Okefenokee

Wednesday, October 30th.
Moving very slowly, we were ready to leave Silver Springs by noon. We got back onto I-75 and stayed on it all the way to I-10, east to the second exit, and then we were on US441 north! From there it was about 36 miles to Fargo, Georgia, where we turned off onto SR177, the 17 mile country road that dead-ends at Stephen Foster State Park in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Hundreds of slash pines and loblolly pines along the way are marked with blue blazes. They will be removed and replaced with longleaf pine. We arrived just after 3 p.m.
Stephen Foster State Park Campground is a quiet, backwoodsy place, although we are in a “premium” campsite, pull-through with water and electric hookups. AD88B91B-A3A4-49D1-A9C1-CB34131F208FThe road ends here; there are a couple very short nature trails, but the trails here are primarily waterway trails. You can rent motor boats ($40/2hours) or Jon boats, kayaks or canoes ($15/2hours). There are twice-daily boat tours that take you 90 minutes upriver and back for $15 per person. We collected this information at the “Trading Post” where they sell T-shirts, hats and all the requisite “local” products, and where you register for your campsite. 1E5B97CF-9C9A-43DB-96F2-F139E2549440We made use of their WiFi to post the last 5 days’ blog entries. At the campsite there is no cell service of any kind. We are really roughing it!
This park is a designated “Dark-Sky-Park,” and there will be an astronomy ranger program at 8 p.m. on Friday, November 1st, “The Swampers Guide to the Galaxy.” Unfortunately, we are leaving that morning. But we took a walk after dark, and it really IS dark! We could clearly see the Milky Way. There’s a cold front coming through, with nighttime temps expected to fall into the 40s-50s tomorrow. For now, it’s still hot and humid!

Okefenokee, Thursday, October 31st.75DCEEC5-D36F-4901-80A7-7AEAE6DB37E7
Short walk on the Trembling Earth Nature Trail, followed by boat tour this morning! 18CE82E9-E52F-4388-92DD-C4CE2A92380DWe were the only passengers in the skiff with Ranger Alex. He graduated from UGA-Athens with a major in Environmental Resources Management, and was full of stories about the human and natural history of the swamp.C6E4FF9D-DCF5-469F-AD7F-13CB406B9CAE

Highlights from the swamp:

Old growth cypress, possibly 900+ years old, spared from logging because it had been struck by lightning.815885EA-54C7-4BAC-8407-700E2020DB3A

A species of Bidens along the nature trail.1604E986-2114-4A59-9E59-958B7CF0555D

Towering cypress, both Bald and Pond.39C8371C-3B5E-4531-86DE-2C175C59286A

Flared cypress trunks, Spanish moss, extravagant knees.0186F1F8-21D5-4022-A4BE-345E3121AA33

Silver Springs

Tuesday, October 29th.
Determined to make the most of our one full day in Silver Springs, we started with some morning stretches, and then took off for a 2 mile loop hike on the Sandhill Trail, which according to the ranger who checked us in yesterday is now blooming.

This sandhill habitat is beautifully maintained with controlled burns and is indeed in full bloom. Even after stopping back at the ranger station to consult their Florida Wildflower book, I’m not 100% sure what we saw. We saw a couple of species of Liatris, some paintbrush, Solidago, probably blue curls, maybe lupine, lots of dog fennel, Eliott’s lovegrass, muhly grass… some interesting fungi and much more. We saw exactly 2 other people on this hike.


