Lake Wales, Florida (Part 1)

Lake Wailes

Picture from my walk around Lake Wailes (that’s the original spelling) and scripture from my Bible reading that day.

To be successful as a  full time RVer, you have to be flexible and have faith. Oh, and a good sense of humor goes a long way!  And so far in 2016, we’ve needed all of these and more!

Like most of us, we choose to “winter” in warm climates. But we’re not big planners – so we only had a few things we hoped to do the two months we planned to be in Florida. First, we applied to be volunteer work campers last January at TopSail Hill Preserve State Park and had hoped we would start the winter there for the month of January, and then visit friends in Ocala on our way to Sebring.  We didn’t get the position, so we headed straight to the Sebring area to be with family (and help my mom prepare her house to be sold after the passing of my step-dad).  We had planned to spend a few days in Ocala, Florida to visit with members of our “spiritual” family, our former pastor who re-married us and his large family. We also hoped to see our dear missionary friends in Miami at some point, possibly meet them around Sebring. And then I have a friend who has a complicated life. She can only be seen on certain days, so I had hoped to visit her on one of those days while in central Florida.  All we managed to do was spend the month in Sebring, plus more time with my mom; we couldn’t meet up with our friends from Miami or Ocala, but I was able to see my one other friend miraculously. Our initial planned date didn’t work out, so it looked like we would miss each other this winter. But due to the below circumstances, I was able to see her on Leap Day. That truly was a gift of a day!

As we have written many times before, we do love the beach and mountains. In the winter, the beach is a bit better than the mountains unless you are in the southwest (so we hear).  We do trust our fate to our Lord and He nixed the volunteer opportunity, directed us to our legal residence where my mom lives and then had us settle in Lake Wales for three + weeks to repair our RV.  We were then able to see mom a few more times before leaving Florida. (She will live closer to our daughter, so we will see her more while in Virginia.) Things always have a way of working out. But the city of Lake Wales is not near a beach nor a mountain. 😁

Now the good news is that we were camped in a parking lot with full hook ups for free.  OK, so that’s not so glamorous but the price is right. We were told it would take between five and ten days for the repairs.

ADDED info: The only thing they couldn’t do was repair or replace our MCD Wheel Cover Glide Trac.  Bill’s previous line of work (auto insurance adjusted) had him scouring salvage yards for parts. But this collision center couldn’t help us. We were referred to Visone RV Automart near London, Kentucky.  We made it there and got the part in June. Read about it here.

We finally finished all repairs on business day 16, and are VERY happy with them! And that was Leap Day, so it was really a gift.  But we couldn’t help but wonder why it takes so long for RV parts to arrive? And then we had a bit of an issue with our new dryer we had installed in October from Camping World, Myrtle Beach.  That’s a long story (more about taking so long for RV parts to arrive), so lets just say we were able to get a new dryer installed from Camping World, Bartow, just 15 minutes away from our parking lot! But the date that finally occurred  was on on February 26. In spite of it taking much longer than we were told for both the RV repairs and the dryer, things just couldn’t have worked out better.

For 10 years, we lived in Sebring, Florida, just 30 miles south of Lake Wales. It’s a direct route and we have actually driven through and around this area many times. Most notable were our visits to Bok Tower. We had no idea there were also three fantastic preserves/state parks in the area.

But first a bit about the historic Bok Tower. We first visited it while we were just visiting Bill’s mom one year, around 1996 or 1997.  Then we took our daughter during Christmas during one of her visits. And then we rode the motorcycle there for a day trip. We love beautiful gardens so we enjoyed spending an enchanting day walking around them. From the official website:

Bok Tower Gardens boasts one of the greatest works of famed landscape architect. The meandering, historic landscape garden was designed to be a contemplative and informal woodland setting offering a series of romantic recesses and tranquil resting spots, picturesque vistas and breathtaking views of the Singing Tower. Acres of ferns, palms, oaks and pines fashion a lush backdrop for flowering foliage and the spectacular seasonal color of azaleas, camellias and magnolias (a highlight of our spring peak bloom season) showcasing an ever-changing work of art.


