A Little Excitement on the Way

So, the weather forecast was a bit worrying for the day I needed to move from Gamble Rogers State Park to Ochlockonee State Park. The weather forecasters were predicting lines of severe thunderstorms. I figured that the earlier I left the better it would be. I was looking at a five hour drive.

I got hitched up and ready to go by 9:00. It hadn’t started to rain yet. However, by the time I got to St. Augustine, about 20 miles away, it was raining so hard that I couldn’t see. It was almost as bad as a whiteout. I turned on my flashers and slowed down – way, way down. I think I was going about 30 miles an hour for a miles or so. That was exciting.

It rained off and on for an hour or so. Then it stopped raining and finally they clouds cleared and the sky was a bright blue.

Around 1:00, I stopped to use the bathroom at a rest stop. Then I went back to the trailer to make a sandwich. I sat down to eat it and wondered why the road noise was so loud. Then I noticed that one of the windows was missing!

broken window

I wish I could blame it on someone else, but the fact of the matter is that it is all my fault. It had been so cold and inclement that I couldn’t remember the last time I had opened the windows. I did give a cursory glance and when I saw that the window on the right was latched, I assumed that they were all latched.

You know what happens when you assume. This time I made an ass out of me. Would that be assime?

Well, I spent some time googling Airstream repair shops. It looked like my best bet was about an hour and a half back down the road. I called and left messages on a couple of numbers. I headed back but I didn’t talk to anyone until I was about half an hour away. At that point, I said that I’d prefer to come and have them look at what I needed and then make a plan. After all, I can always change and cancel campground reservations, if it take a while to get parts.

I pulled in to JD Sanders RV Center and they helped me immediately. A wonderful man measured the window and identified the part that was needed. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the part, but he found some RV Centers that would be able to help me. I called, and they had the window. They put my name on the “glass and sash” and they will put it on next week.

Then, the wonderful man at JD Sanders had some workers cover the window with plastic.

plastic on windoe

I asked them what I owed them for the job, and they just waved it off. The gave me a calendar from the company and wished me safe travels.

There are such good people in the world! Anytime I’ve had a problem, there have always been there to help me.

The next thing I had to do was get gas.

gas gauge

Boy, did I need gas! The gas tank light was on, but the gauge was still a hair above empty. I thought I had a 30 gallon tank. I must have been running on fumes!

By that time, it was too late to make it to Ochlockonee River State Park, so I called to let them know I wouldn’t be arriving until the next day. I told them that if anyone needed a spot for the night, let them have it.

But where to sleep tonight?

Cracker Barrel

Yep! Cracker Barrel. A good place to sleep and a hot breakfast in the morning.

And then on to Ochlockonee River State Park.

Now, how would you pronounce Ochlockonee? I struggled with it, and I asked several people before I finally mastered it. It sounds like “oh CLOCK uh nee” to my ear.

view from campsite

The campsite was beautiful. This is the view from my trailer toward the river. The first night there, I saw a lovely sunset over the river.

Sunset on Ochlocknee River

The next day, I went on a little walk-about.

Oyster shells

The first interesting thing I saw was this collection of shells off to the side of a path. I wondered what this might be. I figured an animal – or group of animals – must have left them there. I couldn’t imagine any reason for humans to have left them there. I couldn’t imagine where they could have come from, either.

Oyster shell in water

I got down to the edge of the river and I saw some shells in the water. Riddle solved.

Oyster shell on wood

I pulled one of the shells out and took a photo. If you don’t have a photo, then it didn’t happen, right?

shore with rain and high tide mark

Once again, the brown water. This must be a Florida thing. Also, if you look carefully, you can see the tide line in the sand. It rained fiercely overnight. The rough looking sand is stippled by the rain. Tide must have been high when it was raining, so that the water protected the sand near the river from getting marked.

Pine trees in a line

I decided to enjoy the day and take a stroll about the park. They map they gave  me when I checked in showed several paths and roads.

shower in a boat

I thought this was a novel way to have a shower to get the cleaned up after boating or maybe falling in the river. There isn’t any swimming right now, but at these temperatures, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to go swimming.

Pine straw road

This road topped with pine straw was just calling my name, so I decided to see where it went.

ISaw palmetto, pines and grass

I walked through trees and plants that shifted subtly. More saw palmetto.

Grass and pines

Less saw palmetto.

It was so quiet. I stopped several times to listen. I heard birds. It took me a while to see them; they were so small and fast. I think they might have been some sort of nuthatch. They would light on the trunks of the trees and zip around quickly from tree to tree. I imagine they were looking under the bark for insects. As I stood there, flakes of bark floated down from where they were.

Pine bark

Here is a close up of a pine that I took back at my camp site. You can see how the bark is layered and able to flake off.

The next marvel I came across was a field of grass with the most amazing seed heads.

grass seeds 2

They looked different depending on how the light was hitting them.

grass seeds 1

And what is behind them.

Grass seeds 3

And how close you got to them.

Grass seeds tangled

The seeds were amazing!

grass seed close up

Doesn’t take much to entertain me, does it?

reflection pond

A little further down the road, I came across a body of water labeled as Reflection Pond. I thought it was an apt name. There was a lovely little bench on a dock and I sat and enjoyed the quite and calm.

Sandy two-track

The road continued and I kept my eyes peeled for deer. When I checked in at the campground, they told me that they had rare piebald deer in the park. The picture they gave me on the xerox copy brochure made me think they would look like this.

