Monthly Archives: January 2016

Back To Florida

Map picture

We flew back to Orlando on Spirit Airlines. Our plan to catch the first hotel bus to outside the airport worked fine, but we had to assure them we had hotel  reservations.

We walked in the Holiday Inn and then out another door and walked over to Denny’s where I planned to contact Uber for a ride back to the RV.

First thing, I forgot my Uber password. I had to get it reset, then I kept hitting the wrong buttons with my fat fingers until Peggy was ready to kill me. Finally I suceeded after wasting 40 minutes trying to enter my request correctly, in order to catch my 15 minute ride which cost only $12 to get to the Whippoorwill KOA where we had the RV stored for the past 18 days.

We decided that we had enough daylight left to drive west toward our next Florida State Park. But we needed to stop overnight and stock up on groceries first. You can click on the above map and zoom to see more or less detail of where we stored the RV.

We made it down I-4 to Gibsonia where we had dinner at a Steak n’ Shake shopped at Aldi’s, Sam’s Club and finally at Wal-Mart where we spent the night. It looks like tomorrow is supposed to be a cool rainy day, so we are in no rush to get to Hillsbourgh River State Park for our  3 days of canoeing and biking.

Hillsborough River State Park

Hillsborough River Warning

This is a really nice state park, and it was a good thing we made reservations a few months in advance. Even though we got here on a Sunday afternoon all the campsites were full for the night.

The weather finally got back to normal for the Tampa area. It had been running 10-15o F hotter. When we got here it was cloudy, 65o F and it looked like rain.

Snake BirdWe had enough time to bike all around the 3 campground circles and bike along the river to see the big Class II rapid. We stopped at the little museum near the fort to learn about the Second Seminole war. On the way back from our 4 mile bike ride a little drizzle began and then it rained off and on until we went to bed.

We decided to paddle on Monday afternoon after it got sunny and warm. Even though the river was right behind our campsite I needed to carry the canoe down about 4 more campsites to find the path to the boat launch since the river banks were very high.

Stationary Bridge

The river was very pretty, we paddled about 3 mile down past Dead River Park. We took a break and paddled back upstream about a 3 hour trip. We only saw a couple of small alligators and a half dozen turtles since it was cool. They rent canoes upstream of our campsite but I guess the cooler weather kept everyone off the river, we only saw 2 other canoes.

River Bridge

We left our canoe at the boat launch so that we could paddle again on Tuesday. This time we paddled upstream past the livery, past the two bridges and one little rapid. But it was too rocky to paddle upstream above the Class II rapid. We only paddled a couple of miles in one hour and then I carried the canoe back to the RV.

Tomorrow we will leave early and see if we can get a campsite at Lithia Springs County Park, which is only about 25 miles away.

Lithia Springs Park

Lithia Springs1This Hillsborough County Park is one of our favorite campgrounds in FL. In fact my main blog picture above is from this park. There are about 45 campsites , all with power and water. They have two nice modern clean shower houses. There are only 5 campsites that are along the Alafia River. These are usually the sites we stay in.

We got here early Wednesday and found the camp nearly empty with our choice of camp sites. We paid until today,  Sunday, and today decided to stay here for another 4 days.

They do not take reservations and up until now had a 14 day limit. The camphost said that now all RV’s could stay as long as 180 days. They limit tent campers because some homeless people find it an inexpensive place to stay.

Alderman FordThere is a beautiful natural spring swimming area and beach that is probably popular in hot weather but it is not our cup of tea. There are two things that we enjoy here, paddling and bike riding. The Alafia River is a beautiful wild & scenic river with birds, alligators, otters and turtles. There is a county park upstream, Alderman’s Ford, that is a great put-in. Alafia ShoalsSeveral times in year’s past we drove there and left our RV and then took a bike ride back to pick up the RV after we paddled the 11 miles down to our campsite.

On Thursday we decided to try paddling upstream for about 1-1/2 hrs. The water level was just over 100 cfs and we had some trouble paddling up some of the shallow shoals. They were easy to float back downstream and it took only half the time.

FishHawkTrails5Ten year’s ago we discovered that they were building a huge housing development called Fish Hawk Ranch just south of our RV park and they were putting in miles of concrete trails. Well, over the years this 5000 acre area has expanded to thousands of upscale homes, shopping centers and schools. Last year they put in a new trail that connects our park directly to their development, so we no longer have to take the 1-1/2 mile road out of the park and the 1/2 mile road to the first trail.

Fish Hawk Sandhill Cranes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Saturday we biked about 11 miles of their trails. We were surprised by the almost tame Sandhill Cranes that we saw in three different areas along the trail.

We then did some shopping at the Winn-Dixie before heading back to camp. Late in the afternoon it started to rain and we had heavy overnight rains while we watched the NFL playoff games in our nice dry motorhome. They call this camping?.

We biked about 12 mi again today. The Alafia River went up from 100 to 400 cfs, it would be good to paddle on Monday but the canoe livery is not doing shuttles in the winter. I have to decide if we want to load the canoe back on the RV and drive or find someone else that could take us to the put-in.

