Florida Keys

Florida Keys
Florida Keys September 2014

Monday, December 8, 2014

Camping with family at Fort De Soto County Park


Date: 12/4/14 – 12/7/14

Location: Fort De Soto, St. Petersburg, Fl


Back in August we were surfing around the campground reservation sites trying to find a location for a December camping trip. For some odd reason we were able to secure two adjoining sites at Fort Desoto Campground in St. Petersburg, Florida. Fort De Soto is a very popular park and difficult to get a spot during the busy season. So, we were surprised to find we could actually get a reservation here.

We’ve camped here once before several years ago and it was right after we bought our trailer. Julie also used to camp here when she was a kid. Her parents and 5 sisters would stay here for a week or so during the summer in the family's’ pop up trailer. I can’t imagine camping with six daughters, but I guess they all survived and actually had a fun time and now fond memories.

Julie and I were hoping we could entice some of our Florida family members to join us for the weekend. We put out the word to family and actually got a few takers. My brother and his wife (Jim and JoAnne) from south Florida along with our two daughters (Allison and Michelle) and a son-in-law (Dave) decided to join us. How lucky were we!! We love having company during our camping trips.

Our sites, # 207 & #208, were right on the water. They were good sized with adequate privacy between the sites, but we didn’t have a great view of the water as there were some mangroves preventing us from getting a good view. Luckily we were able to launch the kayaks from our site. On Saturday the site next to us was open and had a prime water view, so we kind of took it over for a time and hung out there and enjoyed the scenery.

This is site #207 with the matching tents. We really like the tent that Jim and JoAnne have, so when the kids decided to join us, we purchased similar tent from Amazon. When we set them up we realized that they were exactly the same.

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This is our site, #208, right next door. Allison stayed in the tent right behind our trailer, but she felt a little cheated after she saw that her sisters tent had a screen porch. It’s always tough being the younger sibling!!


Our family enjoys playing corn hole (aka “bags” for those more refined southern family members).  Sometimes these games get a little competitive and the trash talking flows freely. I brought our “corn hole” set up and found a somewhat level area in front of our sites. We got in a few good games over the weekend, but no champions were crowned. That will have to wait for the next ‘Curtis Cup Challenge” held every summer at Maine lake place.



This guy (or gal?) spent a lot of time in the trees near our site. A very good looking bird, but…


he would make periodic trips through our campsites looking for handouts. And he didn’t want to take “no” for an answer. The first day we were there, we ate lunch at the picnic table at our site. This bird walked up to us, stood about 2 feet away from our table and just stared at us. We didn’t give in and he finally walked away, but made many more appearances throughout the weekend.

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One of the great things about Fort De Soto is the number of activities available. It’s really a well designed and run campground. There’s miles and miles of bike trails. One Friday Julie and I took a ride around the park. Here we came across a few white pelicans. It was entertaining watching them chase the fish around this small bay. It was almost too easy for them to catch their lunch.

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The younger generation arrived on Friday night for the weekend camping trip. We were sure lucky with the weather this weekend and Saturday was actually a little warm with the temperatures reaching into the low 80’s. Here’s they are enjoying the water in front of our site. You know it had to be warm for our two daughters to actually be in the water. One (not saying who) is a cold water wimp and won’t go near the water unless it is VERY warm.

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A nice little family pic at sunset of Jim, JoAnne, moi and daughter Allison.



One one of our bike rides I came across this “RV” as they were checking into the campground. I’m thinking this may be next our list of RV purchases. This thing was a beast and its’ tires came up to my chest. It really was way cool. It had a web site address on it, http://www.monster-worldtour.de/, which I tried to look up. But it was totally in German, so didn’t mean much to me.

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Whenever Julie and I camp with Jim and Jo we split the cooking duties. Here they are preparing another fine breakfast for us. We always eat well when we camp!!

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Jim and I did an early morning bike ride on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s ride took us by the fort and over to the west beach area. The picture below is of the lagoons just off the Gulf of Mexico. They have a large area roped off as a bird sanctuary and nesting area.


Here’s the GPS track of our Saturday ride.

