Enjoying Nature in the State Park

Wednesday September 30th 2020

It is hard to believe the end of September has arrived. I’ve been back in the southeast for more than a month. For the first time today I really noticed the shorter days. The sun broke through the clouds for the first time today just after 6PM. It was dark from the sunset not much more than an hour later.

It was an overcast day. The high temperature never got out of the seventies and the humidity was gone. The cold front that brought the change stalled just to the south, so there was a lot of wind to go with the lower temperatures. Unfortunately, the front is forecast to back up tomorrow and bring more rain to the area.

I spent today enjoying nature along several of the trails in the park. The longest trail was a little muddy from the rain, but it was worth it. I saw lots of colorful wildflowers, many birds and a few mammals. The deer I startled ran away before I could get a picture, but the little rabbit seem to think it was invisible by playing statue. I got plenty of pictures of the rabbit.

Below are a selection of the pictures I took today.

Rainy Tuesday Afternoon

Tuesday September 29th 2020

The first half of the day was bright and sunny. The sun warmed the humid air enough to produce many showers as the wind brought the moisture in off the Gulf of Mexico. From 1:30 on it has rained off and on. Sometimes it rained hard and sometimes just enough to keep everything wet. I tried to take an afternoon walk twice, but got chased back home by the rain after fifteen or twenty minutes each time.

This morning I got out to check what’s new in the local area. Development is getting closer to the location of the state park. Route 64 east of Interstate 75 has been improved to support new housing developments. In another decade development will have consumed the remaining three miles of the eight miles from the interstate. South of the state park on route 70 the next east west route development has also continued. On this route retail developments are being completed to support the housing construction that is already well underway. A new Publix supermarket will open soon.

I stopped at Walmart to pick up a new quality USB cable to keep my phone charged. I’ve been trying to make do with a cheap replacement cable, but the slightest motion of the phone or cable disrupts the connection. There is probably a broken wire in the cable. While I was in Walmart I picked up a few groceries including several things that need refrigeration. I returned to my RV home to get them safely into the refrigerator and got caught by the first rain storm.

The Major League Baseball Wildcard playoff series caught my attention on TV. It kept me entertained while it rained.

The rain didn’t bother this guy.

Still Summer in this part of Florida

Monday September 28th 2020

Today went by quickly. A rain shower moved through the area around 7AM. I just rolled over and went back to sleep, By the time I woke up for real it was almost nine. This area of the campground is empty. My nearest neighbor barely visible from my site. The result is a very quiet relaxing environment.

Clouds building early in the day.

Fall has not arrived in this part of Florida. In the northern part of the state there have already been a few fall weather days. A cold front is due to pass through here tomorrow evening that should bring some fall like conditions. Today was in the upper eighties with lots of humidity. Any outside activity resulted in clothing drenching sweat.

After completing my usual day after arrival setup tasks, I went on an exploration expedition around the park. A few things have changed since my last visit in the spring of last year. It really seems like it has been longer. The water level in Lake Manatee is lower than I’ve seen it. The water level in the reservoir is artificially controlled by a dam on the Manatee river, so it is likely a normal seasonal drop.

Wildflower blossom of the day

It also looks like the state park service has done another prescribed burn in the areas surrounding the campground. There has been evidence of planned fires since I first started coming to this campground in 2016. Today I saw more blacken trees and brush. It may be recently exposed areas from an earlier burn. There is evidence of cutting back brush to open up campsites and walkways all over the park. I’m sure the Gopher Tortoises appreciate the change.

Water blossom of the day.

Travel Day to Bradenton FL

Sunday September 27th 2020

Every once in a while I have a travel day from hell. Nothing disastrous happens, but it is filled with problems and annoyances. Today was such a day.

The day started with rain just after sunrise. It didn’t last long and wasn’t very heavy. All it succeeded in doing was make everything outside wet. I had to dry my hands a lot and my shoes were soaked by the time I was ready to pull out around the 11AM checkout time.

