Friday, January 30, 2015

Glass Bottom Boat Ride

On Thursday afternoon, the weather warmed up considerably from the morning chill. After running some errands we decided to explore a bit.

Silver Springs State Park has two sections. One is the older Silver River Park with the usual natural trails and campgrounds. It is adjacent to what was, up until 2013, an older, commercial theme park that no longer has all of its roadside attractions such as wild animal shows, reptile and snake shows, and swimming beach.

Silver Springs first opened in the 1870s and is said to be the original location for glass-bottom-boat rides. Over the years it had its ups and downs, and was finally overshadowed as a tourist destination by the Disney parks. Many of the older commercial buildings are in good shape but closed off. I wonder what the state park system will do with them. For now there still is a restaurant, a concert venue, attractive grounds, and the glass bottom boat trips.

Have you ever wondered what is below the surface of the water?

The center section of this flat bottomed boat is plate glass and you can look down into the water from the comfort of your seat. It's better than snorkeling because you don't have to get cold and wet!

Its electric motor is very quiet and the captain answers any questions you may have.

When we were at the dock we were over shallow water and could see lots of water plants. While waiting for the rest of the passengers we saw turtles and fish. 

The water was very clear and still except for where the many springs roiled the water with their output.

We passed over and stopped to examine several of the springs. 
Each was a deep area with a large deeper crack or hole from which the waters gush out.  550 million gallons per day flows out of them, and the water is very pure and crystal clear. The river they head is clear for nine miles downstream.

We saw lots of fish. Most were in groups of three or four, but this was a larger gathering. Our Captain told us that when it was a commercial attraction they would feed the fish and more of them would come to the boats. As a state park, no wild animals or fish are fed so fewer fish are seen.

The glass bottom boat ride only lasted a half hour, but the $10 fare was well worth it. Our Captain has worked at the Springs for 41 years and had a pleasant, well-informed patter. 

As our afternoon wound down we took a walk around the grounds. We noticed something swimming in the springs. It was not a turtle, not a gator, not a child. It was in fact a river otter. Just one of many critters that call this park home.

On Friday, we plan on walking the trail that boarders the back edge of our site. On the map it looks like an easy loop. I'll write about it next time.

[From Craig] Silver Springs SP is a little sad because it's such a beautiful place, and the water flow is so amazing, but the tourist flow they once got, now goes to Disney World.  I want a time-machine RV so we can visit Silver Springs in 1965!

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Looks like we may have started our move north in Florida too soon. Although Silver Springs State Park, near Ocala, FL is less than 70 miles northwest of the Orlando area, it seems we have crossed a magic temperature line.  Our furnace ran frequently in the night, and the window thermometers read thirty when checked at about 7:30 am.

Speaking of thermometers, I am wondering what kind, if any, window thermometers other Rvers use, and if they seem accurate? 

We have two stick on thermometers that we bought at Camping World. One on each side of the coach, so we can get a reading that is not in direct sun wherever we are parked. One is less than a year old, but Craig says they deteriorate and are no longer accurate. 

Does anyone know of a better choice?

We will only be here for three days. After staying in one place for two weeks at a time for the last three months, I feel like we will be rushed to do much here. Since it is rather cold this morning, we are going to get some groceries and a light bulb for the refrigerator this morning. The forecast is for temps in the high sixties this afternoon so I hope we can get out for a while.

It is our wish that all of our friends in the Northeast are warm and safe.  We remember how cold it was in our childhoods in Wisconsin.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Wekiwa Springs Wrap-Up

Our time is almost up here at Wekiwa Springs State Park, and we must say we have really enjoyed the peacefulness of this place on the edge of Orlando. The weather has been to my liking. It has reached the low 70's most days, with overnight temperatures in the 50's. Quilt and cuddle sleeping weather. We have had some heavy rains in the night, but that only makes the Alfa seem more like a warm, safe, cozy cocoon. 

We have been out for walks most days, either here in this park or at some other nearby places. Most of our treks have been three to four miles on wonderfully level paths.  I like that!

Our last hike was just over six miles in length. We had set out for an eleven mile loop. On the second leg of the loop the trail turned to mud and bog, as it approached this river-run which is connected to the one we canoed on last week.

