Ocala National Forest – Salt Springs Recreation Area

We were fortunate to get a site at Salt Springs Recreation Area for 4 nights. 

This is the only campground in Ocala National Forest that has hookups.  There are 12 campgrounds in total.  The others are all primitive campsites. 

The Gems of the Ocala

Ocala is known for it’s four freshwater springs, Alexander Springs, Juniper Springs, Silver Glen Springs and Salt Springs.  These are called the gems of the Ocala.  The springs formed millions of years ago when a shallow sea that once covered much of Florida formed layers of limestone from compressed coral reefs and shells.  The water is a constant 72 degrees year-round and the springs pour water from the aquifer daily.  At the springs, activities such as swimming, boating, fishing and snorkeling are permitted. 

Our campground at Salt Springs was nice but there was not much vegetation between sites like we had elsewhere. 

Instead of the camp sites backing up to one another, there was a large grassy open area where kids or adults could run and play. There were some trees and the roadways were nice for biking.  There were about 102 RV sites and about 50 primitive tent sites. 

Salt Springs

Salt Springs was a very beautiful area with waters that ranged from aqua to turquoise to green!  Salt Springs has numerous vertical fissures where the water comes up from the aquifer.  There were lots of fish, turtles and even crabs. 

The area is walled off on three sides to create a nice swimming area. 

We saw lots of people swimming and snorkeling.  There were families playing in the water and the water was pretty warm. 

We had purchased some rafts, so we could relax on the water.  It was fun to relax and flow down the stream.  If we got into the shade, it got chilly and Linda got off her raft and pulled us back up to the sun.

There was a nice marina at Salt Springs that you had to go out of the campground to get to.

This is another view of the marina.

There is also a nice 2 mile trail that goes out to a pavilion.  We hiked down a bit of it with Heidi.

The kayak trip from hell!

We decided to go to Juniper Springs and do the kayak trip down the Juniper Creek.  It is a 7 mile, approximately 4-5 hour trip down an extremely narrow creek.  We talked to the concessionaire and told her we wanted something with backs on the seat and she recommended a two person kayak, which we rented.  We had to watch a safety/rules video and then go to an actual talk.  The woman who gave the talk sounded like a Drill Sargent and kept saying, “you will not do this, you will not do that or else”!!!  

When all of that was done, we went to get our kayak and it didn’t have backs on the seats!

We talked to the personnel and they said we could get individual kayaks.  She walked back up to the rental store with us, but all the kayaks had been rented out even though they were still there.  People were getting their indoctrination to the rules!  So, the only thing they could offer us was a canoe.  We decided to go for it and rented the canoe with a guarantee they would refund the difference in price when we returned.  By then it was nearly close to 11am, which was the last trip of the day in order to get back to the take out point for the last shuttle.

We’re trying to follow the rules!

We went to the car to get our snacks and drinks.  There are no disposable containers allowed on the creek which is a wilderness area.  They told us we were allowed 2 ziploc bags for our phones or cameras.  Using only one bag for a phone, we packed cheese, an apple, crackers and fig bars  in the other ziploc bag.  For a water source, we used a water hydration pack.

We got to our canoe and found out we had to haul the thing about ¼ mile down a boardwalk path to get to the start of the trip.

They had portage wheels, but the canoe was a big, heavy 16 foot steel canoe and it was heavy!  When we got it up on the portage wheels, it slid off!!  We finally managed to get it going and started down the path.  The path was not straight and we kept fighting the canoe trying to keep it on the dolly and going the correct direction.  Linda got bumped off the path and had to jump into the marsh about 1.5 feet below her in order to not get banged up!  We were sure glad there wasn’t a gator or snake right there!  Finally, we made it to the starting point and were surprised at how narrow the creek was.  It was about 4 feet wide and the water level was very low! 

Another Drill Sargent enforces the rules!

There was a lady there to check our bags to verify we didn’t have any disposable items.  We took out our ziploc bag of crackers and she just started saying, “Nope, Nope, Nope”.  We explained that we used only one ziploc for our phone – that didn’t matter. Ziplocs bags cannot be used for food!  She said we could go back to the store to buy a plastic container to put them in for about $2.00.  We told her our money was in the car and we were fed up with all the issues renting the kayak and ending up with a canoe.  Feeling exasperated, we just dumped our crackers, cheese, fig bars loosely in the ditty bag and left the ziploc bag on the bench, where we noticed lots of other items left by people that we believe were confused by the rules as well.  It didn’t seem to bother her that we were greatly frustrated; she took no pity on us!   As a matter of fact, she seemed to like being The Enforcer!   

With a twinkle in her eye, she told us we had to take the wheels back to the starting point.  Yes… all the way back to the starting point!  Kathy took them back but kept running into people coming the other way.  Finally, one of the workers saw her struggling and offered to take it back for her. 

