Sunday, January 30, 2011

Alafia River State Park (Lithia, FL)

Alafia River State Park in Lithia has proven to be a great location.  It opened in 1998, covers 6000+ acres and was formerly the site of a phosphate mine.  The park has 20 miles of equestrian trails and another 20 miles of "mountain" bike trails.  The "mountains" are the remnants of the mining operation.  The phosphate mining closed prior to the 1975 reclamation act.  The countryside was left greatly scarred and the result is some radical terrain.  Trails are rated from easy to extremely difficult.  I figured I could breeze through the easy ones as a warm up.  May I say I was lucky to survive.  The easy trails covered several miles.  They were mighty gnarly......dude!!  Every step of the way included roots, rocks, deep sand, trees that are way low or too close to safely pedal between, wooden bridges, mud, dragons, armed terrorists, monsters etc.  I may have gotten carried away but you get the picture.  I was smiling and laughing at myself the entire time.  I did try an intermediate trail and that was nothing less than death defying. I inadvertently got air (front wheel only) several times What a blast!!!!  I will have to save the difficult and extremely difficult trails for a time when I'm about 30 years younger!!!

The campground facilities here are neat and clean.  The sites are spacious and nicely spaced. A few even have a view of a scenic lake.  No water view for us this time, but it was a very short walk  to enjoy the views.

Debbie and and I have had a great time with our birding.  I won't bore you with our list but I'm confident Debbie will add some bird pictures!

We saw quite a few of the easily identified Cardinals

and Killdeer

We were excited to identify this more uncommon Eurasian Collared Dove

Lots of birds here to try to identify!

A few days we traveled to some other parks in the area.  We went to Lithia Springs County Park.

The main attraction there is, brace yourself, at least two large natural springs.  It's open to the public for swimming.  It was mighty pretty.

 We visited the Aldermans Ford County Park.

There's a great paved trail that includes an elaborate system of raised boardwalks through the woods and adjacent to the Alafia River.

 There's even exercise stations along the trail.

We also went to the The Little Manatee River State Park.

 It straddles, yes, the Little Manatee River,  which we understand is a popular place for canoeing.

We checked these places out because they normally include a beautiful setting and we're always considering these places for future camping.

Unrelated to our current lifestyle, I received an interesting phone call the other day.  A classmate from elementary school that I haven't seen for 38 years contacted me.  He lives a few communities north of Pop and I will see him sometime next week.  The get together will be great fun!

We're moving to Fort Desoto County Park in St. Pete on Friday.  We'll be there about 10 days.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

RV Show and More (Titusville and Tampa, FL)

Since we last "talked" Debbie and I returned to Merritt Island and also explored the Canaveral National Seashore.

The Seashore, like Merritt Island is untouched natural habitat.  Our best spotting there was a wild boar (pig).

As I mentioned before,  Merritt Island is a great place for novice birders.  The birds are everywhere and they sit still so you have lots of time to work on the identification.  This Anhinga seemed to pose just for us.

And we were happy to catch this Great Blue Heron about to take off.

This guy is so cute! We think he might be a Pied-Billed Grebe, but not sure at all.


We wondered if this could be an Black Scoter?

We know these are Sandpipers of some type, maybe Western?



Although our guide books says they are uncommon at Merritt Island, we think this might be a Loggerhead Shrike.

So we had another great day of birding that included fantastic weather! Thanks for bearing with us while we attempt our bird identifications.  We hope if you are an experience birder you are not laughing too much right now!

We took a 5 mile walk that led us through the marshes and along the canals. In addition to the birds we were also fortunate enough to see an Otter...

this unidentified snake...

and a few Alligators.

If anyone knows what kind of snake that is, please let us know.

It was a great day!

On another day we simply cruised the surrounding area.  We drove from Titusville south to Sebastian Inlet State Park.  Along the way we cruised the camping at Patrick Air Force Base in Melbourne.  We had such a great experience at the Navy Air Station Key West that we will likely do more camping on military installations.  We traveled Route 1 along the coast.  We checked out the real estate. The prices are too tempting to even talk about.  We won't buy now, but we certainly could one day.  I'm confident that Debbie will be monitoring the market.   Sebastian Inlet SP also has camping.  We had reservations there at one time but we canceled them as we revised our itinerary so we could spend more time in Key West.  It's a great location and I imagine we'll camp there one day.  Fishing is an important pass time there.  The day we visited the ocean was mighty choppy.  We enjoyed watching the fishermen, the surfers and the Pelicans.

Before heading home we also cruised the Long Point County Campground in Melbourne Beach.  It was an OK campground but what really caught our attention was the Wood storks waiting around the fish cleaning station in the hope of getting some leftovers.  They were totally fearless of humans!

12 Jan we left The Great Outdoors.  We really enjoyed our time there.  We once again had a site with a water view. We could have stayed in this area much longer, but it was time to move on.

We had made plans to attend the Tampa RV Show.  We camped there at the show.  We were camped among hundreds if not more campers.

