Oct 5, 2020 – Her Florida

After several months of traveling, we are welcomed back to Florida.

We need above all, I think, a certain remoteness from urban confusion.” Marjory Kinnan Rawlings

After several months of traveling, crossing the state line into Florida conjures mixed feelings. We could easily turn around and continue traveling, but we also get a warm and fuzzy feeling when we come back to Florida. It is our home and despite all the baggage that Florida carries with it, we love it and always look forward to coming back to it. It is for this reason and the fact that our home base is way down on the southern end of the state that we take advantage of the great distance between the state line and Chokoloskee to explore Florida.

And no matter where we are in Florida, we experience everything we dislike about the state and everything we love about it. While getting our annual Forever Warranty service done in DeFuniak Springs, we decided to check out the little town of Seaside.

A walking path or an actual road? Hard to tell in Seaside.

Seaside is an unincorporated planned community on Florida’s Gulf coast designed by Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, architects that have influenced the green urban design industry. Their vision was to create a community that would “cut through the smog of America’s car dependency”. The result was Seaside that is laid out with a grid so that stores and community buildings were only a few minutes away from any home on foot. Never been to Seaside? If you watched Jim Carrey’s movie “the Truman Show”, you most certainly have seen it as it was the backdrop for Truman’s Rockwellian hometown, aptly named Seahaven Island.

Just a block or two off highway 30A, one can easily drive through the neigborhoods of Seaside. This leaves you feeling secluded and you would not think about all the traffic and crowds along 30A.

So while I can appreciate the green architects vision, driving around a Florida coastal town with a full ton truck does nothing to cut through the smog of America’s car dependency. Seems everyone visiting Seaside and perhaps living in Seaside leave a vehicle parked somewhere, which is why we could not find a place to park (or at least one accommodating to our smog-creating diesel engine truck). Besides, you could not spit without hitting a tourist or community dweller, so we drove slowly around the Trumanesque town, enjoying the neighborhoods filled with a range of building designs from Victorian to Postmodern, often hidden by a thick growth of native plants in the front yard.

The boardwalk in Deer Lake State Park stands above a beautiful dune ecosystem. The boardwalk keeps people from walking all over the dunes.

Along highway 30A, the crowds and traffic were relentless, that is until we came onto a little oasis in the middle of a sea of development, and that is Deer Lake State Park. Deer Lake is one of the rare coastal dune lakes which, in the United States, are found only along the Gulf Coast. From 30A, a small gravel road takes you to a deadend parking area where $3 gets you a parking pass. From there, a short walk on a boardwalk takes you into (actually over) the dunes before ending at the waterfront beach. Except for the surrounding development, it is pristine and and wild, and without human footprints. The dune ecosystem is one of 11 natural communities in this 1920-acre state park and the boardwalk provides a full view of it.

The dunes overlook the Gulf of Mexico.

After a few days, we left the panhandle to settle in for a week at Wilderness RV Resort, right up against the Ocala National Forest and on the Ocklawaha River. This gave us an opportunity to paddle a wild Florida river as well as visit the little town of Micanopy and the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. Never heard of either of these places? Welcome to old Florida!

I had the best turkey reuben at the Old Florida Cafe in Micanopy.
And after lunch, we visited the Micanopy cemetery.

Kirkpatrick (once the Rodman) Dam was built along the Ocklawaha River to facilitate navigation along the Cross Florida Barge Canal. The Florida Barge Canal was to go through the Ocklawaha River and construction was stopped in 1971. Thankfully, there are over 70 miles of natural river with a significant part of it running through undeveloped Ocala National Forest giving you a scenic view of Old Florida. This is the part of Florida that we love.

The Kirkpatrick Dam is a leftover from the Cross Florida Barge Canal project. You can read more about the canal in one of our first blogs from 2018 when we began to travel with the RV and passed through another area of Florida also affected by the canal project.
We spent a day paddling the Ocklawaha River.

Speaking of Old Florida, long before I moved to Florida, I knew about a book popularized by a movie, titled “The Yearling”. In the spirit of “Old Yeller” I honestly could not gather the nerve to see the movie. Nor have I read the Pulitzer Prize winning 1939 novel by Marjory Kinnan Rawlings. But having recently seen the movie titled “Cross Creek” which stars Mary Steenburgen as Rawlings in the biographical drama romance film, Vivian and I took a keen interest in visiting the Marjory Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park located in Cross Creek.

