Rain in the night, and a big clap of thunder just before morning, then heavy rain all day! Is this Florida?
No reason to hurry off, so had coffee before we left, about 11.15.
We decided to drive around large Lake Okeechobee, but not very exciting - couldn’t see much (partly the weather and partly a levee right around it).
Stopped for lunch at parking area by north of the lake - ground totally sodden. Soon afterwards, were able to log in and send 4th email and website.
Continued on around the lake - many ‘Snowbirds’ type RV Parks, and not very pretty. Headed for campsite at Pahokee, on levee by lake, but now seemed to be private site, and not city site, and very expensive, so didn’t stop.
Drove back through town to flat area beside road, by warehouse which had suffered much storm damage, and gentleman with fruit stall said that we could stay on piece of rough land there. Continued to rain heavily!
Thursday 10th March 122 miles
After all the rain of yesterday, we awoke to a clear blue sky, and the day was bright and breezy. We left at 8.45 and drove across flat, fertile countryside with very dark soil to West Palm Beach.
We drove right on to and up Palm Beach, supposedly one of the wealthiest areas to live in. We saw many ‘posh’ houses, but were able to park and spend a little while on the sandy beach. The water felt warm, but the wind was cool. We had a nice little lie in the sun, then continued north to Jupiter beach, where we had lunch in the Bam, looking out to the lovely blue sea, but when we walked along the beach afterwards, the wind was even stronger. The kite surfers were enjoying it, but no-one much else was about.
We had hoped to camp in John Dickenson State Park, but when we got there, it was full. We continued north, along a rather dreary route, past Stuart, and on toHutchinson Island. There were a lot of hotels lining the coast, but also some wild area. Here, and elsewhere today, we saw much evidence of hurricane damage (Frances and Jeanne both Sep 2004).
We had one short walk on to the beach, but it was still too windy to enjoy.
At Fort Pierce, we made our way to Walmart, arriving at 4.40, and were pleased that it was OK for us to stay.
We found that we were able to log in, and Adrian looked up about the Kennedy Space Centre
Friday 11th March 97 miles
We still had our email connection, so I sent some messages. We left at 9.45 and drove back to Fort Pierce, then taking the A1A to North Hutchinson Island. We soon stopped by a pleasant bit of beach, and after a short walk, had our tea and coffee sitting on the sand.
We drove past a constant line of golf and beach resorts, and again were aware of much hurricane damage as we drove on. We walked on to the beach at Sebastian State Park, known as a good fishing spot, and stopped for lunch at Spessard Holland beach, just south of Melbourne Beach. We took our sandwiches on to the beach, and afterwards lay for a while in the hot sun! It was still windy, but the wind was blowing from the west today, so the beach was sheltered.
When we neared Cocoa Beach, we stopped for some fuel - the cheapest we had seen for several days, at $2.03. We phoned Emma, who had just arrived at Elm Gable, ready for Val and Mike’s weekend.
We located the causeway to Merritt Island, thinking that this was a place to free camp. In fact it was the causeway further north, but when we reached that, it had ‘No overnight camping’ signs.
We had pulled into a little waterside park called Kelly Park, and busied ourselves with hair trimming/ washing and showering, and then having a cup of tea. Adrian had found out from the web this morning, that there should be a rocket launch today from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, so we drove off to find a place to view it from.
We pulled in when we saw several cars parked beside the road, and sure enough, at 4.42, right on schedule, we watched the wonderful sight of the flaming rocket zooming up into space! It was really exciting - even if it was only an Atlas 5 launching a new communications satellite.
and the trail afterwards
Back to reality - finding a place to stop for the night! We had seen a couple of RVs on Cocoa Beach causeway, the first one we had driven over, so returned there, after taking a wrong turning at an unsigned fork in the middle of roadworks. When we finally got back to the RVs we had seen, we realised that they were in a little waterside park, but we joined them, hoping that all would be well.
The sun set as a big orange ball. We had a nice meal of pork before watching the DVD of the fifties which had come with the CDs Adrian had given me. Being American, it gave a different slant on things, with a bit of nostalgia, but we were disconcerted by the number of wars and the political uncertainty of the early 50s.
