Friday, March 27, 2015

Touring The Historic Nike Missile Site In The Everglades

When we visited the Everglades National Park, I expected to see alligators, crocodiles, birds and mangrove swamps. The last thing I expected to see was a former Army base where soldiers waited day and and day out for Soviet bombs to come screaming across the Florida Bay from Cuba. In the event of an attack, they were prepared to fire Nike Hercules missiles in defense. We participated in a number of ranger-led programs while we were at the Everglades, but a tour of the Nike Hercules missile site was one of the highlights - probably because it was so unexpected slap dab in the middle of nature. 

Unlike some of the other programs, you don't have to sign up for this tour. You meet the ranger out front of the Dan Beard research center and off you go. One word of caution - use the bathroom before you drive down to the research center. The scientists working there won't let you use their bathroom. Just saying - it pays to be prepared. 

Ranger Leon led our tour. It always amazes me how the park rangers and volunteers can retain so much information in their brains and present it back to you in an interesting and engaging manner. Ranger Leon was particularly amazing - you can tell he is passionate about this program and keenly interested in the history of this era. 

After some historical scene-setting (which is particularly useful for folks like me who weren't alive during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and didn't pay too much attention in American History class in school), Ranger Leon took us on a short walking tour of the former battery control area. I like how all of the buildings are painted in that retro flamingo pink color. 



We then got in our cars and drove a short distance to the launch area. As you enter the launch area, you can see a number of missile barns sitting among the tall grass. Top tip if you take the tour - stay on the pavement, there are evil snakes lurking in the grass.


We got to see some of the artwork that the soldiers decorated the base with.


Here's one of the missile barns up close. 


The moment we've been waiting for - a look at the Nike Hercules missile. Ranger Leon was really good with the kids on the tour. He had them help him open the doors to the barn. 


Here's a close up of part of the missile head. To be honest, I was a bit more interested in the color scheme they painted the walls with. Orange seems like an interesting choice for a military base.



I thought this Nike logo was a bit weird. I don't usually think about missiles in the context of families. Mom, dad, the kids, their dog and a missile. Something doesn't seem right here. I'm assuming they meant something else. 


This missile stuff was serious business. You probably had to have super-duper clearance to get onto the base. Of course, why would you want to if you didn't have to? The place had all these deadly weapons in it and was a target for Cuba during the Cold War. It's the kind of place I would have happily be restricted from.




Some sort of important machinery. I just took the picture because I liked the orange paint on the wall. 


If I saw someone go into electric shock, my first step would be to scream. Don't rely on me to find a wooden pole or rope to save you.


This is probably why they worried about electric shock. The sign makes it clear, "Danger - High Voltage!"




More orange paint and my favorite sign.



Want to know more? Check out this interesting article in the NY Times with a picture of Ranger Leon who led our tour. You can also find an informative post on the Florida Rambler site.

Want to follow along with our eccentric travel adventures? If you're interested in following along, you can like us on Facebook, follow us via Google+ or add us to your Bloglovin' or Feedly feeds. We're also on Pinterest and Instagram. You can also sign up to get our posts via email - just submit your email address in the box on the right hand side of our blog page.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wee Beasties & Other Random Nonsense {Flamingo, Everglades National Park}

This sign would be more accurate if they replaced the picture of the bird with a picture of a giant mosquito.
After five days camping at Flamingo in the Everglades National Park, we look like we have a case of the measles. We're both covered head to toe with bites and dripping with blood from scratching too much. You know you shouldn't scratch, but you just can't help yourself. 

People had warned us about Flamingo. They told us it would be a once in a lifetime experience. You do it once and you never want to go back because of the wee beasties. And there are lots of wee beasties to contend with - flies, fire ants, mosquitoes and noseeums. The flies are just annoying and you can usually avoid the fire ants, but when it comes to mosquitoes and noseeums, you're out of luck unless you wear netting from head to toe and stay inside your camper with all of the windows and door shut. Even then, they'll manage to find you and leave their mark.