I was on schedule to leave a little earlier, but the tow bar for pulling the car didn’t lock into place correctly the first time around. As I pulled out of my site one side of the A-frame tow bar collapsed. I had to disconnect the car, get everything line up again and reconnect the car and auxiliary brake unit. The tow bar is showing the nearly 40 thousand miles it has toad my Honda CRV.

The second annoyance was with my “in flight” entertainment. The blue tooth speaker I was using to listen to an audio book from my tablet ran out of juice. For about a half an hour it kept saying “low battery” every few minutes. Eventually it said “shutting down” and I was out of entertainment until I could find a place to change things up.

The next incident was about half way to my destination. When I went to buy gas everybody else had the same idea. There were three gas stations at the exit from the interstate that I chose. The station I was planning on using was jam packed and I would have to wait on the street to get in. Across the street another station with gas at a similar price looked to have more room at the pumps. As I approached the pumps a faster moving pickup truck cut me off and took the pump I was aiming for. I would have had to block the entry to the station to wait for another pump, so I circled around the station and tried the third set of pumps at the intersection. This station was almost empty and much smaller. I couldn’t get lined up with the pump on my first pass without blocking everything. While I was maneuvering to try again I noticed two things; the gas was twenty cents a gallon more expensive and my original choice of gas station now had space in line. Twenty minutes later I had a full tank and was waiting for traffic to clear so I could get on my way. It wasn’t my quickest or most efficient gas stop. At least I fixed my entertainment issues.

While I was stopped at the gas station, the inside of the coach got warm in the nearly ninety degree weather. When the dash board area gets really hot my rear view monitor starts to act up. Today it decided it didn’t want to show me what was behind my motorhome. It still worked for the right and left sides when I turned on the directional. Just the rear view camera that shows me the status of my towed car and the closing traffic from the rear wasn’t working.

Not having a rear view camera came into play while I was passing east of Tampa on Interstate 75. The monitor on my dash for the auxiliary brake in my towed car started beeping away. It seems the brake unit was out of position. This probably happened because of the very bumpy roads. It hasn’t happened before, so I need to investigate some more. Not being able to confirm that the car looked all right in the rear view monitor increased the urgency of finding a safe place to pull over. I took one of the exits just south of Interstate 4 that I was familiar with to find a place to address the auxiliary brake issue.

Once I was back on the road, mother nature got into the act. A typical Florida afternoon cloud burst storm decided to drop its contents on the interstate. I haven’t had to use my wipers much since the summer of 2019. The time last winter and spring in the desert dried the rubber out. My wiper blades basically shredded in the heavy rain. Pieces of rubber were flying off the wiper arms. I’m lucky the glass wasn’t scratched and I managed to keep an OK view out the front during the quick shower.

The last event on today’s journey was a three mile backup just before I got off Interstate 75 in Bradenton. An accident just before my exit was the cause of the backup. At least two cars were over turned. One was in the median and another was on the approach to the exit ramp. It took about half an hour to work my way through the backup and around the emergency vehicles onto the exit ramp.

Site 19 at the Lake Manatee State Park in Bradenton Florida.

I arrived at the Lake Manatee State Park a little after 4PM. The roughly five hour travel day is one of my longest for the distance. My final challenge was backing into my site without a rear view camera. It took a little longer with a few more pauses to get out and look around, but I’m settled in for the next two weeks.

More Big Bend Exploring

Saturday September 26th 2020

The day began in a foggy world. Visibility this morning was limited by a very low cloud cover. It was after ten before the fog started to lift and the sun began to shine through. By afternoon it was a sunny and humid day with the temperature in the high eighties.

I did a lot of driving today as I explored the area. I drove to the west in search of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It was close to sixty miles on long straight sections of road through forests, marshes and the occasional town before I got near the gulf. The road ran along the coast for a few miles before turning inland again at which point I turned around. I enjoyed the drive, but I didn’t find any great scenic locations. There were probably a few off the highway. I just didn’t know which little winding road to take. My spirit of adventure wasn’t high enough today.

