Not knowing how long it was going to take to get the warranty work done on the RV at Tri-Am, we did not have reservations for the next two weeks. This was the first time we have had to do this and I was nervous. However, after talking with the Escapee Park, The Resort, back in January and finding out they did not take reservations, but had never turned an Escapee member away even in February, we decided to take our chances. I did not know until Tuesday that we would need a place beginning on Wednesday, I called up the other Escapee Park in the area, Sumter Oaks, to see what they might have available. Sumter Oaks was just south of Ocala near Bushnell instead of The Resort which was east of Tampa. Thankfully, they did have one site available, but had to call us back. They needed to check the size of the site and when they called back I was disappointed to find out it would not be big enough for our 35 foot RV. It turned out they would have a couple of pull-through sites opening up on Thursday, so we decided to take it meaning we would have to “dry” camp without any hookups for Wednesday night. This would be another new experience, but we should be fine for only a single night. We made sure we had full water tanks before we left Tri-Am so we could use our water pump for the first time.
They were finished with our RV by 10:00 in the morning and since the drive was just over an hour, we had plenty of time to get to Sumter Oaks. We were there by noon and soon thereafter had backed our RV into their dry camp area. Even though this was a large open area and we could put the RV anywhere we wanted, the trees on the other side of the road made it more difficult then it should have been. I took two attempts at it and finally just gave up and accepted the fact I was not going to get the RV at right angles to the road! Since we would be pulling out in the morning to another site we decided to leave it hooked up to the truck for the night. Another new experience! We knew the RV would not be level, but the downward angle from the front to the back of the RV would get some getting use to. The angle was not severe enough that we had trouble sleeping in bed, in other words, I did not end up on top of Kal by morning. However, coming down the steps out of the bedroom were a surprise in the morning as I ended up in the living room before I could stop myself. The water pump worked perfectly and with the propane water heater we had hot and cold running water. We could not use the microwave or TV, but the propane stove meant we had a hot meals. In order to charge the batteries in the computer and IPad, we spent a few hours in the evening at the clubhouse plugged into their electricity. We had the joy of listening to their weekly bingo games while we were there. We would still need a generator to power the refrigerator which used about a third of the battery power over the 24 hours, but I believe we could do this. We are still not sure we want to do it, though.
On Thursday, we waited until after lunch to check on our pull-through site, although I think we could have done it sooner as we could tell there was nobody occupying the site. In any case, we pulled the RV around and tried to pull into the pull-through. While it might be a pull-through site for shorter rigs, there was no way to make the turn into the site without the RV going over the rocks surrounding one of the sewer connections. In addition, we were on a dead-end street in the Park meaning I needed to back the RV up, making the turn back onto the road at the back of the campground without hitting the dumpsters directly behind me. I was not happy!! Fortunately, this is an Escapee Park, which means I had plenty of assistance as soon as it was obvious I had a problem. By moving a few chairs it was possible to pull forward and go between two other RVs that were parked in sites without any trees between them. It sure surprised one of them who told me later about seeing an RV go right by his window where there should not be an RV! I was able to pull this monster around and set up to back into the site. It was going to be a challenge with a large live oak I had to swing around. Luckily with the assistance of our next door neighbor who had driven big rigs, I was able to back it in without too many issues. We got to know our neighbor and their dogs fairly well since Sumter Oaks is set up to share hookups which meant we shared a “front yard” with them. They are a young couple who were just moving into their fifth wheel and going full time so we had a lot to share. I was used to being the novice at living in an RV since everyone we met had been doing it for years. It was different knowing more than someone else about how to manage a very small living space.
On Friday, we needed to do some laundry and I had to catch up on this blog which had managed to get over two weeks out of date. So we stayed at Sumter Oaks for the day.
By Saturday, we were both ready to do something and we had one more National Park to visit in Florida. So we took on the hour and a half drive to Bradenton which is south of Tampa. This distance is unusual, since I am trying to stay close to the National Parks on our travels, however, we decided to stay at Sumter Oaks instead of The Resort which would have been only about 30 minutes away. I was not sure what to expect at De Soto National Memorial, since I am primarily aware of his expedition from 1539-1542 since we have run into mention of him at other sites in the southeast. It turns out this was his original landing site in Florida from which the expedition began. After a very good video about De Soto and his expedition in the Visitor Center, I had a much higher appreciation of what they did. We learned that De Soto had already been successful as a conquistador serving under Cordoba in Nicaragua and Pizarro in Peru. He was a wealthy man when he returned to Spain in 1536 only to return as the Governor of Cuba with a mission of locating and establishing colonies in Florida. However, his goal was to find gold and other treasures which he had every reason to believe would rival what had been plundered in Central and South America. Instead of establishing any colonies, he embarked on an extended search for this treasure, starting with a small camp near Tampa. Beginning with 620 soldiers, tons of heavy equipment, 237 horses, over 200 pigs, and an unknown number of war dogs, De Soto went north in his search. De Soto was a brutal leader who would begin by capturing the chief of a village and then through torture and other brutal practices would learn what they knew of treasure, as well as, supplying bearers and guides. Moving and plundering village after village they made their way north with the promise of treasure always beyond the next village. Over the next three years they traveled into the Carolinas and west to Arkansas. After dying of a fever in 1542, the survivors (less than half) made their way down the Mississippi River to a Spanish settlement in Mexico. After viewing the video, we took the short nature walk around the point on the river and ate lunch in their picnic area. Following lunch we ventured over to the reconstructed “camp” where Park Rangers in period clothing were giving presentations every hour throughout the day. The talk we heard was very interesting since it focused on the major impacts and consequences on the New World. The most interesting part of the talk for me was the reason behind bringing pigs and the impact of the war dogs. We learned about there use of massive and armored war dogs that were very effective against infantry trying to fight with hatchets and arrows. Obviously, pigs were brought as a food source, but why pigs? They are much easier to herd then cows, they will eat just about anything, and they reproduce at a fantastic rate. Some of these pigs would have certainly escaped and become wild leading to the razorbacks in the southeast. They also had another huge consequence for the Indians. Almost certainly the Indians would have also started raising pigs, however, they had not evolved with the pigs and were not prepared for the many diseases carried and transmitted by pigs, including measles and small pox, which over 250 years killed millions of Indians. This is also the reason there is very little known of the oral histories of these Indians since entire communities would be wiped out, including most of the story tellers and elders who would not be able to pass down their history. Fascinating talk. After the talk we took a longer hike through the mangrove to the old De Soto Monument and Holy Eucharist Memorial Cross.