Then we drove a mile down the road to the part of the park that used to be a major central Florida tourist attraction, in pre-Disney days. The state took it over and saved it from extinction. They still have a concessionaire that sells ice cream, snacks and souvenirs, and runs popular glass bottom boat rides in the eponymous Springs. The water quality is very good according to the ranger, and it certainly looks crystal clear and gorgeous.741B0F18-730C-4DB5-824F-D16CE31AE52DE7DF9901-7F9A-4D4B-AE6A-D43BEE17D589C0DF51E3-2E5D-49FC-96E5-FAEB29922C0F2D08E255-B4ED-45C7-8941-49EC81A6C925B96E87F5-A251-4C84-97E3-410EDB688605
We strolled the grounds and admired the giant old oak and cypress trees. There are many exotic and invasive plants leftover from the days of private ownership. The ranger said they are slowly removing these and replacing them with natives. Fun fact: the TV show “Sea Hunt” with Lloyd Bridges was filmed here at Silver Springs! CD3A7D5E-862D-4029-A106-EDF6215E5D21
We had a quick lunch back at the trailer, and then drove back out just a few minutes west on SR40 to the Appleton Museum of Art.
The parking lot was totally empty and we had the museum to ourselves. The ticket seller said it will be very busy starting November 2nd when their new special exhibition of European Impressionists begins, and thereafter when their Christmas decorations and displays go up. This is a little gem of a museum, incongruously plopped down in the middle of what was horse country in Ocala, FL. There are small but world class collections of pre-Columbian, African and Asian Art, as well as 18-19th European classics, a lovely Rosa Bonheur watercolor, a good representation of the Barbizon school, 2 galleries of 20th-21st century modern works including a couple of Andy Warhol’s, Rauschenberg and one Picasso print. There is a whole room of Alexander Calder works on paper. For us, the highlight was a special exhibit of woodcuts by Gainesville artist Leslie Peeples. She is an environmentalist and her work reflects her love of Florida’s vanishing wilderness areas.


Some curators briefly switched on the lights in a darkened area on the first floor where the new Impressionists exhibit will be located, so I snapped a few photos of these galleries from above, on the second floor. I guess the curators saw me taking pictures and alerted the guards who descended upon us. I protested that we had been told upon entry that photos were permitted as long as they were not flash. Maybe they thought we were spies or art journalists angling for a pre-show scoop.
After that excitement, we wended our way out and drove a few miles to the nearby Planet Fitness, worked out, showered, used their WiFi. Stopped at Publix for some groceries, drove back to the campground, did a laundry, made dinner. Busy day!!! Tomorrow we drive 138 miles to Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge near Fargo, GA.

Reunion

Friday, October 25th. We drove through pouring rain with pounding tractor trailers on I-95 until turning west on 528 and then south on 417 to Moss Park Road and the quiet, sylvan retreat of Moss Lake, an Orange County Campground. Nice, secluded sites with good distance and shrubbery between each. Ours was #48, at the end of a mile+ unpaved rough road with enormous potholes and puddles. Maybe the road is why the campground is so quiet? Sites have electric and water hookups. Nice, clean restrooms and showers. $17/night, 24 miles from downtown Orlando, and 20 minutes from the Orlando international airport. We set up and spent the afternoon recovering from the stressful drive. Matt’s flight from NY arrived just before 7, and we arranged to meet him at a local restaurant called Mr. K’s Chinese on Narcoossee Road, equidistant from the airport and Moss Lake. He arrived bearing gifts from NY (fresh chocolate babka [see below] and cinnamon raisin bagel) and from Abu Dhabi (assorted fresh dates!). The Chinese food was ordinary, but the company was priceless!1DE1DD34-3F10-4376-954A-A0915353C3F8

Saturday, October 26th. We picked Matt up at his hotel and drove out for brunch at Dixie Dharma, a hipster hole-in-the-wall with an inventive vegan southern comfort food menu. https://www.dixiedharma.com/ Pretty good execution of an ambitious and unusual concept.
B59943EF-5EFF-499C-A124-14746699137AB53994CD-E9FD-46F5-8926-D2FDEA1D010F
They gave us a flyer advertising the annual Central Florida Veg Fest, taking place right now just a few blocks away. So we trekked through the hot, sunny streets to a large field about 20 minutes away, where hundreds of colorful tents and tables were set up to sell and display all things veggie, eco-conscious, humane, including numerous animal rescue nonprofit sanctuaries with animals to pet, yoga classes, ethnic food trucks, medical marijuana info, tie-dyed clothing, handmade crafts, community gardens (with a surprising scarcity of native plants). Quite a scene! Great fun! Made me want to move to Orlando, were it not for the horrible traffic, eternal road construction, rampant overdevelopment and general congestion.


The heat and need for rest and hydration impelled us to take shady side streets back to the truck and thence to one of our old favorites, the Dandelion Cafe. We sat in air conditioned comfort and had huge wide-mouthed Mason jars of iced coffee, chatted for a couple of hours, and then shared a platter of vegan nachos with whirled peas instead of guacamole on top. Pleasant!
06AE9983-88BA-42D2-A310-520E11ABE5C4
Danielle, by text from Abu Dhabi, recommended that we check out the East Side Market, a complex of small restaurants, bars and shops. It was quite the happening place! Impossible to park. We lucked into a spot on the street in front. We wandered around, Matt bought some gifts, I bought a whole wheat sourdough Levain and a pretzel that looked like it might be a Bavarian pretzel but wasn’t. We’ll have to go back to Bavaria for those pretzels! Then Matt ran across the street to Kelly’s ice cream and brought back a cup that we all shared at a tree-shaded picnic table.


