Topsail Hill Preserve

Santa Rosa Beach, FL – May, 2018 When we passed through this part of Florida last October we were really looking forward to visiting Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. Unfortunately our reservation was summarily cancelled when Hurricane Nate made an unwelcome visit to the area the day before we were scheduled to arrive. Even though it was a little off of our planned route this trip, we decided to make the detour and spend a couple nights there.

We arrived an hour before the park’s 1pm checkout and were told they had not yet confirmed if our site was vacant. They directed us to park in their large day parking area and check back with them in an hour. We parked, had a quick lunch, then unloaded the bikes to have a look around.

The first thing that caught our eye were the numerous little ponds around the campground

and the many lily pads growing in them. Their blooms were quite lovely.

We made a quick tour of the park and confirmed our site was indeed vacant. Then back to the office to check in. Then back to the site to drop off the bikes and a quick walk to collect the camper.

Soon we were set up in our new home and, most importantly, plugged in to the power grid so our AC could work overtime to get our little tin box comfortable. The sites here aren’t overly large but they are big enough and thoughtfully laid out.

The rain that was in that afternoon’s forecast kept getting pushed back so we gratefully took advantage of the beautiful day. After a short rest we donned our bathing suits, threw a couple things in a bag, and headed for the beach. The beach is about a mile from the campground or from the day use parking lot. It is perfect for bicycling to or they have a tram that runs from 9 – 7 daily.

We arrived at the beach to find it fairly busy with families enjoying their Sunday afternoon.

The sand was at a premium but there was plenty of room in the water and all we cared about was getting our saltwater fix. We threw our bag down and plunged right in. The yellow flag was up so there were some pretty good sized waves we had to work our way through. But we finally got out to 4-5 feet of water and just bobbed around for a while.

The water was a deep shade of green and the perfect temperature. The only negative was little green globs of, I don’t know, seaweed? They were everywhere. That’s ok. We persevered long enough for our bodies to soak up their quotient of salt.

Some dark clouds were moving closer and we heard some thunder so we decided we better head for home. I was glad we weren’t stuck waiting on the tram. We jumped on our bikes and made it home just before the clouds let loose.

We were both looking forward to a good ride the next morning. A very popular trail starts across the highway from the park and travels 20 miles along Scenic Hwy 30-A. Unfortunately Jim’s trick knee had pulled one of its shenanigans the day before. He wisely decided he better let it rest.

I took a ride around the park. Primarily I wanted to take the paved trail to Campbell Lake. It was only about 3 miles roundtrip.

The lake is a rare freshwater coastal lake. It’s hard to see in this picture but the other side of the lake is actually a tall sand dune that protects it from the ocean.

The morning was pretty dreary and it was misting the whole ride. I kept hoping it would clear up and I’d get some better light for my photos. It didn’t.

Turns out it was pretty comfortable riding conditions so I kept going. I rode every stretch of pavement in the park, about 5 miles worth. I stopped at the beach and walked down the boardwalk.

The beach was now deserted.

Then I road most of the park again to complete an hour’s worth of morning exercise.

The rest of the day turned out cooler than expected, which was nice. We drove east a ways beside the bike path we had hoped to ride and found it was very congested in places and we probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it anyway (sour grapes anyone?). Jim wanted to visit a bike shop called Big Daddy’s. You can tell they are serious about bikes.

Then we explored the area to the west of the campground. There were tons of retail options in this area. There were high end shopping centers and a huge outlet mall.

Even though we didn’t need anything, roaming some of the strip malls was a good way to get in some walking and we always had a place to duck in out of the heat or the rain, depending on what Mother Nature chose to throw at us from one hour to the next. The easy walking was what Jim’s knee needed to keep it going without further straining it. Hopefully he’ll be back in the saddle by our next stop.

Silver Springs

Ocala, FL – May, 2018 The time finally came in the middle of May to leave Florida and slowly make our way to Missouri. We covered Bella and got her secured on her boat lift, closed up the house, loaded up the 5th wheel, and hit the road. Our first stop was Ocala, a five hour drive north.

A couple months ago, I read a post by one of my favorite bloggers, Wandering Dawgs, titled Historic Silver Springs. As soon as I read that their were wild monkeys in the park I knew we HAD to go. We have joked for years that what Florida needs is wild monkeys to make it really interesting. It has giant snakes, alligators, and crocs. Monkeys would fit right in!