And we’re off….and it’s almost time for lunch!

We finally got started on our trip after about 1.5 hours of messing around.  It wasn’t long when we started off, that we realized it had been a L-O-N-G time since we had canoed!  We had lots and lots of problems trying to navigate in the very narrow, very windy stream.

When we would get the bow pointed in the right direction the stern would crash into some trees.  We saw people ahead of us having just as many problems!

It was extremely frustrating.  We did start getting the groove after a bit, but there were numerous obstacles and low hanging branches that we constantly had to maneuver around. 

We did see some nice scenery, a few turtles and a small alligator sunning. 

Linda was definitely not having fun and even said, “You couldn’t pay me to go on this trip again!” 

It was a long day!

We finally got to the take out point and just made the shuttle.  We had to haul that heavy canoe out of the water, up a ramp and thankfully, some guys helped load it on the trailer.  When we got back to the rental station, we had to unload the canoe and check everything in.  They refunded our money.  We had been lamenting that it might be a problem.  It was an exhausting adventure!

Juniper Springs

We did stop and take a picture of Juniper Springs after our canoe trip.  This is one of the oldest and best known national forest recreation areas in the southeast.  The springs were definitely beautiful and there were people enjoying them. 

We drove through the campground as well and it was really nice.  It had heavy vegetation and reminded us of Tomoka State Park’s campsite.

Silver Glen Springs

We drove around one day and visited some of the other areas.  Silver Glen Springs was not too far and it connected to Lake George, the second largest lake in Florida.  Silver Glen Springs was a first order magnitude spring and had crystal clear blue green water. 

It was a bit of a dreary day when we visited and we were the only ones there. 

Silver Springs State Park

Our friend Lee suggested that we visit Silver Springs State Park while we were in the area. 

We love to pour over the maps together and point out places that we found interesting.  The springs were beautiful.

There were boat tours available, as well as a gift shop, ice cream store and cafeteria.

We stopped by Silver Springs and took a long walk around the park. 

One of the unique things about this park is the colony of Rhesus monkeys that live there.  The park used to be an old Florida attraction before becoming a state park and the monkeys escaped and have made themselves at home.  We did not see any monkeys though. 

There were a couple of large gators sunning themselves along the cement at the edge of the springs! 

On our drive we stopped by and checked out a couple of the primitive camping areas.  They were less than half full and there were a couple of nice ones.  This site is at Fore Lake Campground.

This pond at the edge of the Hopkins Prairie Campgrounds was filled with lily pads.  

There obviously was an active bat colony here due to the two large bat houses.

 

We really enjoyed our time at Salt Springs Recreation Area and we definitely would come back again.  If you ever happen to be in the  area, be sure to check it out!  

 

 

 

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Hanging Out with Our PA Friends in FL

We have had a great time exploring Florida, but we have also enjoyed spending time with friends.  Our friends Lida and Gordon from Erie, PA have a beautiful house in Kissimmee, Fl.  Gordon invited us to come for a visit when we were in the area and we graciously accepted.  Unfortunately, Lida was a way visiting family, but we learned that Gordon’s brother Lee was coming down for a visit.  What fun to be able to hang out with both of them!  We see these fun folks during the summer months in beautiful Presque Isle State Park, flying kites, paddling on Lake Erie and just having a grand ole time!  So it’s kinda cool to visit our PA friends in Florida!

Hanging out with friends at beautiful Presque Isle State Park

Gordon planned some fun activities – he’s really a great tour guide!

We spent an evening a Disney Springs which is located at Walt Disney World Resort.  It’s a huge outdoor complex that offers dining, shopping and listening to some great entertainment.  There is no charge to enter the complex and the parking was also free. We have never seen such a high-tech parking garage. As you drive along the rows, there are red and green lights in front of the parking spots.  When you see a green light, the parking space is available.   It wasn’t exactly full-proof, because a few times we drove to the spot only to find a car had just pulled in.  It was fun racing towards the green lights until we finally found a spot!

A Pleasant Evening at Disney Springs

There were no crowds because we went on a Tuesday night.  We saw some one-of-a-kind restaurants like the Rain Forest Café.  This restaurant had a volcano on it that went off periodically. It was loud and fiery!

Volcano erupts at the Rainforest Cafe

It was a pleasant evening to be walking around.  We saw a few things we thought our grand kids would be interested in – a Lego store. One of our grandsons really loved Buzz Lightyear.  Here is Buzz totally made out of Legos.  Woody was there as well.

Buzz Lightyear

The Lego store is huge and has a Pick A Brick Section where there lots of bubbles of bricks, each with different colors.

Here is Kathy with a Lego light saber!

