Let’s Go Camping

muirIt may not be the mountains, but John Muir is right. Camping, even in the modern-day version of wilderness, is a necessity.

I’m not sure he envisioned, battery operated fans and lights, and inflatable beds, but there’s nothing like sleeping out in the fresh air.

IMG_3831And enjoying the warmth of a campfire.

The crisp autumn weather makes this a perfect time of year to get a little taste of wilderness.


Deep Creek Adventures

Beginning in the early 1970s, most summers were spent in the mountains of western North Carolina. Camping, hiking, tubing, river trips and escaping the heat of south Florida. In fact, these yearly trips led me to Western Carolina University where I spent my first two years of college life and met my husband of thirty-five years.

Many summers have been spent at our favorite campground, Deep Creek, a part of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. This year Meghan and Jon joined us for a few days of camping in Deep Creek.

Campfires and breakfast cooked on the camp stove are among the highlights of the trip, but without a doubt tubing on the river is what makes Deep Creek a repeat destination. I don’t mean to brag, but I was the only one of the four of us to stay on the tube…Betty Falls proved too much for the others.

Unfortunately, the constant rain shortened our trip, but it was reminiscent of Meghan’s first camping trip to Deep Creek at age 2 months when she was the only dry camper hanging out in the back of our station wagon while the adults huddled under a tarp over the picnic table making the most of a camping trip in the non-stop rain.



As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s like deja vu all over again.”

Letters to Campers

July was always the time of year when one or more of the girls spent a week at summer camp and even though camp only lasted a week, I was expected to write letters so my child would receive mail each day.

What do you say to a child at camp, less than two hours from home? Asking about the camp experience seemed pointless since I’d be picking my camper up before a return letter would be received.

I guess I could send news from home, but what would I say? We went out to dinner last night at your favorite restaurant while you endured camp food, or maybe, your sister loves having a room to herself. I thought “news” from home could cause problems and may even encourage homesickness.

Finally, I came up with a plan. Letters from home would include riddles and jokes with a quick message about enjoying your time at camp and see you at the end of the week. I bought joke and riddle books at the school book fair so I’d have plenty of material for my letters.

One remaining joke book on the shelf.
One remaining joke book on the shelf.

Here’s a few riddles for old time sake:

Why did the fly never land on the computer?

~He was afraid of the world wide web.

Why was the ant so confused?

~Because all of his uncles were ants.

What do you get when you cross a pig and a centipede?

~Bacon and legs.

How do fleas get from place to place?

~By itch hiking.

What do you give a sick snake?


Why are ghosts bad liars?

~Because you can see right through them.

What did zero say to eight?

~Nice belt.

And some knock knock jokes:

Knock, knock

Who’s there?


Who who?

What are you an owl or something?

Knock, knock

Who’s there?


Nobody, who?

(Don’t say anything…stay silent.)

Looking for some more jokes and riddles? Try Funology, or Squigly’s Riddles, or Enchanted Learning, or Childhood Beckons.

Best of all, these letters could be written and mailed before we left for camp insuring that mail from home would arrive daily and inspire a couple of groans and a roll of the eyes.


An Expensive Bargain

The $15 bargain tent may have been one of my most expensive garage sale finds. Until I purchased the eight man tent, we were perfectly happy with the small 3 person tent we’ve been using for the past two years.

A $15 bargain?

But our trip to Hontoon Island State Park changed everything. We pitched the garage sale tent and loved the extra room. Space for our clothes and the ability to stand made for luxurious accommodations. The small tears around the zipper were not a problem, but the fly didn’t lay just right. How would it handle rain? And then I noticed the small tear in the seam near the peak. We couldn’t camp in a cheap tent and worry about the weather. We’d return to our tiny, but reliable tent.

Small, but reliable.

However, that changed when we started packing for a three night trip during Spring Break. The weather report called for rain, not enough to prevent us from camping, but enough to convince us of the need to break down and buy a bigger tent so we could spread out and escape the rain if needed. The $15 tent was retired after two nights use and a new one costing 10 times as much replaced it.

We initiated the new tent at Oscar Scherer State Park just a few miles east of Sarasota and stayed dry despite the rainy weather so it was a good investment. Although the first night was a little cold, it was dry so we could roast hot dogs over the campfire.

We didn’t spend a lot of time at the campground since this was a beach trip, but the Legacy Trail borders the park and we rode the 14 mile round trip to Venice. The hiking trails and canoes will have to wait for a return trip.

Oscar Scherer State Park…a great place to initiate our deluxe camping quarters.


Hontoon: A Different Kind of Island

IMG_3404Sanibel Island, Honeymoon Island, Caladesi Island, Amelia Island, St. George Island…what do they all have in common? Sand, salt water, beach…not so with Hontoon Island. Instead, Hontoon Island State Park is located in the St. John’s River far from the Atlantic or Gulf and Florida’s famous beaches.

The only access to the island is by private boat or the park ferry. The ferry is limited to passengers and pets, no vehicles. And since I love ferries, that’s a bonus!