We stopped at a Fresh Market and picked up a bag of Hass avocados to eat with the sourdough, and then drove through some charming neighborhoods of small bungalows with mature tree canopy. College Park. Again, made me want to move to Orlando, were it not for… see above.
Apparently after a day of nonstop eating, we were still hungry, so we had dinner at Sea Thai, one of Matt’s old reliables from his Orlando days. It started pouring again while we were in the restaurant, so we drove Matt back to his hotel and then in the dark through the rain and hellish traffic in downtown Orlando to the 408, to the 417 and back to the sandy swampy campground.

Sunday, October 27th. Picked Matt up at his hotel and headed north to Wekiva Springs. Beautiful state park with a great public swimming beach at the Springs. Many, mostly Hispanic families enjoying the water and picnics. We sat on a bench at the shore and shared sourdough with slices of avocado for breakfast.


We walked up to the Nature Center where there was a sign announcing a butterfly and Native Plant garden, “Coming Soon!” The sign was dated May 31, 2016. FC1E0E34-BC14-4838-B0B3-12CF5D7680D3
Then we wandered over to a small crowd of people all looking down at the grass. A park ranger was there, shepherding a Florida King Snake, out for his morning walk (slither?), and we were able to get up close and personal with him. The snake, not the ranger.


Then we took a short hike on the “Wet to Dry” boardwalk trail, traversing several ecotones from the Springs to the piney woods uplands and back. On the way out, we drove through the Sandhill campground and found the best spot: site #34. AE27DF2B-E073-4079-82F6-0536693C66B9
Maybe we’ll stay here next year if Matt comes to teach at FIEA again in October. There was a huge lineup of cars waiting to get in to the park as we drove out. We congratulated ourselves on having arrived early and avoided the crush!
Time to eat again! For lunch, we drove to another old favorite, The Sanctum. Again parking was impossible, especially with our big truck. After driving around the block a few times, we found a spot on the street a few blocks away, trooped back to the restaurant and enjoyed more vegan delicacies, each dish faithfully photographed by our family foodie. When we got back to the truck, look who was waiting for us! (Update: probable ID = Peppered jumping spider)8DE6F586-EF80-48F2-9823-A79E27D1D4C7
Then, we dropped Matt at his hotel so he could pick up his rental car and we all drove to the Lake Nona Walmart, about 15 minutes from our campground. We needed to pick up a replacement RV water filter, Matt also did some shopping, and then we drove back to the campground so Matt could visit our snug little home on wheels. We whiled away the rest of the day enjoying the rare pleasure of each other’s company, the three of us together for the first time in many months, and the last time for many more… Bittersweet!

Monday, October 28th. We packed up and bumped our way out of Moss Lake campground, giving the septic dump station a gold star on the way out. So many of these facilities are poorly designed, but this one was very fine! Pretty easy route south on 417 to pick up the Turnpike north to the end at Wildwood, continuing north on I-75 to Ocala, SR40 east to Silver Springs State Park. Beautiful campsites, full hookups, pull through site #43, smooth paved roads, laundry facilities in the bathhouse ($1 each for washer and dryer), and a book exchange kiosk! This is the Ritz! We walked around the campground and then took a hike on the River Loop trail at sunset.

About 2 miles to the banks of the Silver River and back, while our laundry was in the washer. When we got back from the hike, the wash went into the dryer while we had a light dinner. As we retrieved the dry clothes, lightning started flashing in the distance, coming closer, now raining, thundering, good time for bed!

Hot, not bothered

Thursday, October 24th. Last night we enjoyed one of the purest pleasures of camping: We sat outside in our camp chairs and watched the stars come out. Don’t know why we rarely do this at home! Our chairs here at Pine Grove Campground face the east, where the sky is dark over the Atlantic, with little light pollution. A wonderful offshore breeze is cooling us off. Scott has a nifty astronomy app on his phone, Sky Map. When you hold it up to the sky, it identifies all the stars, planets, constellations you can see, and even those below the horizon that you can’t see. We knew the October meteor shower, the Orionids, had peaked a couple of days earlier but thought we might still see a few stragglers. They appear to emanate from the constellation Orion, which according to Sky Map was still below the horizon to the east. We thought if we waited an hour or so, Orion would have risen, but as we waited it started clouding over, and then it started raining, and then stargazing was over for the night.

