So, Where Were We . . . ?
Sorry for the delay in posting updates. Having our 4 ½ year old grandson full-time while we travel severely restricts my PC time; both because we need to keep him busy and because I need to keep him away from my keyboard! I also do much of my writing at night, and he sleeps in the pull-out bed just 5 feet away from the table where I'm set up for PC work.
Our original intent for 1Q 2021 was to do Florida in January, Texas in February, and March in Arizona. That was pre-Jace. But since we wanted to stay about a 5-6 hour drive from his mother in case she wanted to visit with him, we decided to stick to north central Florida for the duration. In retrospect, given the severe freezing weather in Texas, it turned out to be a good decision.
February began with a quick 2-day mini-rally with a couple of fellow Open Road gas owners who liked our paint design so much they copied much of it. We stayed 2 nights at Compass RV resort in St. Augustine, FL, and had a nice time with Scott and Barbara Platt and Byron and Lynn Hill. St. Augustine was definitely on our radar screen for February, so our next destination is about an hour away in Keystone Heights.
Keystone Heights RV resort was a wonderful find that only came about because there were no openings for a month in the area at another campground we had looked at. They suggested we take a look at this brand-new resort about 15 minutes away, and it really impressed us! First was the monthly rate - $600 due to a pre-opening deal going on since many of their amenities were not yet open. Second was the sites themselves; level concrete pads extra wide, with plenty of room to back in the largest 45-footer with room to spare and lots of landscaped space between each site. No packing everybody in like a bunch of sardines like many Florida resorts do. Bottom-line, once the amenities are finished, it's going to be a really nice RV resort with a small restaurant and nicely done mini-golf course just offsite.
Keystone Heights is just a bit over an hour away from St. Augustine, Florida. An easy drive on a pretty direct route depending on which side of town you're going to. It gave us a chance to take Jace to the Pirate Museum, where Pirate William gifted Jace with a doubloon, and Jace got decked out in an official pirate hat and spyglass. Another day had us exploring Castillo de San Marcos, a fort which protected St. Augustine from the fabled pirates of legend. Unfortunately due to COVID, the famous firing of the big cannon had been halted due to crowd concerns. I really wanted to see and hear that. Some very interesting history regarding that fort, and it was an entertaining time – even for our 4 year-old.
Also spent a day exploring the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine. Watched alligators get fed rats, lots of birds, a nice collection of lizards and turtles and one huge crocodile. Jace got the attention of a Komodo Dragon, who kept following him around his glass enclosure as if Jace were his next meal.
A somewhat longer day trip found us at Kennedy Space Center. If you're even remotely interested in America's space program, this is the place to visit. The actual Space Shuttle Atlantis is housed inside one of the buildings, close enough for many people to actually touch it. Atlantis flew on more than 30 missions before being retired. There are some really nice exhibits on the history of space flight, a shuttle launch simulator, and a great space-themed indoor play area for the kids. If you're claustrophobic, don't try to squeeze yourself into one of the capsule mockups or the ISS tunnel system. They prove just how much space is a premium when heading out of the atmosphere.
Anastasia Island was another beach trip (all on foot), however, the beach is not very comfortable to walk on with bare feet. No soft sand until you get to the water's edge. The sand is more like some really small pebbles that make the walk from the parking lot to the beach a pain in the foot. Didn't notice it much on the way in because we were wearing sandals, but on the way out we hadn't bothered to put them back on. There's a nice inland kayak launch in the park that we'll be sure to try another time when we don't have a 4 year-old with us. Two's company in a tandem kayak; three's impossible.
One final day trip was to Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation just outside of Gainesville. The animals here were rescued from zoos and homes where they had no business being. Jace got to feed a rhino, and we got to see some really big cats and small lemurs.
February done, it's time to move on to our next destination; Chiefland, Florida. We had planned to spend March in Arizona this year, but we needed to keep close enough to Georgia for our daughter to visit Jace on a weekend if need be, so we found a very inexpensive park called Strawberry Fields for RVers further west and a bit further south of Keystone Heights about 45 minutes away from Gainesville, Florida. Now Chiefland itself doesn't have much going for it, but it's a short trip from there to the Gulf coast side of Florida, which got us close to more beaches and more opportunities to see manatees before their migration period ended. Manatee State Park is just about 6 or so miles from the campground, and Homosassa is just 50 minutes away.
The campground itself is very basic; typically flat as most Florida parks are, with paved lots that are all pull-throughs. A newer section was opening up that would be all back-in sites on grass. Not a lot of amenities, and they really don't cater to RVers with kids (they specifically ask that you don't bring kids into their clubhouse because their full-time residents don't like the noise they make), but they have an interesting rate system that stays the same all year round. No seasonal increases for the winter months like most Florida parks. Our monthly rate was $415 plus metered electric. At the end of the month we paid about $85, so for just over $500 bucks it was a great deal. I will say that is was incredibly windy (which is typical for Florida given their lack of elevation), but I think we had our awning out maybe 3 days during the entire month.
Right down the road is Ralph's Burger House, a drive through place that serves better meals than McDonalds, and for about 2/3rds the price. The place is a local institution, with almost always a line going out of the parking lot at all hours of the day.
We took Jace to Fort Island State Beach a couple of times. Soft, sandy beach, bt a bit small in size. Since we were there on weekdays it wasn't too crowded, but I can imagine it being packed on weekends. Typical Gulf beach where the drop off is gradual, so you can head out quite a bit before it gets too deep, and the wave action is pretty tame. The water is also a bit warmer than Atlantic beaches due to the shallow nature of the Gulf, so you could spend some time without seeing your toes turn blue.
Took a day trip down to Cedar Keys, about a 45-minute drive from Chiefland. Some interesting restaurants and tourist shops, but it didn't really impress us much. We were there on an early Friday afternoon, and based on afternoon traffic it appeared to be a biker destination on weekends. Not that we have a problem with that, but two retirees and a 4 year-old grandson just wouldn't have fit in had we stayed there a bit longer.
We also spent a great day at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Great venue for kids and adults, with lots of wildlife to see. One of the more interesting features of the park was the buzzards which inhabit the interior. They pretty much have free reign, landing and flying away whenever it pleases them, and scaring the bejezzus out of you when you least expect it! But they've managed to rescue a great deal of wildlife and given them a safe habitat in which to live.
Had a chance to catch up with Barbara's brother, Rick, sister-in-law Celia, and our niece Beth. They in turn got a chance to meet Jace again, given he was just 6 months old the last time they saw him.
Florida complete, we head back up to Georgia in hopes of finally being able to drop off our grandson Jace to his mother on a full-time basis. We also have plans to visit Red Bay, Alabama the beginning of May, but that is a surprise for another post. Stay tuned!
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We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're living the ultimate retirement experience - traveling the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, playing golf and stopping at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.