Don’t Drain This Swamp!

Some swamps are just meant to be swamps. Such is the case with the Everglades. Last week we hitched up our Viking trailer and explored the wilds of South Florida. Herb, Buddy, (our beagle) and I camped at Collier-Seminole State Park, located south of Naples and west of Everglades National Park. In this post I want to give a brief review of the places we visited.

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Our campsite

I have to say this was the least scenic campsite we’ve ever encountered. It rained for several days before we arrived. I laughed and referred to our site as “lakefront property.” Luckily it didn’t rain anymore during our four night stay. The pond dried by our last day. Herb and I decided to take the campsite and the mosquitos in stride. After all, the park lies within one of the largest mangrove swamps in the world.

In all fairness, Collier-Seminole is scenic. The park contains one of three original stands of royal palms in Florida. I snapped this photo on the pet friendly Royal Palm Hammock Trail. Buddy enjoyed all the sights, sounds, and smells along the one mile path through the jungle.

Royal Palms can grow to a height of one hundred feet.

I highly recommend renting a canoe and paddling the Blackwater River. The tidal river system hosts a variety of birds and other wildlife.

The scenic Blackwater River at its widest point.
A Great Blue Heron in flight.

Everglades National Park

It’s about an hour drive to the Shark Valley Visitor Center from Collier-Seminole. We arrived late in the afternoon, only to learn that Buddy was not permitted anywhere but the parking lot. Alligators love little dogs!

Herb and I took turns sitting on this bench with Buddy. That way each of us could do a little exploring.

A visit to Everglades National Park never disappoints. In the span of twenty minutes, Herb encountered and photographed many animals. Here are a few images he snapped with with his Nikon telescopic camera.

Water is the lifeblood of the Everglades. Today the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is working to restore the natural flow of water to this area. The results are encouraging and the wildlife is returning.

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

In between Collier-Seminole and Everglades National Park lies 85,000 acres of wetland wilderness. We walked the Big Cypress Bend boardwalk with Buddy. We kept a close eye out for gators and stayed ready to pick up our pet at a moment’s notice. The 2300 foot long boardwalk is sheltered by bald cypress trees, many of them hundreds of years old.

The Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk opened up onto a beautiful pond.

We were told an eagle nest existed somewhere along the boardwalk. I became so interested in looking up, I forgot to look look down.

Yikes!

I almost missed this big guy who was not far from where I was standing. So much for staying alert.

After our walk on the boardwalk we drove Jane’s Scenic Drive through miles of wilderness. I could still see parts of the swamp from the comfort of an air conditioned vehicle. I felt happy and safe.

The landscape of the Everglades is like no other. It is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. A place teeming with life which depends on the delicate balance of nature. From the tiny mosquito to the Florida panther, all sizes of animals coexist in this wonderful place.

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One Campground That’s Gone to the Dogs

This week I learned something about people who camp. In addition to bringing their bikes, kayaks, and fishing equipment, they usually make room for Fido.

Since Herb and I normally include our beagle with us on our campouts, we fit right in at Myakka River State Park. This was our first excursion with Buddy for 2019, and we were ready to explore more of the “real Florida.” Located in the southwestern part of the state, Myakka is the largest state park and the most visited. The beautiful Myakka River flows through vast unspoiled wetlands, palm hammocks, and natural prairies. Visitors enjoy photographing the numerous birds and alligators along the scenic Park Drive.

A view of the Myakka River at Fisherman’s Loop

One morning during our stay we attended the camper’s coffee. Since the event was located at an outdoor pavilion, I thought it would be fun to include Buddy. We were prepared to bring him back to the campsite in case dogs weren’t allowed. Buddy was not only welcomed, he became the center of attention. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Leeann and Dan Brown, snowbirds temporarily volunteering this winter with the Friends of Myakka. They were excited to meet Buddy and wanted to know all about the red booties he wears on his back feet.

We were happy to share Buddy’s “back story”, and the upcoming release of Buddy the Beagle on Blueberry Street, my first children’s book. (Elk Lake Publishing) Later, Leeann and Dan visited us at our camper to chat and take photos of us with Buddy. They shared his story on their facebook page, RV Companions. All of a sudden I felt like I was on a book tour… after all, Buddy is the real star and Herb and I are only his managers.

Back to the Myakka campground. Our site was located in Old Prairie, which was one of three campgrounds located in the park. Almost everyone had a dog traveling with them, most had two. Of course when there are that many dogs in close proximity to one another, you have a fair amount of barking going on. I felt like a proud mama because Buddy seemed quiet and calmer than the rest. That was until we left him in the trailer for an hour while we visited the Canopy Walkway. Later, during a casual conversation, our neighbor informed us Buddy was not happy most of the time we were gone. His whining escalated to crying. Soon all the neighboring dogs started to bark. Note to self: administer the anti-anxiety medication at least two hours before leaving Buddy alone.

