Where Next? #10

It’s hard to believe that our wonderful summer in northern Utah is coming to a close. So where will the four winds blow us next?

First we are headed over to Laramie, Wyoming to visit friends who are volunteering at the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historical Site. Then south to the Silverton/Durango area in Colorado. A brief stop at Petrified Forest NP to say hi to staff where we volunteered in 2014-2015. Lastly we turn south to try our hand at being camp hosts for the Coronado National Forest at Parker Canyon Lake about an hour south of Tucson, AZ. After 6 weeks there we make an almost straight through drive to Charlotte, NC. We know now that full timing is what we want so no use paying to store things for 15+ years. We’ll pare down to just a few memory pieces.

Then a much overdue trip to see Steve’s family in Chambersburg, PA for Thanksgiving. From there we meander for a month via Alabama, Florida and Louisiana to our next volunteer job at Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We’ll be there from January-March 2017.

Our path this time looks a lot like a ricocheting bullet, doesn’t it? Thanks for traveling with us!

RV Travels From Flaming Gorge NRA, UT to Hot Springs NP, AR

RV Travels From Flaming Gorge NRA, UT to Hot Springs NP, AR

Where Next #5 – Now For Plan B

With another round of repairs finished we drove eight hours to the Georgia side of Lake Seminole. Normally we don’t drive more than 4-5 hours between stops. We try to follow the 2-4-4 rule. That’s 200 miles or four hours or get there by four o’clock. We took three days just to relax at Eastbank COE campground.

Our next stop was to be another COE campground just north of Atlanta. Not knowing the layout of a campground can make it difficult when choosing a site online. Most of the time we get good sites. Unfortunately while this one looked good on the computer it had a very difficult back in with gullies on either side of the road and a S-curve entry.  Steve said “no way” which is unusual for him. The park was booked for the weekend and we couldn’t find another site. So we left and spent our first parking lot night at Cracker Barrel. It was chilly so we put Opal in the trailer vs. truck while we went in to eat. We didn’t think about the slides being in or that it was completely dark. As we came out of the restaurant we heard a very mournful “Awr-roooo! Awr-roooo! coming from the trailer. Opal was letting the world know she didn’t think much of this. I haven’t commented for a while but really now… they go in where it’s nice and cozy, sit down and have a meal and leave me squeezed in a dark, cold trailer. Who wouldn’t howl?

Then we headed on to McDowell Park in Charlotte for nine days of errands, appointments and seeing friends. By this time the parts for the awning arms were in at our RV dealer in Marion, NC so we headed for their campground. We dropped the trailer off for repair and drove up to Pennsylvania for a short visit to Steve’s family. Thinking repairs were finally behind us we made plans to head to Tennessee.

As we pulled into the Marion campground we saw the trailer was listing badly to the left. What now?!! Steve checked and found that when the mechanics had set up the trailer back on the pad, the locking pin on the landing gear didn’t go all the way through. The weight of the trailer had bent it and the footing had partially collapsed. It was Sunday evening and no one was around. Fortunately Steve is very handy and was able to stabilize things using jack stands. The next day the dealer repaired the problem so we could travel but … a part had to be ordered and would take a few weeks. Here we go again. As we write this five weeks later we are still waiting for the part.

So here’s our new itinerary for heading west to Montana.

Google Earth, RV, travel

Plan B Route Georgia To Montana

The Silver Lining To Being Trapped In South Florida

Everglades, observation tower

Observation Tower At Shark Valley in Everglades NP

Before we begin if you haven’t read WHY WE DISAPPEARED go back and look at this post. Things will make a lot more sense to you. As we found ourselves cycling back and forth to the Ft. Myers/Naples area for repairs we had to cancel reservations. Finding new places was a challenge because this was peak season. All of the state parks and COE campgrounds were booked. Finally we were able to get a site at Midway Campground in Big Cypress National Preserve for 10 days, exactly the length of time we needed until our last repair. As it turned out this stop would become one of our favorite places. To think we almost had passed it by.  A silver lining to an otherwise terrible time.

