Last year, Olivia was out of town with my parents for the week before Christmas. We took our own little trip, with Chris, and camped at Ft. Clinch State Park. It was fun, and we definitely wanted a repeat experience this year. This time we opted to camp at O'Leno State Park, in High Springs. It was on my radar for a long time, and I couldn't wait to visit!
We drove up Saturday morning and found, of all things, a nearly empty campground. The odd part is that our reserved site...had a tent in it. It's in the background of the picture above with Chris and Olivia tossing a football. There was a large group gathered at another site, and it seemed the individuals had spread out their tents at whatever spots they wanted. Ultimately, it was no big deal. We found an empty site we were happy with, notified the ranger of our switch, and set up camp. The funny thing is, the owner of the tent, and a bunch of their friends, came down and moved their belongings to a different site. And by 'moved', I mean, they picked up the fully assembled tent and carried it down the trail.
Lovely shot, eh? If you look closely, my hair is sticking out because of static electricity.
We spent our first afternoon setting up camp, hanging Christmas lights, and getting ready for a cold night. I had checked, double-checked, and triple-checked the weather, and the scary truth remained: It was going to get down to 28 degrees our first night camping. Holy cow!! We had packed every sleeping bag and blanket in our home to combat the cold. But first, dinner:
Mmm, dutch oven pizza!
Somehow, someway, we survived the coldest night ever. Sunday dawned bright and pleasant, and after breakfast we took off to explore. Our first stop was the playground across from our site!
This last picture is blurry, but I love how you can see Chris smiling!
Our next stop was over at River Rise Preserve. The Santa Fe River flows through O'Leno and goes underground at the river sink there. Three miles away it reemerges at, appropriately enough, River Rise Preserve State Park. I didn't know what to expect when we opened the gate and drove down the trail.
There are many hiking trails and equestrian trails within the park. We explored awhile, enjoying the day and taking in the beauty.
These winter days lose sunlight too early, in my opinion, and it was time to head back to camp. We still had our own park to explore!
We looked around the nature center for a little while, talking with the docent. Then we headed out to see more of the park. O'Leno State Park is one of the first Florida State Parks, created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. It sits on the site of the city of Keno, which was also the name of a gambling game. Because of this, the name was denied by the postmaster general. The city was renamed Leno. It was a very prosperous place, but once the railroad diverted traffic from the area, the once-industrious city died off. The CCC encampment was called Old Leno, but that was eventually changed to O'Leno.
The park has the CCC's signature suspension bridge, which we crossed to explore the trails on the other side:
We crossed back over to the main side of the park and walked the trail to the river sink. Again, I had no idea what to expect!
While we were standing there, a family came from further down the trail saying they had just spotted a couple of deer. Sure enough, they came out to get some water:
Eventually it was time to head back up the trail, but Olivia stopped to watch the Santa Fe River for a few minutes. I love this one:
So, back to camp and dinner. Chris made dutch oven chicken tortilla soup:
It ended up being a very full day. And thankfully, the second night was much warmer than the first, with lows in the 40s instead of 20s. Aside from a middle-of-the-night visit from a raccoon, we all slept well and woke up to a sunny Christmas Eve. After breakfast, we started to pack up. But not before a very special visit from two deer. They wandered around the woods right behind our camp, and we sat watching for some time. Olivia even took the time to point them out to the little boys camping next to us:
(Do you see a deer?)
And just like that, it was time to leave. We packed up camp and headed home, because I don't think Santa was brave enough to visit us at camp. It was another fulfilling pre-Christmas trip, and I'm so grateful for it!!