Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013-36 Ocala to Orlando Florida, Moss Park

Ocala/Silver Springs

Ocala Florida


Campground:  Holiday Trav-L-Park, Ocala FL, 34482, PA rate: $17.50 Normal Price: $35.00.  An older park with many older rundown trailers.  Staff is below average and over charged me.  No comment, no recommendation.  Small swimming pool and free wi-fi upfront at office/recreation hall.

Campground:  Moss Park, Orange County park.  I'll be a camp host here for the winter.  A spectacular park on the south side of Orlando, 3,000 acres, two lakes, gorgeous large modern back in campsites including "family campsites"  consisting of 3 sites on curved loops.

Distance traveled:  69 miles.

I could have taken the quick route, I-75, but settled on taking hwy 441 through Gainesville then south through horse country.  There are some amazing horse farms surrounding Ocala and I love to see them with their 4 board wood fences, magnificent horse barns, rolling hills of green pasture land, large oak trees and native palms.  And once I got out of Gainesville proper, 441 becomes a scenic 4 lane divided highway going through the Real Florida.

Ocala is quite a southern style town with all the modern stores, an historic downtown and neighborhood.  On the east side of town, Silver Springs Blvd. becomes this grand road with a wide park like setting dividing the east and west bound lanes.  Huge spreading oak trees and lush green grass in-between.  Quite impressive.

Typical post modern buildings, Downtown Ocala FL

I spent the good part of one morning at the Appleton Art Museum on the grounds of the College of Central Florida.  It’s an impressive art museum for it’s size.  Lots of 19th century European paintings, an impressive Mexican and pre-Columbian collection of sculptures and some Chinese art in a another wing of the museum.  I missed a photography exhibit of historical Florida by about a weeks time, darn it all.  Well worth the small admission fee to check it out what they do have.  They were just setting up the Christmas displays so I’ll include a few shots from that as well.  After signing a form indicating I was a reporter/photographer for the blog, I was able to take a few pictures inside the museum, just for you.

Courtyard of Appleton Art Museum

just getting started on their Christmas displays

all decorations are collectables and unique

African Mask

Pre-Columbian figurine being carried on a platform

detail shot of one of my favorite paintings

Ocala’s downtown square, though clean and neat doesn’t offer the tourist much in the way of shopping or entertainment.  There were about 4 good restaurants on the square and a Starbucks.  Most of the shopping is off of College drive.  Including the Paddock mall and all the big box stores and chain restaurants.

Silver Springs State Park is a must for any visitor and be sure to take the glass bottom boat ride.  Tarzan movies were filmed here and you’ll see wild monkeys in the trees along the boat ride tour.  They were left behind after the filming of the movies.  And for those interested in more outdoor nature stuff, the Ocala National Forest is nearby with more springs to enjoy a swim in or paddle down river, camp and hike in the woods.

the famous glass bottom boats


Angel Trumpet

sleeping hibiscus or Bishops Cap

looking into the giraffe exhibit,  now closed

Well on my last day in the Ocala area, though I had many choices to tour various places, I decided to re-visit Silver Springs and the glass bottom boats.  What a change.  The park had apparently been run down my a concessionaire that had a lease on the place.  The state of  Florida being the owner, decided to take over the entire park with a goal of bringing it back to more of a natural park.  When it first opened under a private owner in the 1870’s Silver Springs was considered the first real Florida Attractions and was the first place to use glass bottom boats.  Silver Springs gushes over 550 million gallons of  crystal clear water each day.  Of course with the Disney World’s, Sea Worlds, etc, the shine was eventually off of Silver Springs and it has gradually declined over the years.  The state of Florida has recently removed the zoo animals as well as the train ride and jeep tours through the animal exhibits so much of the park that I remember is currently closed.  The outdoor musical venue will be starting up again, but when I went online, I didn’t recognize any of the musicians, being of the younger set.  I remember going to a number of the concerts years ago with the likes of Randy Travis and Loretta Lynn and Chrystal Gale.  I did of course go on the glass bottom boat ride, about a 25-35 minute tour, looking down into the crystal clear spring waters.  They don’t go down river as far as I remembered, not passing by the island with all the monkeys.  They tell me the monkeys are still in the area, but I didn’t get a chance to see them.

I found out that the house that Ma Barker and her gang were finally gunned down in is over near Lake Weir, Ocklawaha.  The house is up for sale so if you want to start a historical/museum here’s your chance.  The house even comes with bullet holes.  They say that Ma Barker really wasn’t the master mind of the gang, Harvey Bailey, a bank-robber friend said, “the old woman couldn’t plan breakfast.  When we‘d sit down to plan a bank job, she‘d go in the other room and listen to Amos and Andy or hillbilly music on the radio”.

Or I could have gone over to Ormond Beach and visit the Rockefeller Casement Mansion.  Now owned and used as a multi-purpose bldg by the city of Ormond Beach.  Closer by there’s always the Marjorie Kinnan Rowling House it is part of the Florida State park system and is the one of the best examples of an early Florida Cracker type house and features the life of this famous author.  Just down the road from there is Micanopy.  An 1821 pioneer town that has never accepted any of those fast food places or gas stations.  A great place to go back in time to a simpler Florida lifestyle.