At the entrance of the Marjory Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park is a wooden sign with a Rawlings quote befitting of Old Florida.
Rawlings home is on display at the park, and is pretty much the way she left it when she passed away in 1953.
Unfortunately, the house tour was closed and we were unable to go inside.
But the park volunteer spent some time with us telling us about Rawling’s life on her orange grove. In the bowl are small fruit called roselle, a type of hibiscus First time I ever heard of it, but apparently, Rawlings grew it on her land.

Rawlings once wrote, “Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and the seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of seed, and beyond all, to time.” There Rawlings lived on a 72-acre orange grove between Orange and Lochloosa Lakes. Her stories that fictionalized many of her Florida cracker neighbors immerse the reader into the remote wilderness and those that lived in the area. Rawlings spent long periods of solitude at Cross Creek and wrote that she could feel “vibrations” from the land. Her Old Florida land is now her historic state park.

A 1940s Oldsmobile, similar to the one Rawlings owned, sits in the farmhouse’s car port.
I believe the boat is the original one used by Rawlings, whereas the motor is a replica of the one she used on her boat.

After our short time in Rawling’s Old Florida, we headed south and eventually crossed the bridge to nowhere – our home. Fall did not feel much different from spring when we left five months earlier, yet there was just a hint of winter in the air as hurricane season finally passed and we settled in for the long haul. As our northern friends and family braced for a long cold winter, we got our canoes out and enjoyed the Everglades for the next four months. As Rawlings once wrote, “Here in Florida the seasons move in and out like nuns in soft clothing, making no rustle in their passing”. Indeed, as I write this, we are well into spring barely feeling a change in the air.

Still hurricane season when we arrived at the bridge to nowhere, rains clouds hover over Chokoloskee Island.

Yet, the calendar says it is time to go. Our 2021 travel adventure begins – now.

As Rawlings has said, “Here is Home”.

Sep 19, 2020 – Waterfalls, Canyons & Lakes

Burgess Falls, Tennessee. The water falls about 136 ft into a limestone gorge.

For family, our travels always include Indianapolis; so once again like many times before, we drove from Indiana to Florida’s panhandle by way of Tennessee and Alabama. This time, we took our time heading south and meandered off the beaten path so to speak. With no cities in our way, the next few weeks were nothing but waterfalls, canyons and lakes, oh my!

One of our favorite campgrounds is Defeated Creek on the Cumberland River, about 50 miles east of Nashville.
The campground is maintained by the Army Corp of Engineers as with many campgrounds we enjoy staying in.
The fog in the Appalachians and over the creek was a beautiful sight to see each morning from our campsite.
And not to mention the herd of whitetail deer that wandered in open fields within the campground.

In Tennessee, we camped on reservoirs and while Vivian fished from our campgrounds, I drove to Burgess Falls State Park one morning. Before 7 am, I waited in the truck outside the closed park gate until someone came to open it. Finally, a ranger opened the gate, and other than him, I was the only person in the park. I walked the short distance down to the water from the parking lot. Since traveling, waterfalls have eluded me, and most of them have presented themselves as nothing more than a trickle. But not today.

Along the path that follows the water trail is the remains of a foot bridge that once gave people a full view of the Middle Falls.

At last, my tripod stood on rugged rocks being swept by gravity-driven water. Today, I had exuberant water and I was alone in my own private Tennessee paradise (at least for a short time before other visitors showed up).

About a 1/2 mile up river from Burgess Falls was a beautiful area of the river from which I could photograph safely.

Further south, we spent a couple weeks in Alabama. We have become very familiar with Alabama as it is conveniently located next to Florida and quite difficult to avoid on our travels north or west. And each time we come here, it surprises us – this time with its deep canyons, grand overlooks and yes, waterfalls. The southern Appalachian Mountains come into northeast Alabama with canyon rims, bluffs and sandstone cliffs, and gorges carved by the Little River.

The Little River cutting through the landscape.
One of the lookouts within DeSoto State Park which is located atop Lookout Mountain. We enjoyed several hikes within this mountainous state park.
There are so many hiking trails in northeast Alabama. Check out the state parks such as Bucks Pocket and DeSoto, as well as across the Georgia state line to Cloudland Canyon State Park.

Little River Canyon (a National Preserve since 1992) is one of the deepest canyon systems east of Mississippi River and the deepest in Alabama. While staying at a campground in Fort Payne for one week, we had time to explore the area. Lots of hikes, photography atop a waterfall, and lunch at a quirky mountain town called Mentone.

