Saturday, February 27, 2016

If You Remember....Silver Springs



If you remember Silver Springs as a pretty good Stevie Nicks song, you probably don't remember Pre-Disney Florida when your family road trip was punctuated by visits to such " Attractions" . I really don't remember The Springs.(My family was from Missouri and we had Lots of Springs.) But I was transfixed by the army of eager teenagers attaching cardboard bumper stickers to visitors' autos. These were your passport stamps marking you as a veteran of Rock City, or Rainbow Springs...hand knotted with string at an astonishing speed.

Gladys, Where are the Mermaids??

That's at Weeki Wachie, Clarence.

Waterskiing? This place ain't big enough for...

That's Cypress Gardens. That's tomorroah!


Rainbow Springs... Look, a Monkey...


When my family passed this way in the fifties, Silver Springs had been a prosperous venue for over 100 years. Steam trains and steamboats intersected here and visitors, I assume, ate fudge.

Road trips gave way to quick flights to the Kingdom. The Mouse was ascendant and the old attractions, roadside alligator petting and OK Corral shootouts faded from memory. When the State recovered a dilapidated Silver Springs from a bankrupt concessionaire, a lot of work and treasure was required to bring this natural wonder back from its over-exploited past; We arrived in the midst of it.

The campground was off the national Reserve America listing and welcoming guests to a fraction of their sites on a first come basis. Sewer line construction stripped the landscape with sandy scars, two loops were ON FIRE as a prescribed burn was in progress.


The staff was cheerful and accommodating. We found ourselves in a huge campsite of pristine white gravel raked to the perfection of a Zen garden. The bathhouses were world class. The backhoes were active 100 yards away, but we were pleased to be here; In normal times reservations here are hard to come by.

We enjoyed a short bike ride on the Withlacochee trail with our friends and local guides Eileen and Dave. It was sunny and cool and WINDY but there was warm friendship and good stories.

Another windy day we took a tour of the major springs and campgrounds in Ocala NF, revisiting some old haunts.

Yep. He's still there.

There was the usual hiking about and errand running, lubing of hitches, filling of tanks and changing of oil -- the little tasks of living on the road. This spacious campground minimized those chance meetings that often lead to longer conversations, but Patty usually draws a crowd wherever she goes. This morning while I was off changing oil, she lectured extensively on matters of life on the road to a really sweet couple from Illinois who are considering an RV. She reports that there were dishes in the sink, an unmade bed and laundry being sorted. It sounds like they enjoyed themselves as much as I did the recounting.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sittin' by the Dock of the Bay


Some days you just want to find a comfortable place , laze about, and let life brush by and touch you gently and lovingly. We learned that from Manatees hanging out in the clear waters of Manatee Springs. Waders who were still and receptive were rewarded with a slow motion caress from an eight foot sea-going mammal; More aggressive approaches were not. A murmured hello in passing along the lush, quiet boardwalk might be rewarded with new friendships...a picnic lunch at the trailer, and stories.


We spent a day and more in a small coastal town with no real "attractions" other than the views, the birds, and the comings and goings of fishing boats. Visitors that come there for the same quiet pleasures linger in passing and murmur a comment. Conversations develop, histories unfold, then Sunset, then friendship, a brush...



Locals are accustomed to the sights but WE are a curiosity. Bonds form because we are appreciative; local lore and more delights are shared, new neighbors from afar.

Because we probably don't have enough time left to master a cast net, we learned the basics, a little bit about being raised on the beach in Honduras, cooking Mullet and more. By Sunset, we were in possession of some tasty, bony fish.


Monday, February 15, 2016



We linger each year along the Big Bend Scenic Highway in Florida because we have come to expect a little biking, some pleasant birding, perhaps some seafood and, for sure, a new supply of Tupelo Honey. We should expect, by now, the UNexpected -- like a Bobcat appearing on a hike near dusk, or a fiery sunset cloaked in the smoke from a 5000 acre burn.


The little Newport park fills each night with transients lumbering across the lonely stretches of US 98 plus a few hikers off the Florida Trail. Just as surely it empties to a handful of rigs by morning. It was our great good fortune to find among them two remarkable solo women travelers who lit up our morning and kept us spellbound into the evening. They traded stories of international travels far from the safe tourist paths, of diverse childhoods which inspired their careers and their wanderlust, of RV acquisitions, restorations and horrific repairs. This blessing of friendship we all agree will endure.

Soon after our arrival, we rode about 16 miles of the Tallahassee to St Marks Railroad bike trail. It was pretty routine ride until we stopped near an intersection to add another layer. A walker stopped by and we chatted about the beauty of the trail as sunset approached .

I don't want to alarm you...really, there is nothing to be alarmed about...but last week I met a bear just over there.

Lately we have seen a lot of Bear Warning signs along the Big Bend Scenic Byway, but we have yet to be blessed with a sighting.

In the early morning of our "Refuge Day" , we were greeted with a sizable assemblage of men and fire equipment preparing for a 5000 acre Prescribed Burn.


Upwind from all the activity we checked in with "our" eagles and found them lazing about their nest, not in it. Then they launched off, circled and danced in the air until out of sight. We thought we were witnessing the nuptials but soon learned from refuge regulars that the nest tree was dead and our couple was fretting. They made frequent visits to their old nest now productively occupied by a pair of Barred Owls. We will find out next year how this drama plays out.



Smoke drifting through pine forest already greening up after an earlier burn.

The smoke, overcast and generally cool temperatures seemed to limit our enthusiasm UNTIL we joined a collegial gaggle of birders on an observation platform. Imagine us viewing a pond scattered with mixed flights of wading birds and ducks. Listen to the excitement and the staccato announcements. Gadwall ...Pied Greebe ...........

There's a Red Head near that log!