Saturday 12th March 34 miles
We left at 8.15 on a day with clear blue sky all day - just right for our trip to the Kennedy Space Centre. We arrived in good time for the 9 o’clock opening, opting for the ‘Standard’ tour - still over $30 each, and as we didn’t leave until 5 o’clock, we’re glad that we didn’t opt for any more! Tour buses didn’t start until 10 o’clock, so we had time to look around the ‘Rocket garden’, with its many rockets looking wonderful against the blue sky (one had actually been blown down in the hurricanes, so was missing).
Kennedy Space Centre
There were several actual or replica capsules we could climb into, and in the building of early space travel there was a replica moon buggy - all good photo opportunities!
By the time we got to the buses, there was a long queue, so we had quite a wait. The bus took us to 2 sites - an observation gantry and the Apollo/Saturn V centre. Both were about 20 minutes drive away. At both we were able to watch film presentations about different aspects of space travel, and later, we watched an excellent Imax presentation.
The one annoying thing was the high price of the food and drink - coffee was $2.40, and a packet of crisps $1.50. We came out for a late lunch in the Bam, having bought a portion of chips to keep us going!
We viewed the enormous Saturn V, touched a bit of moon rock, read an enormous amount about various astronauts and space projects, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We viewed the sobering memorial to the astronauts who had lost their lives, and ended with a look at the wildlife of the area - Kennedy Space Centre is in the middle of a vast wildlife reserve, and we saw several alligators and many birds while on the bus.
We knew so well the day that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, as it was 20th July 1969 - just after Emma was born. The last person to walk on the moon was December 1972 - just before Simon was born.
Launch pad 39A - where they set off for the moon
We had really enjoyed our day, and now set off to find somewhere to stop for the night. We drove west and then north to Titusville, and stopped just before the Indian River on what was called the A Max Brewer Memorial Parkway, on a rough bit of ground, right by the water. As we sat outside with a cup of tea, we could look across to the VAB (vehicle assembly building), where they put the rockets together and to Launch Pad 39A, where the next shuttle is due to take off from on May 15th after a delay of over 2 years due to the Columbia disaster. This really was a beautiful spot, with water to either side, and a wonderful sky as the sun went down on a perfect day.
As the Capes were gathering this weekend for Val and Mike’s Ruby Wedding, we were glad that we have had a memorable day.
Sunday 13th March Val and Mike’s Ruby Wedding 99 miles
The sun rose as an orange ball, and a perfect day followed. We looked out to water on both sides of us as we breakfasted, and left at 8.30.
We soon came to the 7 mile drive through Merritt Wildlife Refuge. We saw a few alligators and lots of birds, stopping several times along the drive. It was already hot.
By doing the drive, we had missed the Visitor’s Centre, and the two walking trails. We had also missed the access to the beach (the National seashore) but didn’t realise until we reached the road 1 north.
We continued to New Smyrna Beach, where we turned off to the coast and drove through a very populated area and back south to another entrance to the National Seashore (which didn’t link with the southern part.)
This was more our mark! We drove along a trail, and were thrilled to see an armadillo, which we tried to photograph. We saw a second one, and later saw several more. Such strange creatures, looking quite prehistoric.
A friendly armadillo
We were able to park by the beach, and had our lunch sitting on the sand. It was really warm (84°F), so we lazed around a bit, and actually had a quick swim, but the water was pretty chilly!
We drove the trail again, so that we could walk the several trails. First we walked to the former lagoon side town of Eldora, where now only one fine house remains. We looked into the house , where photos showed the small citrus growing area, before the severe winters of the late 1890s killed all the fruit trees and forced the people to move away.
Next we walked a lovely trail through a coastal hammock, which made us realise what Florida was really like. Lastly we walked to a large Timucuan Indian shell mound (1000 years old) and ending with a quick paddle in Mosquito Lagoon, and our last sighting of an armadillo.
Now it was time to leave, and we headed inland to DeLand, then south to Orange City.
We arrived at Blue Springs State Park, and were pleased that they had room for us. Booking in took ages, hindered by the fact that someone in the park had become ill, and needed an ambulance.
As we got to our pitch, the sun was going down, but we thought that we should walk out to see the water. This is another place where manatees are found, and we were delighted to see two, as well as lots of huge fish.
We came back for supper (Adrian had already lit the barbie). It was really warm sitting out, and the stars were magnificent. We didn’t come in until nearly 9 o’clock, and then rang Simon.
Monday 14th March 26 miles
We were disappointed to wake to a grey sky, but the sun pushed its way through, with the day alternating between cloud and sun, but remaining warm.
