Friday, March 1, 2024

2/26 Lettuce Lake Conservation Park, Hillsborough County, FL

Lettuce Lake Park is a popular park near Tampa, FL, with a boardwalk, kayaking, and hiking trails.  I visited this with a local friend and enjoyed the walk along the boardwalk.  

I neglected to take a photo of the entrance sign, so here is a screen capture of the park website.  Entrance fee is only $2 per person, which is very reasonable!

Here are some photos of the boardwalk and the lake it surrounds.  Lots of rules for using the boardwalk, which is a good idea.

I think this is a white puffball fungus.

This green stuff floating on the water is duck weed.  It is not slime, but tiny plants that ducks love to eat.

This guy was only about 5' long, so he is still young.  Mostly he ignored my taking his photo.

Not many birds today, but this is a turkey vulture.

Hard to see, but this is a pile of alligators.  The one that had originally occupied the little mound of earth was NOT happy when another one decided to join him on this crowded spot, so there was a lot of roaring and complaining. 

As you can see, it was a nice sunny day, but not too warm!!

2/26 Colt Creek SP

Colt Creek is one of the newest state parks in Florida.  It is mostly in mixed forest, but it also had some bald cypress trees and meadows.

I like this place because it is quiet and the camping spaces are very large and well-spread out. This week we also had a lot of red shouldered hawks in the area, so they were fun to watch.

A lot of people do not know this, but a lot of state parks have places for horses to camp, along with their owners.  It was interesting to see this couple driving small horse carts!

The next photo shows you the entrance road and the diversity of the land in the park.

The next two photos show you the tent camping area.  Sites there are also large and private, and each one has an electric hookup.

This is what the RV area looks like.

Now for some red-shouldered hawk photos.  It was mating time, so there was a lot of communication going on.  They are medium-sized birds, about the same size as the red-tailed hawks we have in colder climates.

A closeup of the previous photo of a bird on a rock.

Tired of hawks yet?  That's the last of them for now.  They are very pretty birds, however.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

2/12 Smoke Near Ortona & What Are These Birds?

 Sorry, but my weak internet caused my delay in publishing!

In this part of Florida, there is a lot of sugar cane grown, and when the cane is ready to be picked and sent to the sugar factories, they often burn the fields.  At first, I thought all this smoke was from that, however, I later found out it was from a nearby farmer burning his cattle fields!

It really smelled bad and at a couple of points was burning eyes here:

Also, every night for at least the week I was at Ortona this time, just before dusk a small flock of unknown birds flew in and did some sort of airborne fishing.  I could not get a good look at a single bird to identify them, but their feeding behavior was really unusual, so I am hoping someone can help me identify them.  My initial guess would be some sort of swallows, maybe bank swallows? 

Monday, February 19, 2024

2/11 The Trials & Tribulations of Getting Service for a Motorhome

I have not posted lately because I have been staying in campgrounds that I have already written about.  I will be posting later this week about Colt Creek State Park, where I am staying now, but for now, I thought I would explain about the trials and tribulations I have experienced over the last 11 years in getting things fixed when they break on my motorhome.  

The Problem

These items break into two categories: 

  1. The basic Ford e450 SuperDuty chassis that Fleetwood bought in order to build the motorhome.  This included a stripped-down chassis that consisted of the front cab, including the engine, transmission, and drivers and passengers seats, plus the dashboard and interior controls.  It also included a long medium-duty truck bed on which Fleetwood constructed the actual motorhome, plus the front wheels and tires, and a rear set of dual wheels and tires. This same chassis gets purchased by a lot of companies that build various delivery and other commercial trucks.  
  2. The parts of the finished motorhome that Fleetwood built on the above chassis.  This included the motorhome floor, walls, roof, and interior systems needed to make it a self-contained living rig.  Fleetwood added fresh water and sewage tanks under the flooring; plumbing such as a toilet, shower, kitchen sink; furnaces and ductwork for heating and AC systems; a refrigerator, stove, and kitchen cabinets for food preparation; lighting and electrical systems; and furniture, such as a dinette, couch, and bed.   

The items listed in the first list above require service by an automotive or truck service facility.  If I need new brakes or shocks, or the engine misses and needs new plugs, etc.  I need to take it to a facility that will fix those things.  When I bought my rig, I was told that the big advantage to buying a motorhome built on a Ford chassis was that I could take it to any Ford dealer.  

HA!  As many of us who own RVs of any kind know, you should NEVER believe anything an RV salesman tells you!  (Most RV sales people have never owned an RV or even camped, so they don't know anything.  In fact, they make some car sales people look pretty good.)

