Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Variety is the spice of life!

We traveled to Hillsborough River State Park on February 12th.  Gin and Syl came over for a visit on Monday the 13th and we were supposed to go kayaking.  We sat outside and chatted for a few hours, ate our picnic lunch and then decided to hike instead of paddle.  The weather was cooler and I just wasn't feeling being on the water.  Gin and Syl have some really nice black diamond hiking sticks....
You can have "shorty" hiking sticks too!
 We headed out on the River Rapid trail.  This nice poem is at the entrance of the trail....
The views were amazing.....

We had so many laughs while on the trail and it could be over the silliest things....
Dan and Gin were trying to make it look like his head was coming out of Gin's hood on her sweatshirt.     We also wanted to see if we would fit in the opening of a huge tree we saw.....
Sizing it up (and making sure there were no snakes!)
I told you we were silly!!

We also hiked on the Baynard trail.  All in all it was about 3 miles from the start of our hike until the end.  
View of the stationary bridge

Dan hanging out in the trees!
While we were at Hillsborough River, we also had breakfast with the rangers that was coupled with a tram ride to Fort Foster.  For only $3 a person, you sure couldn't beat it!  Entertainment and food!  Fort Foster is the only standing replica of the Second Seminole War Fort in the United States.  It was very informative and included a reading (as well as a few surprise "gun" shots!) by Turkey the Seminole dressed in period costume.  We didn't get back to the campground until almost lunchtime!

We also spent some time with a couple that we had met at Little Manatee River and had met up with them again at Highlands Hammock.  Tony and Cathy are from Ohio and we had some great conversation with them.  We hope to meet up with them over the summer or, worse case, next time we are in Florida.  

We really enjoyed our time at Hillsborough River State Park and wished we could have stayed longer. Oh well, it's the price we pay for "living on the edge" by not making campground reservations in Florida for the winter! 

Over the weekend, we stayed at Lazy Days in Seffner, FL.  Although we prefer state parks over commercial campgrounds or RV parks, we wanted to check out this place that we had heard so much about.  We also made sure that we stopped by Parkesdale Farm Market for some strawberry shortcake!
The menu board
There were about 50-60 people in line but it moved fast.  We decided to splurge and were quite the little piggies....
Two number 5s, a number 1 and a number 2
Yes, that's right, two strawberry milkshakes, one strawberry shortcake with whipped creme and one strawberry shortcake with whipped creme and ice cream!  My eyes were bigger than my tummy and I had to take 3/4 of my milkshake home.  Needless to say, we did not eat dinner that night!

Fast forward a few days and we arrived at Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont.  We really, really like this park.  It's about 3 miles from the ranger station to the campground.  There are 60 sites on 3 loops and it is very, very, very quiet!  Plenty of places to paddle (although we didn't get a chance!), hike, and bike.

We went to Showcase of Citrus one day and picked 1/4 bushel of spring navels, blood oranges, honey tangerines, and honeybell tangelos. 

I'm ready to pick!
Yum Yum Yum.  There is absolutely no comparison to "grocery store" fruit.  The smell of these fresh picked fruits is divine and the flavor is delish!
Some of our loot!
We also spent one day at Epcot.  No pictures of this - didn't want to drag the camera with us as we had plenty of other stuff to tote (lunch, water, etc etc)!.  We had a fun time and really liked the ride Soarin'.  It's modeled to make you feel like you are hang-gliding thru California.  Very very cool.  We took advantage of the "free" transportation within the Disney World complex and rode the monorail over to the general transportation hub and hopped on the boat to Magic Kingdom.  We then rode the monorail back to Epcot.  ;-)  It was a fun day but we were pooped by the time we got back to the RV.  Grilled a few burgers for dinner and then it was zzzzzzzz. 

Life is good! 

Monday, February 13, 2012

More kayaking, biking, and hiking!!

I sure have gotten used to the warm weather in Florida.  Highs in the high 70s/low 80s with lows in the 60s is my kind of weather.  Now why do we have this cold spell now?  Brrrrrrrrr.......well at least it gives me time to work on some crafts for birthdays and Christmas!!

Superbowl Sunday, we went back over to hang out with Gin and Syl and Sherry and David.  The intent was to ride bikes since we had paddled the day before.  When we got to Gin and Syl's site, they were already out riding.  We hopped on our bikes and pedaled over to Sherry and David's site.  They were gone, we set out to find them.  We had pedaled a bit when we saw Gin flying thru the campground saying "get the kayaks, we've found manatees"!!  We quickly headed back to the truck and loaded three kayaks in the bed of Dan's truck.  Gin, Syl, Dan and I were going to kayak with the manatees...Sherry and David were headed back to their rig.

