FOLLOWING THE BROWN SIGN- BABCOCK RANCH ECO TOURS

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On December 8, 2019 for Mike’s birthday this year, I decided to take him someplace different so we headed to Babcock Ranch Eco Tours at Babcock Ranch Preserve for a swamp buggy ride.  The ranch is very large, 67,618 acres in Charlotte County, which is managed in cooperation with the Florida Forest Service.  It was one of the single largest purchases of conservation land in Florida’s history.  It has many diverse habitats, including prairie, and swamps,  hardwood forests, etc. While we were there we saw, deer, wild pigs (including cute, little piglets) Florida cracker cows, regular cows, alligators by the billions and tons of birds, including turkeys.  There is hiking opportunities but I believe the best way to see and learn about the vast preserve is to take the Eco Tour.

HISTORY: It was and still is a working ranch since 1914 which was comprised of 91,361 acres.  The Ranch produced timber, cattle, crops and sod.  In 2006  most of the preserve was sold to the State and the remaining is a private residential community.  The ranch today is still privately run but owned by the State.

THE TOUR: When arriving you walk down a little path to the visitor center.  We were welcomed by friendly staff, who like our narrator on the tour was passionate about their work.  There is also plenty to see right there, including caged (my favorite way to see them) snakes, and while we were there we saw Santa Claus and he was holding an alligator and then one of the snakes, there is a little museum which actually was a prop from a movie that was filmed there. There is a beautiful gift shop which sells all kinds of souveniers including  local honey, books, trinkets,  and much more.  We even got our picture taken with Santa with no snakes or alligators.

The Eco Tour is a 90  minute narrated tour which takes you through four different eco systems, including, you guessed it a swamp, which at this time of year was dry, which I think made for better wild life viewing, but we may have to go back when wet just to see.  The swamp buggies are really buses.   Our guide, Karlie, was a wealth of knowledge and passionate about her work and told us the history of the ranch, pointed things out that we might have missed, answered any questions we might have had.   The wild animals came up to the bus, as they obviously knew the sound of the buses, they came running, and waddling over to the bus for their treats they knew she had, except for the alligators of course. 

I think the Cracker Cows were my favorite, we learned that they are only bred to keep the breed alive.  The plentiful amount of  alligators was amazing to see all while safely on the bus.    Living here in Florida for most of my life one would think that seeing things like alligators would get old but it never does.    After the tour we went to eat at the Gator Shack where we had some amazing BBQ. Fair warning the portions are super large.  There is a walking tour however, after eating we were so stuffed we had a hard time even thinking about walking so decided that for the next time.  

THE COST: $24.00 adult, $23.00 for seniors, children 3-12 $16.00, 2 and under free.

Reservations can be made online, however they may have room if you didn’t make any plans and happen to be close enough, so give them a call at 1/800-500-5583.

LOCATION: 8502 FL-31, Punta Gorda, FL.  Turn at the bright flags that say Eco Tour and BBQ.  Turn down the road and keep driving to the end, can’t miss it.  You will pass a ton of  solar fields (which is pretty amazing on it’s own) and culverts which house many animals as well.

I left out somethings because I want to leave a little mystery to encourage other’s to head over to Babcock Ranch Preserve Eco Tours and experience it themselves.

Get out and see what the real Florida has to offer…

Until next time, follow a brown sign somewhere cool,

Hope

whatrwewaiting4.com

#babcockranchecotours; #realflorida; #followthebrownsigns; #sonya6000

 

 

CAMPGROUND REVIEW- FORT DESOTO PARK- Home Sweet Home….Not So Much

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When: October 18-20, 2019

Where: Fort Desoto Park, Pinellas County, Florida

Who: We organized this trip 7 months ahead of time. The we are Mike, Eris, the lowrider camping hound, and I on one site, Joe and Caren (who couldn’t come) on another, Annette and pups on another site and Cheri on another site and friends had an additional 4 sites.

Weather was supposed to be crappy, which we sort of figured even when were making reservations as we were camping with Joe. It always rains when Joe is camping. However, he outdid himself this time with a tropical storm. Because of the storm people canceled and there were a lot of empty sites.