Fort Desoto Campground Bike Ride at EveryTrail



Our Sunday bike ride took us to the east beach area:

Fort Desoto Campground Bike Ride at EveryTrail


The water was calm for most of our weekend trip. Julie spent some time paddling around the bay and enjoying some time on the water.



Here’s Jim also taking a little paddle around the area. The last night we were there, the weather started to change, the wind picked up some and the fog rolled in. So glad we had good weather earlier so we could enjoy our outdoor activities.



On Saturday we had some visitors join us. Joanne’s sister Janice and her husband Bill came over from Dunedin and hung out for awhile out by the water. We tried to talk them into staying for dinner, but unfortunately they had to leave.  Later that same afternoon a long lost friend of Julie and I stopped by. Garrett was a co-worker of ours when we worked at Chief Charlies way back in the late 1970’s (wow, that’s a long time ago!!). He’s lived in the area since that time and we re-united with him just recently when we spent a weekend in Dunedin. He now has a beautiful family, his wife Terry and two sons. We hope to see them again sometime soon. 

And one final picture of a sunset from Fort De Soto and the now famous tree. Looking back at the pictures that I’ve included, I think this tree is in about half of them. Guess I really thought it was interesting enough to photograph..over…and…over!!



A youtube vidoe showing our two campsites.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Camping at Cloudland Canyon State Park


Date: 11/8/14 – 11/11/14

Location: Rising Fawn, Georgia


On our list of places to camp was somewhere north of us and during the fall where maybe we could catch some fall color. Many years ago we had visited areas around the north Georgia mountains, such as Unicoi and Vogel state parks. Both well known camping locations in the mountains of north Georgia. Just recently I’ve started reading about a campground and park in the very northwest corner of Georgia called Cloudland Canyon. This location is about a 7 – 8 hour drive from our home and about the max we would do for a long weekend. And unfortunately, the only direct way to get there is to drive right through the center of Atlanta which is not always a fun adventure while pulling an RV. But we decided that the long day of travel was worth visiting a park that we’ve never seen before and one that gets great reviews.

With Tuesday being Veterans Day, we decided to take a vacation day on Monday to make it a nice 4 day long weekend. This would allow us a couple days of long driving, but also a few days to relax and explore the park. It turns out we couldn’t have picked a better time weather wise to visit. The nighttime lows were about 40 degrees, with the daytime highs in the upper 60’s to low 70’s. With clear skies and perfect temps, we definitely hit it just right!

We were a little concerned since the online reservation system showed the park was completely full over the weekend and we were scheduled to arrive Saturday afternoon. We were expecting to get one of the leftover, non-prime spots. But we figured if the site was too bad, we would just move on Sunday afternoon when the majority of the campers were leaving.

We arrived at Cloudland Canyon at around 2:00pm on Saturday, checked in and them drove directly to the West Side campground. We heard this camping loop was a little nicer and more spread out than the one on the east side of the park. Within minutes we drove by an open site, only the second open site we saw and it was a beautiful location. No other campsite on the right and plenty of room between this site and the next on the left. We discussed continuing to drive around looking at spots, but decided to not take our chances, so we snagged it!

As you can see from the pictures below, this camping site is very nice and with the bonus of some trees with fall color. Also, on Sunday about half the campground checked out and almost all of the rest left on Monday. So, by that time we had this section of the west loop campground all to ourselves. Very nice!!





After we got checked in on Saturday, we rested for a short bit and then decided to check out the day use area and some of the many hiking trails. We heard that this park was unique and offered some amazing views, but we really didn’t realize how awesome it would turn out to be.

Here’s a few pictures looking out over one of the canyons the park is named after. A beautiful view showing some of the fall colors down in the valley.







One of the benefits of camping here, that we appreciated more as the weekend progressed, was the amount of hiking trails they had built all over this park. And also the fact that all were easily accessible from the campgrounds and cabins. They also put in a ton of effort making some of the scenic overlooks accessible and also safe. Like this overlook below with the fence to prevent anyone from falling. Theses type of overlooks were common on many of the trails.



Of course there were also many spots where you could get close to the edge with nothing preventing you from falling. Here’s Julie doing her best to increase the excitement level some.



