Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Anastasia State Park, Revisited

I picked a campsite I liked at Anastasia State Park, in St. Augustine, Florida, while browsing the on-line reservation system, and idly went off to ask my wife about our vacation schedule. By the time I returned to the PC to confirm the reservation, the site I wanted had been snapped up by someone else! I needed a five day window for our camping excursion, and only a few sites were open for five days in a row that particular week in August. I grabbed the next open site and we made plans to head back to our favorite campground in the Florida Park system. We were doing a doubleheader camping vacation, spending time at a park that was new to us at Wekiwa Springs, and finishing the vacation sitting on the white, pristine Atlantic beach of Anastasia State Park.






We arrived on a Friday afternoon after spending a wonderful week at Wekiwa Springs State Park, some 95 miles south. We always travel back roads when possible, and the trip up using FL 44 and Florida Highway 11 from Deland to Bunnell had been a really pretty, uncomplicated drive on a great road. Florida's state and county roads are really a treasure most motorists don't enjoy.  The drive from Deland to Bunnell is especially nice.

It didn't take long to understand why we had a problem getting reservations at Anastasia. The adjacent St. Augustine Amphitheater was having a concert headlined by Alison Krauss and Grand Union Station that very Friday night and many concert goers had brought their campers and tents to be conveniently located just a few hundred yards from the concert site. 

St. Augustine Amphitheater, adjacent to Anastasia State Park


Hint number 1: If you want a camping space on a Friday during a concert, make reservations early. Hint number 2: Check the on-line website for the St. Augustine Amphitheater schedule, and if you find a show you like, incorporate it into your camping stay. The service gate between the park and the Amphitheater is usually open, but it may be closed for performances, so if you plan on using the state park, be sure to check with the Amphitheater when buying your tickets! Duran Duran will be there in October, but they aren't on my must-see list.

While most of our camping neighbors walked through the woods to get to the concert, Ilse and I went down to the dark, almost deserted beach and listened to the concert of the pounding, heavy surf. We got back to our trailer just as the concert goers were emerging from the woods. We all had a good time.


A dead Red Bay tree stands among the dense foliage of the park



Anastasia offers 139 camping sites on five separate loops, several of which are for smaller RVs and trailers only. Most of the sites are level, and almost all are in full shade. However, several sites have quirks that can be aggravating, such as trees that grow in the middle or edge of the campsite that prevent use of awnings, or even keep you from backing fully into the campsite. Most, however, are really great sites. Only two we know of aren't level in the entire campground, and even they can be compensated for with judicious maneuvering of your RV.

One of the odd items this trip were the number of dead Red Bay trees, killed by an attack of Ambrosia Beetles.  The infestations, first seen in nearby Duval County only five years ago, have devastated the plentiful Bay trees of the Anastasia State Park.  State parks have restrictions on bringing firewood that may carry infestations from other locations to prevent introduction of diseases, but the Red Bay trees have succumbed to the pest beetle throughout the park.  None of the other trees have been affected, so the canopy of the dense woods prevails throughout the park even with the numerous dead Bay trees.  








The beach is one of the finest I've seen, and there is plenty of it! The nearby walking trail through the old ancient dunes is a pleasant 30 minute walk, and bicycling at Anastasia is a great way to get around! The kayak and sailing concession at the inlet offers rentals to those who don't bring their own boats. We have used our own kayaks here in the past, and find that this is one of the few State Park locations that allows private owners easy access to the water. Another reason we like this park.


We were impressed the first time we were here, and the second visit simply confirms our opinion: Anastasia State Park is a camping destination we will visit again. We had the unexpected pleasure of a beautiful Florida full moon the first time we were here. Walking through the park to the beach at midnight was a beautiful, almost dreamlike experience. 

I'd like to schedule another visit during a full moon of Fall.  Or maybe even during the winter with the cold, Atlantic air blowing over the sand dunes.  A neat place.





Next:  A change to one of our favorites, at Stephen Foster Cultural Center State PArk, at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2011/09/whacked.html


More information about Anastasia can be found at:
https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/anastasia






Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Wekiwa Springs State Park

Is there anything else I can you help with?” the pleasant Florida State Ranger asked as he handed our camping park pass and informational brochures through the car window at the entrance to Wekiwa Springs State Park, not far from Orlando, Florida.

“Why are there two spellings for the area around here?” I asked. “Sometimes we see it spelled with a “w,” like here in Wekiwa Springs State Park, but we have also seen it written Wekiva in other places, even just outside the gate. What's the difference?”
“Both are Creek Indian words,” he answered with a big smile. “Wekiwa means bubbling water, and Wekiva means flowing water, so Wekiwa is the spring, and the river the springs feed is the Wekiva River.” 

