Monday, April 21, 2014

Chassahowitzka River

State Parks visited:  78!

When I was in middle and high school, I had a friend named Jean.  Her family had a cabin on the Chassahowitzka River, long passed down through several generations.  They liked to spend long weekends at the cabin, a two-room structure without electricity or running water, and Jean and her brother were often allowed to bring friends along. 
I was fortunate enough, several times, to be one of those guests.  I was fascinated by the little cabin.  It was a completely different environment from what I knew of travel.  Launching from a local boat ramp, the cabin was only accessible by water.  Watching Jean's mom brew coffee with an old percolator.  Making faces at Jean from our bunk beds.  Looking for alligators off the dock at night with a flashlight.  Going scalloping in the nearby Gulf of Mexico.  I loved visiting.  I don't think I ever realized that the 'Chessawhiskey,' as I knew it, was part of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, or that I wouldn't visit it again after we graduated high school.
We lost Jean in a car accident in 1998.  I'm still close with her family, and my own daughter...Olivia Jean...reminds me daily of what a special friend Jean was.  I've gotten several invitations to go to the cabin with her family.  However, I can't imagine it being the same. 
Chris turned 30 last year.  To celebrate he decided to go paddling down the Chassahowitzka River, and he invited us along.  There are many natural springs that feed into the river, and Chris wanted to go see as many as he could.
We launched at the same boat launch used by Jean's family.  It was strange, vaguely remembering what it looked like over 20 years after my last visit.  Once we got under way, we were quickly treated to a sight:  Otters!  Playful otters, about 5 of them.  They were very curious about us, but they kept their distance.  We watched for quite awhile.

We paddled on and saw several springs.  We did some geocaching as well.  Our final destination on the river was a place commonly referred to as Miss Maggie's Crack.  It's a spring set way off the main river, and it's like a secret party spot.  We weren't there for partying, exactly, but we still wanted to see it. 

The waterway became more and more narrow, the trees thicker.  Eventually we had to abandon our boats and walk the rest of the way in shallow water.  And then, there it was:
We only spent a little while at Miss Maggie's.  Just enough time to soak up some cool spring water and then eat our lunch.  Then it was time to drag the boats back out and make the return journey to the launch.
Our trip that day brought back so many memories for me.  Parts of my youth I wanted to share with my family...the joining of my younger memories with what I was currently seeing.  The desire to visit with Jean's family again and make a visit to the cabin, which I realize now probably meant more to me than I ever realized.  I am really so very grateful for the time I was able to spend there.
I can't wait to go back.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Birthdays! We celebrate outdoorsy-style!

State Parks visited: 76

In the time since I last posted last year, we've all gotten just a bit older.  Birthdays are special events, and worthy of a celebration!  Olivia turned 9 last summer, and true to form, she asked to visit a state park on her big day.  Her choice?  Gasparilla Island State Park. But first, a quick stop in Englewood for some geocaching:
Yep, this boat grave is a geocache!
The state park is home to a lighthouse, beaches, and a range light.  We were fortunate enough to make it there while the lighthouse was open since it closes for the month of August.  So, we looked around the lighthouse, enjoyed the beach, and took in the scenery
Beautiful birthday girl!

Railroad vine

The range light at the other end of the island

Birthday girl playing under the watchful eye of a crab.
Next came my birthday in August.  I chose two parks, and we made a whole weekend out of it.  I've always wanted to see Florida Caverns State Park, and we also decided to visit Falling Waters State Park as well since it's nearby. 

Falling Waters is absolutely has the highest waterfall in Florida at 73'....not bad for my flat state!  They also have hiking trails, camping, and a neat (and very active!) butterfly garden.  I am so glad we made the additional stop to see it!
Olivia with a statue of the CCC Worker.  Florida Caverns was one of our first 9 state parks, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

She stayed like that for a looooooooonngggg time.

Florida Caverns is near the Chipola River, and the river was quite high when we were up there last summer.  Our cavern tour was abbreviated, then, since several rooms were flooded.  Despite the shorter tour, we really enjoyed ourselves!  Our tour guide was funny and kept goodheartedly teasing Olivia. 
After the cavern tour we hiked around on some of the trails in the park.  They were amazing!  So green and luscious.  Every once in awhile we would come across another cavern opening.  It was so neat to stand there and feel cool air emanating from the openings! 

