To catch up, Part 2 of our winter travels left off with us in Country Oaks RV Park in Zephryhills, Florida. We stayed here January 17 to 24, 2017. The 55+ RV park was very basic (actually a manufactured homes park with a field area turned into about 8 RV sites) in a small town. While it had full hook ups (so important since we will be without sewer over the next three stops), we had to drive to get in a walk. The Park had a “special” where you could stay a week for $99 if it was your first time there. It was well worth it. We only ate and slept there since we were mainly in this area for the Tampa Super RV Show and to see a nephew, his wife and meet their baby.
On Sunday, January 22, 2017, we were blessed to attend a wonderful church service at Bayside Community Church with them. We went to Brio Tuscan Grill for lunch afterwards, then visited in their home. Their 8 month old son was so adorable! He and I really bonded as he let me hold him most of the church service. A storm was brewing so we had to head home earlier than we would have liked. We made it home just in time for a terrific rainstorm. This is the downside to living in a home on wheels! We actually try to avoid places with such bad weather patterns, but if friends and relatives live there, we go and just have to hope and PRAY! And pray we did as we were going to travel through a Tor:Con 5 area (typical of Tampa area):
TOR:CON Value Descriptions
8+ Very high probability of a tornado
6 – High probability of a tornado
4 – Moderate chance of a tornado nearby, but hail and/or high wind gusts possible
2 – Low chance of a tornado, but hail and/or high wind gusts possible
0 – Near-zero chance of a tornado or a severe thunderstorm
The TOR:CON index ranges from 0 to 10. Multiply the value by 10 to get your percentage chance of a tornado within 50 miles of a location. For example, a TOR:CON index of 6 means there’s a 60% chance of a tornado within 50 miles of any location in the indicated area.
Bill’s main concern was the huge oak tree we were parked under, as you can see by the picture above. We made it back there in plenty time to not have a rough drive in our car (although it was windy). I was monitoring the storm on our weather-app and knew we would only be in the serious weather condition for 15 to 30 minutes….thankfully, it must have skipped us as we felt nothing. The next morning, I talked to our neighbor, who previously had a lot of the limbs fall on their roof. She said they no problems either. They were also praying for us all!!!
The main downside was squeezing in our walks. The day we arrived, we mapped out about 1/2 mile walk around the campground. We searched out some nearby State Parks. There were two, so we thought we’d get in some decent hikes. We got in seven miles walking around the RV show the day I went. Due to the weather, we were only able to get in one GREAT hike while staying here. Let’s look at the State Park we visited:
Nearby was Colt Creek State Park (with an equestrian focus), which is full of wildlife! We have never seen so many varieties as we did on our two hours (5 1/2 mile) hike through here. We arrived too late to take the 10-mile hike, so settled on what was billed as a 7-mile hike. While we were disappointed it was shorter than we wanted, but all the wildlife made up for it. Sadly, the downside was that about 1/3 of the trail was trampled sand, for the horses. Both of us ended up with sore knees! Ah, but the wildlife!!!!
We started out on the hike by spooking a momma gator and her two babies. She let us know of her displeasure, but Bill still aimed in for a picture. 😳He only managed to get one baby in the picture. We went on to see two white-tailed deer, great blue heron, brown hawk and two wild pigs.
The trail was well-marked, which is always so nice, especially when they say, “Stay on the trails.” From the Colt Creek State Park website:
The park offers over 12 miles of beautiful, multi-use trails which make for great horse-back riding, hiking and biking opportunities. These trails meander through the pine flats around cypress domes, bottomland forest and passed open pastures. Three tributaries flow through the park including Little Gator Creek, Gator Creek and the park’s namesake Colt Creek.While out on the trails you may come across some native wildlife including Bald Eagle, Eastern Bluebird, White-tailed Deer, Bobcat, River Otter and Sherman’s Fox Squirrel. During a year-long survey for birds and butterflies in 2007, 150 bird species and 79 butterfly species were observed. So be sure to bring a camera along with you because you never know what you might see!”
We sure missed the Bobcat, River Otter and Sherman’s Fox Squirrel….oh well…..what a great hike, but the sore knees prevented us from returning for the 10 mile hike – which the website didn’t list or show. The Volunteer Ranger gave us a map but this apparently was a new trail as it wasn’t on the website.
Here is the second of our three stays in State Parks (the first was Ross Prairie near Ocala):
From Zephrhills, we drove 90 miles away, just outside of Gator Country, Gainesville, to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Sadly, we could only stay three days/two nights. This popular park is one we hope to return to as we really missed the beauty. We still got in two great hikes and had company for dinner! This was our 10th Florida State Park to camp in, not to mention we lived near Highlands Hammock State Park for 10 years. While we never camped there but friends did. In our three years RVing, we’ve stayed in 5 other state/county/national parks.
Our experience with the Rangers and volunteer staff has always been exceptional – expect this time. It’s sad how an “unfriendly welcome” sets the tone of a camping experience. We ended up without any maps – and at trail head, it said, “Take a map!” Hindsight is 20/20 – I could have and should have turned it around. The person who checked us in must have had something terrible going on in their life – and me of all people should have acknowledged this instead of moaning and complaining about how poor our welcome was. We’re seasoned campers now and just thought we could get by without the trail maps….but since we didn’t have them, we missed an opportunity to see the mustangs, bison and all the other amazing wildlife. So guess we just have to return.
We did enjoy a 5 1/2 mile hike on the Lake Trail and then a 6-mile hike on the Paynes Prairie Preserve trail. We thought we were walking to several water features but the trails were not marked very well and since we didn’t bring a map, we didn’t know where we were going! We just hiked on! The day we decided we best go to Visitor’s Center, it had just closed (at 4:30). We actually tried walking to it on the road, but after a mile, turned onto an actual trail, so we missed out on getting maps there and we missed the AV presentation of this unique preserve! From the website:
Paynes Prairie is biologically, geologically and historically unique. This park became Florida´s first state preserve in 1971 and is now designated as a National Natural Landmark. Noted artist and naturalist William Bartram called it the great Alachua Savannah when he wrote about his visit to the prairie in 1774. More than 20 distinct biological communities provide a rich array of habitats for wildlife and livestock, including alligators, bison, horses and more than 270 species of birds. Exhibits and an audio-visual program at the visitor center explain the area´s natural and cultural history. A 50-foot-high observation tower near the visitor center provides a panoramic view of the preserve.Eight trails provide opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling, including the 16 mile long, paved Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail.
Next time, we’ll drive to the Visitor’s Center and watch the AV presentation and get maps! Here’s a few pictures as we drove in, of our campsite and hikes:
Oh well, we can’t always have a perfect time! So there were a few issues here, but overall, it was a fantastic campground. Sadly, we missed the essence of the park, the wildlife. Lesson learned, go to the visitor center first! We actually were in a bit of a hurry upon our arrival, to get in a walk, then fix dinner for our dear friends. Dinner was wonderful. Bill is still learning a new way to cook, but they seemed to enjoy dinner and didn’t mind us experimenting on them.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Psalm 96:12
Next up, a near perfect stay in Three Rivers State Park near Snead, Florida.