Saving the Best for Last!

Lake Kissimmee State Park, Sunday, November 17th. 

We ignored google maps which wanted us to take 441 to 75 to I-4 to 27 to 60… too many twists and turns! So we went straight south on 441 for 11 miles to I-75 at Alachua, 140 miles to the suburbs of Tampa and then turned east for 50 miles on FL-60. About 20 miles longer but much more direct. Congested at first on 60 in Brandon and Valrico, then thinning out through the phosphate mine country with some slowdowns going through the towns of Mulberry, Bartow and Lake Wales.

Still cool and overcast (high 50s) but getting warmer!

Set up in Site 51 marveling at this wonderful place. Hard to imagine a more beautiful campground. Large, shell rock sites under old live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Lots of privacy and space between sites.

Took a walk from the campground along the road to the day use area (parking lots, picnic tables, concession, boat ramp, Cow Camp, Youth Camp, trailheads, observation tower) and found a short cut back.

Monday, November 18th.

Sunny at last! Highs in the 70s! Perfect! Lots of wildlife. Wild turkeys and deer, obviously quite tame and expecting a handout, visited our campsite.

Took a three mile loop, the Gobbler Ridge trail, to the shore of Lake Kissimmee and back. Saw bald eagles circling far above keeping company with some vultures, 2 flocks of migrating sandhill cranes, a vibrant pleated woodpecker, snail kite… many others. Clustered bushmint, many grasses, sedges, known and unknown. A small black snake crossed the trail, picture to follow… Great hike, amazing sky, clouds, weather!

2E567B8A-7B6C-47B3-84B1-F0321B203B4CE28B9318-D83A-4BFF-8C3E-C7B27C1FBF7B78B2614B-92FB-476D-A296-96E4440E229601A406AC-A901-49D1-AC72-51B185A726B9EFDF9093-F84E-4776-9234-A540F39ED067A1B0E6DE-CEA6-4AC8-B508-8F28062A88372FDAB7D2-5C32-4A73-BECB-91A68C7CAE9D

Helpful sign!

Now using the WiFi at the Camp Store, waiting for the Leonids meteor shower. Yesterday was the peak, and this year isn’t supposed to be that spectacular anyway, but we may be surprised! Hope springs eternal!!

Panhandle to High Springs

Thursday, November 14th. Last full day at Three Rivers State Park. Tried to find Chattahoochee Nature Trail, created by A. Gholson, a member of FNPS. Much storm damage, v. rough trail. Went instead to town Riverside Park, w/ Indian Mounds and info signs and a boardwalk trail along bluffs and ravines on banks of Apalachicola River. But boardwalk was damaged by storm and impassable. Drove up to Jim Woodruff Dam which created Lake Seminole at confluence of Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers. Cold, damp!3B251EB5-E95F-49B3-9CF1-00080FFAD200F777846C-81F7-4197-BCFC-03EE705237D3F32F8841-8B95-4095-B4D9-7078CE62ED06F5ABA78B-9BC6-4418-97E2-1440CEB52144229F9B21-53DC-447C-83ED-FF0A8727513A

Friday, November 15th. Drove 180 miles on I-10 and I-75 to O’Leno State Park, 6 miles north of High Springs. With the last of the daylight, took the River Trail along the banks of the Santa Fe River to the place where it disappears into an underground cave system, the “River Sink,” reappearing 3 miles away in River Rise Preserve State Park. The trailhead is at a beautiful suspension bridge constructed by the CCC!

Saturday, November 16th. Nature Center… CCC buildings & history (log pavilion, museum, statue).

Drove to see River Rise Preserve State Park, but the entrance was chained and locked. There was a public boat ramp just south of there, so we stopped to read the info sign and walk around the small park.D59A3576-0AF1-4233-9878-38E319B0FAD4224014FF-E1AB-4CF0-BAF3-0F64E403EC33

Admired a giant oak tree bending over the River, where someone had attached a rope swing. We could imagine local youngsters using it to launch themselves into the River on those beastly hot summer days. Went into High Springs for groceries at Winn Dixie, and diesel at the slowest fuel pump in creation. Back at camp, H returned to the Nature Center to give them some of Matt’s old books on birds, plants, ocean, reptiles, the Everglades. The ranger and the quite elderly volunteer said that young visitors would enjoy them. They asked where we are from and turns out the volunteer used to live on a houseboat in the Boynton Inlet Marina, then in Jupiter when it was still a small fishing village, and finally on 9th Street on the lake block in WPB. He said he’s glad they’re no longer down there… too congested!

