Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kayaking the Little Manatee River

On one day during the time she was camping with me Becky the Camping Buddy and I visited the friendly guys at the Canoe Outpost on the Little Manatee River near Arcadia, FL.  Our intent was to kayak down the Little Manatee and Canoe Outpost offers two different kayak packages.  We opted for the longer (approximately 9 miles) package which included a pickup service at the end of the trip.

Due to rains the Little Manatee was just under flood stage.
The little Manatee tended to be 50 to 75 feet wide along most of it's twisting path during the 9 miles we followed.  There was plenty of wildlife to observe although we didn't see any manatee.

Momma and baby turtle near the bank of the Little Manatee.
The river's current moved us along at a moderate pace and there were only one or two spots along the route where trees had fallen across a portion of the Little Manatee leaving a narrow path to navigate through that presented much trouble.

And I finished the run DRY!
The views along the kayak run were pretty spectacular with huge moss covered trees predominating.

Spanish moss covered tree along the river.
It took us a little over three hours to complete the circuit and the Canoe Outpost guys showed up right on time to take us back to the Tank, parked in their parking area.  Cost of the run was $34 per person.  Even if you've not done much kayaking I'd recommend the Canoe Outpost kayak run, it's a blast and really not very demanding.   Here's their website:  Canoe Outpost .

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Campground Review: Alafia River State Park Litha, FL.

After picking up Becky the Camping Buddy at Tampa International we proceeded to Alafia River State Park about 40 miles to the southeast of Tampa forming a rough triangle between Tampa, the park and Lakeland, FL, where the Detroit Tigers do their Spring Training.  Readers of the blog might remember Becky from this previous blog post: Becky the Camping Buddy .   I'll post the campground data and then turn over the rest of the blog to Becky.

Hookups:                                20, 30, 50 amp, water
Fire ring:                                 yes
Water Access:                        yes
Dump station:                         yes
WiFi:                                       no
Level sites:                              yes
Laundry:                                 no
Store:                                      no
Pool:                                       no
Shade:                                    yes
Verizon reception:                   4g, 3 out of 4 bars
Millenicom reception:             2 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                       $22 / night

Hi, this is Becky. I have been invited (coerced into??) to write a guest entry on John's blog. I will be providing some of my impressions of the camp ground. It was a former phosphate mining location that was reclaimed and given to the state of Florida in 1998. The park consists of hardwood and pine forests, meadows and numerous lakes. Despite the name of the park, we have not seen the Alafia River, which is on the map, but not next to the camping area.

The camp site we chose is about 100 yards from one of the ponds, and we have enjoyed viewing many birds from our site including--most spectacularly: ospreys, cardinals, red winged black birds, and a great blue heron. Some research told us that ospreys, who have made large nests atop several of the power line poles at park front entrance, primarily eat fish. We have been hoping to watch one of these eagle-like birds swoop down to grab a fish from the pond, but have not been treated to that spectacle yet!

The are are three types of trails featured in the park: hiking, biking and equestrian.  Based on information on the website, a banner at the front entrance advertising a mountain bike rally coming up in April, the number of mountain bikers camping here, and the miles of trails designated for biking, it appears this state park is a mecca for those who enjoy this sport. 

Upon our arrival, we took a short hike along one of the "nature" trails that leads away from the campground. We surprised a large doe who darted away from us in the underbrush--she also surprised us!! As the trail continued along one of the many lake-ettes in the park, we suddenly heard a loud splash at the shoreline, and very shortly thereafter, this guy popped up to give us the evil eye for disturbing him:


Needless to say, I felt the need to carry a stick after this encounter--although John thought it ridiculous.

The first full day of our time here we constantly were checking our weather radar apps to see if it would make sense to go into Lakeland, FL to watch a Detroit Tigers Spring Training game. There was a HUGE storm brewing in Florida, and we were right on the edge of it. We did drive to Lakeland, but the rain started while we were there, so we just stocked up on groceries, movies, and headed back to the safety and security of THE TANK. The weather got progressively worse, and proceeded to pour rain, thunder, lightening, with heavy wind all night. The water drained off fast the next day, and we did make it to a Tigers game.

The Alafia River State park features  five Geocaches. Neither John or I had ever tried this activity, which involves entering GPS coordinates provided by the park into a map app, and following the resulting map to a hidden cache. Here is a photo of me with the first cache we found, after thrashing around in the brush, completely in the wrong place for quite awhile. 

We learned to trust the intersection of our current location arrow and the coordinate point on the app. In the caches are log books for us to sign, and small trinkets that other Geocachers have left behind. Here is a picture of John, locating another one of the caches. 

The "rule" is to take one of the trinkets, and leave behind something of equal value. We found four caches, leaving behind glow-in-the-dark bouncy balls, which believe me, were upgrades to some of the junk others had left behind. Here is a photo of our loot:

This park has been very quiet, and very clean. Surprisingly, even after all the rain and nice warm weather, there have not been many insects to "bug" us.  John has been a wonderful "host," grilling some wonderful meals, being patient with my every need and whim, and helped me to have a relaxing Spring Break! Thank you, John. I have enjoyed my visit here.

View of the lake from our Camp Site

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Campground Review: High Bluff Recreation Area Joe Budd Wildlife Management Area

About 30 miles west of Tallahassee, FL lies the 11,000 acre Joe Budd Wildlife Management area which abuts the north shore of Lake Talquin.  The Free Campsite web page identified a non-free but moderately priced camping area within Joe Budd called High Bluff Recreation Area which was along my route towards Tampa so I drove to it intending to do two nights camping.

