusted that we had no food for him.

As we approached the cheetah area, there wasn’t a cheetah in sight, but there was a big jam up of cars.  People were instructed at the beginning of the tour to stay to the right to let people pass if they wished, but many folks had no clue about how to do that.  Drivers of cars full of young kids parked in the middle of the road, with no room on either side for passing. 

We finally meandered along with the rest, but not without a few impatient exclamations from Mo and from me now and then.  It was hot and many of the animals were not to be seen.  We missed the rhino, the cheetahs, the yaks, and the hippos.  Actually, we didn’t miss the hippos completely because as we passed I am pretty sure that two large gray rocks were actually hippos.

We enjoyed the Safari somewhat, but I think the most excitement came from Mattie when I picked her up from the kennel.

07-08 Driving up to Recreation Creek and Malone Springs.

With the heat in triple digits for days on end, Mo and I wondered when we might have a chance to get our butts in the boats again.  We scheduled a day trip to Rocky Point for a nice early morning kayak after I looked at the temperatures and decided Thursday was the only day that it was to be less than 100 degrees in the Basin.  We planned to leave early, and I packed a tuna sandwich lunch for us and we were in the truck by 7.  When we travel, the kayaks are lifted on top of the Tracker and tied down.  Requires quite a bit of effort, climbing up and down on a step to reach the straps, and getting all safely balanced and secured.  We decided that for a simple day trip we could take the pickup.  Loading the kayaks is considerably easier with the pickup.  They still have to be lifted, but not nearly as high, and strapping them down is much simpler.

The route to Malone Springs, a few miles north of Rocky Point, is easy, and requires traveling from Grants Pass toward Medford, turning east near Central Point and traveling Highway 140 over the High Lakes Pass toward the east slope of the Cascades.  Malone Springs is about half way between the Rocky Point boat launch and the northern terminus of Crystal Creek at Crystal Springs.  We have kayaked the entire length of the canoe trail from end to end and through the marsh many times.  This time, however, we decided to put in at Malone Springs and kayak south toward Rocky Point.  We haven’t been in the kayaks since last year, and both of us were just a little bit apprehensive about our ability to get back out of the kayaks at the end of our paddle.  We decided on paddling south for just and hour before turning around to be sure we didn’t do more than we could manage.

I was worried about my left shoulder which has been acting up lately with either arthritis or bursitis, legs with muscle atrophy which may or may not hold up when I try to rise from the boat, and now a silly trigger thumb that has been giving me a bit of trouble.  Mo had been dealing with knee and ankle issues.  It was time to get back in practice and see just how much we could manage.  We also wanted to paddle in a place that didn’t have too many people around to witness our attempts at exiting our kayaks.

Nothing to worry about in the least.  I was thrilled to be on the water again after so long.  The morning was marred a bit by smoky skies from a large fire to the east of the Klamath Basin.  Our views were up close, with the distant mountains of Crater Lake and Harriman Peak completely obscured by the smoke.  Still, the wocus were blooming, although this late in the season there were only a few blossoms.  The creek level was quite low, but not so much that we had any difficulty paddling, and the section of the creek that we followed wasn’t terribly weedy. 

The water was clear and we were completely alone for the entire route, up and back.  We turned around after an hour and 15 minutes to paddle upstream.  As often happens on Recreation Creek, a slight breeze from the south made paddling against the gently current nearly effortless and the return trip was a bit shorter than the trip downriver.  The views were limited by smoke and in the distance where we usually see the rim of Crater Lake to the north and Mt. Harriman to the south, we only saw murky skies.  Birds were few and far between as well, except for the red winged blackbirds, many little brown twittery birds, a kingfisher and one great blue heron. 

The canoe trail sign is very high above the water, indicating how low the water level is this year already.  Often those signs are only a foot or two above the water level.