We drove to a point that looked liked it had pretty good "impromptu" kayak launching and parked the vehicles.....

We got in the water quickly and paddled just a few minutes before we saw them. The wind was not in our favor and kept on turning us around.  We finally hunkered down at a "Idle Speed" sign and locked paddles. 
Gin and Syl on "manatee watch"

It was hard to get good pictures of the manatees so after a few minutes, I decided to put the camera down and just enjoy watching the manatees play and swim.  I was in awe of their size and their beauty.   They made such cool sounds when they came up to breathe.  We all continued to paddle and we communicated with each other with hand gestures.  With the exception of some rambunctious kids at a picnic shelter on one of the banks, (who at that point were unaware of the manatees in the water) at  it was very, very peaceful.

Dan was paddling very carefully as the manatees were getting closer and closer to us and he didn't want to hurt them with the paddle.    Well, one of the manatees wanted to get an even closer look at the kayak and started nudging the back right pontoon!! 

This little guy was so curious!  We wondered if he thought that the tip of the pontoon favored his mother (if you know what I mean!!).  He kept on nudging us and poking his head out of the water right at the edge of our kayak.....

He snorted so close to Dan once that he got to smell his breath!  Ewwww! 
It was one of the coolest afternoons!  We must have stayed in the water for 3 or 4 hours watching the manatees.  Afterwards, we paddled to a little cover and chatted for a bit.  It was a great time on the water.

We headed back to Gin and Syl's and Sherry and David joined us for some munchies and a bit of Superbowl watching.  I think that there was more chatting done than watching the game!  Right before halftime, we bid everyone "safe travels" and "see you down the road".

The next day we left to go to Highlands Hammock State Park.  The ride over was a bit uneventful until we got to the dirt county road that had wooden, one lane bridges!  We were okay weight wise but boy oh boy did we get dusty!  We got settled into our site (101) after a few tricky maneuvers.  The roads in the campground are a bit narrow, traffic can go both ways (even though they are only one lane!), and the dump station is not in the best place!  Dan also had to stop on the way in and get on top of the rig to pull down a dead tree limb that was hanging in our way.  Didn't want it to scratch the roof!!

This was, by far, the largest campground of any of the state parks that we have stayed in.  The sites were a bit close together and there was a Scamp Camp going on!  There must have been about 50-75 of these scampers!   Although as crowded as it was and as large as it is, it was a quiet campground.  They also have lots of ranger-led activities like soup night, covered dish dinners, camper coffee, etc etc.

Over the next few days, we explored the park on foot and by bicycle (and by tram, too!).  Highlands Hammock is one of the first state parks in Florida and opened to the public in 1931.  During the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) developed some of the park facilities.  There is a really nice interpretive museum educating people on the CCC.   There are also a number of hiking trails as well as a bike trail and a loop (which is also the hammock).  We wanted to do all of the trails but ended up missing two of them.  Everytime that we went out to hike, we would check on the alligator that had taken up residence in a culvert near the entrance of the hammock.  She had a number of babies with her too.
I think we counted 12!
The hammocks were gorgeous but pictures just don't do it justice....

My favorite trail was the Cypress Swamp Trail. 

It  had a really neat catwalk over what was supposed to be a swamp with more water than there actually was....

No water here!

Water here but very low!

Saw this beautiful cardinal

Dan spotted this alligator peering at us. 

Air plants were all over the trees!
The trees on some of the trails were HUGE!

On the tram ride that we took, Ranger Brenda told us that in the past, when the big trees would start showing signs of decay, they insides would be filled with concrete and rebar.  It was thought that this would help prevent further damage.
Look high up in the tree...
and even closer!
We saw dozens of alligators on the tram ride...
including this big guy!!
and this one swimming in the green stuff...
Jolly Geen Giant
and these hanging out with the turtles.....

and some other wildlife...
Blue heron on the left; deer on the right
and another first for me.......
an armadillo!
We went on the tram ride with another camper we had met back at Silver River.  Marcia has been camping by herself for 38 years!  We enjoyed chatting with her and even got to celebrate her birthday with her!  We also ran into another couple we had met at Little Manatee River.  Tony and Cathy are going to be at Hillsborough River (where we are now) and am sure that we will hang out with them some more as well.

