Well now it is a couple of months into the new year and as I related in the previous post, we did not do very much in January and February. We spent January in Auburn saving money and dreaming about our life on the road. The weather was cold for Alabama during the month, but nothing like the snows William had to endure in Maryland. We did get a snow fall in Auburn, which only happens every third to fifth year, but when it does it is beautiful. Especially since it melts on its own the same day. In this case the weather stayed cold enough that the snow did not completely disappear for two days!
From gift cards I received for Christmas I was able to buy a Magellan eXplorist GC unit which is a small hand held GPS unit made for Geocaching. After creating an account on http://www.geocaching.com we were ready to download some local caches and try it out. First we did some caches that were only a couple of miles from the house and had fair success locating 2 out 5 caches. We then turned our attention to the Forest Ecology Preserve which has 15 caches scattered across the property. For the most part they are close to one of the trails so it was just a matter of following the trails. As we suspected it was a great way to see all of the Preserve which we had never done before. We spent a couple of hours each of two days chasing them all down and found all but one of the caches. They ranged in size from a large tupperware container, to ammo boxes, to micro-caches in tiny tubes. As you can imagine the GPS unit and a trails map can get you within 10 feet of the cache, but then you have start searching for the cache. It can be a tube hanging in a tree, an ammo box hidden in a stump hole or under a log, or even hidden in plain sight. All the caches have a log book or sheet of paper to log your visit and the larger caches will have trade items that you can exchange with something you brought. There was even a sketch book in the tupperware container on the Forest Ecology Preserve that you could draw your own picture. As we expected geocaching provides a good reason to take a hike in the woods or just around a town. I believe this will be a good addition to our trips in the future as their appears to be no end to the caches just waiting to be found.
February was once again spent mostly in Auburn, although we did get out for our first trip of the year. We decided to visit some old friends, Rick and Barb Theobald, in Tallahassee, Florida. Rick also happens to be our financial advisor with Waddell and Reed, so we would mix some business into the trip as well. In anticipation we made reservations at the Corps of Engineer campgrounds on Lake Seminole, Eastbank Campgrounds for February 27 through March 5. We decided on waiting until the end of the month so we could watch the Winter Olympics. One of the great advantage of being retired is being able to take the time to watch all of the coverage for the Olympics via the recording box on the cable. Since the Olympics were in Soshi, Russia, most of the live coverage was during the middle of the night. Therefore, each day during the Olypmics was spent catching up. Thank goodness the Winter Olympics are not as large as the Summer or we would not have been able to watch all the coverage. There was a good bit of repetition of the events during the day that we were able to keep caught up each day. I certainly got to watch more Curling and Ice Hockey then I have ever watched before. There was some great moments and disappointments throughout the two weeks. Once the Olympics were over we got the camper ready and loaded and headed out to the pan-handle of Florida (even though the campgrounds are actually in southwest Georgia).
We had a wonderful trip to Florida. Even though our site was uphill from Lake Seminole since we have to be close to the bathrooms, unlike nearly all of the other RVs staying in the campgrounds with built in bathrooms. The site was nice and perfectly suited to our needs. While the first night was cold enough for the propane furnace, we decided not to use it since it still has a nasty smell when turned on for any length of time. It is getting better, but we still have not cleared out “newness” and don’t intend to be using it much with temperatures below the range of the heat pump (about 40 degrees). Notice the picture that Kal took of a Bald Eagle flying through the campgrounds.
On Friday, we decided to explore some Indian Mounds around Tallahassee. The Lake Jackson Mounds Archeological State Park is northwest of Tallahassee. This Park is very small with two visible earthern Indian mounds dating from 1200-1500 A.D. and a short nature trail around an old mill site. While we began the day being the only people in the Park, we once again found ourselves in the middle of a grade school excursion that were using the Park for a lunch stop. We continued on to the Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park that is east of Tallahassee and much more recent dating back to 200-450 A.D. This park is dominated by a 46 foot height earthen mound with a nice boardwalk and interpretive pavilion from the parking lot. There are also 3 smaller mounds that are visible along a short walk if you know what to look for. These mounds were only a few feet high and would not be noticeable without the signs pointing them out. Once again we had the Park to ourselves and had a pleasant cool (and windy) afternoon exploring the mounds.
We expected to have another day on Saturday away from the crowds as we decided to explore the old civil war battlefield at the Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic Park, southeast of Tallahassee. However, we found the Park to be overrun with people in period dress getting ready for the battle re-enactment on Sunday. Although unexpected, it was a good experience seeing how they camped out during the civil war. The Park itself is very small consisting of a monument and Confederate breastworks. The site of the battle itself was privately owned until this past year and there are now plans to expand the Park. The battle itself is advertised as Florida’s most significant Civil War conflict since it was this skirmish that kept the capital of Tallahassee out of Union hands at the end of the war in 1865. Tallahassee was the only Confederate state capital east of the Mississippi not captured by the Union. The battle itself consisted mostly of an exchange of cannon fire. Rather than trying to eat lunch with the crowd at Natural Bridge we decided to continue on to San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park south of Tallahassee near the Gulf. The fort located at the Park has a very long history spanning the Spanish explorers in 1679, through the War of 1812 when Andrew Jackson occupied the fort for a brief time, through the Civil War when it was known as Fort Ward. There is not much left of the original stone fort since the blocks were used in other construction including the St. Marks Lighthouse. The weather on Saturday was warm and sunny so we decided to check out the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge during the afternoon. Come to find out this National Wildlife Refuge has an outstanding Visitor Center and extensive trails through the salt marshes along the Gulf and is a favorite place to spend a Sunday afternoon, even in early March. After looking through the Visitor Center we drove out to the St. Marks Lighthouse and enjoyed the pleasant afternoon hiking along a couple of trails. We took some great pictures and had a great day.
