Saturday, November 19, 2011

Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, FL

I visited this park to tour the caverns many years ago but have never camped here. They redid the campground late last year and now offer full hook-ups, which include the sewer connection. Fairly rare in a Florida state park!

This is the most beautiful campground I have ever been in. Now, that opinion might be influenced by the time of year in terms of the foliage. Another rare thing in Florida is fall color, but this park had it bursting out all over. Given that, the woodsy nature of the campground, and the fact that it was less than half full all contributed to this being a great park experience.

I had chosen site 8, which would have been fine, but since so many were available, I drove through the campground upon arrival and then changed my site to 18. Later, after walking the campground, I decided that my favorite site would be 24, or 16, both of which would offer only woods out the camper door (rather than another RV). I think that every one of these sites would be excellent for a tent--they are flat, and the ground is just dirt; no tent pads, but they aren't really necessary. Large bus-sized RVs would fit in the sites as well, though with less front-to-back room. Here is my site, #18:


Here is the view out the back of the site:


This is the campground road; this curve is right before #18, so my large off-door side window looked out on this road and woods.


Here is a view of the site across from me, to show you an empty site.


It rained the second day I was there. We are still basically having summer here, and the rain only added to the humidity. On that second day, every RV in the park, including mine, was running AC until late into the night. The hot (84 degrees) and humid (97%, and that's when it wasn't actually raining) weather took a little of the enjoyment out of this trip.

The next day was sunny. A bit warm for any hiking, but I did take the bike out. There is excellent riding in this park, since the campground is 3 miles from the entrance. My first stop was at the boat ramp on the Chipola River.


This sign is posted at the ramp.


This trail meanders along the river, looking very inviting:


And then back on the bike to continue riding the park road. I came to this large limestone just off the road.


Pivoting to the left from that, I spotted these little cave-like structures in the woods.


Then back on the bike to ride to the caverns. They do not offer tours on Tuesday or Wednesday, which I knew when I made my reservation (for which those were the two complete days). I had seen them already anyway. Nonetheless, I rode to the caverns area and wandered around the exhibits and information panels inside the visitor center. I locked my bike to a post and walked the half-mile paved trail to the cavern entrance.

It just looked so strange. Two things: first, it looked like the home of some evil troll in a scary children's book, and second, walking down the steps led to air that was significantly cooler than at ground level (I considered setting up my chair there to do some reading in comfort...). If you tour the caves, no matter how sultry it is in the park, take a jacket!


I got back on the bike and rode to the picnic and swimming area. Another great-looking trail leads off of an open, grassy area. I guess sometimes there is swimming allowed in the blue spring.


And then back to the campground. I spent a lot of time chatting on this trip with Helen, one of the park hosts.

Verizon wireless service went from non-existent to strong enough for texts. I was never able to take or make any calls, it dropped out immediately when I tried. I did not see a landline phone for use, but I didn't look for it, so there may have been one near the bath house (which, by the way, was very large and very clean, though the interior walls were always wet and dripping from the humidity, which was a somewhat strange effect). There is a Winn Dixie within an easy drive, as well as assorted sub and pizza restaurants. There is a Walmart and more a bit farther, at the interstate. There is a washer and dryer in the campground. For paddling, in addition to the Chipola, this is near Merritt Mill Pond, which is a very neat place to paddle. They rent canoes at the park, next to the boat ramp.

A note for any campers who tow trailers, particularly solo: I decided to get a Swift wireless camera system to assist with the hitching process. I found it to be nothing short of amazing. When I hitched the camper at home before leaving, I got the ball and receiver aligned perfectly the first time. At the campground I was coming in at an angle and was offset by a tad, so I pulled forward, corrected, and backed perfectly into position--without getting out of the car! If you have never used a camera and the method appeals to you, I highly recommend you try one of these!

