Current Location: Alexander Springs Ocala National Forest CG
It is a little after 9am, and the sun just emerged through the misty fog shrouded trees. Alexander Springs campground is a forest service campground in the heart of the Ocala National Forest. I love this forest. There aren’t many places in the US where several varieties of pines and oaks are interspersed with palms and magnolias. The trees are huge, many topping over 100 feet tall, and the understory is thick with vegetation of all sorts, dominated by the saw palmetto.
Mo and I walked the Timucuan Trail yesterday, before the fog lifted, and it felt like we were in some primordial space where dinosaurs could emerge at any moment. I guess alligators are as close to dinosaurs as we will get in this lifetime, but the fact that bears also roam these forests is another crazy juxtaposition. Bears/Alligators = Palms/Pines. It all seems just goofy to someone well versed in the habitats of the western forests of the US. Guess that is why I love it, it feels so foreign and unique, and so incredibly lush and full of life.
I have a lot to write about, and the only way I can seem to do it is to step into the moment and write about the here and now. Eventually this particular blog post will work its way backward to the events of the last few days as I slowly write about “now” and let “then” slip into my thoughts. Gimme a break folks, I am on vacation, and the best vacations allow us to completely lose track of time. I have done that very well, it seems.
Campsite: This story is fun, actually. I originally planned for us to spend three days at Patrick AFB, Merrit Island, but speaking with some new fellow military famcamp friends recently, we thought better of that plan. (More on the new friends later, I don’t want to get sidetracked)
I picked a site here unseen, with a bit of difficulty, since we needed three days over a weekend, and most campgrounds were already booked. Alexander Springs is a bit more remote, and there are no hookups here, and I imagine that contributes to the availability of sites.
When we arrived on Friday night after a lovely day exploring Merrit Island NWR (more on that later, remember I don’t want to get sidetracked), the park was nearly full. Driving through the campground we were tickled to see private shaded spaces that looked pretty nice. Until we got to ours. Space 65 didn’t look bad on the internet, but in reality it is in the center of a large group area and there were already several large families settling in for the weekend. Before we even set up, there were small children running and screaming through our camp, climbing our lantern pole like monkeys, and crawling all over our picnic table in their shoes. Hmmmm.
For the first time on this trip, I felt tears come up. The campground was so lovely, how in the world did I manage to screw up this badly? I told Mo, “Don’t set up yet”, and sought out a camp host. Terry was a great guy, new at camp hosting for this park, and an employee of the concession that now runs the NF campgrounds in this area. He was sympathetic, talked to the families with all the kids (there seemed to be at least 12), and said that while he didn’t have any encouraging news, he would talk with the campground manager to see if it would be possible for us to move.
A bit later, he came back to our site and said we could move to site 56, but would have to move again on Sunday, and that it could be possible that there would be no place for us to be on Monday. He said for me to come to the gatehouse and talk to the manager. The gatehouse was just closed, but they let me in. I was nice as I could be, dripping sugar as I said, “Of course children should have camping space as much as retirees, but it IS just a bit much and we would be happy to take number 56 and then move”. The manager, Phyllis, took a look at me, and then looked at her employees and said, “Put them in Andy’s site”.
What that meant was that we got to park for the entire three days in a camp host site with power and electric right at the back of the nicest bath house in the park. Our price for this bit of serendipity is possibly being mistaken for camp hosts, in spite of the black plastic sack placed over the camp host sign. The US flag still brings some folks our way. The other funny part is that our parking area looks a bit like a pathway to the bathrooms, and we have a parade of various kinds of people coming through our site on the way to the bathroom. Makes for some interesting conversations.
With the little kids, Mo just says, “Please walk over there rather than going through our site”. With some high school boys, she started talking with them, and they turned into the most polite creatures imaginable, saying “yes maam” and “no maam” and such. Seems as though they were ROTC kids doing an orienteering weekend in the park. They turned out to be really sweet kids, who still say hi, but walk around behind the rig rather than through our site to get to the bathroom.
