Sunday, April 27, 2014

Little Ocmulgee State Park and Lodge near McRae, GA

This was my first stop on my trip north to NC with my camper, which will be stored near our house while we make our move in a couple of weeks (and thereafter, since I am not keeping it at the house). I decided that if I was going to make this drive with it, I might as well make it a camping trip, and I routed myself so as to avoid all interstate and Athens, GA (which has a difficult interchange on its bypass that I wanted to avoid at all costs). So, this was my first stop. This was to be a one-night stop, so I was not even going to unhitch.

This park has a huge golf course, a lodge, a restaurant, cabins, and a campground. It's expensive for a night of camping ($35 if you don't have any discounts). I expected it to be pretty nice.

I suspect that the park spends its funding largely on the golf course, followed by the restaurant, then the cabins, then the lodge, and if anything is left, it goes to the campground. If this is the case, then evidently there is rarely anything left.

I was astounded at how un-level most of the sites were--you would be much better in a back-in site than a pull-through. The back-ins were situated on the same hilly terrain. but an effort was made to shore up the low side.  When you drive into the campground, you are going up an incline. I decided to see if sites at the top of the incline, but before the downhill side, might be flat--this was a particular concern since I was not unhitching so I would not be able to do much leveling of the camper, and the height of the hitch mattered. I did find a site at the top that was sufficient. I'm sure the person in the next site wondered why I had to park so near them when there were so many empty sites....or maybe they figured it out.

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Here is the back of my site, which was very nice, with a fire pit, grill, and picnic table, facing woods.

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On my way to the bath house I noted one of the uneven sites and decided to see if I could show it in a photo. My camera has a built-in level, which enabled me to be certain I was holding the camera level (which is also shown by the bath house in the background). This site goes left-to-right, on the gray gravel. Perhaps you can see how slanted it is.

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The bath house has flaking paint on the walls and a somewhat mildewy odor to it. It was clean, as far as that went, but far less nice than you would expect at a park like this.

Verizon signal was 2 bars and Mifi was strong enough to stream Netflix. I was not here long enough to explore the area or check out any hiking trails.

I'm sure there are much better campgrounds in this area and I suggest skipping this one if you plan to visit the area. I was eager to get going to my next stop, Watson's Mill Bridge State Park, where I was meeting friends and taking a few days to relax before continuing on to NC.

Watson's Mill Bridge State Park in Comer, GA

I was headed the next morning to Watson's Mill to meet up with Sharon and her husband Ron as I continued my trip to NC with my camper (where it would be stored). I got a later start than anticipated, and it rained for the last hour of the drive. I got there about 30 minutes after Sharon and Ron. They had their dogs Sheba and Sunni with them, and it was great to meet them, too!

This campground was quite a contrast to Ocmulgee! Just beautiful--and of course getting there at the height of spring was a help! The dogwoods were blooming and the trees were in all the shades of spring green. The photos tend to look oversaturated with green, but that's genuinely how green it was! 

Sharon and Ron had picked a site with another site directly across from it (which I took, of course). This is unusual in this park--most of the sites are not only huge but they are staggered in such a way that you have a great sense of privacy. It's a small campground. I believe there was only one other site taken when we got there, though it might have been two. Later there were a few more campers scattered around, but never any in sites adjacent to either of us.

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This would be an excellent campground for tenting. Sites have tent pads, and they are well-placed. I would have loved putting a tent here and having that woods view out my door!

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Given the wet weather and the hour, we didn't do much our first day there except chat. The next day was sunny and wonderfully breezy with very low humidity so Sharon and I went for a hike on the nearby trail while Ron stayed with the dogs. It's a very rustic trail, narrow with roots and rocks to watch out for. Also somewhat hilly. There were a few wooden bridges that crossed over low spots. Here's Sharon on one of those bridges.

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The trail came to a canal running through what used to be a powerhouse. We crossed over the canal and continued our walk.

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The trail led to the covered bridge.  This is the longest covered bridge in Georgia, stretching 229 feet across the South Fork River. It was built in 1885. It is supported by a lattice truss system held together by wooden pins.

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After I took that photo, I looked down at the water swirling around the rocks. Very pretty spot.

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So, back to the bridge being held together by wooden pins. We did walk through it, but I wasn't completely comfortable with that! Cars also drive back and forth through it. Perhaps the processing of this photo reflects my spooky feeling about it. (A car was heading our way when this was taken.)

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We were there for 3 days and during that time did more walking and a lot of chatting.

Verizon signal was pretty weak--texts went out after some hesitation and calls might have worked, but I was at one or two bars the whole time. Mifi seemed ok for web surfing but was not strong enough for Netflix streaming. The bath house was not new, but it was clean and the hot water and water pressure were fine. The dumpster for trash is farther from the campground than I have ever encountered before, but it's a nice walk on a paved road. There's not a lot to do nearby, so this is a campground better suited for relaxation than sightseeing. There is a Dollar General and grocery store in town, a few gas stations, a Subway and a nice cafe, and some shops which may or may not actually be open for business. There are two ways into the park, one of which is through the bridge. It has a 9' clearance so keep that in mind if you are planning your route to this park. You cannot reserve specific sites here, but on our walks through the campground I didn't see a single bad site--you might want to drive all the way around and see them all before making your choice. There are no sewer hookups, and the dump station is in an odd spot--next to the bath house near the entrance to the campground. So most campers have to circle all the way around the campground and back in again to get to it (this was probably so that it could share the sewer system with the bath house). When you get there, check in at the Visitor Center--you can drive up the driveway rather than parking across the street and walking up the hill--there is a turnaround at the top. The road to the campground is between the Visitor Center and the bridge--it cuts over to the right before the bridge.