I still have a lot of campgrounds to get to, but I have decided to put camping on hold until the temps drop below the AC-necessary level. Possibly going north would help with that if I go far enough, but I tend to stay within about a 3-hour drive. We'll see.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Stephen Foster State Park in White Springs, Florida

Back to this park again, one of my favorites. I was in site 14 again, one that I like. I think I might try site 15 next time, though.

I hadn't intended to post this trip, since I have posted from this park before with photos of much of it.

However, I have a few photos from this trip that I want to post.

I got there and was set up and ready for a little lunch and some reading by about 2:30 or so. I settled into my chair with my trusty Kindle. I was sitting with my back to my car.

After a while I became aware of this repetitive tapping sound. One or two quick taps, then silence, then one or two more taps, and so on. This went on for a fair period of time; I assumed it was someone in the site behind me, perhaps staking down an awning or screen house.

After about 5 minutes of it, I turned around to see if I could see where it was coming from. Well, it was coming from a bird. On my car. This mockingbird stood on the top of the passenger side mirror. The window on that side was open. It would drop off the mirror and stand on the window ledge, then fling itself at the mirror, tapping it with its beak, and then it would go back to sitting on the mirror. And it would repeat this act. Again and again. I watched for a while, went back to reading for a while, and then decided to see if I could get the camera out of the car and get some photos of the process. The camera was on the front passenger seat. The bird flew to the hood of the car while I opened the door and got out the camera. I settled back in my chair, and it went back to pecking at the mirror. I took a lot of pictures of the bird pecking the mirror...Here are some of them.

It starts on top.


Then drops down to the window...


...and sits there for a moment looking at the bird in the mirror.


The attack begins.


It escalates...


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And the bird goes back to the top of the mirror.


Over and over. I don't remember why it finally left...or maybe I just went for a bike ride and it was gone when I got back.

I had never hiked any of the trails at this park. They are fantastic! Lots and lots of deer tracks, though I never saw any deer (probably too early in the day). The trails are wide, well-maintained, and meander far into the woods.


There was a rope maker at the craft shop area. I was the only one wandering the shops and so I got a private lesson on how rope is made, and even got to keep the short length that I twisted myself. It was interesting.

As I have said in other posts about this park, it's a great place to camp!

I'm looking forward to trying another new-to-me place on my next trip.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Reed Bingham State Park in Adel, GA

The last time I was at this campground was in November of 2006, when I was tenting (the post is in this blog). Since this is very close to my home, I decided to visit it again.

It's a small campground that consists of two loops, 1 and 2. Loop 1 has a newer bath house, otherwise they are essentially the same. Sites are positioned on either side of the road, with the outer ones generally being more shaded. As is the case in other Georgia state parks, you cannot reserve a specific site. The campground was somewhat crowded when I was there since there was an Ag Expo going on in a nearby town.

I selected site #5 in Loop 1, which was a nice pull-through site with a pretty view out the door side of the camper.


This was my view out the door. Beyond the grass is the park road, and beyond that, the lake.


This was the view toward the rest of Loop 1:


This campground is only about six miles from the I-75 exit. Near that exit is a grocery store, some fast-food restaurants, and what used to be a huge outlet mall but is now a few small shops.

There is a 375-acre lake that leads to a river. Here is the lake view from one of the fishing docks.


(I had rainy weather for a day and a half.) There is also a beach with a pavilion. This was taken from the same dock:


There is good biking at this park over the paved roads, and many trails to hike. Because of the weather, I only walked on one, a short half-mile loop through the woods called the Gopher Tortoise Trail.


The Gopher Tortoise is the Official Reptile of Georgia, and there are evidently several at this park. This sign was alongside the park road.


And in fact, there appeared to be a Gopher Tortoise Corral just outside the campground.


I never saw any sign of life within the corral, but there was a deep hole near that tuft of grass to the right of the sign, so perhaps one was hiding out.