Midway Campground is located on the Tamiami Trail, US 41, between Miami and  Naples. The sites are set overlooking a small pond and are electric with tank water. The odd thing about it is while there are public restrooms there are no showers. To make our water last we used portable jugs for everyday supply, restrooms except at night and “Navy” showers. It worked just fine. The weather in early March was great. Spring was coming and over the period we were there the Cardinal bromeliads hanging on the trees burst into bloom. Big Cypress became a national park site when concerned citizens fought plans to build the world’s largest jet port here in the 1960s. It sits on the western edge of the Everglades.

birds, heron

Handsome Blue Heron

Big Cypress, bromeliad

Cardinal Bromeliad In Bloom











wild orchid, wildflowers

Cow Horn Orchid Closeup














alligator, swamp, photography

Aluminum Alligator

If we thought we saw birds at Flamingo CG, that was only a prelude to Big Cypress and two other Everglades areas; Shark Valley and Ten Thousand Islands. Birds, bromeliads, orchids, alligators, manatees, flying fish and cypress swamps made this a photographers dream. The two parks have joined together to promote the “Get Outdoors” program. They have the Tamiami Triathalon. This is not a race but a series of three activities you do at your own schedule. To get credit for each segment you check in at the appropriate Visitor Center before and after and get them to sign off on your participation form. The Tamiami Triathalon consists of a 15 mile bike ride at Shark Valley, a 6 mile kayak paddle at Ten Thousand Islands and a 5 mile hike on the Florida Trail from Big Cypress. We did it! Not bad for two mid-sixties folks, huh?

egret, swamp

Looks Like A Painting

Shark Valley, biking

Steve On The Shark Valley Trail

limpkin, snail, birds, nature

Limpkin With Apple Snail

We took the tram tour at Shark Valley first and learned a lot. A few days later we biked the trail while decked out with cameras, camel backs and tripods tied to our bike frames. We saw a Limpkin eating an Apple Snail, Roseate Spoonbills, egrets, anhingas, many types of heron and baby gators.

Everglades, Shark Valley, tram,

Shark Valley Tram Tour

birds, Florida Birding Trail

Roseate Spoonbill And Woodstork

birds, photography

Little Blue Heron

anhinga, shorebirds

Anhinga Chicks Almost Ready To Fledge













baby alligators


The next day we took a Ranger led swamp walk at Big Cypress and were treated to a gorgeous wild, Cow Horn orchid in bloom. This was a very special treat as these orchids only bloom this profusely every three or so years. They have become increasingly rare due to poaching. The water came to Steve’s knees but it was thigh high on Chari. Our whole group was well over 55. No rocking chairs for these Baby Boomers.

hiking, swamp, Big Cypress

NPS Ranger Leading A Swamp Walk

Big Cypress, swamp, hike

Sloshing Through The Swamp


Steve On Swamp Hike

Steve On Swamp Hike

We did more than the required paddle trip by going on a Ranger led paddle trip from Ten Thousand Islands. Just beautiful! You felt as if you were on a Caribbean vacation. Combine that with stopping to buy fresh from the boat seafood and you have a perfect day.

One evening we located the roosting spot for several thousand birds. Most of them were ibis with a few egrets and vultures. They flew in by groups of 30-50 for almost an hour. At first the squawking was deafening. As evening settled into night, the noise began to lessen. By nightfall it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. If you think this was some secret place, you’re wrong. It was right along the main highway. Cars rushing by not knowing what they were missing. A real National Geographic moment.

ibis, bird roost, Big Cypress

Flying Home For The Night

Closeup of Ibis Roost

Closeup of Ibis Roost

It was just the stop to chase our worries away… until…

While we were in Naples getting the truck repaired a storm developed with high winds. When we got back our screen house was damaged beyond repair. The awning had withstood the wind. The next day shortly after breakfast Steve was outside dismantling the screen house when I heard “Come here and help” in an I need you NOW tone. Wind had come up again and this time forced the arm of the awning out of the track! With difficulty we got it back in place. However we were afraid it might pop loose while traveling so we secured it with a rope.

