Today was another beautiful winter day on the Florida Suncoast. The temperature was about the same as Tuesday, but it was a little less humid. The high temperature peaked in the low seventies.
Variety of Boats
I spent a very peaceful afternoon at the Emerson Point Preserve on the north bank of the Manatee River where it empties into Tampa Bay. The nature preserve has trails and observation areas on both the Tampa bay side and the Manatee river side of the point. It was nice to see the various types of boats in the water and the bird life in the area.
Birds of the Preserve
After three hours at peace in the preserve I got back in my car and heard all about the chaos in Washington DC. I’m glad I didn’t get caught in front of the TV when all of the action started in the capital or I wouldn’t have gotten out at all. I much prefer the pleasures of nature to the news and opinions being reported.
It was cold overnight. The inside temperature in my RV home was in the fifties around 7AM. I pulled the bed covers a little tighter, went back to sleep and let the sun warm my RV home. When I finally rolled out of bed after 9AM, I turned on the electric fireplace to finish warming the interior of my RV home. By noon the outside temperature was in the sixties on its way to an upper sixties high temperature for the day.
My day was dedicated to chores around the RV. I picked up some of the weeks accumulated clutter, washed the dishes and did some general cleaning. The small size of my living quarters makes it easier to pickup and cleanup, but it doesn’t go away. On both sides of my domestic focus I took a walk around the state park. The late morning walk didn’t show much sign of life in the park. People were either out for the day or inside keeping warm. I think the animal life was also hiding. By my second walk of the day around sunset there were a lot more people out walking. The wildlife was still missing, but many domestic animals in the form of dogs were out for a walk with their people.
Even though the length of the daylight portion of the day is starting to get longer, the nights continue to seem long. Once I’m inside with the curtains lowered, I’m usually oblivious to what’s going on outside. Often I get up in the morning to find I have new neighbors. Tonight was an exception. A converted school bus is now on the site next to mine. It has the loudest backup alarm I’ve heard and it took fifteen minutes or more to get settled. The noise interrupted writing this blog entry, so I could check out the commotion outside.
I think reality has caught up to my expectations. I’ve felt as though the holidays were over since I moved to this campground last Monday. Now they really are over. The entire atmosphere has become more tranquil. The noisy camping groups with lots of barking dogs and active kids have departed. The new occupants of those sites are couples and singles that are away during the day or at least are much quieter. The number of people using the day use area and boat ramp has also decreased significantly.
The weather has also come full circle. The daily high was below the seasonal average today. The bright sunny day only got the mercury up to the mid sixties. A strong breeze out of the north also blew much of the day. Tonight is forecast to be in the low fifties at best. I have my electric fireplace on to ward off the chill inside my RV home.
The cool weather and the tranquility of the campground resulted in a very lazy day. I lingered over an unusual second cup of coffee this morning while reading news and various blogs on the internet. The TV in the background was in the middle of the noon news program when I came up for air. A walk to the lake in the brisk air resulted in a little activity for the day, but didn’t encourage any additional activity.
This afternoon was another summer travel research session. I need to answer all kinds of simple questions. “What are the major things I want to see?” “Where can I stay near the attraction?” “what else is in the area I’ll be staying in?” “How long should I stay?” It can be a real balancing act. I want to stay in one place as long as I can, but I don’t want to run out of things to do and see on the second day of a two week stay. The real problem is many of the places I like to visit to fill time and relax don’t make the usual web sites. To find lake front county parks with hiking trails or regional bike paths you really need to dig deep. Sometimes it’s a matter of investigating what a green area on the map is all about, or reading someone’s blog with a nice trip report. I can really get lost following the rabbit down its hole. So far I’m still accumulating facts and getting ideas.
Today may have been Sunday, but the sun was missing all day. I woke up this morning to a racket on the roof of my RV home. A pair of squirrels were having a battle on the roof. I think the contest started in the tree that overhangs my RV home, which they fell or jumped out of onto my roof. The battle continued for a minute or two then they must have jumped off. A little while later I saw a chase back up the nearby tree trunk. Not long after that with a loud bang on the roof the battle resumed. There was no way I was going to sleep in.
