I was up early this morning to attempt to book the elusive next 2 weeks in the coming winters Florida State Park hop. There were six possible sites available across 2 different state parks for the two weeks starting December 31st. There is a lot of competition during the week between Christmas and New Years. Families are probably taking advantage of the school vacation period. I knew I’d only have one chance, so I selected the best site in the least popular part of the least popular park to make my play. I got everything set and clicked the mouse button as the clock struck 8AM. I was successful. When I checked the availability at 8:08AM all of the sites were taken.
The next event in the 2022 Florida State Park booking drama is on February 14th. It is somewhere between a game and a pain in the butt activity. The state parks are the places I like to stay so I do what I have to do. The alternative would be to book a month or the entire winter season at a private park. Individual weeks at some private campgrounds are similarly as difficult to book and costs more for less of the closeness to nature that I enjoy. When I am not successful booking a state park for two weeks, I find a private park for a few days to a week. I’m sure I’ll run into that for next winter before I’m finished. This winter I have one week at a private park between the beginning of December and the middle of April.
Today began as a bright sunny day. The temperature climbed into the upper seventies before the clouds started to move in. The next cold front is due to pass through the area tonight. There is the possibility of some severe weather. Tomorrow and the rest of the week is forecast to be much cooler.
The pictures in this blog entry are from today’s walk to the Silver River. On the long trail to the river I usually see one or two people. Today I saw close to a dozen people along the trail each way and even more coming in off the river for a break in paddling or a trip to the porta-potty. The animals seemed to be keeping their distance from all the people.
It was a little warmer today. The temperature peaked just above seventy degrees after another cool start. I didn’t need the added power of the propane furnace to get the inside temperature comfortable the morning. The electric space heater provided a slow and steady climb.
With the arrival of the weekend I expected the atmosphere of the campground to change. The last few state parks have all become more family and group focused on the weekend. This park hasn’t seemed to change character for the weekend. The campsites are still occupied by couples and singles. There has not been an increase in family groups with lots of kids and animals. I wonder why this park is different.
The day use part of the park did change. Many more people and families were walking or riding bicycles on the trails. The forest was not quiet. The sounds of laughter and conversation carried over the sound of the squirrels and wind. There was no chance of running into any deer on the trail today. When I arrived at the river overlook after a miles walk through the forest, I found a pontoon boat pushed up to the river bank right in front of the overlook. A family with two young kids decided it was the perfect place to have lunch. The birds and turtles were nowhere to be found. Even after they departed the area didn’t have a lot of wildlife visible. I had the area to myself for about ten minutes before a couple of groups of people arrived from the trail. It will be nice when the weekend is over.
The temperature roller coaster reached another low point last night. It was only forty degrees inside my RV home this morning. The little electric space heater wasn’t enough to make it comfortable. I had to turn on the propane furnace. It might be loud and inefficient but it had the temperature to a comfortable level in short order. The high temperature for the day was just over sixty degrees. Tonight will be cold again.
The cold kept me inside until the noon hour. It was comfortable outside in the sun and out of the wind. I grabbed my camera and made the mile hike to the Silver River. The people in the kayaks, canoes and occasional power boat along with the wildlife was my entertainment for the day. I watched the mild comedy of uncoordinated people getting in and out of kayaks at the launch site for a few minutes. I’m sure I’d be just as awkward, but hopefully I’d stay dry like all of today’s participants did.
By second stop was a bench deep in the cypress trees on the River loop trail. It’s in a very secluded area. I surprised several people passing by in boats. You could easily here them say “There’s a guy over there. How did he get there?”. Only one group seemed to know there was a trail in the state park. I had to explain to one group that I wasn’t lost. That got old after a while so I returned to the kayak launch.
After the lunch hour the kayak launch was quiet. The people that stopped for lunch had moved on and no one else was launching boats. The birds had moved closer to the launch area making for some fun picture taking. Here are today’s pictures.
The last few days have been ten or more degrees above normal. After last nights passing cold front, today was ten degrees below normal. The high temperature barely broke sixty and there was a strong north wind. The bright sunshine was the only positive factor in today’s weather.
Yesterday at the end of the Swamp trail hike, I discovered the poorly advertised spring head trail that connects the campground area of the state park with the attraction area of the state park. The trail is 2.4 miles long and follows the same path as other park trails for about half its length.
I set out from my RV home just before noon. After walking the third of a mile to the trail head I began the hike to Silver Springs (the attraction). The trail is well marked and well maintained, but not that interesting a hike. It passes through tall pine and hardwood forests. In some areas the trail passes through land that was deliberately burnt a few years back. The undergrowth has only grown about two feet high and many of the tall trees still show evidence of the burn. The trail arrives at the back of the attraction parking lot near the kayak and canoe launch ramp.