Wait a minute! Even I can identify a redhead ...I'm very good at spotting redheads...

Sandy and Dick introduced us to Birding Apps which pinpoint your location, identify the usual suspects, provide an array of useful pictures and much, much more. I predict a lot less Field Guide page turning in our future. True to form, Patty was doing more looking and less yakking. She spotted the largest Gator of the day out about 200 yards alongside a curious lump af a bird. After consultation with several experts and a couple Apps, it was deemed a juvenile Black Crested Night Heron.

Wakulla Springs is one of our happy places. Al has been coming here for 60+ years and preaches about it incessantly to friends and strangers alike. One of our new friends is a highly motivated environmental lawyer just back from a visit to the Spring and Today was off to Tallahassee to defend this and other Florida treasures, but we kidnapped Candy.

Unfortunately the tour we promised was sub par. Overcast kept most of the cold blooded creatures submerged, the wading birds weren't "feelin it" and tragically, the water was nearly black and murky. On the plus side of the blessings ledger, Candy is an event planner; Her eyes sparkled when she saw the old hotel. The natural setting, paired with the rich history and ambiance of the old hotel seemed promising and we were soon off with the manager on a detailed tour that included the founders suite.

Under state management, much has been polished and preserved, but nothing, thankfully, "updated". There is even rumor that the dining room has returned to its former excellence. "Ole Joe" the venerable stuffed Alligator has found a new lair in the snack shop/gift shop/bar area and the rich leather furniture in the lobby provide a comfy spot to study the ornate ceiling. The One television in the hotel is missing ...

A few kids and a grandchild have enjoyed a ride with Patty in the hand operated elevator, one of the first in Florida.

We, of course, had the traditional picnic despite the climatological challenges.

So, it was a story of mixed blessings. Last year's Tupelo Honey harvests failed, but the sweetness of our roadside vendor friend persevered.

The Powers are still active in their attempts to despoil the state -- grazing and mining and GOLF COURSES in the state lands, authorizing the looting of archeological sites for profit --- but gritty, determined advocates are out there and deserve our support.

When the wildlife sightings are not the best we remember, stories of lives well lived told by warm new friends ARE.

They don't serve Baked Mullet at the close-by Biker bar... I'm not sure what can balance that....


Tuesday, February 9, 2016




Sunset watchers here at St Joseph Peninsula State Park usually arrive with a wineglass; today an anchor might be advised.


Our short 60 mile venture along the coast was in bright sunshine with a steady tailwind. The wind was nearly parallel to the road but still sand flowed across in streams. As we turned Northwest at Cape San Blas to approach the Park, the wind was square on the coast and the twelve foot rip rap of Volkswagen-sized stones was being overtopped by the waves.


We would not have chosen site #72 -- we knew it flooded -- but it seems we lucked into the most protected site in the Shady Pines Loop. The other loop (appropriately called Gulf Breeze) is more open and the wind is blasting the campers at nearly the same strength as beyond the dunes on the beach.


We scurried to the beach and saw this...

In the morning, it was hysterical. (Of course, we were the only ones out there.)

I need a chinstrap for my ball cap!

If this is a "day at the beach...."

At one point we had our back to the surf --who wouldn't? -- when one of those 16 footers sent a stream of sea foam through our shoes followed by a little reminder that the water was chilly...



We have had 5-8 Airstreams at the park most of the time, and, with our natural tendencies to covey together, festivities could be expected.

What could not be predicted was Lynda who combines the enthusiasm of a new Airstreamer on her first big solo adventure with a natural talent for bringing folks together.

We had bike trips down the 30A bike trail when old folks like us might have huddled in our trailer for warmth. There were welcome parties for arriving campers, fireside get-to-gethers with tales from the Mother country ammended by others with British and colonial accents. There was a lovely breakfast featuring a sweet three year old recruited to entertain the grandmothers, and, of course, a couple of trips to the iconic Red Bar.


Did I mention the All Girls Ad Hoc Parasailing Competition ?


There was plenty of walking on beaches swept clear of shells. Come to think of it, weren't there piles of shells and stars that Lynda collected before our arrival?


Patty failed to connect with her beloved Porpoises, but this was construed as reason for yet another beach walk.

The bike ride to Eden State Park was a treat. The lovely mansion is nestled under Live Oaks 500-600 years old on grounds that sparkle in the sunlight.

As the Super Bowl approached and none of us could scramble up a connection to CBS, our new friend Steve welcomed us to his Holiday Rambler (with two antenna boosters) and we cheered on the oldest QB in Bowl history.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

We Have Been Here Before --

Fort Pickens Campground on the Gulf Islands National Seashore --but never with these guys, and that made ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

Actually, both Keith and Susanne have advanced degrees in Marine Sciences but they don't correct us when we go searching for "Dolphins", only when we are about to make a grevious mistake like not ordering the coconut shrimp. We were both on abbreviated trips to the Florida Panhandle but managed to connect for several days of non-stop merriment.

Our campsite was snuggled under the live oaks recovering nicely from a series of coastal storms...

...while their more open site featured a great view of the sunsets and an evening concert from the frog chorus.

The morning mist clouded the woody plants just beyond our bedroom windows.

There was, of course, beach walking...

And sunsets...


On a sunny Saturday, we walked the squares of downtown Pensacola, picking our favorites from the handsomely restored buildings, modest and grand.

Patty chose a pristine Cypress cottage, perfect in every way.

We happened on an elegant wedding near Seville Square and a monster pipe laying ship which Keith explained next day as we returned for yet another go at the coconut shrimp wharfside.


Of course we biked around the island, visited the fort, speculated on the gun emplacemnts and took the time-honored image of the long gallery of arches...


Patty even picked out a boat, but Al has to figure out the hitch....