We had a nice evening and rode a paddle boat across the lake.

And  sat and relaxed with a brew or two and watched some live entertainment.  This guy could play the guitar like never seen before,  His name is Mark Nichols.  Take a moment and watch him play the guitar.  He’ll blow you away!

A Beautiful day in Celebration

One of our favorite activities was an awesome bike ride in the charming town of Celebration.  Isn’t that great name for a town?

We rode our bikes on an elaborate boardwalk systems that took us across marshland, meandered through pine forests and along grasslands where we saw alligators soaking up the sun.

Sometimes we left the boardwalks to ride through attractive neighborhoods with wrap-around porches and immaculate lawns.

The boardwalk connects to some lovely neighborhoods.

 

The weather was gorgeous and their was absolutely no traffic in this adorable little town.  We took time to “stop and smell (and photograph) the roses”.

Lee – up close and personal

It was a perfect 7 mile bike ride that will be remembered for a long time!

Lee and Gordon

 A Trip to Old Town

On another evening when Lee was there, the four of us spent an evening in Old Town in Kissimmee.  Old town is an amusement park and outdoor shopping mall.  We did some window shopping and walked through some unique stores.  We had dinner at an old fashioned A&W restaurant.

One of the fascinating amusements was watching people gliding from a structure three hundred feet in the air.  This ride was called the Sky Coaster, which is the world’s tallest coaster.  Gordon tried to bribe us to take the plunge!  Of course we declined!

At the end of the evening we decided to take a ride on an elaborate Ferris wheel.  It was sure pretty looking down at all the colorful lights in the park.

Four amigos having fun!

There was some down time too.  Kathy helped Gordon clean some spider webs over the pool.

Heidi laid out in the grass and supervised.

She was worn out from the excitement of chasing an armadillo up the street!

This was the first armadillo we saw this trip.

Yes, we sure had a lot of fun hanging out with Gordon and Lee!  Thanks for the invite!

 

 

 

 

 

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Tomoka State Park

We headed north from Savanna’s Recreation area to spend four days at Tomoka State Park located just north of Ormond Beach on the Atlantic.  This park is noted for its live oak hammock with arching limbs covered in beautiful Spanish moss.  The Tomoka and Halifax Rivers meet at the north end of the park to form a natural peninsula.  The Halifax River is the Intercoastal Waterway.  There are 2000 acres in the park with 12 miles of shoreline.

The campground has 100 sites and we got a very nice site by luck of the draw.  The third time we checked for reservations we took the only site available for the four nights that was open.  When we checked in the ranger told us it was a great site and they had had to kick the occupant out of our site because he didn’t want to leave!

When we made the reservations, the reservation system warned that Daytona Bike Week was approaching and that there may be a lot of motorcycles at the park.  We did see tons of Harley’s and there were lots of interesting camping units.

Most of the cyclists had dining or e-z up tarps over their motorcycles.  The campground was pretty quiet though and we had no problems.

The park was known for good fishing and had two fishing piers.

This gentleman was fishing and was catching a lot – of crabs!  He would pull them in and take a picture.  He told us he performed CPR on the fish when we asked if he kept them.  Catch, Photograph and Release!  He pulled up quite a few crabs while we were there.

There is a general store called the Tomoka Outpost that sold camp items, had a brew pub and rented canoes and kayaks.

This was a nice place to sit out and have a snack or enjoy a brew while the sun went down.

Near the outpost we saw all of these bags of oyster shells.  We weren’t sure what they are used for and never got a chance to ask anyone about it.

We wanted to rent kayaks but both days we went to the store the winds were up and we were discouraged by the park staff so we didn’t get out.

All those kayaks just waiting for us!

We explored the area by going on a 39 mile scenic drive.

We stopped at Bulow Creek State Park to see the famous Fairchild Oak Tree.  The park protects the largest remaining stands of southern live oak forest along Florida’s east coast.  The Fairchild Oak is one of the largest live oak trees in the south and it is over 400 years old!

You can get an idea of the size of this tree that has withstood the test of times during hurricanes, droughts, fires and wars.

We also toured Merritt Island and drove the Black Point Wildlife Drive.  It is a 7 mile one way drive that follows a dike road around shallow marsh impoundments and through pine flatwoods.  It is a great place to see birds and alligators.

We saw numerous alligators – this guy was the biggest.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service control the water level in the various dikes to control the mosquito population and to provide specific habitat areas for various species.  There are control valves and water channels at each dike.

We also toured Canaveral National Seashore.  It is totally uninhabited with the exception of the Visitor Center.  There are northern and southern sections which have to be accessed from different parts of the mainland.

We toured up and down the coast from Flagler Beach to Merritt Island.

The town of New Smyrna Beach had driving on the beach but due to the high swells beach access had been closed most of the winter.