Why check this place out, let me start and tell you why we will never come here again. Let’s start with the check-in: Fort Desoto is a Pinellas County Park, where I grew up, and am still a resident for a little longer, I went to plenty of parties here, my favorite beach of all time, I even camped here before. Location is conveniently located less than 10 miles from my sticks n’ bricks. I have been a Pinellas County resident for most of my life, went to school here, got married here, raised my children, etc., I am sure you get the point, it’s the county that is my home. As County residents we are able to make reservations 7 months ahead of time. That is the only benefit we receive, no discounts, no early checkin and no late checkouts. Just the ability to make the reservations one month earlier. When we were planning the trip 7 months earlier I made reservations for Annette (who is formally of Pinellas County, born and raised) using my address. At the same time Mike made reservations for us using our address. Now keep in mind we had a total of 8-9 campsites reserved by friends of Chery and Joe. The only one who didn’t live in Pinellas was Annette. Also, there was no where on the website that stated that only one reservation per address is allowed nor did their crappy website pick up on the fact that two reservations were made from the same address for the same weekend. I understand this rule- actually I don’t understand why my husband and I cannot reserve two sites as they aren’t giving us anything extra and we are paying for two sites and if that is a rule then it should be stated somewhere. Anyhow, we show up and they gave us grief and that was when we were checking in. At one point I was ready to say that’s fine give us our money back and we will leave now, leaving them with two more empty sites, as a lot of people were canceling due to the impending weather and they can try and fill it.

Secondly, there is no alcohol consumption allowed in the park. Not even on your site and they encourage people to tattle on others. There is fat fine for those who are caught with alcohol $118.00 ish per drink. I don’t really care that much if I want a drink I can always drink it inside my camper. However, when you are paying $40.00 per night for a campsite you should be able to sit at your picnic table while eating and have an adult beverage.

Thirdly, after weathering out a tropical storm we went ahead with our plans of a pot luck dinner at Chery’s site, which compared to most of ours was the driest. We carried all our food down there (love my wagon) and Joe drove down as he had an extra tables and grill. Shortly, after eating we were sitting around in a circle and chatting and the ranger came over and said only two vehicles allowed, all three were all on the site and not an inch of any of them were in the road. Joe said ok he would move his back down to his site, ranger asked which site, he told him and that the only reason it was there was to transport the tables and such, instead of the ranger saying that’s fine just make sure it is moved by the end of the night he made him move it. One would think that would make the ranger move on but no, he was nosy and was trying to see if any of us had any alcohol. Keep in mind we aren’t young people average age was probably 45-50, we weren’t loud we were sitting around the, oh wait I was going to say fire pit, but that would be an extra fee, so just in a circle, which leads me to my fourth complaint the costs for lack services…

It was $40 ish dollars per night, not worth it to have to deal with the nasty, unwelcoming Park rangers, with their unbendable rules and to be nickeled to death. The only amenities they have are bathrooms with showers, picnic tables and grills on each site and dump.

Finally, my last complaint is the amount of pet sites. There are 236 sites only 78 are open to pets, leaving 158 sites for the pet less folks, hence the problem with getting a site. I don’t have as much of a problem with this, however, the pets are not allowed to even be walked beyond the pet area, again not very welcoming to say the least.

So reasons to go, the views, not so much in the campground as outside. There is a nice trail that will take you to the beach, which I may be partial are the best beaches. There is a fishing pier and a fort to explore. So biking, walking, fishing and exploring the the beach are the reasons. Oh and believe it or not it even has a dog beach.

I will keep my Ft. Desoto trips to day trips only.

That being said even with all the negatives it was still fun to camp with friends, we brought our propane fire pit, and made s’mores while standing under the awning in the rain, there was mud for the dogs to walk through, and had shared meals with others and made some new friends. However, the next trip I would suggest we hop over the Skyway and go to Little Manatee River State Park and rent as many sites as we want, where the rangers are pleasant and the hosts are as well.

Until next time, happy camping,

Hope

Whatrwewaiting4….

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CAMPGROUND REVIEW-TORREYA STATE PARK

Mike, Eris, the lowrider camping hound, and I went to Torreya State Park in Bristol, FL on August 31, 2019 through September 4, 2019.

There are many reasons to check out this place, one of which is the hiking, and the views. We have been there before to backpack and if one went there blindfolded when the blindfold was removed one would swear that they were dumped in North Carolina not north Florida. When we came in 2003 it was very different then this year. In 2003 we did the Torreya Challenge hiking trail which it was very challenging and very beautiful.

