2018 in Review

Monday December 31st 2018

Happy New Year

As I sit here in front of the computer while the TV counts down the hours and minutes remaining in 2018, it’s a good time to look back on the things I’ve done this year.

I began the year in Las Vegas finishing up a three month stay. In the middle of January I began a journey to Florida. Over the next month and a half I made extended stops in Las Cruces New Mexico, San Antonio Texas, Baton Rouge Louisiana and the Florida pan handle. I made it back to Florida in time to catch a few Spring Training Baseball games in the Sarasota and Bradenton area.

A line plot of my more than 12,000 miles of travel in 2018. The 2018 journey started in Las Vegas and is ending near Tampa Bay in Florida.

In April I started north with extended stops in Chattanooga TN and Elkhart Indiana. I arrived in Michigan by the end of May to attend a wedding. From there I had to hurry to reach Sedalia Missouri for the Escapees RV club Escapade starting on Memorial day weekend. The wedding and the Escapade were two planned events on this years travels. The third event was a family gathering in North Carolina at the end of July. Getting to North Carolina was the next phase of my 2018 travels.

The events were planned, but my activities between the events were not well planned. I was in the “What am I going to do between now and the next event?” mode a lot of the time. From the middle of Missouri I had almost two months to tour and travel east to North Carolina. I spent some time in Branson Missouri, a couple of weeks on the Arkansas river outside Little Rock, and some time outside of Memphis during June. To find a place to stay over the hard to book forth of July week, I dropped down into Mississippi. My week at Sam’s Town Casino RV park in Tunica was a fun diversion during the holiday week.

I continued east during the rest of July with a stop in Pigeon Forge TN to visit Great Smokey Mountain National Park. This stop was my biggest regret of the travel year. I should have picked a campground nearer the National Park and stayed longer. I enjoyed a few activities in the park, but the distance I had to travel in heavy traffic to get there was hard to take. I’ll return in the future with a better plan and more time.

From Pigeon Forge I crossed back to the east of the Appalachian mountains. I stopped for a couple of days in Ashville NC and a week in Charlotte NC before attending the family gathering in the eastern part of the state. At that point in my summer travels I was free of additional commitments. My destination was fall in New England, but once again I had only an outline of a plan.

My first stop in August was a week in Williamsburg Virginia. This was my first visit to the colonial settlements in Williamsburg and Jamestown. I enjoy American history so this visit along with a stop at the Yorktown Revolutionary War Battlefield were very educational and enjoyable. There are other things in the area, like the Norfolk navy base and Virginia Beach, but keeping with my plan to head for the northeast I headed inland after my stay in Willimasburg.

While in western Virginia I had a change of plans. I decided the easiest way to solve an issue with renewing my RV registration was to return to Florida. After a fifteen hundred mile round trip over a week and a half I was back on my way to the northeast. I spent two weeks including the labor day weekend on Lake Ontario in New York. From there I traveled through Vermont and New Hampshire into Massachusetts during September. October and a little bit of November were spent near Cape Cod and traveling around Eastern Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire checking out old haunts and visiting friends.

The cold weather of early November sent me traveling south to Florida in a hurry. With stops on Florida’s east coast and central area, I’m now in the Sarasota and Bradenton area. I’ll be in other areas of Florida for the rest of the winter.

Overall this year I traveled over 12,000 miles. It didn’t seem that long, but when you plot it out it becomes clear that I crossed the country once from west to east then did two complete round trips south to north with some wandering thrown in for good measure. I’ll layout my 2019 intentions in a future blog entry.

Happy New Year

A Hazy Day on the Gulf

Sunday December 30th 2018

The warm and humid weather continues. It was foggy around the area again this morning and a haze continued over the gulf all day.

Hazy View across Sarasota Bay.

I spent the morning lingering over my breakfast coffee while the TV played in the background and I read the latest news on the internet. Around noon I decided it was time to get out of camp and do something. I ended up by the Gulf of Mexico in the Sarasota and Bradenton area. There were many people enjoying the good weather and their time off on the beach, but very few were in the water. Traffic and parking in the area were not for the faint of heart. Stop and go traffic and a long search for a parking place were the norm.