We toured around Flagler Beach and visited a kite shop and got an ice cream cone.

The next stop was Titusville and we visited a kite shop there called the Kite Stop.  We talked with John the owner and had a nice visit.

If you’re in the area, make sure you stop at Dixie Crossroads!

Then we went to a great restaurant called Dixie Crossroads and had red and rock shrimp for lunch.  Linda had been there years ago when she was working at Cape Canaveral AFB.  We had a great lunch.  Dixie Crossroads is famous for their corn fritters and they were yummy.  We were so excited about eating them that we forgot to take a picture of our main dishes!

We enjoyed it so much and had a wonderful time at Tomoka State Park.  This is definitely a park we would come back to!

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Exploring the Atlantic Side – Ft. Pierce, FL

Camping at Savanna’s Recreation Area

Our time in Ft. Myers went by fast.  On March 1st we drove across the state of Florida to spend some time exploring the Atlantic coast.  From the blogs we read we heard that Savanna’s Recreation Area was a nice campground, so we made reservations .  Luckily some space opened up and we were able to book 4 nights.  The park is a St. Lucie county parks and recreation area campground and it sure measured up to the reviews.  The campground protected 550 acres and 5 different biological communities.  The area is great for fishing, bird watching, kayaking and enjoying the outdoors.  Wildlife in the area includes sand hill cranes, great blue herons, hawks, ospreys, gopher tortoises, alligators, bobcats and river otters. 

This is a really nice place!

The campground was nice, and we had a site that backed up to a golf course.   There are only 60 sites, but this campground feels really large and spaced out due to several different camping areas along the river and the vast savannas.

See the Sandhill crane at the very rear of our site!

We were privileged to see sand hill cranes at our site several times and quite often in the early morn, we were surprised to see one or two a few feet from our door.  The campsites were spaced fairly well and they all had full hookups. 

Heidi really enjoyed this campground and we went to the dog park every day during her walk.  Of course she didn’t partake in the obstacles.

We took advantage of the bike/hike trail and rode our bikes to the end of the trail a few times. 

The beginning of the bike and walking trail

This trail was cement the entire way and ended about 1.5 miles up at a railroad trestle.  We were on our way back from our first bike ride when we ran into a lady who warned us about a momma alligator that was at the end of the path.  She said the path had been closed until a couple of days ago because the momma was aggressive.  We had been standing at the end of the path taking pictures!  We only saw the tracks where she had come up from the water onto the end of the path.  Here are our bikes standing there while we are taking pictures:

The area was very beautiful, so we captured a few shots.

Palm trees looked over the river that ran through the park.

 

The Savannahs are situated on the east side of the park where one can watch a lovely sunrise.

 

Throughout the park is a variety of terrain that is both unique and eerie.

This campground had a lot of nice open areas and we always try to keep in mind places that we could fly our kites.  There were several fields like this one:

Wide open grassy fields like this one, make it an ideal place to fly.

There were lots of little trails to explore that went throughout the park.  

Rustic paths made the walk quite pleasant!

There are picnic and recreation areas for day use where campers would meet and talk.

The pavilions offered a shelter where people could meet and talk.

Also, along the river there were individual shelters with a picnic table for people to enjoy and watch for alligators.

Split rail fences add to the beauty of this place.

 

And the Atlantic Ocean was pretty close!  

There were two islands – North Hutchinson Island and South Hutchinson Island that had lots of beaches and free parking.  We explored both islands and numerous beaches.  There was even access for horseback riding at Frederick Douglas beach on the south island.  We visited the dog beach—Walton Rocks and watched people playing with their dogs.  We found a nice place to fly our kites and flew a few times.

Linda had to use her full vent on this windy day!

 

The beaches were pretty wide and open.

 

Few people with lots of space for relaxing!

 

In the distance, you can see the high-rise motels in Fort Pierce in this picture.

At the main pier in Fort Pierce, there was lots of activity going on including fishing, relaxing, walking on the pier.

Ft. Pierce pier

It was pretty windy a couple of days while we were in the area and we got to enjoy watching some kite boarders having fun in the wind.  Some of them were doing jumps and flips!

Look out kite boarder! You might get run over by that tug boat!

What an awesome museum!

We spent one morning visiting the National Navy Seal Museum.  The museum was opened in 1985 and has become a museum of national stature.  This museum is on the training site of the original Navy Frogmen before the SEALs existed. 

There is an extensive collection of watercraft, helicopters and displays from each of the wars that the United States has been involved in.

You can sit inside this Blackhawk and watch real war action footage.

There is a Navy SEAL obstacle course on site.  It looks pretty grueling.

We had a little fun and tried a couple of obstacles.  Linda kept saying, “Hurry up – get that picture!”