After lunch… Limestone Trail to quarry, and then back out to River Rise East where the Santa Fe River reappears. Sketchy directions, walked a while on pretty woodsy road but never found it. Figured it out later after poring over the confusing map. Now we know where it is and how to get there but that will be for another time…4E2F8A9B-DA5F-4435-A3B1-51F06FF8633DAFDDF10E-B3F3-4F65-AB85-8A4448954708

Florida Caverns, Post Hurricane Michael

Wednesday, November 13th. Last year we had reservations for the campground at Florida Caverns State Park but the park closed because of Hurricane Michael. This year, the campground is still closed, but the Cave Tours are open, so we drove 40 minutes west and north of the town of Marianna to the park in time for the 11:30 a.m. tour. The Park, The Visitor Center and Museum and access to the cave itself were all constructed by the CCC in circa 1933. The familiar CCC statue is here too.

We had an excellent one hour tour of the cave, or “Cavern,” as Volunteer guide Kevin was careful to make the distinction between the two. A cavern has the formations: stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, draperies, rimstone, etc. etc. A cave does not. This cavern is relatively small and intimate. You can get very close to the formations here, unlike in the larger more famous caves like Carlsbad or Mammoth Cave; more similar to Timpanogos. Inside the cave it was surprisingly warm, much warmer than the outside temperature which was in the 50s, and much more humid as well. First off, Kevin spotted a small bat, which he ID’ed as an Eastern Pipistrelle.973BF044-89B5-4CFA-980A-EF15C0BAB98B

Snapshots from Florida Caverns:

Kevin started as a volunteer and gave cave tours for 3 years, then was hired by the state of Florida and works part time giving cave tours 3 days a week. He estimates he’s given over 2000 tours in the past 6 years. Thanks, Kevin! 2A2ABD7C-3242-4B27-A800-5141ECF03650

We exchanged a propane canister at Walmart, got some fuel and groceries, and drove back to camp. After lunch we took a short walk along what used to be the nature trail here, but which was devastated by Hurricane Michael, like the rest of Three Rivers State Park, where trees were snapped off and splintered like broken pencils. There are still huge piles of tree trunks and limbs waiting to be chipped.7A235BFE-7307-4562-9769-1322F9AC7F1B

On the other hand, this is the view from our door:5451C033-81CE-498C-9236-F00B61E1000E

And this is the full moon from our campsite looking out over Lake Seminole.DCF7B6FB-B428-44DB-BF85-D1D6823D9D46

Tracking the Front

Tuesday, November 12th. Yesterday was a relaxing day spent doing laundry, using the WiFi and cell signal at the ranger station, and taking some short hikes to visit some of the less prominent mounds near the Temple Mound Trail, as well as the spillway near Lake Yohola and bits of the Spruce Pine Trail. 54D4021E-60C8-4DB0-9C95-B1B6463E3B1B415D9686-0F57-4A13-8301-36FC33E50B18All along we were tracking a weather system coming down from the northwest bringing rain and cold to south Georgia and north Florida. While it was still pleasantly cool and comfortable to sit outside, we watched the sunset from our campsiteAFC89627-DC1B-4271-961D-179881410FBB

and then made a fire and roasted sweet potatoes for dinner.9B1CD0A4-18BB-435E-AD20-F24390E2B8C2

We woke this morning to the sound of rain, and temps in the 40s. The Campground had already emptied out and we were in nobody’s way so we took our time, made lunch, and got ready to leave. The rain stopped and we drove south under gray skies on dry roads. We only had 62 miles to go. After an hour or so we crossed the Apalachicola River and we were back in Florida! Soon after that we missed a turn and ended up having to zigzag a few miles along muddy red dirt back roads until we rejoined the paved 2-lane River Road which brought us to Three Rivers State Park. When we checked in the ranger warned us that the park is still in recovery from the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael a year ago, and that we should expect strong winds coming across the open water of the lake. You can see how that might be the case from this map of our location. Note the temp at 6:40 p.m. Supposed to go down to 31F tonight!1D20D48F-1492-42CC-A005-DACD1D73C0B3

The campground is open for business but still a bit the worse for wear, stripped of whatever trees were here before, and the roads in the park are still damaged with potholes and cracks from the heavy equipment brought in to clear the fallen trees. Our campsite is bare gravel, small and awkward to back into, but Scott did fine. We are right on the lakeshore with gorgeous views across the water.9AB48628-C956-4065-8297-770C162EFB17910ECA1C-23CD-4259-9972-84DDD563E180A862FC9F-E6F1-4661-BA67-411AF59CF4FE

According to the park brochure, “The Flint River and Chattahoochee River combine to form Lake Seminole above the Jim Woodruff Dam. Below the dam, the waters become the mighty Apalachicola River, which flows untamed until it pours into Apalachicola Bay, and eventually, the Gulf of Mexico. The name of the park is a tribute to these three rivers.”

