Friday, February 28, 2014

Ocala National Forest - 02/28/14


Friday – February 28, 2014
Ocala National Forest
Salt Springs, Florida

We are really enjoying our stay at the Salt Springs Campground, located within the Ocala National Forest in Salt Springs, Florida. The Ocala National Forest provides access to some of the most scenic campgrounds within the state of Florida.

Four freshwater springs characterize the landscape of the Ocala National Forest:

  • Alexander Springs
  • Juniper Springs
  • Salt Springs
  • Silver Glen Springs

These unique springs provide diverse habitats for many plant and animal species. It is common for animals such as the endangered Florida manatee, turtles, alligators, snakes, racoons, eagles, ospreys, herons and egrets to frequent these waterways.

The springs formed millions of years ago. A shallow sea that once covered much of Florida formed layers of limestone from compressed coral reefs and shells in the ancient sea. As acidic rain seeped into the limestone bedrock, it formed caves and underground channels. The limestone bedrock that collapsed formed springs, sinkholes or caves. This natural geological system includes interesting features like warm springs and aquifers.

With water temperatures a constant 72 degrees year-round, the picturesque springs pour millions of gallons of water from the aquifer daily. The discharge from the springs ultimately flow into Lake George, the second largest lake in Florida. They provide a wide range of experiences for visitors to enjoy such as swimming, boating, fishing, camping, snorkeling or hiking.

There is no camping at Silver Glen Springs, however, these three campgrounds are the jewels of the Ocala National Forest:

Alexander Springs
67 campsites
Maximum RV length: 35 feet
No electrical, water or sewer hookups.
Restroom facilities with flush toilets and hot showers.
Dump station located within campground.

Juniper Springs
78 campsites
Maximum RV length: 35 feet
No electrical, water or sewer hookups.
Restroom facilities with flush toilets and hot showers.
Dump station located within campground.

Salt Springs
106 campsites with full hookups (electric, water and sewer)
54 campsites with no hookups
Maximum RV length: 40 feet
Restroom facilities with flush toilets and hot showers.
Dump station located within campground.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Salt Springs, FL - 02/27/14


Thursday – February 27, 2014
Salt Springs Campground
Ocala National Forest
Salt Springs, Florida

We departed E.G. Simmons Park Campground in Ruskin, Florida at 8:30 a.m. this morning. A cold front moved in late yesterday afternoon producing strong wind gusts and a steady rain that lasted from around 4:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Fortunately, a cold front here in Florida only dropped the temperature from the mid seventies during the day to the low sixties in the evening. We had hooked up the trailer earlier that day so we were prepared to get off to an early start this morning.

We had planned to stay a few days at the Ocean Pond Campground in the Osceola National Forest near Lake City, Florida. Nearing Ocala, we called the Osceola NF Park Ranger and were abruptly informed that there were no electric sites available. Unsure if we were given good information we decided not to chance it. We took Exit 352 on northbound I-75 and took Florida Route 40 eastbound to see if any campsites were available at the Silver River State Park in Silver Springs. Upon our arrival there, we were informed that no campsites were available for the number of days we required.

We continued our journey eastbound, on FL-40, in route to the Ocala National Forest. There are several campgrounds located within this forest that we were confident would have campsites available. We called the Salt Springs Recreation Area and were informed they had several campsites available. We arrived there at 12:30 p.m. We secured site #73 for five nights. This site has full hookups (electric, water and sewer).

Salt Springs has 106 campsites with full hookups (electric, water and sewer) and 54 primitive campsites (no hookups). Long term, full hookup campsites (six months) are available during the winter from October 15 to April 15.
Sites 1 – 8, 32 – 63 and 95 – 104 are designated long term.
Sites 12 – 31 are designated reservations only.
Sites 65 – 94 are designated first-come-first-serve for up to a two-week stay.
Campers can switch to a long-term site (pending availability) if they have either reserved a site in advance or purchased a first-come-first-serve site.

This is a very scenic campground. In the campground area with full hookups, each campsite has paved pads and shade trees. There are two restroom facilities with flush toilets and hot showers. There is a dump station located in this area for use by the campers that camp in the primitive campsites.