Piebald deer 2

I did find a deer, but I think it was the ordinary brown kind.

Deer - better shot

Nevertheless, it was fun to find one and to actually be able to take a shot, even if it is a little grainy.

snag after fire

Fire is a part of the life of a forest. You can see charred snags sticking up here and there around the forest.

oak between the pines

As one species dies, others take their places. The oak is small and will burn off the next time a fire passes through.

Turpentine tree

This tree was interesting. Right next to it was a display about the turpentine industry and how turpentine was harvested. Even though it was taking place years ago, I assume that this is one of the trees that was used. They would cut vee shaped grooves in the tree and gather the sap.


Here is a photo from 1937. The marks made on the trunk were called “cats faces.” They would collect the resin and distill it to create pitch. The pitch was used to caulk holes in wooden boats and to coat rigging to help it last longer. From what I have read, turpentine is a by-product of producing pitch.

I finally got back to my campsite two hours after I left. That was quite a stroll!

There were all sorts of rigs and campers in the park. Tents, A-line pop ups, vans, fifth-wheels with slides, but this was the first time I saw a hammock camper.

Hammock camper

Florida’s parks have sites that are equipped with poles for hanging hammocks. This park has only one site – and it was right across from my site.

That night, I decided to head over to the Gulf of Mexico to catch the sunset. I found a place to pull off  the road just in time!


The next day, it was time to move on. Panama City, here I come!

A Little More Flagler Beach

Beach Warning Flags
Beach Warning Flags

I got down to the beach for another stroll. This time, the beach warning flag was finally yellow, which is medium hazard. It was on red, or high hazard, on my other visits. It was still too cold to think about getting in the water. In fact, I have to say that I was definitely thinking about staying OUT of the water.

the fish aren't biting

According to the gentleman in the picture, the fish weren’t biting. I’ll bet they were too cold to be interested.

The birds were looking about for their dinners, and I think they were not finding much to eat, either.

Little bird running

This one was looking mostly on shore.

bird in the water

This one was in the surf, but he didn’t seem to be finding much, either.


This guy was just standing there.

Low tide
Low tide

The tide seemed to approaching its lowest ebb. The water was swirling around the sand ridges just off shore. I also saw all the spots on the beach where the fisherman had been moving down the beach closer to the water as the tide went out.

High Tide Line
High Tide Line

The high tide lines were clearly visible up near the dunes.

different colors of sand

One thing that I found curious was the fact that there are different colors of sand on the same beach. I wish I understood it. I guess I’ll just have to put it on the list of things to find out about at a later date.

Back at the camp site, I got to watch some nice sunsets.

Sky at dusk January 12

The sun is going down.

Sunset January 12

And it’s time to go inside and warm up.


Gamble Rogers State Park

My next stop was just 23 miles south, at Gamble Rogers State Park in Flagler Beach.

The park is named after Gamble Rogers, who was a cherished Floridian folk singer. While camping at Flagler Beach in 1991, a young girl came running up to him to get help for her father, who was struggling in the surf. He grabbed an air mattress and attempted to rescue him. Unfortunately, both men died. In honor of his heroism, Florida renamed the park after him.

It’s a lovely modern park, with paved roads, level gravel pads and easy-to-back-into sites. I made it in one pass! I am always so proud when I can do that. I wish it happened more often.

Monday beach

The sun was bright and they sky was blue. It was a beautiful day for a walk on the beach. It could have been a few degrees warmer, though.

foam on the beach monday

I was rather surprised by the foam on the beach. I wonder what is causing that? And I found the most beautiful shell.

Pink purple shell 2

The weather was chilly. I feel embarrassed saying that the 50s felt chilly. After all, I was born in Buffalo. I spent nearly 30 years in Kalamazoo. My last winter in Kalamazoo, I cleared the driveway of the 12 feet of snow that fell with nothing more than my orange fiberglass shovel. I should be able to handle 50 degrees. But, my father always said that there is no cold like cold in Florida.

And he was right.

I enjoyed time in my trailer with the heater running. After my time at Faver-Dykes, I revealed in watching a little TV.

One day, I fired up my HISTORY Here app to see what might be nearby. I identified two places I thought might be worth visiting.

The first one was in Ormond Beach, just down the shore. The Casements was the winter home of John D. Rockefeller. The name, The Casements, comes from the casement windows used in the house. Just in case you are curious, a casement is a window that is attached to its frame by one or more hinges. Casement windows are hinged at the side. Windows that are hinged at the top, like the windows on Flo, my Airstream, are referred to as awning windows. I’ll bet you’re wondering what the one hinged at the bottom are called. Those are called hoppers.


They offered a free tour. The price was right and I showed up one minute before the tour was to start.

The guide gave a good fifteen minute tour – and it only took her an hour to do it.

Ormand Beach old photo

The Casements is the building in the lower right corner. The large building in the center of the picture is the Ormond Hotel. When Rockefeller began wintering in Ormond Beach, he first stayed at the hotel. His party took up the whole top floor. The guide told us that Rockefeller was happy with his accommodations there until he found out that the general public was charged considerably less than he was. He made arrangements straight-away to move into his own house.

He wintered in The Casements from 1918 until his death in 1937 at age 97. After his death, the property was sold and served as a girls school for a while. After that,it was a rest home and then it was carved up into apartments. It fell into terrible disrepair. It was on the verge of collapsing into the ground, if the photos on the walls were any indication. The city of Ormond Beach acquired the property in 1979 and renovated it for the use of the city.