After three plus hours of mostly driving, I was back at my RV home. For some reason there are fewer travelers in the campground tonight. Hopefully, I don’t get a new neighbor at 1:15AM like I did last night. This is my last night here. Tomorrow I move on to the Bradenton Florida area. It is a little over 250 miles to the south, so tomorrow will be a longer travel day. Most of the outside travel preparation tasks are complete. In the morning I’ll do the inside packing and get on the road.

Finding the Gulf of Mexico

Friday September 25th 2020

There were a lot of storms moving through the area today. In between the widely scattered storms was a nice sunny day. The temperature was a little uncomfortable as it reached the upper eighties with a good amount of humidity.

Today’s wildflower blossom.

After the first storm passed through the area I got started in my search for the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The town of Perry is inland from the area known as Florida’s Big Bend. It is the area of shore that transitions from the north south peninsula to the east west pan handled of Florida. This area is not heavily populated. It is largely undeveloped land. Other than some areas dedicated to farming and ranching there are large areas of marsh and woodlands. There are many State and National Forests and National Wildlife Refuges in the area.

In the area south of Perry that I traveled in today, there is not one road that runs along the coast. There are several smaller county roads that parallelisms the coast a couple of miles inland. It makes for a guessing game figuring out what side roads will take you out to the coast. I found a couple. Unfortunately, it coincided with another rain storm. I wasn’t able to get out and wander around the little beach and boat launching area I found.

This area of the coast is very concerned with flooding from storm surge associated with tropical weather systems. Several miles inland from the coast I started to observe houses on piers. The ground level is either empty or built with break away walls to keep the living area above the water. As I got to the coast the living areas were raised two levels above the ground. The actual houses were twenty feet off the ground on cement piers. Some of these high homes used the intermediate level as a covered deck. Those that can’t afford raised homes lived in trailers or fifth wheels that could be towed away when a storm approached. It was odd to see RVs used for residents between towering raised homes.

Late afternoon sky without a rain cloud in sight.

Today’s rain storms seem to appear when I didn’t want them. Every time I approached and area I wanted to visit the storm was there. While I was driving between locations it was generally sunny. When I got back to my RV home it had rained while I was away. A little rain had come in through the open kit4chen window on to the counter. I had closed the roof vents and the bedroom windows. The rain didn’t come in through the other windows. The rain hasn’t returned since I’ve been back at my RV.

Settling in at Perry Florida

Thursday September 24th 2020

My first day at a new location is usually spent slowly getting settled in. Today was a little more active.

During breakfast this morning the campground staff started to mow all of the grass in the campground. It’s a necessary task that happens while I’m at most campgrounds. The one thing they all have in common is the noise. The guys operating the big ride on mowers have ear protection, but the rest the people in the campground have to shut windows, close doors and cover their ears. How the guys mowing handle occupied campsites differs by location. At some parks they mow occupied sites getting within inches of equipment and vehicles. This campground goes to the opposite extreme and doesn’t cut the grass on occupied sites at all, but they do one thing that is rare. They move the picnic tables on empty site to get to all the grass.

Slightly blurry picture of todays blossom of the day.

After the mowers moved on from my area of the park, I got the car ready for touring. That means stowing the tow equipment and the bicycle, so they won’t tempt people in parking lots. It also lets me use the back of the SUV to hold groceries and stuff. Groceries was one of today’s tasks. I was getting low on a few things after two plus weeks.

I did a little driving around the Perry Florida area before stopping at the local Walmart. This was a medium size Super Walmart that wasn’t one of the best I’ve visited. Having shopped at Walmart all over the country you get a sense for what is normal and what is a little out of place. At this Walmart they weren’t enforcing the face mask policy. The signs that are usually out in front of the store declaring the need for masks and social distancing were in the shopping cart lobby as small sheets of paper stuck to the wall. The staff members in the area were not monitoring the people arriving. I usually see one or two people without a mask when I visit a Walmart in an area that doesn’t have a mask mandate, but today I saw several. That may be a reflection of the area. This is a very rural county that is near the bottom of the list for number of cases in Florida.