This year however it was very different. Only about 3 miles of the trails are left now after the 2018 Hurricane Michael destroyed the area. The best way to describe it was that Mother Nature picked up all the trees and just dropped them. Reminded me of a game of pick up sticks. The trails are slowly being rebuilt but not sure if they will be restored in my lifetime. There were signs at the entrances of what was once a trailhead saying to stay off the trails as they were destroyed when 155 mile per hour winds came through the park. This might be a good time to mention that this park is not on the coast it is about 80ish miles away. Hard to imagine being that far away from the coast and being hit with a category 5 hurricane. The surrounding neighborhoods were nearly destroyed. Most houses had a new roof, needed a new roof or were abandoned. I felt horrible for the residents, as it seems like all the help that did come went to the wealthier areas such as the beaches and this area was forgotten about.

But back to the campground review. What thankfully did remain and had minimal damage was the Gregory House. It is a mansion built by Jason Gregory, who was a prominent plantation planter in 1849. It stood across the Apalachicola River from where it is currently. The river served as a “highway” during the Civil War. However, after the war Mr Gregory moved away and the house had seen hard times. One of the daughters did move back to the home, restored it and lived there until her death. When the state park was created in the 1930’s the Neal Lumber Company donated the home to the park as a gesture of support for the park. It was taken apart and moved across the river to the park for reconstruction on the bluff where it remains today. The CCC carefully put it back together and they even used the original wood pegs instead of nails. There are tours given daily and it is well worth the little fee of $2.00 per person.

While we were there every morning I hiked down and then back up to the Gregory House to see the magnificent views, which were plentiful.

The park is named after the rare Torreya tree, which can only be found in north Florida, California and China.

The campground is very different from most of Florida’s state parks. It too is on a bluff with a deck with an awesome overlook. The sites (1-15) themselves are small and do not offer much privacy as they almost touch the neighbors, but it was good and so nice to explore the area. There is also a yurt and a cabin which can be rented. There is a bathhouse which has toilets and showers as well as a shower house. We did do the few trails that were open, but it was sad to see the damage that remained from the hurricane.

We explored Apalachiola National Forest, which I highly recommend. By the looks of it the forest faired better than their northern neighbors during Michael.

We will return sometime as there is still much to see. Hopefully for all the residents and future visitors things will get rebuilt soon.

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PHOTO HIKE-Brooker Creek Preserve -10/26/2019

My friend, Marci and I attended a photo hike at Brooker Creek Preserve. Our guides opened our eyes to look at the environment around us differently. We saw things we may have otherwise overlooked. I believe I can speak for both of us when I say we learned a lot about the park and about photographing nature.

Brooker Creek Preserve is located in Pinellas County and is owned by the County government and Southwest Florida Management District. It is 8700 acres and is the largest natural area in Pinellas County. Entrance to the preserve is open at 7:00 am consists primarily of forested wetlands and pine flat woods. Mike and I had hiked there previously on a couple of occasions however both of our hikes resembled swims more than hikes. This time what we hiked was dry but we were not able to go on all of the trails as there was a wildfire there not long ago so some of the trails were closed. So maybe next time. What we saw this time was pretty amazing.

Visitors can start their day at the Nature Center and get trail maps, hit the trails and be sure to return to the Nature Center to check out the exhibits and the gift shop. There are also guided hikes quite often. I highly suggest checking out the schedule. Leaving the Nature Center there are boardwalks and nature trails. While we were there, there was flowers in bloom and we saw some birds but next time we will try and get there as the gates are opening because that’s when the wildlife is there.

This park can be enjoyed by all ages. I highly recommend it for people with young children and for the old as well. So when in the area be sure to check it out.

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CAMPGROUND REVIEW-Little Manatee River State Park

We went for a quick weekend down to Little River State Park in Wimama, Florida.

We arrived on Friday August 16, 2019 and left on Sunday, August 18, 2019.

The attendees were Mike, Nick Eris, Jodie and I on site 20 and Steve, Rosie, Jax and Mia on site 2.

It was nice and close to home and easy to get to. We had a ton of rain prior to our arrival so everything was flooded. The river was too flooded to kayak on so we will save that for next time and the trails were too flooded to be hiked upon so we will save that for another time as well. Even though we couldn’t go hiking or kayaking we still had a nice time.

The campground has some nice size sites but ours was small. Glad we didn’t have anyone else cuz we were pretty squished. The bathroom was under construction so they had the portable ones with a showers. They were neat and tidy.

We have been here plenty of times to do the 6.5 mile stacked loop on the north side of the park, which have been called muck and roots previously. We didn’t even attempt to go there since the trails on the campground side were flooded we could only assume the other side was worse. The campground side also has 15 miles of equestrian and multi purpose trail that was mostly under water. There is equestrian camping here as well.