Casements colored glass

This is the window at the top of the living room. Of course, this window is a replacement. The railings around the mezzanine are also replacements.

Casements livingroom

The floor has been replaced, too. Oddly enough, the mantle is original. It had been removed and installed in the Ormond Hotel. When the hotel was demolished, someone remembered that it had been here. They returned it to the city for the renovation.

casements original cupboard

The guide pointed out this cupboard in the kitchen. It was the only original cupboard in the room. The dishes, naturally, are not original. They are used at the many festive activities here during the year.

The guide pointed out the last remaining original glass in the house.

Casements original window glass

She also took us into a room that had a couple of pieces of furniture that belonged to the Rockefellers. Photos were not permitted in the room, although she couldn’t say for sure why. She did tell us that John D. Rockefeller’s son, David, is still alive at 100. In honor of his 100th birthday, he gave $10,000 to The Casements. That was a nice gesture.

There was also a Boy Scout display on the third floor that was begun as an Eagle Scout project.

Casements boy scout

I was a bit perplexed by the hand on the dummy’s shoulder, until I realized that it was the one that fell off. Someone with a sense of humor had repositioned it.

Boy scout knots

What is a Boy Scout museum without knots?

Casement boy scout philmont flag

I was pleased to see this banner from Philmont. I had driven by the ranch when I was in New Mexico last spring.

There was another display on the third floor that I had hoped to see. It was a display of Hungarian art. In the brochure about The Casements, it said that the display was facilitated by Cardinal Mindzenty. A good friend of mine attended high school in Dunkirk, NY in a school named in his honor. Alas, the display was closed due to a leak in the roof.

Casements hungarian museum

And then it was time to move along to the next item on my agenda.

I headed further down the road to Daytona Beach to see the home of Mary McLeod Bethune. When I was a youngster, I was really into reading biographies, and I was taken with Mary McLeod Bethune’s life story. It could have been the neat name. It could have been that she was born to former slaves and accomplished great things, including starting a school. I think it might be the story I remember from the biography about how she would have the butcher wrap each piece of meat separately so that they could use the butcher paper for learning to write.

I am always drawn to people who are thrifty, can get things accomplished and figure out ways to use what other people see as trash.

Just check out some of my art work.

Lines in the Sand
Lines in the Sand
Sphere of Influence
Sphere of Influence
Distant Galaxies
Distant Galaxies

Enough about me. Let’s get back to Mary McLeod Bethune and her house.

Born in 1875, she was one of 17 children born to former slaves. Everyone worked in the cotton fields. She was the only person in her family that was able to attend school.

She had wanted to be a missionary in Africa, but decided to come to Daytona Beach in 1904 to start a school for the daughters of black workers. In the 1920s, her school, Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls, merged with the Cookman Institute for Men. She remained at the head of the combined of the school, which became Bethune-Cookman College, until 1942. She was 67 when she left that leadership position and moved to Washington DC to work on various causes, including NAACP. She took up residence at its new National Council of Negro Women headquarters in a Washington, D.C. townhouse and returned to Daytona Beach in her retirement. She died in 1955.

Anyway, I wanted to see her home, which is on the grounds of Bethune-Cookman College. According to some information I tracked down, they give tours of the house. I got to the university and found a place to park. It was a lovely campus, and the students passing from one side of the campus to the other to the other smiled and greeted me. I got to the house…

Mary McLeod Betune house
Mary McLeod Betune house

And found that it had closed at 3:00. Rats!

Mary McLeod Bethune foundations sign

Oh well. At least I had seen it.

On the way back, I saw some signs that said “Ramp to beach”.  I wondered if it really was possible to drive on the beach. I made a U-turn and entered the ramp. It turns out that there was a $10 fee to enter. I really wasn’t interested in spending any time on the beach. It was way too chilly and I didn’t know how far I could drive. So, I explained to the guy in the toll booth that I didn’t really want to enter – I had made a mistake. He said that I could turn around, and so I did.

Bart on Daytona Beach

But not before I got a glamour shot of Bart on the beach.

I stopped to get some gas on the way back, and had to go into the convenience store to get the receipt. The clerk asked me if I wanted a Powerball ticket. You remember? The $1.5 BILLION jackpot? Well, why not buy one and be a part of the excitement. I took one. And I WON!

Lottery ticket

I won $4. Hey, I doubled my money! It was my first ever attempt to play the lottery and I won.

I decided to quite while I was ahead.



Ever See a Tourist Trap?

I have one last post about my time in St. Augustine and my stay at Faver-Dykes State Park.

I have to say that this state park was the least developed state park I’ve seen in Florida.

Faver-dykes road

The roads were not paved. They were rutted and puddled and made of sand.

The campsites were also sand. When I went to back into my site, I had a dickens of a time getting traction, even with four-wheel-drive. I kept churning up the sand. I finally managed to get it shoved into the site although I was kind of on the wrong side of the site. However my power cord reached the pedestal, so I called it good enough.

When I left the park everyday, after bumping over a couple miles of ruts and potholes and splashing through puddles, I would pass a set of what can only be called Tourist Traps.

Tourist trap

There are three of these where Faver-Dykes Road hits U.S. 1.

The sold fruit and nuts and juice and pecan logs and gen-u-ine souvenirs.

And gas for forty cents more per gallon than a few miles down the road in St. Augustine.