We weren’t sure exactly what day we were leaving Goodland so we couldn’t make a reservation very far in advance. By the time we were sure of our departure date I could only get a rez for 2 nights, a Wednesday and Thursday. We’d have to vamoose on Friday.

The wet season had officially hit Florida that same week. We luckily avoided most of the storms (or they wisely avoided us) during the day’s drive. We got to Silver Springs State Park campground around 2 and just finished setting up when we heard the rain coming and made it indoors just in time.

Just before dinner the rain let up for a bit. We got the bikes out and road all the campground loops until another line of storms rolled in and chased us home. We had a great dinner waiting in the crockpot so we settled in to watch a movie.

The next morning until 11 was the only window of time that the weather guessers said we’d have a better chance of staying dry than being drenched. We planned to cram as much exploring in before lunch as possible. The campground is a few miles from the main entrance to the park. We road our bikes on the sidewalk beside the highway to the spring’s entrance.

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We locked up the bikes outside the admission gates and flashed our Florida State Park Pass to the gate attendant to avoid the $2 per person fee.

We walked around the grounds. The boat tours didn’t start for an hour so we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. I love this structure with its many gables and stained glass.

The main spring was amazing. It was 30 feet deep and so incredibly clear you could watch the anhinga dive down and catch fish.

The glass bottom boats do look really cool. Next time …

There were lovely flowers everywhere. This bloom was as big as my head.

We used to have these growing in our back yard in Missouri. They are exquisite.

We followed the path along the water keeping an eye out for wildlife. Jim spotted these babies and called them ducklings. But I wondered if they were ducks or the offspring of the group of anhinga fishing in the background.

Upon further inspection of the pictures when I got home I realized there was actually a wood duck among the adult birds and these were obviously her ducklings. I was crushed that I didn’t notice her and get a clear shot. I have always wanted to see a wood duck and didn’t recognize what was right in front of me.

There were huge fish jumping ridiculously high all along this stretch water. You can barely see one of them jumping on the left of this photo.

We made our way back past the main spring and wandered over to the boardwalk trail. The surroundings were very jungle like.  Those monkeys wouldn’t have looked at all out of place there.

We moseyed down the boardwalk and met a nice lady walking two adorable dogs. She commented that the water was a little murky because of the previous day’s rain. We couldn’t imagine how it could be any clearer.

Since she was obviously a regular we asked her if she had ever seen monkeys from the boardwalk. She told us that she had once, about a year ago, and she hoped to never repeat the experience. She said that several adolescent males were on the bridge over the river and one of them made several aggressive advances toward her before she could get away.

We continued on along the boardwalk keeping our eyes to the trees, just in case.  I did see a beautiful woodpecker. He was having his way with this log lying on the ground. You can see from the holes in it that he is a regular.

I was struggling to get a better shot with all the greenery around him. He must have sensed my frustration. He jumped up to a nearby tree and poised beautifully for me just before I walked away.

We left the boardwalk and continued along the river to the kayak launch. Their kayak rentals are pretty reasonable and we definitely would have gone that route if the weather would have cooperated. You can also launch your own kayak here for a small fee. We talked to the guys collecting the launch fees and they said that if we kayaked the river we’d have about a 50/50 shot of seeing the monkeys.

We also discussed hiking trails with them and made the decision to hike back to camp and drive back to collect the bikes later. We headed down the trail and didn’t make it very far before we met this black racer.

He was just off the trail and he made his presence known by waving his skinny little tale at us and bobbing his head ferociously. We scooted right past him to a safe distance so I could get the shot.

After that we had an uneventful 2 and a half mile walk through the woods with only a few butterflies to keep us company. We were very attentive to our surroundings, keeping an eye to the trees (ever the optimists) and also watching the ground for snakes. We saw lots of signs of critters: deer tracks, gopher tortoise holes, scratch marks where something dug for food.  But it was just us and the trees for most of an hour.

We had hoped that we might have another rain free hour later that afternoon so we could explore more of the trails in the campground but we did not. It started raining at noon and never let up. So we kept busy finally putting everything away in the trailer, puttering on projects, and writing this post.

The campground is really awesome. The sites are huge and wooded. We loved our full hookup pull thru site, number 2.  It came to almost $30 per night after taxes and fees.

I wonder how many more times we would have driven right past this gem of a park had I not been lucky enough to read Wandering Dawgs’ account of it. If you want more info on the park her post is a good read. She also has great pictures and has actually seen the monkeys! We’ll get ’em next time!