We didn’t know that dogs have played a real part of the SEALs mission.  There was a nice display on Barry, the first SEAL dog. 

It’s a privilege to sit next to Barry!

We don’t visit a lot of museums, but this one was well worth the time.  It was very informative and well done.  We recommend a visit if you are nearby!

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Day Trips to Great Places

Matlacha, FL

We visited the little artsy town of Matlacha, FL one day.  This town is full of eclectic art studios, shops and seafood restaurants.  There are lots of places to browse and be amused by the items on display or for sale. 

Colorful artist studio in Matchlacha

There was a trailer that had been painted by an artist that had her work on display at one of the galleries we went to visit.  There is no way to be incognito with this beauty:

Picture yourself in this little camper down at the keys drinking a luscious margarita!

We enjoy watching the various tv shows on tiny houses and were surprised to see that Matlacha had a tiny house village and the units were available for rent!  We thought that was pretty neat.  We’ve been living in our tiny house all winter!

Pine Island, FL

We drove out to Pine Island and explored the entire island.  It has a lot of landscaping businesses with palm trees being grown and for sale.  It also has a country club and golf course.  At one end of the island, in the town of Pineland there is a beautiful little area that looks out to Cabbage Patch Key Island.  You can charter a boat ride out to the island.  This is supposedly where Jimmy Buffett wrote some of his songs though there is some debate about that. 

This is a picture of Captain Cons fish house that is at the end of the island in Pineland.  We talked with a gentleman who said the food is really good.  It is the place to go to get something to eat or to book a boat tour. 

There is a nice pier that had public access for fishing and viewing.

There were lots of little fish swimming around in the water.  When we were at Sanibel Island pier before, we saw people using nets to catch these little fish to use as bait.

At the other end of Pine Island there is a lot of small bed and breakfast locations, as well as a couple of restaurants.  We got a kick out of this one:

Have a beer or two at the Ragged Ass Saloon!

Behind the buildings there is an extensive canal system for home owners to access the water.

Perhaps these are one of Jimmy Buffett’s coconut telegraphs that came over from Cabbage Patch Key:

We saw this beauty for sale on Pine Island:

This bus fits right in with the laid-back Florida lifestyle!

Check out the interior – whew!

Pine Island is a neat little place to explore for part of a day.  It is fairly close to our campground in North Fort Myers and the little town of Matlacha was unique and fun to see.

 Gasparilla Island State Park

We took another day trip and visited Gasparilla Island State Park.  This is a state park with beach access to the Gulf of Mexico.  There are 5 beach access locations and two lighthouses in the park.  It is a day use park only – there is no campground.  The island sits between Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico.  Gasparilla Island is part of a chain of barrier islands on the west coast of Florida.  The charming town of Boca Grande is prior to the entrance of the park at the end of the island.  It was built with wide streets and a center square with neatly landscaped houses that made it feel like a park.  It is a charming, low key place. 

The Boca Grande Lighthouse sits all the way out at the end of the island.  It is a large lighthouse with a gift shop and museum in the bottom lever.  This lighthouse is not open for viewing.

 

The water at the beach on Gasparilla Island was a beautiful shade of blue.  We did swim in the Gulf of Mexico.  We can’t say that we jumped in the water with as much enthusiasm as this person was doing, but we did enjoy the warm water.

The beautiful aqua blue gulf and the deep blue sky above the horizon!

The Range Lighthouse is the second lighthouse in the park.   It is open a few days a week, but unfortunately, we were not there on one of the open days.

We stopped at the beach near Boca Grande and took this picture of a hotel’s lounging area with access to the beach.

It was such a relaxing day at Gasparilla Island State Park.  We dabbed our toes in the sand, took a long walk on the beach, swam in the Gulf and relaxed. 

Relaxing in the Sun

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A Day at Myakka River State Park

Where River and Prairie Meet the SKY!!

While in Ft. Myers, we visited Myakka River State Park twice.  The first time we just drove through for a quick visit and decided this place deserved it’s own day!  The park had lots of activities available and the landscape was different from much of what we had seen thus far in Florida.

The park had both the Myakka River and a large lake, the Upper Myakka Lake.  There was lots of open prairie land for some vast views. There are large expanses of rare Florida dry prairie here.  

The Myakka River flows through 58 acres of wetlands, prairies, hammocks and pine lands.  There was a 7-mile scenic drive which we did on our bicycles.  On our bike ride we saw this snapping turtle crossing the road.

 

There are 39 miles of hiking trails in the park and several dirt roads that provide access to more remote areas.

The vegetation on the forest floor is lush and green.  At times we felt like we were walking through a jungle.

As we walked through the dense forest, we came to a grassy opening overlooking the Myakka River.