Scamper parked at "A Loop" at the Flamingo campground in the Everglades.
But if you can see past the wee beasties, the Everglades is an incredible place to visit with tons to see and do. And Flamingo is pretty cool to camp at too. We had reserved three nights on Loop A in advance, but it turns out it wasn't necessary. There were plenty of walk-up sites available. Loop A doesn't have any hook-ups and many of the paved drives are pretty short, so it probably won't work for larger RVs who need more space and electric. But because our Scamp travel trailer is only 13', we were able to easily tuck into one of the sites with a few inches to spare. 

After three nights in Loop A, we moved over to the T Loop for a night to plug in, recharge our battery and enjoy some air conditioning. Strangely, T Loop only has electric hook-ups, no water. And it will cost you - $30 a night vs. $16 a night in the non-electric loops. We didn't think T Loop was as nice as A Loop and paying an extra $14 for air conditioning for a night seemed a bit excessive, so we headed back to A Loop for our final night. It's a bit more social in A Loop as most people are tent camping and sitting outside trying to cool off in the breeze. In T Loop, it's all RVs and everyone is inside their air conditioned rigs avoiding the blistering heat. 

Regardless of what loop you stay at, don't count on any warm showers. The toilet blocks are a bit outdated and we never could figure out how to get any warm water to come out of the shower head. But when you're sweating like a pig and covered in bites, an icy cold shower can be refreshing. 
 
We loved the retro look of the Flamingo Visitor Center and although pink isn't my favorite color, it works.
Flamingo used to be an old fishing village until they kicked everyone out years ago. They rangers probably don't describe it as "kicking" people out, but the end result was that the people's land was bought out and the village was no more. Nowadays, the new Flamingo is home to one of the Everglades Visitor Centers (painted this cool retro pink color). Did you know that it is extremely rare to actually see a flamingo at Flamingo? If you see a pink bird, it's more likely to be a roseate spoonbill. Scott says there is also a pink stork with black wingtips flying around Flamingo. I obviously wasn't paying attention when the ranger mentioned this. For some reason, flamingos used to be my favorite bird when I was little, so I was a teensy bit disappointed not to see one while we were at Flamingo.

Dolphins are so cute, even when they're on a feeding frenzy.
The Flamingo Visitor Center sits on the Florida Bay and is a pleasant place to hang about and look for wildlife. We saw a dolphin on a feeding frenzy when we were there. So hard to capture a good picture of dolphins jumping out of the water, but Scott managed to do it. That's why he's in charge of the camera.

Can you see the tiny sailboat at the far end of the marina? Wouldn't it be cool to sail right up to Flamingo?
Right next to the visitor center is a marina, shop and concession with boat rides and canoe/kayak/bike rentals. It's also a great place to look for crocodiles and manatees. Did you know that the Everglades is the only place where crocodiles and alligators co-exist? As if it wasn't scary enough to worry about running into alligators, you also have to worry about crocodiles.

When the heat gets to be too much hanging about the marina, pop into the visitor center and enjoy their air conditioning, check out the museum and sign up for the free guided canoe trip through the mangroves at Nine Mile Pond. Yes, you read that right - free canoe trip. And they even provide the canoes. If you know anything about us, you'll know that we're cheap and cheerful travelers so we signed up right away. And it was awesome, despite all of the scary looking alligators swimming near us.

They have lots of great ranger programs in the Everglades including a car caravan where you follow a ranger along in your air conditioned car and stop at points of interest in the park. If you like biking, then sign up for the free bike hike at the Long Pine Key picnic area. They provide the bikes - it doesn't get any better than this! We were the only people who showed up for the bike hike so we got a personal tour from one of the wonderful park volunteers.


The boardwalk at West Lake.
If you're into walking, there are a number of nice trails, including some with boardwalks. I love boardwalks. I just thought you should know that. It was hot and muggy while we were at the Everglades, so to be honest, we didn't push ourselves hiking (four miles is probably the longest we did), but there are a lot of shorter walks that we enjoyed including the boardwalks at West Lake and Mahogany Hammock, strolling from our campground to Eco Pond and to the Flamingo Visitor Center on the Guy Bradley trail and trying to find the rest of the trail on the Bayshore Loop (we never did manage to complete the loop).