We actually thought that was it for Lake Wales attractions. Oh how wrong we were! While here for our 22 days, we hiked at the Tiger Creek Preserve five times, once at Lake Kissimmee State Park and once at Alan David Broussard Catfish Creek State Park. We also had some serious rain storms so we had to find a dry place to walk in between storms. We discovered a nice walking trail around Lake Wailes, so we visited it three times. The rest of our time here was going back to Sebring a few times, shopping and taking care of the issues with the dryer.

Tiger Creek Preserve – As a reminder, this Preserve “is named after the pristine blackwater stream that forms its spine, the preserve contains hardwood swamps, hammocks, scrubby flatwoods, pine flatwoods, sandhill and longleaf pine/wiregrass habitat. Nature unfolds all year long – visitors may enjoy seasonal wildflowers and blooming grasses, or anticipate the return of the swallow-tailed kite.

“The Highlands Trail is a 7.2 mile, sandy loop trail that takes visitors through a beautiful, open pine woods area called the “central highlands.” Please allow 4 hours. A shorter side trail, the Patrick Creek Loop, crosses Patrick Creek and enters a forested wetland. Allow 2 hours.”

We wrote about our first two hikes in this amazing preserve, here. We had to return three more times after these two hikes.  What a gem! There are a variety of trails so we had five very different hiking days here.

We’ll share a few pictures from our attempt to hike one of many trails, the Patrick Creek Loop Trail, and then of our last and longest hike. On February 26, the day we tried to hike to Patrick Creek, there were no signs warning it was flooded. We hiked part of it, until we hit the part where the “bridge” went underwater. And then our final day hiking, February 27, we decided to go all the way and hike to and around the Highlands Loop again. (The first time was to me, our best hike in a long time!)  That’s when they finally put up a sign the Patrick Creek Loop Trial was closed due to flooding but also that the Highland Loop was closed for trail maintenance. The sign was dated March 2016, but since it was February 27, so we decided it wasn’t closed yet….

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Let’s now link the discovery of this preserve back to Edward Bok. It was part of his vision to create a preserve in this area, not far from his home in Lake Wales.  He created a sanctuary now known as Bok Towers and Gardens. Bok was born October 9, 1863 in Den Helder, Netherlands. When he was six, his parents immigrated to Brooklyn, New York. His life story is truly a rags to riches tale. His lucky break came at age 19 when he was hired by a relatively new publisher, Henry Holt and Company. He made several career moves and finally at age 26, he became the editor of the Ladies Home Journal, where he served for 30 years. Within a few years he married his publisher’s daughter and they went on to be a power couple in philanthropy and well known to appreciate music and all things cultural.

His accomplishments were pretty amazing, in addition to being a prolific writer, he was concerned with American homes. He not only wanted to see homes to have some form of style, he wanted to see homes that every family could afford. He crossed the lines of architects by promoting the idea of “bungalows” as an affordable home. Even President Theodore Roosevelt made this comment:

[He] is the only man I ever heard of who changed, for the better, the architecture of an entire nation, and he did it so quickly and effectively that we didn’t know it was begun before it was finished.

We loved our visits there and were sorry we didn’t go back to the Bok Gardens this time. We highly recommend it if you are ever in the Lake Wales area. They were only about 10-15 minutes away from where we were “camped.”

Lake Kissimmee State Park – This was 20 miles away and well worth the drive. Florida definitely has beautiful state parks. I’m not very original, so it is easier to just copy from the official website about all this park has to offer. All we did was enjoy the hiking!