This morning, we took our time so by the time we finished our ablutions and breakfast and got ready to go, it was 10 a.m. and already getting hot. We drove a couple miles up the road to the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, where there is a good nature center and a spectacular trail through rare sand pine scrub and some of the highest elevation on the Atlantic Ridge. 632F8CB6-891A-4C7F-A639-4FB29DB38D12

On the trail, we launched into the latest installment in our series of the popular trail game “Name that Oak!” Or, how to distinguish between the characteristic scrub species Myrtle Oak, Chapman’s Oak and Sand Live Oak. We admired some old favorites: Feay’s Palafox and Deer Moss under Florida Rosemary.

 

The scrub trail branches off onto the Hammock Trail, a welcome shady respite.

28C7D3DB-03F0-44E2-9303-2FC2CA95ECB1

The Hammock Trail descends to a gorgeous beach on the Indian River Lagoon, part of the Intracoastal Waterway. We could have been on the north shore of St. Croix, with seagrape bending over white sand.

 

By now it was nearly noon, and getting seriously hot. We cooled off in the nature center and then took off down the road to the supermarket for supplies. Back at camp, we relaxed in the air-conditioned trailer to escape the heat of the afternoon.

Then, an hour before sunset we drove to the Hobe Mountain Observation Tower, and walked up the boardwalk to the top.9866A705-B6E9-44EF-852C-9967EF2AB4EB

The expanse of sky and landscape forms with few signs of human habitation are breathtaking; the offshore breeze picked up and freshened everything.6D972D04-9F43-4FFB-B3C3-9D5CC15D8D79

The sunset! The clouds! That perfectly flat Florida horizon! There are no words, and the photos can’t capture the majesty of the moment. There was a persistent rain cell hanging over Indiantown to the right.CC2CBFCA-A63C-46DD-A640-8CE67A7EF52B

Back at camp again, Scott decorated our site with Halloween lights to get into a properly festive mood.

EBD1BB59-9495-492F-8BD8-A09FE1ED4E29

Back to the peripatetic life!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019. After a week of non stop work cleaning and closing up the house, weeding, pruning and mulching to get the garden ready for our absence, testing all the systems in the trailer, and cleaning the accumulated detritus from the trailer inside and out, we finally got back on the road after 12 months. Here we are all ready to go!D645175E-9136-4471-9A6F-EC1631EACD4D

FE1DE41C-1E8B-4CD9-98D3-6E2D5573731A

Without incident, we arrived at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, where it all began. This was the scene of our very first experience of RV camping in March of 2017 with our first trailer, the much beloved little red Micro-Minnie Winnebago.

Here is Scott setting up. 36EE1949-5424-4B15-966A-1F0A6338353D

He backed into our site like a champ, even though it’s been over a year! You can see how civilized it is: level, gravel, equipped with full hookups. We know the travel and setup won’t always be this easy, but it’s a good way to ease back into the peripatetic life!

This trip will only be one month, though. Here’s our itinerary:

Moss Lake Park, Orlando. Matthew will be in Orlando for a week starting Friday, so we’ll get to spend the weekend together!

Stephen Foster State Park, Fargo, GA. 18 miles deep in the Okeefenokee National Wildlife Refuge!

Fort Mountain State Park in north Georgia, near the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Actual mountains!!

Cloudland Canyon State Park, in Rising Fawn, GA. Sounds scenic!

FDR State Park, near Warm Springs, Georgia where FDR had his winter White House, and bathed in the warm springs! Many park buildings and roads were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Kolomoki Mounds State Park. Indian Mounds, archaeological sites about 30 minutes from Dothan, AL where we will visit our friends the Willens’

Three Rivers State Park, in the Florida Panhandle near Florida Caverns State Park where we couldn’t stay last year OR this, because the campground was destroyed by Hurricane Michael. We can still go on a cave tour, though.

O’Leno State Park, near High Springs, FL. Highly recommended by the Farrells, although they suggest we get “Flowers of Sulfur” to protect against chiggers and ticks in the high grass…

Lake Kissimmee State Park near Lake Wales, FL. Good hiking, Wildlife, near Bok Tower Gardens which has a new native plant garden, or so we have heard… stay tuned!