This evil plant is strangling another tree. It grows over it and takes over until the unwilling host tree dies.
While we were walking, we saw some strange plants as well as some downright dangerous ones. They really should warn you about poison wood in flashing lights when you enter the park. We didn't find out about it until our second day in the Everglades. Apparently, it grows throughout the park and if you touch any part of it, you can develop a rash worse than poison oak or ivy. For some people, the reaction is so bad that they have to go on steroids. After someone told us about poison wood, I started being paranoid of all plants. It isn't just alligators you have to worry about in the Everglades, the plants will get you too.


Pretty bird and its reflection on Eco Pond.
We really need to learn more about birds. It seemed like every other person visiting the Everglades was an avid birder. I can recognize an anhinga now, so I'm making some progress, but other than that, I'm still pretty clueless when it comes to birds.

An example of the diversity of wildlife in the Everglades. We saw this tree snail on our bike hike.
The Everglades are the largest sub-tropical wilderness in the States stretching 1.5 million acres across southern Florida. What makes the Everglades special is that it was established as a National Park in 1974 to preserve its unique ecosystems and diversity of life Unlike some of the other National Parks, such as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, the Everglades doesn't awe you with its stunning scenery and grand vistas. Instead, you find yourself taken with the subtle nuances of the environment as you explore the different ecosystems contained within the park including dry hardwood hammocks, mangrove swamps, prairies and estuaries, to name a few. Attending the ranger-led programs really helps you appreciate and make sense of all the diversity and they open your eyes to the hidden beauty of the park.




But it isn't all nature and wildlife at the Everglades. One of the things that surprised me about the Everglades is that there is a former military base where the soldiers sat ready to launch missiles in the event of an attack from Cuba during the Cold War. We went on a fascinating ranger-led tour of the site, but more on that on Friday :-)

The wee beasties feasted on us at Flamingo from 15-19 March 2015.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Chit-Chat At The Dump Station


We get people commenting all the time about how adorable our 13' Scamp travel trailer is and with good reason - she's cute as can be! We're always happy to chat with people and give them a little tour, even when we're at the dump station.

For those of you who don't know what a dump station is, count your lucky stars. It is the grossest part about living in an RV. You know the saying, "with the good comes the bad"? One of the best things about our Scamp is the fact that it has a toilet. No more midnight runs in the dark to the toilet block for us. That's the good part. The bad part is that what you put in the toilet has to go somewhere - namely into the black water tank. And from time to time, you have to empty your black water tank or things could get really ugly inside your RV. So that's where the dump station comes in - you dump your black water tank into a sewer, along with your relatively more pleasant gray water tank (where the water from your sink, shower etc. goes). It's a gross and icky job. Yuck.

So there we were, getting ready to dump our tanks at the Flamingo campground in the Everglades National Park, when this sweet boy came riding up on his bike and asked us what we were doing. I told him that we were about to dump and that it was really gross and icky and that maybe he didn't want to stick around. He assured me that he had seen grosser things and proceeded to describe a dead duck in his yard which some vultures were picking away at. Admittedly, that's pretty gross, but emptying your black water tank is probably grosser and smells a whole lot worse. I tried explaining this, but he wasn't convinced. So he struck around and watched in fascination. That is until he realized it is gross, told us it smelled and asked if he could check out the inside of our Scamp instead. 

But fascination with pee and poop got the better of him, so he quickly headed back around to see what we were doing when we started to dump the gray water tank. That's when he said to us, "So I guess you [pointing at Scott] do all the driving while you [pointing at me] sit in the car and do nothing." I'm guessing he's heard his dad say this to his mom on more than one occasion. It was cute. And true.

He was also convinced that we had room for a dog in our Scamp. Even his Lab-Great Dane mix. I'm not sure he grasped how small our travel trailer is. 65 square feet is barely enough for the two of us, let alone a dog. What are they teaching in school these days? 