The planned repair was done in Ft. Myers. Rather than wait for yet more parts we made the decision to go to Plan B and head “home” to North Carolina for the awning repair.

So long, Florida!! We’ll be back but not for quite a while.

A River Of Grass – Everglades National Park

Everglades, national park

A Prairie On Water

sunset, clouds

Everglades Sunset

After all of our problems in Key West, it was wonderful to pull into a wide open, drive through electric site at Flamingo campground in Everglades National Park. Flamingo CG is located at the southernmost area of the Everglades (about 35 miles from the entrance near Florida City) on Florida Bay. Most of the sites are unserviced and available on a first come – first served basis.  Electric sites (tank water) must be reserved on Recreation.gov. Even in late January which is high season, there were plenty of unserviced sites available. Don’t let the statement that only cold water showers are available deter you. While our loop had only cold showers we learned after two days that solar powered hot water showers were available in Loop A just a quick walk or bike ride away. Plan ahead when you come here and have a full tank of gas and all of your groceries. It’s a long way back out although we drove the road many times. However watch your speed on this long drive as rangers patrol and are quick to pull you over (voice of experience.)

Flowering Tree In Everglades NP

Flowering Tree In Everglades NP

Neither of us had been to the Everglades before and didn’t know what to expect. I was so apprehensive about another bout with biting bugs, snakes and other swamp creatures that I’d made overlapping reservations in case we needed to get out.  Nothing could have prepared us for how beautiful this area is. We absolutely loved it! So much so that we cancelled our other reservations and extended our stay from 7 days to 11 days. That meant moving from the electric site to an unserviced one but with our generators it was no problem. We already had mosquito hats. When we saw mosquito net jackets for sale at the marina store we bought them, just in case. Winter is definitely the time to go to avoid the bug problem. We heard that some evenings at the amphitheater were bad for bugs but the nights we went it was breezy and no problem at all.

mangrove tree

Mangroves Along Florida Bay

There are many free Ranger led activities and talks so be sure to pick up a schedule at the Flamingo Visitor Center. We were lucky enough to start our stay off with a talk about manatees. Even though they are nicknamed sea cows their closest relative is the elephant. We joined a 5 hour bird walk during which we saw 41 different species and thanks to a huge flock of coots, an estimated 5,200 birds. We started at the Anhinga Trail. If you do nothing else, do visit this boardwalk trail along Taylor Slough. Take care and follow the directions to vulture-proof your vehicle and cover it with a free tarp. The black vultures in this area attack the rubber around windshields and have been known to pull mirrors off cars. We saw herons, a bittern, a phoebe, purple gallinule, anhinga, wood storks, alligators, a crocodile, spider lilies and even a glimpse of a white crowned pigeon.