After all that time alone, I was exclaiming to Mo how lucky we were to have the creek to ourselves on this gorgeous summer day when suddenly ten kayaks rounded a curve and entered the Malone Springs area.  We looked at each other, wondering if they planned to lunch there, and wondered when we would have the nerve to try to get out of the kayaks with ten people observing!  The young woman who was guiding the group said they were leaving, and began loading all their kayaks onto a big trailer.  Whew.  Mo and I paddled around a bit in the spring waiting for everyone to leave.  Along comes another kayaker, with a young lab puppy, and she kindly agreed to wait until we could get Mattie out of the boat.

We had nothing to worry about.  I decided to exit my boat on the side opposite the shoreline in knee deep water.  It was perfect.  I didn’t even have to roll into the water as I did last summer to get out of the boat.  The knee deep water did a great job of giving me the extra boost I need to rise from a sitting position.  Mo tried the same maneuver and did just fine.  We are now much more comfortable with our planned kayak day with family during the first week in August. No matter how understanding folks might be about our ungainly attempts to exit the kayaks, it is much nicer to not have to look silly in front of everyone.

After loading up the boats we settled in to the nearby picnic table for our packed picnic lunch.  Malone Springs is known for having hordes of mosquitoes and yet with the heat and drought this year there were very few around to bother us.

We returned to Grants Pass, happy that we could do a simple day trip to find good kayak waters.  Of course, being in the outdoors triggered the need to check for possible reservations available at any of the many campgrounds in the Cascades, or even perhaps farther east.  We try to be sure to get at least one trip away in the MoHo each month and July was passing quickly.  Lo and Behold…everything was blocked out and reserved every place I looked, except suddenly an opening appeared at a campground we have visited in the past and loved.  The reservation was open for three days beginning on the 12th, giving us just two days to make the decision to go.

But that is for the next story….

A Treat in Grants Pass, Cathedral Hills and a Skunk

Current Location: Rocky Point Oregon, 34 degrees F with a 50 percent chance of snow

The cottage in Grants Pass is a great stopover spot when we are returning from our coast travels.  Daughter Deborah is living there now, so we camp in the MoHo when we are there.  During the winter months we pull the MoHo inside the big RV shed for protection, and sometimes we decide to camp inside as well when we are there. 

day at the cottageReminds me of those RV storage shed campsites that were developed in North Dakota for the oil workers.  Although the shed has all around windows at the top, the interior is rather dim.  Wouldn’t want to live there indefinitely, but it is great protection from weather and falling tree limbs in a windstorm.  Yes, we do have some very large, very old white oak trees on the cottage property.DSC_0029

There are always chores associated with staying at the cottage.  Mo is still working on the bathroom drywall and taping project after we put in a new bathtub, and now there is finally a shower as well.  Deb is quite happy with that project since she has had to settle for baths in the morning before work until now when she can jump in for a quick shower. 

This time of year there is always leaf burning, and leaf raking, but Deb has kept on top of most of the raking, so Mo had a big pile to burn this time.  Of course, inversions are common in the Rogue Valley of Grants Pass, and Josephine County is judicious about allowing burn days.  The first day was a no burn day, but on the second misty rainy morning the 6am phone call yielded good results. OK to burn!

day at the cottageFunny thing, though, those big sloppy leaves didn’t want to burn, in spite of the big tarp that was protecting the pile.  Mo burned most of the day and only managed about 1/3 of the pile.  I raked a bit, and then retreated to the cozy house to finish the binding on some kids quilts I have been making for Christmas.  kid quilts (2 of 7)

The house was cozy because we finally managed to get the new gas stove heater installed and running.  When the Avista guy came last month to light the pilot, he refused to approve the old stove, which had seen better days.  It heated great all last winter, but was no longer safe.  Time for a new stove.

That whole process was a bit of a kerfuffle, because no one in several towns had any gas stoves in stock.  After much research, we finally found a great little Williams stove with a bit of a fire view for several hundred dollars less than anything we could find in town.  The town shops said they could special order something, but even so the big delay was finding someone to do the installation.

IMG_4565 Total Home Supply on the internet provided excellent service, with free shipping, and we had the stove at our door within two days.  It took another month to get the installation completed, but now the cottage is again warm and cozy, and safe!  Deborah hung in there as the month got colder, staying in front of her little electric heater most of the time.  Now she has heat AND a shower.  All that is needed is some kind of way to figure out the crazy electrical problems.