Then two other guys came over to chat and wanted to see the inside of our Scamp. I think they thought it was adorable, but they were big, manly guys so they didn't use words like "adorable" and "cute". I'm pretty sure they were thinking it though. They watched us dump for a while and told us about the Robin William's movie about RVers and a scene where the dumping didn't go all that well (I'll leave that to your imagination). Then they told us that there was a NASA rocket launch scheduled soon that we should check out. 

I love tips like this - we've now made plans to make our way up to the Space Cape to watch the rocket launch. Of course, we'll have to dump again before we head up there. Yuck.

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Scamper Goes Gambling!

Scamper Miccosukee Casino

We love free camping, but to get paid to camp some place, now that's exciting! We've stayed overnight at the Miccosukee Casino outside of Miami three times now and we've made $87.50 without spending a dime of our own money. "Sweet as" - as the Kiwis would say. Such a great expression.

We've done dry camping before at Walmarts, wildlife refuges and in municipal parking lots, but camping out in a casino parking lot was a whole new experience for us. The Miccosukee Casino is a handy stopping point on the way to and from the Florida Keys or Everglades. The first time we stayed at the casino, we followed the signs for RV parking to the back of the parking lot. As it was a holiday weekend, the place was heaving with cars, trucks and RVs, but we managed to score a parallel parking spot next to a field. Great spot to set up your chairs next to your rig and watch the birds and planes overhead (the casino is on a flight path to the Miami airport). 

When we got there, I popped into the casino to get our overnight parking permit at the security desk. They take a photocopy of your drivers license and you sign a form swearing that your rig is self contained, that you won't leave your rig unattended and, most importantly, that you won't use the casino as a base to go sightseeing in Miami. I think they would much rather you spend your tourist dollars at rather casino and not in Miami. With the permit in hand, I came back to our Scamp travel trailer, we made some dinner and watched the movie Casino (it seemed fitting). And that was it - a night of free camping in a parking lot.

The second time we stayed at the casino, Scott came in with me and we had a nosy around the casino. Neither of us gambles, so we weren't planning on doing any gaming. A floor manager saw us wandering around, staring at the machines with their flashing lights and invited us to play on a couple of machines that had credit on them. Scott won nothing on his. I won $21.50. I might have gloated a little bit.

Now the secret to gambling is to stop when you're ahead. I hit the magic collect button when all of the credit on the machine was used up, took my vouchers to the cashier and put my money in my wallet. We walked out $21.50 richer without having spent a dime. 

The next time we stayed at the casino, we signed up for the Player's Club. In exchange for divulging your identity and letting them put your details in their system, they give you a $30 voucher to use in one of their gaming machines. So armed with $60 of funny money, Scott and I headed back to the machine I had won on the previous time. All the machines have themes - this one had to do with vampires, werewolves, full moons and that kind of thing. I never did understand how the game works, but I did catch on pretty quickly that vampires are the good guys, especially when you get a few of them lined up on the same row. Cha Ching!

I used my voucher first and won around $10. Because Scott didn't win anything last time and I was on a bit of a winning streak, he had me push the button for him when we inserted his voucher. At one point the lights started going off and the machine flashed "Terrific!" and "Big win!" on the screen. Apparently $44 is a big win on the vampire machine. I was starting to see how people get sucked into gambling. The flashing lights were mesmerizing and seeing my winnings add up was pretty exciting. But we stuck to our guns and cashed in once our credit was used up. This time we won $65.55, again without spending any of our  own money!

We decided that since the friendly folks at the casino were essentially paying us to stay in their parking lot, we should reinvest some of our winnings back in the form of dinner. We both got the $9.95 steak and lobster special. It was about what you would expect for $9.95. But, you know what made it taste even better - the fact that it didn't cost us a dime!

Someone told us that the casino is going to start charging to park your RV next year. Not sure if that's true, but with folks like us who don't spend a dime of their own money and walk out with cash in their hands, you can see why they might be thinking about it.

