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

September 15 Magical Joseph

Currently in Rocky Point, cloudy breezy and  57 degrees F

from the trail on the Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site For thousands of years, this land has been home to the Nez Perce, “Nimiipuu”.  It is a magical place, tucked away in the remote northwest corner of Oregon, off the beaten track.  For the past several days, I have been writing about the things to see and do, but in the midst of all the natural beauty, the scenic drive, the magnificent mountains, there is more to this place. 

The Nez Perce National Historic Trail begins in this spot, home to Old Chief Joseph, father of the famous Chief Joseph who led his people on a sad but epic journey that ended just 24 miles from the Canadian border, where his band of hungry men, women and children would have found refuge.  Old Joseph refused to sell his native lands, fought and signed a treaty that gave the Nez Perce 8 million acres “forever”.  Later, when gold was found here, the US Government decided that he should sign a new treaty, giving up his ancestral homeland and 7 million of the original 8 million acres.  He refused, and thus began the story that ended with Young Joseph’s famous words, “I will fight no more forever”.

the story of the Nez Perce is everywhere in this valley, their homelandI have traveled through Nez Perce lands ever since I decided back in 1972 that Idaho would be my soul home.  Then again in the 80’s I learned much about the people and their land as I worked the Weippe Prairie, the terraces along the Clearwater River, the Camas Prairie, once ancestral grounds covered with gorgeous blue camas that provided rich nutrition for the people.

There is a special site just south of town called Iwetemlaykin, and no, I can’t pronounce it either.  Just a small parcel of rolling grassland, near the grave of Old Chief Joseph, 62 acres honoring the ‘place by the lake’ where you can walk the trails in silence and contemplate the land that was taken from the tribe.  This land is familiar to me, the Nez Perce story is important to me.  I sat for quite some time in Nez Perce photo exhibit on Main Street in Joseph, looking at historic and present day photos of the people. I have danced and sweated with Nez Perce teachers dear to my heart.  My old Nez Perce hand drum still sits in a place of honor on my shelf. Maybe that is why it feels so good to be in this part of the world.

downtown Joseph on a Saturday morningOr maybe I am just a sucker for fresh air, clean water, gorgeous mountains, and really cute little shops and restaurants.  Yeah, I know, I am a romantic, and Joseph is the perfect place for someone like me.

In addition to the Nez Perce story, however, there is another story from Wallowa County that captured our interest.  We read about the Maxville Heritage Center on our way to Joseph, and spent quite a bit of time looking for it.  Once located in the town of Wallowa, it is now at a new location in Joseph, next to the Art Center on the north side of town.

Northeastern Ore_026Big surprise, the Logger’s Daughter was right there, and met us at the door to share her story and the PBS film that featured her search for the people and history of Maxville.  When the Bowman-Hicks Lumber Company from Missouri founded the logging town, it brought African-American families with logging experience from the south to work and live in Maxville.

At that time, Oregon was almost entirely white, and segregation laws were strict.  In spite of that, the people worked side by side until the town died and disappeared. Gwen was a delight, and her work and the story of Maxville are a great Oregon treasure. 

downtown Joseph on a Saturday morning So many things about Joseph are a surprise.  The beautification projects that began more than a decade ago have created a lovely place to walk and enjoy really nice little shops.  Almost every restaurant has outdoor seating and is dog friendly.  The galleries are gorgeous, and I especially loved the restored bank building that houses the Stewart Jones Designs gallery. There is a chocolate shop with fine artisan chocolate makers, and I tasted a salted caramel right from the melter and had to buy a bunch, at a whopping buck and a quarter each.  Worth every penny.


birthday breakfast view of the Wallowas I had a great birthday breakfast in the Old Town Cafe, enjoying every tasty morsel and the view of the mountains was gorgeous, even under cloudy skies.  We visited the gallery housing more of the magnificent bronze sculptures that decorate every corner, with prices ranging from a mere $3,000 to more that $50,000.  Who buys this stuff anyway?!  The owner said that people come from all over the world to buy bronze in Joseph.  In fact, the bronze medallions that decorate the World War II monument in Washington DC came from Valley Bronze in Joseph, Oregon.

Wallowa Lake_038 The day before, on Saturday, we spent some time at the wonderful farmer’s market, small but still filled with fresh, organic food and local honey and jams.  Perfect greens, heirloom tomatoes, fresh flowers, easter egg radishes, tiny little squashes, it was all there to tempt me into filling the small RV fridge to overflowing.

downtown Joseph on a Saturday morningThe town itself would be delightful even without the magical setting of the Wallowas and the Zumwalt Prairie to the northeast, the clear Wallowa Lake to the south.  I kept looking around wondering why we couldn’t manage somehow to do for Klamath Falls and our lovely old downtown what progressive folks have managed to do for tiny Joseph.  I spent a lot of time talking to the shopkeepers about this, asking what was their magical formula.

Sadly, some told me it was their ability to run a business that didn’t have to make a profit that made it work.  Most of them had supplemental income and lived and ran a business in Joseph specifically because it was worth it to them to live in such a magical place.  The most repeated phrase was, “Everyone here is here because Joseph called to them”.  Not many of the shopkeepers were historically local, with the surrounding area populated with ranchers who didn’t actually shop much in town, according to one woman I spoke with.  9-14-2013 Joseph

Still, whatever they have done, we get to reap the benefits of a sweet little place to rest, relax, eat great food, see beautiful art and sculpture, drink in the skies and the views and the history, and leave refreshed and restored in so many ways.

Then again, there is always the story of OR7, or Journey, as he was named by the schoolkids of Oregon. 

OR7 OR7 was part of the famous Imnaha wolf pack and was for a time the only wolf in the state of California as he journeyed far from home trying to find a mate.  OR7 spent some time in the Wood River Valley, in the Cascades near our home, and one dark night, out in the hot tub, Mo and I heard him howl.  Last I read, Journey is somewhere nearby in Western Klamath County or Jackson County.  Like me, he left his homeland, wandered thousands of miles, and ended up back in Oregon.  Gotta love that wolf.