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Our Winter Travels South '12-'13

 

I wasn't going to bother with a travel log this winter since we're making essentially the same-old, same-old trip to Florida and the MS/AL Gulf Coast area. But a few friends and family members have commented that they miss following us. So here ya go.

20 Dec 12: Nearly two months after our originally planned departure date, we're finally on the road.  We had the Lazy Daze all packed in late October, but Hurricane Sandy came along and delayed our departure. While waiting for things to improve, I developed a toothache - went to the dentist and found myself making an appointment with an oral surgeon to have an impacted wisdom tooth and its next-door neighbor removed. Then came several weeks of having the hole packed and repacked to help it heal. I finally got the green light on 18 Dec.

So we scurried about to re-load the LD and we were on our way about 1000 this morning. With our usual first night's stopping place, Mahlon-Dickerson Reservation in northern NJ, closed, we headed for the Camping World down near the Delaware Bridge. We arrived just after sunset and as the first raindrops hit the windshield.

21 Dec 12: Just another driving day. The rain, which was pretty heavy overnight, ended at daybreak and we enjoyed a dry day for our trip down through eastern Maryland, over the Bay Bridge, and down US-301 to Fort A P Hill. Nice little campground here.

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22 Dec 12: Today's drive was down I-95 a ways, but what a mistake that was.  Being the Saturday before Christmas, traffic was miserable. We finally said to heck with it and reverted to the old road, US-301. On down across the VA/NC border, with a lunch stop in Weldon NC. At the little park where we stopped was this marker denoting Weldon as the rockfish capitol of the world.

Our stop for the night was at Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, NC. We hadn't been here for a number of years, and there have been some improvements at the little FAMCAMP there. A little bit of trivia: this is the only Air Force base named for a naval aviator - Johnson was a Goldsboro native.

23 Dec 12: On down the road today to Huntington Beach State Park south of Myrtle Beach, SC. This has become one of our usual stopping places on our trip south each fall; it's a very pleasant campground with lots of sun and is beside the ocean. We're taking advantage of a little slack in our schedule and spending two nights here.  Nice to have a non-travel day.

25 Dec 12: Merry Christmas to all. A nice short drive today of only 49 miles down to Buck Hall USFS Campground north of Charleston. This is a very nice small campground alongside the IntraCoastal Waterway. Another two-night stop.

27 Dec 12: On to Savannah today. Spending the night at the fairly new FAMCAMP at Hunter Army Airfield just south of the city.

28 Dec 12: Florida at last! We arrived at Pelican Roost RV Park at the Mayport Navy Station and got a front-row site facing the St John River. We love it here and always hate to leave. Friends Dave and Jane, who live nearby, came to visit and brought us bags of grapefruit from a tree in their back yard. They're big and juicy and I love 'em! nrb108

11 Jan 13: Two weeks at Mayport zip by pretty quickly. We found out last month that my sister would be in Ormond Beach for a week; we tried to get a reservation at Gamble Rogers SRA, where we used to be Campground Hosts, but it was full. We were able to get into Tomoka State Park, which is actually in Ormond Beach. So that's where we headed today.

17 Jan 13: We had a good time with my sister and her husband. Picnic lunches and several dinners out. Yesterday we headed down to Blue Spring State Park.  We visit here every trip to Florida, mainly to visit an old mentor from my early Air Force days. Unfortuunately Mr. N passed away last year, but we enjoyed a dinner out last night with his widow. This morning we walked down to the spring and run to check for manatees - there were none.  It's been very warm for the past week, so they have had no need to seek out the warm water of the spring.

24 Jan 13: We've been at KARS Park at Cape Kennedy since the 18th. This is a recreational facility operated by NASA for employees of the Kennedy Space Center. Only last year did they begin allowing active and retired military personnel to use the park. It operates on a first-come, first-served basis, which suits us fine. We did call the office the morning we planned to arrive to see if there were sites available and were told there was plenty of room.