We resisted the slot machines at Miccosukee Casino on 15 February 2015, had our first win on 9 March 2015 and hit it "big" on 20 March 2015.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On The Art Of Being A Slug {Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Florida}

What types of things make you feel guilty? I still feel guilty to this day for stealing money from my sister and sneaking off to the corner store to buy chocolate bars. I was only seven at the time. I still feel guilty about the time that I ate all of the chocolate cake and didn’t leave any for Scott. That was just yesterday, so I was a lot older that time. And I still feel really guilty about the time that Scott and I were were complete, utter slugs at Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Florida for two days. We did absolutely nothing. Except eat chocolate. Well, the chocolate eating was mostly me. Anyone else detecting a theme here?

Thank goodness for bloggy pals. One of my favorite bloggers, pointed out that you never hear about slugs having heart attacks and that sometimes it’s good to be slug-like and laze about doing absolutely nothing. That really helped me feel a lot less guilty. We weren’t really being lazy, we were looking after our health. Who needs satins, diet and exercise when you can just lie about and eat chocolate all day like a giant slug. A slug becoming more giant every day, probably as a result of all of the chocolate. But let’s not dwell on that.

Do you need to slow down and relax? Is life just getting to be too much of a rat race? If so, here are a few simple rules on the art of being a slug we learned from our time at Jonathan Dickinson.

1 – Never, never make the bed up.

If you live in a 13’ Scamp travel trailer like we do, then your bed is also your dinette. On non-slug days, every morning I fold up the blankets, put the pillow away, raise the table up and voila we have a dinette. Every evening, I reverse the process and voila we have a bed. It only takes a few minutes, but when you’re a slug you have to be careful about expending energy on tasks like this. Plus, if you turn the bed into a dinette, you can’t laze about properly. It makes napping pretty much impossible and having a table might inspire you to cook a proper meal, rather than eating junk food in bed.

So rule number 1 for slugs – keep your bed as it is and stay in it.

2 – Do not pay attention to your neighbors.

We met a lovely couple from Canada while we were at Jonathan Dickson (they also have a fiberglass travel trailer – a Trillium). They were on their annual three week vacation in Florida and were out every day on some new adventure. Biking, walking, fishing, exploring local attractions, you name it, they did it. When we looked out of the window every morning, we could see them getting ready to head on out. Scott and I would look at each other and apprehensively wait for the other one to say, “Maybe we should go out and do something.” Because if you’re feeling even the slightest bit guilty about being a slug and your partner suggests doing something active, you might feel compelled to go along with them. The good news is that Scott and I were perfectly in synch about indulging our inner slug and neither of us ever suggested getting out of bed. 
 
So rule number 2 – ignore your neighbors, they’re bad role models for slugs.

3 – Expend energy on the things that matter.

Obviously, even slugs have to expend some energy. But they make sure they spend it on the right things. Like watching DVDs and reading books. You’d be amazed how much effort it can be to get a DVD out and put it in the DVD player, get things set up and push the on button. It also takes a bit of effort to turn the pages in books. If you waste your limited energy on things like doing the dishes, you’ll be totally wiped out when it comes time to watching your shows and reading your books.

So rule number 3 – the dishes can wait, rot your brain with bad TV shows and chick-lit instead

4 – Ignore societal conventions.

Although we have a shower in our Scamp, we use the showers where we’re staying instead. Society thinks that showering every day is important. And sure, that’s fine when you’re full of energy. But when you’re a slug, walking to the bathhouse in the campground and taking a shower is really way too much effort. Who cares if things get a little bit smelly – save your energy for the important things, like DVDs and books. And eating chocolate.

So rule number 4 – smelly slugs are good slugs

5 – Don’t listen to your mother.

Moms are big on eating balanced meals with vegetables and other icky things. What ever you do, don’t fall into this trap. Cooking a proper meal takes way too much effort. Plus it creates a heap of dishes that will make you feel guilty about not doing. Instead, eat junk food and whatever else you can find squirreled away in the cabinet that requires no cooking whatsoever. That’s where chocolate comes in handy. You just unwrap the bar and eat it. 

So rule number 5 – eat crap, you’ll feel better about yourself.