IMG_1142 Remember, this little cottage wasn’t really something that we needed.  Our only wish was for a place to store the MoHo.  When Mo was trying to trouble shoot the electrical situation in a house built in 1926, she shook her head and wondered whether it was worth it or not.  Someday we will get it all figured out, and it is still great to have a warmer climate for storing the MoHo in the winter.  No winterizing, and we can head north or south without worrying about deep snows in the Klamath Basin.  That was the plan.

summit loop The cottage is in a rural neighborhood, with rather narrow roads and deep ditches on either side of the pavement.  The amount of passing traffic is a bit surprising, but I thought I would have enough room and warning to manage it for walking.  What I didn’t expect was the number of big dogs, although why I wouldn’t expect that in a rural Oregon neighborhood, I have no idea.  Big barking dogs, even behind fences, scare me.  Adding to that fear is the sight of a big barking dog that has managed to get outside his fence.  I have to remember to get some pepper spray.

After one day of walking Summit Loop for a few miles, I decided I needed another alternative for my walking project when we are at the cottage.  Enter Cathedral Hills County Park.

IMG_4626Just a mile west of the cottage lies the hidden treasure of 400 acres of BLM protected wild land with more than 12 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.  Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine dominate the forested portions of the park, with madrone, manzanita, and yes, poison oak on the warmer southern slopes.

IMG_4627 I drove to the Walker trail head, with a small parking lot for just a few cars and found it completely empty.  I also found a nice notification of a black bear seen in the area just a few days prior to my visit.  I wasn’t concerned, however, black bears usually stay well hidden and run when approached.  I was worried that there might be loose dogs or crazy people wandering about, but turned out I had the entire trail to myself.

IMG_4624 It was a great hike, accompanied by a large flock of turkeys, I walked up the steep eastern flank of the hills toward the ridge, enjoying the switchbacks.  Unlike Humbug Mountain, these switchbacks actually have level areas in addition to the steeper parts.  Good knee resting sections for the trip back down!

IMG_4629 I was appreciative of the trail signs, and once on the ridge hiked south to get some amazing views of the Applegate Valley and the coast range mountains to the southwest.  It is easy to forget just how mountainous this part of Oregon is when driving around in lower parts of the Rogue Valley and Grants Pass.

IMG_4632The cottage in on the terrace mid photo toward the east

I had the iPhone tracking my route, and as I continued on the ridge trail, was having a big of difficulty figuring out how that route fit with what I was seeing on the trail.  Turns out I was completely turned around in my head, and thought I was looking west toward the valley, and instead, with closer inspection realized that I was looking directly at the terrace below where the cottage was barely visible toward the east.  Sheesh.  I don’t think you could actually get lost in the hills, but you can definitely get turned around and end up somewhere you might not want to be.

cathedral hills trails I am so happy that there is this amazing resource for me to explore so close to home.  I only walked a few miles, and later, looking at the park map, realized just how much there is left to discover through the seasons at this hidden gem.

Our last adventure at the cottage was a bit less fun, but no less exciting.  Deb had been hearing activity under the house, and there was a large excavated hole indicating that some creature really liked living there.  She bought a trap and set it, with no results.  However, a bigger trap did the trick, and when Mo and I got up on our last morning, we saw the cute little black and white visitor curled up in the back of the trap, watching us with her twinkling eyes.

IMG_4634 Skunks are really cute critters.  Really.  Deb had to go to work, and couldn’t wait around to deal with it.  Oh dear.  Too Bad.  Mo and I said not to worry, we would handle it.  We not only had the pickup, but had the trailer with us for hauling the lawn mower, so figured the skunk could be relocated without much damage.

IMG_4635 Mo threw a blue tarp over her, but she didn’t spray until Mo actually picked up the trap and put it in the far back part of the trailer, covering the tarp with the wheel chocks so the tarp wouldn’t blow away as we drove down the highway.  Critter control had told Deborah that at least 20 miles away was required for release to keep the animals from returning. 