We kept expecting to get past the bog and find dry trail because we could see the blaze trail markers from time to time, but the muck just kept going on and on. I think it was about a half mile or so, but it sure felt like further!

Eventually we got to a drier place and had a choice between continuing on the blazed trail or taking a service road. I wanted to go down a sandy service road, and Craig wanted to continue on the trail. We tried the trail for another half mile. But when we saw more muck and puddles ahead, we turned around and went back to the road.  

We kept mumbling the State Park slogan "the Real Florida" from time to time. All in all we had no mishaps, and felt like explorers!

We ended up eating our lunch at a picnic table next to the Jeep. The second boggy area eliminated five miles from the loop we had planned. I didn't mind. Six miles is enough to make me sleep well!

Not all of our time was spent in the parks.

For one of our day trips, we went to a "pick it yourself" orange grove. We have been looking for a special orange called a Honey Bell, but none seem to be available either at the groceries or at the roadside grove stands. This grove was out of them as well. We did get some Yellow Navels for juicing and have been having fresh squeezed OJ every day.  Yum! 

There were some friendly farm animals at the orange grove. This longhorn had quite a good spread!

The days have passed quickly, and we made some fun memories, but we are ready to move along on Wednesday.  We have so far to go!  Next stop: 64 miles northwest.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Canoeing at Wekiwa Springs Florida

My first canoeing experience at Jonathan Dickinson State Park was a bit scary, but I got through it and in retrospect was willing to give it another try. At Dickinson I really did not actually see much of the river or the surrounding banks. I was too busy just keeping my balance and learning how to paddle. The group trip was probably a good idea because I felt that someone would rescue me if the canoe tipped over. We had a guide, but we had to travel a little faster than I wanted to in order to keep up.

The waters of the Loxahatchee River at Dickinson were dark and looked deep. The banks were mostly tight tangles of mangrove and didn't look like it would be possible to get ashore if I fell out of the canoe. (You have to remember that in the past I have not been comfortable in any kind of small boat, and would only swim in pools where I could see the bottom.) 

The waters in the run of the Wekiwa Springs are crystal clear, and don't look more than five or six feet deep. You can see almost all of the bottom. There are many places along the banks that if we tipped the canoe, we could probably just walk out of the water.

In view of this, I was up to giving canoeing another go!

I can't express how much better I felt this second time. We were on our own, and decided to go at a very slow pace so we could enjoy the scenery. Craig did a great job of steering, and didn't push me to go faster than I was ready for. In fact, our pace could have been  described as "controlled drifting" most of the time.

These trees looked like three sisters, each going her own way. The greenish color in the foreground is the somewhat sandy bottom.  

Along many of the banks there were large masses of water plants. 

Before we went out, I asked about alligators attacking people who had tipped over their canoes and fallen into the water, and was told not to worry. They did have one teenage boy bitten last year during the gator breeding season when he swam into the water plants where a bull gator was courting. 

It is not breeding season now. If you don't bother them, they won't bother you.

We did see one smallish gator in the water on the edge of some of the plants, but he was too quick to get a picture of.

He wanted to get away from us as much as we wanted to avoid him!

We saw numerous birds and turtles. At one point I spotted a buck deer, who still had his antlers, walking along the edge of the water.

Wanting this to be a "great experience", we turned back before my back started to hurt.  However, by the time we were almost back I started to get leg cramps, a stitch in my side, and my foot fell asleep.  None of which made me regret going. I just wish I had a younger body. I will go again!

Total trip time was an hour and a half.

The memory will last forever.

[From Craig]  Merikay has had an irrational fear of lakes and streams since I know her. It seems that when she was the youngest of five kids, one of her brothers would tell her stories about the monster-fish that lived at the bottom of the inland lakes that her family would visit for recreation. Of course a grown, college-educated woman doesn't actually believe that there are monster-fish down there any more, but without confronting bodies of water like we're doing now, it's hard to get over the residuals.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Gorilla on the path at Wekiwa Springs, Florida

Plans for exploring Wekiwa Springs were put on hold when I woke early Sunday morning with a very unpleasant stomach bug. Craig had something a few days earlier that made him want to curl up in bed and skip dinner, but aside from feeling lousy for a few days it never developed into much. I won't go into details, but for me the first six hours or so were not good, and a plastic pot was my constant companion. After that I was weak and dizzy and missed an entire day.

