2020 Road Trip Summary

Thursday December 31st 2020

Happy New Year

What a year! The best characterization for this year on Rob’s Rambling Road Trip is “It was different”. As we all know the pandemic put a wrench in everyone’s year. This blog entry, while acknowledging the negative, will attempt to highlight the positive aspects of my travel in 2020.

At this time last year I was in the middle of a four month winter stay in Las Vegas. I was planning a heavy travel year with stops at old favorite locations along with many new ones too. By the time I left Las Vegas at the end of February, I had reservations out to the end of July as well as November and December. Little did I know that most of those plans were going to change in a big way.

Las Vegas Fremont Street Experience

I set out on my 2020 journey February 25th with a move from Las Vegas to Arizona. The desert was starting to bloom. It was turning the dirty browns and muted greens into yellows, purples and reds. The days were comfortable in the seventies and the nights were cool for sleeping. Overall it was a nice place to be. I was in the Phoenix area to see spring training baseball game. I saw four spring training games before spring training got shutdown. The whole world was shutting down.

Tonight’s sunset.

All of my travel plans started to dissolve in March. The uncertainty of travel caused me to pause and go to a safer place. I booked a two month stay at familiar place in Eloy AZ between Phoenix and Tuscon. During my stay at the Silverado RV Resort my daily routine was mostly a walk around the park in the morning before it got too warm followed by some TV and reading before taking another walk around the park at sunset. As the days waiting for travel conditions to improve went by, the temperature climbed. Arizona in May has temperatures in the one hundreds.

By the end of May I understood the travel conditions and restrictions in Arizona. New Mexico to the east and Utah to the north were still murky. Any chance of catching up with all my carefully laid travel plans were gone. I started moving north within Arizona to gain altitude and cooler temperatures. I spent five weeks until the end of June at various places in Arizona before moving east to New Mexico.

The changing rules of travel came into play during my stay in New Mexico. I made plans based on relaxed New Mexico travel requirements. The plan was to spend the week of July 4th in Grants New Mexico followed by a week in the Albuquerque area. While I was in Grants the rules changed. All out of state visitors were expected to quarantine for two weeks. The good news was they didn’t know how to enforce it. The bad news was that my presence in the state wasn’t really wanted. When my week in Grant was up I got out of the state with a long travel day east to Amarillo Texas home of the famous roadside attraction Cadillac Ranch.

Anyone want a Cadillac?

Next on my journey east was Oklahoma. It was the only new state this year. I spent time in three locations along Interstate 40 as I moved east. Most of my touring was restricted to driving around with an occasional stop at a roadside attraction or a park. Indoor attractions and museums were either closed or severely restricted. I did get an opportunity to visit the Fort Smith National Historic Site in western Arkansas on my journey. Not everything was open, but it was interesting and informative.

The Fort Smith Barracks had a second floor added for the Western District of Arkansas Court and later a jail.

In Arkansas I spent two weeks beside the Arkansas River in the Little Rock area. I spent most of my time at the campground watching the activity on the river. The activity along the Mississippi River later in the month was more interesting. From Arkansas just west of Memphis Tennessee, I picked up the pace and crossed, Tennessee, and Georgia on my return to Florida with one and two night stops.

The end of August was a little too early in the year to be back in Florida. Hurricane season was still in full swing. During September, October and early November tropical weather systems played a role in my travels. In September I needed to evacuate the Eastbank campground northwest of Tallahassee because of flooding caused by hurricane Sally. The two day disruption wasn’t particularly dangerous or difficult. It was just unexpected and hurried.

Muddy water backed up waiting to pass under the road in a culvert. The water in the picture is six to eight feet deep.

Tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico continued to cause rain and wind across the Florida peninsular as I moved south toward the Keys during October. I thought the Keys would be safe from the weather by November. I was wrong. My first week plus in the keys was mostly nice weather with a lot of wind. The pandemic made indoor attractions a high risk activity, but I found outside activities to keep me busy. Toward the end of my two week stay, hurricane Eta decided to head for the Florida Keys. I packed and departed the keys a day early as the outer waves of the storm were already buffeting the islands. Over the next five days the storm danced around Florida and chased me up the east coast.