25 Jan 13: We've been quite happy here with our site right on the bank of the Indian River. Right across from us is Port Canaveral; it has been interesting to see how the cruise ships operate. They come into port sometime late in the evening and depart the next day in late afternoon. It amazes me that they can unload passengers, clean and replenish the ship and load a new boatload of passengers in less than 24 hours. winter1213-034

 

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Puddy Tat has had a good time here. She has spent hours at the window watching the wildlife just a few feet away, such as this Great Blue Heron. But she also been having an early morning visitor who jumps up on the hood of the LD and they sit and stare at each other, interspersed with some hissing and growling that awakens us.

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26 Jan 13: Our time here at Cape Kennedy is about over - tomorrow we hit the road southwestward on our way towards Sarasota. Our spot beside the Indian River has been a great one for sunrises and moonrises.

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29 Jan 13: Two days ago we left Cape Kennedy headed for Sarasota. But as you've probably gathered by now, we aren't big fans of big mileage days, so we decided to break the trip across Florida in half. Sunday night we stopped at Lake Kissimmee State Park for two nights. Although the lake is nearby, you can't see it from the campground...or even from the marina - there's a channel which leads out to the lake. But you can sure hear it! We arrived Sunday afternoon and the airboats were out in full force.

Yesterday I did a little exploring of the park. Back in the fall a neighbor gave me a brand-new mountain bike which he decided he didn't like. My old beater road bike that has been around the country a couple of times on the back of the LD was getting to be in pretty sad shape. I didn't know if I'd like the mountain bike, but after my riding at Lake Kissimmee yesterday, I'm beginning to think it's great for this use. I was able to ride it out in the boonies where I could never have taken the road bike with its skinny tires. Along the way I cmae across this pair of wood storks. We also saw some sandhill cranes in the campground. kissimmee17

While traveling across this central part of Florida, we have certainly seen thousands of acres of orange trees and many trucks hauling the oranges to the processing plant.

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Back on the road today about 1000, another 100 miles westward to Lake Manatee State Park.  Good thing we had succumbed to the reservation system for this stop - the park is full. Mail was awaiting us at the office when we checked in.

83 degrees today - that's a little too hot for us, but relief is on the way. A cold front is due through Wednesday night/Thursday morning which should, by definition, cool things down a bit. The forecast calls for 60's on Thursday - that's a pretty nice January temperature for us New Englanders.

winter1213-012 2 Feb 13: Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow this morning, so it looks like an early spring. Well, hey, he's about as accurate as his humanoid collleagues on TV. Anyway, back on the road today. We've enjoyed four delightful days at Lake Manatee SP - two were very warm, and the other two pleasantly cool. On Wednesday we went into Sarasoata to visit an old Lazy Daze friend, Susan. Today being Saturday and not having reservations anywhere (we hate 'em!), we weren't sure where we'd end up. We decided to press on up the west coast to Shell Mound County Park near Cedar Key, a place we've visited before. We were grateful that it was Saturday, however, as our route took us over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge from Bradenton to St. Petersburg. Rush-hour traffic through there must be awful.
Further up the road we pulled in to check out Chassahowitzka River County Park south of Homosassa Springs as a possible stopping-over place. It was pretty dark in its wooded location and seemed a bit run down. We decided to take our chances at Shell Mound. T'was a good call - no problem getting a nice site looking out over the marsh and inlets. It's always a beautiful place in the late afternoon. It was a little noisy from the airboat activity during the afternoon, but after tomorrow it should be quieter. 184 miles today - more than we like. shmo45

6 Feb 13: There are a couple of walking trails, part of the Lower Suwanee Wildlife Refuge, near the campground. They include boardwalks over flat, usually dry areas of the marsh, a view of a large mound of shells (hence the name of the campground), and end at a fishing and observation deck. I also found an unmarked trail which looped out a little further and along the way I came across these sticks that someone had carefully placed leaning against some trees - not sure what it was meant to signify.

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Yesterday we took a ride into Cedar Key for the day - lunch out, a little walking about and just relaxing near the marina. As we left the campground, we came across a wild boar, apparently roadkill. There was large of group of turkey vultures and a single eagle picking it apart. The vultures all took off when we stopped, but the eagle stayed on. Liz slowly moved in to see what the meal was and she got within about 15 feet of the eagle before it took off.