kayaking, paddling, Nine Mile Pond

Paddling With A Ranger On Nine Mile Pond

vultures, Everglades

Take Time To Tarp

vulture, Everglades

Vulture Visiting An Unprotected Car

birds, Florida, Everglades, Anhinga Trail

Purple Gallinule “Walking” On Water












ducks, photography

Three Mottled Ducks

birds, Anhinga Trail

Night Heron









Wood Stork

Wood Stork






cormorant, breeding plummage

Cormorant With Breeding Season Blue Eye








bird watching, Everglades, bittern

Spotting A Bittern On The Anhinga Trail










Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron Looking For Dinner


















Blue Heron Sporting Breeding Plumage

The Flamingo area is all about water. If you don’t have a boat or kayak/canoe they can be rented at the marina. We did paddle trips on Coot Bay, Florida Bay and Nine Mile Pond. Our first time on Nine Mile Pond was with a Ranger. Later in the week we went with some new RV friends, Donna and Jack from Buffalo, NY. There is a marked water trail through mangrove thickets and marsh areas. On trip #1 I was desperate for a bathroom break as I landed when someone called from shore “I don’t think you want to get out there.” My boat was about 4′ from a large gator tail! I said “thanks” and found another spot. When I returned after driving 5 miles to the nearest toilet, Steve was sitting on a picnic table. We put the boats up and headed home. The next day he said “Did you pick up my camera yesterday?” It was nowhere to be found. PANIC! We checked Lost and Found. No camera. We went back to the pond. No camera. We asked a few people if they’d seen it. NO CAMERA. Then we spotted an outfitter’s van. We asked him. YES! He had picked it up and taken it to his office until he had time to turn it in at the Visitors Center. So we followed him back and retrieved not only Steve’s camera but our paddles and our life jackets. How do you spell relief???? With all the bad news in the world it is really nice to know that good, honest people are not an extinct species. We certainly keep our guardian angel busy!

On one of our trips out of the park we stopped at a local market called Robert Is Here. As the story goes, when Robert (owner) was about five years old he set up a stand on the street corner to sell some veggies from his family’s garden. Cars came and went but no one stopped. He was too small to be easily seen. The next day his Dad made a sign and placed it above the stand, ROBERT IS HERE with an arrow pointing down. Robert sold all the veggies that day. The name stuck and the stand has been a busy place ever since. You can get huge milk shakes in many flavors (we had key lime), buy tropical fruits and fresh veggies or shop for gourmet items.

While kayaking on Florida Bay, Steve took some great pictures of a pelican colony and shorebirds. We also took a short boardwalk hike through Mahogany Hammock where we found some interesting lichen and wood patterns we’ve turned into orbs. We’ll end now with our favorite photo of the whole trip. A too cute for words tree frog.

white, brownpelicans and cormorants copy

White And Brown Pelicans With Cormorants

pelican, photography

Pelican Mom With Chick

osprey, Florida Bay

Osprey In Flight Over Florida Bay










Palmetto Palm

Palmetto Palm Fan

Mahogany Hammock Boardwalk

Mahogany Hammock Boardwalk
















Orb Of Everglades Lichen

Orb Of Everglades Lichen


Orb Of Decayed Wood

Orb Of Decayed Wood

tree frog

Too Cute For Words





Floating Down The Rainbow

Cracker, living history

Cracking The Whip

festival, Florida

Florida Cracker Festival in Dunnellon

Living Off The Land

Living Off The Land

Posing As A Cracker

Posing As A Cracker

When we decided to spend Winter 2014 in Florida one location we definitely wanted to see was the Crystal River area and the manatees who also flock here. This area is known as Florida’s Nature Coast. Well, we never made it to Crystal River but the beautiful spring and river at Rainbow Springs State Park was an excellent choice. Once a privately owned RV park that has been renovated this is one of the few state parks offering full hookups. Our site was roomy, private and had great satellite reception. The RV park is about two or three miles from the State Park. During the warmer months when the river is a popular tubing area a tram runs between them. For now, we’d have to drive, bike or walk. The only problem was we hit a cool, rainy week.

Honoring Florida Pioneers

Honoring Florida Pioneers

We were to have met up with friends from North Carolina but last minute illness caused them to cancel. As luck would have it, Steve struck up a conversation with neighbors shortly after setting up. A couple from the Buffalo, NY area, Ann and John became new RV friends and we spent several evenings together. They told us about the Florida Cracker Festival at Rainbow Springs and said it was very interesting. Off we went the next day.

