Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State park

The warning, “Do Not Follow GPS Instructions to the Park,” is posted some six or seven miles from the entrance to the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in central Florida. The park, located some 30 miles north of the town of Okeechobee, on the north rim of Florida's largest lake, was our maiden voyage with our new 20-foot travel trailer. The warning is posted so you can see it before making any serious wrong turns while listening to your favorite electronic directional convenience as you approach a T-Intersection on County Road 724, coming up from US Highway 98. It is a reminder of the warning found on the park's web page not to use GPS or Internet mapping programs to find the park entrance. The GPS and Internet maps are woefully wrong as most of their recommended routes are through a planned, platted community that was never built. The roads were laid out years ago, but simply don't exist! The actual wording on the warning sign may be a little different from what I remember, but the meaning is clear: GPS instructions will not get you to the park! Follow the brown, state posted markers and signs instead! The GPS may tell you to go right, but the state sign in front of you says go left! Trust the state of Florida here, they know where their park is. 





Ilse and I finally found a suitable trailer that we both really liked, a KZ Sportsmen 202. It had all the items we were looking for in a travel trailer. It was well built, lightweight, only 20 feet long, and we were able to buy it at the RV show price we had seen three months earlier. The trailer was on display at the Tampa RV show we had attended in November, and we had shown interest in it then. The dealer told us if we took delivery of it at the show, we could have it for a substantial savings. Unfortunately, we weren't prepared to pick it up at that time and had to leave it behind. We spent the next three months looking at travel trailers all over southwest Florida, but didn't find anything that satisfied our needs for a reasonable price. Finally, we decided to sell our little Cikira and put the money toward the best unit we could find.


The park main road.


We put our Cikira on Craig's list, and sold it to the second buyer to check it out. After the normal transactions, we watched our little “Chickee” get towed away with fondness. It had been a great trailer to get us started, but with two dogs, it was just getting too small. After checking RV dealers again, we found the KZ we had liked at the dealer's display up in Hernando County. After driving up to see it again, we were convinced this was the unit we wanted and bought it in middle February.


We wanted to take our new trailer on a short, maiden voyage before towing it up to Georgia and we went on the Internet http://www.reserveamerica.com/) to check availability of campsites at the many near-by Florida State parks. No openings at any State campground within 200 miles until April!


Many years ago, while watching television with my fiancee and her mother one evening in Bitburg, Germany, I had suddenly laughed out loud!  I had finally understood a German joke! I had struggled with my basic German as I tried to process the overload of linguistic information coming from the surprisingly alien medium. I quickly understood the shortcomings of the German language night classes I was taking at nearby Bitburg Air Base, where I was stationed.


The joke? Well, it seems a fellow who lived in Frankfurt was complaining to a friend that he had sold his car the day before. The friend asked, “Why should you be sad because you sold your car yesterday?“ 

His friend answered, “Today, I found a parking space!”


That joke came back to mind after all these years when my wife and I tried to find a camping spot recently for our new travel trailer. We struggled for hours searching the Internet trying to find a spot anywhere in the Florida State Park system for Friday, February 25th. We had hoped we could find a spot not too far from where we were picking up our brand new unit. We wanted to stay overnight close to the dealer should we have any problems. There were no openings at any Florida State Park! None! One single campsite finally opened up at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, about 70 miles away. One space in the entire state system. And this isn't just for one night, we found there were few openings for many weeks to come!


Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park - Site 14


There are really great commercial campgrounds with fantastic amenities as well, but, no matter, they were also full. We aren't great fans of some of the lower-end commercial sites where campers are packed in like sardines and then get charged upward of 40 dollars a night, plus a three dollar surcharge for electricity. We prefer to have a little breathing room, and a little more privacy when we camp, but we would have suffered even a spot at one of those just for a space to park and try our new camper.


We have found that most state parks, and more than a few county parks, offer excellent, inexpensive facilities. One of the most famous county parks is Ft. Desoto County Park, in Pinellas County, but trying to get reservations there during the snow-bird season is next to impossible. The same goes with most of the Florida State parks, and the few U.S. Army Corps of Engineer parks in Florida. If you can wait until after Easter, you might be able to wrangle some time during the week, but don't hold your breath if you want to camp on a weekend.
Ilse and the Carolina Parakeet


The snowbirds descend on Florida annually and fill up the campsites until after Easter. Finally a site opened up at the Kissimmee Prairie State Park and we grabbed it. I honestly don't know if I would have picked this park otherwise, but it turned out to be a great choice!