Tourist trap sign

This was the real come-on. Indian River Fruit at $1.00 a bag.

$1 bag of fruit

This was the bag of fruit they were selling for $1.

They did give samples, though. I had a few slices of the different fruits they were offering and I asked for a sample of the peach cider they were selling. It was pretty good. I picked up the bottle and looked at it. I wanted to see what was in it. Oddly enough, it was made in Georgia. Hmmm…not exactly a good souvenir from Florida.

Alligator heads

Ah! Much better! An alligator head – the ideal Florida souvenir.

I didn’t buy the alligator.

Fort Matanzas

Saturday dawned and there was sun!

Saturday blue sky

Blue sky! It might be a great day for a little more sight seeing.

I set off for Fort Matanzas. I got there and found out that in order to get to the fort, you had to take a ferry ride across the Matanzas River. I stopped in at the office and got a ticket for the FREE ferry and stamped my National Park Service Passport. I had about half an hour until the ferry boarding, so I decided to take a stroll on the nature trail.

I picked up a self-guided brochure and set off on the trail.

Ft Matanzas Yaupon holly

One of the plants it pointed out was yaupon holly. The red berries were bright dots of color in the brush. There was also the ubiquitous saw palmetto. In fact, it is so ever present that I didn’t even bother to take a picture of it.

Ft Matanzas resurrection fern on live oak

They also gave information about the resurrection fern. It grows on the live oak. During times of drought, it turns brown and withers. When there is rain, they come back to life. I guess the rain is good for the resurrection ferns.

Ft Matanzas massacre memorial

There was also a memorial of the massacre of the French by the Spanish. The French, lead by Ribault, surrendered to Menendez. They thought that they would be safe. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a good career move on Ribault’s part. The exact location of the massacre is unknown, but it was somewhere in the vicinity.

Incidentally, the massacre is the basis for the name of this body of water.  Matanzas is Spanish for massacre.

After I finished my walk on the nature trail, I headed over to the dock to get ready for the ferry ride.

Ft Matanzas in fog

And the fog was starting to roll in. That’s the fort across the water.

Ft Matanzas backside

We landed and the ranger told us to stick to the trails and the mown grass. The fort was on an island that was named for some of its inhabitants – Rattlesnake Island.

Sentry Box
Sentry Box

This is a smaller fort that was built in 1742 to prevent access to St. Augustine via the Matanzas Inlet. There was the square base that served as the platform for the cannons. There was also a cistern in it, as there is no fresh water on the island.

There was a rectangular tower that had two rooms and an observation deck. The regular soldiers occupied the lower room, and the officer had the upper room.

Ladder to the observation deck
Ladder to the observation deck

The entrance to the observation deck was through the officer’s room. So much for private quarters.

Ft Matanzas slit window

If you have been reading my posts, I am sure you can identify the building material.

Coquina, right?


Ft Matanzas fog

The fog was really rolling in by the time we left. In fact, my glasses kept misting over.

On the way back , the ranger answered my question about the speed of the water. She said that people sometimes call this body of water a river, but it is really a tidal estuary.


The water rushing by is the tide going out.

The ranger also told me that I could see the remains of the Old Spanish Coquina Quarry on Anastasia Island, so I decided to take that route back to the campground.

Old Spanish Quarries sign

The quarry had been abandoned for many years, and it was kind of difficult to see where it had been. I did see some coquina that must have been left behind.

Coquina Quarry stones

There was an interpretive sign with photos of men quarrying coquina in the early 20th century.

Work in the quarry

It was a rather gloomy day, and it was about time for dinner. So, I decided to get a little something before I returned to the campground.

Sonny's Barbeque Satuday night

I stopped at Sonny’s BBQ. It is a southern barbecue chain, so I figured I should try it while I was in the “sunny” south.

Between the leftovers from Columbia and the leftovers from Sonny’s, I had food for a few more meals.


St Augustine, Part Two

So, as I was saying…

I walked down the pedestrian streets, admiring/marveling/being perplexed by the things they had for sale. I spotted at least three shops that specialized in things for men. I didn’t go in – after all, I wouldn’t be able to pass the physical.

I got to the cathedral.

Cathedral tower

I entered the cathedral and was surprised at the interior. I had rather expected to see something more “European” – like the interior of Notre Dame, if you can envision it. This was smaller and more contemporary than I was expecting.

Cathedral altar

As I approached the altar, I noticed the red and yellow umbraculum on the left side of the sanctuary.

Cathedral umbrella thing

Could this be a basilica, like the Basilica of St. Josaphat that I saw in Milwaukee last summer?

I got closer, and I saw the tintinnabulum on the right side.

Cathedral tintinabulum

Then, on the wall outside the sanctuary, I saw it – the papal declaration that this is a minor basilica! I felt so smart that I knew what I was looking at.

CAthedral basilica declaration

The only thing missing was the seal with the papal keys. I kept looking and I found that, too.

CAthedral shield

I never get phone calls, so I never worry about turning my phone off when I enter places where you shouldn’t receive calls. Unfortunately, my phone rang, while I was inside. It wasn’t a long call, but it caused me to leave before I took too many photos.

Once outside, I saw the Government House, and I went over to investigate.

Government house

The building, constructed of coquina in 1710, served as the governor’s residence for the Spanish until 1763, when the British moved in. They were there until the Spanish moved back in 1784. The building was not used after 1812. When Florid joined the Union in 1821, the building was in ruins. Only the outer walls remained. It was redesigned by Robert Mills, an architect who also designed the Washington Memorial.