Blossom of the Day

A Lazy Saturday

Saturday December 29th 2018

This was a lazy kind of day. I had absolutely no sense of time. The TV is often my time keeper. This morning I didn’t have any familiar television programs on the TV. When I though it was a little after 9AM it was actually a little after 11AM. The weather had a role in my confusion as well. The day started with very low cloud cover. Nearer the gulf coast it was socked in with fog. It eventually lifted to a nice sunny and humid day with a high temperature in the low eighties.

Looking up stream from the trail head area of the Little Myaka River State Park.

My first excursion of the day was around 1PM. I rode my bicycle around the park to check out the trail head and picnic area along the Little Manatee River. Many of the campers have canoes, kayaks, rafts and small flat bottom boats. So far, I haven’t found where they are putting them into the river. The areas I’ve seen are good for canoes and kayaks, but not the bigger boats.

Looking down stream.

The river in this area is very near the headwaters. It runs west a few miles and empties into Tampa Bay. It is narrow, curvy and probably shallow in this area. In January of 2017 I stayed in a campground on the river much nearer the mouth. In that area dolphins and manatee are common. The boat traffic is also much bigger, heavier and faster.

Blossom of the day.

The rest of the day passed just as quick as the morning. I watched some TV outside under the awning for awhile. At one point I looked out toward the road and saw a Gopher Tortoise rushing away. It soon stopped to catch its breath giving me time to take a couple of pictures. Given its path it probably passed very close to my chair. After resting in a frozen position for a few minutes it was on its way across the road into the brush.

Gopher Tortoise with a little sand on its back stopped long enough to get pose for a few pictures.

By the time I fired up the grill to cook a pork chop for “lunch” the sun was setting. When I checked a real clock it was after five. This evening time has slowed down a little. I’m actually getting this blog entry finished a little earlier than normal.

As I was getting ready to publish this blog entry I noticed that yesterday’s post is missing. I need to find out what happened to it.

Finishing up at Myakka State Park

Thursday December 27th 2018

It is hard to believe that my two weeks at Myakka State Park is coming to an end tomorrow. I’ve enjoyed seeing the birds and alligators in the park. Today is a week since the sky opened up and dropped more than eight inches of rain. The rising waters made seeing wildlife a little more difficult. The gators and birds were no longer as close to the road. Today there are clear signs that the water level is dropping, but I’ll be moving on tomorrow. There is a two week limit at the Florida state parks.

A Little Blue Heron.
This Great Egret needs to be told to stand up straight.

The weather roller coaster is still climbing the hill. It was near eighty today when the clouds were not overhead. The next few days are all forecast to be a little warmer with an increasing chance of rain. The only real down side is the wind will be strong during my move tomorrow. I’m only moving about forty five miles north. My first order of business after I get on the road is putting some gas in the RV. I wanted to fill the tank before I arrived here, but didn’t find a suitable place with good access. In the two weeks I’ve been here the price of gas has gone down around fifteen cents to $1.99 a gallon.

A small gator in the weeds.
A pair of Ibis searching for lunch.

The Myakka River is still Running High

Wednesday December 26th 2018

When I checked the water level of the Myakka River this morning it had only gone down a little from yesterday. Compared to how quickly it came up, it is going down slowly. I also think I got to the bottom of the flooding story. It seemed hard to believe that the few inches of rain last week produced a major flood condition in the river that exceeded the aftermath of hurricanes. It didn’t. What is being reported is the highest water conditions in the Myakka River in December since 1998. The record flooding occurred in June of 2003. It was more than five feet higher than the current level. This storm may not have even resulted in an official flood at seven feet.

The flooded area of the Myakka River beside the main channel.

The water is still very high. There is standing water in the woods along all the park roads. The bird population is still having difficulty finding dry places to land and the gators don’t have bank space to get out of the water. Spotting the birds along the shore is much more difficult and the gators were nowhere to be found near the river today.

You needed to look hard to find the Great Blue Heron in the center of this zoomed picture.
Ibis searching for food in the flooded woodlands.