After we had set up camp, the skies cleared, the temperature dropped, and we could clearly see the trailing edge of the front as it passed by.44688826-C6FA-4B81-8F0C-C6503F14DA71

Kolomoki

Saturday, November 9th. We arrived at Kolomoki Mounds State Park after a relatively painless 3 hour drive south on US27. It would have been less but we hadn’t factored in the tremendous traffic jam in Columbus, GA because of Game Day. High school football traffic and parking gridlock had a 20 square block downtown area tied up with police directing traffic on every corner. We would have missed this interesting small southern town phenomenon had we taken the interstate bypass.

We lucked into a beautiful lakeside campsite in the small (24 site) Kolomoki campground. 263F2033-5FFF-4C3E-8AB9-D0BFECA29DC0E8372263-8E04-4177-8A15-E5EA60D879AANice, clean bathhouse, “Free Library” book exchange, laundry ($0.75 wash, $1.50 dry). First we visited the Museum…66A30C36-4140-479B-8952-E1D8895BBB3913F727C4-224A-4A22-B016-CCCBCE5D1FE209CFD813-0B3A-464D-979B-990C19BD946E

Then, we took the trail from the end of our campground loop to the trailhead for the Trillium trail… many trees downed by Hurricane Michael…

Sunday, November 10th. Overnight temps dropped into the 30s. It was already warming up to 36 degrees on our outside thermometer by 7:30 a.m. Brisk!! First off, we drove up to the Visitor Center/Museum and used their WiFi so we could have a Happy Birthday, Mom! chat with Matthew and Danielle. Delightful! DC838B9D-C549-4F40-A08B-F8D4FBCF599EThen we took the Temple Mounds trail and climbed the 80 steps to the top of  Temple Mound. This trail connected with the White Oak trail, which took us through the forest of giant southern magnolia, sassafras, sweet gum and of course white oak. The trail brochure says we have traversed several natural communities little changed from when Native Americans were here, and walking through these beautiful woods we can well imagine that this might be the case. The trail looped back to the Temple Mound parking lot.

Back to the trailer for lunch, where we discovered that the container of soy milk in the fridge was leaking as we were greeted by a large puddle of soy milk on the floor. We rectified this situation, made tofu salad for lunch, and then drove back out for the 60 minute drive west to Dothan, AL.

First, we drove to the Dothan Planet Fitness, and did our usual drill: workout, shower, WiFi. Nice! Then we drove a couple of miles to the Walmart for grocery shopping and cheap diesel ($2.53/gallon). Finally, we visited our friends the Willens’ who moved from Palm Beach County to Dothan 6 months ago. They made a wonderful vegetarian dinner and we enjoyed the evening with good food, good conversation and good friends.

We were back on our way to camp by 7:54 p.m. and Scott got us home over the dark country roads in under an hour, which was a good thing because we had not reckoned on gaining an hour when we passed into Alabama (CST) and losing it again when we returned east to Georgia, and the camp gates close at 10:00 p.m. Most parks’ gates close at night, but if you stay in the campground they give you a combination code that opens the gate. Kolomoki does not! So we made it under the wire at 9:44 p.m. EST!

Out of the clouds

Thursday, November 7th. This was our longest drive of this month-long trip – 200 miles from Cloudland Canyon south to FDR State Park. On the way down, we drove through actual clouds as well as cloudbursts. 524F798C-279C-453C-B336-B4E20B042A22 Happily, we were able to avoid interstates the whole way. After we checked into FDR, we took a short <1 mile hike on the Delano Trail looping around the campground through the southern Appalachian hardwood and pine woodland where we were challenged to ID the unfamiliar trees – like the chestnut oak with its big (1.5”) shiny acorns.C53CA95E-8DE2-4121-AC5C-079E443F41C5