90% of them were in motor homes rather than 5th wheels or travel trailers.  We were there for 5 nights.  The result was that we had the opportunity to walk back and forth to the show at our leisure.  We didn't have to spend marathon days trying to see it all at one time. While there we stopped by a little afternoon "drop in" with Linda and Howard Payne.  They're the authors of a blog we follow called RV Dreams.  They're also delightfully positive people.   We attended a full-timing rally they put on April 2010 while we were in the mist of transitioning to our full timing lifestyle.  Their blog is quite entertaining and informative.  That evening we also joined Howard, Linda and several other full timing folks for dinner.  The meal was great and we enjoyed wonderful conversation with some fine people who live as we do.  Back at the RV show we looked at gadgets, all sorts of camper related stuff, campgrounds and campers. We are quite satisfied with our choice of camper.  There may be some that have nicer features, but none that we would have been willing to pay the price.  Our traveling to Indiana to buy our camper saved us thousands!

Monday we moved to Alafia River State Park.  The first half of the day it rained horribly!  By this evening it was clearing.  The park is relatively new and quite large.  I'll report on our explorations.  It's located maybe 40 miles southeast of Tampa.  We'll be here 10+ days.

Loving Florida.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Time Flies (Key West and Titusville, FL)

The days are flying by so let me begin with our last activities in Key West.  The weather remained spectacular!  High 70s and a steady breeze.

We went downtown one last time primarily to visit the Ernest Hemingway House and to have a nice lunch. We parked at a Navy installation about a mile from downtown and walked the distance. We saved $10 -$12 in parking, enjoyed the walk and burned a calorie or two.  We first walked to the cruise ship piers.  That's normally our first stop.  We will always love the idea of a cruise. We like to see the ships, evaluate the size, count the balconies, discuss the cruise line and conclude with a discussion about how/when we'll cruise in the future.

We continued our stroll through town to Duval St.  We were headed for a rooftop restaurant for our nice lunch.  We didn't make it to the rooftop.  I'm embarrassed to say that somehow our "nice" lunch became a horrible buffet.  We were so disappointed with both ourselves and the meal!  Again we swear off buffets.

The Hemingway House experience was nicely satisfying.

We began the event with a guided tour.  I must begin with our tour guide.  He was a fellow about my age.  I think his name was Bob or Barry or some other B but I'm sure he was from Boston.  He was soooo knowledgeable but more importantly he had this wonderfully unique delivery.  He was very articulate thick with a heavy Boston accent.  His rhetoric was laced with what appeared to be well spoken Spanish and lots of theatrics.  He was so entertaining you could have listened to him read the phone book.  Too cool!  Back to the tour.  We learned lots about old Ernest, including the dismal history of suicide that plaques the Hemingway family.  The grounds were quite lush and rich with cats, many with six toes.

The cats are very well cared for and even have their own Key West "condos".

Eventually we did our little walk back to the car and returned to the Camper - home.

We left Key West 6 Jan.  We drove about 6 hours without incident to the Jonathan Dickinson State Park.  We stayed there on our way down to the Keys.  Easy in and out.  We left the next morning headed for Titusville, FL  Enroute we stopped at a truck wash to have the camper washed.  It looked dirty but we also wanted to be certain that we washed off the salt spray that may have settled on the camper while in the Keys.  That was a "trucker' moment.  It was fun and went well.  We then moved on the The Great Outdoors (TGO) in Titusville.

TGO is a very unique community.  It caters entirely to folks with RVs.  You can buy anything from a simple concrete RV site to a custom home with a garage large enough for a 40 foot motor home.  In between those two extremes are out buildings that one would use in conjunction with your RV, small homes where you could still park your RV or endless other combinations.  The community is 21 years old, is extremely well maintained, has tons of amenities like pools, fitness center, golf course, tennis courts etc and an activity calender that is jam packed with infinite activities!  The community is 2 miles off the main road and the developer has done a great job of retaining large portions of natural habitat.  The result is that the community is delightfully QUIET!    Aside from all that I've already highlighted, it's the kind of place where you can have your camper at your home and when it's time to travel, you lock the door and drive away. We can easily see ourselves living here one day.  Sunday we shopped the place with a realtor.  It mostly was a fact finding mission.

Earlier Sunday we spent several hours at the nearby Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

We discovered the area is huge and demands much more of our time.  We plan to return on Tuesday.  We spent most of our time on a nature drive.   We worked "hard" at our birding!

Coastal/wading birds are an easy place to start one's birding because they stay put so you can watch them, refer to your field guide and discuss their identification.  We had a great time and feel somewhat confident about some of our conclusions.


Roseate Spoonbills

Spoonbill close-up

Spoonbills, Ibis and Snowy Egret

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron Close Up

Snowy Egret
Great Egret

Reddish Egret

Little Blue Heron

Florida is such an interesting, beautiful place.  We joking said we may never get out of Florida.   We''ll be at TGO until 12 Jan.  We then go to the Tampa RV show for four days.

We'll talk later - Goodnight.