My focus today was getting a few chores around the rig completed. The dishes had been accumulating in the sink for a couple of days, the holding tanks needed dumping and the general clutter of almost two weeks in one place needed to be addressed. Dumping the tanks proved to be more of a challenge than normal. I have twenty five feed of sewer hose out and it isn’t possible to maintain a stead slope from the RV to the connection in the ground. This is further complicated by the fact that the connection is in a poured cement block eight inches above ground level. I had to do a lot of raising and lowering of the hose to get things to run. Before I leave on Friday, I’ll backup the motorhome so I have a shorter run and get a better dump.

Sunset approaching.
Sunset over the Myakka River

Florida Christmas Weather

Tuesday December 25th 2018

Merry Christmas

The weather in Florida is nothing like the Christmas weather I grew up with. Instead of cold and snow today was comfortable. The weather roller coaster is currently climbing the temperature hill. It made it into the mid seventies today. Each day this week is forecast to be a few degrees warmer than the day before.

This Great Blue Heron found a place to stand near the river.

Before leaving the state park for the day, I drove deeper into the park to check on the flooding. It looks like the Myakka River has crested. A little more of the pavement in one of the parking lots was visible. It has a long way to go before it gets back to the pre-storm level. The wadding birds still don’t have any good areas along the banks of the swift moving water. The alligators in the river were also absent this morning. They were either still deep in the water or in areas not visible from the road.

I see you!
Taking some sun and watching the tourists taking pictures.

I stopped at the power line trail where I saw a big gator sunning in the middle of the path yesterday. He (or she) was back on the path. It was in a new position so I know it can move, but while I was there it appeared as still as a log. A lot of people were in the park on this Christmas day morning. Many of them found the sunning gator on the power line trail. A stead stream of people were taking pictures.

I had a great turkey dinner with friends this afternoon to celebrate the holiday. The restaurant was on the side of the Little Sarasota Bay which is part of the Intercoastal waterway in this area. A number of pleasure boats passed by during lunch to provide entertainment and add to the enjoyment of the meal. I got back to my RV home after dark tonight. I’ll have to check on the status of the flooding tomorrow.

Blossom of the day.

Is it Really Christmas Eve?

Monday December 24th 2018

Merry Christmas

It is hard to believe that today is Christmas Eve. I started seeing Christmas decorations for sale in September. As Halloween decorations came down Christmas decorations went up. The end of October was also the start of nonstop Christmas movies on TV and dedicated Christmas music channels started to spring up on satellite radio. I enjoy all of these seasonal attributes, but it also skews the timing of the holiday. Some times you wonder when it will be over and other times you just enjoy the moment.

This “lake” was a green meadow last week. The Myakka River continues to rise.

My daily activities don’t help bring the season home either. I’m not doing a lot of Christmas shopping or even dealing with the cold weather. I’m enjoying outdoor activities and adventures similar to any other time of year. The only difference is I’ll be celebrating the holidays with friends so I will be a little more social than normal.

Swimming gator in a flooded area along the river.
Another swimming gator.
Gator in the grass about ten feet from the road.
Alligator on the side of the power line trail. There is water along both sides. I could easily and “safely” get by, but could I get back if the gator decided to move into the middle of the path. I turned around.
Close up of the back side of the gator beside the path.

The Myakka River continues to rise at the state park. On my morning bicycle ride I found the water had crept closer to the road in several areas. The current passing under the bridge is much faster than normal and includes a lot of debris. The alligators have found new resting places in the water that has flowed into the marshes and fields beside the river bank. When a gator is spotted near the road it causes a real traffic jam. Everyone needs a gator picture. I’ve included a few of mine in this blog entry.

Another gator in the swampy water beside the power line path.

Merry Christmas

The Myakka River is Flooding

Sunday December 23rd 2018

Today was a slow day after two or three relatively active days. The weather was bright and sunny, but above all it was calm. There was next to no wind at all. The temperature peaked at an unusually low sixty three. The normal high temperature is in the low seventies.

View of the flooded Myakka River with the sky reflected in the calm surface of the water.
The Myakka River out of its banks.

In between football games I took a couple of bicycle rides to the Myakka River. The water level has continued to rise since the storm ended on Saturday. It is now out of its banks in some areas and continuing to rise. The National Weather Service has a flood warning up until Tuesday. The current level is above six feet and it is expected to peak around seven feet. The difference in water level between my noon bicycle ride and my 4PM ride was readily apparent. This flooding is being compared to flooding in January of 1998 by the NWS.