music, Florida

Music Filled The Air

Chatting With Neighbors

Chatting With Neighbors

The Blacksmith

The Blacksmith










Biscuits Over The Open Fire

Biscuits Over The Open Fire

Our thought was that the term “cracker” was a bit of a derogatory term akin to redneck. Not so. People descended from the Georgia pioneers who drove their cattle into northern Florida are proud of their heritage. The term “Cracker” we were told may have come from the whips used to drive the cattle and/or their use of cracked corn as a staple grain. Several living history venues were set up explaining the history of the area, the way food was prepared, how they lived, their music and even the Catahoula Leopard.

dog, Catahoula Leopard

Catahoula Leopard

The Catahoula Leopard is a working (herding) dog breed thought to have descended from the wolfhound. Named for a parish in Louisiana they were used by the Crackers to round up stray cattle in the swamp. A common feature of this breed is a “glass eye” where they have one blue eye with a distorted pupil.

We also learned how the Florida Crackers were the main source of beef for the Confederacy during the Civil War. With ports blockaded by the Union imports were limited. The cattle from Florida could be driven back through Georgia to the Carolina’s and Virginia to feed the troops.

Crackers As Cattlemen

Crackers As Cattlemen

music, harpsicord

Mary Playing The Harpsicord

We strolled around the festival chatting with the participants, bought stone ground grits and listened to two harpsichord players. While listening the husband of one of the players noticed my camera harness and we began discussing photography. Then we learned they are RVers too who spend summers in the NC mountains. Within five minutes we’d made new friends. Soon an invitation. “Would we like to take a ride on the river in his boat?” Yes, yes, yes! The following video is a sample of the beautiful Rainbow River and the many birds and other wildlife we saw. We also stopped at a riverside eatery called the Blue Gator. I had scallops and both Steve and Frank had fried oysters. We ended the afternoon with a visit to his home where he shared photos of their recent trip to China and of NC wildflowers they’d found while hiking.. They were hoping to go to Russia in 2014 but with the current political climate that most likely won’t happen. Once again we find that RVing is much more than the places we go. It is the wonderful people who enrich our lives along the way.

Running Off To The Circus

While in the Sarasota, Florida area we visited The Ringling, former home of John and Mabel Ringling. John Ringling was one of the partners in what is probably the best known of all circuses, Ringling, Barnum and Bailey Combined Shows. We had no idea that the home, gardens, art museum and circus museum were so extensive. We’d allowed only a few hours. If you go, plan for a whole day. We’ll be going back to take in the rest. For this visit we concentrated on seeing the miniature circus.

Howard Tibbals spent an average of twenty hours a week for over twenty years creating this masterpiece. At first you are amazed at the scope of his project. Then you begin to realize the detail and thought that went into each scene. As we were looking at our pictures we noticed details such as a watermelon rind on the edge of a plate where one of over a hundred performers ate in the mess tent. For me our visit brought back very pleasant memories of my parents taking me to New York City to see the circus when I was five. We visited the animals before the show. My Dad bought some peanuts. He placed one in my hand and held me up so I could feed an elephant, I remember the funny texture of the trunk. Was this where I became enamored with animals?

We hope you enjoy our slideshow. “Ladies, Gentlemen and Children of All Ages…”

Roadside Trivia #9

De Soto, Florida, explorer

Map Of De Soto’s Route

While in the Bradenton, Florida area we visited the De Soto National Monument. That’s our 89th national park site! I never knew that his trek took him just west of where we used to live in North Carolina. On the map it looks like he went between Gastonia and Kings Mountain.

While there we learned that the Spanish conquistadors had been responsible for the introduction of horses and pigs to the Americas. They were also responsible for the introduction of four breeds of dogs. The dogs accompanied the soldiers not as pets but as war dogs.

Can you name these four breeds? No, Chihuahua is not one of them!

We had a delicious meal at a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives spot called Jose’s Real Cuban Food.

restaurant, Bradenton, Diners Drive-ins and Dives

Jose’s Real Cuban Food

Now for the answer to the trivia question………………………….

Spain, Dogs, trivia

Dogs Introduced To The Americas By Spain