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winter1213-032 In town we took a walk out to Cemetery Point, where we spotted this osprey talking a pause from work on its nest. This is a fascinating area all around here with the close interaction and juxtaposition of land and water.

9 Feb 13: Vroom, vroom....can you hear them? It's Saturday at Shell Mound County Park and the airboat armada is out in force. Nothing beats the pulse of an un-muffled 350 cubic inch motor driving an 8' propeller. Also interesting is how busy the campground is this weekend compared to last. We arrived here last Saturday and there were lots of vacant sites; today the park is just about full. We're lucky to be here tonight, for we had been paying for just 2-3 nights at a time, not knowing when we'd want to leave. When I to the office yesterday to pay for two more nights, I found out that they have a stay limit of 7 nights...and tonight is number 8 for us. But Dave, the attendant, was kind and said he obviously couldn't count very well....wink, wink. So tomorrow we're back on the highway. I'll let you know where we end up.

10 Feb 13: Have you ever had one of those moments where you're eagerly anticipating something......it doesn't happen.....and a short time after that it does!? I had such a moment yesterday on our way from Cedar Key up to Torreaya State Park west of Tallahassee. On one of our first visits to Florida we discovered that golden nectar, tupelo honey. Absolutely the best ever, and it lasts seemingly forever without granulating. My current supply is about gone, however, so we stopped at the seller's house.  Oh no...no one one home and her honor system shelves beside the garage were empty. What is one to do? I went back to the RV and was sitting there dejectedly when about 10 minutes later a car came up the street and pulled into her driveway. So back I went and much to my delight, it was Patsy Owen, the honey lady. So I was able to get my honey after all. Ah, sweet relief!

Some interesting tupelo honey trivia: the Apalachicola River basin and surrounding area is the only place in the world where the White (Ogeche) Tupelo Tree grows. It blooms for only a week or two in April. Bees are imported for the short  season and are placed in freshly-cleaned hives so as to avoid contamination of the tupelo honey.

We continued on up the road to Torreya SP where we got a very pleasant site with a view. We're actually in the "mountains" of Florida and the campground is up at about 350 feet in elevation. Unfortunately, the park is full this coming weekend, so we'll have to move on later this week in search of a new home.

11 Feb 13: We awoke to mostly cloudy skies this morning and a forecast for showers and thunderstorms later in the day. So after breakfast we decided to walk down to visit the historic Gregory House, about half a mile from the campground. The house was built in the 1840's about a half miles downstream and on the other side of the river. Abandoned in the 1920's the house fell into disrepair. In the 1930's the state dismantled the house and moved it to its current location. Tours of the house are provided daily. The house is furnished with pieces that date from the mid-1800's, including a few things that belonged to the Gregory family.

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After our tour of the house, we decided to take one of the many trails in the park back to the campground. We learned that one needs to be alert - we came across a Copperhead snake sunning himself right in the center of the path. We gingerly stepped around him. Copperheads are supposedly fairly non-aggressive and will not bite unless one steps on them or very close to them.

Oh yes, my weather-guessing colleagues were correct - we did get some rain and thunder later in the afternoon. And it looks like more for the next couple of days.

13 Feb 13: Yesterday was probably the first really rainy day we've had so far this trip. But even at that, the rain wasn't steady, but rather just periods of rain every so often. But it was wet enought to keep us inside most of the day. The cold front appears to be passing through this morning and the day has promise. Hopefully we can get a good walk in this afternoon.

shelby122 Puddy-Tat is having a grand time here. We're parked beside a large bush and for the entire time we've been here, there has been a yellow-rump warbler has been hanging out in the bush and doing battle with his reflection in a window of the RV. He keeps flying at it and pecking at it, and of course, this certainly gets Puddy's attention. She sits at the window and every time the warbler flies to the window, she jumps up trying to catch it. We decided that we have two low-information creatures here, neither of which seems to learn from experience. (Sorta like liberals.)
16 Feb 13: Two days ago we left Torreya SP and drove about 70 miles to Sand Pond Campground in the Pine Log State Forest near Ebro, FL. Ebro is about 18 miles north of Panama City Beach. Having never been to a FL state forest CG before, we weren't sure what to expect, but since it's a first-come, first-served facility with hookups, we decided to give it a try. This being a three-day weekend, parks are booked full. So after crossing the Apalachicola River into the Central Time Zone Thursday we arrived at Sand Pond. Turns out to be a pleasant little spot with half of its twenty sites along the edge of a small pond. We had no problem getting a site. To top it off, the price is only $10 a night for the over-65 folks, unlike FL state parks whose senior discount applies only to FL residents. The forest has some good dirt roads for biking; I'm really having fun with the new mountain bike this winter.  I could never explore places like this with my road bike. While riding yesterday I came across this mushroom smack in the middle of the road. sand pond17
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17 Feb 13: We were pleasantly surprised yesterday with the arrival of LD friends Ed and Carol. They had just completed the sale of their 41-year home in south Florida and were heading west to begin the next chapter of their lives.