Lots of Geocaching!

We talked with 3 gentlemen that were out geocaching.  They told us that there were over 500 caches in this park alone.  The cache they were looking for was out on one of the observation platforms at the end of a boardwalk.  After a bit of a hunt, the microcache was found hanging on a chain over the edge of the platform!

Take a wildlife tour on an airboat

 There is an air boat tour on the lake.  We watched people load up and go out on the Upper Myakka Lake.  The boat was really loud!  It is one of the two largest air boats in the world! 

 

The boat tour starts at the Myakka Outpost, where you will find a restaurant named the Pink Gator Café.  Yes, they serve ‘gator’.  We didn’t eat there, but it was quite busy.  You can also rent canoes and bicycles at the Outpost.

There’s camping too

There are 90 campsites that consist of three separate loops that a placed around the lake.  Each loop has a bathhouse.  We drove through the campgrounds and found them to be quite nice.  We would like to camp there someday.  The hosts told us it stays filled up constantly from November to March with snowbirders! 

There are lots of birding activities and this area is a favorite stop for birders.  We saw sand hill cranes, an eagle, herons and anhingas.  The park is also known for it’s abundant alligator population and alligator viewing is high on the list of things to do here.

There is a small bridge over the Myakka River and both times we were there, we saw alligators lounging along the shore line as well as in the water!  The picture above was taken from the bridge.  They are fierce and ugly looking creatures.

The alligator above we saw while we were hiking along the Myakka Lake.  He wasn’t too far from us and some other people.  He seemed to be keeping a close eye on everyone.

A Walkway through the treetops!

One hike we took was to the Myakka’s Canopy Walkway.   There are only about 14 canopy walkways in the world according to the information sign and though this was a short walk, it was fun.  

This walkway requires a climb up the stairs, then a traverse across a swinging bridge.  The swinging bridge is 25 feet above the ground.

You can then finish the climb up a 74 foot high tower for an impressive view of the canopy including wetlands, forest and prairie.  This is what is looks like looking down the tower.

Now matter which way you look, there is an awesome view of the wetlands, forest and prairie.  Below is a panoramic shot.

We really enjoyed our day visit to Myakka River State Park.  We have this park on our list of places we would like to camp at the next time we decide to snowbird in Florida!  Check it out if you get the opportunity!

 

 

 

 

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February Continues in North Ft. Myers, FL

We wanted to share some more experiences we had while we were staying in North Fort Myers. We visited the power plant park in Lee County to view more manatees. This is a place where manatees congregate when the ocean is cold. We had been told that if you get there at the right time, the manatees are almost back to back in the canal.

Although we got to the power plant shortly after we arrived in Fort Myers, it had been warming up so we only saw a couple of manatees at the park. We did enjoy talking with a very knowledgeable volunteer about the manatees and learning some more about them.

There is a famous Florida attraction called The Shell Factory that we visited a couple of times. It was about a mile from our camp. It’s claim to fame is that it is the biggest gift shop in the world. They host special events quite frequently, such as biker night, school events, dog water jumping events and other specialty events. We went to see the Budweiser Clydesdales full hitch show one afternoon. The team arrived in three semi-trailers! We watched the eight horses as they got their harnesses and tack put on. Then they were walked up to the wagon and attached in their position in the team.

The driver and the Dalmatian dog Barley showed up when the horses were all hitched.

The two lead horses were named Ivan and Master! It was fun to watch them get hitched up and start down the trail.

Hey guys, smile for the picture!

The team is based out of New Hampshire but is on the road most of the time. The trailers the horses ride in are not air conditioned which surprised us. The attendant said that the trailers are heavily insulated and that the horses have fans. He said if they got to comfortable, being workhorses, they would not want to work if they got used to the air conditioning.

We enjoyed driving around the area and exploring some small towns. This picture is of the town of Punta Gorda in Charlotte County. It was especially colorful and we enjoyed walking through the shopping area.

We have also seen numerous harbors and find them peaceful and enjoyable to look at. It is fun to sit and watch the boats, sailors and fishermen and birds at these locations. This is a harbor shot from Parrot Key.

We will close with a couple of pictures of wildlife that we got to enjoy. Thanks for reading!

 

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Having Fun in Ft. Meyers

We have spent the entire month of February in an RV park in North Fort Myers. The weather has been very nice – it has been in the mid to upper 80s almost everyday. It has almost been too hot a couple of days! 

This is a picture of our site.  It is spacious for our small rig and we get the much needed afternoon shade.

We have been enjoying exploring the area as well as using some of the amenities of the park.  We took lessons at the RV resort on how to play shuffleboard. 

Learning to play has been a lot of fun and we practiced quite a bit. We actually entered a tournament for beginners and won one game and lost two, and thus were out of the competition.