We receive slow Internet service at our campsite, through our T-Mobile service provider, using a smartphone tethered to our laptop. Our smartphones get an E signal (Edge Network) with 2 to 3 bars signal strength using a signal booster. However, there is free WiFi available inside the campground office.

Camping Fees:
Full Hookup Campsites: $29.00 ($18.00 with Golden Age Pass)
Primitive Campsites: $20.00 ($10.00 with Golden Age Pass)

Sunny skies, with temperatures in the low eighties is forecast for this weekend. Nice!

Total miles traveled today: 171

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Manatee Viewing Center - 02/26/14


Wednesday – February 26, 2014
TECO Power Plant
Manatee Viewing Area
6990 Dickman Road
Apollo Beach, Florida

We visited the Manatee Viewing area located on the property of the TECO Power Plant. It is located at the intersection of Big Bend Road (County Route 672) and Dickman Road, about five miles north of Ruskin, Florida on U.S. route 41.

Open: November 1 – April 15
Hours of Operation: Open Daily 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Admission Fee: FREE

This is a wonderful area to view manatees and a marvelous public service, provided free to visitors, by the TECO Power Plant. The warm water discharged from the power plant attracts manatees to these waters in the Tampa Bay. An elevated walkway takes visitors out onto the waters to get a close-up look at the manatees. A concession stand provides refreshments and a gift shop provides manatee memorabilia for purchase by visitors.

It was windy and slightly overcast during our visit. These weather elements made viewing conditions less than ideal, but we were still able to spot a couple of manatees frolicking through the water. We will definitely visit this area again on our future trips to Florida.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ybor City, Tampa - 02/25/14


Tuesday – February 25, 2014
Ybor City
Tampa, Florida

Another day of adventure begins on a warm, sunny day here at E.G. Simmons Park in Ruskin, Florida. We visited Ybor City in Tampa, Florida today and had lunch at the Columbia restaurant. This is one of our favorite restaurants there. On our last visit in the late 1990’s, we had dinner at the Columbia and were entertained with a floorshow featuring Flamenco dancers.

Just prior to our arrival at the restaurant, a tour bus had arrived; blocking part of the street in front of the restaurant to drop off a large group of senior citizens that would have lunch there. It took only a few minutes for the hostess to seat the tour bus group, before we were seated at our table.

Sharon and I had one of their specialties, the Cuban Sandwich. This sandwich was featured on the Food Networks "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" program in September 2013. The sandwich is comprised of a special sauce that is spread on two pieces of french bread, then filled with layers of ham, other meats and swiss cheese. The sandwich is then heated in a hot press and served warm. Delicious!

In the late 1800’s Tampa’s Ybor City was becoming home to Cuban immigrants looking for a new homeland. Casimiro Hernandez, Sr. was among that group. In 1905, he opened a corner café which was frequented by local cigar workers. In honor of his new homeland, he named his café the "Columbia, Gem of the Ocean."

Through the years, local residents and tourists have visited the Columbia for its delicious cuisine as well as its lavish décor, part of which includes hundreds of hand-painted tiles depicting the fanciful world of Don Quixote.

Now in its fourth and fifth generation of family ownership and operation, it is the oldest restaurant in Florida and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world. More than 100 years later, the tradition of the Columbia Restaurant continues. The original restaurant in Ybor City seats more than 1,700 in fifteen dining rooms.

We completed a delightful visit toYbor City, with a vow to return much sooner than on our previous visit.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ringling Circus Museum - 02/24/14


Monday – February 24, 2014
Ringling Circus Museum
Sarasota, Florida

Another warm, sunny day here at the E.G. Simmons Park in Ruskin, Florida. Time for us to explore Sarasota, Florida.

We visited The Ringling, the winter residence of John and Mable Ringling.

This vast exhibition includes the:

  • Museum of Art
  • Circus Museum
  • CA’D’ZAN (House of John)
  • Historic Asolo Theater
  • Education Center
  • Bayfront Gardens

The Ringling is the remarkable legacy of circus owner, art collector, and financier, John Ringling (1866-1936) and his wife, Mable (1875-1929). In 1911, the purchased property in Sarasota, Florida, and in 1927, moved the Winter Quarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows there.