E160F450-D0AB-4F86-9D68-6370D2CFFF4204B3FF80-4522-495C-A0CF-F101A1146815Friday, November 8th. It was cool and damp this morning, after spattering rain overnight. A good day for indoor pursuits, like a visit to the Little White House in Warm Springs, GA, 13 miles from the park. But first! We stopped on the way at Dowdell’s Knob. This was Roosevelt’s favorite picnic spot overlooking an expansive view of the valley below. There’s a lifesize bronze statue of Roosevelt at the viewpoint, showing his leg braces, indicating that he was able to relax without hiding his disability at his Warm Springs retreat. 03A106E9-2924-4EFB-810A-2B06D6C8DD107A5B230F-08CC-4E07-B8D1-3C2E920804EDAD45B0B3-8303-414B-A313-D65302092CB7There was a huge crowd of schoolchildren at the entrance to the Little White House, so we drove back out to do our grocery shopping first, at the Piggly Wiggly in the neighboring town of Manchester. On the way, we saw a sign for the Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery, so we turned in there to check it out. https://www.fws.gov/warmsprings/FishHatchery/They have an indoor aquarium with several of the species they propagate here, including the longnose gar, alligator gar, and lake and Atlantic sturgeon.AD8BF1FF-10B3-4CC6-AD5B-B9EE0B526E184114C948-79E1-48A8-9BA7-9F08790BCC9D75190792-236B-435B-9E7B-82C3E5D7ABB0 In extensive outdoor ponds, there are these species and separate ponds for the goldfish they raise as “forage” for the larger predatory fish. We saw some of the enormous grass carp that are part of the National Triploid Grass Carp Inspection and Certification Program,which inspects imported carp on their way to US fish farms to make sure they are sterile (triploid). There are acres of boardwalks and nature trails, natural-looking wetlands, butterfly gardens, and signage about the lifecycle of the Monarch butterfly, as well as other native wildlife in the wetland habitat. Unexpected treat!

After our excursion to the Piggly Wiggly, we returned to the Little White House.F69DC785-B111-4181-8B3D-2E7C8F94A356B6355C98-3744-4A24-9947-20296125317A354BEF68-915C-4C80-B49D-5A6A9A581F7D

We were happy to see how well attended were the Museum, memorial and the WH. Not large crowds, but the occasional school bus, and a constant stream of small groups and families. The staff were highly accommodating and upbeat, trying to ensure everyone saw all they had to offer. A short movie on his life and death with emphasis on his dozens of visits here. Many of the sentiments brought one to tears. His own polio caused him to start the March of Dimes, which we remember, and he played with many polio stricken children in the Warm Springs. More, his many talks with local farmers and other hill and country folk were instrumental in his later policies, especially rural electrification. Of course, the CCC, which we honor and adore, is mentioned, as are his many political and social achievements and defeats.The museum displayed many of his personal items…as always, one was struck by the lack of ostentatiousness in his speech, his interactions with others, and in the design of the houses and furnishings. Eleanor had her own corner which, while full of praise and noted achievements, pointed out that she was there rarely, in part because of local opposition to her avowed care and concern for Native Americans and people of color.

The Little White House itself is sobering for the preservation of the very spots where he had his stroke, on his leather chair, sitting at a card table, getting his famously unfinished portrait painted and his narrow wooden bed, where he died just two hours later. Only 63 when he died. Pictures of thousands of people lining up to see his train pass by on its way to DC reflect such a sense of loss and sadness.

Cloudland

Tuesday, November 5th. Our trip from Fort Mountain to Cloudland Canyon was a pleasant, scenic 80 mile drive on quiet country roads, no interstates! By 4 p.m. we had lunched and rested, and were ready to do some exploring. We decided on the Waterfalls Trail.

4A67369B-485B-4A4F-B589-0E112ECF39C4.jpegThere is a side trail from our West Rim campground that connects with the Waterfalls Trail. This is supposed to be a strenuous 2 mile round trip, but we had not reckoned on the shortened daylight hours, nor just how strenuous it would be to descend on 600 stairs into the canyon and then climb 600 stairs up and back across the creek to the West Rim. By the time we had climbed down, admired Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls, and climbed up to the East Rim, it was almost dark, so we decided to walk back to the West Rim campground along the park road. By the time we got there it was totally dark, with Jupiter setting in the West. We had walked a total of 5 miles instead of 2. But it was a beautiful, cool night and we were warmly dressed and felt great! Maybe a little sore…

We ate dinner listening to classical music broadcast by Chattanooga Public Radio from Collegedale, Tennessee, swooning with pleasure at a Chopin piano nocturne played by Vladimir Askenazi. What a treat!

Wednesday, November 6th. We decided to start slow today, with the easy, one mile Overlook Trail along the East Rim, enjoying spectacular views of the Canyon, brilliantly colored leaves under a clear blue sky, sandstone sedimentary rock walls with small waterfalls lacing down. E4FF3C19-6BFA-450E-9D64-B197906445951901F4F4-D7D5-4967-98E2-F6143D1B02A1C7BE34A6-376D-4EE9-A8EB-ED1396A25F9519148D2F-ED71-40A9-83B3-B54520AA55B1

After lunch, we tackled the famous West Rim Trail, a 3 mile loop rated by Backpacker Magazine as one of the top 10 hikes in the U.S. It really is a little gem of a hike. As the name implies, it hugs the West Rim of the Canyon, with scenic overlooks in the prettiest spots. We went slowly along the rocky, rooty, well-marked yellow-blazed trail, stopping at all the overlooks, taking 2 hours in all, and we were back at camp well before dark. We have really enjoyed this beautiful park!

