Sunday, August 26, 2007

(4) The Real Florida

Real Florida.

Avon Park area. It’s still out there, along the back roads that lead through the heart of Florida. Where cattle ranches are still the norm, orange groves fill the air this time of year with the sweet smell of orange blossoms and wild alligator and otters are a common site. One of the last campsites I was at even has range chickens and a goose named Waldo. Waldo only eats white bread. They even offer free eggs to the campers!

Orlando, Moss Park. I was only able to stay in the Orlando area two nights, due to a change in space availability at Moss Park. This sometimes happens, and I should have planned ahead and begged friends in the area to make advance reservations for me. Moss Park, like so many county parks, require advance reservations be made in person and usually with cash only.

I was able to have dinner with my dear friend Patrick and the next day, I visited former neighbors at The Ranch House Estates, a mobile home park I once lived in. My MH has since been torn down, destroyed by the new owners in less than a year. It’s not a vacant sand lot, waiting for another home to be moved in.

So now I’m back in the Dade City and Zephyr Hills area at Grove Ridge Estates. I small Rv park that also happens to be a Passport America member, so I’m only paying $14 a night. Half of the seasonal’s are from Michigan and the other from NY and Canada. My Sister, Dorothy and husband Dave joined me and I gave them a tour of one of my favorite areas in rural Florida.
The truck needed the spark plug wires replaced, which should have been done the same time as I had new spark plugs installed recently. Oh, and I needed to replace the water pump on the camper, for when I’m dry camping. It’s also convenient when on the road. After all, I don’t need to use public restrooms to freshen up if I don’t want to. Just stop on the side of the road, and I have my own private, well maintained facilities.

Chiefland Fl. I arrived in Chiefland on the west coast of Florida. This area of Florida is marshy, so you don’t actually see the gulf of Mexico unless you drive an additional 30 some miles. Chiefland is one of those truly old southern towns that has that rural feel to it.
I visited Manatee Springs State park and checked out their campsites. The park was the first springs designated a state park in Florida, back in 1949. So the campsites are like an old hunting camp style. Dirt roads winding around trees, each campsite is just a dirt clearing in the woods. Big rig units should avoid the loop on the right hand side, as there are some tight curves with trees real close to the road way.

Manatee Springs is a Magnum 1 springs, the largest of the natural springs, with a constant 72 degree temperature. As nice of a day as it was, I did not jump in the water, as refreshing as it looked. It would be a great place in the middle of the summer. The canoe and kayak rentals do not start until April 1st, so as not to disturb the manatee, which I did not get to see today. However, the springs going into the Santa Fe River is so clear, I could see turtles, Sturgeon gliding through crystal clear water, between the green sea grasses and leaping fish… what are they’re names??

Cedar Key. About a 30 mile drive from hwy 19 and Chiefland. It’s a lonely drive to Cedar Key, passing miles of coastal scrub, pine forests and mash land. Cedar key, is along the west coast of Florida and is nothing like the Florida keys. It’s more like an old time fishing community, with a few small hotels, some neat cottages going for as little as $59.00 a night. If you’re a fisherman, this is your place. The town is pretty sleepy, a number of the shops were closed in the middle of the week, including the Florida Museum which is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. A small beach is available next to the marina and restaurants along the Gulf shore.

A few small fishing charters and a small tour boat (holds about 6 people) along with kayak and canoe rentals will get you out on the water and to one of the island preserves off shore.
It’s a great place if you want to completely get away from the world for a while.

I did find a county park just outside of Cedar Key called Shell Mound County Park. It’s off of CR 347 and onto CR-326. Camping is $15.30 for campers and $10.20 for tenters with electric. They have a free boat ramp as well. It’s a first come first serve campground, so plan on coming here during the middle of the week and stay for the 7 day limit. It’s a shot distance to the Timucuan Indian shell mound. It’s a part of the larger National Wildlife Refuge, but has no interpretive material or signs (they‘ve been destroyed), so your on your own to discover this, the largest prehistoric shell midden along the Gulf Coast.

I’m heading towards the Panhandle of Florida tomorrow and will stay there for about 4-5 days exploring more Florida springs.

Discover the wonder of life within and explore it around you everyday.

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