The day started foggy. Around 9:30 the leading edge of the cold front passed through with about half an hour of rain. The storm wasn’t severe, just wet. It remained a very cloudy day. They were just high enough that you couldn’t call it fog. The temperature remained in the high sixties. Tomorrow is forecast to be cooler.
For exercise this afternoon I went for a walk in another of Manatee County’s nature preserve areas. The Neal Preserve is a boardwalk, trail and observation tower near the bridge to Anna Maria Island. I was hoping to find some wildlife, but I didn’t see any in the preserve. Along the side of the waterway that parallels the Manatee Road there were a few pelicans, but they were all huddled up against the weather.
The remainder of my Sunday afternoon was dedicated to watching NFL football games. Today was the last day of the regular season with many playoff implications associated with the wins and loses. It is amazing that the NFL completed a full season of games given the pandemic. They had to move games around a bit, but all the games were played. On with the playoffs.
Today started with a foggy morning. As the day went by the fog lifted to a cloudy day and then a little bit of sunshine broke through in this area, but to the west near the gulf the low clouds remained all day. The temperature reached the high seventies as the area braces for the approaching cold front.
The cloudy weather altered my plans for the day. I had intended to drive out to the coast and wander around in the nature preserves and beaches. That outing will have to happen another day. My focus for the day turned to planning for my 2021 travels.
In the overall pattern for my Rambling Road trip this is an east coast year. What exactly that means in our pandemic dominated world is questionable. How quickly people get vaccinated and conditions improve will make a lot of difference. Right now, the further north one travels the greater the number of restrictions.
My current thoughts keep my travel slow and restricted to the southeast this year. I’m thinking about staying in Florida until after Memorial Day. It will be getting hot in Florida by then. The higher altitude of the mountains in northern Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Kentucky would get the bulk of my visits during June through September. I’ll make a few visits to lower altitude, but the few degrees cooler temperature in the mountains will be welcome. After dodging tropical storms this year, I don’t plan to return to Florida until late in October.
Within the framework established by the general area of the mountains of the southeast, I need to make specific plans. Do I travel in a clockwise loop north along the west side of the Appalachian mountains then back down the east side or the reverse clockwise loop. A zigzag route crossing the mountain chain multiple times might be more efficient, but wear and tear on the motorhome and my nerves isn’t worth it. Once I decide were I want to be for the Forth of July and Labor Day holidays the direction of travel becomes clearer.
I want to spend time in Great Smoky Mountain National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. If I get into Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is another good place to visit. Similar to 2020, I plan to avoid cities and indoor attractions. That takes many possibilities off the list. This brings the secondary level of locations and outdoor attractions into the planning process. The problem is I need to do research to identify what those attractions might be.
For popular areas I’m already behind schedule booking reservations. I may need to book shorter stays at multiple places. Last year at this time I’d already made several reservations. They all got canceled, but at least I had them. I’ve got reservations from now until the middle of April. Booking the rest of April and May in Florida should be easy. I’ll do that as I continue to research the rest of the year.
New Years Eve was warm and noisy here at Lake Manatee State Park. Since it was still above seventy degrees as the New Year approached, I had the windows open in my RV home. The state park has a lot of family groups occupying various sites. The noise of many celebrations filtered in my windows until well into the first night of the new year. The sound of distant fireworks could also be heard. It didn’t bother me. It just seemed out of place for the quiet state park I’m used to.
The entire park has a different atmosphere this weekend. Sites that are usually filled with RVs with a couple of people are filled with families. Many sites have two cars along with the RV and additional campers cars are overflowing into the day use parking lot. Along with the cars there are boats, kayaks, bicycles and golf carts galore. All the people and toys means lots of activity and noise.
The activity and noise keeps the animals away. During the week I saw lots of squirrels, one armadillo while hearing others and a couple of gopher tortoises. With all the activity yesterday and today I only saw one squirrel. All the noise, running kids and barking dogs don’t make a good environment for the native animals.
Today was a three walk day. They were all fairly short in length. Each included a visit to Lake Manatee in search of interesting animals to photograph for inclusion in this blog, but the best I picture I took was of a couple of wildflowers. After two weeks at Myakka River State Park with lots of pictures to chose from, I’m feeling withdrawal with the lack of subjects here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.