Friday, May 11, 2018

Lake Manatee State Park–Bradenton, FL

Someone described this park better than I ever could when they said “It’s a great spot to go camping especially if you’re looking for a quiet spot to relax and do nothing.

Lake Manatee Swimming Area-1
Swimming Area on Lake Manatee

Our site was on the southern portion of the first camping loop; there are shadier spots on the northern parts of the loop, but this was a great spot for us.  While we were here, we went canoeing on the lake – though the website didn’t mention it, they do have canoes available for rent.  There are a couple of (very) short hiking trails, but they go through mostly scrub land.  The trails really aren’t long enough to bother with a day-pack… a bottle of water is fine since I don’t think they were less than two miles long.

Photo Montage of our Trip

While in the area we visited the Gamble House to see some old Florida History, and also stopped by to see the ruins of “Braden Castle”.  The Gamble House was kind of interesting, but I’d suggest passing on visiting the Braden Castle ruins.  They’re pretty much just a pile of coquina with a placard on them, in the middle of a trailer park.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Biking through Little Big Econ SF (and flying along the river)

I started this trip at the equestrian trailhead on Snow Hill Rd. and road my bike through a neighborhood just south of there  to the hunter’s entrance to the state forest.  There are “no parking” signs all over the neighborhood, so they’ve essentially made this their own private trailhead.

Two Ponies-3
Ponies grazing in the shade

CorralAlong the way through the state forest property, this path goes through five gates that are used to control livestock.  There are a few domesticated horses and ponies back here, so the general rule of leaving the gates as they are (open or closed) after passing through them does apply.Wooden Bridge

There are a few other remnants of the ranch that used to occupy this state land.  A couple of the more interesting structures are a corral and an old wood and metal bridge.  The bridge is still maintained since the forest roads are still used.

The overall distance from the trailhead to the camping shelter is about 4.5 miles; it’s an easy hike or bike ride.  There were only a couple of very small patches of sugar sand that I had to walk my bike through.

River View-1
River View
Camping Shelter
Camping Shelter
River View-2
River View

There are a couple of picnic tables by the camping shelter, as well as a fire ring.  This is the spot where I stopped to do some filming of the river.  Take a look – I think it came out pretty good.

I also had my GoPro filming the trip on the way out.  If you would like to get a feel for what the area looks like, this shows the forest roads leading all the way out.

The map below shows the locations of the major landmarks along the way.  Clicking on the “Wikiloc” icon on the map will take you to the page with more map details.

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Equestrian Trailhead
Equestrian Trailhead
Historic Marker-1
Historic Marker (Side 1)
Historic Marker-2
Historic Marker (Side 2)

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Biking CBSF–Heifer Mound

I took a short ride through Charles Bronson State Forest to capture some aerial video around Heifer Mound and Saddle Mound.  These are two of the largest native American shell middens in the immediate area of the state forest (that I’ve seen), and this spot offers some great views of the St. Johns River

Saddle Mound

Parking for this trailhead is at the Chuluota Wilderness area about two tenths of a mile west of the entrance to the state forest.  From here it is a short ride to the windmill – overall it is almost exactly four miles out to the river.

CBSF Entrance
Park Entrance

cbsf sign
Information Kiosk

There are a a lot of these prehistoric sites throughout Florida, and many along the St. Johns River.  For the most part, they are easy to miss, but some of them really stand out.  Heifer Mound is a well known spot by boaters (especially air boats) as a spot to park and enjoy the views.  There is a flag pole on the center of the mound that sometimes has a flag, but I learned  that the flag is frequently taken by vandals.

Airboats on Heifer Mound

I learned that Heifer Mound is known locally as bullshit mound.  I don’t know if it is because people meet here to sit and talk, or (more likely) because cows from a local ranch have been known to hang out here since it offers dry  ground when the flood plane is underwater.

Charles Bronson SF
St. Johns River 
Gator-2 Alligator Sunning

There used to be a lot of cattle in this portion of the forest, but I there is no sign of them now.  I found out that the rancher no longer has a lease with the state to let his cattle graze here.  The video that I captured while I was here came out pretty good.  I managed to capture some boats out on the river and also the airboats coming out of the river up onto the mound.

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Biking Charles Bronson SF–Windmill Trip

This is a short ride through Charles Bronson State Forest where I stopped to make a little video of the windmill out there.

Windmill Full.jpg
Aeromotor WIndmill – Model 702

The windmill was made sometime before 1964, when the Aeromotor company moved from Chicago to Broken Arrow, OK.  Since then there have been several hurricanes and tropical storms that have either passed through the area, or passed close enough where this old guy saw some pretty strong winds.  Yet here it is, still running and pumping water like it did more than half a century ago.