We had breakfast outside, and later walked down to the springs. We walked right up to Blue Spring, where we could swim in the constant 72°F water. Swimming in the area we had seen yesterday wasn’t allowed until 1 o’clock - presumably because the manatees come up the run to feed.
Blue Spring - where we swam
There was a strong current, and a lot of underwater logs, so swimming wasn’t very relaxing, but we felt quite refreshed afterwards, and walked right down to St John’sRiver. There were a lot of manatees around, but not so easily visible as last night. We spoke to a very nice English lady, formerly from Gloucester, with a husband from Abingdon. They came out on a 2 year contract 16 years ago, and are still here! It was lovely to share a few moments with her.
We came back to the Bam for late coffee, and showers, but by now the sky was very grey. We left just after midday, stopping to shop at Winn-Dixie - a store we haven’t shopped in before, but which seemed pretty good.
We had lunch afterwards, and were able to log in, receiving messages with photos of Val and Mike’s weekend.
Having looked at all these, we continued to Ocala National Forest, stopping at Clearwater Lake campsite at about 3.30. After sorting ourselves out, we found that we were able to walk right around the lake, which really pleased us, especially as the sun was now shining again. We heard frogs croaking from a swamp area, and saw and heard an osprey overhead. When we got back, Adrian prepared the fire. We sat out in this lovely setting until gone 9 o’clock - it felt warm. We enjoyed hearing the noisy frogs more than the generators and the road on the other side of the lake.
Tuesday 15th March 128 miles
It was a grey morning, but we still had breakfast outside, watching some tiny birds in the trees.
We drove on through the forest to Moss Dam, where we pulled in for coffee. There was a swimming area, which would have been nice on a sunny day. We chatted to 2 chaps, Christian and Gary, who were bumming around, backpacking and later taking a bus to California. Christian was the more outgoing of the two. He made necklaces and dream catchers (carrying all the stuff with him), and we bought a dream catcher from him. They were nice chaps, and we enjoyed the chat.
We continued with our circuit around Ocala National Forest, but rather like Finland, one bit is much like another, and all the recreation sites required a fee. We stopped by a pleasant, shallow, sandy river, and ate our lunch sitting on the reinforced bank, and I had a paddle. Some canoeists arrived on the opposite bank - it looked a nice river to paddle down.
We now drove east to Ormond Beach, and on to Tomoka State Park - so many of the parks are fully booked, but this one had space. It was pleasant enough, with pitches set amongst the jungle scenery, but there was nowhere near to walk out to, although the river was only just behind us.
We were pleased to see a pileated woodpecker and a cardinal. We had an early barbecue. Adrian had just put another log on the fire, when we felt a spot of rain. He quickly took off the extra log, which was just as well, as the rain began to fall in earnest, and a really wet evening set in.
Wednesday 16th March 57 miles
It was a humid day, with some sun. We ate bacon and mushrooms outside for breakfast, in our tropical jungle setting.
We drove to the far end of the park, which was lovely, with water all around, and a huge statue of Indians made by Fred Dana Marsh in the fifties. In the small run-down museum, we learnt more of him, and of the Timucua Indians who used to live in this area.
We drove back down to Ormond Beach, parked by the beach, and took our tea/coffee on to it. This is Daytona Beach - site of many land speed records in the past. The tide was right in, so we couldn’t visualise the wide beach used for these records. You could drive on to the beach for $5, as many people had, but we parked in an adjoining road. The beach looked nothing special on this overcast day, and the sea looked very grey.
High tide at Daytona Beach
We drove northwards, stopping just after Ormond-by-the-sea, on a totally unspoilt bit of beach - much more our mark! In fact the beach north from here had only low rise buildings, where there were any at all, and made us think of the English east coast.
We stopped at Washington Oaks Gardens, which I had wanted to visit. This was a really lovely place. We had lunch first, sitting at a picnic table under huge trees, near the Matanzas River.
Washington Oaks Gardens
We then walked through the delightful gardens before walking a forest trail for just over a mile and a half. It was beautifully quiet, with no-one else around. We ended our visit by going across to the deserted beach, which is scattered with rocks of coquina (a seashell conglomerate). The sky to the north was ominously dark, and there were rumbles of thunder.
Foreboding sky at Washington Oaks Beach
We drove north a few miles to Fort Matanzas National Memorial. We could see by the flooded road that it had rained torrentially here. As we got out of the van, we found that one of my sandals had been left on the back step since our last stop - and was still there!
