A January Visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Tuesday January 31st 2023

The high temperature today was in the mid eighties with only a light wind. This great weather is spoiling me. The forecast has everything crashing back to normal on Friday with a storm front passing through the area.

I was up early this morning to attempt to make my next reservation in a Florida State Park for next winter. This was actually my second attempt to book the first two weeks of 2024. I tried yesterday morning knowing that I was overlapping my stay by one night, but I didn’t have any success. This morning was also unsuccessful booking a site at Myakka River State Park. There is just too much competition and the software or server resources cannot handle it. Switching to a fall back solution, I was successful reserving a stay at Hillsborough River State Park. I’ll make another attempt to book Myakka River State Park in two weeks.

Since I was up early I decided to go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom to visit the animals before the heat of the day. I arrived at 9:30AM, half an hour after the opening time for regular guests. People staying on site at Disney World were able to enter the park at 8:30AM. The bottom line is I was too late to beat the crowds for the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. The wait was over an hour when I arrived at the park. Luckily one of the other popular rides had a short thirty minute wait.

I have only ridden the Na’vi River Journey ride in the Pandora section of the park once before. The wait is usually close to an hour. I took advantage of the short wait this morning to ride it again. It was actually quicker than the posted wait time. I was finished with the ride in less than thirty minutes. This is a dark boat ride through the bio luminescence forest. It is an Ok ride, but I wouldn’t wait longer than I did today.

Other wait times this morning were long. I walked the various wildlife trails and toured most of the areas of the park. The male gorillas were very active, but the family units including the babies were all hiding in the shade. On the other trail the tiger was in the shade by a tree well away from the viewing windows. It really wasn’t the best day for animal sightings. The trails around the tree of life were also closed so Disney could do some maintenance on the cement tree.

When the wait time for the safari ride got below sixty minutes I got in line. It was moving right along. I thought it would be much less than the posted wait, but then the dreaded message came over the loudspeaker. There were animals on the trail delaying the safari. The animals have the right of way over the ride trucks. All they can do is wait. So, the line stopped moving. It probably stopped for close to half an hour. Once it began to move again, the Lightening Lane for people that paid extra for a shorter line, got priority over the general line. Overall by the time I got off the ride it had been almost two hours from the time I entered the queue. The good thing is there were plenty of animals to see.

Safari Mickey on a pontoon boat.

Oil Change and a New Battery

Monday January 30th 2023

The warm weather trend continued today. The day began around sixty degrees and peaked in the low eighties this afternoon. The seasonal normal is in the low seventies. The warm weather is supposed to be the result of a southwest wind, but there didn’t seem to be much wind at all today. It is very nice weather.

Today’s task was getting some service performed on my car. It was in need of an oil change and a new battery. On the cold days over the last month it has resisted starting and after getting towed here behind my motorhome it refused to crank over. The draw on the battery during towing was enough to kill it. I have a portable auxiliary battery jumper that I had to use when I arrived here on Thursday. The battery is a little over 5 years old. The last time I replaced it was in Las Vegas in January 2018. This afternoon I went to the local Valvoline Instant Oil change for both services. I now have fresh oil and a new battery.

There was a lot more turn over in the campground today. Some had been here for a few days and a few only arrived yesterday. The line at the dumping station was several RVs long near the 1PM checkout time. When I returned to the park late this afternoon most of the empty sites were already full. While I was out for my pre-sunset walk more arrived. I’m sure the park will be full once again tonight.

A Sunny Sunday

Sunday January 29th 2023

Friday was cold, yesterday was warming up and today was a little on the warm side. The bright sun warmed the air to eighty degrees and maybe a little beyond. It was a beautiful day and would have been better if I was dressed for the warmth. Heavy long pants were not the proper attire for the weather, but I came to the conclusion too late to make the change.

A sunny Sunday on the lake for some.

The campground went through its end of weekend metamorphosis today. The weekenders form the local area were replaced by travelers. A lot of today’s arrivals were from Canada. It looks like the Canadian snowbirds are back at normal levels. During the 2020-2021 winter they were basically nonexistent. With the land boarder closed because of the pandemic that winter, I think I only saw two Canadian license plates all winter. Last winter the boarder opened in November of 2021. I recall seeing a lot of Canadian plates a few days after the opening, but throughout the winter the total number seemed to be way down. This winter the level seems to be back to pre-pandemic levels and maybe more.