Florida has so many unique places to discover if you get off the main highways and away from the beaches.

Distance traveled:  98 miles

I took my final jog down the road, across the Florida Turnpike (toll road) into Orlando and across hwy 528, The Beach line expressway (toll road) and after going through all those toll booths I racked up $17 in tolls.  Central Florida is noted for all their toll roads, but now that I’m here, I’m hoping I can avoid most of them.  I think I still remember most of the back roads around town.

Orlando Florida.
Moss Park.

I’m getting settled into my camp host spot #8 in Moss Park, but here again, I may change sites within the next week or so as it is not a particularly good site to get in and out of.  This is an Orange County park with over 3,000 acres and two large lakes and one hidden lake back along a wonderful forested trail called Split Oak trail.  I’ll be getting indoctrinated into my position in the park over the next couple of days and will tell you all about it in a "special report" in the next couple of weeks.

I’ve discovered first off that the camp host site only has water and electric so I’ve thought about getting a portable waste tank to haul my poo to the dump station.  Though I may just hook up the camper and drive around each time to the dump station, hence the need to move to a site that‘s easier to get in and out of.  I could also use a bike to get around as the park is pretty large and they are not providing me with a golf cart, which isn’t a major problem as I can always use the exercise.  It’s just one of those nice things to have.  I do have really good over-the-air tv stations available.  Over 60+ stations and I have 3G and 4G Verizon coverage at my site.  I’m also interested in the use of a kayak for the winter months if any of my Orlando friends have access to one or any of the other things I’m mentioned.  Drop me a line or call me.

Sandhill Cranes are here year round

boardwalk to campground boat ramp

Moss Park campground boat dock

I’m looking forward to having all my Orlando friends stop by for many visits and I’m sure there will be more than a few lunches and dinners to attend.  So here’s a special invitation to all my friends and relatives in Florida to come on by and enjoy a beautiful country setting, here in Moss Park with your host with the most, Camper Doug.

A few more pictures on Picasa.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

2013-35 Florida


Fort White Florida

Campground:  Ichetucknee Family Canoe and Cabins.   $135 + tax for 7 days.  Total $149.85.  Full hookups.  $50 damage deposit and must sign an injury waver.  Heavily wooded, dirt sites.   I can not recommend this campground mainly because of their deceptive camping policy.  Their website clearly states that they have both water/electric, full hookup sites and primitive campsites.  The water and electric sites all have 30amp service and water.  Clearly appropriate for a travel trailer/RV as I don’t know too many tenters that use 30 amp service (no 110 outlet at these sites).  So when they tell me that the water/electric sites are for tenters only I believe I‘m being bamboozled.  Many dead trees/branches (see rest of report)

Distance Traveled:  110 miles

I ended up traveling on I-75 for most of the way into Florida.  The traffic was light for the first part of the journey through southern Georgia along the 6 lane highway system.  But as I got further into Florida, the traffic continued to get heavier.  Fortunately it was time to exit the highway and get back onto those country roads.

I’m camped at a small older park that caters to the weekend canoe/tubing crowd along the Ichetucknee Springs State Park.  I thought I’d get a really great deal for an electric/water site which was only $110 for a week but they wouldn’t let me have one even though the park in empty.  They wanted me to take a more expensive full hookup site.  Either way, I guess it will do, though I was surprised when they also made me put down a $50 damage deposit, for what I’m not sure, as the sites are dirt between old trees.   Can’t see where I could do much damage there, but they told me before they started the damage deposit,  folks would break the water pipes and damage the power supply, destroy the picnic tables etc.  And now they’ve added the accident waver to protect themselves from being sued for accidents in the park.  I’ve never encountered the need to pay a damage deposit or sign a liability waver at any campground in over 20 years of camping.   I’m just hoping it’s not a wild and crazy crowd on the weekend.  Well, at least I’m close by to visit with my good friends John and Margie.  So I’ll get off my soapbox and plan on a good visit.

Now one of the good things about being here at Ichetucknee Family Canoe and Cabins is that I can rent a kayak and paddle my way down the Ichetucknee.  I signed up for the 4 mile paddle which keeps me inside the Ichetucknee State Park boundaries pretty much and they shuttle me to and from the landing sites.  Florida has over 900 natural springs which feed many of  the pristine, clear spring runs.  I had the river all to myself this morning as I took a lazy paddle down river.  Lots of shade along the way as the trees often create a canopy effect along the river.  A pair of white egrets spread their wings and swooped out along the river.  Large turtles warm themselves on old fallen logs along the rivers edge and plunk into the water as I pass on by.  The springs create a crystal clear view of the shallow river bottom with many areas covered with sea grass.  The grass, just below the surface of the water sways back and forth like a slow moving hula dancer.  Almost hypnotic as I glide across the moving grasses.  A beaver pokes his head above water in front of me, takes a dive and I see his large flat tail swing up then glide beneath the water.  Gators are rarely seen along the Ichetucknee as the waters are a constant cool 72 degrees.