Probably one of the best hikes in the park is the West Rim Loop Trail. This trail winds around the section of the park where we were camped and is an amazing hike. Both Julie and I would rate this as one of the best and most exciting hikes we have ever done. I’d give it the number two spot on my list, right below Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park. Julie thinks it rates ahead of that hike, so you can tell we really enjoyed it!

This overlook, looking north out of the park towards Chattanooga, was an example of how much effort they put into giving you places to view the surrounding mountains and canyons. But this one was very slanted and wanted to move you close to the edge where the drop was hundreds of feet. Here’s Julie holding on to the railing while staying away from the drop off.



Over the years I’ve always snickered at campers who carry their little dog around in a sling or push it in a stroller. Every year we go to the Tampa RV Super Show and I just have to laugh at all the people (mainly men!!!) carrying their little fluffy. Well, this is what I get for laughing at them…..it’s now us!! We have a little grand-doggy who usually stays home with a dog sitter when we go camping, but we decided to try and save a little money and started bringing her along. Julie ordered an over the shoulder sling/pouch so we can take her hiking with us. From the picture below, it doesn’t look like she is too stressed. I actually think she enjoyed it and she sure did get a lot of attention from the fellow hikers we passed along the way.



Almost all of the hiking trails in the park have a lot of elevation changes, with many of them descending all the way to the bottom of the ravines. We surely didn’t have to worry about getting our exercise during this weekend. On many of the hikes to the bottom there were interesting rock formations and some caves.



And along the way we passed several high waterfalls. However, Zelda (the dog) didn’t like the waterfalls. Guess all the water noise reminded her of bath time!





I probably took a hundred pictures of the view looking out over the canyon. It was just too good to pass up. It did make it a little challenging whittling down the pics to the ones I’d use in this blog entry.





At one point Julie took the camera away from me. I think it was after I’d taken the hundredth picture of her and the surrounding fall colors. This is one she snapped of me. I figured I’d add it as it’s one of the few you will see of me here. 



Over the long weekend, we just about hiked ourselves to death. We are flatlanders from Florida. So, all these hikes and the elevation changes were a great workout. If we had stayed another day, it would have had to be a day of rest. We both had tired legs at the end. I figured we did between 20 – 25 miles of hiking over those few days. That’s a lot for two old farts!

Here’s a link to a short YouTube video from this camping trip

And some GPS tracks from some of the hikes we took

Cloudland Canyon’s Overlook Trail Hike on Wikiloc and EveryTrail

Cloudland Canyon’s West Rim Loop Trail on Wikiloc and Everytrail

Cloudland Canyon’s Waterfall Trail on Wikiloc and Everytrail

Cloudland Canyon’s Sitton Gulch Trail on Wikiloc and EveryTrail

Monday, October 27, 2014

Camping at Kissimmee Prairie State Preserve Park


Date: 10/24/2014 – 10/26/2014

Location: Okeechobee, Fl


We knew after we had camped at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve back in March of this year, that this park is one we’d want to came back to one day. So, several months ago we figured out a weekend in the fall and nearest a new moon to ensure skies good for star gazing. Being one of the darkest sky locations in the state of Florida, this park is a favorite of the astronomy lovers and they were out in force this weekend.

We made note of the best sites when we were here before and lucked out by getting a large site with a nice view.



After we had made our reservations, my brother and sister-in-law decided to join us. Luckily the site right next to us opened up and they were able to grab it. They looked to the east over the prairie.



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Kissimmee Prairie is currently around 54,000 acres in size with plans to increase this as they buy up more of the cattle farms to the north. This park is way out in the boonies and the land is flat with expansive views in most directions.



We had fantastic weather during the weekends camping trip. Highs during the day in the low 80’s and nice and cool at night in the upper 50’s. This weather was just right to do some hiking and we took one of the trails that started at the visitors center. The trail maps do warn you that since this is an area with a lot of wetlands, some of the trails may be blocked by water. And just like the hike we took back in the spring, we did hit several areas that required us to wade our way through.

Here’s Julie trying to find a dry way around, but she was only got so far before she accepted defeat and ended up taking off her hiking boots and sloshing her way ahead.