My exercise level today was reduced from yesterday’s. Somewhere along the way yesterday I must have twisted my leg or something. While walking today, my knee wasn’t as happy as it should be. It wasn’t bad, just annoying. My walks were restricted to the campground. I walked over to the fishing piers on the two lakes a couple of times today. There were plenty of people trying their luck at fishing and renting kayaks to explore the lake.

The sun brought the turtles out to warm up on the dead longs along the lake shore. In past visits I’ve seen an alligator on some of the logs, but today it wasn’t around. I’ll keep watching for the alligator during my stay here.

Hammond Lake Hike

Saturday January 28th 2023

It was a dull day when I got up this morning and it got darker as the day progressed. The increasing cloud cover implied the approach of rain, but it never arrived. The forecast calls for conditions to improve tomorrow without any rainfall. Today’s high temperature was in the upper sixties.

The cloud cover was thick and wide today.

The campground is in full on weekend mode. Many of the big rigs from northern states that were here when I arrived on Thursday have been replaced by tents and smaller RVs from local areas. The number of kids in the park has also increased. Over near the lakes and recreation equipment rental area lots of people were engaged in fishing and boating. Bicycle riders were turning around at the campground after riding in the three miles from the park entrance. The campground is at the end of the road popular with bicyclists. In general the area was hopping.

My form of recreation today was a hike around Hammond Lake. The trails are wide multi-use pathways. In addition to walking, they support horseback riding, bicycles and even a segway tour. Today I only met one set of hikers and saw a bunch of horse manure. All of the bird life I saw was small. There were signs of bigger animals in one area along the trail. I think the tracks were from wild hogs, but might have been deer. They were closer together and deeper than I would expect for deer tracks. Nearby there was also disturbed ground that might have been caused by hogs.

Tracks in the sandy soil. These are probably wild hog tracks.

My hike almost included trip around Dixie Lake as well. My choice of trails at one fork lead to the cabins on the far side of Dixie Lake. At the cabins I chose to turn left and return to my campsite rather than continuing around Dixie Lake. I’ll make that hike on another day. It would have tripled or more the length of my hike had I continued on around Dixie Lake.

There were many wild orange trees with small orange fruit along the trail.

Settling in on a Cool Day

Friday January 27th 2023

The temperature was down in the forties overnight. When I got up the inside temperature was in the fifties. Luckily, this campsite is open to the sun most of the day. It warmed things up inside nicely. The high temperature for the day was in the mid sixties. Another cool night is forecast before everything starts to warm up. Sunday’s high is forecast to be well above normal around eighty.

This was my day to get settled in at Lake Louisa State Park. After breakfast this morning I got the towing equipment, my bicycle and the rack off the car. I must have been exercising my muscles when I tightened the bold on the bicycle rack. It took some extra effort to get it off this morning. I was about ready to switch to a bigger wrench when it finally came free. Now I have a bolt soaked in WD40 that I have to keep out of the sand. A fun complication to an otherwise easy task.

The middle of the week park residents departed this morning to make way for the weekenders. When I walked over to the lakes shortly before the noon hour there were more empty sites than occupied ones. As the afternoon progressed all of the empty sites filled up again.

Not much has changed in the campground in the last six weeks. A couple of small fences for traffic control have been erected showing that maintenance is ongoing. This park always seems to be well kept. The foliage that was still green in December is black now. The December freeze obviously caught it hard. With the warm temperatures over the next week I expect to see a few more blossoms return to the wildflowers.

It was cold on the side of the lakes today. The north wind was more than a little breeze keeping a strong chill factor. It also made the water level appear higher the wave action kept the logs the turtles and gator like partially submerged. One brave turtle was balancing on the small portion of the log exposed. In another area of the lake an Egret was huddled near the tall grass trying to keep out of the wind.

Traveling South to Clermont

Thursday January 26th 2023

I got a little later start to the day than I’d planned. On travel days I like to be awake by 7:30 and out of bed soon after. This morning I didn’t wake up until 8:30. I still managed to pull out of the Starke KOA by 11:30 which is half an hour before the noon checkout.

