Saturday, September 12, 2015

Manatee Springs State Park

Entrance to the Magnolia 1 and 2 camping loops at Manatee Springs State Park

We broke camp and departed Vogel State Park near Blairsville Georgia, and drove south down the unforgettable Blood Mountain Saturday, the first day of the Labor Day weekend. After a short stop with family and friends near Athens, Georgia, we headed to another campground we hadn't visited before, the absolutely flat Manatee Springs State Park near Chiefland, Florida.

We extended our stay at Vogel, which is now one of our favorite state parks, and spent more time there than we planned, but temperatures were becoming milder, and the rainy season in Florida was drawing to a close, time to mosey toward home. Besides, Manatee Springs looked inviting, we hadn't been there before and it was on the way home. If we liked it, we would stay a couple of days as we still had time to kick back and enjoy our vacation.

We arrived at the campground on Florida's northwest gulf coast, appropriately located at the other end of the Suwannee River – we started at Stephen Foster State Park near Fargo, Georgia, the headwaters of the river some five weeks ago – around six in the afternoon. We anticipated another great vacation experience, but as my mom always said, “If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all.”

Unfortunately, my mom didn't write a blog, and blank computer screens just don't make good reading. But, in all fairness, I can honestly say Manatee Springs State Park is probably a really nice day-use park. The spring is very reminiscent, although somewhat smaller, of Blue Spring State Park near Sanford. Overnight camping is another story.

We were up at 5:45am the next morning and after coffee, started packing up. We were on the road by daybreak and we were home by noon. We were told by campground volunteers the night before we had site 40, the best site in the campground. Fine, let someone else have it.

There was a popular song some years ago by Huey Lewis and the News where part of the lyrics were about a diner where you could eat all you want for a dollar ninety-nine, but a dollar's worth was all you could stand. That's Manatee Springs State Park campground.

Author's note: 9-14-2015 - In all fairness to those who may read this blog looking for specifics, I've included a more in-depth review of Manatee Springs Park Campground in Florida. This is also in fairness to the volunteers who kept the restroom and shower facilities spotlessly clean while we were there. We had no complaints about the facilities on Magnolia Loop One, but the rest of the campground did not match level the shower facilities.

It had a been a long time since this campground has seen a mower or a weed-whacker. Our past experiences with Florida State Park campgrounds overgrown with weeds and tall grasses tells us this is chigger city. We carefully avoided stepping off the paved path to the shower. The camping loop roads are sand, and we were thankful it wasn’t raining when we were there. I can only imagine the mess. The pad we had, number 40, was cement, sticking out like an island of refuge in a sea of destitution. Many of the sites are difficult to distinguish, looking just like the unkempt, rutted sand road you drive in on. Many of the sites simply were awful.

Magnolia Loop One has sewer hookups, the only loop that has the full facility along with water and 30/50 amp electrical service, however, one of the unfortunate facts of physics is water flows downhill. Our black water/waste water drain, which I assume is pretty much the same level as most RVs, was below the level of the lip of the sewer hookup. In the many years we have been doing this, this was the first sewer I couldn’t dump into without shutting off my camper valves, disconnecting the sewer hose from the trailer, and lifting it high enough to drain into the campground sewer. The process had to be repeated several times to empty my holding tanks.

I saved the best for last, or the worst part, actually. Never have we ever stayed in a campground that smelled like garbage. Manatee State Park campground smelled like garbage. I walked to both of the dumpsters I could see and checked; they were both empty but stunk so badly I couldn't hold the lid open and look inside. Sorry, Florida, if this is the new standard for your state parks, you may have to give back your past awards. This park is not on our list for a return visit.

NEXT: Eating an Elephant, at:

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Vogel State Park - Going Away Gift

Tonight is our last night in Vogel State Park, our favorite state park in Georgia. Located eleven or so miles south of Blairsville at the edge of the Chattahoochee National Forest, there are bear warnings posted conspicuously everywhere around the campground. 

Campers are warned not to leave food or containers where bears can get to them, but many people seem to pay little attention to the signs. Our camping neighbors have told us about bears we just missed seeing twice in the two weeks we've been camping here. One bear drug a camper's cooler to the nearby creek sometime last Saturday night and helped itself to a $50 dollar dinner of ribs. Another bear walked across our campground at dusk as a blue grass band played gospel music on the lakeside pavilion not far away. While we heard excited stories about the bears from our camping neighbors, we unfortunately did not see any.

Exactly forty-two minutes ago, at 8:10pm in the fading evening light at dusk, we got our going away gift from Vogel as we walked across the parking lot in front of the visitor center. A full grown black bear slowly sauntered out from behind the split rail fence around the pear tree in front of us, not thirty feet away. It had been helping itself to the tree full of pears. Ilse could hardly speak as she hoarsely whispered, “Bear! Bear!” It only glanced back at us briefly as it strolled across the pavement onto the grass verge and casually walked toward the rental cabin on the side of the hill. The bear could not care less about us or our dog. 

Taz, our Golden Retriever was momentarily shocked as well, but couldn't contain himself and began barking wildly, just of course, as I tried to get a photograph. The bear began to hustle up the hill, then stopped once to turn around and stand on its hind legs as if to smell the air. Then it dropped to all fours and disappeared into the darkness behind the rental cottage. 