The fort here is across the Matanzas River, with a free ferry to take you. One should have just been leaving, but because of the weather, it was cancelled. We had to suffice with watching a short video. The fort was built to protect St. Augustine, just north of here, which we hope to visit tomorrow. It is known as America’s oldest town, founded by the Spanish in 1565, and battled over by both the French and the British since then.
We had a look at the beach here, before heading north to Crescent Beach, and inland a few miles to a Flying J truck stop to spend the night. There were certainly a lot of trucks here, and also RVs, but as the rain had settled in, we weren’t sorry that weren’t able to book into one of the State Parks.
Thursday 17th March Renee’s 70th Birthday & St. Patrick’s Day 24 miles
Not a good night, as there were some very noisy trucks! The day dawned grey, and just got worse, turning into a really wet and cold day. We left at 8.30, heading for St. Augustine. We passed Walmart, and saw a lot of RVs parked there, so saw it as a possible for tonight.
We crossed the bridge over the Matanzas River to Anastasia Island, stopping by the State Park, but there were no places for camping tonight. We walked to the coquina quarries, where the crushed seashell stone, like we had seen on the beach yesterday, was quarried in the past.
We drove back over the Lions bridge to St. Augustine, locating the Visitors Centre. There was no parking for RVs here, but we could park a bit further away for free. We walked back to the Visitors Centre to pick up leaflets on this little tourist town - the oldest in America, founded 1565.
Armed with umbrellas, we set off to explore St. Augustine - in the rain! We could see that it is a very attractive little town, but we had to work hard at enjoying it today! It is the place for school parties to visit, and there were groups of them everywhere. We roamed the little streets, with the ‘oldest drugstore’, ‘oldest school’ etc.
Adrian by the oldest wooden school
We visited the Greek Orthodox Shrine (the Greeks had come here in 1777, and established New Smyrna, a bit further south), the Catholic cathedral and the Episcopal Church.
We had lunch in Bunnery Bakery, enjoying toasted sandwiches and chips (we had foolishly expected these to be proper chips, but of course they were crisps!)
We ended with a visit to Castillo de San Marco, a fort built in the late 1600s by the Spanish to keep out the British. It looked much like a European fort, and would have been more enjoyable on a sunny day, and without hordes of schoolchildren!
We returned to the Bam and had a cup of tea, and the delicious ‘praline’ bought from the local chocolate factory.
We arrived at Walmart at 5.45. Adrian got the photos ready to take in, but after talking to people in a neighbouring RV (to check we could stay here, as it says no overnight parking!), we were invited in there for St. Patrick’s Day cookies. We spent the next hour and a half chatting to the 2 couples - Sylvia and Norman, Tom and his wife, all really nice people.
It was 7.45 when we returned to the Bam, and while Adrian collected the photos, I got a quick chicken pasta supper.
Friday 18th March 77 miles
This time there was a police car blaring its siren for hours during the night! The morning was cold and grey - later we saw a sign saying 47°F - and this is Florida?
We headed back towards St. Augustine. This time we bypassed the town, continuing north on the A1A on another sand island. We drove through Guana River State Park, hoping to stop for coffee, but the only parking areas were on the landward side, with no view, and a walk to the beach (and a fee!).
We stopped just after the park, at what was called Micklers Landing Beach and had a very quick look at the beach.
We now drove through Jacksonville Beach - just non-stop American suburbia. We did stop to shop in Walgreens - a pharmacy chain which amazes us, as there are so many of them. This was the first time we had gone into one, but it came up trumps, as I was able to get the cylinders for my hair tongs which I have been trying to get for weeks. We also bought a small barbecue for $1.99!
We drove on to Fort Caroline, where the Huguenot French had arrived in 1562 to start a settlement (making them the first Europeans to inhabit North America!). After a look at some of the history in the Visitors Centre, we walked to the replica of the fort, but it was just too cold to enjoy. We drove on to view the Ribault Monument - a replica pillar of the one he had installed here in 1562. Ribault was killed by the Spanish in the Matanzas massacre. The views down over the St John’s River would have looked lovely on a nice day!
We now crossed the St. John’s River ourselves and continued on to Fort George Island, where the British had built a fort in 1736, nothing of which now remains. We started on a rough track here to the remains of the oldest plantation in Florida, but gave up after some way, when a sign said another 1.5 miles!