The building was used for various government functions, including a military hospital during the Civil War, a court house and a customs house. In 1937 it was redesigned and rebuilt as a project of the Works Progress Administration and was used as a post office. in 1964, it was given to the state of Florida. Nowadays, it is dedicated to historic preservation.

There was a banner proclaiming a display of dugout canoes. It sounded interesting, so I went in.

Dugout canoe FREE sign

It turns out that this was a FREE exhibit. Have I mentioned before that I like free things?

The basis of the exhibit was the discovery of dugout canoes in a lake during a drought. I wasn’t able to take a good picture of the authentic canoes due to the plexiglass preservation cases. There were also displays of canoes from other cultures, and it was interesting to compare and contrast the vessels.

Dugout in progress

They did have a model of the steps involved in making a dugout canoe. What a lot of work it was!

I continued my walk across the square and ended up at the oldest public street in the country.

Aviles Street sign

Talk about an narrow street! Most driveways are wider.

Aviles street

The street may be narrow, but it’s wide enough for restaurants and stores selling more stuff. At this point, I felt that I had traveled far enough. I was ready to head back toward the garage. I planned to find some dinner along the way.

Back at the plaza, I saw this sign. I wondered why it said “Touch” on the pedestal.

St Augustine footsoldiers sign

I love to touch things.

St Augustin Footsoldiers plaque

St. Augustine Foot Soldiers. This was a piece of art that is accessible to blind people! I love it!

St Augustine Footsoldiers statue

The sculptures are even at a level were people can touch the faces. The work of art is dedicated to those who participated in the Civil Right Movement of the 1960s in St. Augustine. Oh, I’ll just let you read the plaque that is attached to the base of the sculpture.

St Augustine Footsoldiers plaque on statue

Not only is the sculpture inclusive – blind people can study it as well as the sighted – but it includes the variety of people who were involved in the Movement in the 1960s. We have to remember that we must work together to create the life we desire.

By this time, I was really ready for some dinner. I treated myself to a nice dinner at Columbia.

Columbia Menu

Apparently, it is a chain of restaurants that got its beginning in 1905 in the Ybor City area of Tampa. The restaurant has remained in the family for more than 110 years. This one opened in St. Augustine in 1985 and there are seven restaurants in the group.

I entered, was greeted and shown to my seat. I had a lovely view of a courtyard.

Columbia courtyard

I do enjoy a nice restaurant! My server, June, took my beverage order and brought me bread.

Columbia Bread and Sangria

Bread, butter and sangria! AHHHH!

I selected the palomillo, which is a thin cut of sirloin topped with mojo crudo, which is a sauce made of chopped onion, parsley and lime juice. it is served with platanos and a choice of french fries or rice. I wasn’t sure if I should pick french fries or rice, so I asked June whether to pick the potatoes or rice. She recommend the rice.


Columbia Palomillo

The rice was a great choice. The whole plate was marvelous!

And so were the leftovers the next day.

Columbia restroom

One more stop before I left.

At that point, I was ready to head to the garage. I managed to see one more item of touristic and professional interest.

Oldest wooden school house

This is the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse in the United States. The first time the structure appeared on the tax rolls was 1719, but it probably existed before then. It was built as a homestead and was constructed entirely by hand out of cypress. According to the information I read, even the “nails” are made of cypress, as the building is held together by pegs. The schoolmaster and his family lived upstairs. The room on the main floor was the classroom.

For all the years I taught, I never had to live above my classroom.

The sun was down and it was time to head back to the campground.

St. Augustine, Florida

Rain, rain, go away…

I arrived at Faver-Dykes State Park and got settled in. When it wasn’t raining, it was drizzling. When it wasn’t drizzling, it was overcast. In spite of the fact that the park wasn’t too far from “civilization” I couldn’t get a phone signal or pick up a TV signal. In fact, even my radio reception was spotty. So, I ended up spending the first couple of days encamped at City Coffee Company, just down U.S. 1 in St. Augustine.

City Coffee Company sign

I got caught up on some blog posts, thanks to their free wifi.

Cuban sandwich

I finally got to try a Cuban sandwich. The presentation was beautiful, and the mug they gave me for the coffee was as big as a bathtub! I got to refill it, as needed.

I took advantage of the gloomy weather to get some laundry done. The laundromat had free wifi, too, but could the password have been any more complicated?

Laundry Room wifi sign

And, notice the welcoming message at the bottom of the sign. At least they said thank you.

The weather finally became a little less dense by my third day, so I decided that I would do my touristic duty and visit St. Augustine.

I parked in the garage. $12 for the whole day, and the garage was very well located, so I figured that it was worth it. My first stop was the tourist information office right across from the garage.

The information specialist was great. She gave me a map and indicated the best places to go. She even pointed out the attractions that were free! She was so polished and professional that I just knew she had to be a Certified Tourism Ambassador and I asked her if she was. She looked surprised and replied that she was. I told her that she did such a good job that I knew she had to be. I had been a CTA when I worked for Discover Kalamazoo. It turns out that she was from Mattawan – just a few exits down I-94 from Kalamazoo. What a small world!

Conquistador and me
Conquistador and me

The information specialist took a photo of me with the conquistador and then I set off to explore the city.

Canas de Avila fountain
Canas de Avila fountain

This set of masks is a gift to the City of St. Augustine from its sister city, Aviles, Spain, which is the birthplace of Pedro Menendez. Menendez is credited as having founded St. Augustine in 1565.

