Sunday, February 27, 2011

Final Days at Blue Springs and A Return to Alafia River State Park (Orange City and Lithia, FL)

On the Sunday before we left Blue Spring Debbie and I enjoyed a first.  We returned to the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge to participate in an organized bird walk.

It was great!  The guy leading the event was good but one of the fellow birders was off the scale.  He told us that recently he was asked to complete a survey about birding and on the survey he indicated that he birds at least 250 or more days a year!  He was a wealth of info and very helpful.  The walk lasted about 3 hours.  We saw all the usual wildlife and birds, but our fellow birders were particularly excited about identifying this Caspian Tern, which we were told are rare to uncommon.    He was pretty far away so the picture isn't the greatest, but we were able to get a good look at him through the leader's spotting scope.

Monday we returned to Alafia River State Park.  We were scheduled to go to Paynes Prairie State Park but we needed to return to the Tampa area to get our camper warranty work completed. Thus far it's been quite the fiasco but we did get the work done on Friday (more about that day later).  We've been way busy since we've been here.  Most of our days begin nice and slow.  Debbie normally gets up before me and does the coffee routine.  We sit and read a while then I walk dogs and Debbie gets in gear.  Debbie and I are trying to do a better job of working some exercise into our daily routine.  For some time now Debbie begins each day with about 75 minutes of a DVD walking program.  I walk the dogs alot but I'm trying to ensure that most days I do something substantive that will contribute to some form of fitness. So after we settled in on Monday I went for a 6 mile outing with an equal split of walking and running.

After we got rolling on Tuesday I started washing vehicles.  We travel with the truck, Montana and a Toyota Highlander. They ALL NEEDED a bath.  Now please know I hate washing cars.  For the past 20 years, Debbie has done most all of the car washing. Now it's my turn.  So I cleaned the junk out of the car and truck. Vacuumed everything.  Washed and washed and washed.  I even broke out the tire shine stuff!   They look good.  Debbie was pleased.  We then went to Walmart, excuse me, SuperWalmart.  On the way home we hit KFC.  Great day! I'll wash the camper this weekend.

Wednesday I broke all expectations.  We have a Montana Maintenance Checklist.  We've had it for months.  Debbie has "suggested" several times that I need to complete the checklist.  Wednesday was the day.  I'm checking roof seams, squirting grease into zert fittings, tightening fan blade screws, testing CO2 detectors, oiling steps etc!!!!!!!!!  Before the day was done I also removed EVERYTHING from the basement, VACUUMED the basement and returned everything in an orderly manner.  Tell me I'm not cool.

The energy continued on Thursday.  We did our morning routine then went to Parkesdale Strawberry Farm in Plant City.  It's a produce/plant place.  But they also sell all things strawberry. We learned of the place after having a pleasant conversation with some full-timing folks here at the SP.  They are John and Judy and they have a blog:  We read about the place in their most recent entry.  Upon our arrival at Parkesdale we find a line wrapped around the building.

Everybody is waiting for strawberry shortcake, a shake or a bowl of strawberries.

The line moves quickly and prices are very reasonable.

We "settle" for the jumbo strawberry shortcake with ice cream!!!! 

Gee, I wonder why we need some exercise?   The dining room was called the Garden of "Eatin."  It was quite unique, filled with beautiful plants and strawberry stuff galore.

After returning to the SP I hit the mountain bike trails.   I've got to say with all humility that I attacked the challenge.  Granted, I was only on the easy and intermediate trails but I worked it.  I'm getting air, standing and pumping the pedals, laying into the turns and hanging on for dear life.  What a hoot!!!  As I was leaving the trails I came upon a Gopher Tortoise.  He was about the size of an extra large pizza.  Too cool!!