I started the trip at the parking area for Chuluota Wilderness Area, which is only about a quarter of a mile from the entrance to the state forest.  The entrance was easy with my bike, there is a simple swinging gate so I didn’t need to lift my bike over the fence.

Forest Road
Windmill Top
Windmill Top

The ride out here is pretty easy; the roads are mostly hard packed or grassy, but I don’t think a hybrid bike would do very well because there are some spots with sugar sand.  My mountain bike handled these spots with no problems, but thinner tires would definitely not ride as well.

One of many gates
 CBSF Sign

I was surprised that I didn’t see any cattle on this trip, and also that much of the farming equipment that I saw on my last trip was also gone.  I don’t know if the forest service has stopped allowing cattle to graze here, or if the ranchers have simply brought the herds somewhere else.  I’ll probably know more in another week or two; I’m planning to come out again soon to visit some of the shell middens.

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Monday, December 04, 2017

Biking Buck Lake Conservation Area

Creek crossing trail south
Creek Crossing the Road

I’ve been hiking in this area before, but the roads and trails cover so much area that I wanted to bring a bicycle to try to cover more ground.  The area is right on the edge of the St. Johns River floodplain, so with the water levels still high, there are some wet spots that slowed me down a little bit.

Handpump at campsite
Water pump at campsite
Old Bike
Old bicycle near trailhead
Wild flowers

This trip heads up to the campsite and back, but not too much further.  The loop road is crossed with a stream on the northern and southern sides, and I was pretty sure I would only make it about half way across before getting stuck.  I’ll have to come back out when the water levels are a little lower, but for now I did put together a brief video tour.

Biking through Buck Lake Conservation Area

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Biking Orlando Wetlands Park

Gator and Egret

I wanted to see some alligators this weekend, and Orlando Wetlands Park (OWP) has always been a perfect spot for this.  I got some good video and a learned a little bit more about my video toolset.

OWP is more than just a park; it is the first large scale man-made wetlands designed to treat reclaimed water and provide a wildlife habitat.  The park began receiving water from the Iron Bridge Regional Water Reclamation Facility in July 1987.  The water influent can be seen in the south western corner of the park – it is very clear, and it looks like spring water bubbling up from the ground.

Up to 35 million gallons of reclaimed water come into the park each day where aquatic plants further remove nutrients as the water makes it’s 40 day journey through 18 wetlands cells before exiting the park on the northern side.  After leaving the park, the water has a short journey to the St. Johns River.

So, from a technological and an ecological perspective, this is a pretty amazing spot.  But what really makes it a great place to visit is the flora and fauna that calls the park home.  We always come away with some amazing photographs when we visit.

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Monday, September 04, 2017

Dreher Island State Park - Prosperity, SC

We spent a week “cabin camping” here, with the main purpose being the opportunity to view a full solar eclipse.  There is a lot to do in the area; we had a great time.

Cabin rear
View of cabin from Lake Murray

This is our first time “cabin camping”, and we really didn’t know what to expect.  The description on the website sure sounded nice, but there was also a part of me that was thinking about the condition of some of the basic hunting cabins that I’ve seen.  As it turns out, my worries were completely unfounded.  This cabin was as nice (or nicer) than any 5-star hotel I’ve stayed in.

A tour of the cabin/villa

The cabin is right on the shore of Lake Murray, and the water was the perfect temperature for swimming.  With no alligators, sharks, or jelly fish to worry about, we went swimming just about every day.  In the morning, Tina had her solitude with a cup of coffee on a hammock to watch the sunrise, and the sunsets were nice too.

Backyard pano
Our view of Lake Murray

Sunset over Lake Murray

The cabin includes everything one could think of – all the dishes, pots pans, and utensils that we could have needed, as well as bed linens and towels.  With Wi-Fi and satellite TV, we had what we wanted for the evenings as well.  The park itself has a couple of hiking trails and good biking on the roads.  There are a couple of local places to rent kayaks, and they will actually deliver them (with the appropriate equipment) to the front door and pick them up at the end of the day Stop by the park store for more info on this – we didn’t take advantage of the service, but the folks next door did.

Andy on the hammock
Lazing on a hammock

I should also mention the RV and tent camping areas; they were very nice as well.  Each site has plenty of space, and even when the campground is full it didn’t seem to be overly crowded.  The best sites, in my opinion, were at the southern end of the park.  Cell phone access was perfect with T-Mobile, so internet access should be pretty good. 

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