The Ringlings built a winter residence, Ca’d’Zan, and a museum of art, which were left to the State of Florida upon John’s death in 1936. Since then, The Ringling has grown to include a circus museum, theater, and library. Stewardship passed to Florida State University in 2000, and The Ringling is now one of the largest college arts complexes in the United States.

The Ringling is open daily from 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM, Thursdays until 8:00 PM.

Admission Fees:
•Members: Free
•Adult : $25
•Senior 65+ : $20
•Student 18+ with ID: $5
•Child 6-17: $5
•Child 5 and under: Free
•Florida Teacher with ID: $10
•US Active Military: $10

Museum of Art
This museum was built to house an extraordinary collection of European art acquired by John Ringling in the late 1920’s and opened to the public in 1931. It features masterpieces by Rubens, Veronese, Velazquez and Gainsborough. At the west end of the central courtyard is a bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David, which has become a symbol of Sarasota.

The museum houses a growing collection of modern and contemporary art, as well as art from Asia. Special exhibitions are held throughout the year.

Circus Museum
This museum was established in 1948. It was the first museum in the country to document the rich history of the American circus. It features the banners, costumes, wagons and the Wisconsin, the private railcar on which Jon and Mable Ringling traveled in style around the country on business with the circus.

The Tibbals Learning Center houses the Howard Bros. Circus Model, the world’s largest miniature circus, and a great mural titled The Greatest Show on Earth. A timeline on the second floor traces circus history from antiquity to today.

This was the winter residence of John and Mable Ringling. It was built between 1924-26, at a cost of $1.5 million. Its Venetian Gothic style reflects the Ringling’s love of Italy, which was one of their favorite vacation destinations. Tours are available throughout the day.

Historic Asolo Theater
This theater is the birthplace of many of Sarasota’s performing arts institutions. It is an active venue, used for performances, concerts, lectures, and other programs held throughout the year. The theater was constructed in Asolo, Italy, in 1798. It was acquired for The Ringling in 1949. After extensive restoration, it was re-opened in 2006.

Education Center
The center houses administrative offices, classrooms, and a conservation laboratory, where works from the collections are carefully preserved for the benefit of future generations. Also located here is the Ringling Art Library, which holds more than 88,000 volumes on art, architecture, circus, and other subjects, dating from the 16th-21st centuries. At the heart of this remarkable resource are more than 800 books that once belonged to John Ringling.

Bayfront Gardens
The Ringling occupies 66 acres on the shores of Sarasota Bay. It features hundreds of native and exotic trees, including a selection of historic banyans. It is home to beautiful gardens, including the oldest rose garden in Florida, founded by Mable Ringling in 1933. Laid out in a wagon-wheel design, this 27,000 sq. ft. garden contains more than 1,200 roses, one variety of which was named after Mable herself.

The Ringlings are buried in a private enclosure behind the Secret Garden, where Mable once grew specimen plants, known as "onesies" and "twosies," given to her as gifts by family and friends.

We completed our visit to The Ringling at 5:00 p.m. Time to find a restaurant for dinner!

We ventured to the Old Historic District of Sarasota. Upon cruising through this quaint, unique area, we spotted the YUME Sushi Restaurant. Did I mention we LOVE sushi! We found a parking space off of the main street, walked by the restaurant to get a better look inside and decided this would definitely work for us. We were not disappointed. The food preparation and service was excellent. The décor within the restaurant provided a warm and friendly ambience. When we arrived at 5:45 p.m. there were only two other tables occupied. By the time we left at 7:00 p.m., every table was occupied and a waiting line had stated to form.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ruskin, FL - 02/19/14


Wednesday – February 19, 2014
E.G. Simmons County Park
Ruskin, Florida

We spent a very peaceful night at the Miccosukee Casino near Miami, Florida and departed there at 7:00 a.m. We took routes FL-997 north to U.S.-27 to I-75 in route to our next campground in Ruskin, Florida.