As I learned quickly, very few Ford dealers will repair anything on a Class C motorhome, even if it is built on a Ford chassis and has Ford parts.  The excuses I have received over the past almost-12 years include the following:  the doors to their service bays are too narrow or too short, or they don't have any jacks to lift up such a heavy vehicle, and their service people don't have the right tools or know how to fix anything on a motorhome built on a Ford chassis. 

In addition, truck repair places also really prefer NOT to work on motorhomes.  Some say they only work of diesel vehicles, or they don't have time to work on motorhomes, or their mechanics don't know how to work on motorhomes, etc. etc., etc.   

The items in the second list are repaired by RV dealers and places such as Camping World.  So, if my water heater stops working, the refrigerator does not cool food adequately, the slide won't slide in or out, or the lights won't work, I need to take it to an RV service place.  Such places with almost never touch anything on the chassis.  The problem with trying to get something repaired by an RV dealer and service place is that they tend to be backed up for 6-8 weeks.  No air conditioning in this heat wave?  Your toilet is leaking?  Your stove won't work?  It will take six weeks to fit you into our schedule to even look at it to see what model or part you need, then another few weeks to get the part.   Sorry about that.  Did you really want to use those hard-to-get reservations for Grand Canyon this year?  Maybe you can reschedule your vacation to next year.   


There are a few solutions to the above, but none of them are as easy as getting your car or pickup truck fixed.  Part of the problem is that you are often hundreds or thousands of miles from your permanent home when things break and need to be fixed.  

Local Mobile Service People

One solution for getting something fixed on the RV part of your RV is to find a local mobile rv repairman.  These are people who work out of their homes during evenings or weekends, or are retired and work part-time, or run a small business fixing RV stuff.  They aren't always easy to find, but you can ask at the office to your campground or check with the camp hosts or fellow campers.  

There are also a few mobile truck mechanics out there to do engine stuff or fix your radiator, but again, they are not easy to find, but asking around can sometimes find someone who is experienced and qualified.  There are even certifications for truck mechanics or mobile RV service people.  

Negatives to using mobile repair people is that you cannot always know how qualified they are or what they might charge.  There is also a charge for just coming out, usually between $100 and $150 per trip.  The nice thing about using a mobile service person is that they will often come within hours or a couple of days.  In addition, it is a real pleasure to have someone come to you instead of having to drive to a repair shop and waiting hours to get something done.  Most RV parks or campgrounds will not allow you to do vehicle repair in your campsite, but they usually will allow you to get something fixed that prevents you from leaving! 

CoachNet or Other Road Service Companies

In my case, I subscribe to a specialized motorhome road service company called CoachNet.  Not only can they come out fix a flat tire, but they can often unstick a stuck slide, or take down your torn awning that is preventing you from driving your rig.  If you need to get towed to a service place, they can do that as well, but they can often use their clout to get your problem worked on right away, without your being put in the "we'll get to you in six weeks" queue.  

If something is preventing you from driving your rig, CoachNet will pay for the service call, but not the service itself.  In other words, if my slide is stuck, they will pay the $150 for someone to come out, but I will have to pay for the time it takes the service person to unstick my slide.  

CoachNet also offers free telephone technical advice, so sometimes they can help you fix things yourself.  (Like the time when I was new to RVing and my lights started to dim.  They helped me figure out that I had inadvertently turned off the switch that enables my batteries to be recharged from the campground electrical hookup.  Oops.)  The other thing is that if you can drive your rig, but don't know where to go to get something fixed or you need help in finding a local mobile repair person, they can often suggest a place from the lists they keep.  I used this service when I had managed to get my vehicle engine started, but did not know where to take it to buy a new battery.  I called them from a parking lot, and a half hour later, they called me back with the name and address of a repair shop.  They had also checked to make sure the shop could take me in immediately and had a stock of the correct batteries.

Here is a photo of my motorhome engine getting new spark plugs in my campsite. 

You might check with your road service company and see if they keep lists of places able and willing to work on RV components or motorhomes. 

Truck Service Companies & Other Odd Places

Now that I told you very few Ford dealerships will work on motorhomes, there are some exceptions.  Ford does have what are called fleet service centers or commercial truck centers.  There is a brand-new one in Traverse City, Michigan, that is owned by the nearby Fox Ford dealership.  There is also a Ford dealership (Bell Ford) in Phoenix that has a fleet service area, but how to find these in various other places can be tricky.  Basically, they service motorhomes and medium-duty trucks, which in reality is what my e450 SuperDuty chassis is.  However, these places ONLY do mechanical work on the chassis--they will NOT repair your roof AC, refrigerator, furnace, or other motorhome living stuff. 