View of the Myakka river in a picnic area parking lot. The river is usually about five feet below parking lot just beyond the line of trees. The grass area in the background is on the other side of the river channel.
Close up view of a bench in the picnic area. The river is usually five feet below the bench level in front of the palm trees.

The high water level is making it difficult to see alligators and water birds. All of the nice green grass covered banks are either completely underwater or partially flooded. The gators are staying in the water. Occasionally you see an alligator head above the surface of the water. The birds are doing more flying between the high ground and more than normal are perched in trees.

Great Blue Heron taking refuge from the flood waters in a bush.
This confused character was hanging out between the road and the flooded river.

The calm day made a very reflective surface on the river for picture taking. It complicated trying to get pictures of the birds along the banks. I got a few very pretty reflection pictures, but I also took a few pictures that the reflection obscures the intended objective of the shot. Finding the right pictures to include in this blog entry has been a challenge.

A view through the trees at sunset.

Manatee Viewing

Saturday December 22nd 2018

Today started cool and cloudy, but improved as the day progressed. By mid afternoon the clouds had given way to bright sunshine allowing the temperature to climb into the low sixties. It was a comfortable day without the heavy winds from the previous couple of days.

A Manatee pokes its nose up for air.

I took a run up to Apollo Beach on Tampa Bay to visit the manatees. The manatee viewing center run by the Tampa Electric Company. I tried to visit at least once while I’m in the area during the winter. The warm water discharge from the power plant keeps the manatees happy when the gulf water is below sixty eight degrees. Today the water in the basin was close to eighty. It was keeping many manatee warm.

The wind was producing just enough wave action to make it hard to see the manatee below the surface. You could see many backs of manatee above the surface belonging to animals hovering just below. Occasionally a manatee would poke its nose out of the water for air and at other times a hovering animal would dive showing its broad tail. It is impossible for me to guess how many animals were in the basin. They were spread out across a wide area and I would suspect that only a small percentage of them were visible at any one time. In addition to the manatee a few jumping fish and several brown pelicans provided entertainment.

Pelican coming in for a landing.
A pair of pelicans.

Wind and Water

Friday December 21st 2018

Yesterday’s heavy rain gave way to strong winds and occasional rain. The rain was annoying, but the wind was dangerous. I’m glad I wasn’t driving the motorhome today. The wind was reported at thirty to forty miles per hour at the coast with gusts much higher. The Sunshine Skyway bridge across the mouth of Tampa Bay was closed most of the day do to the high winds. A gust over seventy miles an hour was measured on the bridge.

View upstream from the bridge over the Myakka River, The area in the center of the picture was solid land instead of two islands. On the left of the picture the narrow strip of land completely cut off the water behind it before the rains came.

I’m fifteen to twenty miles inland from the gulf. The wind was probably five or ten MPH lighter, but the gusts shook the RV at times. My sewer hose kept getting blown off its elevated slinky bridge. After resetting it twice I gave up. Tomorrow I’ll try again. The only thing that didn’t seem to be impacted by the wind was the Crazy Cardinal. It still tried to attack the side of the motorhome several times today.

View down stream from the bridge over the Myakka River. The area on the left behind the narrow bank was all dry and green grass prior to the rain storm. Access to the water on the right was much more restricted.

During one of the periods between rain storms I road my bike over to the Myakka River bridge to check the water level. Just getting there was a challenge. I had to dodge many three and four inch deep puddles and navigate around downed branches and palm fronds in the road. Deeper standing water was in the woods just off both sides of the road. There was clear evidence that the water was over the road a few hours earlier.

At the bridge over the Myakka River the landscape looked very different. Broad areas that were green river banks two days ago were now covered with water. Backwater ponds that were either cut off from the main channel or narrowly connected were back in the current of the river. Even the alligators didn’t have as much space to get out of the water. Most of the birds were back in the trees and tall grass to stay out of the wind.

A Great Blue Heron all tucked up against the wind along with a pair of Limpkins (I think). The alligator doesn’t seem to care about the birds.