If you’ve never paddled your way down a Florida river I highly recommend it.  On the way back from the kayak trip the owner of the campground gave a bit of history on the area.  How Andrew Jackson (pre-civil war ear) commissioned someone to create a road between Jacksonville and Tallahassee going south to the Tampa area.  This was before the civil war.  The guy found a well established Indian path, told Jackson the road had been completed and Jackson paid him for his work.   That road is still used today, though of course it is now paved and passes right by here.

Only about a mile from where I’m staying was once the Ichetucknee plantation.  It was established early on by a Mr. Mayer, if I have the name correct, who brought all of his slaves, cattle, family and built the 4 mile square plantation out of the Florida wilderness.  He was very successful and since there weren’t any banks around, he would bury the gold he made from the farming operations on his property.  His slaves were highly skilled laborers as he was keen on training them in many skills from blacksmithing, fence building, farming and all.  If he put one of his slaves up for auction, he never got less than $3,000 per slave.  And would take nothing less.  There was usually quite a bidding war for them.  After a number of years, Mayer was shot to death and having never shared his hiding place for all that gold, it is believed to remain buried somewhere on that original 4 mile square piece of property.  Right down the street from where I’m staying.  People are still try finding it, though it hasn’t been found yet.

about an 8ft branch fell and I saw it coming down

Back at the campground I was sitting out the other day and heard a crushing sound.  As I looked across the way, I saw a huge branch come crashing down onto a campsite.  Not often one actually sees a tree branch crash to the ground.  Leaves and debris raining down as well.  Then this morning as I took my walk around the park, I saw another smaller chunk of a tree come crashing down right in front of me.  I had observed over the past couple of days that the park appears not to do any trimming except for what nature does on it’s own.  There are a scattering of dead trees throughout the park which may have died due to some tree disease in the area recently.  I mentioned to the owner that I’d seen the branches come crashing down and his only response was, I hope it didn’t damage anything.  I mentioned that it appeared that there were quite a few dead trees/branches in the park and he replied “well trees get old and die, that‘s what they do”.  Didn’t mention a thing about cutting them down or trimming the dead branches.  As a camper, this is not good.  Any place that doesn’t regularly have their trees trimmed of dead wood is a potential accident to the campers and their rigs.  For that alone, I could not recommend this park.

Of course the main problem for most of us RV-ers is the campground that doesn’t trim the branches around or over a campsite.  No RV-er wants to have branches scratching or scraping the top of their camper as they try to back into a site.  Getting a rip in ones rubber roof or a scratch along the side of ones camper is never appreciated.

my friend, John Sterpe, Florida Artist

John's Home that he built/added onto

wild ginger plant
My buddy, John Sturpe who is an awesome Florida artist, builder, musician, and bon fire maker had a bon fire the other night.  Dead trees cut down over the summer months, branches trimmed, all piled up onto a large pile down in the forested valley below his home.  A grassy opening surrounds the bon fire.  A winding path down to the site, lit my fairy lights directed the visitors to the camp fire.  John and his friends playing guitar, tuning instruments, trying to teach us novices what each music note sounds like.  A new song written by John is performed.  Conversations, drums rhythmically beating to the musical notes played on violin and guitar, the crackling of the fire as red sparks reach high into the night sky.  Between the large opening of trees, the black sky lights up with a perfect half moon as clouds passing by play peak-a-boo with the moon.

Not a bad way to spend a warm Florida evening with friends.  (sorry, no bonfire photos)

As I drove home to my campsite, arriving back at around 11:00 in the evening, about a dozen or more darkly dressed costumed folks were standing around outside.  I passed them and parked at my campsite, thinking has Halloween come early this year?  Throughout the night, I heard and occasionally saw them running around the park chasing each other with plastic swords flying around.  Hoops and haulers continued off and on till about 1:30 in the morning when I heard one of the guys yelling, “I need a doctor, I need a doctor”.  Strange night.  Strange group of people.  In the morning their fantasy games continued as I found out it was some kind of dungeon and dragon type game they were playing.  One of the members telling me that it got them outside, active and away from tv’s and computers.  But somehow it just doesn’t seem to fit in with the camping/canoeing crowd.  At least they’re not hurting anyone.

role playing

role playing

So that’s what my first week back in Florida has been like.

  • Special Note:  I just got official word from Moss Park that my application for Camp Host has been reviewed and approved.  I can start at any time.  I plan on arriving there within the next two weeks.

More pictures on Picasa.

And shown below, I thought I’d do a day of just taking pictures of signs.  You know they can often tell quite a story about an area, or in this case the campground I’m staying at.  Take a look and see what impressions you get from reading them.


no,no, no, no, no

one yes

not very inviting for a cabin door is it?

rather than fix the dilapidated swing set, the
signs were added

on a storage shed out front