Lake Apopka Loop Trail: Orange County

A couple of weeks ago we rode the Lake Apopka Loop Trail, a new bicycle trail for us. Starting at Lovell’s Landing, the trail follows the road for a short distance before reaching the crushed stone trail which bordered the lake.

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While overcast, the weather was otherwise perfect, cool with light wind. Several reviews of the trail made mention of the need to bring bug spray because of the mosquitoes, but our February ride proved to be bug free.

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The bellows of gators could be heard throughout the ride and several of the large creatures laid in wait along the trail’s edge. Not only were signs posted with the traditional Florida alligator warnings, but yellow “In case of emergency” signs were posted at regular intervals as well.

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At the four mile mark, we stopped for lunch at the picnic pavilion located near the old pump house before continuing another five miles down the path.

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The trail provided great views of Lake Apopka, Florida’s fourth largest lake which is rebounding after being poisoned by pesticides. Not only can alligators be found in abundance. The area is known as a birding destination.

In fact, the 4th Annual Lake Apopka Wildlife Festival Birdapalooza was held in early February, and while we saw a variety of birds, most were camera shy making it hard to photograph many. But there was no shortage of birders with binoculars, check lists and cameras with massive lenses…the tools of the Birdapalooza crowd.

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The most interesting find on the ride was the skeleton of a large gator just feet from the trail. Can’t help but wonder what happened to this big guy.

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The Lake Apopka Loop Trail was a nice, although rough, 15 mile out and back trail, but there’s talk of connecting it to the West Orange Trail which would make it possible to ride around the 50 square mile lake. That would be quite a ride.

Make Mine a Rag Arm

What good news! All of the Hurricanes’ home baseball games will be televised this season on ESPN3.

That meant we were able to watch the opening game of the season on Friday night as the Hurricanes took on Rutger’s Scarlet Knights. And in attempt to emulate the Mark Light Field experience, we made milk shakes.

Vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, milk and mix.

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A black and white for John.

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Add strawberries, and it’s a rag arm for me.

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Not quite the same as at the ballpark, but with a win and a milkshake, it’s a good way to prepare for the real thing next weekend in Miami when the Hurricanes host the Gators.

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Sawgrass Island Preserve

Unfortunately, due to illness, I was unable to accompany John on a first time ride at the Sawgrass Island Preserve last week. We’ve passed this trail numerous times on our trips to visit one of our daughters in Orlando, but only recently stopped to get a quick look in anticipation of a ride later in the week.

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In the parking area, a sign indicates the trail can be used by hikers, cyclists and horseback riders. The trail travels to Lake Yale, located south of SR 42 about ten miles from Weirsdale, and according to John is well used by those on horseback making in less than a desirable surface for bike riding.

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Nevertheless, he said he would return to Sawgrass Island Preserve on foot, especially near dawn or sunset as it appears to be a prime location for observing wildlife. And of course, since the area is also part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, birdwatchers may also enjoy hiking in the trail.

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Sorry I missed the ride, but I can see an early morning hike on the horizon.

Big Bugs Everywhere

On January 15, the Big Bug Invasion took over Leu Gardens. An army of enormous ants meet visitors as they enter the gardens.

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Created from natural materials, the creatures lurk around every corner.

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Despite the fact the insects may stand over twenty feet tall, many remain hidden among the plants.

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While others, like the lady bug remain in the open, ready for photo ops.

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The 200 pound assassin bug was quite a specimen.

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But I have an affinity for spiders and this one camouflaged among the bamboo may have been my favorite sculpture.

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The Big Bug Invasion continues at Harry P. Leu Gardens in downtown Orlando until April 15 so there’s plenty of time to get acquainted with the garden’s newest inhabitants.

Land Bridge Trail

Anticipating a rainy afternoon, we set out for a hike close to home with Meghan and Jon at the Cross Florida Greenway on Saturday. We followed the orange trail for a little more than a mile to the Land Bridge where the trail crosses I-75.

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The most notable feature of the well marked trail was the large trees. Several of which partially blocked the path.

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Upon reaching the bridge, we stopped for a quick selfie before returning on the somewhat longer blue trail.

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The blue trail was similar to the orange trail. Well marked, tree-lined, narrow, flat and easy. A good place for walk on a cool February morning before the afternoon rain.

Thanks John and Meghan for sharing your pictures.

February in Florida: Citrus County

Who cares about Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions about the coming of spring when you live in Florida?

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On the first day of February we launched the boat at Pete’s Peir and then spent the day on the water. We started the morning playing hide and seek with the fish. The fish won.

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Then we played a little Marco Polo with the dolphin as they would surface and hiss before disappearing.

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Next, we played Peek-a-boo with the manatee as they’d quickly peek their snouts above the water but then slide beneath the surface before I could snap a satisfactory picture.

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Finally, we quit playing games and headed to Three Sisters Spring where we knew we’d find manatee we could photograph.