Even though Buddy woke up our neighbor at seven in the morning, he had an easy-going attitude and didn’t seem to mind. Maybe it was because he had four dogs of his own. He did suggest some of Buddy’s loneliness could be solved if we adopted a companion pet for Buddy. We were not interested. Living quarters are already tight inside our sixteen foot Viking. (We haven’t asked Buddy what he thinks about it.)

As night fell, peace also descended upon the busy campground. Some of the dogs were secure and quiet inside their RV’s. Others close to their owner’s feet, dozed by the campfire. The nightly soundtrack of waking insects began to play as the sun set. The smell of grilled burgers and hot dogs drifted through the air. Campers come and go, yet tonight there is a feeling of community among all of us who love nature, outdoor life, and dogs.

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“Roughing It” at Silver Springs

Yummy! There’s nothing like a hotdog roasted over a campfire. Here I am with Team Buddy for another Florida State Park campout. I like to kid myself by thinking I’m “living off the land.” Pay no attention to our Viking trailer in the background. Which by the way is equipped with a microwave, air conditioner, and bathroom. Everyone needs a few creature comforts.

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During our latest adventure we spent a few days exploring Silver Springs State Park. In case you’re unfamiliar with Silver Springs, it was Florida’s first tourist attraction. The largest artesian springs in the world are located here. Everyday 550 million gallons of water flow out of the springs and into the Silver River. Visitors can take a glass bottom boat trip or rent a kayak and view the beautiful plants and animals which thrive in these crystal clear waters. The banks of  the Silver River provided a perfect place for settlers to build their homesteads. A replica village is open to the public at the Silver River Museum.  On weekends, visitors can walk through a pioneer settlement and hear stories of what Florida life was like in the 1890’s. Compared to the pioneers, my idea of “roughing it” is misinformed at best.

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The early settlers in Florida had to make or grow everything they used. The broom pictured above was created by tying a palmetto leaf to a branch.  Fire was always a threat to their homes. The area around the cabin had to be raked and swept of any debris which might burn.

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A family of eleven lived in this replica of their two room cabin. The parents slept in the bedroom with the baby. The boys slept on the porch. The girls slept on the floor of the sitting area. The bed in the corner was reserved for the teacher of the community. Teachers were not paid but received room and board in local homes.

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The kitchen was built separate from the sleeping area in order to keep the heat out of the house and reduce the fire risk. Gourds were used as pitchers. Various utensils were constructed from natural materials found in the woods. Sugar cane syrup was used as a sweetener.

Did you know that the term blacksmith was coined as a name for someone who works with black metal? IMG_6222

During our visit a museum volunteer, Al Duane, demonstrated how to make a metal hook. In this community the metal was shipped in by boat from the northern U.S.  Blacksmiths made nails, tools, and cutlery.  Each member of the family had one set of cutlery which was expected to last them until they grew to adulthood.

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I had to get a photo of the outhouse, complete with a corncob. With no running water, the pioneers only bathed once a month. They used lye soap which they made themselves.  If you didn’t let it cure for twelve weeks, it would tear your skin off. Each family member had two sets of clothes. Laundry was done with a washboard and a tub.

I think this is a pretty good description of “roughing it.” A trip to the Silver River Museum makes me appreciate the conveniences I have today.  The museum is hosting Ocali Country Days on November 10th and 11th, 2018. For more information about this educational event click on the link.

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Ocean View Camping at Gamble Rogers

Herb, Buddy, and I kicked off our fall camping season by spending two nights at Gamble Rogers. Upon our arrival, a friendly ranger greeted us with a smile. “Welcome to your new favorite park.”

She was right. We absolutely fell in love with our campsite which overlooked Flagler Beach. The rhythm of the waves provided a constant soundtrack, and the ocean breeze kept us cool. We felt fortunate to camp here. The park is small and campsites fill up quickly. We had waited months for an oceanside site.

Additional campsites are located near the Intracoastal waterway.  For a small park it has much to offer in the way of recreation. Visitors can swim, kayak, and bike on the A1A bike path.  A pet friendly beach is within walking distance just outside the park.

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We walked Buddy through the dog gate to a ramp that led down to the ocean. It was his first experience seeing anything so powerful. While Hurricane Michael was reeking havoc many miles away in the panhandle, its effects could be seen here. Buddy didn’t want to get near the water and prepared to make a quick exit. (Maybe he knew the red warning flags meant danger).

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In 1991, the heavy surf at Flagler beach claimed the lives of Florida folk musician Gamble Rogers and a Canadian tourist. Gamble tried to help the Canadian who was struggling to swim. Both men drowned. Before his tragic death, Rogers was known as “Florida’s Troubadour.”  As a folk musician, Rogers was recognized for his gifted guitar playing, singing, and storytelling. The park was renamed Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area in his honor. Looking out over the powerful waves I’m reminded of how dangerous they really are. Yet, there are peaceful times as well, at dawn, when God reveals his glory in the sunrise.