 

We have been able to go bike riding a couple times a week. Sometimes we go with a group from the RV resort and sometimes we go by ourselves. We take our bikes to the head of the bike trail and then go for a ride. Our first ride was with a group on the Cape Haze Trail. The ride is on a rails-to-trails path and follows a creek in a wood like setting

We rode about 14 miles. We had some interesting wildlife sightings while on the ride. We were having lunch on a bench when a man rode by and said you better watch out…the raccoons are trying to steal your sandwich. We thought he was joking but when we started our ride back up after lunch so we saw five baby raccoons along the edge of the trail.

They were walking along the edge of the trail and it seemed like they wanted to get to the other side but there was a tall fence there and they couldn’t cross over so they kept going back and forth.

On another ride we rode along Webb Lake which is part of Babcock Webb Wildlife Management Area fairly close to our campground. We rode with a group and went about 10 miles. As we rode along the lake we saw many interesting birds.

We also took a nice kayak trip on this lake on another day. We were surprised we could get two kayaks in our little car. We were able to borrow them from some people at the campground.

It was a little intimidating when we passed by alligators along the shore and even some came out in the water as we paddled by!

 It was a fun trip and the weather was perfect.

One of the nice things about this resort is that it is close to Linda’s family.  We were able to spend some time with Linda’s dad and his wife Laquita.  On this day they took us on a dolphin trip.

Of course, we saw lots of dolphins!  They’re a lot of fun to watch.

We have been enjoying the Gulf of Mexico and have gone swimming in it. We have been to Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island, and a beach up near Venice. 

Sanibel is a lovely place.  We rode our bikes to this beach and saw the lighthouse.

We watched people as they fished from the pier.

Sun and Fun and Good Eating!

When we were at Fort Myers Beach we saw a pod of dolphins swimming in circles catching fish. We even saw one jump up out of the water with a fish in his mouth. It was pretty exciting!  We have enjoyed walking on the beach, finding shells and of course flying our kites.

The Carousel Inn has a wide beach and is great for flying.  After a day at the beach we found a cute restaurant and dined by the water.

It was Margarita Day, so of course we had to indulge!

 We enjoyed some delicious seafood at the Parrot Key Caribbean Grill.

 

From our table we could watch the pelicans and herons at the marina waiting for the fisherman to bring in their catch with the hope of getting a bite or two.

Heidi is having fun too!

We take Heidi for walks some mornings at a wildlife preserve just outside the entrance of the RV Resort Park. She seems to like going over there quite a bit there are all sorts of different smells. We took her to get her haircut since she was getting a little bit shaggy. When we picked her up this is what we saw:

No this isn’t a trick photo.  There’s another little doggie waiting for it’s owner.  Both of them were looking out the window.  This grooming facility does not put the dogs in cages, they just let them all walk around providing they are dog friendly.

That’s all for now!

 

 

 

 

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Exploring Florida State Parks and Attractions

Paddling on the Crystal River

One of the things we wanted to do in Florida was see the manatees up close and personal.  We decided on a kayak trip to Crystal River Springs to view the manatees. It was a chilly morning and we rented kayaks and headed out from Hunter Springs Park. Upon starting out, there were a large number of manatees in a mating pod in the protected springs area. There were people on the shore watching. We were given a map and some directions on how to paddle to the Crystal River Springs, which was about a 20 minute paddle from Hunter Springs.

Boats, People and Manatees, Oh My!

We paddled into the King’s Bay area and then up the river to Three Sister’s Springs refuge, which is a protected area and was full of manatees. Along the river is a boardwalk and people were viewing from the shore as well. What most surprised us was the number of people “swimming” with the manatees.

There were several tour boats that had brought numerous people to swim with the manatees. They were all decked out in wet suits and had pool noodles to keep their feet floating.

There were so many swimmers, it was hard to maneuver our kayaks! There was only one other kayak that we saw. We were always told that it was illegal to touch the manatees and Kathy resisted touching a baby manatee that came right up to her kayak, stuck out it’s head and greeted her.

All around us the swimmers were caressing and touching the manatees.

The manatees were curious and seemed to enjoy the human interactions as well.

The boat operators were observing and at times pointing out the manatee’s whereabouts.

Later we read the literature and it was carefully worded “do not touch a resting manatee or initiate contact” and I guess that’s how they get around allowing the tourist to have up-close encounters. We enjoyed the experience of seeing the manatees swim around and bumping our kayaks. However, Kathy said watching the people touch the manatees was like watching someone eating ice cream on a hot summer day! We were envious but didn’t really want to participate in such a crowded event.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

This park is an educational park that provides viewing of native Florida wildlife in a very well cared for natural setting. There is also a first-magnitude freshwater spring where the temperature is 72 degrees and there are manatees in the colder season.