Normally this is one of the most pristine blackwater rivers in southwest Florida but since it was so swollen it was hard to see. We have also paddled this many years ago and had a great time.

Even though we could not use all of the park we still had a great time. Camping with family and friends is always great. We will return as it is super close to home and easy to get there and maybe next time we will be able to participate in all the park has to offer.

PART II -THE UPDATES TO THE INSIDE OUR FUTURE HOME

Recap we purchased our 2019 Viking at the Tampa Fall RV show in November 2018 on a very hot fall day. Since that purchase we have done upgrade after upgrade.  Part I of this blog talks all about the outside, Part II will cover all of the inside.

Let me start at the door, with the door, besides the electric door lock, we changed out the window, we went from a smoked glass to one with a blind built into, makes it extra dark to sleep and lighter during the day. We also added a screen door handle which makes it easier to close the door.  We added flash light holders and of course command hooks for everything from the leash to keys.

We disliked our plastic faucet(s), we changed them to nice faucets with a nice spray  nostle.  We added a backsplash behind the stove and along the wall.  As with most camper counters, space is a premium and everything you put out when larked has to go away, we needed someplace to store our kitchen utensils, therefore, Mike cut a hole in the counter and we dropped  a metal utensil holder in the counter -left over from my coffee cart days, (I am not sure if I mentioned it before but I have an amazing husband who can come up with a solution for anything and he can do anything as well) and we never have to worry about them going anywhere while traveling.

This model has a tall cabinet under the kitchen counter which is perfect for the trash can, he added dividers to hold the trash bags, aluminum foil and Ziplock bags.

Moving to under the dinette, we have a dinette with two benches, under the one is empty for storage, I have taken that over for my Stampin Up supplies and any other crafty items I may have, hoping it is enough room but may need a little more, but we will see, however the other bench was screwed shut.  Mike unscrewed it and saw that 1/3 of it is used to house the hot water heater and heater duct and the rest is empty so he cut the piece that screwed down and built a barrier around the duct and wala we have more storage.

As most owners of camper’s know the campers come with these awful lights that can cause a sunburn, well we (again when I say we, I really mean Mike) added two reading lights and a low wattage light over the dinette. He also reglued and screwed the back of the dinette becasue the factory glue didn’t keep it together driving down the road.

We picked out fabric and changed the valences to make it more ours.

If you read Part I you may remember the comfy couch, well the only thing that’s under there is the powercord which is accessable to the outside.  The couch lays down to make a bed as does the table, but like my Mom said, it may seat 6 but sleeps two, even though when we hit the road we will allow people who may visit us stay in with us. Anyway, under the couch besides the powercord is a 12 volt convereter and fuse panel.  Miked moved the couch and added a 400 watt invertor so we can run small 110 chargers, like our laptop while boondocking.  After taking the couch out he added storage and an access panel to the front of it and now we have storage for our future Battle Born lithium batteries. He also added another reading light over the couch, for that occassional time that Eris will share the couch with us.  Under the refrigerator there was a little storage area of about 3 inches deep, seriously it was only 3 inches but it held our collapsable broom and nothing else, Mike opened that up and now we can fit a ton of stuff under there.  Speaking about the refrigerator we added a temperture monitor for both the frig and freezer.  Of course we added a magnet board and white board to make it more homey.

Our bathroom sits across from the galley, which we have made a few changes to that as well.  One of the first things we did, was add a wall protector, to make sure the door knob doesn’t go through the wall when opening it.  Inside we added a backsplash, and of course more command hooks for the towels. We changed out the factory fan/vent for a Fantastic Fan and a rain cover over the top of it.  We changed out the showerhead to an Oxygenics. We put stainglass film on the domed ceiling in the shower, changed the shower rod to an expanding type which give us more room in the shower when using it or more in the bathroom when not using it.  OMG what are these people thinking when they install these faucets, one cannot get their hands under the faucet without touching the back of the sink and thereby splashing water everywhere, therefore needless to say we changed the faucet to not only one that is nicer but to one that is functional.

On the wall that backups to the bathroom and faces our bed we added a shelf to add some more personal items and what nots.  Mike also added lights to each side of the bed and a little shelf for me and he also added USB charges on boths sides of the bed.

We will have more to upgrade such as shelves in the closets, organizer sections under the bed, hang our family photos, but all things that can done slowly but for now we have done enough, it’s time to go camping.

Until next time….

Hope