We passed on a hike Monday, and went to see the movie "American Sniper".

I felt much better on Tuesday so we went to the Springs area of the park.  The water is very clear and not very deep. You can see the upwelling of the water from below.  We want to canoe sometime in the next few days.

We walked the 3/4 mile "wet to dry" boardwalk trail. 

I told Craig I felt like I was in a terrarium. 

It looped back to the Springs area, where we  met a volunteer who had a Florida Pine Snake around his neck. He asked if I wanted to hold her, and of course I did. She was smooth and cool. She is a good snake. Not venomous and eats moles and mice. But her habitat is very threatened by development. Her species is threatened by wild pigs, fire ants, domestic pets and traffic.

Next we drove to the  Sand Lake area of the park. The water was like a mirror. 


Sand Lake is really just a pond, but there was a nice path around it. There are many  warning signs about alligators, and we were also told to watch out for venomous snakes along the pathway. Aside from the squirrels the only creature we saw on our walk was this gorilla on the path.

OK, it was a fallen tree, I guess we have been in too many parks looking for wildlife.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hurrah! Civilization is just outside our gate!

Wekiwa Springs State park is 123 miles north of Kissimmee Prairie, but we saw a big change in the trees and land along the highway as we drove. The cattle ranches and open pastures gave way to naked deciduous trees, orange groves, and eventually the populated area around Orlando. 

I felt very happy to see a city. 

I think we are going to be content in our new home. We will be here for 12 nights. Looks like there are many great trails, a spring and river to explore. 

We started our first full day here with a very pleasant 4.5 mile walk. 
The sky was very clear and very blue this morning. 
The air temperature was perfect in the mid 70's.
The path was well marked and free of roots and large rocks. 
There were no stairs or hills.
It wound through pine and oak groves and stands of rather dense Palmetto growth.

Even though we have seen many Palmetto palms of different varieties and sizes, we are still enchanted by their form. As we walked, Craig challenged me to find the most perfect one among many. This was my choice:

Like most places in Florida, many of the oak trees were covered with Spanish Moss.

Did you know it is neither Spanish nor a Moss?  

It is a bromeliad, a perennial herb in the pineapple family! 

It was called Spanish Moss because it looks like the scraggly beards of the Spanish explorers.

Although it is quite soft, the Spanish soon learned it was not good for stuffing their pillows. It seems chiggers love to live in it if it has fallen to the ground.

I enjoy learning these little bits of information, and wonder if I will remember it all when I am very old.

Although I said at the beginning of this post I was happy to see a city, I am in fact very glad that it is on the other side of the park gate and our campground is a more natural setting.

Although it looks like we are parked with our nose in the road, there is really plenty of clearance. If we parked further back in the space, our satellite signal would be blocked by a large tree.
 Must have Football you know!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve - Part 2

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is a peaceful place to be for about three or four days.  We were there for ten. 

By the third day we had walked the only trails we were interested in. We had had some rain and we could see that many of the possible trails had large lake-like puddles on them. The weather had also turned a bit cool because of a large cold storm that was battering the rest of the country.

We did, however, go on an 8:30 AM buggy ride on Saturday. As you can see, we dressed warmly and I took our picnic blanket along as a lap robe. The air wasn't too cold, but zipping along at 30 mph or so into the wind made it seem so.

Cold as we were, it was one of the high points of our stay. We did see one large gator at the gator hole. We were told that there were as many as thirty gators in that area!  Glad they weren't all out when we had walked that way the day before.

Luck was with us in that one of the other passengers was quite a good birder. She called out sightings of many birds that to me were mere specks in the sky or grass. 

These wading birds were a bit more visible.  Mutt and Jeff?

One of the best things about the buggy ride was that we were higher up than if we were walking or in the Jeep. I enjoyed seeing the vast stretches of grass waving in the wind.