I highly recommend this campground.

My camper is now in a storage facility about a mile from our house in western NC. I can't wait to get out and start exploring the campgrounds up there! I don't anticipate ever camping in Florida again, but I will be spending time in north George campgrounds, as well as NC and SC spots.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Chassahowitzka River Campground in Homosassa, FL

After about four consecutive trips back to St. George Island to camp, I have finally started going elsewhere! (Only because the snowbirds are keeping that campground full....) I decided to try a new private campground in Homosassa, one that is right alongside the Chassahowitzka River, a river I have heard of but never paddled.

Here I am in my site, #22.

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This is a very long site, as many of them are. I parked far at the back, so that my windows wouldn't be directly adjacent to the patio of the rig in the next site. While I would not call these sites close together, there is so little greenery that there is little privacy. There are, however, lots of tall trees, and each site seems to be somewhat hemmed in by them, particularly at the entrance. This would be a backing-up nightmare for anyone who has trouble with that. Also, because of the trees, very large bus-type RVs could have a problem here, though there were so many that obviously they can get into the sites.  Here is a view across 2 or 3 empty sites next to me (which later were filled):

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I had taken my kayak, and I went down to the boat ramp the next day to launch. This proximity to the ramp (1/4 mile down the campground road) and the wonderful sandy launch area for canoes and kayaks are the best features of this campground, IMO. They rent canoes and kayaks for reasonable daily rates right at the ramp.

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I turned left after launching, which is downriver, but at this time was against the wind and current (the tides affect the river here), so the best way to start. Here's how the river looks just off the ramp.

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Strangely, there were no egrets at all on the shorelines. However, I did see this great blue heron.

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I paddled a little farther, encountering a lot of other paddlers on the river. And then I saw a surprising but welcome sight--a pelican!

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That was not the only one on the river, and over the course of two days of paddling, I ended up seeing quite a few of them. I thought I had said goodbye to pelicans when I had my last stay at St. George (we are moving to North Carolina soon, where I don't believe there are many pelicans, at least not in the mountains...).

I headed back to the boat ramp after a couple of hours. This anhinga was drying its wings in a tree.

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When I was approaching the ramp, I saw an osprey at the top of a tree.

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There is quite a large deal made out of the manatees that are in this river, and there was a huge grouping of them just off the boat ramp. I generally tend to keep my distance, given their occasional fun idea of bumping kayaks...I am carrying a fairly expensive camera in the boat and so even friendly dogs at boat ramps can be a tipping risk, never mind a giant manatee! But I decided to get a few pictures anyway.

This one was coming up for air next to me,

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while these two are swimming away.

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I went back out paddling the next day, repeating my downstream trip, and then drifting over the manatees to continue upstream. The river looks like this going upstream:

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Since this is spring-fed, it is crystal clear. I paddled into a canal, one of those that has high concrete edges, with houses on either side. I passed a bait shop with many pelicans hanging around it. I went on for a way, but then it was getting late and so I turned around and drifted slowly back. And then I saw this fin coming at me, slicing very rapidly through the water ahead of me and headed right for me. My mind kind of blanked out while I watched it, but I did decide to move over to the right to get out of its way. It moved with me. Of course after a few seconds, which is all it took to reach me, I realized what it was. A dolphin! It passed right by the boat, no more than 12 inches from the side, and looked up at me as it went by. I mostly just gawped back at it as it passed. And then of course came to my senses and realized that I had been sitting there with not one, but two cameras in the boat....and had gotten no photos of it. Ah well.

Here's the boat ramp area from the water.

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On Saturday I wanted to go for a hike. I prefer state parks to private campgrounds for a lot of reasons, one of which is the trail system they all have. I had to drive into Crystal River, some 13 miles away, to reach the Preserve, which has trails. Actually, I had chosen a trail that was even farther, 20 miles away, near the visitor's center (which is closed on weekends, as is, oddly enough, the nearby Nat'l Wildlife Refuge). The trail was nicely cleared at its start. 

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There are no signs on the trail at the many points where it splits into 2, 3, or at one point, 4 different directions. No indication of trail length or whether it is a loop. I took one of the forks at one spot and it dead-ended. I was fairly frustrated with it all and decided to just go back to the campground. Then I came to a hub with 4 different trails going off it, and two people with fishing poles emerged from one of the spokes. Ok, maybe there is water not too far down that way. So I headed that way. Within half a mile, I came to water on both sides. This side had a no-wake sign, so it must be a tributary of the river.

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This side seemed more like a small lake.

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And then I headed back to the campground.

Here's some campground info. Verizon cell service was 2-3 bars. My Verizon Mifi hotspot got a very strong signal--as a result, I can't report on the campground wifi since I never used it. The bath house is clean and heated (nice!). There is a Publix supermarket very close by, and a Walmart not far down the road. The Publix has a Chinese restaurant in the same shopping center as well as a Subway, but that's about it for restaurants close by. This was a huge drawback for me. If you want anything besides Chinese or Subway, you are going to have to drive at least 15 miles one-way (hmmm, the Pizza Hut might have been closer than that). In addition, there's just not much to do in the area! There is a very nice wildlife park in Homosassa, but once you have seen that, you have exhausted the local attractions. So, this would be a great place if you want to cook all your meals and spend all your time either on the river or in your site. This is a surprisingly empty part of Florida. When you check in, the person at the desk will give you a list of the campground rules, which are for the most part the same as you always see. She will then tell you that they are particularly firm about two of them--quiet time is 10 pm to 6 am, and no alcohol is allowed in the park. I'm not sure how they expect to regulate that last one, and I have never encountered that before.

Next trip is to a familiar place with a couple of friends. I have to get in as much Florida camping as possible before we move!