If Taz hadn't barked I might have gotten a better photographs. I got three, quick photos, all blurry, indistinct shots that require a page or so of detailed explanation to pinpoint the bear, but it was a unique moment we won't soon forget. Now I can apply my bear decal to the side of the camping trailer and feel like we earned it. A great going away gift at a great park. We will be back.

Really, there is a bear behind the tree... 

NEXT: Not all surprises are fun, at Manatee Springs State Park, at:

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Camping with our Furry Friend

Taz, our twelve or thirteen-year old, mostly Golden Retriever, will rudely interrupt a conversation we are having with friends if he thinks we've wasted enough time talking when we should be walking him. He barks whenever he has something to say, and that can often be embarrassing.

People who don't know him are taken back by his ferocious bark, especially when it's unexpected, such as in the middle of a pleasant conversation with people we meet in campgrounds. He sounds like a much bigger dog than only forty-five pounds. His bark is dominating among dogs, and quite intimidating around people who don't know him. He doesn't bark for fun, though. Some of our friends have never heard him bark except to say hello.

We found out Taz is a “talker” when we had him in obedience school. That's what the instructor called him and she was right; he actually tries to talk. Out of water? No problem, he'll tell us. Don't want to interrupt our walk and talk with someone? He tells us exactly when it's time to go. Dinner? Oh yeah, no problem there either. He is really well behaved and follows commands without hesitation. He doesn't touch anything he is told not to touch, even food. He is not a yapper. When he barks, he is trying to say something.

He's a rescue dog with a past we haven't been able to figure out. He has an undecipherable tattoo on his inner thigh, but does not have an imbedded chip. He has a torn ear and a scar across his belly that goes almost the entire length of his abdomen. He has a severe gash on a front paw and his right hip was crushed when he was younger. Our veterinarian x-rayed his hip and was astonished Taz walks as well as he does; his hip socket looks like a cauliflower. And he doesn't like the water. He loves boat rides, and will splash around the water's edge, but swimming is out of the question.

He's a smart dog, but he's been known to not play well with other dogs. He has no tolerance for aggression. Any dog that foolishly threatens him is in for a ferocious fight, and I don't mean for fun. Taz is kept in quarantine around other dogs to prevent flashes of aggression that seem to come out of nowhere. He is another reason we have the travel trailer; he sleeps with us in the camper and avoids staying in our daughter's house when we visit her and her family.

Taz is persona non gratis, or more properly, canine non gratis. He's not allowed inside as he was a bad house guest and was ungratefully rude to our daughter's Black Labrador. He loves people, though, all people. He has never met anyone he didn't like. As long as you stand upright on two legs, you're his buddy, his friend, his source of gratification through petting, and he'll wag himself silly to say hello.

He didn't eat this morning, and regurgitated what little was left from last night's meal. We have to be careful as we don't know if he is reacting to something he might have picked up from one of the many other dogs in the campground, or if it is symptomatic of a more serious, chronic ailment. 

One of the drawbacks of being on the road and not having a reliable veterinarian to call on. We'll find out in the morning, right now he's lying on his bed watching us and wondering if we'll ever shut off the lights and go to bed.

NEXT: Earning our decal, a going away gift at Vogel, at:

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Thwarted - Humor

It's quiet, as still as a forest should be in the dim, early morning light of late summer. Not a sound from outside. I carefully, slowly use both hands to peer through the horizontal metal ribbons that form the Venetian blinds. Not a soul to be seen in the heavily forested campground. The few trailers and recreational vehicles parked to the side of the main road like branches on a tree seem lifeless. There is no sign of activity anywhere. The wet, narrow ribbon of asphalt leading to the campground shower is barren, giving hope to the fact the restroom and showers are as empty as well.

I quickly grab my shaving kit and check to see if I remembered to replace the small, oddly shaped piece of soap that looks like a very small saddle. Yes, a new bar is safely in the plastic case, so I grab fresh underwear and my camp towel, slip on my shower clogs, and quietly open the trailer door. I look around before I step out, as if perhaps I was being watched by professional surveillance teams, and once I assure myself no one else has ventured into the realm, I step down carefully, one step at a time, breathing the heavy, smoke laden air from the campfires that had burned late into the night. As I slowly walk to the road a small bird silently flutters across the campsite, the only sign of life, but it is no threat to occupying the small shower stall that awaits me.

I glance uphill, toward the cul-de-sac, luck is on my side, the road is empty. I turn and head quickly down the road, I only have one hundred or so yards and a hot shower awaits. I speed up, as if I'm racing an unseen competitor, and, suddenly, I am competing with someone! A heavy-set man in his late forties steps into the road between me and the bath house and stops to look at his shaving kit. Where did he come from? I speed up, flopping noisily now, practically running to get ahead of him, but he looks up and sees me coming. He quickly bolts for the bath house. There is no way I can intercept him or pass him. I resignedly slow my pace. At least there are two showers, so not all is lost. I doubt he'll use all the hot water before I finish.

But catastrophe strikes just as I turn on the final path to the door; another camper comes around the corner of the bath house from the other side, his red towel draped around his neck like a horse collar. The first gentleman graciously holds the door open for the johnny-come lately and they both enter together. Damn! Back to the camper. Time for another cup of coffee.

Featured Post

The Waterfalls Trail

After several days of hiking and walking shorter trails to build up our stamina, we decided today was the day to descend the Waterfall T...