Friday we headed out to get the warranty work done.  But first let me confuse the story.  We travel with our two dogs.  They are WONDERFUL dogs and WONDERFUL travelers.  They also both have WONDERFULLY long hair.  One fellow is pure white and the other is jet black.  At times they shed impressively!  The furniture that came with the camper is cloth.  The two recliners are chocolate brown.  Both fabrics are magnets for hair.  Consequently, we decided to buy new leather furniture. (easy to clean, won't collect or show the hair etc.)   We've ordered two "Euro" recliners that have not yet arrived.  We also bought a Lazy Boy reclining, wall hugger loveseat.  The love seat arrived at the warehouse in Lakeland late Thursday afternoon.  So, trying to make the most of the day, we decide to pick up the love seat on Friday while we're waiting for the warranty work to be completed.  This is where it gets complicated.  Debbie and I can't remove the sofa hide-a-bed from the camper.  Debbie's tough but there's a limit to what she can lift and move.  So I'm hoping I can get someone at the RV place to help me. Oh yes, we also had to change to a different campsite at Alafia on Friday.  So here's how Friday progressed.   Our day started painfully early.  We figured we needed  to get up by 5am so we could break camp and be at Longview RV by 8.  Debbie, fueled with anxiety about what all we needed to accomplish was up at about 2:30am.  I spoke to the folks in the site we were moving onto the day before and found out they were leaving at 5am.  Perfect!  I was up by 4:30. I begin by moving the Highlander, bikes, grill, plants, bird feeder and other yard stuff to the other site which is about 50 yards away.  It seemed to make more sense to move the stuff than pack it just to ride it around all day. Fortunately the sites at Alafia are quite far apart, but we still needed to be quiet.  Plus I have to remove everything we normally carry in the  bed of the truck so I can haul furniture!   I walk dogs (they of course are coming with us).  I make sandwiches for lunch, grab dog food, bowls  and water for all of us. We do everything needed to be done to break camp plus Debbie feels compelled to vacuum the sofa that we are giving away to get rid of any last dog hairs.  Finally we're ready to go dump and then we're on the road to Longview.  We arrive at Longview about 8:15.  I go in and explain all that needs to happen while we're there.  I pull the camper into the service area, disconnect and remove the hitch (gotta make room for furniture).  The service writer fellow finds a guy named Ham to help me with the sofa.   It  proves to be a beast.   Lets remember the door opening is about 28 by 70 (we have a step down right at the door that results in a smaller than normal opening for a sofa that doesn't bend in the middle like me).  The sofa is about 74 inches long.  After a couple approaches and a great deal of forcing, we finally get the sofa out the door.  I force $20 on Ham, he's a good fellow!  We load the sofa, cover it, tie it down and we're gone.  We're giving the sofa to my father.  He lives in Palm Harbor about an hour away.  We arrive there about 10:30.  We have to move a sofa out of the sun room before ours can go in.  My father is 82 so I respectfully insist that he not help with the furniture moving.  Debbie and I and my father's wife Marge (she's 15 years younger)  get one sofa moved out and the other one moved in.  That goes quite smoothly.  We have lunch, chat a bit, walk the dogs and head for Lakeland.  That's about an hour and a half drive.  We load the loveseat, cover it etc and arrive  back at Longview at around 3pm.  The warranty work is complete.  That appears to have gone well.  The backs of the love seat comes off (one of the deciding factors when making the purchase) so, with Ham helping again, it easily fits into the camper.  I put the hitch back in the truck.  We see light at the end of the tunnel.  We drive back to Alafia.  We set up camp again.  We are way pooped!!  We order pizza.  Yes I did eat an entire medium.  Hey, it wasn't a large!  Debbie displayed far greater control.   I also ate half a box of Girl Scout cookies.  It's my reward for a mighty full day. Looking back we were pleased with the day.  Logistically, there was a lot happening.  Lots of things could have gone wrong but nothing does!!!!!!!!!! We fall asleep repeatedly watching tv and finally go to bed. 

Saturday we took it easy.  Debbie did do her DVD program ( I joined in a little).  I also hit the mountain bike trails for about 90 minutes.  Gnarly Dude!

The next time we speak Debbie and I will be at our volunteer job at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park in Cross Creek, Fl (between Ocala and Gainesville).

If you made it to the end of this, thank you so much for listening!!!!!!!!!!


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Blue Spring State Park and More! (Orange City, FL)

Debbie and I are approaching the end of our stay at Blue Spring.  We've been busy!  Saturday or Sunday  (who knows which)  after our trip to the lighthouse Debbie and I did a great bicycle ride.  I've mentioned the trail earlier.  But I haven't told you about Debbie's new bike.  For years Debbie has had a standard version of a Raleigh, 21 speed bike.  I'd say for years she hasn't liked the bike.  So we shopped for a replacement.  We were still at Fort DeSoto and St. Petersburg has something like 25 Bicycle Stores.  We visited several.  We were willing to spend $200-$300 but we got off light.  Debbie's choice was a used Schwinn.  We paid $150.  The bike is lavender with burgundy fenders - it's pretty.  It's a 3 speed (simple to operate).  The feature that may have swayed us most was that it has a great front basket.  Before leaving the bike store we bought a new seat.  It must be the most comfortable bicycle seat known to man.

While still at Fort DeSoto we put a $45 price on the old bike and set it out front of the camper.   It sold within an hour.  So we enjoyed our bike ride and  Debbie's maiden voyage on the pretty "new" bike.