After wearing ourselves out on Saturday, we decided to stay relatively close to the campgrounds and drove into Tallahassee to visit the Mission San Luis de Apalache. This Mission was essentially the western end of the Spanish Missions in Florida during the late 1600s. Being a Mission, it was a joint effort between the Spaniards and the Apalache Indians, which at the time were the most advanced and powerful of the Indian tribes in the pan handle of Florida. The Mission lasted only until 1704 when it was burned and abandoned in the face of raids by the English and Creek Indians. The Mission has been extensively studied by archeologists and we were honored to join a tour by one of those archeologists that have been involved with the project for many years. They have reconstructed the Apalache Council house which is a huge wooden structure on the property that held 2000-3000 people along with the large Franciscan Church, fort, the Friary, and examples of the Spanish homes on the site. The artifact collections in the museum alone make the visit very worthwhile. Our tour guide added a lot through her explanations of how they conducted the multiple archeological projects and what they found. It certainly added a lot to the experience.
We took it easy again on Monday, partly because the weather had turned cold and cloudy. We spent the morning with Rick and Barb talking about our financial situation and catching up on family and friends. The afternoon was spent enjoying the campsite and making dinner in the dutch oven.
On Tuesday we decided to check out Fort Gadsden which began as a fort during the War of 1812 along the Apalachicola River south of Tallahassee. Wikipedia list it as an Historic Site administered by the U.S. Forest Service and our GPS unit already had a location. However, the location in the GPS along highway 65 had no roadsigns for Fort Gadsden. About a mile north was a roadsign for a Florida State Historic Site named Fort Gadsden, but it was closed and people we had talked with on Saturday at Natural Bridge Battlefield did not know about a State Historic Site by that name. Sure enough the State Historic Site was closed (we drove and checked), so we were out of luck. We drove on down to the Gulf Coast and saw a sign for a boardwalk in the Tate’s Hell State Forest. Why not? After driving about 5 miles on dirt roads we found the Ralph G. Kendrick Dwarf Cypress Boardwalk. It is a very nice boardwalk that takes you up above the 40 foot tall cypress trees. The boardwalk is only about 0.2 mile long, but the view from the top over the cypress swamp was worth it. It is interesting that the dwarf cypress which does not grow over 15 feet tall in this location, is not genetically different than other cypress that grow much larger. There are some long term studies in place to try and understand the reason as it is not due to a hardpan or other physical soil limitations. After lunch, we continued to look for some other hikes to take and found a kiosk with brochures about the Birding trails in the area. We decided on checking out Bear Creek Educational Forest that is part of Lake Talquin State Forest. It turned out to be a 1.5 mile trail around an old beaver pond on Bear Creek. Along with numerous signs identifying trees and understory plants, it also included a half dozen “talking” posts and a guided tour with 23 sign posts that described the ecology. Included are a bottomland hardwood, upland pine, and an impressive steephead that feeds into the pond.
For our last day on Wednesday, the weather once again threatened rain so we decided on a museum, specifically the Tallahassee Museum. I was expecting inside exhibits, but this Museum is nearly all outside. It includes an extensive zip line that extends throughout the park, even over and through the cypress swamp. Unfortunately the lines were not open due to the weather. There are sections of the Museum for an old farm along with farm animals that would house demonstrations of blacksmithing, cooking, and weaving during the summer. Other areas include a transportation exhibit that includes a caboose, the Bellevue plantation home along with school house and church from the period, and a natural zoo area with many of the local wildlife. I finally saw my first Florida panther and heard it meow sounding just like a small cat! One of the best surprises in the museum was the standing art work of prehistoric dinosaurs scattered through the swamp made out of old car parts! Although we enjoyed the museum it would have been a lot better later in the year and with better weather. Counting us there were about a dozen people in the museum. Since the weather was cloudy and cold and the museum was barely functioning, we only spent a couple of hours there with the whole afternoon to kill. Since there was a U.S. Men’s soccer game that afternoon, we found a local mexican sports bar named Cancun (not affiliated with the one we go to every week in Auburn as far as we know) and had an enjoyable afternoon eating chicken fajitas, drinking margaritas, and watching soccer on the TV. It made it a pretty good day!
Thursday was spent driving back home in the rain. Although it threatened rain throughout the week, this was the only significant rain we saw the whole week. A good first trip of the year, but I am looking forward to heading more north this spring. We will see how far we get.