Boating, canoeing, fishing, and picnicking are popular activities for park visitors. Picnic areas include tables and grills as well as a playground. No fishing this trip, but Meghan and Jon paddled eleven miles around the island and John and I motored up and down the St. John’s exploring as far south as Blue Springs and as far north as the bridge at S.R. 44.

A three-mile nature trail follows the Dead River and leads hikers to a large Indian mound at the southwest corner of the island. We hiked each day, once to the Indian mounds and a couple times to the nest of a bald eagle trying to get a good view of the eaglets.


We enjoyed camping in the one of the twelve tent sites, but since no cars are permitted on the island campers load their gear in wheel barrows and then the park van transports tents, sleeping bags, ice chests, firewood, food and other items to the campsite with a strict limit of one trip per site.

Cooking out, roasting marshmallows, relaxing in the hammock, playing bocce ball and board games occupied our time at the campsite between hiking, canoeing, and boating.

In addition to the tent sites, Hontoon Island has 40 boat slips for boat camping and six rustic cabins. We’re trying to figure out how we can boat camp since it looks like the perfect way to stay on the island, sitting out on the dock in the light of the full moon…we’ll need to find a boat to rent…buying is not an option.

The Hontoon Island Friends held a cookout with live music on Saturday, and not only did we buy tickets to the cookout, we ended up members of the Hontoon Island Friends. Guess they’ll be contacting us to volunteer for future events.

3 Down; 10 To Go

Our third adventure from our 13 in 13 list occurred during a Spring Break trip to Fort DeSoto. It didn’t turn out exactly as planned, but flexibility is one of our strengths.

Our plan: camp at the state park on Wednesday and Thursday night, enjoy the beach, go out in the boat, ride bikes.

Our reality:

1) We launched the boat and had a picnic on Sand Key Preserve. The cool temperatures in the 60s with 15 mph winds eliminated the possibility of bathing suits or beachwear. In fact, we dressed in jeans, sweatshirts, hats, gloves, and I had a blanket wrapped around my legs to stay warm. With the increasingly rough water, we returned to the ramp after only a couple of hours on the water – a cold but good start to the trip.

2) We rode our bikes from the campground to the beach and on down to the pier. No one ventured into the water and only a few people walked on the beach. After about an hour and a half we headed back to the campground.

3) We relaxed at the campground reading and lounging in the hammock (wrapped in a blanket) before going to dinner at Billy’s Stonecrab, Seafood, and Steaks. We stopped along the way to take some pictures of the sunset but almost missed it since we sat in the car waiting until the last minute to avoid to cold.


4) We celebrated John’s birthday with a gift certificate from some of his coworkers and feasted on bang bang shrimp,  grouper sandwiches, and pineapple upside down cake – all delicious!

5) As a result of the cold temperatures and the weather report we saw while at dinner predicting record lows in the mid thirties with possible frost and winds of 20 mph, we made the decision to return to the campground, pack up, and return to the lake. Last year when we decided to begin tent camping again we agreed that these trips were for fun. We said if the weather was bad (we were thinking too hot or rainy), the mosquitoes unbearable, or if we weren’t enjoying ourselves, we wouldn’t stay. A cold night in the tent followed by a day too windy to go on the water…why stay?

6) We packed up the tent, sleeping bags, hammock, bikes, and the boat while listening to the snores of a camper in a nearby site.

7) By 1:00am we climbed into bed ending adventure number 3 on our list. Not exactly what we expected, but we had a good day and prepared for a good night’s sleep.

Hopefully, adventure 4 proves more successful!


Always Pack a Bathing Suit

luggageAs I talked to Sarah a few hours before she caught her flight to Chicago she mentioned that she still needed to pack a bathing suit. I couldn’t help but smile since my standard piece of advice through the years…ALWAYS pack a bathing suit. So even though she’s flying to Chicago a few days after a snowstorm shut down air travel in the city, Sarah knows that a bathing suit is a required item on her packing list.

This advice is most appropriate as we start thinking about Spring Break, camping, kayaking, sailing, boating, and the beach, but why wouldn’t you pack a bathing suit regardless of your destination? It takes up very little space and even on a trip to Chicago in the winter there may be an opportunity to wear it. Does the hotel have a hot tub or a pool that shouldn’t be missed? Maybe you could even join a local polar bear club and take a dip in Lake Michigan.

I’ve prepared and saved a number of travel lists on my iPad (the perfect use for an expensive piece of technology). There’s a list for camping, one for the beach, one for the mountains. A bathing suit is on every list. Who wants to shop for a bathing suit while on the road? Worse yet, who wants to miss out on the fun for lack of this essential piece of attire?

It’s simple…ALWAYS pack a bathing suit!




13 in 13

Sunrise on Flagler Beach - a good way to start the day.
Sunrise on Flagler Beach – a good way to start the day.

Instead of taking off  a couple of weeks this summer to go on a vacation, we’ve decided to enjoy short adventures throughout the year. To insure we don’t let the year slip away without actually getting away and making time for fun, we made a list we’re calling “13 in 13”. We’ve identified 13 things we want to do to make 2013 special.