Today Gin and Syl are coming over for a paddle.  Should be fun!  We get to try out the kayak carts....stay tuned for pictures.

I'd like to wish my parents an early "happy anniversary".....54 years!!  Congratulations Mom and Dad and best wishes for many, many more years together.
I'd also like to give congratulations to my daughter, Ashleigh.  She is a freshman at UNC-W and was recently selected to be a student ambassador.  A student ambassador serves as an official host of the university during special events. They promotes the "UNCW" way to students past, present, and future. The UNCW website says that they are an elite group of students representing the best of the very best. Their primary duties and services include working with the chancellor, the Alumni Association, UNCW Admissions, the community, and prospective and current students; ultimately, volunteering their time and energy to promoting and serving the University. 

Can you tell this Mom is proud?
And one more son Brandon and DIL Amanda are purchasing their first home! Congratulations to them!!

They close in a few weeks and move in shortly there after.  I keep asking if the RV hook-ups have been installed yet!!!  We are looking forward to seeing their new place when we return to the Wake Forest area later this Spring.  Life is good indeed!


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Friends, friends, and more friends

At the RV-Dreams Rally in Tennessee last April, we met Joan and Steve and Deb and Jim from Florida.  We enjoyed their company and we all rode the motorcycles out to the Tail of the Dragon one day during the rally.  They are the ones (along with Dave and Maxine) that we were with when Dan's wallet was "lost"! 

When we finally made it down to Florida, we were able to meet up with them again.  We met at the Ivy House in Williston, FL for lunch and enjoyed catching up and chatting for a few hours. 


Steve, Joan, Deb, Jim, Dan and I
Steve and Joan are getting ready to start their full-timing adventure next month and would love to have Deb and Jim join them.  Maybe someday!  The conversation was good and we quizzed each other on RVs, modifications, work-camping, motorcyles, and a number of other topics.   Our time ended too quickly but know that we will see them again "down the road"!!

This past weekend, we also met up with friends, Mary Ann and Bill.  They are "snow-birds" and are in Florida for the winter.  We met at the outlet mall in Ellenton for lunch and a little shopping.  Not sure how I did it, but I ended up with the most bags (and all I really needed were some new clogs!!)

Dan, Mary Ann and Bill
We had a nice time catching up and look forward to seeing them over the summer when we are in PA.

The weather here has been absolutely marvelous and we enjoyed a motorcyle ride out to Longboat Key and Siesta Key.  Siesta Key has been voted as one of the top ten beaches in the US and needed to be checked out by this beach lover!!

We stopped along the way at Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island for a picnic lunch....

The water was amazing shades of blue!  We saw our favorite type of bird hanging out...
And Dan spotted what he thought would be the best work-camping gig for him.....

See that green tractor?  It is raking the sand so it's level!  Can't you see him doing that? 

Longboat Key was beautiful but we did not stop to visit the beach.  The sign advertising condos for $3,000,000 was a bit of a turn-off for me so we continued down to Siesta Key.  We parked the bike and headed to the beach....

The sand was like nothing I had ever seen before.  It was powder soft and so white! However, it was very, very crowded.  We hung out for a bit watching the bitds....

It was a nice day but we were both glad to get away from the crowds.  Traffic was a bear also!

One of our neighbor campers had told us about a manatee viewing area that was close to the campground we were at (Little Manatee River SP).  Tampa Electric Company operates this and it is a fascinating place to visit....and it's free!  The viewing area is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary and includes a tidal walk, butterfly garden, and education facility.  The waters from the power plant are warm and this attracts the manatees.  On the other side of the viewing area is the power plant.....
and it's a bit noisy and "big" to have this so close to nature but I guess it's a catch-22!  In addition to a few manatees, we also saw bonnethead sharks, tarpons,  rays, and snooks.  The manatees were too far away to get good pictures but I was able to get a couple of cool shots of a heron scouting for lunch....

During our stay here, we also met up with friends Gin and Syl and Sherry and David.  We headed over to "Pelican's Point" for a little kayaking.  We also were anxious to see Gin and Syl's new home!  It's a beauty!!
We were able to put the kayaks in right at their campsite!  The afternoon was gorgeous and we meandered thru the mangroves....

 and out in the bay.....

Sherry and Syl

We saw tons of birds....
Sherry pointing out a bird in a tree...

It was a great afternoon with great friends!  So great that we are headed back over to their campground again today to spend more time with them!  Life is good!