Alafia River

We are still here at Lithia Springs. The campground never seems to get over 30% full but the weather has been a little cool. It’s been going down to the mid-40’s at night and barely reaching the low 60’s during the day. It varies between sunny days to cloudy days but the only rain we got was the 1” rainfall that came last week end. It raised the Alafia (AL-AH-FIA) River from 100 cfs to 450 cfs. It was time to paddle it but the local canoe livery was not running any shuttles and I didn’t feel like loading the canoe back on to our motorhome and driving to the put-in at Alderman’s Ford and biking the 7 miles back at the end to pick up the motorhome..

Alafia Shuttle

Finally on late Monday I asked the campground host for help. He said we could put my long 17’ canoe into his short 6’ bed pickup truck that also contained his 5th wheel mount.

After figuring out how to tie it down, by 11 AM Tuesday morning we were on our way. It worked fine, luckily the local roads were smooth and not much traffic. Joe helped us unload and we got on our way. The sign says that it is a 6 hour paddle to do the 11 miles back to our river front campsite.

The flow had dropped to 320 cfs which provided a really nice fast current. Most of the shallow Class I rapids were washed out but for novices there could be lots of problems maneuvering through the fallen and low hanging trees in the first 4 miles of the trip.

Big Turtle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was sunny and about 62o F, plenty warm for a paddling trip. The cool weather eliminated all the alligator sightings but we did see lots of turtles and birds. We were the only ones on the river which gave us a real wilderness experience. About halfway down there are some houses on the left and as you near the campground there are houses on the right. Other than that you are alone on the river.

We didn’t paddle hard and with the fast current we got back to camp in 2-1/2 hours. We are happy that we got to paddle this beautiful river again. Most of these FL rivers are very clean and scenic.

The remaining days at camp have been spent doing short bike rides on the trails at Fish Hawk Ranch. Our plans are to visit the huge RV show in Tampa on Saturday and then see if we can get a campsite at the popular E.G. Simmons County Park on Tampa Bay. It is 100% full but each day a few people leave. No reservations are accepted at this park.

E.G. Simmons Park

On Saturday morning we left Lithia Springs to do some shopping and then go to the biggest RV show in the USA.

RVSupershowRVSupershowTampa

Since we were not really in the market to buy a new RV we just looked at a few of the new designs and layouts and bought a new carpet cover for our step. We love our Phoenix Cruiser which is only 4 years old and is like new. It was the warmest day of our trip, the day was sunny and nearly 80oF.

We were headed for another Hillsborough County Park but since it was late Saturday afternoon there was no point in trying to get a campsite at E.G. Simmons. We figured Sunday Morning was the time most local campers leave but this was a MLK Monday holiday and it may push things back to Monday morning.

In any case, we headed to a Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club that was only about 10 miles from the park and overnighted in their parking lot. In this way we could get to the park before 8 AM and hopefully get a low number on their waiting list. About 3 AM on Sunday morning a big thunderstorm blew in, dumping 2” of rain and a small tornado killed 2 people about 20 miles away.

EGSimmonsParkWe got to the park and found that like Lithia Springs, they changed the regulations that allowed most campers to stay as long as they wanted. But some of the campsites still had a 14 day limit. They suggested that we stay in one of their 8 no electric/water overflow sites and chances were good that we could get a 14 day campsite on Monday. They still charge $18 for seniors for the overflow sites.

So on Sunday only 2 campers got a site and on Monday there were 3 sites available.

The park has 95 sites with almost every site on the water. The sites in the East camp were much larger than the West. We got a small site in the West camp right next to a camper from Parma, OH, who actually lived in Westlake at one time, small world.

The storm brought in a cold spell for 3 days with lows in the low 40’s and the highs barely reaching 60. I know that sounds good if you live in Cleveland where they are getting heavy snow with lows near 0oF. But it was cold for us.

This park has lots of picnic pavilions and nice paved roads for riding our bikes around. It’s only about 2-1/2 miles to Ruskin, FL if we want to do some shopping.

It is supposed to warm up on Thursday and Friday when we will get the canoe down for a paddle around Tampa Bay to see if we see any Manatees.

 

 

My Back to Lithia Springs

Actually we are back to Lithia Springs but I have been having back problems (Sciatic Nerve Pain) since we left Hillsborough River three weeks ago. I think lifting and carrying the canoe has taken a toll on my spine. For my close friends and family, click here  My Back Problems for more details about my experience.

EG Simmons AerialBoth E.G. Simmons and Lithia Springs are Hillsborough County Parks.

Simmons is on Tampa Bay.

Lithia Springs AerialLithia is inland near Brandon, FL on the Alafia river.

The campsites are smaller and more open but are all on the mangrove channels at Simmons.

LithiaSpringsCampsiteThe campsites here at Lithia are wooded and private but only 5 sites are on the river. We were in this same site both different weeks we were here,

There are nice park roads to bike at Simmons but you can connect to miles of concrete bike trails in Fish Hawk Ranch from Lithia.

It is windier at Simmons since they are on the bay but generally they are full even during the week, overflow waiting sites are available. Lithia fills up on weekends but usually has room the rest of the time. The new rules are still first come first served but you can stay all winter for $18/day for those of us over 65.

We will try to do some more biking if it stops raining. It is warm, around 680F, but has been raining for the past 36 hours. We got almost 3” of rain and the river is high.

W.P. Franklin AerialOur plans are to head south on Saturday morning to W.P. Franklin Campground on an island at a river lock on the Caloosahatchee River near Fort Myers for the next two weeks.