My first visit to Silver Springs was as a kid in the mid 1960s. We took a glass bottom boat from route 40 up the length of the Silver River to the springs. My most vivid memory of the visit was watching a reptile show where a rattlesnake was “milked” for its venom. The second time I visited the attraction, I never got inside. It was during the 1980s. The park had added amusement rides and other attractions to compete with Disney World. The problem was it raised its prices to Disney levels and I didn’t have all day to get the value out of the cost. My third visit was around the turn of the century. The park wasn’t in the best condition and the amusement rides were gone or in the process of being removed, but the glass bottom boat ride was well worth that visit.
Today I just walked the trails, toured the gardens and took pictures. I checked out the pandemic protocols on the boats and wasn’t impressed. Mask use was not enforced and nothing prevented other people from sitting right beside you. All they were doing was limiting the number of passengers. I suspect it was low risk, but not low enough to cross my paranoia threshold.
It was nearly noon before the sun won the battle with the lifting morning fog. Today’s weather was rapidly changing. By 2PM the clouds associated with the approaching cold front blocked the full sunshine from reaching the ground. One hundred miles to the north tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings were in place. Shortly after 4PM the rain and thunderstorms arrived here. The worst was over by 6:30, but the rain is likely to continue off and on most of the night.
Today I walked the Swamp loop trail in Silver Springs State Park. The trail head for the two mile trail is about a third of a mile from my campsite near the Silver River Museum. Its name turned out to be a bit of an over sell. The majority of the trail is through pine and hardwood forest. The swamp part of the trail is a short boardwalk spur trail that goes out to an observation platform on the bank of the Silver River.
The most interesting part of the hike was in the pine forest section of the trail. I had a close encounter with four or five deer. I heard moving in the trees and brush that was louder than the usual squirrel, so I stopped and waited. The deer soon appeared about seventy five to a hundred feet away. A couple of the deer spotted me and froze. I had a chance to take a few pictures before I moved on. The deer weren’t ready to move yet.
The Silver River overlook provided a view of the clear river water. It was easy to see the sandy bottom areas and the underwater grass sections. I could also see many small fish and a water snake. On the far bank the birds were congregating. Ibis were foraging for food in the swampy area, a Great Egret was fishing along the rivers edge and several Anhingas were drying their wings up in the trees.
For the third day in a row the day began with fog. It didn’t last long today. By the middle of the morning the sun was out and the day was starting to warm up from its start in the sixties. The temperature peaked on the plus side of eighty degrees with lots of humidity. The next cold front is due tomorrow afternoon.
I spent the day exploring this part of Silver Springs State Park. There are several trails to explore. Today I hiked the most popular River Trail. It is about a three quarter mile trek to the Silver River with a loop trail along part of the river. Overall it’s listed as a 2.1 mile hike. To launch a canoe or kayak from the campground you need to get it down the three quarter mile trail to the river.
The Silver River is less than five miles long, but it flows through largely untouched cypress swamps and hardwood forest areas. It starts at the springs located at Florida’s original attraction of Silver Springs home of the glass bottom boats and flows east to the Ocklawaha River. The state park is located about half way along the river’s path.
Today there were many kayaks and canoes on river. Four people with two double kayaks followed me down to the river. At the launch area there were already four other kayaks getting ready to paddle up river to the springs. Later after I walked the additional loop trail along the river four other people were at work dragging their kayaks out of the water after a paddle along the river. This is another one of those times that I wish I was carrying a kayak with me on the Rambling Road Trip. Boat rentals during the pandemic seem to be few and far between.
I wasn’t well prepared for hiking today. The warmth and humidity started to catch up with me on my way back to my RV home. I should have worn cooler clothes and carried water. The rest of the day was pretty much an exercise in recuperation. Tomorrow I’ll be better prepared for the Swamp trail, a two mile boardwalk enhanced loop to the river through the swamp.
Today began just like Sunday with fog. On a positive note it didn’t last as long. By 9:30 the sun was out. The temperature in the Tampa area broke the eighties, but I was one hundred miles to the north by the end of the day. In the Ocala area it was still in the high seventies. Tomorrow is forecast to be in the low eighties in this area.
I was up before eight to start the travel day. The big prep tasks inside were completed yesterday, but I still had the outside tasks and the little things inside to complete. Without pushing hard I was leaving Hillsborough River State Park at 12:30PM. I took a lot of breaks during the morning. Getting behind the wheel of the motorhome tired from packing is not something I like doing. It results in driving mistakes. Today was an OK drive.
The biggest issue getting ready to leave this morning was finding a place to hookup the car to the motorhome. My site was a back in so it wasn’t possible to hook up at the site. Most of the campground roads are narrow and winding. Not only would I block the road to other campers, but I really need a long straight section of road to easily hookup. I found a place near the extra car parking that had enough room, but it took some maneuvering. My second choice was in the day use area but that would have involved a lot of driving and walking to get both vehicles relocated for the hookup.