Our list includes attending a Rays baseball game, and drinking milkshakes at Mark Light Stadium during the FSU v Miami baseball series. But baseball isn’t the only thing on the list. I want to catch a “big bass” this year so my picture can be added to the fishing file, and I want to see sea turtles hatch. We checked off watching a sea turtle lay its eggs a few years ago so now it’s time to observe the hatchlings.

For years we’ve said we’ll catch the sunrise over the Atlantic followed by the sunset over the Gulf on the same day. That’s on the list for 2013 as well. We’re also planning a couple of camping weekends in Florida parks and one in Bryson City, NC. It’s been two years since we’ve visited western North Carolina where we first met so it’s time for a long weekend.

Biking, kayaking, and boating trips at new destinations in the state made the list. And we’re planning special celebrations for the Fourth of July and Christmas.

It wasn’t easy squeezing 13 adventures in to a calendar already packed with responsibilities for work, an August family weekend, a wedding, and holidays; but we did it. I’m looking forward to “13 in 13”!

Sunset at Cedar Key - the perfect finale.
Sunset at Cedar Key – the perfect finale.

First Day Walk

The state parks of Florida encouraged visitors to the parks today by hosting First Day Walks. The parks organized dozens of events throughout the state.

“I encourage Florida families and visitors to begin 2013 in our state parks and enjoy the natural world around you,” said Donald Forgione, Florida Park Service Director. “Join others across Florida and the nation for a First Day Hike as part of a national health and outdoor awareness movement.”


So instead of spending the first day of the year sitting in front of the television watching college football Bowl Games, we headed north to Alachua County and walked the LaChua Trail at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. We didn’t participate in the organized event at the park, but instead we spent a couple of hours walking the trail, observing the wildlife, (I still haven’t seen a bison. I think this is a hoax!) and taking pictures.

The birdwatchers were out in full force. I overheard one group going over their checklists to make sure each person had recorded all of the birds sighted. I recognized the names of many of those listed: heron, ibis, gallinule, sandhill crane, and anhinga; and in fact, I saw those as well. However, they also discussed finch and both the white ibis and glossy ibis. Apparently the glossy ibis is uncommon making it a more exciting find.

While I may not have recognized all the varieties of birds we encountered, I did recognize the alligators; and they were everywhere. On more than one occasion I changed my course to avoid getting too close to a gator sunning on the side of the trail.


I couldn’t help but remember the time we camped at Paynes Prairie with one of Emily’s friends who had never camped, ridden a bike, or spent much time in the wilder parts of Florida. Her dad called to talk to me before our trip to alleviate his fears about the dangers of alligators in the campground. I assured him they would not be a problem, but then we walked the trails and got up close and personal with many monster gators. I’m not sure how her dad would have felt about our pursuit of gators, but every Floridian needs to see these creatures out in the wild.



Spending the day enjoying the real Florida…a great way to start 2013! Maybe this should be a new tradition.

Happy New Year!

Enjoy Florida’s First Coast

Faver Dykes State Park’s location makes it ideal for exploring the northeast coast of Florida. Only thirty minutes from St. Augustine visiting Castillo De San Marcos in the oldest continuously occupied city in the U.S. is a must. Even if you don’t enter the fort, you can enjoy watching the boats cruising in Matanzas Bay and marvel at the structure. You can also observe the Bridge of Lions and the St. Augustine Lighthouse from the fort. The streets are lined with interesting shops and you should certainly eat lunch at the Columbia, Florida’s oldest restaurant. Enjoy the Spanish cuisine and a pitcher of sangria before strolling through the shops and sampling sweets, and during this time of year make sure you stay until dark so you can see the beautiful Christmas lights lining the city.

St. Augustine Columbia

However, St. Augustine isn’t the only nearby place to visit. Head south down A1A and you’ll find another national park at Fort Matanzas. This park does not charge admission, and you can see it all in only an hour or two. Walk the short trail and then take the pontoon boat across the river to the reconstructed fort. Visitors learn a little about the history of the fort from the ranger and then have the opportunity to explore the tiny fort on their own. Make sure you climb the ladder to the roof for a spectacular view and some pictures.

Fort Matanzas

Continuing south on A1A, public access to the beach is available at a number of locations including Crescent Beach. We found a great little BBQ place located at Bing’s Landing, a Flagler County park with boat ramps, natural trails, picnic tables, and a fishing pier. We ate on the porch at Captain’s BBQ overlooking the water, but you could easily take your food to the park and eat on one of the picnic tables.

What could be better? BBQ and bait in the same location!
What could be better? BBQ and bait in the same location!

Continuing down the Flagler County coast you’ll find several boardwalks to the beach including Gamble Rogers State Park…another campground, this time right on the beach. Perfect for motor homes and campers, but not for tent campers like us. It’s also an access point for sunbathers and surfers. Boaters and canoeists can launch boats on the west side of the highway in the Intracoastal Waterway or just get out of the sun for a picnic under the protection of a pavilion.

flaglerEnjoy Florida’s First Coast!