Florida’s cowboy heritage comes alive with living history demonstrations of the early Florida “cow hunters” in an 1876-era cow camp. White-tailed deer, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, turkeys, and bobcats have been seen in the park, located on the shores of lakes Kissimmee, Tiger, and Rosalie. Visitors enjoy boating, canoeing, and fishing in the picturesque lakes. Nature students can hike over 13 miles of trails to observe and study the abundant plant and animal life. Six miles of trails are open to equestrians. A large, shaded picnic area with pavilions is available. The park has full-facility campsites, as well as a primitive camping facility. The youth camping area can accommodate up to 50 people. The dark skies make stargazing a popular nighttime activity for campers. Located off State Road 60 15 miles east of Lake Wales.

We hiked over 7 miles here. It was just an amazing adventure for us. We saw a number of armadillos, a few Sandhill Cranes and heard lots of turkeys gobbling! The Forest Rangers had been doing some controlled burns to help with the foliage growth (common in Florida’s dense forests) so that may have chased other wildlife temporarily away. The best way to tell about the hike is with this slide show:

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To be continued in Lake Wales, Part 2.


Our Best Hike (in a long time according to Debbie)!

Our second day. The weather was warmer!

Our second day at the trail head. They had trail maps and a notebook to sign saying which trail you plan to hike and how many in your party.

As we finished the trail yesterday, I asked Bill, “What we should name this post?” We usually agree on most things. But he said, “Central Florida’s Best.”  For him, this was a perfect day on a trail. So much better than Disney World, he continued. But maybe not the best. We’ve had a lot of GREAT hikes.  But for me, I thought it was the best, at  least in a long time.

We are currently in a location we would not have selected. We are here by chance. The tire blow out. GEICO Insurance. We’re in a “preferred” shop that happens to be an authorized Tiffin (our RV’s maker) repair facility.  But we do know Central Florida. We’ve lived in what is called, south central Florida. I wrote about it here.

But we never heard of this place, the amazing Tiger Creek Preserve, Lake Wales Ridge, The Nature Conservatory.  From the trail brochure, it tells us, “It is located on the edge of peninsular (their word) Florida’s oldest and highest land mass, the Lake Wales Ridge.  The ridge shelters some of the highest concentrations of threatened and endangered plants and animals in the United States…” It is “a high-quality blackwater seepage stream and the vegetation that falls into the creek colors the water….The preserve protects various Florida habitat – hardwood swamps and hammocks, scrubby and pine flat woods and sand hills…rare animals…including swallow-tail kits, bald eagles, gopher tortoises….”  And for us, it offers great hiking, up and down this high mass in Florida, on white sandy trails as well as other diverse trails and with very well marked trails. So we were all over it! Our first day, we did one of the main and most popular hikes, just over four miles. We decided to start with it, Heron Pond Loop Trail. There are 10+ miles of trails in this nearly 5,000 acre preserve.


Entrance to the Heron Pond Trail with a memorial note honoring Ken Morrison

The day was overcast, a bit breezy and cool. So our photos aren’t the best. But it was so tranquil! And a bonus, we didn’t see any other hikers, although a couple had signed in earlier in the day.

While we had our camera ready, we didn’t see any wildlife. But we saw lots of deer and other wildlife tracks, hog tracks/mud holes and just serene nature at it’s best. It was a bit windy so we think that kept the wildlife hunkered down.


Of course, we love history, so I had to look up Ken Morrison when we got home.  The few facts they posted only made me want to know more about this man. Oh, how I would have loved to met him! Here are a few excepts from his obituary:

….He thoroughly enjoyed life until his death of natural causes at age 92.
Ken was born April 1, 1918 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He graduated from Carleton College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. In 1943, he married his high school sweetheart, Helen Curtis. The family moved from New York where he was the Editor of Audubon Magazine. They settled in Babson Park, Florida and for 25 years Ken was the second Director of Bok Tower Gardens. He was President Emeritus of the Florida Audubon Society and on the Board of Trustees of the Defenders of Wildlife and the Nature Conservancy’s Florida Chapter. His lifelong love of nature grew out of a childhood fascination with birds. With his enthusiasm and knowledge, he inspired many people to appreciate and protect Florida….