We've been enjoying our stay at Sand Pond. although it's turned chilly - down to 33 this morning. Buit it warmed up into the 50's under a bright sunny sky. This afternoon we took a 2.5 mile walk on one of the forest's many trails. This one was a large loop out around two ponds, one of which was in the midst of a large cypress grove.

 

 

18 Feb 13: Off we go once again - a tough drive of 50 miles down to the FAMCAMP on Eglin AFB in Fort Walton Beach. Managed to get there before lunch and found lots of empty sites - we were a bit surprised that there were so many. Although we hadn't stayed here before, we did drive through a couple of years ago to check it out and at that time it was just about full.

20 Feb 13: Today was clean-up day: I did three loads of laundry this morning and then walked over to the Base Exchange for a haircut. I had gone over Monday afternoon after our arrival, but the barber shop was jammed - would have waited at least a couple of hours. I'm guessing the fact that Monday was a holiday, President's Day, was  the reason. Anyway, when I went over today, there was no wait at all - walked right in and sat down in the barber chair.

23 Feb 13: OK, enough is enough - you can turn off the rain! Today was day two of pretty heavy rain - at least we're not in the lowlands near a river. Rivers in the Florida Panhandle are alrerady high from rain a week ago, so it won't take much to cause more flooding. At least we have plenty to keep us occupied, what with a good supply of books and internet access. 

Where to next? That's always an interesting question. I went on-line today and was able to find a site out at Fort Pickens in the Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola for a week starting Thursday. We were out there two years ago for a couple of weeks and really enjoyed it. At that time it was first-come, first-served in the winter, but last winter they went to all reservations - boo, hiss! Now it's hard to get a site there when you're a "by the seat of the pants" traveler who hates to make plans very far ahead.

1 Mar 13: Yesterday was moving day - over to Fort Pickens.  A tough day's drive of 40 miles. It's rather cloudy and cool, but it's still a great place. Still more or less cloudy today, but we got a good walk in over to the fort and then along the beach with it's super-white sand that looks like snow.

Parked up the row a ways was this Ultra Van, a classic motorhome built in Hutchinson, KS, in the 1960's. 370 were built using a Chevy Corvair engine; some 200 are still on the road, rolling along at 60 mph and getting 15 miles per gallon. As a true monococque structure, the Ultra Van has no chassis. It is constructed like an airplane with aluminum ribs covered with sheet aluminum on the top and sides. Compound curved areas (front and back corners) are fiberglass.

 

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4 Mar 13: Our winter journey has come to an early end. A family emergency back home caused us to hit the road from Fort Pickens/Pensacola on Saturday morning. It was 1392 miles and 3 days on the dreaded interstate highways back to our home in New England.  We set new travel records for these old slow-pokes, averaging 465 miles per day. We were incredibly lucky with both weather and traffic - three sunny days and we didn't hit a single traffic snarl - rather amazing.

Thanks for your interest in our travels - see y'all next time.

 

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9 Mar 13: A little addendum to the end of our winter's journey. The day after we arrived home, Liz fell and sprained her ankle and broke a bone in her foot. Fortunately it didn't require a cast, but she is hobbling around in one of those plastic boots and using a walker.

And then, a couple days after that, before I could get the LD unloaded and winterized, we had a significant snowstorm that dumped about 20 inches on us.

That's quite a spiffy snow awning the wind created. Not so sure I'd open the door under that thing.