As we approached Ft. Meters, Florida we had breakfast at the Cracker Barrel off Exit 131 on I-75. After consuming a hearty breakfast we continued north on I-75 to Exit 139 and stopped at the Camping World Store there to pick up a few items.

We arrived at the E.G. Simmons Regional Park in Ruskin, Florida at 1:25 p.m. This is a beautiful park located in Hillsborough County overlooking Tampa Bay. The park is located eighteen miles south of Tampa and three miles north of Ruskin. It was developed from 258 acres of native mangrove with open land areas, intertwined with waterways. An additional 200 acres of mangrove swamp has been set aside for a bird and wildlife sanctuary. It was conceived to provide a scenic and relaxing environment for recreation activities to be enjoyed by all age groups, offering picnicking, swimming, boating, fishing, and modern facilities for overnight camping. The park provides a natural sanctuary for wildlife, birds and botanicals. Many endangered species; the Manatee, Roseate Spoonbill, Bald Eagle, and others may occasionally be seen at the park.

There are two campgrounds located within the park: East Campground and West Campground. All campsites are first-come-first-serve. Campground facilities include; restrooms with flush toilets, hot showers and a dump station in each campground. There are a total of 104 campsites (54 in the East Campground and 50 in the West Campground). The East Campground has 48 campsites (sites 51 through 98) with electric and water hookups and 6 dry camping campsites (sites A through F). All 50 campsites (sites 1 through 50) in the West Campground have electric and water hookups. Each campsite in the West Campground and about one-half of the campsites in the East Campground has direct access to waterways that flow into Tampa Bay. Those campsites allow campers to dock their boats, canoes and kayaks in the water by their campsite. The remainder of the campsites in the East Campground are surrounded by land.

Upon our arrival, all of the campsites with electric and water hookups were occupied, so we were assigned to the letter C dry campsite in the East Campground. Our name was then added to a list awaiting a campsite with hookups. We were third on the list. Much to our surprise, we were informed at 4:00 p.m. that a campsite, with hookups, became available for us to occupy. It turned out the campsite was too short to accommodate the first two names on the waiting list, due to the length of their respective motorhomes. We were assigned to site #3 in the West Campground and settled in for an extended stay of seven days.

We receive good Internet service here through our T-Mobile service provider, using a smartphone tethered to our laptop. Our smartphones get 4G with 1 to 3-bars signal strength. With our smartphones attached to a signal booster we receive consistent 3 to 4-bars signal strength.

Camping Fee: $24.00 ($18.00 for seniors over 55)
The camping fees are cash only, no personal checks, debit cards or credit cards are accepted.

Campers can stay for 28 days, if the total amount is paid at the time of registration. Those campers can stay another 28 days if there are at least 10 vacant campsites available.

Campers that pay on a daily basis are limited to a 14-day maximum stay.

Total miles traveled today: 250

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Miami, FL - 02/18/14


Tuesday – February 18, 2014
Miccosukee Casino
Miami, Florida

We wound up our six-day stay at the Flamingo campground in the Everglades National Park. Time to move on! We departed the campground at 11:45 a.m.

Since we got off to a late start we decided to spend the night at the Miccosukee Casino near Miami. We arrived there at 2:05 p.m. and settled in among several other RV’s enjoying the hospitality of the casino’s large RV parking lot.

We receive excellent Internet service here through our T-Mobile service provider, using a smartphone tethered to our laptop. Our smartphones get 4G with 3-bars signal strength.

We set up our DISH Tailgater satellite, fired up our Honda EU2000i generator and watched a few of our favorite television programs, before turning in for the night.

Total miles traveled today: 70

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Marathon, FL - 02/13/14


Thursday – February 13, 2014
The Island Fish Co.
Marathon, Florida

Last night a severe thunderstorm, with strong, gusty winds, raced through the Flamingo campground in the Everglades National Park. Several RV’s had sustained substantial damage to their awnings that were left extended during the storm.

The morning started out overcast with a few sprinkles of rain. By 11:00 a.m. the sky had cleared, providing an abundance of warmth from the sunshine. With the temperature in the low seventies, the weather here sure beats what is going on with the weather in Chicago.

We decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day one day early. We traveled quite a distance to one of our favorite restaurants in Marathon, Florida. We arrived at The Island Fish Co. at 4:15 p.m. This restaurant is located on the water and provides a scenic view of the Gulf of Mexico. Boats are permitted to tie up at the restaurant’s dock, while the crew and their guests enjoy a delicious meal at this wonderful restaurant.

We ordered appetizers of conch chowder and tuna tartar. Our main courses consisted of: Stuffed shrimp on a bed of black beans and rice and grilled grouper covered with a chunky pineapple sauce and served on a bed of black beans and rice. We departed well pleased with our dining experience, and once again enjoyed the food preparation and ambience at this delightful restaurant.

We arrived back our campsite at the Flamingo campground at 8:40 p.m.

Total miles traveled today: 240

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Everglades NP - 02/12/14


Wednesday – February 12, 2014
Flamingo Campground
Everglades National Park
Homestead, Florida

We departed the Miccosukee Casino (near Miami, Florida) at 6:50 a.m. After stopping at the Home Depot and Walmart to pick up a few items, we arrived at the Flamingo campground at 10:30 a.m.

We were unable to reserve a campsite with an electric hookup, so we were assigned campsite T-47 in the non-electric section in Loop T. There are 41 campsites with electric hookups in this loop and all of them are by reservation only. All of the non-electric campsites are first-come-first-serve.

During the night a severe thunderstorm, with strong, gusty winds, raced through the area. We were thankful we had not extended our awning on the trailer when we set up camp. Our trusty Casita trailer kept us safe and secure throughout the duration of the thunder, lightening and fierce winds.

Camping Fee: $16.00 (50% discount with Golden Age Passport)

Total miles traveled today: 71

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Miccosukee Casino - 02/11/14


Tuesday – February 11, 2014
Miccosukee Casino
Miami, Florida

We departed Pioneer Park Campground in Zolfo Springs, Florida at 3:55 p.m. We spent a delightful eighteen days at Pioneer Park and will definitely return to this park in the future.

We arrived at the Miccosukee Casino at 7:20 p.m. The casino is located on the northwest corner of U.S. route 41 and FL route 997 and is a great place to spend the night on the way to Everglades National Park. The casino has 24-hour roving security, which provides an added element of comfort. We found a parking space in the RV parking section and nestled in among several other RV’s to spend the night.

Total miles traveled today: 178

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Zolfo Springs, FL - 02/08/14


Saturday – February 8, 2014
Pioneer Park Campground
Zolfo Springs, Florida

We spent a restful night with our friends from Illinois in their condo at St. Pete Beach, Florida. We had a wonderful breakfast at Skidders restaurant in St. Pete Beach. After breakfast, we bid our farewells and agreed to get together when we were back home in Illinois.

The weather in St. Pete Beach was overcast and cool (the temperature in the low sixties). When we reached Zolfo Springs (74 miles from St. Pete Beach), the sun was shining brightly and the temperature was in the low seventies. Go figure! The cold front stayed just north of Zolfo Springs.

We were scheduled to depart here today, but changed our plans. We will now depart on Tuesday.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.

Friday, February 7, 2014

St. Pete Beach, FL - 02/07/14


Friday – February 7, 2014
St. Pete Beach, Florida

We departed Zolfo Springs, Florida at 9:15 a.m. to meet up with some friends from Illinois who have a condo in St. Pete Beach, Florida. They arrived in St. Pete Beach on Wednesday, 02/05/14. We arrived at their condo at 10:50 a.m.

It has been a few years since we have visited with Bruce and Patti. It was so nice to get together and catch up on the course our lives have taken since our last visit.

We went sightseeing in St. Pete Beach. The weather was nasty: overcast sky, cold, (temperature in the low sixties) and rainy. Despite these conditions, we had some ice cream at a quaint little ice cream shop located on the beach in St. Pete Beach. Later that evening we had dinner at a delightful Thai restaurant, located within the St. Pete Beach area. The menu selection was impressive and the food preparation was excellent.

After dinner we returned to their condo and chatted until 11:00 p.m. They graciously allowed us to spend the night with them in their condo.

Tomorrow another adventure begins.