Ken’s love of the English language was revealed through his public speaking abilities, his writing skills and his great sense of humor. For 10 years he wrote a weekly column “Ask the Naturalist” for the Daily Highlander and the Waynesville, NC Mountaineer. He authored two books, Mountain Lake Almanac and the Tonic of Wildness. Ken was also known for his musical talents. Although he had no training, he was a singer extraordinaire in the Vaudeville style and enjoyed music gatherings. He was a long-time member of Babson Park Community Church….

Being a minimalist who also loves to read, I hope I can find copies of his books I can “borrow” since I gave up owning books. Wouldn’t you want to read his books or his column?  Anyway, we had to go back for more so the next day, we brought lunch and were prepared for a seven mile hike!

While we still had white sandy trails, we also had lots of diversity.

While we still had white sandy trails, we also had lots of diversity. Here are hog mud holes on the trail!

We were on all dry land the day before.

A website recommended wearing water proof boots. Of course, I did the day before when we were on all dry land. So I wasn’t prepared….


At least there were some “bridges” to help over the swampy areas. And fortunately, we never got our feet wet!

We haven’t hiked this far in a while, so we felt we needed to pace ourselves.  While we started rather early for us (11:00), we decided to take our lunch break at 12:15, after only two + miles into the hike. What prompted it was the bench we found at the entrance of the Highlands Trail. We took a short break and then entered the trail ….


We were not disappointed. In fact, on one review, it said don’t do this hike unless you want the miles, the rest of the hikes show off the area. But we disagree. Granted, we wanted the miles, but we just love serenity and tranquility as we wander around in nature!  And what made this so great is our conversation. I wish I had a recording of it! We talked about everything as nature prompted us….


We saw so many deer tracks, we know they were out there.


There was so much diversity! And what a fun sculpture by nature!


Should we or shouldn’t we? We never read about this…..Oh what the heck, we’re adventurists!

Oh, this is where you want to take a lunch break!

Oh, this is where you want to take a lunch break!

Thank you Tricia!

Thank you Tricia!


The view from Tricia’s Peak! Oh, to see an eagle or deer….We know they are out there….

We actually didn’t take many pictures we now realize. But we enjoyed every step of the way. We knew there was wildlife there. We saw so many different animal tracks. We recognized the deer, there were LOTS of their tracks, also birds, tortoise tracks and even snake tracts. We carefully looked to make sure we didn’t get a surprise.


The brochure warned us the trails may change directions abruptly, so pay attention! From this picture, you can see the trail is not really clear in some places.

As we began to wind down, around miles 5.4, we noticed there were two directions we could go! The whole time, the trail was clearly marked. Long story short, we ended up looking for our own tracks as we seemed to get a little lost. We know if that happens, to go back to where you last saw a trail marker. They provided phone numbers in the brochure in case this happened. But I had my “Map My Hike” tracker going, so we used it to “guess”which direction to go. As it turned out, we found a detour around all the swampy areas so we only had to walk back through a few of them. This probably added another 1/4 mile or more to our hike.

And then the excitement begins!  Finally, Bill spots what may be an otter in the pond as we emerged off the trail.


They are hard to catch! See the waves? He just dove down.


Can you see him? He has his head up in the center of the picture. What a disappointment our camera was.

We watched for 15 minutes or more and enjoyed these gorgeous creatures. There we four of them.  They were so playful! I saw two of them kiss!  Up and down off the bank, on the other side of the pond. We just never got a descent picture. But what a treat it was! We always hope to see wildlife. So Bill said, “Oh just to see one more animal would be good!”

And then, SWOOSH! We saw two beautiful and rather large deer literally flying through the bushes beside us. And then SPLASH as they landed in the water….and then they were gone!  I’ve always said the Lord hears our prayers and desires!  I had just read this Psalm a few days ago and really meditated on it as I thought about all the answers to our prayers and what a wonderful lifestyle we have:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4


If you would like to learn more about the Tiger Creek Preserve, check out these websites, and Florida Rambler, where we discovered this gem!