IMG_4636 We settled for about 15 miles, where we found a nice area near the Merlin dump, with no houses around, lots of brush and a ravine with a small stream.  Ms Skunk should have been delighted to jump out of her cage.  Instead she hung back, and when Mo upended the trap, she managed to stick to the back of the cage and refused to come out!  Finally with a bit of pushing and shaking and some more spraying (did you know a skunk can spray straight up?!), she fell out of the trap and ambled off into the brush. 

IMG_4637 Mission accomplished.  I do hope she doesn’t try to find her way home.  So far there has been no activity under the house, but we saved the stinky blue tarp just in case, and will know what to do next time.  Even though Mo didn’t get sprayed directly, we had skunk smell everywhere, especially on her shoes and clothes and in the truck and in the baby car.  That smell is just amazing.  I found out that hydrogen peroxide and baking soda works better than tomato juice, but in the absence of a quart of peroxide around the house, I learned that ammonia works almost as well.

Mo’s shoes are still on the porch here at home airing out, and the truck still smells faintly skunky.  Ah well…at least we didn’t get hit directly and Deb’s cats didn’t get sprayed either. Life can be fun if you let it.

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!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

yellow crowned night herons are not the least bit skittish

02-09-2014 To Manatee Springs

Current Location: Fort DeSoto Campground Tierra Verde, Florida

Weather today: Highs in the mid 60s and Sunny

Yes, once again it is 3am and I am awake.    I saw the huge moon filtering into the campsite and stepped outside into the bright light.  Talk about a dark park!  The moon is the only light around.  Our site here at Fort Desoto is so incredibly long and we are tucked so far back into the jungle-like forest that we didn’t close the blinds or put up any windshield covers last night. But that is another blog post…

map forgotten coastWe entered the Forgotten Coast at the little town of Port St Joe on our way to St Joseph Peninsula.  I have no idea how someone decided the boundaries of these coastal areas of Florida, but I think somewhere between Apalachee Bay and Cedar Key, the coast is no longer forgotten and becomes the Nature Coast.  Who knows.

Nature Coast_001As we approached Tampa yesterday we also saw signs for the Sun Coast, which begins somewhere north of Clearwater and who knows how far south it goes.  yah yah, I know…go look it up.  Sometimes I just want a general idea and don’t want to have to go find all the details….Good thing I have a Verizon signal at the moment, here is someone who already predicted my dilemma and wrote about the Coastal Areas of Florida.

With only a short driving day of 150 miles or so, we took our time leaving St Joseph Peninsula campground.  The kayaking trip the day before had been so delightful, I thought we might like to try some more kayaking on the way to Manatee Springs.  Somehow, however, I didn’t properly estimate the actual driving time and it is a good thing we were not tempted by the short 1/4 mile channel between Indian Pass and St Vincent Island. 

Nature Coast_003I crossed this channel a few years ago in a rented canoe.  Bel and I camped in a cabin at Indian Pass on one of my many visits to Florida and I had nice memories of the wildness of the island preserve and wanted Mo to see it as well.  Once again, however, since the island IS a wildlife preserve, there are no dogs allowed.

Such was not the case on the beach at Indian Pass, however, and we enjoyed walking the beach and campground.  We knew there was a strong current in the channel, but a couple of kayakers seemed to have no trouble getting across and around the tip of the island to the Gulf side where they disappeared from sight.

Indian Pass is a great little funky place, and the Indian Pass Trading Post seems to be doing quite well, at least it looks a lot better than it did when I last passed this place.  Maybe not quite as picturesque, but from what I hear from fellow bloggers there is great craft beer and oysters now.  We didn’t find out, since it was still closed when we visited.

Nature Coast_017Within a few short miles from Indian Pass, we reached the charming coastal town of Apalachicola.  I love saying that name; emphasis on the “lach”. Very nearly the entire town is on the National Historic Register with more than 900 homes and businesses listed.  We didn’t have time to explore much more than the downtown area and the waterfront, but with the brilliant sunshine and warmer temperatures walking around was a nice break.  Oh…yes…we had only driven about 30 miles or so since leaving the campground.  Still a nice break, and a good cappucino and some rather incredible chocolate made a nice addition to our simple breakfast.