Old Spanish Trail Mile Marker Zero
Old Spanish Trail Mile Marker Zero

Begun in 1915, the Old Spanish Trail was an early attempt at a transcontinental road right at the beginning of the automobile era.

Old Spanish Trail Map
Old Spanish Trail Map

And mile zero was right there in St. Augustine.

After admiring those two unexpected finds, I headed over to the Castillo de San Marcos. This is a National Park, so I got to use my American the Beautiful pass, and I got to add more stamps to my National Park Passport.

Fort 1

I wended my way in. It would be tricky to enter this fort if you were not a welcome guest.


The fort is made of coquina, which is a type of limestone formed from shells that is found on the east side of Florida, from Palm Beach to just south of Jacksonville. They had to use what they could find locally, and coquina filled the bill. They also made lime by heating oyster shells, which they used in mortar and for covering the walls of the fort. Coquina is a porous material, and plastering it made it more durable.,

Coquina blockclose up
Coquina block close up You can make out the layers of shells if you look hard.
Fort store room
Fort store room

In one of the rooms, they had graffiti that was left behind by bored soldiers. The scratches were hard to photograph, especially since they were  protected with reflective plexiglass. This one, however, grabbed my attention. It was burned into the plaster of the room, and “Dunham” is the last name of my mother’s sister, so it has a relationship to my family, by marriage.

Fort Dunham graffitti

You can kind of make out some of the incised graffiti in the photo.

I continued my tour and was seated in a “theater” watching a video when the call went out that there would be a cannon firing demonstration. I made my way up to the part of the fort where the cannons were.

Fort warning sign

I appreciated the warning. It was a long drop from the top of the wall to the ground.

Fort artillery crew

The artillery crew marched up the stairs and took their places.

Fort getting ready to fire

The leader explained what they were doing and he told us that we would need to cover our ears when they fired the cannon. He gave the instructions in Spanish and when it was time to fire, he switched to English and said, “Cover your ears! Fuego!”

Fort me and Ricardo

After the demonstration, they encouraged us to talk to the artillery crew and take pictures. Here I am with my new friend, Ricardo.

Fort shot locker

There was quite a display of the various munitions used in the cannons. They certainly had a variety of ways to hurt, maim and kill people.

Fort shot locker sign

I continued my way around the top of the fort.

Fort moat

The moat was kept dry most of the time and animals grazed there. During times of siege, if I understand correctly, it was flooded with seawater to further protect the fort.

Or, maybe it was the other way around.

When the town was under siege, all the towns people and soldiers took refuge inside the fort during Queen Anne’s War in 1702, English ships blockaded the harbor and 500 soldiers and Indian allies took the town. 200 Spanish solids and 1300 civilians crowded into the fort for 50 days.

English reinforcements arrived on Christmas day, but Spanish ships from Havana arrived the day after. The English burned the town and retreated to Charleston.

It must have been crowded.

Fort rebuilt line of defense

St. Augustine had a wall around it, and this is a recreation of the log wall. If you trace the wall away from the fort and cross the street, you can see the city gate.

Fort pidgeons

While people were told to stay off the walls, the pigeons apparently felt that they ruled the roost.

It has been a few months since I have shared privy pictures. Time for another one.

Fort the necessary room

Apparently, this was a self-flushing latrine at one time. According to the sign, there was a bench with holes in it along the wall. The holes emptied into a tunnel that was washed out by the tide.

And then it was time to go explore the oldest European city in the United States.

Brick in the road

I am amazed by the manufacturer’s names molded into the bricks. There were many of the same ones I saw at the Tampa Bay History Center, but this was one I hadn’t seen before.

Pedestrial street

The folks who originally laid out the streets didn’t plan on the automobile. That’s just as well. Now they are pedestrian streets and they are filled with shops that sell things to visitors.

Tea towels

I was rather taken with this collection of tea towels on display outside one store. I suppose I could have bought a tea towel.  I do have enough room in the trailer for a tea towel – but I don’t really need any more of them. So, my money stayed in my wallet and the towels stayed at the store.

Kilwins sign

A pedestrian mall + tourists = Kilwin’s Fudge.

It’s always nice to see a little piece of home when I travel.

This is a good point to stop for now. More on my visit to St. Augustine in my next post.






Lake Louisa State Park

My next stop was Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont, Florida.

I was amazed by the change in landscape. For the past several weeks, I had been near the shore. Everything there was flat-flat-flat. The plants in the parks were a combination of saw palmetto, mature pine and palm trees.

As I got further away from the coast, the land started changing. It was actually starting to get hilly. And there were orange groves – LOTS of orange groves.

Just a sampling of the orange groves
Just a sampling of the orange groves

I had been wondering where all the orange groves were. That orange grove was right across the entrance from the State Park. I entered, checked in and then started driving to my campsite.

Rolling hills
Rolling hills
More rolling hills
More rolling hills

Lake Louisa State park had a bunch of lakes, not just Lake Louisa. I passed several of them on the way to my camp site. After I got backed in – on one pass, mind you – and hooked up, I went to check out the main lake.

Green swamp
Green swamp

I was amazed to find swamp up here in the highlands. Not only was it on top of a hill, it was right next to the lake. And, there is water under the light green plant material.

The beach
The beach

This lake had a swimming beach. Hmm…I wonder what that sign says?