 
A flock of wild turkeys wander by the edge of the campground


So, now we know why the different spellings for an area we like as well as any in Florida. The state park is located on 7,800 acres just north of a huge urban area that includes greater Orlando. It is actually just north of Apopka, Florida. Once you enter the park, however, civilization is left behind. You even get a lecture at the gate about the do's and don'ts about Florida's Black Bears.

We drove in slowly, and had only traveled a few hundred yards when two wild turkeys took their time and strolled across the road right in front of the car. Our golden retriever, Taz, his head hanging out of the car window, thought he had died and gone to heaven. The turkeys cautiously eyed exuberant Taz and slowly wandered off into the underbrush. Later, while walking the dogs one morning, we had a flock of twelve turkeys walk through the campground.
A ranger stopped by told us to move our screen room completely onto the camp pad.
We found our shady, reserved camp site and backed in with no problem. The camp roads are all paved, with plenty of room to maneuver. There are two camping loops with a total of 60 individual camp sites. Each loop has a modern, clean shower and toilet facility in its center. The campgrounds are shaded, well spaced, and level, with water and 30 amp electrical service. Each site also has a fire ring and a picnic table. We were informed the campgrounds will be closed for almost a year beginning in October as a major upgrade is made to the facilities. Sewer hookups will be added to each campsite, removing the dump-station and its associated septic system. Check with the park before planning any camping as the schedule appears to be tenuous at best. The park and the springs themselves will be open to the public while the upgrade to the campground are being made. Wekiwa is already better than most of the other five campgrounds we've been to this year. I'm sure Wekiwa will probably be great when they finish.
Sand Lake



Wekiwa Springs State Park draws huge crowds on weekends, as do all of Florida's spring-based state parks, so we scheduled our arrival on a Monday morning, long after the weekend crowds have left. In fact, they close the park after all the parking spaces at the spring are full, so if you are trying to get in with an RV on a busy weekend or holiday, you may have a long wait on traffic just to get in. The campground had only a smattering of RVs on Monday when we arrived, with quite a few tent campers, mostly with small, school age children. One last camping fling before school starts for most of them.

Trail to Sand Lake




Our first morning was quiet and hot as always in Florida in August, but with low humidity and a nice breeze. Ilse and I took a leisurely bicycle ride on the shady two-lane park road to Sand Lake. We walked around the small, pretty lake as a nice quiet interlude. We were struck by the silence. No birds, no wildlife at all. A really odd experience for mid-August Florida. We saw a single Gopher Tortoise, and that was it. The lake is ringed with picnic tables and grills, and, unfortunately, cans and bottles left over from the careless few who leave it to someone else to haul out their trash.

The park offers walking trails as long as 15 miles. The trails are well maintained and well marked. On our first forest walk we startled a small herd of deer which scattered through the underbrush. While almost all of the trails are wide, the trails through the sand hill underbrush overgrow the walking area so chigger protection is a must.


The highlight of the park, however, is the beautiful spring. The basin wall was concreted in years ago, making the border of the spring into walkways and staircases to the clear, 72 degree water. The actual spring fissure is only feet from the main retaining wall and the rush of clear, flowing spring water can easily be seen from just a few feet away. The basin itself is shallow enough in spots to allow wading, but wet-shoes are recommended because of the rocky bottom. The swimming area is separated from the downstream river by a wooden pedestrian bridge that was being rebuilt while we were there. The concession that rents canoes and kayaks is just a few yards below the foot bridge. While you may bring your own boats, you must unload in the parking lot and transport everything down a footpath to the launch area, which is cumbersome and not really meant to be attractive to kayak owners. The busy concession stand is obviously meant to make renting a boat a far more attractive proposition than lugging your own. 

Wekiva River






While we were talking to the young man who was taking a break from hustling with kayak paddles and life jackets to the constant stream of paddlers, we noticed two aluminum Grumman canoes tied up at the bank with turtles in them. Not just a few common cooters, but quite a collection of different turtles, all taken from the river and spring area. Several young men and women were taking a break nearby, stripping off scuba gear and wet suits. One heavily tattooed young man in a soggy tee-shirt and swimsuit came over and began chatting with us when I pointed at a small soft-shell snapper that was crawling along the bottom of one canoe. When I called another one a mud turtle, he grinned and said, “Well, yes, but it is actually a variation of a musk turtle.”