Yesterday morning was Mo’s birthday, we we began the day with her favorite poached egg breakfast in the MoHo before exploring the area and hiking the short trail. The springs were full of divers taking an instruction class, and the happy children were everywhere on the trails. The Timucuan Trail boardwalk was quiet, however, and we met only one couple walking.
Checking out the little camp store was nice, and the new manager has added a great inventory of swim and snorkel gear, flotation devices, and reasonably priced snacks. This is definitely a diving, swimming, snorkeling, and family park. There is a canoe concession with a great supply of canoes, and a launch that costs $6 per boat. However, another one of the park hosts, a nice guy who knows everything about the area, told us about the free walk in launch back on the highway on the south side of the bridge.
At first for whatever reason, I wasn’t all that anxious to get on the water. Seems pretty crazy, since the main reason I came to Florida was to kayak the spring runs! Somehow photos of the tangled vegetation and low water made me a bit nervous. I have no idea why I felt this way, but thank goodness Mo didn’t take me up on my tentative comment, “Well, we don’t HAVE to go kayaking this afternoon.”
The launch just off the highway was perfect, with hard packed fine sand and only 50 feet or so from where we parked the Tracker. Slipping into the water was a perfect moment, and I knew that finally I was in my version of Florida Heaven.
The water at the bridge was crystal clear, although a dark tea color from staining by the organic matter in the riverbed. We slipped into the gentle current, paddling upstream toward the spring and took our time going the 1.37 miles or so to the barrier between the spring run and the actual spring. The sun was gorgeous, the plants were brilliant green with some trees beginning to leaf out. A single kayaker and another canoe passed us going back downstream, but other than that, it was totally quiet.
I marveled at how different this forest sounds in the breeze. The palm fronds almost sound like waterfalls, and the splash of turtles dropping into the water is another different sound. On our morning walk, the birds had been fairly quiet, but this afternoon they were in full song, and I heard a barred owl although we didn’t see him.
When we first got on the water we were greeted by a very playful, and very curious otter, who swam right under my kayak, surfacing in front of me. He was too fast for me, and by the time I dropped the paddle to pick up the camera he was already swimming away in front of the boat. We saw a couple more on the lower edge of the run.
As we got closer to the spring, the water lost its tea color and turned a gorgeous shade of blue and then to no color at all. Alexander Spring is another first magnitude spring, with more than 70 million gallons a day of fresh pure water pouring from its depths.
Just thought I would mention here that I decided to skip hauling the big lens on the river and only took the 17-70 for photos. So this photo of my favorite little bird is without telephoto. I was literally this close to him and didn’t disturb him in the least.
We also finally found a small gator, very well hidden in the brush along the bank. The turtles were wonderful, enjoying the sun. I guess it is time for me to get up on the different kinds of turtles found in these waters. I know there are several varieties.
Backtrack writing is still in the works, of course, but I am in the present moment, listening to birds, enjoying the sunshine, and thinking about preparing for a visit from Alison, one of my favorite soil scientist friends who lives nearby in Eustis. Alison will be bringing her baby boy Damen ( old time readers might remember the quilt I made for Damen) out to visit us here at the spring. I can’t wait to see her again.
We did have a magnificent day, our last day in Key West, and an even more magnificent evening. While camping at Sigsbee, one of the greatest delights of the place is the friendly atmosphere. We got lucky our first day there, and met a lovely couple from Panama City, new to RVing, but accomplished sailors. Judy refers to her RV as their “land yacht”. The two of them also had new Trek bikes that were pretty darn sweet, and a couple of kayaks with sails.
Something about kayaks in your campsite makes for easy conversation, and on our last evening there, Tom and Judy invited us for wine and sunset. I must say, being a Florida girl from Panama City gave Judy some big points on sunset viewing and she honored us with her conch blowing skills to accompany the setting sun. Such a great moment.
I can’t keep going back in my mind any more, and writing about our first night at Cracker Barrel in Fort Pierce, visiting the beach at Fort Pierce, our flat tire and AAA experience on a rainy night, and exploring the Merritt Island NWR will have to wait for another post. Next time hopefully I can get caught up before more stuff happens. You know how it is when you are traveling and having fun and I just decided the heck with it…I’m not going to try to keep everything in order, it is too much work!