The last day of our time at KPPSP we went to Lake Okeechobee, which is the seventh-largest freshwater lake in the US, the top five being the Great Lakes.  We walked about two of the 110 miles of the trail around the lake, and back again.  At the town of Okeechobee, the trail is on a large levee between some sand bars on the edge of the lake, and a navigable waterway fronted by largely manufactured housing and some businesses and utilities.

Along the waterway, we passed this complex which shared striking turquoise roofs.  Near the right side of this image you can see a sign that reads "Grand Opening".  From the decrepit condition of the pier in the foreground, it's likely that the place never actually opened!

On the trail we saw two black buzzards.  One of them flew away pretty quickly, but the other just walked off the trail.  As we came alongside, he continued to walk away from the trail, and it seemed that he could not currently fly.  Craig walked closer to him for a few steps, and near the end he made a remarkable jump, rather like a kangaroo.  But the slow response time of our little camera meant we didn't get an image of the jump, and we have to settle for this image.

I am writing this from our next campground up at Wikewa Springs State Park.  Having good internet and a large city just outside the park entrance is wonderful.  

We are going out to dinner...

Monday, January 12, 2015

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is about 100 miles northwest from Jonathan Dickinson State Park. When making plans and reservations last January for this three month exploration of Florida, I wanted to experience as many different ecologies as I could. 

From its name and description, I guessed it would be very different from the coastal parks or the Keys. I was correct, but somehow, to me, vast expanses of grassland prairie is still a bit unexpected in Florida. It seems this is one of the areas the land scammers of the 20s exploited. A railroad was built, and land developers brought people down from the cold north in winter and showed them the wide open land, just waiting for development. The air was sweet, the land was dry, and there were no bugs. Many sales were made. But when the new owners came down in the summertime they found their land was underwater, the air was hot with unbreathable humidity and filled with billions of mosquitos! 

Over the years, much of the prairie was drained and cattle destroyed the native plants. Some of today's preserve is still leased out to ranchers, some is restored pasture land, and some original grasslands. 

The park entrance is about 30 miles from the nearest town, and to get to the campground we drove on a five mile crushed shell road.

The campground itself is small (about 20 spaces in our section and about a dozen in the equestrian camp area) and delightfully peaceful. The spaces are large, but we had to park close to a tree in order to get satellite reception.

The weather was quite pleasant most of the days we were there. On Wednesday we took a walk through a shady hammock. We spotted several deer who seemed quite accustomed to people.

The sandy trail opened out onto the prairie, and we walked for a mile or so before we came to a wet spot. We were able to get around it rather than turning back, but I was glad I was wearing my hiking boots and had a pole to swish thru the grass as I went. We were later told that these are the places snakes are often encountered! I don't like snakes very much.

This is just a Buckeye butterfly, but seeing them in January is such a pleasure! 

All through our time in Florida we have seen many Turkey Vultures. Seems they come down for the winter just like people.

Our walk was nice, and at just about four miles was a good warm up. We really need to get our hiking legs back after some rather lazy months.

This Turkey Vulture allowed us to walk pretty close to him before he flew. As you can see, he has a red face and head.

This is a bird I may have seen before but never identified. It is a Black Vulture. His head is light gray. The Ranger told us they gather in rather large flocks and will "eat the rubber off your windshield wipers if you park in the wrong place"!

The main reason we came to KPPSP is that I wanted to see a falcon called a Caracara. I spotted one on our first drive into the park, and the possibility of seeing one there again was reinforced by the Ranger when he told us the Caracara have a nest near this old railroad tower. Unfortunately, our best view was on a day we didn't have the camera at hand. We saw one on a fencepost and its mate in the grass along the road.

This is a bit fuzzy because it's an enlarged cropped image of one of our sightings. 

He is really a magnificent bird. He is the largest of the falcon family, and eats small rodents, snakes, and carrion like a vulture. He will also hunt birds that he snatches out of the sky.

There are only a few locations the Caracara is found in the US. 

The Caracara is the bird on the Mexican flag, where he is shown with a writhing snake in his talons.

This post will be continued in a few days.

We are presently sitting in our Jeep in Okeechobee where we can get enough internet to upload it. We have a shaky connection in the park, enough to read a bit but not post.