After last night’s cold front, it was much colder this morning. The inside temperature was in the fifties. Outside it was a little cooler causing me to follow a slightly different order to some of my preparation tasks. Changing the order is always a risk. I have to be extra careful not to forget to do something important. It all worked out in the long run.

The trip from Starke to Clermont is not complicated. It just isn’t any fun. The trip south on US301 to Ocala is filled with towns every five to ten miles. In each town the speed is reduced from 65 to 45 or even 35mph. Once you reach Ocala and join with US 27 it gets worse. There is a traffic light, I’d guess, on average every mile. You just get up to speed and have to slow down again. I went through more yellow lights than is safe today. In addition to all the traffic lights there is plenty of traffic to go with it. This route goes through the city of Ocala, the Villages, Leesburg and Clermont. I could avoid some of it by going out to Interstate 75, but it adds miles and doesn’t miss enough of the congestion to make it worth it.

Site 44 at Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont Florida.

I arrived at Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont at 2PM. It has been six and a half weeks since I left here in December. The site I’m on is about 3 sites away from the site I occupied during my last stay. I’ll be here for two weeks.

Waiting for a Storm

Wednesday January 25th 2023

I woke up this morning to dark clouds and a significant wind. The TV weather forecast called for wind ahead of a line of storms moving in from the west. The stations couldn’t seem to agree on when it was going to arrive. I heard everything from early afternoon to the dinner hour. The good news is it was warm in front of the cold front. Today’s high temperature was just south of eighty degrees.

The storm front actually arrived around five fifteen, but it was very anticlimactic. There were a few RV shacking gusts of wind, but the rain was very light and sporadic. It has continued off an on in the three hours since it started. Tomorrow is forecast to be dry, cooler and windy.

This palm needs a little trimming. It has lots of little sprouts trying to take over.

The weather threat kept me at home today. I didn’t want to be out driving around aimlessly just to have deluge of rain or even something as severe as a tornado appear in my path. Instead I did a few chores around my RV home and got in a couple of walks around the campground. On one of the walks I checked out the shopping center next door. When I was here last May one of the stores was under a serious remodel. It wasn’t clear what was going to move in. An ALDI grocery store is now open in that location. One odd observation I made walking by the store, was the need to make a twenty five cent deposit to use a shopping cart. Apparently you need to stick a quarter in to unlock the cart and get it back when you return the cart. Is this normal for ALDI? I never have change in my pocket anymore. I’d be in a real hurt carrying everything in my arms. I guess I’ll stick with Walart.

My short stay in Starke is over tomorrow. I’ll be moving south about 125 miles to Clermont Florida. I’ll be at Lake Louisa State Park again for two weeks. Before the rain started I got the car loaded with my bicycle and completed some of the other outdoor preparations. Check out time is noon, so I should have plenty of time in the morning.

Settling in and Restocking

Tuesday January 24th 2023

It was at cool night again. This morning it was bright and sunny in the forties. During the day the temperature managed to reach the upper sixties. The forecast for tomorrow calls for warmer temperatures, but rain likely late in the day.

A few fluffy clouds filled the bright sky.

Today was a day to settle in and restock. This morning I did my usual day after arrival tasks. The biggest of these is getting the car ready for regular use. This involves getting the bicycle and towing gear stowed away. It only takes about ten minutes, but it is a necessary task. This morning I wanted it over with so I could get on with the restocking task.

It has been almost three weeks since I made a grocery run. While I was at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park I enjoyed the park to much to take the time for the drive into Gainesville to shop at Walmart. I managed to use up some of the older items in my freezer and cabinets. The only items I really ran out of were deserts and snacks. Here in Starke, the Walmart is less than half a mile down the road, so it was time to restock.

This is a smaller Walmart, but it had everything I needed. The aisles are narrower and the “flavor” varieties are limited. For some reason I was noticing an increase in price for most of the things I purchased. Many of them probably went up long ago, but today I was noticing them. Things that were around a dollar per unit were now a dollar thirty to a dollar and a half. Items that were in the high three dollar numbers were now well over four dollars. The big gotcha were the eggs. Today they averaged out to forty three cents per egg for a dozen and half or more than forty five cents an egg if you only bought a dozen.