There's nothing particularly special to distinguish this campground, but it was very peaceful and scenic. Park employees and hosts were very friendly. There was a mix of camper styles, from large fifth wheels to several tenters. My site was level and the others appeared to be so as well. Verizon cell service was strong, and there is wifi available in the office and the area around it (where there is a picnic table conveniently placed). The bath house was clean, with two showers and two stalls. There was a washer and dryer in the bath house area.

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Parks at Chehaw in Albany, GA

This place has been on my campground list for a long time--I missed it all last season and so I decided to finally go.

WOW, what a super place! And a nice easy drive from my home. This will be a regular spot for me.

There is a lot to this park. Let's start with the campground. I normally post a photo of my campsite. Since I was the only camper there for the first day, I took a slightly longer view to show you the campground as well. This is shot across site 1 into site 2, which was my site. As you can see, the sites are quite roomy.


I went with the full hookup...I'm getting a little spoiled by staying at places with sewer hookups... There is also a large open tent area with its own bath house. There are also 4 cabins; three small ones and one larger one with a deck. I could peek inside the larger one--fairly spartan as far as furnishings, but still comfortable.

The park is very spread out, with lots of flat paved roads for walking and biking. If you have young kids, you'll want to take them to the playground.


This sign shows what the park offers:


One day I went walking and wandered into the large brick building called the Creekside Education Center. Inside the front door I came to three large meeting rooms on the right and a doorway leading to offices on the left. There was a deck of some sort out the back doors, so I went out there. The doors locked behind me, which was a little disconcerting, but there are no fences separating that back area so no worries there. Walking down a small hill led to a wooden dock overlooking the stillest water I have ever seen.


There is a path that leads alongside the creek. I followed that, and it led to this pond, with a fountain at one end, a picnic table and grill next to it, and a sign indicating that there were otters about.


A very short walk from the campground takes you to the wild animal park.


Hey, let's go in there!

Admission is about $7 and well worth it. This animal park reminds me of the one in Homosassa, though with different animals. This is one of only 2 accredited zoos in Georgia; it was set up by Jim Fowler (Wild Kingdom); I was told he lives in the area and often visits the park to check up on things.

First I came to a group of light flamingos.


A little farther along the way were some meerkats. I really, really like meerkats. So cute!


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The thing about this next one is that this face reminds me just a little of my father-in-law (but I wouldn't tell him that):


Later, a rhino.


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DH happened to be walking through the room while I was processing the photos. He knew they were from my last camping trip. When this one came up, he said "Wait! When did you get that??" Heh heh, I should have said "Oh, out my camper door one morning..."


They have a very large enclosure for the cheetahs. I was told that in cooler weather, they set up a running course for them and the cheetahs go tearing around it--I'd like to see that. This one was blending in well while napping.


This one eyed the cool green grass...


...yep, gotta roll...


Wait, were you watching me?


Oh well, one more roll....


And more resting time.


This lemur had also been napping.


They have two alpacas there in a petting zoo area. I normally think alpacas are really cute, but these two needed a little dentistry...


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And then--sorry, couldn't help myself--another quick swing by the meerkats.


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As if all the park activities and the wild animal park weren't enough (and there was more to the zoo than I have shown here), Albany has the Flint Riverquarium. So let's just take a quick trip there to look at some fish. And turtles.


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The Nile Monitor is a really bad lizard. It's not native to the US, but has been introduced to south Florida through the pet trade. The one at the Riverquarium was about four feet long or so. You really don't want to run into one of these...


They have an aviary at the Riverquarium that is populated with all sorts of birds that have come from a rescue group; all of them have been injured or sick and now live in the aviary. They have wood ducks, egrets, a Canada goose, ibis, great blue heron, whistling ducks, and assorted songbirds and quail and so on. One of the birds there is a blue jay. One of the people who works at the Riverquarium has discovered that this jay likes pennies. While I was there, she came in and decided to show off this trick for all of us in the aviary. Offering the penny:


And he takes it!


So, to sum up this campground, it's a great spot. Lots to do at the park, and the Riverquarium is less than 5 miles away. I definitely recommend this one!