We drove on to Little Talbot Island State Park, where Adrian had booked us a place for tonight. Our spot, near Myrtle Creek, would be nice in warm weather, and we would also be able to explore the coast on the other side of the park. As it was, we warmed ourselves with a cup of tea, and braved the showers.
As I couldn’t face the thought of sitting outside, even with a fire, Adrian decided to try out the new barbecue.
Saturday 19th March 28 miles
We were delighted to wake to a clear blue sky. It was still very cold in the deep of the trees, but it was just about warm enough to sit outside for breakfast.
One of the chaps camping next to us, with a group of small boys - cub scouts it turned out - gave Adrian their firewood which they hadn’t used.
We drove across to the beach part of the park and had coffee before walking on the beautiful, unspoilt beach. It was good when the wind was behind us!
Little Talbot Island beach
We drove to the southern end of the beach area and walked again on the wide, sandy beach. People were setting up a wedding celebration at one of the covered picnic areas - the wedding was to be on the beach. A bit cool, but better than the last couple of days!
We now drove through Big Talbot Island, stopping once to look over to Amelia Island, then we drove over Nassau Sound on a causeway to Amelia Island. We stopped by the beach here briefly. It was sheltered, but the attraction was a fishing pier (the old road), which was crowded with people fishing.
Our next stop was American Beach, designated in 1935 as a beach for African Americans. The whole area had been owned then by a wealthy man, Abraham Lincoln Morris - the first black millionaire. He made it as a holiday place where African Americans could go on to the beach, as they weren’t allowed on to ‘white’ beaches. Black people had come from all over America to holiday here, but after devastating hurricane Dora in 1964, and integration, its needs were over. It now looked very run-down, and it would appear that properties were being bought up for development. Fortunately there was a group of people anxious to preserve some of the old heritage.
Continuing through non-descript housing, we came to the beach area of Fernandina Beach, the main town on the island. It was just about warm enough to laze on the beach for a short while. Surfers were busy in the waves, and 2 young girls on the beach were performing gymnastic acrobats.
We drove on past Fort Clinch State Park, but as we expected, there was no room for us to camp.
We now came to the historic part of the town - the island had been landed on by the French in 1562 (Ribault), owned by both the British and Spanish before the United States, and generally had a colourful history. The main street was a delight - nicely touristy, but low-key, with attractive buildings and not too many visitors. It was pleasant walking in the spring sunshine, and we came to the water’s edge, where there were several old sailing boats, which pleased Adrian. On our way back we bought delicious ice creams, which we ate sitting on a seat in the sunshine. A lovely visit.
Continuing on our way, we passed Walmart, in a pleasant situation, with wood storks in a neighbouring stream (these are supposed to be an endangered species - and by a Walmart!). It was OK for us to stay here, so after going in to buy a few Easter goodies, we settled in to watch the sun go down. This looked so nice that I had to photograph it!
Sunday 20th March 43 miles
It was a quiet night, except for something extremely noisy at 6.00 a.m. which sounded like someone strimming the grass nearby!
It was a lovely sunny morning. We set off, and were soon into Georgia. We stopped by the ‘Welcome Centre’ to pick up some leaflets to give us some idea of what to do. We drove a few miles to the delightful little town of St. Mary’s.
Presbyterian Church St Marys Georgia
A boat goes from here to the National Seashore Cumberland Island, but was fully booked for tomorrow - it seems that ‘Spring Break’ has started, so more people are holidaying. We had a short walk around in the sunshine before making our way to Crooked River State Park, a few miles away. We were pleased that there was room for us, and settled into a pitch, with views to the river. There always has to be something to spoil things, and this time it was the annoying, biting noseeums.
After lunch we set off to walk the park trails - Adrian had picked up the leaflets, which was lucky, as there were none in the boxes at the start of the walks. The walks were pleasant enough, and there was no-one else around. We joined the 3 trails together, which worked quite well, but made us think of something Adrian read this morning about another trail system - ‘The exciting part is finding where the trail starts’!
Looking to Crooked River
We walked through various wooded habitats in the pleasant warm sun, arriving back at 5 o’clock for ‘tea and muffins’ (English style), before Adrian got the fire going.
As well as the biting noseeums, we had a group of shouting, disagreeable Americans to spoil our idyll, but once they had quietened down, we enjoyed our meal and didn’t come in until 9.45. There had been a large ring around the moon, but a thin layer of cloud masked any stars, and drops of rain fell after we had come in.