After I returned to my RV home and got all the groceries stored away, it was time for a walk around the campground. The last time I was here was at the end of May last year. It was very empty at that time by comparison. Today most of the sites are occupied by snowbird style residents. The remaining sites are used for nightly traffic. This campground is frequently the first stop in Florida for people coming into the state from the north. It causes some interesting activities.

Last night a big class A motorhome pulling a very large red box trailer pulled into the site next to mine. Both the motorhome and trailer were covered with road grime. This morning they unloaded a lime green Dodge Charger from the box trailer. Everything got hosed down, although not washed. It is against the rules to wash vehicles at your site. Then they changed all four tires on the Charger. Performance wheels and tires were installed. I assume, but couldn’t verify, that all season or even snow tires were removed. They were clearly getting ready for a winter in the sunshine state.

A Short Travel Day

Monday January 23rd 2023

Today was a travel day. I was up early, but really didn’t need the extra time. Checkout time was at 1PM and with only about forty miles to travel I didn’t need to rush. The temperature started off in the fifties, so I focused on inside tasks until it warmed up a bit. The temperature only reached a peak in the mid sixties during the afternoon.

Getting ready to travel from Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is a little more complicated than most places. The campground roads are very narrow. It is not possible to hookup the car for towing without blocking traffic completely. I need to preposition the car in the overflow parking lot or the day use area where there is enough available space. Either one is a good distance away. This morning I drove the car to the overflow parking area and walked back to my site. It was a good ten minute walk. By the time I got the tanks motorhome holding tanks dumped and reunited with my car it was over half an hour later.

Site 70 at the Starke/Gainesville NE KOA in Starke Florida.

My destination for today’s travel was the KOA in Starke Florida about forty miles north of the state park. I booked the KOA to fill the gap between state park reservations. I was unable to get another state park reservation until Thursday. I’ve used this KOA for similar purposes in the past. Surprisingly the rates at this KOA are better than many of the other private campgrounds in the area. It is a nice park. This time of year most of the sites are occupied by snowbirds.

I arrived at the Starke/Gainesville NE KOA just before 2PM. Once I got through Gainesville traffic the drive was uneventful. After check in I got escorted to my site as usual. I’m in a different area of the park than I usually stay in. Maybe I booked a different category of site or more probably the sites I’ve been in before are occupied by snowbirds. I’ll be here until Thursday.

Last Full Day at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Sunday January 22nd 2023

Saturday’s rain continued last night. I woke up a few times overnight to additional noise on the roof. Possible it was debris from the trees falling on the roof that caused me to wake up. When I woke up this morning it was dark and cloudy. The darkness was very similar to Saturday, but the similarity ended there. The temperature climbed to near eighty despite the cloud cover. Saturday peaked in the fifties.

Anhinga in a bush

The campground really emptied out this morning. By the 1PM checkout time there were only a handful of sites still occupied. As the afternoon progressed the empty sites were all filled. I will be among the departed tomorrow. This was my last full day at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park for this visit. I’ll be moving north another forty miles for a few days. My next state park reservation doesn’t start until Thursday.

Today was a two walk and one drive day. The walks were to the day use area along Lake Wauberg. The wind off the lake was very strong out of the southwest. Finding the birds was a challenge. The change in wind direction changed the birds hiding places. My search was also complicated by trying to keep my hat on my head. The wind was real challenge. Walking through the woods I had to dodge falling debris all the way. Spanish moss, small branches and palm fronds were among the items I needed to dodge.

Wild horses on the prairie.

The drive park of the day was to the visitors center on the side of the prairie. The climb up the observation tower revealed the wild horses in a new place. They were grazing off to the right on the southeast side of the prairie. They still weren’t close enough to be easily visible, but I could count nine horses. The bison were still nowhere to be found.

When I got back to my RV home, I loaded the bicycle onto the car for tomorrows travel day. Most of my outside tasks are completed, so I can take my time tomorrow morning. Checkout time is at 1PM, so I will have plenty of time. It should be a cooler day tomorrow. As I’m finishing up this blog entry a thunderstorm is passing through the area. The sound of rain on the roof has completely blocked hearing the TV.