The last sunset of October 2020 and Daylight Savings Time.

Since the middle of November I’ve been in winter mode moving about the state of Florida from one park to another staying a couple of weeks at each park. I saw a Falcon rocket launch during my stay at Jetty Park in Port Canaveral and my stay at Myakka River State Park during the middle of December was a lot of fun. All of the birds and alligators kept me well entertained.

Overall I traveled less this year than any other year on my Rambling Road Trip. Even though I crossed the country from Las Vegas, I only traveled five thousand miles in the motorhome. As the calendar turns the page to 2021, I need to figure out what is next on Rob’s Rambling Road Trip.

What big teeth you have.

Still Getting into a Routine

Wednesday December 30th 2020

The first half of the day was dominated by bright sunshine and the second half was heavy cloud cover. Despite the changing sky the temperature reached the high seventies. It was a very nice day.

Stopped at Tom Bennett park in Bradenton to get my Heron viewing fix.

My primary goal for the day was grocery shopping. I achieved the goal, but didn’t have the most successful shopping experience. One of the things I really needed wasn’t in stock and I completely forgot a couple of other things. I’ll have to shop for groceries again next week even though I bought enough of most things for two weeks.

On the way to the grocery store from the state park there is a new traffic rotary or roundabout. There seems to be a trend in road design to use this device to manage traffic flow in place of stop signs or traffic lights. I remember a time in the last century when traffic engineers were busy replacing rotaries with intersections as a safer alternative. In the last few years I found many roads that the exact opposite is taking place. The thought seems to be that traffic gets slowed down, but not necessarily stopped so the overall flow is better. In my car I may agree, but in my motorhome navigating through a rotary is a blind spot nightmare. The “A” post on the driver’s side of my windshield blocks my view of the traffic in front going around the rotary very nicely. So are intersections better than rotaries or vice versa?


The state park continues to show evidence of a vacation period. The campsites are occupied by families with kids and the day use area is also busy. It is interesting to see people actually using the picnic tables and charcoal grills. They are usually ignored by the few people that wander trough the day use area.

Trying to Settle in at Lake Manatee State Park

Tuesday December 29th 2020

The temperature this morning was in the low fifties with very little wind and lots of sun. As the day progressed the wind increased out of the east and clouds moved in, but the temperature continued to climb. The high temperature for the day was near and unusually high eighty degrees. The temperature roller coaster car is climbing the hill before the big drop. Last weekend the high was in the fifties and the forecast for this coming weekend is similar. Better than ice and snow, but weird non the less.

Wildflower blossom of the day

The first day at a new campsite is dedicated to settling in. There are lots of subtle little things that I need to adjust to. The sun comes rises in a different location and the amount of foliage dictates how quickly it reaches my RV windows. The outside noise is different based on how close my neighbors are and how early the noisy park staff gets started. None of these things are real issues, they are just different from the last morning at the previous place. The bigger acclimation activity is associated with my daily routine. Do I take two walks a day? Where do I walk? It is a general adjustment to my daily routine.

At this park some of the acclimation is made easier by the fact that I’ve stayed here several times in the past. The time of year seems to be causing me more problems. Somehow with the Christmas holiday over followed by a relocation, I’m convinced the new year has already started. All of the families in obvious vacation mode staying in the park challenges that belief consistently. Maybe I’ll be settled in by tomorrow.

The ramp from the fixed dock to the floating dock is going up hill because of the water level in the lake.

One thing I notice on the first of my three walks today was the level of Lake Manatee. The man made reservoir for the Bradenton and Sarasota area is controlled by a dam. Today the water level is the highest I remember seeing it. At the boat launch the floating docks are at a higher level than the fixed docks. The transition ramp that usually goes down as you walk away from the shore is going up hill today. I assume the lake is just at its full stage, but it looks unusual.

A Short Travel Day

Monday December 28th 2020

I woke up early this morning because it was a moving day and my neighbors made a noisy departure at 7:30AM. An early departure wasn’t going to work for me. I needed to leave as close to the 1PM checkout time as I could. My new location was only a short distance away and it also had a checkout time of 1PM.