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And we weren’t disappointed. Dozens of the swimming potatoes were moving out of the spring in the warm weather to feed before the next cold front chases them back to their warm, protected hideaway.

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The spring area also housed numerous manatee in the roped off portion of the river. A river congested with swimmers, boaters, photographers and people kayaking.

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Only in Florida is it possible to enjoy  what those living in other states would consider summer fun in February.

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Daycation: Crystal River

 

Wekiwa Springs Trails: Orange County

We started last week with another daycation. This time to Wekiwa Springs State Park.

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Upon entering the park, we received a list of twenty-five ways to enjoy Wekiwa. Of course, we started at the spring and were a little surprised to find several people swimming on a cool January morning.

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A short walk on the “wet-to-dry” nature boardwalk, (number 9) on the list was the next order of business.

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We then checked out the trail map and selected one to hike (number 2) and saw more than a few deer tracks on the trail (number 19).

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On such a beautiful, cloudless morning, there was no doubt we’d take lots of photographs (number 15). And since a controlled burn was in progress, it was no problem finding evidence of recently burned areas (number 21).

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Before leaving the park, we ate a picnic lunch (number 7) at one of the pavilions, making it easy to leave our stresses behind and relax (number 25).

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Seven of the Top 25 Things To Do at Wekiwa Springs State Park, only 18 to go! We also took a selfie, something not on the park’s list.

Daycation: Wekiwa Springs State Park

 

Pigging out at Pigfest: Polk County

We were introduced to a new event yesterday, the Lakeland Pigfest, a place to enjoy a warm January day with friends and family while feasting on delicious barbecue.

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According to the festival website, the goals of the event:

  • Raise money for local charitable organizations
  • Create a relaxing event for all walks of life
  • Eat some world class barbecue!

From the size of the crowd and from the food we tasted, I’d say they met their goal.

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Ribs by the bones, wings and pulled pork sold in sample sizes made it possible to try quite a variety of food. I’m proud to say none of us succumbed to any of the fried selections. No fried Oreos. No fried strawberries. No fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. No fried bananas.

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That doesn’t mean we skipped the sweets. We just stuck to strawberry shortcake.

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The Lakeland Pigfest is held at Tigertown on Friday night and Saturday. If you missed this year’s event, mark your calendar of January 2017 so you can pig out.

(Thanks, John, for sharing your pictures.)

Car Camping: Levy County

While investigating accommodations and transportation options for an upcoming trip to Iceland, I discovered several companies in Iceland that rent campers, but these are not typically the motor home vehicles available in the U.S., but instead vans or even cars that transform into rustic sleeping quarters. Since this seems like an interesting way to see the maximum amount of the Icelandic countryside, we decided to test our ability to “car camp”.

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Our Suburban seemed like a perfect camping vehicle. So we packed the bare essentials: sleeping bags, pillows, a single burner with fuel, cook kit, ice chest, battery operated lantern, a leatherman tool, and an inflatable mattress to covert the back of the SUV into a sleeping space.

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The campers in Iceland have been modified to provide storage space under the sleeping platform something we couldn’t duplicate, so the front seats turned into the holding spot for our gear.

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After setting up camp at Manattee Springs State Park, we enjoyed the park the rest of the afternoon watching a dozen manatee in the spring run as well as a number of birds.

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Just before sunset we came across deer in the woods bordering the campground and then watched the sunset from the bank of the Suwannee River.

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We purposely chose to camp on a very cold night, with a low of 25°, to see how we’d fare in temperatures similar to what we’ll experience in Iceland. Sleeping in our car camper proved to be a success. We stayed toasty in our sleeping bags and decided our clothing choices appropriate.

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Only our car battery failed the test, unable to start after a cold night spent outside the garage. Fortunately AAA came to our rescue.

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We’ll complete a couple more test runs to iron out details regarding packing, but a camping van is in our future travels.

 

Ginger Ale Spring = Creepy

Florida’s home to nearly four dozen major, publicly assessable springs. However, there are numerous smaller springs throughout the state. Located on Markham Woods Road just north of State Road 434 is Ginger Ale Springs, one of the creepiest places I’ve seen.  The first clue? The green creature tucked in the corner of the sign marking the path to the spring.

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The main pool of Ginger Ale Springs is enclosed in a circular concrete wall. A large sand boil and several smaller one are visible. The water cascades out of a rectangular opening in the side of the wall flowing into a sandy stream to the Little Wekiva River.

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It’s hard to concentrate on the beauty of the spring once you notice the dolls, toys, stuffed animals, plastic flowers, clothing and signs adorning many of the surrounding trees.

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There were too many faces staring at me to want to remain near the spring for more than a few minutes.

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When I saw this open mouthed, wide-eyed mask peering at me from across the spring run, I’d had enough and turned to head back toward the car.

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How can such a lovely spring to be home to so much creepiness? Maybe Ginger Ale Spring should be added to the list of Florida’s unusual roadside attractions.