Dark Water
No Lifeguard on Duty
Swim at your own risk.


Dark Water
Dark Water

Yep, the water is dark, all right. I read that it is dark because of the tannins leeching out of the plant material in the swamp, which drains into the lake. Kind of like the water in Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, that I saw last summer. There was a sign that said that the water isn’t harmful to plants, animals or human, but I did wonder if it would give me an instant “tan”.

Fishing at the swimming beach
Fishing at the swimming beach

The thought of  having one of these guys cast a hook into me while I was swimming made the brown water even less appealing.

So, I settled for looking around. One thing I saw was a monument to an aviator who had crashing into the lake during a training exercise during World War II. I was intrigued that the flier’s last name was Gilmore – a big name in Kalamazoo, which is where I lived for the roughly 30 years before hitting the road. I Googled the name, but it turns out that he was from Pennsylvania.

Aviator memorial

I found out in reading more about the park that the land had previously belonged to a family by the name of Bronson, which is another big name in Kalamazoo. What are the odds?

The park was quite large and had cabins as well as campsites. These cabins, however, are like no other cabins that I have ever seen in a state park.

Cabin overall

This is what the Park says about the cabins:

“Lake Louisa State Park’s 20 cabins overlook beautiful Dixie Lake. The cabins accommodate up to six people and have two bedrooms, two baths, full kitchen (with appliances) and dining/living room. Dishes, pots and pans, silverware, linens, towels, picnic tables and rockers on the porch are also provided. All you need to bring is your food and personal items.”

Cabin porch

Rockers on the porch!


And a view of Dixie Lake.

All this for $120 a night.

Oh, and do you know what makes this even more special? It’s only a short drive from Orlando! And you know what’s in Orlando, don’t you?

Gate to Disneyworld

Now, I wan’t planning to go take in the wonders of all things Disney. For one thing, this was still during the Christmas/New Year break. And if there is one thing I like less than spending money, it is spending money to be in crowds. But, I couldn’t resist driving over to check it out and see what I could see.

Epcot gate

Epcot dome
Epcot dome

I had always had a thing for domes. I would have like to have seen the dome at Epcot.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

The art deco motif kind of reminded me of Crystal Beach Amusement Park in Crystal Beach, Ontario, back in the good old days.

Crystal Beach Amusement Park
Crystal Beach Amusement Park

Magic Kingdom

I finally got to the last gate – the gate to the Magic Kingdom!

Now, I wasn’t planning to pay the $20 to park, as I wasn’t going to the park. When I pulled up to the booth, though, I almost wanted to! The attendant greeted me in his best Mickey Mouse impersonation! I was so tickled! I explained that I was just out for a drive, and he directed me to where I could turn around.

The attendant gave me an idea, though. I thought that maybe I might want to consider getting a job there some winter.

Casting Office
Casting Office

While I was driving around, I saw the Casting Office and I thought I’d stop in and inquire. Well, it is quite the place!


You grab ahold of the nose of one of the whimsical doorknobs and walk right in to a small rotunda with statues on pedestals.

Statues 3

statues 2

Statues 1

And then go up a long ramp to a reception desk.

Hallway to HR

I was greeted warmly and I explained what I was after. She told me that their roles are listed on the internet and that when I am ready to join them, I can look up the information online. She told me to check at waltdisneyworld.jobs and to follow them on Facebook.

Facebook! I love Facebook!

I thanked her and then headed back to Bart. (the Big Ass Red Truck) On my way out of the building, I noticed more special Disney touches.

Hallway with faux brick

Faux plaster peeling off the faux stonework.

And murals!

Pluto Mural

Mural with donald duck

Walt disney mural

Camper mural

I have to say that the one with Mickey and the trailer was my favorite one.

And, after a few days at Lake Louisa State Park, I was ready to roll again. Next stop: St. Augustine, Florida!




The father I travel, the more I appreciate seeing people I know. The reason for my stop at Hillsborough River State Park was to visit my friends, Ruth and Stu.

Ruth and Stu
Ruth and Stu

They bought a winter home in Zephyrhills. One thing you can always count on when visiting Ruth is that she will feed you.

Porkchops at Ruth's

Oh, my goodness! Dinner with friends and good food! What a treat.

Actually, Ruth fed me a few more times, but I thought posting photos of every meal would be a bit redundant.

She took me around the community in their golf car. It is a lovely place, and I kind of hate to say it, but I could almost see me getting a place there.

The campground was quite nice, too. And, again I had to do one of those switch campsites tricks to manage to stay more than two days. This time, though, I got to switch site in the daylight, so it wasn’t a problem at all.

Right down the path from my second site was the river.

River near my campsite

And, there was a place for people to put their canoes and kayaks in the river.

Canoe entrance

I got to watch these people launch their kayaks. They had open kayaks, so they were easy to get in. I might have to consider trying one. People always look like they are having such fun in them.

Canoeing on the river

There were also the “old-fashioned” aluminum ones, like we had at Camp Shady Hollow on the Erie Canal in North Tonawanda.

One touristic thing I wanted to do while I was in the area was to visit the Manatee Viewing Center that is run by Tampa Electric. The warm water that is a byproduct of cooling the machinery is emptied into its discharge canal that returns the water to Tampa Bay. When the water in Tampa Bay gets down to 68 degrees, the manatees seek out the warmer water of the discharge canal.

I parked my car and this is the first sign that caught my eye.