So there you go, five simple rules on the art of being a slug!

For all of you non-slug like people out there, Jonathan Dickinson State Park has more to offer then just a place to lie in bed like a slug. You can canoe or kayak down the Loxahatchee River and check out the 1930s pioneer homestead of Trapper John. You can go fishing. You can go hiking on one of the park’s three scenic trails. You can go biking on paved or off-road mountain biking trails. But don’t ask us for any details about any of these activities, because we did none of them. 

Embrace your inner slug and keep your heart healthy!

We were complete and utter slugs at Jonathan Dickinson State Park 16-19 February 2015.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Yet More Life Lately In Florida

It’s been a while since we’ve had a “Life Lately” post. Basically bits and bobs about what we’ve been up to lately. We’re still in Florida and enjoying it despite the cost, traffic nightmares and the bugs. One look at the weather map will give you a big hint as to why we like it here – it’s sunny and warm, unlike most other parts of North America this winter. Who knows, maybe we’ll never leave. 

Anyway, here’s what we’ve been up to lately in Florida.

Searching for the Perfect Sailboat

Tayana 37
A Tayana 37 at Indiantown marina.

As some of you may know, we’re currently traveling around the States in our Scamp travel trailer looking for our next sailboat. We’ve checked out some more sailboats lately, but still haven’t found the perfect one for us yet. It’s a pretty big decision, so we want to make sure we make the right one, even if it means waiting a while. Having done most of our sailing together in New Zealand and with Scott having sailed in Europe, neither of us is very familiar with American sailboats, so it’s been interesting being able to see different types of boats up close and personal. We’ve crossed a couple of boats off our maybe list – like the Tayana 37 (Bob Perry designed boat, built in Taiwan). They’re beautiful boats, with classic lines, but they just don’t have the livability factor that we’re personally looking for (way too much teak to maintain and I’m favoring a sugar scoop over a canoe stern). Oh well, the search continues.

This Ain’t My First Rodeo

Rodeo
A very blurry photo of the mad calf scramble

I saw my first rodeo ever in Moore Haven near Lake Okeechobee! Seeing a rodeo has been something I’ve always wanted to do, not sure why it took so long to make it happen. The rodeo we went to was billed as a “ranch rodeo” - no professional cowboys, just hands from the local ranches. Real, authentic cowboys and cowgirls on their horses, wrestling cows to the ground, saddling and riding wild horses and trying to stay on some crazy bulls. It was an incredible evening. And a bit bizarre at times too. At one point, the emcee asked all the children between 5-11 years of age to come down into the arena. There must have been at least 100 of them. They all gathered around at one end of the arena looking excited and then they released three tiny calves with bows tied on their tails at the other end. And then we had the calf scramble. Crazy, excited kids running after the calves trying to grab one of the bows. It was complete, utter madness. The three kids won got cash prizes. I guess it’s never to early to start training the next generation of ranchers. 

Back to the Florida Keys

Sunrise Curry Hammock
Sunrise at Curry Hammock State Park in the Florida Keys

After two fabulous weeks at our secret boondocking campsite in southern Florida, we headed back down to the Keys. We managed to snag a last minute cancellation at Curry Hammock State Park near Marathon. While we really liked our stay at the Jolly Rodger when we were last down in the Keys, Curry Hammock is heaps better. It’s a small campground (only 28 sites) with huge sites (which look even bigger when your rig is only 13’ long) right on the beach. Plus it’s relatively inexpensive (for the Keys that is) – $43 after taxes a night with electric and water hook-ups. We had a great time hanging out at Sombrero beach, catching the sunset at Key West (unlike last time), walking along the old Seven Mile Bridge (and seeing over a dozen stingrays and two dolphins), trying conch fritters at the Seafood Festival in Marathon (once was enough for me) and basically lazing about and soaking up the sun.

In Search of More Alligators

Alligator
This gator must be over 12 feet. That's more than twice as big as me. Yikes.