Nature Coast_009There were some rather incredible shops to explore, and neither of us could figure out why shops in a tourist town like this one wouldn’t be open on Sunday.  Some were open, but I still managed to get out of town without buying anything but coffee and chocolate.

Nature Coast_022The town was once a major cotton port, at one time one of the most important cotton ports in the United States.  But with the coming of the railroad, the Apalachicola River lost its importance as a shipping channel and the town had to reinvent itself around timber, and then oysters.  The river, like many others, is endangered from development and we saw signs proclaiming, “Save Our River”.  A sad story that seems to be repeated in many places throughout the world.

Nature Coast_021Leaving town, we hugged the coastline with beautiful St George Island visible across the bay to the west.  I have been to St George as well, but it seemed a bit much to drive the 4 miles causeway and back since the day was getting away from us.  Mo will have to see St George the next time I get her to Florida.  A blogger mentioned in a previous comment that the beach at St George is dog friendly.  I had no idea.  When I picked places to stay, I knew that I really wanted to kayak the bay at Cape San Blas, and to stay in Manatee Springs.  I would need another month or two in Florida to take in all the wonderful state parks and beaches and rivers, and by then the no seeums would be out!

Nature Coast_092.NEFWe didn’t arrive at the park until just before closing time, thanking our lucky stars that we had decided to skip the morning kayak.  Somehow the drive took longer than I had estimated, who knows why.  Of course, losing that hour to “real” Eastern time had something to do with it as well.  At St Joseph, there is no way to know what time it really is.  The time lines shift at Port St Joe and are not vertical with the planet. The phone and iPad had a terrible time knowing what time it was, so I finally turned off the auto time feature on both.

I am glad I didn’t need to rely on blogs or reviews to decide on Manatee Springs as a destination worthy of three nights.  I visited the park from Ocala for day trips, and looked longingly at the campgrounds, wishing for more time to camp there.  I love this spring, love this park, love the quiet, simple, rustic feeling of the campground.

Nature Coast_041Our site was in the loop adjacent to the spring trail, with the sites fairly open but roomy enough.  The other loops do have a bit more privacy, with taller trees, but the accessibility to the spring for repeated checking on the manatees was nice.

First entering the campground, however, can be deceiving with the sandy road all lumpy and bumpy.  It looks quite primitive, but the sites are actually level, and with our 30 amp rig, the power was fine.  I did see more big rigs in the other loop so perhaps they have 50 amp there.  As with other Florida State Parks, you have to log in to Reserve America to see the amenities and the campground map.

Nature Coast_044Manatee Springs was the perfect place to do exactly what I wanted.  Maybe kayak a little bit, read a little bit and sit around doing nothing.  Even with three nights and 2 full days, we never really managed the “doing nothing” part.  I imagined kayaking the short but lovely spring run, neglecting to pay attention to the fact that the run would be closed during Manatee season.

Manatee Springs State Park.NEF-023There is a kayak rental concession at the park, and the proprietor will shuttle folks with their own boats for runs on the Suwannee River for $15. per person.  We wanted none of that, however, and found our way to the Usher boat launch, which requires a short drive outside the park south and back toward the river.  I found it interesting that the park personnel was very quick to give us the concession information, but much less forthcoming with launch sites to use on our own.

silky water as we paddle upstream on the Suwannee RiverWe had no trouble finding the launch, and in spite of my previous misgivings, the wide Suwannee River current wasn’t the least bit daunting.  We kayaked upstream for 90 minutes, past the Manatee Springs Run where no watercraft is allowed.  The bald cypress are not yet in leaf, and are covered with Spanish moss.  With the addition of a large population of both black vultures and turkey vultures, that shoreline looked quite spooky.