With only a small water fall, I was able to walk over the rocks above Little River Falls with my tripod and camera.
A day after spending the morning photographing from the top, an afternoon storm brought the falls back to life.
Another view of Little River Falls before the storm. While I photographed, a person walked across the rocks and sat down near the water falls. In this photo, the person is sitting out-of-view behind the horizontal rocks in front of the water falls.

Heading further south, we come out of the mountains and the rolling terrain becomes less rugged and more gentle. We were getting closer to the gulf coast and Florida, and temperatures were increasing. On our way down, we stopped at Wind Creek State Park, one of the largest state parks in the United States and where people can access Lake Martin.

During a morning walk along the edge of Lake Martin.
From a narrow peninsula that juts out into the water about 1/4 mile, I photographed Lake Martin early Sunday morning. No one else was out there.
You’ll never forget which state you are in when camping in an Alabama state park. On an early Monday morning, this sight is uninspiring compared to the ostentatious red decor that filled the campground over the weekend.

Following Wind Creek, We headed south and stayed near the town of Eufaula with its southern hospitality and historic plantation homes. We were in the deep south, the antithesis of the badlands where we spent much of our travels this summer.  Which makes it even more ironic that while staying in southern Alabama, I was able to explore a canyon. A very strange and quirky canyon.

While camped at White Oak Campground, another Army Corp, Vivian got a little fishing in from her inflatable kayak.

Eufaula is on the Walter F George Reservoir, a large vertical expanse of water that is split down the middle by the Alabama-Georgia state line. As the early morning sun rose, I drove across a bridge from Eufaula on highway 82 into Georgia and headed north about 16 miles to Providence Canyon State Park. The drive there took me through rolling hills of forests and farmlands, nothing special for these parts.

Satellite imagery of Providence Canyon gives you an idea of its peculiar terrain.

As I got closer to the park, I had thoughts of our visit to Badlands National Park in South Dakota a couple months earlier where we drove through the flattest country for hundreds of miles before all of a sudden, like being tele-transported to another planet, we were surrounded by extremely tall and very strange rock formations. Likewise, once inside Providence Canyon, you feel you are in another world, certainly not southern Georgia.

It isn’t until you get inside the canyon that you realize how strange and quite surreal this place feels.

But yet, there it is. But this time, unlike the badlands we visited this summer, Providence Canyon or ‘Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon’ is manmade, which makes it even more peculiar. Apparently, Georgia recognizes its Natural Wonders and considers this one to be one of its seven. The canyon was created by erosion after years of poor agricultural practices during the 1800s (I suppose that’s natural considering man is part of nature).

Constant erosion from water is quite evident in the canyon that is comprised of mostly sandy clay.
You’ll find several of these crevices barely wide enough for one person to walk into along the canyon walls.
It is difficult to believe that canyon walls several stories high are made of this.

The erosion created several gullies as deep as 150 feet and you can climb down and wander around many of them. As you walk the gullies, you are surrounded by very tall and colorful canyons comprised of pink, orange, red and purple hues. The clay and sand soil appears fragile, like a sandcastle on the beach. The rare plumleaf azalea grows here as well. All this makes Providence Canyon a strange and beautiful thing, thanks to farming gone bad.

The colorful canyon wall reminds me of tapestry.

Out 2020 travels included many places that are not only far removed from our southern Florida ecosystem, but so broadly varied from each other. Rolling hills of Iowa, Although we traveled far and wide to see some of these strange lands, it is remarkable that so many of them border right up to Florida. The United States is diverse in many ways and to explore it by RV is a wonderful thing. And yet, as we leave Alabama and cross the Florida line, I begin to think of how I could spend a lifetime simply exploring this state. Well over 500 miles lay ahead of us before we settled down for in Chokoloskee for our winter hibernation. So, we spent a little time near the Ocala National Forest to do some exploring. Stayed tuned for our final 2020-travels blog coming soon.

Another foggy scene from the Defeated Creek campground.
Outdoor seating or takeout only from the Wildflower Cafe in the colorful mountain town called Mentone, in Alabama.
A nice view of an Army Corp Campground called Long Branch, on the Caney Fork in Tennessee. Spacious campsites spread out wide and on a weekday, we had the place practically to ourselves. Water levels on the fork vary widely from water release from the Center Hill dam located several hundred feet upstream.