We eventually made our way around the loop trail and found a picnic table in the shade to relax and have a few snacks.

Here is the GPS track of the hike we took on Saturday morning.


On our two visits to this park, Julie has been on a quest to hike or bike to the Kissimmee River which forms the very west boundary of the park. She spoke with the ranger in the visitor center about biking the Military Trail that makes a relatively straight shot to the river. The ranger encouraged her to take this trail and that we’d surely enjoy it. My brother’s wife had broken her wrist a few weeks ago, so she couldn’t join us on this adventure. Julie, my brother and myself took our bikes on what we thought would be an easy ride through the prairie. It started out on a very nice limestone road, but quickly disintegrated into a road best traveled with a four wheel drive truck or one of the park’s swamp buggies. It was ether soft sand, thick grass or rutted muddy sections. We rode as much as we could, usually trailing Julie by about a quarter mile as we tried our best to get to that darned river. After about 5+ miles we took another look at the GPS and trail maps and realized that we still had several miles to go. As much as we didn’t want to do it, we declared defeat and retreated back to camp. We were a bunch of tired campers when we got back several hours after we started.


The views of the prairie were awesome as we rode along, just too bad that they didn’t have a better surface for biking.



In some of the wetter areas of the prairie there were many fall wild flowers in bloom.




Here’s the GPS track of our torturous bike ride


We did have some clouds and breeze during the days, which kept things cools and very pleasant. Luckily for the astronomy groups who were camped here, it did clear in the evening which made for some great star gazing.

This shot below shows part of the start filled sky looking north. That streak above the tree line in the picture is actually the International Space Station as it sped its’ way across the sky. We each also saw several shooting stars during the night, although Julie struggled (and whined) at times trying to find one!!


With no visible moon and the clear skies, the milky way was easy to see as it arched its’ way across the heavens from the south-east horizon toward the north-west.


We were also able to find some of the constellations like the big dipper pointing to the north star and a few planets, such as Mars and Jupiter made an appearance.

With this being one of the darkest areas of Florida, it’s still not totally free from man made light. This picture below shows some of the light pollution coming from the cities on the east coast of the state.



This state park has a separate camping area for the astronomy buffs who use this as a location for their (expensive!!!) hobby. Here’s a picture of their sites just beyond the visitors center where’s there is room for their rv’s and space for them to set up their large telescopes (the covered objects to the right). It’s quiet during the day, with most them probably sleeping, but comes to life at night. Many of them stay awake all night photographing far off solar systems, star cluster and other hard to comprehend stellar objects.



On Sunday, before we had to pack up and head back home, we all made our way to an area with some ponds to watch the birds take flight as the sun rises. It’s also an area with a good collection of gators. It was a cool morning, so they were slow to get going. But as the sun got a little higher and the air warmed, you could start to hear them. At first is sounded like someone snoring out in the weeds. As we were walking back to our bikes, one large male gator really started to bellow and thrash about and just about scared the @#!% out of us. After we got a safe distance away we watched him for awhile and he would bellow and then get quiet. Then from another area another gator would do the same. It was actually very interesting to watch this behavior which none of us had witnessed before.



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Kissimmee Prairie is a noted location on the Florida Birding Trail. There is constant bird activity around the area and much can be seen right from our campsite.

Here’s a hawk that was perched high in an oak tree by our site and looking around for its’ breakfast.



This Barred Owl cruised through our campsite and landed in a tree not too far from us. It we hadn’t seen it fly by, we would never have seen it as it blends in so well with the tree it landed on.



And my last bird picture is of a Crested Caracara which nest in the park and surrounding areas. This guy (or gal) was one of three that landed in a ditch nearby and was looking for something tasty  to eat.


After our morning walk we spent a short time relaxing before packing up and heading back to reality. We had an awesome weekend of camping and truly enjoyed spending it with Jim and Jo. We hope to plan many more camping trips with them in the future. We do have one more on the books as we will be doing another trip with them in early December for a weekend at Fort de Soto in St. Pete.



Here’s a link to a short YouTube video from this camping trip.