I also found a gas station at the entrance to Bryce Canyon that will work on motorhome and medium-duty trucks.  As I was driving past, I noticed that it had four really big service bays, so I pulled in and saw a sign that said they work on motorhomes and trucks.  I had a check engine light on, and they determined I needed new spark plugs and coils, so ordered them for the next day.  I hopped on the nearby shuttle and enjoyed the park while they worked on my engine--very handy.  

And sometimes, you just get lucky.  On another trip, I was driving slowly through Kanab, UT, when my right front wheel started vibrating.  I had just driven past a towing and service place next to a NAPA Auto Parts store, so I circled the block and pulled in.  I spent the night behind the shop, hooked up to electric, and since it was next to the police station, it felt pretty safe. 

Sometimes a Ford dealer, especially in a small town, will refer you to someone who works out of their home.  I was referred that way to a man who did work on big diesel trucks in a pole barn in the woods behind his house in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  

Recently, CoachNet referred me to a Boss Truck Shop at a Pilot truck stop behind the gas station in Ft. Myers, FL.  They replaced the wheel bearings in both of my front wheels while I spent five hours sitting in my recliner in my motorhome while they worked on it.  A lot nicer than sitting in the usual crummy waiting room in a car service shop.  Here is a view from my rig getting worked on.


It is really helpful to have a road service company that will help you find a service place that will take you in immediately and has the parts to do the work, but asking around to other motorhome owners in campgrounds and at the campground check-in booth and office is also a good idea.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

1/31 J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge

I had not been to Sanibel Island and the Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve for several years, so I chose today to go there.  It was a cool, but sunny day, so I knew I would not bake or freeze while riding my bike.  

If you remember, Sanibel Island was almost completely destroyed in September 2022 by Hurricane Ivan.  The only access to the island, the bridge, was inaccessible for a month because the causeway where the bridge stands was cut in a couple of places, as shown here:    Most people had evacuated, but those who stayed had to be ferried off, and many homes, nearly all cars, and most businesses were destroyed.  It has been 18 months, and there is still a lot of construction going on, but from what I saw driving in and out, at least 50-60% of businesses were still not open. 

Here are some photos of the entrance to the bridge and some of the construction still happening on the causeway to rebuild some beaches and fishing areas:

Eventually, you will be able to pull off the roadway and enjoy the picnic, fishing, and swimming areas again.

Notice the damage to trees.  Normally, there would be taller trees and more of them.

In any case, I always enjoy riding my bike and seeing birds at Ding Darling.  The preserve consists of several areas of wetlands and large tidal ponds and cypress forests where birds congregate.

This is a good map of the area.  I rode around the entire paved roadway, for a total of 9 miles.  Not bad for an old lady! 

They have a very nice visitor center, and I treated myself to a t-shirt and a tea towel with birds on it!

As you can see, some areas of the parking lot and the grounds near the visitor center are still being worked on.

This is the beginning of the 4.5 mile roadway that goes through the refuge.  It is one-way, so you exit at the far end and either drive back on the main road or ride your bike on the path along it.  I was surprised by the bare and broken trees.

Looks pretty sad.  These are dead trees, not trees that have just lost their leaves for the winter. 

This is the first time I have seen a reddish heron.  It looks a lot like a great blue heron, but it has a reddish neck. 

And a little blue heron, identified by its black and grey beak and small body size.

A flock of American white pelicans resting on a sandbar. 

More dead trees.  At least the birds are still nesting in some of them.

This is a juvenile white ibis. 

And some of his/her siblings on a nearby branch!  These birds are extremely common in Florida and can often be found anywhere there is water.

Don't know if you have ever seen one of these, but it is a container to put broken fishing line, hooks, and lures in so birds do not get caught up in them. 

And last, but not least, is a yellow-crowned night heron.  Normally, you would be able to see his long neck, but a lot of birds scrunch their long necks down when they rest.  You can see part of his long legs under the branch in front of him.

The only big problem with visiting Sanibel Island, both now and in the past, is the lack of a second exit.  Late the the day, you can wait up to an hour or more to get off the island.  It was worse before the hurricane destroyed a lot of restaurants, but just be aware that you should try to leave before 3:00 pm or wait until after the late afternoon rush hour.  I left the refuge at 4 pm and it took me over an hour of stop and go traffic to drive the last 3.7 miles to the bridge.  Once you get on the bridge, you are usually pretty clear.