Traffic north on Interstate 75 was heavy. I had to stop once for gas. Since my last fill up gas prices have gone up over twenty five cents. For today’s travel route I chose to come right through the downtown section of Ocala Florida. It was a lot less route changes, but it was heavy and stop and go traffic.
I arrived at the Silver Springs State Park just before 3PM. The campground entrance is off of route 35 a few miles south of the old attraction entrance off route 40. This park was originally called Silver River State Park. When the state took over ownership of the Silver Springs attraction everything was renamed Silver Springs State Park. I’m not sure the two areas are connected by land on this side of the river, but I’ll find out over the next few days.
The weather recovered nicely today. It was a sunny day with very little wind. The recent trend of above normal daily high temperatures continued. Today’s high temperature was just short of eighty degrees. It was almost ten degrees above the seasonal normal for this area.
This is my last day at Hillsborough River State Park. I’m moving north and inland tomorrow to the Ocala Florida area. Before moving on I needed to refresh my grocery supplies. Shopping on moving day and usually the following day is not easy to fit in. The people in this area were very active today. The grocery section of Walmart was very busy and the checkouts were backed up. It didn’t help that I selected a checkout line with a cashier that was as deliberate as a sloth. I didn’t time it, but it seemed like more than an hour wait.
Waiting was a theme today. When I got back to the state park, the line at the guard station was long. The fifteen or so cars were a combination of returning park guests, new campers checking in and people visiting for the afternoon. The park rangers are not touching money. You either need to be prepaid on the web site or pay cash into the iron ranger self pay. The ranger checks the campers and prepaid day visitors in using the computer. The others are directed to the self pay box. I suspect the system slows things down more than a little bit.
I took one last walk along the river this afternoon. The alligators were in their usual places, but I didn’t see the usual birds. There were so many people out along the walk that thoughts about the spreading virus passed through my mind. I avoided stopping at a number of key overlooks. People were just too close together. It is so much nicer walking the trails during the middle of the week.
A different kind of weather got in the way of today’s plans. I woke up this morning to fairly dense fog. The TV news was reporting traffic visibility issues along the roads in a fairly narrow area of the state. To the south of here it was sunny and warm and to the north it was cool and rainy. This area was warm and foggy. The temperature was in the low to mid seventies.
During the morning the fog attempted to lift. At one point I looked out the window and the fog appeared to be high in the trees, but a few minutes later it was back near the ground. By early afternoon the fog was more like very low clouds. It was possible to get out for a walk and stay dry.
The weekend atmosphere has returned to the state park. Weekend campers and RVers are out to pack a lot into a couple of days and to burn off a lot of energy in a short period of time. The result is a lot of spirited conversations and competitions. On my afternoon walk I got to watch a couple of guys engaged in both activities. They were having a kayak race on the river along with lots of trash talking and an element of bumper cars thrown in for good measure. It was a fun impromptu entertainment and nobody ended up in the water.
Most of my day was spent doing chores around my RV home. The main task was a bit over due. During my first four years in the RV I managed to keep the inside of my refrigerator free of lost food. This past year I seemed to accumulate many containers of leftovers and a few unused packaged foods in the back of the refrigerator. I’m going to blame it on the pandemic and keeping lots of food on hand. Either way, it is now all gone. I threw out a whole trash bag full of stuff most of which was no longer identifiable. Let’s see how long I keep the refer free of unwanted stuff.
Today began as a bright sunny day. As the day progressed clouds moved in overhead. By sunset the sky was fully cloud covered. Even without full sunshine the temperature managed to climb into the mid seventies. It was a nice weather day.
My plans for the day were easily scrambled. My first order of business after breakfast and my morning reading was grocery shopping. It didn’t happen. As I was preparing to leave my campsite a traffic jam developed along the campground road in front of my site. An RV was stopped in the middle of the loop road on the other side of the loop. Two or three cars and RVs were waiting on the narrow road for it to move. After waiting about ten minutes for the traffic to clear, I changed plans. I’d take my afternoon walk in the late morning and go shopping later.
The short walk along the river turned into a long walk on both sides of the river. The alligators and birds were out catching the sun before it hid behind the clouds. The alligators seemed more active today. One sunbathing gator went for a short swim before climbing back onto the bank. It didn’t seem to be provoked by anything. It just wanted to get wet. Another gator on the far bank swam across the river to watch a kayak get launched. What the gator expected to find is only a guess. Maybe other kayak fishermen have disposed of their catch into an alligators mouth. It didn’t get any reward today. After the kayaker paddled off the gator returned to the far river bank.
My planned half hour walk turned into two hours before I got back to my campsite. The traffic jam was gone, but I still didn’t go grocery shopping. I wanted to grab a bit of lunch first. The only problem was the simple lunch foods were one of the things I needed to buy. My midday meal turned into my big meal of the day. I grilled Brats with some rice pilaf and vegetables. With another hour plus gone, I gave up on shopping today.