Blossom of the day.

After a slow but deliberate packing speed, I pulled out of the Myakka River State Park at 12:40PM. Everything went as planned doing the final prep and hooking up the car. I try to leave a little time buffer in case I run into any issues. As I made my way out of the park I passed fifteen to twenty cars lined up at the guard shack waiting to enter the park. Today was another very active day in the park. I’m glad the majority of my stay was before the heavy tourist influx.

My new location is at the Lake Manatee State Park in Bradenton Florida. It is only about twenty miles north of Myakka River State Park as the crow flies. The easiest way to get there is thirty five miles or so. You need to go west about 8 miles to Interstate 75 before heading north then 8 miles back to the east. Traffic wasn’t bad, so it took a little over a half an hour. There was only one car in line to get in at this state park.

Site 14 at the Lake Manatee State Park.

This is my second visit to Lake Manatee State Park this year. I was here for two weeks at the end of September into the beginning of October. It isn’t as wildlife intensive as my last stop, but it is a nice campground near the city of Bradenton. Civilization in the form of shopping is closer to this park.

Last Full Day at Myakka River State Park

Sunday December 27th 2020

Today was my last full day at Myakka River State Park. My two weeks is up tomorrow. I got my last day of bird and gator viewing in for this visit.

The weather improved a little today. The temperature peaked at seventy under a bright sky. The positive weather trend is forecast to continue through New Years Eve. The warmer weather allowed a few more gators to visit the river banks to take in the warm sun. There were still quite a few gators that only let their nose out of the water. The birds weren’t very active near the road and viewing area. I think the throngs of tourist may keep the birds in other areas. The park was just as busy today as it was on Saturday.

I got two long walks in today. The first was in the late morning on the trail along the Myakka River. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one on the trail. Several big noisy family units were also using the trail. Any chance of seeing birds on the near bank of the river were ruined by the other people on the trail. The birds on the far bank along with a couple of gators were scared off by a group of two kayaks and four standing paddle boards coming down the river. That group also was noisy.

The second walk of the day was at sunset. Even approaching darkness didn’t reduce the crowds much. The bridge over the Myakka River was still lined with gator watchers and a couple of fishermen. When a fishermen hooks a fish a race begins. Can he land the fish before the lurking gators get to it. Every time I’ve watched the fisherman wins, but the gator gets some exercise with a speed swim.

Lots of People Not a lot of Wildlife

Saturday December 26th 2020

The Florida cold snap continued today. With a stronger breeze out of the northeast the temperature peaked even lower than Christmas day. It only reached the low to mid fifties today.

Warmer in the water.

The weather didn’t deter the visitors to the state park. There were even more people clustered around at the various trail heads and wildlife viewing areas. I took one of the lesser used trails in hopes of getting away from the crowds. On the first few hundred yards of the trail I encountered several groups of people making enough noise to scare any wildlife foolish enough to still be in the area. I gave up on the idea of finding a peaceful place in the woods.

The temperature also kept the gators in the water. I saw plenty of alligator heads popping out of the river, but not of them were taking the sun on the river bank. The hoards of people didn’t seem to mind. They were gathered along the bridge pointing them out to each other while speculating on the gator’s size and intentions. These were the first alligators many of the people getting out of cars from places like Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and New York ever came near.

I spent most of the afternoon in the warmth of my RV home watching a football game. It wasn’t the most competitive game, but there was a lot of scoring in the first half as Tampa beat Detroit 47 to 7. Just before sunset I took my second walk of the day to the river for wildlife viewing. Along the road leading to the bridge I was reward with an opportunity to watch several White Tail Deer along the side of the road. That made up for all the missed wildlife earlier in the day.

My Christmas Feast

Friday December 25th 2020

Merry Christmas

The overnight rain broke to a partly cloudy day that was more than twenty degrees cooler than Thursday. The high temperature for the day didn’t get out of the fifties. It was the coldest Christmas in Florida this century. The last time the temperatures were this cold was last January. Tomorrow is forecast to be even colder.