Kind of a long name!
Campground fees are honor-system based in that you put cash in a provided envelope for your stay into a steel "mailbox" that is collected intermittently by the Florida Forestry Service rangers. I put a $20 in my envelope (it costs $10 / night) but while I was there I never saw anyone come by and check the box for cash.  Speaking of not seeing anyone....I had the whole 40 space recreation area completely to myself!

Recreation area sans recreators.
Here's the campground data sheet:

Hookups:                                 none
Fire ring:                                  yes
Water Access:                         yes
Dump station:                          no
WiFi:                                       no
Level sites:                              yes
Laundry:                                  no
Store:                                       no
Pool:                                        no
Shade:                                     yes
Verizon reception:                   4g, 4 bars
Millenicom reception:              4 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                       $10 / night

I got the one spot that recieved good sun for the Tank's solar panels.
 The recreation area has a really nice public fishing pier that allows fishing (mostly crappies) for those who don't have access to a boat.

The locals come down and fish this pier every day.
On the opposite end of the recreation area is a public boat ramp which saw quite of bit of use during my stay.

Boat ramp access to the 10,000 acre Lake Talquin.
The sunrises over Lake Talquin were pretty spectacular.

Sunrise through Spanish moss.

It was so great camping at High Bluff I extended my stay to 4 nights, all without another camper or RV coming into the area!  I have to confess I almost didn't review it because I wanted to keep this "secret" to myself.  While it IS boondocking with no hookups or access to drinking water (bring in what you'll require) my stay there was just awesome and I can't recommend High Bluffs highly enough!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Campground Review: Florida Caverns State Park Marianna, FL

After spending two nights at the semi-pricey Gulf State Park I crossed into Florida looking for one of the free campsites this website can help locate in any state.  I selected Blackwater State Forrest and stayed one night before pressing further east.  The free area was just a parking area so I didn't bother to review it.  From there I drove to Florida Caverns State Park just north of Marianna, FL.

Florida Caverns is a 1300 acre park which surprisingly has only 32 RV campsites and borders the spring-fed Chipola River.  The park's primary attraction is limestone caves pictures of which can be viewed here:  Florida Caverns Caves (after caving in New Mexico I skipped this tour).  The guided cave tour costs $8 per person.  There is also the Blue Hole Spring where both swimming and fishing is allowed.

The Blue Hole Spring fishing dock.
Here's the campground data sheet:

Hookups:                                 20, 30, and 50 amp.  Water and sewer
Fire ring:                                  yes
Water Access:                         nearby
Dump station:                          yes
WiFi:                                       no
Level sites:                              yes
Laundry:                                 yes
Store:                                      yes
Pool:                                       no (there’s a spring you can swim in)
Shade:                                     yes
Verizon reception:                   4g, 3 out of 4 bars
Millenicom reception:              3 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                        $22 / night

The park's Upper Chipola trails offer 6 miles of biking, hiking or horseback exploration.

The trails are fairly wide and bikeable.
The Chipola River is canoe-able and there is a canoe rental concession along it.

Canoes for rent.

1300 acres is a lot of park space although a considerable portion of it looks like this:

I'm sure there's no gators in there!
For so much space the campsites were curiously close to one another.

The Tank at rest.
Along with the adjacent Florida Caverns 18 hole golf course there's a lot to do at Florida Caverns State Park.   The weather was perfect during my stay -- sunny, high 70's and low humidity.  It's a great stop for cave lovers and I'd recommend it.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Campground Review: Gulf State Park Gulf Shores, AL

I'm slowly making my way to Baseball's Spring Training near Sarasota, FL.  The last two days I've been at the huge Gulf State Park on Alabama's Gulf Coast near the town of Gulf Shores.  Most of the park is set around Middle Lake, an inland lake that a canal connects to the Gulf.

Middle Lake.  The really desirable campsites (not mine) are on it.
Here's the campground data sheet:

Hookups:                                 20, 30, and 50 amp, water.
Fire ring:                                  no
Water Access:                         yes
Dump station:                          yes
WiFi:                                       yes – 4 out of 4 bars
Level sites:                              yes
Laundry:                                 yes
Store:                                      yes
Pool:                                       yes
Shade:                                    yes                              
Verizon reception:                   4G, 3 out of 4 bars
Millenicom reception:              4 out of 4 bars
Cost:                                      $31/night

There is also an 18 - hole golf course at this park and 5 hiking trails of one mile or so in length.

Sage advice!
At $31 a night Gulf State Park is a little more pricey than what I usually expect at state parks but did I mention the $31 also gives access to this?:

If it wasn't 50 degrees when this was taken I'd be in the water.
  Or this?:

Hard to believe this is the same body of water as off Galveston!
Typically, WiFi at parks isn't strong enough to be useable but not at this park.  With the 4 out of 4 bars of signal I was able to stream the episodes of The Walking Dead I'd been missing with great performance.  My Millenicom data plan is only 20 gigs a month so being able to let it "rest" while at this park was a great plus!

With it's 468 campsites Gulf State Park might be the largest state park I've ever stayed in.  It's truly a "full service" park and the beaches alone make it a great camping destination and I'll come back some time when it's warm enough to really use them.

Thanks for reading!