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This short trip provided me with the opportunity to rest and reflect upon scripture.

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

Gamble Rogers laid down his life for a stranger. But maybe Gamble didn’t consider this person a stranger. Maybe he thought of everyone as a friend.

 

 

The Blue Spring Experience

Salutations! It’s me, the poet on blueberry street.  I ‘ve upgraded to a new domain. All part of growing as a writer, I’m told. To those of you who have been following me, thanks. You’re in the right place.

Welcome back to part two of our camping season finale. In last week’s post, I shared how Herb, Buddy, and I arrived at Blue Spring State Park after driving three hundred miles out of our way. I have to say Buddy, our beagle, did very well in the car. He’s a good traveler. IMG_3707

Our campsite was dry, but not level. The fire ring looked like it was sliding off into a ditch. Herb did the best he could with the leveling jacks on the Viking, but when I sat at the dinette to eat, I felt like I was sliding off my seat. Oh well, we thought, at least we can sit outside without swarms of mosquitos buzzing around our ears.

We like to hike in the mornings when we’re on a campout. At Blue Spring we walked the Pine Island Trail with Buddy. The trail coursed through a beautiful shady hammock into an open field. When we returned to the campsite, we sat down to enjoy our second cup of coffee and discuss our plans for the day.

“How about renting a canoe?” I asked. Herb thought that sounded like a good idea. When I changed into my swimsuit, I noticed a tick on my leg. “OH NO!” I panicked.

Herb tried to get the tick out with tweezers. Unfortunately part of its body was still attached to my leg. I felt upset with myself.  I realized I’d let my guard down regarding hiking in Florida in the summer.

I wasn’t wearing clothes sprayed with Permethrin.

I didn’t spray my legs with insect repellant.

I didn’t check myself right away when we returned from the hike.

I didn’t take a picture of the tick.

I was a bad hiker.

So where did all those mistakes lead me? To the ranger station, of course. I walked up to the window and told a ranger about my problem. “You better get medical attention,” he said, “You could get an infection if the rest of the tick isn’t removed. We’re also seeing something new in the southeast now. People are getting the meat allergy disease from ticks.” He directed me to a walk-in clinic in the area.

Herb and Buddy waited in the car while I sought out help at the clinic. Can you believe it was my first day on Medicare? Luckily I had my card with me. I signed in at the desk and told the receptionist about the tick. “Glad you came in,” she said. “Have you heard of the meat allergy? It might not be all bad, you could become a vegetarian, and be hip.”

I liked her humor, but I didn’t laugh. I filled out the forms and waited. Two hours later the rest of the tick was finally removed. No, it didn’t cost me an arm or a leg in the process, thanks to Medicare. The nurse practitioner prescribed an antibiotic. So far I’m still eating hamburgers with no adverse reactions. Follow this link for more information about ticks. This trip was not our first experience with ticks. The pests tend to be more active during the Florida rainy season.

It’s not really fair to only write about ticks without sharing the beauty of Blue Spring. The campground is a five minute walk from the spring. One morning we saw a manatee. Campers have access to the area before the park opens to daytime visitors. Our last day in the park I rose early. When I arrived at the water’s edge the sun was beginning to light up the scene. The water changed to a brilliant emerald color.  Every time a fish surfaced ripples radiated through the still water. All was quiet except for the call of a great egret on a limb.  This sight helped me forget all  of the bugs, heat, and humidity of the past few days.

IMG_3786I can’t leave without sharing the photo of the egret.

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I’d love to hear from you. If you enjoy nature, or want to share any tips about ticks, leave a comment.

Our Season Finale in Florida State Parks

With the onset of summer, Florida campers face new challenges. Mainly, how to stay dry. If you’re not wet from the rain, you’re soaked with sweat. And you stay that way until October. Summer came early this year.

I joined my husband Herb, and our dog, Buddy, for our last scheduled trip of the season. In case you’ve just started following my blog, we’re a retired couple who aim to camp in every Florida State Park.  On May 30 we embarked for Little Talbot Island State Park, located north of Jacksonville.

While we were driving I called my mom. “I know rain is in the forecast, but don’t worry about us,” I boasted. “We’re professional campers now. After all, this is our fourteenth trip in the Viking.”

“I hope you have rain gear,” she responded. Mothers are always mothers, even if their children are sixty.  The funny thing is…many times they are right.

We arrived at our Little Talbot campsite in the pouring rain. Suddenly I had an ominous feeling. I felt like we were making a mistake. I slipped on my rain jacket, and stepped out of the car. Mosquitos swarmed around my head and hands. Yikes! It was only two in the afternoon. What would these blood suckers be like in the evening?