Monday we  visited the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. (Warning: bird photos coming!)   It's probably no more than 10 miles north of Blue Spring.  It's a large water covered area with numerous foot paths.  It''s wonderfully tranquil and a birding paradise.

We saw many of the birds we routinely see such as these Great Egrets

and this Great Blue Heron

but more excitedly, we identified several new fellows that we thought were pretty cool.  These included an American Bittern,

Blue Winged Teal (males and females),

Tricolored Heron,

American Coot,

Common Moorhen,

 and a Pied Billed Grebe.

It's only fair to say that we also saw many other varieties that we couldn't ID.  We recommend this destination to anyone who enjoys the birds.
Tuesday we went to the DeLeon Springs State Park.  It also is only about 10 miles up the road.  It's next  to Lake Woodruff.  Along with the springs, the attraction there is the Old Spanish Sugarmill Restaurant.

It's a breakfast and lunch place where you cook your own pancakes at your table.  The price is very reasonable, $4.50 each for all the pancakes you can eat.  They bring you 2 pitchers of batter, one wheat and one plain.  For $1.75 a pop you can buy an order of blueberries, or bananas or pecans etc to add to the batter. We chose the blueberries and pecans.

The meal was great but even better were our table companions. They were 2 couples who were friends.  Both wives were teachers, one husband a band director, the other a choir director.  It may be shameful, but we didn't get everyone's name.  We did give them one of our cards so we hope they will read this blog and share there names' with us, please!

We had taken Bo and Laska with us. They stayed in the truck parked in a shady location.  After breakfast we took them on a five mile hike along one of the park's trails. Immediately after the hike we made a nice spotting of a Red Shouldered Hawk.

Wednesday we drove about an hour to Leesburg, Fl to have lunch with Charley and Sherry Dilworth and Jeff and Barbie Boldt.  We all had lunched together about a month ago in Lakeland, Fl. with about 25 other full-timers.  I think this is all pretty cool that we develop these friendships as a result of blogs and lunch.  We really had a very nice time.  We met at an Olive Garden and camped out there for about 3 hours.  I believe we will get together again in early March.

Left to Right: Barbie, Sherry and Charlie
Jeff and Barbie
Thursday was another great day.  Debbie and I went on a 2 hour "Eco" boat ride that departed from Blue Spring State Park.  It was a large pontoon boat and cost $22 each.  

The mission was to view wildlife and enjoy the river.  Mission Complete!  We saw zillions of turtles

and an endless number of alligators ranging in size from a few inches to 12-14 feet.

New bird sitings included a Green Heron (trying to hide in the grass),


and Yellow-Crowned Night Heron.

Couldn't resist photographing some of our old favorites such as this Snowy Egret.

We also saw another American Bittern which we understand are not that common.

The lady narrating the tour did an EXCELLENT job!

We returned to Titusville today.  We spent a little time at Merritt Island looking for birds and feeding mosquitoes.  We also cruised Willow Lakes RV community.  It''s similar to The Great Outdoors.  Smaller and not as fancy, but still very nice.

We'll return to Alafia State Park in Lithia next week to try to get our warranty work completed.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

More Fort DeSoto and The First Few days at Blue Spring State Park (St. Petersburg and Orange City, FL)

Our stay at Fort DeSoto County Park was a great success!  As the time passed we made several great discoveries about the place.  Maybe first and foremost, it has the most BEAUTIFUL beach.

It has been rank like #1 in Florida, or the country or the universe or something.  But the point is that the beach area is enormous and perfectly unspoiled!!!!

As you leave the gigantic parking area you walk through a grand stand of trees that opens up to nothing but sand and ocean! Additionally there are several fishing piers, trails and sidewalks adjacent to the ocean that gives you plenty of opportunity to simply enjoy the view.

We spent much of a day biking the area.  A day of sunshine and biking can make an old man sleepy.  So there we were on a pier and I discover a comfy looking concrete bench.  Now, I always claim I can sleep anywhere.  I rest my case.  I stretch out on the bench and snooze.  Later as I'm waking I hear someone say, "is he breathing?" 

At the other end of the peninsula there is another great beach.  As we approach this area we are delighted to see kites, huge kites that are attached to folks that are kite surfing.  Mighty pretty!

And much to our liking, there also are plenty of our winged friends.  One of our favorites is Osprey.  In areas adjacent to water they're quite plentiful.  They are big birds and maintain huge nests.

They are also known as Fish Hawks because they actively pluck fish from ocean and carry them to their family. 

We had a wonderful time viewing these great fellows.  But there also have been multiple opportunities to view some many great birds.  Debbie has done an impressive job of capturing pictures of the shore birds and waders.  VERY NICE!