Mosquito spray and sunscreen highly recommended

Perhaps they should post this at the border? I got more bug bites in the Keys than I did in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Check my posts for more insect ranting.

Me at the Manatee viewing center

The weather was lovely, but unfortunately the gulf water temperature was still too high to expect to see any manatees.

But, there were still other things to see.

Power Plant
Power Plant

How often do you get to get a good look at a power plant? It was so intricate that I could almost see building a viewing platform just to look at it. But, that’s the nerd in me speaking.

Look at all the fish!
Look at all the fish!

There were all sorts of fish right up by the viewing platform.

Wading bird

And birds wading by the shore.

There was a walkway built through a mangrove swamp where you could get a good look at the roots.

Mangrove swamp close up roots

The roots trap sediment and create new land. Eventually.

Tidal creek

The swamp has tidal creeks that run through it. These provide water and other nutrients to the swamp and its inhabitants. On the edge of the swamp, I got a good look at the sand crabs.


Water temp

Along the walkway, they had a thermometer so you could see the water temperature. And get another view of the power plant. (nerd alert)

Getting back to the main area from the walk, I noticed some machines that attempted to pry a few tourist bucks out of people’s wallets. This was a free facility, but what fun is it if you don’t spend money?

Manatee molder

You can make a plastic molded manatee for $2.

Hurricane Simulator and penny squasher

Or you could spend that $2 to experience a hurricane. Or, for 51 cents, you could make a squashed penny to commemorate your visit.

I headed back up for one last visit (to the restroom) and the call came out that they had spotted a manatee! I rushed over to the viewing platform and I THINK I saw a manatee’s nose and the tip of a flipper.

The manatee is over there!
The manatee is over there!

Or course, if you don’t have photographic evidence, did it really happen? I choose to believe it did.

Meanwhile, Ruth gave me a call and said that Stu wanted to wash my truck for me. That is one of the things that bugged me about the “service” I got at the dealership in Bradenton. I spent $1300 and they didn’t even wash my truck! Well, how could I turn down an offer like that?

What a guy!
What a guy!

He even scrubbed the tonneau! (Just in case you don’t know, a tonneau is the waterproof cloth cover on the bed of my truck.)

Stu scrubbing tonneau

Not only did Stu wash my truck, Ruth fed me dinner. What great folks!

Me and Ruth
Me and Ruth

One the way back to the campground, I passed a cool custard shop. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a picture.

Twistee Treat

I thought that perhaps this was a one of a kind establishment, but I did see another one later in my travels.

Speaking of travels, the next day I hitched up and headed for Lake Louisa State Park.

Happy Holidays sign


How Many Degrees Does It Take…

To assemble IKEA furniture? The answer, in this case, is six.

How many degrees does it take

My main purpose in heading back to the Tampa Bay area was to meet up with my friend, Leigh, who had purchased a Florida house. It came furnished, but she was busy putting her special touches on it. Her friend, Linda, was staying with her.

We did get together and have some laughs. And dinner. I even ate fish! (Tilapia at Bonefish Grille – and it was delicious!) We only managed to squeeze in a little time together, though. Maybe next time.

I was staying at Lake Manatee State Park, about twenty miles away.

I was so excited! Maybe I would finally see a manatee!

I walked over to the lake, and saw a sign that explained that this was a man-made lake and no manatees got above the dam.


I thought I would check out the beach that they mentioned in the camp brochure.

The path to the beach
The path to the beach

Hmm…an alligator warning. This doesn’t look promising.

This is the beach?
This is the beach?

Wait…you warn  me about alligators and then I have to wade through aquatic plants to get to the water?

Brown water

And the water is brown?

Uh…I guess I don’t really need to go swimming.

a nice site

I did have a nice campsite, though.

This is actually my second campsite. Campgrounds near the tourist meccas get booked up, and I managed to string together three days here by switching campsites. Now, this would normally have been easy enough, but my “check engine” light came on. When you are towing a four ton trailer, your truck is a very important thing to keep in shape. I managed to get an appointment the next day.

So, I vacated my first site and left the trailer in the parking lot over near the beach/picnic area.

I got over to the dealership at 8:45. I thought getting up and over there so early would be the painful part. Nope.

The $1300 bill was the painful part. I did get a “free” rental car out of the deal.

Free - HAH!
Free – HAH!

I retrieved my bathing suit from the truck and decided to go over to Anna Maria Island and enjoy the gulf. I did enjoy the beach, but the surf was too high for me to go into the water. So, I stood on the shore and let the water come to me.

After about an hour, I thought that perhaps I should go and see if Cora was okay. I had tried to park in an area that would be shady, but at least I could open the door and windows and get her a little air while I was waiting for the call that they had finished working on Bart.

The call never came, and I looked up when the service department closed. Damn! I had to get back there! So, I put my pedal to the metal and made it back before they closed.

The sun had set before they got the truck back to me. I rushed back to the campground and in the last gasps of twilight, I got the trailer on the hitch. It was pitch dark when I got to my campsite.

Talk about adventure! I stopped in the road by the site to check it out. I figured that I’d turn on the trailer’s patio light and if that didn’t do the trick, I’d line the edge of the site with my Christmas lights. I had just bought another string of them at the half-off after Christmas sale.

Luckily, the camp hosts noticed what was going on and they came over to guide me in! Bless them! Dan and Debbie were their names.

I wasn’t able to get together again with Leigh and Linda, but ever onward!

Next stop: Hillsborough River State Park and more visiting with friends.