There were other little things inside the store that caught my attention. Carts with piles of empty boxes were parked at the end of a couple of the aisles. A cart with merchandise was in the middle of one of the narrow aisles blocking the path. Only after a couple of people were waiting on both sides of the obstructing cart did the staff member think to move to the side. Despite all these things, I managed to get most everything I needed. I have enough food and stuff until I get to the Bradenton area next week.

Travel Day to Perry Florida

Wednesday September 23rd 2020

It was a nice sunny day with a strong breeze from the east. The temperature varied from the low eighties to almost ninety across the area. It was eighty six while I was getting set up in Perry Florida.

I packed up slowly this morning and departed the Eastbank campground around noon. I only had little more than 100 miles to travel. The first twenty miles and the last thirty five were on secondary routes. In between I was on Interstate 10 around Tallahassee. Traffic was light most of the way. It was and easy and uneventful travel day.

Site D-5 at the Perry KOA.

I arrived at the Perry KOA a little after 2PM. I’ll be here until Sunday. This is a new area for my travels. I haven’t been to the Big Bend area of Florida before, so I have some exploring ahead.

Last Day at Eastbank Campground

Tuesday September 22nd 2020

For a change today started sunny. The clouds moved in during the middle of the day to do battle with the sun. There was occasional sun for the rest of the day. The temperature peaked in the very comfortable high seventies.

This is my last full day at the Eastbank campground on Lake Seminole. Last weeks evacuation will make it memorable. I will probably be back again when I’m passing through the area on Interstate 10. It is a good facility for a short stay, but doesn’t have a lot to keep things interesting on a longer stay. The lake is a nice feature, but it doesn’t have enough action or wildlife to keep my attention over the long haul.

Water blossom of the day.

I got a few more maintenance tasks completed today before I started to pack up for tomorrows travels. All of the outside tasks are complete. The inside tasks will get done in the morning. I’m not in a real rush to depart. I only have a little over one hundred miles to travel. I’ll be in Perry Florida through Sunday.

Is Travel Slowing Down?

Monday September 21st 2020

The day began like Sunday ended. It was cloudy and cool. As the day went by it warmed up into the mid seventies making a little improvement on Sunday. By the end of the day the sun was trying to break through the clouds.

I spent the day doing chores around the RV combined with walks around the campground for exercise. More campers arrived for short midweek stays. The visitors seem to be a mixture of people from the local area and full time RVers. There really aren’t many travelers here. I attribute that to the type of campground, the time of year and the pandemic.

US Army Corp of Engineers parks are located on lakes and waterways away from Interstate highways. This one, like most, only have electric and water hookups. I seek them out, because they have a good blend of features with a natural setting. For some travelers it is difficult to find COE parks and venture well off the highways to get to them. The need to have a prepaid reservation, particularly now because of pandemic restrictions to the parks taking cash, is also a drawback to some visitors.

This is also a transition season in this area. The prime season is October to April. There are some travelers and tourists in the summer, but not nearly as many as in the winter. This time of year the summer travelers, particularly those with school kids, have returned home and the winter travelers haven’t arrived yet.

Sun over Lake Seminole trying to break through the clouds.

It’s hard to know what impact the pandemic is having on RV travel. Coming across the country I got the impression there were more RV travelers than usual. The exceptionally high RV sales figures would tend to support that impression. Once I reached the east coast it seemed to lighten up. The end of summer could be a factor or it could be the high number of COVID cases reported in Georgia and Florida over the summer. I’m interested in seeing how the winter snowbird season turns out. If the Canadian US boarder stays closed a large number of visitors will be staying home.