"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Yes, We're STILL in Florida

We do like to move slowly when we can. We've been snailing along through central Florida, staying a week at a time at a series of pleasantly surprising campgrounds. I'll just mention the last few here for those who are interested, and get on with the story.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Hobe Sound, FL 
This one is just about perfect. Reasonably priced, large, full hook-up sites, close to the ocean and shopping yet quiet and surrounded by nature, great hiking/biking trails, well taken care of. We'd go back and spend a month in a flash.

Jonathan Dickinson State Park - Site #79 (paved!)
River Ranch RV Resort, Lake Wales, FL
A kind of odd place. It's an ownership resort that the owners all seem to be leaving. Many lots for sale. It's affiliated with a dude ranch kind of resort with a rodeo, teepees, glamping - all beautifully landscaped jungle style and very well cared for.  The sites were kind of tight getting into and it was pretty pricey. 

River Ranch RV Resort - Site #278
Wilderness RV Resort, Silver Springs, FL
This place is all about the location, right near Silver River State Park and close enough to Ichetucknee River. (More about those later.) The park is known for it's little restaurant and sweet shop that makes great whoopie pies.

Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park, White Springs, FL 
This is a very nice state park, but kind of far away from almost everything. Good for catching up on the blog and some nice hiking. There are some very nice long pull-throughs, but very few sites that would get satellite reception. All the sites are 30 amp and have no sewer.

Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park - Site #34

Florida is like three totally different worlds: the beach-focused, busy, wealthy east and west coasts and the Keys; Orlando and all the theme park culture; and the central wild and agricultural stretch that starts at the Everglades, squeaks around Orlando and continues all the way to Georgia. Some call it the "old" Florida. Since leaving Jonathan Dickinson we've been hanging out in the latter and enjoying it a lot. It's rural and surprisingly remote in places, but full of hidden treasures, like the many rivers and crystal blue springs.

But back to Jonathan Dickinson on the beautiful east coast of Florida for a moment.  Much of the east coast is heavily developed, but there are little windows of undeveloped seashore, like between Jupiter Island and Hobe Sound, where this state park is located amidst miles of undeveloped rolling sand dunes.

It's a great location to visit some really excellent beaches, including the amazing miles-long Juno Beach where dogs are always allowed off leash. They're treated like one of the family- no fuss about it. The dogs have miles to play and swim, are not crowded into a nervous little area, and are pretty relaxed as a result.  The ocean was divine - perfect temperature, manageable waves and pretty colors. Ahhhh....

We also visited the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and took the guided tour.  Rick was fascinated by it all and walked up to the top. 

I opted out of the climb and lounged around under this spectacular ficus tree. Florida does have some amazing vegetation.

As we were leaving we saw this fisherman (with the gold necklace) haul in an amberjack after fighting with it for a long long time.  He and everyone around him were pretty excited and full of admiration for his accomplishment.  I guess it doesn't happen every day.

While at the River Ranch Resort near Lake Wales we spent a very pleasant afternoon at Bok Tower Gardens.  Near the entrance gate there is a visitor's center, gift shop, cafe and plant shop. In the patio garden they had created a wall of epiphytes (air plants) that happened to be in bloom. Not something you'd see anywhere else in the USA. They also had about 15 varieties of baby airplants for sale in the plant shop.  I was seriously tempted.

Bok Tower was built in 1929 by author and publisher Edward Bok.  It has a carillon that gives  automated concerts several times a day... 

...but occasionally it is played live. We just happened to be there at the right time for this unique experience at the end of our guided tour through the gardens (designed by Frederick Law Olmsted!). Our guide dropped us off at the base of the tower at a seating area where a closed circuit TV allowed us to view the carillon player as he gave the concert.  Watching the grace and finesse of his playing gave us a whole new appreciation for carillon music, which can sound kind of clunky and off key.

Closed circuit TV at the base of Bok Tower

We aren't big on the theme  park experiences that central Florida has to offer, so we passed on all that (except for one very fun visit to Epcot with our friends Lynn and Glenn) and spent more time hiking and paddling. While at the Wilderness RV Resort we kayaked the Silver River from one of Florida's newest state parks, Silver River State Park. 

Silver Springs is one of the largest fresh water spring in the world, putting out 550 million gallons of water daily.  It has a long and varied history as a water-based entertainment park. At one point monkeys were brought in and put on one of the islands to create a jungle theme. The imaginative owners didn't know the monkeys could swim, so now their descendants live a relatively natural and free existence at several points along the Silver River. (I don't know why they aren't all over Florida by now.)  

I learned another fascinating fact while visiting the lovely Appleton Museum, a small art museum at the College of Central Florida in Ocala. There was a short term photography exhibit about Paradise Park, a twin park to Silver Springs, which was for about a decade "exclusively for colored folks."  In the spirit of "separate but equal" it had all the same features and fun. How easy it is to forget that before the 1960's most of Florida's tourist attractions were segregated or unavailable to people of color. Silver Springs was eventually integrated, and later the state of Florida bought all the land surrounding and including the spring, and recently re-opened it as a state park. Now visitors have access by boat to the source of the spring and the river system that flows from it, and the state does its best to preserve the beauty and natural state of the springs. (There is no longer any swimming or fishing allowed in the spring or river.)

Rick and I paddled our kayaks from Silver River State Park to our campground, an easy downstream trip that took us about three hours.

The river passes the remains of the old tourist attractions, along with varieties of wildlife, including alligators, turtles, gar, jumping mullet, herons, egrets, wood ducks...

Mama wood duck and three ducklings

...swallow tail kites (one putting on a flying show for us, here skimming the water for a drink)...

...and yes, monkeys. We saw about three families or troops going about their business along the river.  This is a mother and baby, but you'll have to take my word for it.

For the first time we also saw why those growths at the bases of cypress tress are called "knees." Here is one example of a long chain of knees extending from the cypress tree on the left. The water  must have washed away the ground that usually hides the infrastructure of the knobs/knees above ground that we usually see, leaving behind this fence-like structure that does look a lot like knees. 

Silver Spring is impressive for its size and the monkeys of course, but we still think the Ichetucknee is the best spring in Florida.  We just had to paddle it again.  

The beautiful Ichetucknee River

We basically just replayed our paddle of three years ago, but got off the river at the southern most point in the Ichetucknee State Park before the river joins the Santa Fe and becomes a grueling six hour paddle against the wind.  This river is like nothing else we've ever experienced - like a magical wild river in a fairy tale. 

Afterwards Rick took a dip in the Blue Hole - the source of the Ichetucknee.

 It was cold and the current coming out of the hole was very strong. Here he is right above the upwelling of the spring.

We're finishing up our four months in Florida in Jacksonville at the Pecan Park RV Resort. It's just a stop along I-95, and right under the flight path for the commercial and fighter jets from the nearby airport. Wouldn't recommend it, but it's easy on and off with big concrete pull-throughs. We're here so I can check out some furniture stores in Jacksonville. We'll also spend tomorrow on Amelia Island before we go back to Brunswick, GA to see our future home on Jekyll Island next week. We're so excited!