We moved to Blue Spring State Park near Orange City, Fl on Monday, 7 Feb. The campground is nicely wooded (not too much), the roads are amply wide, some sites are small but others are a fair size. Blue Spring State Park has a great deal to offer including access to a way cool paved bike trail that is actually just outside the park. One evening I was riding the trail doing my best Lance Armstrong imitation. All of a sudden a squirrel darted out from the woods and got tangled under my front bike tire. He leaped or was thrown in the air and slapped my leg. I had visions of a rabid attack but he scampered away. Fortunately, we both survived.

Blue Spring State Park is also a habitat for the Florida Scrub Jay. This is a good looking blue fellow that is working hard to survive.

I won't pretend to be an expert but it is my understanding that they are only found in Florida.  Their preferred habitat is, act surprised, areas of scrub growth.  I think it's accurate to say that scrub is primarily stunted live oaks and palms. The quantity of this type of habitat has steadily diminished with years of development.  Debbie and I were here last year and the park folks had recently cleared, acres of land to facilitate this type of habitat.  These same acres have already grown back creating what I imagine is a perfect scrub habitat for the hearty Florida Scrub Jay.  This is a great example of why state parks and their natural areas are so important. 

Probably the winter highlight of the park is the presence of lots of manatee.  The Blue Spring creates a run that enters the St Johns River.  The manatee come up the run to enjoy the warmer water which I think stays at about 72 degrees.  The first night we strolled down to the river and there were oodles of manatee just hovering. 

There were so many that we enjoyed an endless chorus of manatee "blowing" as long as we stayed by the river.  The boys and I have returned to the river everyday since on our morning walk.  I now know that the number of manatee present is well over a hundred.  One morning there was a wildlife person in the run taking pictures of the manatee.  Her mission was to identify the manatee by their scars.  The scars are normally the result of being hit by a boat propeller. Saturday morning was a great outing.  The sun was shining brightly and the run was full of manatee.  We also had a visit from a "friendly" alligator. 

You could easily watch him ease his way up the run.  Eventually he dragged the full length of himself up on a downed tree to enjoy a little sun time. A great sight to see.

The park also offers an eco boat ride.  Laska, Bo And I walked down to the area where the eco boat departs.  And now the icing on the cake.  Across the St Johns river I see a bald eagle just waiting to have his picture taken.  One problem, no camera.  The boys and I discuss it and decide we'll walk back to the camper so I can get the camera and return.   It takes maybe 20 minutes for me to go up and back.  But when I return with camera the bald eagle is still there waiting for me.  Thank you!

Debbie has been absent from some of these activities for a couple of reasons.  Some of these days have been a bit cold and/or raining and she has left the adventure to us boys.  The other reason is that she spent much of two days doing our taxes.  Not surprisingly, I'm no help so she must put it all together.  It's done, we're not paying thousands as we normally do (love that retirement) and "we're" glad that the task is complete!
Today continued to be a great.  Debbie and I decided to cruise over to Daytona Beach. Our destination was  the Ponce De Leon Inlet Light Station Museum.

Not surprisingly, it was Debbie who identified this as a place for us to visit.  It turned out to be interesting, educational and pretty. The lighthouse and support buildings are wonderfully  maintained.

You have to walk 203 steps to reach the top of the lighthouse.

Worth every step!  The views from the top railing are spectacular!

I thought the brickwork and spiral staircase was mighty impressive. The support buildings contain endless displays of historical information that relates to lighthouses and history of the era.
These buildings housed historical stuff sorted by a particular subject.  One house contained displays related to the development of the  area.  Another may have been primarily about lighthouses across the country.  There was a generator house, a pump house an out house, etc.  There was a building that contained light house lenses.  The lenses are both impressive (one weighed 12,800 pounds) and beautiful.

This was a photogenic moment. We just had a wonderful visit!

But the day wasn't over yet.  It's now chow time.  In moments Debbie is on her "data" phone and finds a seafood restaurant that receives great reviews.  We go to Down the Hatch.  We get a booth with terrific views on the water.

Throughout our meal we are treated to a stunning sunset.  It lasts at least an hour.

At one point the sunset is parted by the Goodyear blimp that I think is in the area in preparation for the Daytona 500 next week. 

We have dolphins stroking along the waterway that are joined by a few birds as the sun sets. Our meal and the service is good.  We eat too much  then we headed home.  What a great day!!!!!

As I read and reread what I have written I recognize that I too frequently use the word GREAT.  I try to get away from that word but I can't help myself.  We view so much of  what we're doing, seeing and experiencing as nice, good, wonderful, beautiful, pretty, way cool, keen, spectacular, boss, groovy, the get the picture.  We're GRATEFUL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!