This park also rehabilitates manatees and we went to a program and learned a lot about them and got to see the feeding of the manatees that were there for rehab.

There were numerous areas with wildlife ranging from bears, black panther, red wolves, eagles, lots of Florida birds, alligators and river otters.

Most of the birds and animals living here cannot survive in the wild.

The park provides these animals with a habitat and diet that is as natural as possible.

There is only one animal that is not a Florida native at the park. That is Lu the hippopotamus. Lu has been at the park since 1964. He was a television and movie star and wintered at the park when it was in private ownership. In 1989 when the state got involved and transitioned the park to Florida native animals, public outcry for the support of Lu, led the state to grant him special Florida citizenship in 1981. Lu recently turned 58 and is the oldest hippo in captivity.

Weeki Wachee Spring State Park

The mermaids at this park are one of the main attractions and have been performing since 1947.  This park is one of Florida’s oldest roadside attractions. The mermaids swim in a first magnitude spring that has a 400 seat submerged theater for watching the show. The mermaids swim in formations and patterns and use an air hose to get air as they need it. They even demonstrated eating an apple underwater! There are auditions to become a mermaid and the training takes almost a year!

We took a riverboat cruise down the Weeki Wachee River and it was unbelievably clear. We could see fish and we saw an anhinga swimming under the water going after a fish. The river was beautiful. We attended a nature talk about snakes and alligators. This alligator is about 3 years old!

All through the park there was paved sidewalks and trails that were attractively landscaped with natural habitat. As we took a stroll we came upon a flock of peacocks. This pretty guy was as curious about us a we were with him and came out onto the sidewalk to greet us.

It was as if he was saying “Take my picture”!

We have enjoyed seeing Florida and will continue to share our experiences with you.  Thanks for reading!

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T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

Camping in the Panhandle

The next week of camping with Carol and Ann was spent at T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Florida on the Gulf of Mexico across from the town of Port St. Joe.

The park is a 9.5-mile-long peninsula with white sand beaches with crystal clear aqua blue waters.

The beach at this park was rated as one of the best in the nation and the state park itself is rated as one of the best in the US.

We had learned about this state park from one of the RV travel bloggers that we regularly read, and it sounded like a place we wanted to go!

The park had a few nice boardwalks that were ADA accessible. One of the boardwalks was a half mile long and meandered through the flatwood pines and shrubs to the other loop in the campground.

There was also boardwalk access to the beach from both campground loops. Along the way you could sit on one of the benches to view the wildlife and birds.

A Hike on the Beach

There were several hiking and biking trails throughout the park. One of the trails that we really liked swept through large sand dunes of pines and shrubs and ended at a beautiful, desolate white sand beach.

If you like having the entire beach to yourself, then St. Josephs may be the place for you – of course we were visiting during the winter months – it may be totally different in the summer.

We sat for a long while to enjoy the peace and solitude.

We enjoyed flying our kites at this spot and found it worth the quarter mile hike to it. This beach was wide enough for two people to fly side by side.

Kathy flying earlier in the week when it was much colder!

Our camping trip with Carol and Ann proved to be somewhat chilly. Last week in the Stephen Foster State Park, several nights we had to disconnect our water hoses due to below freezing temperatures. One morning Carol texted us this picture of their water hose:

It was a bit chilly at the start of our week at T.H. Stone, however it warmed up and we were able to enjoy the beautiful park. Ann said last week was our week of culture and this week was our week of nature!

We did see several birds in this park and lots of surf fishermen. One morning we got up early to view the sunrise on the St. Joseph Bay side of the park and were lucky to get a great sunrise!

Early Morn Solitude

We drove to the bayside of the peninsula to watch this sunrise. We sipped our coffee while watching the sky turn pink. What better way to enjoy your morning cup of java!

Another sunrise view looking over some of the grasslands and marshes.

One Check off the Bucket List

One of the things that has been on our lists of things we want to do is to ride horses on the beach. Many of you know that we used to have horses and go riding quite a bit. We were finally able to fulfil this dream and we went on a one-hour trail ride along the Gulf of Mexico and the two of us were the only ones signed up for the ride! The ride was enjoyable, and we had a great day for it!

Not much skill required but riding along the water’s edge was serene. And the sun was shining which made it even more special.

One afternoon we hiked the Maritime Hammock trail which was a scenic walk along the bay through sand scrub and a coastal hammock. We saw lots of interesting vegetation.

We saw this and think it is some type of lichen.

Along the trail on the bayside, we found a horseshoe crab and lots of these little things. Carol later identified them as sea urchins.

The wind swept grasses made delicate sculptures in the sand.

What a great time we had camping with our friends in this lovely park.

 

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