About a mile upstream past the run, we saw a very big log on the shoreline, and realized that we were looking at a very very big gator.  Let me backtrack a minute…when we left the campground I carefully packed the camera in the Pelican case for the kayak, and carefully left it sitting on the table in the MoHo.  No camera.  I did have the iPhone, however.  Believe me, do NOT depend on an iPhone for a photo of a gator that was more than 10 feet long, at least! Still, I’ll share the photo with you just to prove he was there.

why oh why didn't I bring my camera todayI was fine until that big grandaddy decided to slide into the water toward me.  It wasn’t a slow slide, it was incredibly fast, and thank goodness he really wasn’t coming toward me, but was simply slipping into the water with just his nose and eyes exposed so that he knew he was safe from the pesky kayakers. Still, it did take my breath away a bit.

Continuing upriver, we were treated to a truly big mature bald eagle landing in a big cypress surrounded by a flock of ibis, a few great egrets, and a couple of herons.  Below the big cypress was a log protruding into the water that was lined up with turtles, a bunch of cormorants, and another gator, not as big as the first one this time.  The gator and the turtles and the cormorants were all just sunning themselves within a few feet of each other.  Thinking maybe turtle shells were a bit difficult to digest, I was surprised to read later that gators do indeed eat turtles.  Everyone seemed to be getting along just fine on this sunny day on the river, however.  I have a very fuzzy iPhone photo to prove it.  I won’t bother sharing that one with you.

morning launch on the Suwannee RiverThe glide home was faster than we thought, with the current moving along at a fairly good pace.  The fisherman was still at the launch site when we returned, and he still hadn’t caught anything. 

Of course, Manatee Springs is about the manatees, at least at this time of year, and we were not disappointed.  On our first afternoon we saw three at the entrance to the spring run.  They were just shadows in the murky water where the river meets the run, but it was still nice to see them.

Later the next day, we walked out the boardwalk in time to see another good sized manatee traveling slowly up the spring run toward the spring, but he also was just a large shadow along the far bank.  People get very excited about seeing these big, slow moving, sweet vegetarian animals.  I did notice that most folks spoke in low tones, and when walking the boardwalk, if someone had seen a manatee they usually let everyone know where it was.

vultures waiting for us to fal off the boardwalkOn our last day at the park, however, we were treated to a special moment on the boardwalk.  We thought it might be a bit early to see a manatee, but headed across the park toward the boardwalk.  Several folks were walking but none stopped at one of the overlooks, so we wandered out there just in time to see a big sweet manatee slide right toward us under the crystal clear water.  We watched him quite some time as he swam purposefully toward the spring, coming over to our side of the run to swim right beneath us.

Manatee swimming right below us on the boardwarkThis time I did have the good camera, and the good lens, but the most important thing when photographing something underwater was sorely missing.  I AM going to buy a polarizer for my big lens.  I used to use one all the time when photographing skies in B/W but lately with all the editing tools available it seemed an unnecessary expense.  Not so, and my beautiful manatee photos show more reflections of beautiful water than the beautiful manatee beneath that water.

Manatee Springs State Park.NEF-019I have no idea why “sweet” is the adjective that comes to mind with these animals.  Somehow their slow, gentle movements and sweet looking faces trigger all sorts of anthropomorphizing thoughts. No matter, whether they are actually sweet and loving, or just gentle, slow moving creatures who are not predators of anything but veggies, they have a profound gentling effect when you get around them.  Or at least that is how they affected me.  They aren’t playful like dolphins, or energetic like whales, but they are just slow moving, gentle, “sweet” very big mammals that are very good parents.

this was NOT with the telephoto.  Just a six foot babySome folks around the springs were poo-poohing the few manatees, saying, “Just go to Homosassa Springs, they are all over the place there”.  I haven’t been to Homosassa, and won’t get there on this trip.  My concept is of a place much more commercial than this quiet and lovely first magnitude spring that draws a few manatees at a time on a February day.

With tons of deer, squirrels, armadillos, a baby alligator in the pond called Catfish Hotel near our campsite, and a striking pileated woodpecker having lunch above our picnic table, we were quite content with our time at Manatee Springs.

Manatee Springs State Park