Saturday, March 25, 2017

3/24 Florida Caverns State Park

I decided to take a break from work today and do some sightseeing.  I've seen a lot of caves in the last five years, but I can't resist the nearby Florida Caverns. 


Well, at least there are fewer steps than at Lewis and Clark Caverns, and the walk is not as long as Mammoth Caves.

This is an interesting visitor center made entirely of limestone.  This building was built in the 30s by the CCC or Civilian Conservation Corps, so it is pretty much covered with molds and lichens, which makes it look dark.

And here is a statue of one of the young CCC workers.  They got paid $30 a month, but got to keep only $5 of it as the rest was sent to their families.  That was OK because their housing, food, and clothing was provided by the government.  These workers were responsible for most of the state and national park construction during those years.  Here, they built the buildings and also created the paths through the cave.

This was not the original entrance to the cave.  It was created when part of the cave roof collapsed, so it became the main entrance way back then.

The next few photos are just cave pictures.  The roof was not very high, so I had to do a lot of ducking to avoid hitting my head as I did at Lewis and Clark, a couple of years ago.  Came out of that cave with bumps and bruises on my head! 

While this cave has had some heavy use over the last 90 years, it is still wet, and therefore, still growing.  As you walk under some parts, you even get dripped on by formations such as these "soda straws."

This is something I have not seen in a cave.  It is a pool of very, very still water on a flat area.  There is a sort of rim that formed that keeps the water in, and the whole thing looks like a mirror.

This is another areas of little pools of very still water.  You can see the structures that hold the water in.  It is only a few inches deep, but very clear.  It almost looks like someone had poured in clear plastic because it is so still.  No wind down here to make ripples.

This is the exit, and it also is the result of a cave ceiling collapse, helped a bit by the CCC workers.

It was a nice day today--not too hot or cold, and not too long of a drive here from my campground.  

By the way, always take a small flashlight with you into a cave.  Nearly all allow them, and you can use it to see inside dark areas

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

3/21 Where to go, what to do?

I am staying in a very quiet Corp of Engineers' campground just over the border from Florida.  It is a nice, quiet place (with no Spring Breakers) on a pleasant lake.  Just a lot of old, retired people with not much to do except fish and canoe or kayak.  Except for me, of course.  I teach college classes online, so I have a lot of work to do before the end of the semester.  It is something I mostly enjoy, and it pays my bills.

So, as I am hanging around here and working inside, I have been taking periodic breaks to plan my travels.  I will be heading north soon to visit family and friends, and then heading slowly west through Illinois, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, reaching Grand Canyon in June.  I travel very slowly most of the time, driving a couple of hundred miles one day and then sitting in a campground for several days, driving again, etc. until I get to where I want to go. 

I plan to spend most of July in Colorado and northern Utah, sticking to mountain areas to avoid the heat, and then in August will head to far northern California. September will be coastal Oregon, and I have all of this plotted out and reservations made.  

So, now I am stuck.  I would like to go to Yosemite for a few days, having been snowed out the last time I went there.  Early October would be a good time of year--fewer crowds during the week, but hopefully not snow or extremely cold weather.  The other place I would like to go is San Diego and maybe over to Death Valley.  Christmas will be in northern California with family, but after that, where do I go??  Guess it will be time to head for Nevada and Arizona for the winter.

The really nice thing about living in a motorhome is the ability to go where you want, but the trick is to end up somewhere where the weather is nice--not too cold and not too hot. 

I have learned over the years that you not only have to consider location, you have to consider altitude.  I once made and cancelled a reservation in a mountain area near Las Vegas in January.  Sounded good until I called and discovered that it was a ski area and heavy snow was expected!!!  Not what I had planned for.  And can you imagine what the two coldest places I have been in five years of traveling the country were?? 

Death Valley and Las Vegas!  Really. 

There was ice on Furnace Creek one morning in Death Valley, and it was too cold and windy one day to go for a hike around a volcanic cone there--about froze to death even bundled up in winter coat, hat, and long pants.  I ran out of propane and had to drive 45 miles to get a refill.  And one morning in Las Vegas, ice fell off my slide awnings when I put them in.  Brrrrr. 

So, will it be San Diego?  Or the Anzo Borrego Desert?  Or maybe Death Valley in November and December??  Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

3/14 Grayton Beach State Park & Spring Break

Grayton Beach State Park is a very pleasant place, with campsites about 1/4 mile from the beach.  Spots in the area where I chose to stay are very large and have full hookups, which means that beyond the usual electric and water, I have a sewer hookup. Sites are very nicely spread apart, and the place is very quiet because we are far enough from the highway.  I have to confess that other than a quick drive-around, I have not even gone to the beach because of the rain and cold weather.  (I also had lots of work to do and wanted to relax a bit.)