My heart+my soul

My birthday was great!  Just a week later is Rob's birthday, and to celebrate we returned to a favorite spot: Sanibel Island.
This year we decided to go kind of luxurious, and we stayed at the Tween Waters Inn on Captiva Island.  We've never stayed at a resort like this!  It was a ton of fun.  We spent our time in a cabana on the beach, tossing a beach ball around in the pool, shelling, eating awesome food, and really just letting go and relaxing.

Three different birthday celebrations.  One awesome summer for my happy little family.  We are indeed blessed.
Paula :)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Fumbling back into the blogosphere

State Parks visited: 76 (not to worry, I'll catch you up!)

So, where have I been and what have I been up to?  I wish I could tell you something exciting like, I collected my lottery winnings and have been vacationing lavishly around the world.  Or, I've given up on society and now spend my days doing selfless charity work in a Third World country that the internet hasn't found yet.
Those things would not be true. 
The real story is, I have been having a disagreement with modern technology. It's so silly, but I have issues with the time it takes to post this blog from my desktop computer.  I managed to convince myself that, if I had a laptop, I could spend time in the living room with my family and be a real presence, instead of closing myself in the guest room for a couple of hours. So, welcome to our world, new laptop! 
I've had a couple other issues as well.  Like, the memory card of my camera that took a giant leap of faith off a bridge in a state forest last year. I had gotten an error message to check the memory card. I opened the compartment, and I guess the little guy was completely unhappy inside the camera. He popped out of his little space, flew through the air, and fell into the swamp grass next to me.  Yep, I actually got down in the grass and searched for a good long while, but that memory card was gone.  I was do I post when I've lost half the pictures?
I was even more devastated last summer after we spent some time in the Florida Keys.  We came home and went to load the photos from...yep...a memory card, into the computer, when another error message came. Card failure.  All of our regular camera pictures...gone.  Devastation. 
That's not to say we haven't take any pictures at all.  Rob and I both have iPhones and are constantly using them as our primary cameras.  But, that's another issue I have.  To me, there's a greater complication to sync the iPhones to the desktop and download the pictures and...blah blah blah, I know, shut up about the issues and just get back to blogging already!
So, what have we been up to?  Lots of stuff, actually.  We still participate in the Trailwalker program from Florida State Forests.  We were all pretty close to achieving our first 10 trails, and I managed to find an area where we could each make our goals in one weekend.  A weekend of hiking in the Withlacoochee State Forest...and losing a memory card...occurred last fall, and we have each managed to move into the Trailblazer category!  A couple of highlights (from a different memory card!):
The infamous bridge!

Swallow Tailed Kites

Once school got out for the summer ( know, the hottest time in Florida), we decided to go camping in the Florida Keys.  We booked a site at Curry Hammock State Park, our 67th park, and filled the days with lots of sunscreen and air conditioned activities.  I must say, having stayed at Long Key before, I wasn't really crazy about Curry Hammock.  It's a bit more modern, but the composting toilets in the bath house were off-putting to me. Not sure what a composting toilet is?  Go ahead, look it up.  I'll wait.
Great for the environment, but I've *never* in my life seen roaches that size. They don't necessarily bother me.  But, the smell...  'Nuff said.
We took a day trip into Key West, spent some quality time at Fort Zachary Taylor (where we were disappointed a couple years ago), toured the Hemingway House, and watched the sunset while we ate dinner.  It was lovely.  Really and truly.
On the way home we made a stop at park #68, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park.  Um, holy mosquito swarm, Batman!  I'm sorry to say our visit was pretty short, but we did wander the trail and enjoy ourselves for a little bit. 
Here are some pictures of the adventure.  I do have the ones from our phones, at least!

Royal Poinciana trees

In true tourist form!

One of the famous Hemingway 6-toed cats.
Our lunch venue, Fort Zachary Taylor.




Okay, I think that's enough for now!  I'm getting used to the new laptop, and I'm motivated even more now to share our travels with you.  Please check back soon for more updates, and don't forget to leave me a comment!
Paula :)