They were with the Central Florida Fresh Water Turtle Association, a volunteer group started by Penn State several years ago to monitor the health and population of turtles found in the fresh waters of Florida. He thoroughly enjoyed picking up the different species and showing them to us, explaining how the turtles were numbered and tagged. When I asked if he had any real snapping turtles, he grinned and pulled two big cooters out of the way to show a full size common snapping turtle that obviously didn't want to be in the canoe. Given enough time, I have no doubt he could have chewed his way out. He wouldn't have to, of course. After tagging, all the turtles were released back into the Wekiva River.



The Wekiwa Springs State Park offers us all we look for in a campground and park. Plenty of walking and hiking trails, a nice paved park road for biking, a beautiful spring and river, and a really nice campground. In addition, the nearest grocery store, in case you have to make a milk run, is just several miles outside the main gate.

This park gets five stars from us, and I'm sure after the addition of the sewer hook-ups later this year, it will even be better.

Next: Back to Anastasia - Another view of one of our favorite campgrounds at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2011/08/anastasia-state-park-revisited.html




More info about Wekiwa Springs at: https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Wekiwa-Springs

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Trailer Hitch: Grandma Would Be Proud!

After several months of car shopping and driving all sorts of SUVs that could comfortably haul our new KZ Sportsmen 202, we finally traded our trusty, venerable 1999 GMC Jimmy for a newer, 2005 Toyota Sequoia.  We simply wanted more towing power to haul our new 21 foot travel trailer than our six cylinder Jimmy offered. We wanted a comfortable vehicle we could use whenever the travel trailer was sitting dormant, waiting to be once in again connected and hauled somewhere exotic.


We test drove GMC Yukons, Toyota V-8 4-runners, Chevy something or others, Fords I couldn't see over the hoods of, and just about every combination of pick-up truck or SUV that could haul the new trailer and still give us a vehicle we could use “off-duty.” We finally decided on Toyota's big V-8 SUV and drove several Sequoias before finding the dark blue unit we really liked. It only had ninety-five thousand miles on it, and other than a couple of cosmetic issues, was in great mechanical shape. I was surprised to find there were very few used Sequoias with less than 100,000 miles on them.

My dad never kept a car beyond the 60,000 miles. When it hit 60,000 miles, it got traded in before the fenders fell off or the floor board rusted out, but that was then, and this is now since Detroit has finally been slapped up against the side of their corporate heads by foreign competitors. Our SUV looked like new, except for the floor mats, which we replaced.

I added a new brake controller and was pleasantly surprised to find the necessary wiring was already in place, all I had to do was take off the existing plastic caps from the wiring coiled up under the dashboard and plug in the new controller. Nothing like planning ahead.

I had the Sequoia safety checked and all the inspections brought up to date, from spark plugs to brakes. When we test drove the SUV with the trailer attached, we knew we had a great combination. Only one thing needed to be resolved: The ride height difference between the two vehicles. The trailer hitch had to be lowered to keep the travel trailer level.

The two-inch box hitch receiver is fixed on each vehicle, but the shank on the trailer ball assembly for the load equalizer was adjustable.  All I had to do was move the shank down and we once again had a level travel trailer. But I had a problem: I didn't have any regular wrenches that even came close to big enough to fit the nut on the hitch.



However, using the Ford wrench from my grandmother, yes, my grandmother, I made the switch effortlessly.  You see, my grandmother used to build bombers.  B-24 Liberators, to be exact. 

Laura Corns Mindling, my grandmother, worked during the war for Ford Motor Company at the Willow Run Aircraft Plant, just outside Detroit, Michigan.  She was a press operator, and a good one.  After the war, Ford kept her on at the River Rouge plant, near Dearborn, where she worked until 1956.  She slipped on an oily floor that year and broke her wrist in the fall.  When she was finished with her medical leave, she took full retirement, and eventually moved to Miami, living with her husband Lou, first with us for several years, then moving not far away in their own efficiency apartment.

Laura lived alone for several years in Miami after Louis, my grandfather, died, then moved to live the rest of her life with my Aunt Ruth in Denver.  After Laura's death, my brother and I received several artifacts and family mementos. I received a few items, including a heavy, wrapped bag.

Included were two wrenches used by my Grandmother at Ford, oh so many years ago.  I like to think she used these tools to help win a war, or build a car that perhaps someone she knew may have driven.  At any rate, today, those wrenches helped me change out a ball hitch and a trailer shank that had me absolutely stumped.  Grandma would have been proud.

Next: On to Wekiwa Springs State Park, right in Mickey's backyard, at:
http://sleepstwo.blogspot.com/2011/08/wekiwa-springs-state-park.html



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