By the time you read this, we’ll be camped out at Flamingo at the southern tip of the Everglades in search of more alligators. Alligators scare the crap out of me, so I’m hoping we don’t see any. Scott, on the other hand, gets thrilled every time he sees one. Some people have told us that camping at Flamingo is a once in a lifetime experience. You do it once and you never want to do it again because you’re covered in mosquito bites. But other folks seem to love it and rave about the ranger-led cycling and canoe trips. Hopefully, we’ll love it too!

What’s been happening lately where you are?

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Friday, March 13, 2015

The Secret’s Out | Free Camping In Florida




Editor’s Note: Based upon some comments we’ve received here and elsewhere, it looks like this post has created some unintended consequences. Our blog is first and foremost a place where we record our travel adventures so that one day we can look back and relive all of the incredible experiences we’ve had. We weren’t sure whether to do a post about this free camping spot, but in the end we decided to so that we could document our memories of the great time we had there and the wonderful people we met. It certainly wasn’t our intention to “tease” anyone who reads our blog or “flaunt” the fact that we stumbled across a free camping site. We debated whether or not to remove or edit this post, but in the end, we decided to keep it up so that we look back on this time in our life when we’re older and sitting in rocking chairs on a porch somewhere. Hopefully, anyone who reads this post will understand and take it in the spirit it was intended. I guess if nothing else, it has stirred up an interesting debate about what people should or shouldn't blog about.
 
After weeks and weeks of paying far more than we wanted to for campsites in Florida, we stumbled across a fantastic free boondocking site in the middle of a beautiful preserve chock full of ponds, prairies, trees and, of course, alligators. This place has the most amazing people you’ll ever meet and hot showers. What’s not to love? Oh, and did I mention that it’s free? We love free. 

To be honest, we weren’t sure if we should write a post about this place. There’s a core group of people who have been coming here for years and probably wish it would remain a secret so that they can continue to enjoy its peace and quiet without hordes of new folks descending upon the place. However, the secret’s probably out already as some very well known RV bloggers were here at the same time as us and I understand they are planning on writing a post about free camping in Florida. As we only have 0.0001% of the readership that they do, I think the chances would be pretty slim that we would be the ones responsible for the crowds descending on this place if we revealed the name of this fabulous spot. In fact, I would be surprised if even one new person showed up if we blabbed. But, as much as we would like to share, we’ve been asked not to reveal the location, so our lips are sealed.

We’ll still tell you a little bit about the place because otherwise you’ll wonder why there was a two week gap in the timeline on our blog. Yes, that’s how fabulous it is – we stayed here for two whole weeks! We wouldn’t want you to be worried that we were abducted by aliens who took us away in their spacecraft for a couple of weeks. (Although that might have been fun too, provided they were the good kind of aliens.) Actually, now that I think about it, this is exactly the kind of place where aliens could land, disguise their spacecraft as an RV and blend in perfectly with the rest of the crowd here. The people who camp here are very accepting of all sorts of different folks, even those with green skin and six fingers on each hand. 

But enough about aliens, here’s why we love this place.

Boondocking with hot showers

It’s all about boondocking here (as in no electric, water or sewage hookups), but this is some of the easiest boondocking you’ll ever find. Everything you could possibly need is on site – a free dump station, potable water (with a disconcerting yellowish tint, but drinkable nonetheless, if you close your eyes), a trash dumpster and decent enough bathrooms with hot showers. There’s even a place to charge your computer over by the bathrooms. We don’t have a generator or solar, so finding “charging stations” for our electronics is always a bonus for us. 

Near, yet far away

Because we were in the middle of a preserve surrounded by nature, it was easy to forget that we were in fact in Florida. We felt far away from all of the hustle and bustle of the real world (which can get a bit overwhelming with all of the people and their cars). But, we were also close enough to a town which had everything you could possibly need – like a grocery store, BBQ joint, gas station, library with WiFi and a place to get distilled water (the yellowish tint of the water on site wasn’t really my thing). And there was even a marina nearby where we were able to check out some sailboats!

Amazing folks

Although the amenities were absolutely wonderful, it’s the people that really make this place. The folks are so friendly. Within two minutes of chatting with one the regulars, you’ll be invited to the nightly happy hour. Definitely not to be missed. 