To celebrate the holiday I prepared a more elaborate meal than normal. I dug out the slow cooker and loaded it up with a pot roast, onions and carrots. A few hours later I pealed and cooked some real potatoes to go with the pot roast. Today wasn’t an instant potato kind of day. It was a good change of pace meal and I have leftovers for another couple of meals.

While the pot roast was cooking in the slow cooker, I took one of my routine exploration walks around the state park. The park was very busy with tourists at the alligator viewing areas near the roads. I even found people at some of the areas deeper in the woods that are usually good for some solitude. Judging by the license plates, most of these folks have driven from all over the country. They do not fit the mold for snowbirds. Most likely these are people taking advantage of time off work and school to vacation. Perhaps they have relatives that live in the area.

The cooler daytime temperature had a negative impact on the wildlife viewing. Most of the alligators in the river at the bridge where everybody congregates to view the reptiles were underwater. A few heads were visible as the gators came up to breath and observe the humans. The visible wading birds were all busy looking for food. A few white spots were visible in the tall grass and trees along the banks indicating other birds taking refuge from the weather. The birds with long necks manage to twist up and huddle down nicely.

Christmas Eve Hike

Thursday December 24th 2020

Today was a warm and humid day. It started mostly sunny and ended with clouds ready for a change. The temperature peaked at eighty degrees. Tonight it is blowing and raining outside. The cold front that is crossing the country has arrived. Tomorrow is forecast to be the coldest Christmas day in Florida since the late 1990s. In this area that means the low fifties.

I took a hike along the banks of the Myakka River this afternoon. It was a nice walk in the shade with regular views of the water and the wildlife. There wasn’t a lot of close wildlife. All of the gators were on the opposite bank. The wading birds were just scarce. Even so I took pictures of all of the photogenic creatures.

Merry Christmas

A Beautiful Sunset

Wednesday December 23rd 2020

The day got a cold start. It was 51 degrees inside my RV home at 7AM, but it warmed up quickly into the mid seventies. The day ended with a beautiful sunset.

Yesterday I thought the park was crowded and the streets in Sarasota weren’t overly busy. I think I spoke too soon. The traffic in the city today was horrible. Getting around was one big traffic jam. I retreated to the comfort of the state park quickly.

Similar to yesterday, the wildlife was a little harder to find. I think they sense the added presence of humans and stay away from the popular areas. It took more time and patience to get a few nice pictures today. Bathing day for the Rosetta Spoonbills and the nice sunset were the best pictures of the day.

Crowds are Increasing at Myakka River State Park

Tuesday December 22nd 2020

It was a bright sunny and cool day. The high temperature for the day was in the mid sixties. Tonight is forecast to drop into the high forties. The real change to cool temperature comes after the next cold front on Christmas Eve.

All tucked in against the cold.

Myakka River State Park is getting busy. Last week there was plenty of parking available at all the turn outs along the park road. This morning there was no room to stop at several of the more popular stops. The main parking lot at the Outpost on Upper Myakka Lake was also close to full. Many of the occupants of those cars were new to the park. They wandered around randomly looking for things to see. The repeat visitors get out of their car and make a beeline to the dam area where all the birds and alligators hang out. There were so many people at the dam today that the birds were keeping their distance. I suspect the crowds are also keeping the deer away from the roads. I may not see anymore deer during my visit.

The park is a major draw for the nature lovers in this part of Florida. While I was in the Sarasota area this afternoon, I didn’t see a lot of extra traffic. The number of cars with out of state license plates was also low. The media is reporting that the number of tourists and snowbirds is lower, but an increase for the holidays is taking place. Wear a mask, social distancing and avoid gatherings remains the mantra. There just seems to be less specificity and consequences in some areas of Florida than I’m lead to believe exist in some northern areas.

In the week that I’ve been here the water level has continued to drop. Areas that were under water last week are now dry. The areas that the gators use for taking the daytime sun seems to be moving. Today I found gators in areas that were under water last week. There weren’t as many alligators near the bridge across the river. The large number of visitors had to do more hiking to see alligators.

Christmas decorations are starting to show up in the campground.