After dousing ourselves with bug spray, we decided to walk Buddy around the campground for his initial inspection. Maybe we would find a site with less vegetation, more open to the light…maybe there would be some place with less mosquitos.

We came upon a site that looked better. One side had no trees. I took a closer look. What’s out there? I wondered. “Oh, it’s wetland. Great, we’d be right next to where the mosquitos breed. A literal ground zero.”

After our ten minute walk with Buddy, we returned to our trailer to reassess our situation. We were shocked to see water rising around the Viking. While were away, two inches of rain had accumulated. Time to set sail, just like the Vikings in days of old.  This was our adventure to unknown parts. Fortunately we had not yet dropped anchor–the Viking was still hitched to the car.

We drove over to the ranger station and informed the ranger of our decision to leave. He kindly refunded our money. By this time it was after three. What should we do now? Drive all the way back to Orlando? The reality of unpacking everything wasn’t very appealing. Herb suggested camping at Anastasia near St. Augustine. I agreed. We could make it to Anastasia by four-thirty.

But Anastasia had it’s own drawback. I thought about our recent trip in April.  “Remember our friends, Donna and Geren? They had a terrible time with raccoons. We’ll need to keep a close watch on Buddy.”

I called Anastasia to see if they had any sites available. A lady answered the phone, “I wouldn’t recommend coming here,” she said. “A lot of our sites are flooded.”

A wave of dread washed over me. I regretted my boasting.  I no longer felt like such a professional. We had already been driving since ten this morning and had no where to go.

“What about Blue Spring?” I asked Herb. “Can I at least call them?”

At this point Herb was ready to head home, but he relented. “OK.”

After a short conversation with the ranger at Blue Spring, we learned they did have sites, and none were flooded. However, we must arrive before the park office closed at eight.

We made it at seven fifteen. We had driven over 350 miles to get to a state park located forty miles from our home. Was it worth it? A picture is worth a thousand words.

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This is part one of a two part series. Stay tuned for the Blue Spring experience. Until next time…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lake Louisa: Florida’s Secret State Park

Did you know there’s a wonderful state park less than an hour drive west of downtown Orlando? Most Orlando residents have never heard of Lake Louisa State Park.  I just discovered it and I’ve lived here for almost thirty years.

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Lake Louisa is the southernmost lake in the Clermont Chain of Lakes.  These waters comprise one of the most recreational lake systems in Florida, providing a haven for water sports and fishing.

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Lake Louisa offers guided kayak trips. Visitors can rent kayaks or canoes at the Camper Canteen located near the campground.

The Lake Louisa campground is one of the best we’ve visited. We parked our trailer in the Dixie Loop, nestled between Lake Hammond and Dixie Lake. From our site we could easily walk to either lake for spectacular views.

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Sunset on Dixie Lake

The weather forecast was accurate for this trip. It rained often. Unlike many places we’ve camped, our site had terrific drainage. The site was paved with a gravel top and bordered with concrete. Even after a night of heavy rain the ground outside our trailer was dry. Another advantage, many of the campsites are pull-through and contain full hookups including sewer.   IMG_3615

Fortunately, it didn’t rain all the time. People often ask me what we do when we go camping.  We usually spend our mornings hiking with Buddy.  His beagle nose takes in all the smells and direct his little feet forward. Most of the time he’s tracking some critter beyond our limited human awareness.

IMG_7639Once in a while, Buddy will encounter something that warrants further investigation, like this little turtle. A few extra sniffs and we’re on our way again.

 

 

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Trail rides are offered at Lake Louisa. Buddy tracked a horse on one of our hikes. But when we followed it to the corral, he became more interested in whatever trash he could grab with his mouth.  Sum it up to life with a beagle.

After a morning hike, our family of three relaxes in the shade. Herb and I both enjoy reading.  I write, or think about writing. Buddy dozes.

After dinner, we like to sit around the campfire and talk.  All three nights of this trip it rained. No chance for a fire, so we sheltered in place inside our one hundred square foot trailer. Good thing we get along.  Avid board gamers, our favorite game at the moment is Splendor.  For details follow the link.

Our last morning at the campground we met a couple of neighbors. The camp host, Kevin, invited everyone for coffee.  We love meeting other campers and sharing stories of our experiences in various Florida state parks.

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Pictured left to right, Kevin, Bob, Suzie Q, Herb, and Buddy.

Campground hosts volunteer to help maintain the campground and give information to campers if needed. They are also called upon to offer assistance in case of late night emergencies.  In return, they camp for free. Most live in their RV’s fulltime and move within the Florida park system as needed.  I don’t think Herb and I are interested in the position yet. Not until we upgrade beyond our one hundred square feet of living space.