We rolled out of Port Charlotte a little after 11:45 am, and were checking in by 2:45pm. The weather was clear but incredibly windy! The strong, 20 mile an hour headwind dropped our mileage to a terrifying eight miles to the gallon! We would not be taking any long trips if this were the norm with the new trailer. We had gotten well over 13 MPG bring the trailer back down I-75 from Tampa, and were stunned by the drop in mileage during the short trip to Kissimmee Prairie State Park. We were loaded with food and some water as I usually travel with just enough fresh water in the tank to emergency flush the toilet. The little Jimmy was straining even though we only had our bicycles with us. We rarely went over 50 miles per hour the whole trip.


The entrance to the park is a 5-mile long dirt road, well graded and maintained. Why it is called a prairie is immediately obvious as you can soon see horizon to horizon. There is one turn in the road before you see the campground clustered under the oaks of a nearby hammock. The main gate, which is closed at night, is five miles from the campground, but the first RV site in the grove, or hammock, of live oaks is the campground host. We slowly drove into the campground, looking for registration hints, and stopped abruptly when we heard the camp host yelling at us. We drove right past him without seeing the camp host sign. We picked up our registration tag and a campground map, apologized to the host for not knowing the protocol, and slowly drove on through the small campground looking for our site. We backed into the oak-shaded site with no problem and began to unhook and set up camp. Soon, a golf cart rushed up and the camp host excitedly informed us they needed to see my driver's license to prove I qualified for the discount given to senior citizens. Everything was in order and we were soon walking the dogs through the windy campground. Later, we could not get our barbeque grill to stay lit in the wind, so we decided to save the open air cooking until the weather calmed down.


Count the alligators - Mama Gator and brood


There are two loops at the campground and the prime loop is unique as it is designed for equestrian campers. The park is actually friendly to horseback riding. Pens are available near the wide campsites on that loop.


We were up early the next morning, but the wind was as fierce as the day before. The temperature was cool, and the sky was absolutely clear! We took the dogs for a walk around the campground and found a ditch with just a little water in it, between the two camping loops. After staring at the mud for a moment, I realized I was looking at an alligator's head sticking up in the muddy water! A mother gator was guarding a nest of young hatchlings that were camouflaged on the muddy bank. We counted eight babies, while at the same time making sure the dogs stayed on the other side of the road!





As we walked around the outside of the equestrian loop. I was startled to see a row of telescopes set up along the far edge of the road. The ranged from huge, trailer mounted telescopes to consumer types on tripods. This park is famous for darkness as it is far from any light pollution, and many campers sleep during the day and spend all night studying the heavens from a really great vantage point. Another unique feature of this park not found at the busier, more heavily visited parks.


We saw our first Caracara, a black and white eagle that is the national bird of Mexico. There are several nesting families of Crested Caracara here, as well as a statue of the of the Carolina Parakeet, the last native North American parakeet that once flourished at this park.


We only bicycled in the campground as the shell and sand roadway occasionally was unsuitable for the road tires on Ilse's bike. We walked the short, but pretty trail between the two campgrounds, and drove to the nearby slough to watch a few more gators sunning themselves. Mostly we read and just enjoyed the quiet and solitude.




 We awoke Sunday to heavy fog, soon blown away by the winds as they once again became stronger than normal. We again enjoyed a day of rest and reading, and walking the dogs. We were doing a daily check on the alligator family. Sunday night we prepared the camper to pull out early Monday morning. The trip home was a breeze, so to speak!  With the heavy winds at our back we got 13 miles to the gallon!  I guess we can only travel with the wind behind us.

The shower/toilet facility spotless and easily accessible. The sites were wide, level and clean, and as always, each had a picnic table and fire-pit. The park is unique for stargazers and horseback riders. We may again visit, especially during the Perseids meteor shower later in the year. 


Next: Blue Springs State Park near DeLand, FL, famous for the Manatees at
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2011/05/blue-spring-state-park.html 


















 

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