 

Apple Day

Monday, November 4th. We had to go back to Ellijay and find some local apples. We got some sketchy directions at the ranger station, passed through Ellijay and headed east out of town on a pretty country road with signs touting “Georgia Agritourism.” That’s us – agritourists! We stopped at 3 different Apple barns and happily supported the local farmers of Gilmer County, Georgia. We sampled and bought 2 varieties new to us: the Mutsu and the Arkansas Black.

Then we stopped at a used book store on the way back and browsed for a good hour. Back at the campground now, getting ready to cook up a batch of apples!

 

Going to Fort Mountain: A 2-Medal Day!

Saturday, November 2nd. We had a one-night stopover Friday night south of Macon in a local park on the shore of Lake Tobesofkee. They had a nice butterfly habitat but they used old newspaper under wood chips for mulch, and they’d recently had a lot of rain so the wood chips blew away and the old newspapers were sodden. But this park had the advantage of being just a couple of miles off the interstate and near fuel and groceries. We availed ourselves of these opportunities, stocking up at Aldi’s and Kroger’s. Saturday morning, we got back on the interstate and white-knuckled our way north for 120 miles on I-75 through Atlanta. The trucks thundered by, and our travel lane unexpectedly became an exit-only lane too many times to count. We were able to breathe again for 50 miles on country road 411N to Chatsworth, GA. This is the western gateway to the Cohutta mountains so we turned east on GA52 for 8 miles on a narrow, winding, steep no-shoulder road to the entrance of Fort Mountain State Park. Scott deserves a medal for safely delivering us and our camper to the park. We checked in at the Visitor Center/Trading Post and drove several miles down an even narrower, steeper and more winding park road to the Lakeside Campground where our campsite #26 was already occupied by another party, well ensconced with a large yellow “Thank you, Jesus” sign prominently displayed in front. The occupant explained that they had been there for 2 weeks, and thought the November 2nd end date of their reservation meant they had the site through the second, and not that they had to depart on the second. The park ranger disabused them of this notion. Too bad he waited until 3 hours past their check-out time to do so. He found exactly one vacant site -#22- available across the road in the Creekside campground and said we could either take it ourselves or make the folks in site #26 move there. We decided to check it out, which involved driving through the Lakeside Loop, even more narrow and winding, an obstacle course through the packed campground with people’s cars and trucks parked too close to the road. The ranger and a maintenance worker came with us to the one empty site in the Creekside campground and blew the thick layer of fallen leaves off the campsite so we could see it. It’s a nice, level site, but it’s up a steep driveway which Scott would have to back into with the truck and camper. He did this following my hand signals, but without doubt, Scott deserves another medal for this performance!

We congratulated ourselves since this is actually a nicer site, with more privacy and further from the road. We took a walk on the Lake Trail through the crisp late fall afternoon, marveling at the brilliant colors of the leaves and the deep blue of the sky. Yes, the temps went down to the 30s overnight, but the stars looked huge, glittering brightly in the crisp mountain air.

The pictures say it all. We had to find a store in East  Ellijay to buy warm hats and gloves. Not the hat in the photo, however!

22D70ABB-73F5-46F3-9A77-EABB15336413

F936602B-1D6A-40A4-8CFF-9EE4DFB31951On the other hand, the leaves are turning and the walking is wonderful.

These are trails in Fort Mountain State Park:

 

Here is the view from an overlook in Chattahoochee National Forest:

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Finally, here is a segment of a 900 foot long stone wall, possibly constructed by Woodland Indians around 500 AD for ceremonial purposes, on a Fort Mountain trail just under the fire lookout tower constructed by the CCC in 1938-39.B1BA9807-3792-4079-8FB2-B2BF80A592E3

Sunday, November 3rd.

Morning walk on the Overlook Trail, connecting to the Tower Trail (to the stone CCC lookout tower) and to the ancient Stone remnants of a wall built by Woodland Indians for unknown, possibly ceremonial or symbolic purposes.

Then, drive 18 miles further east on scenic 52 (much easier without towing a trailer!), to the touristy mountain town of Ellijay, Apple Capital of Georgia. Couldn’t find any locally grown apples.