I have been putting around Florida for several months, enjoying the sunshine, scenery, and animals and birds.  Until two days ago.

First, even though I have been enjoying the coolers temps here in the Florida Panhandle, it has still been very pleasant in the 70s.  But then two things happened: first, the temps dropped into the really chilly lower 50s, with rain and clouds, and second, I encountered Spring Break. 

Mostly, it has been what I would call busy over the last few months, but not really crowded.  There is a beautiful paved bike trail that follows the coastal road just outside the campground and goes about 8 miles in either direction, so I bundled up and decided to go for a bike ride and do some exploring.  What I did NOT expect was this, just a couple of miles down the road:

There were literally thousands of college students and a good number of families who had come to Florida for Spring Break.  And apparently, colleges and K-12 schools in other states vary their Spring Breaks so that it is like this along the Gulf and the Atlantic from mid-March through the end of April. 

Forget the bike path that went through town--I had to get off and walk my bike for a quarter of a mile.  And even then, it was hard to get through the crowds. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper for at least two miles west of town. 

Here is where I am and where the crowds were.  The cause of the mess was two resort areas:  Watercolor and Seagrove.  Watercolor is roughly in the red area and Seagrove is in the yellow area.  These are not just single hotels--they are clusters of hotels, condos for rent, and shops. 

Anyway, people are attracted by the incredibly white sand beaches and normally sunny days.  Here is one of the entrances to one beach area.  Note that smart people have jackets on, while a few girls had on bikinis.  (I was dressed in long pants, t-shirt, sweatshirt, and jacket with a hood, and I was still cold.  And the temperature really got cold this evening--34 before morning.  Brrrr.)

Insanity to the left

A close-up of insanity.  The hotels in the far distance are Panama City Beach, by the way.

Insanity to the rightThe hotels far to the right are in Miramar and Destin, FL.
Most of these were rental bikes.

And more bikes!  The signs, by the way, are for parking spots and say, "Guest Check-in Only," but of course, they were referring to cars, not bikes.  No matter--there was no room for any cars to get there anyway.

 This really would be a nice place to visit any other time of the year.  This is a planned community and streets are lined with houses and duplexes that are available for rent.  Some, I think, are actually hotel rooms. 

The style is what I would call "Idealized Beach House."  And there were dozens on streets and several hundreds of these.  By this point, however, I was thoroughly chilled and ready to head home to my cozy motorhome, so I only took a few photos.  I did stop at a Subway and get a sandwich for dinner, however. 

  Addendum:  I had to make a trip to Camping World on the other side of Destin the next day (3/15) so I had to tackle the main road through the city.  This is a highway that is three lanes on either side and with a large grassy divider most of the way, but that day it took me 2 hours to drive 50 miles through this traffic.  Had to stop at almost every light.    
So, will I go back to the Panhandle and Destin, FL, area?  Absolutely, but just not in March or April. I'll be back here in less than two years, but in November and December instead.  It really is a beautiful place when there are not so many people. 

I am SO glad that my vacation is year-round, so I don't have to put up with all of this!!!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

St. Andrews State Park

St. Andrews is about 50 miles east of Topsail and just south of Panama Beach, FL.  It has a nice beach, although not quite as nice as the one at Topsail.  St. Andrews is at the end of a peninsula, but the campground is on the bayside.  You have to walk, drive, or ride a bike the half mile to the beach.  Another disadvantage is that campsites do not have paved pads, but at least mine was very large, and I was able to get good satellite and a good internet signal with my mobile hotspot.    

The road could be a little wider.

One of the camp host couples had an interesting motorhome.  It is hard to tell from this photo, but it was painted a bronze color.  Lots of fun things in their yard.  Note the outside shower near the flag. There was a shelf on the bus to hold soap and such.

I rode my bike to the beach and passed the dune lake where a lot of birds were nesting, especially on the little island in the middle.

These two great white egrets were sitting on nests, so I assume they had already laid eggs, but a male great white egret kept trying to mate with the one on the right--like every two minutes.  I imagine she was saying, "Enough, already" since I suspect she already was sitting on her family to come.

This great blue heron seemed to be tweaking his or her nest. 

This was has a really big nest!
This is the entrance to the lagoon.  This small area behind the rocks that form the entrance results in a protected area, so there were a lot of people wading and sitting on the beach here.   

Walkways to the beach over the dunes.

And a yellow warning flag today because it is not as windy.

Not too many birds on the beach, but here is one.

Fun to watch the parasails. 

After a short beach walk, I head back to my bike and the campground.