One of the things we loved about the place was the diversity of the folks. Such different backgrounds and experiences (with a bit of quirkiness thrown into make things interesting), but drawn together by their love of nomadic living, as well as camping at this particular spot. That’s one thing I’ve found so refreshing about the RV and sailing communities – there’s an instant connection and acceptance regardless of the type of job you have, where you’re from etc.

There were a number of interesting couples that we met. Like the pair who have been married for over 50 years and still make it a point to go dancing every weekend. I hope I’m as agile and nimble as they are when I get to be in my 70s. Heck, I wish I was that agile and nimble now! Then there was the fun-loving duo who never miss seeing their hometown’s college basketball games, even while boondocking. And the Canadian couple who have taken their boat on the Great Loop twice. (The Great Loop is a circumnavigation of the Eastern US by water). They even became our unofficial boat brokers, giving us tips on where to find boats for sale in the local area. 

And then there was the poor Canadian couple from Quebec. For some reason, I got it into my head that I can speak French. I can’t. I was trying to get across some profound philosophical point about people who live a nomadic lifestyle. Instead, the most coherent statement that I uttered to them was, “Your dog is stuffed with cheese.”  They don’t have a dog. Cheese is about the only word I know in French, so I try to work it in every chance I get. They politely smiled and nodded, but probably thought I was trying to say something about hot dogs. 

There were also a lot of solo travelers. While there were a number of guys on their own, I was intrigued by the women who travel around North America in their RVs. I know some people would wonder about their safety and how they cope on their own. Not to worry, they do just fine. I thought these ladies were amazing. 

And of course, the star of the show was the camp host. He runs a tight ship, but he is also takes the “host” part of his job title seriously. A cowboy from New York with a penchant for chardonnay, he is one of those guys who has a million stories, all of which will have you on the ground laughing. 

Helpful beyond belief

People were so helpful here too. When our computer broke (again), a technical wizard fixed it for us. Well, he didn’t really fix it, but he did take it apart and put it back together again. For some mysterious reason, it started working again after that. I think it just wanted us to pay some attention to it. Computers are a bit like dogs who have been cooped up in the house all day alone. They need cuddles and reassurance that you love them. While dogs go about looking for attention by staring at you cutely and bringing you their favorite toys, computers demand attention by getting viruses, not turning on or turning off randomly while you’re in the middle of writing a blog post. Computers could learn a thing or two from dogs. 

And then there was our battery. Because we don’t have solar or generator, we don’t have a way to recharge our battery. Although, we’re pretty frugal about the energy we use, we would still be pretty hard pressed to go longer than four days without having to take Scamper out for a drive to recharge her battery with the car. Thankfully, a couple of guys graciously let us borrow their battery chargers so that we didn’t have to hitch Scamper up. 

But probably some of the best help we got was when people shared their secrets. Once you get to know folks a bit better, they start to give you tips about other amazing free campsites in Florida. Not too many tips, of course, as they’d really prefer that all of their secret spots didn’t get out, including this one.

Watch out for the gators

When we weren’t chatting with the folks here, there was plenty of other stuff to do. We went on some great walks – which were really helpful in working off all of those calories from the happy hours! Why does everyone always bring potato chips to share at happy hours? Oh wait, that was me. I guess I only have myself to blame for that one.

On one of our walks we saw an old dog cemetery. Just a short distance away are some ponds with alligators. I wonder if there’s a correlation between the alligators and all of the dogs buried across the way? Scott just couldn’t get enough of the gators so we went out for a drive to the far end of the preserve where some really big gators were rumored to be sunning themselves. And there they were – I think one of them was at least 17 feet. This was my kind of gator spotting – watching them from the safety of our car. 

When we weren’t out walking and gator spotting or enjoying getting to know our transient neighbors, we did the usual slug-like activities – reading, eating and napping. Boy, this RV living is hard work!

Do you have any favorite free camping spots you want to share with us? I promise, your secret is safe with us! {just kidding}

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