Sunday was another beautiful day in Florida, so we decided to check out an historic site not to far away, Fort Cooper State Park. We had no idea what to expect, but we guessed it would have something to do with the Seminole Wars. We were correct, although the State Park is more about recreation around the lake and hiking trails. There is nothing to be seen at the fort site and without a Visitor Center or museum, there was little information about the fort. There were a few interpretive signs that give the basic information and more are planned for the future. Fort Cooper was of minor importance during the Second Seminole War, being constructed in 1836. It was a simple palisade fort built by Major Cooper to provide protection for the sick and wounded soldiers while General Scott continued on to Fort Brooke (Tampa). He was only suppose to hold out for 9 days until soldiers would return to escort them, however, they suffered for 16 days before the troops arrived. After the third day when they were discovered by Osceloa and his Seminole Indians, they were under daily attacks. While a number of soldiers were injured, only 3 died during this period. They have put up about 10 feet of a palisade at their approximation of the location, which is all that can be seen. We did enjoy the hike through the hardwood hammock before lunch and pine sandhill community after lunch. Unfortunately this is a small state park, which meant it was very close to a busy road through the hammock and they were going to have trouble trying to maintain a fire regime in the sandhill community, which is essential to maintain the pine and turkey oak community. There was already a lot of scrub oak and hickories in the mid-story which will replace the pines eventually without fire.
Ocala is only just over an hour from Orlando, so we were close enough to visit Jenny again before leaving Florida. Since Monday was her day off, this was our chance. Recently, Jenny has been dealing with transmission problems with her car and we have been talking with her about getting a new car and consolidating her payments. She had already put a lot of money into the car, of which we were helping along with just about all of her income tax refund, and the engine light was still indicating a problem. She took her car into the shop again that morning before we showed up. We took her out to lunch at a great restaurant, the Sweet Tomatoes, which I believe is a chain store. If you have the chance, I would highly recommend it. It is an all you can eat salad and soup restaurant, which means you can make the greatest salad you can think up and/or sample from a number of great soups and breads. From there we went to play miniature golf on Disney property, Fantasia Golf. We have played this course before and it is an enjoyable experience, Disney knows how to make anything a lot of fun. While we were there, Jenny got a text message from an old Auburn friend who had just arrived with his new family for a week at Disney World. She also got the bad news from the garage as it was going to take more hundreds of dollars to fix a sensor that was causing the problem and they would have to keep the car over night. At the time we figured we would be returning to Orlando on Tuesday to help Jenny out with transportation. In the meantime, we headed over to meet her friend who was staying at Animal Kingdom lodge. I believe I have stated it before, but Disney just seems to know how to do things right. Not only is the Animal Kingdom beautifully done in an African theme down to displays throughout the halls of native African art work and information about African culture, but guests are not allowed out of their rooms onto the grounds. The reason for this is there are a number of African animals roaming the grounds. From any of the hotel rooms, except those facing the parking lot, you can watch giraffes, ostriches, gazelles, water buffalo, etc!! I was totally blown away. We also met up with another Auburn friend that works at Disney World who offered to get Jenny around on Tuesday, so we were off the hook. They were also going to go by the Credit Union to see about consolidating her debt into a loan for another used car. I am just afraid she is just beginning to see major expenses to keep her car running.
Tuesday was going to be the last nice day before the next cold front hit dropping the temperatures dramatically, so even though it threatened rain we headed south to see a reconstructed fort from the Second Seminole War, Fort Foster. Actually Fort Foster is just across the highway from Hillsborough River State Park, so we saw both of them on the same visit. In the morning went to the museum they have for the Fort, which was not all that exciting. I did learn more about the Second Seminole War, but for the most part there was nothing new. The fort however, was certainly worth the trip. The have totally reconstructed the fort at its original location, as well as, the bridge over the Hillsborough River for which its protection was the reason for the fort. Since they use the fort for periodic programs on weekends with volunteers in period clothing, all the rooms are laid out with period furniture and items. I was especially impressed with the cannon they had on a platform inside the fort which was aimed out a small door in the palisade straight down the bridge over the river.
After looking over the fort, which had no other visitors while we were there, we drove over to their picnic area. This picnic area was very impressive with multiple areas, pavilions, bathrooms, and even a cafe (which was not open). After lunch we had to wait an half hour for the rain to stop under one of the covered pavilions. We then took the hike along the river towards the rapids. Even though Kal was concerned that she would get soaked from the wet vegetation or another rain shower, I just had to see Florida’s idea of rapids! It was suppose to be a Class II rapid, but I had to see it to believe it. The trail along the river was a nice walk with a constant view of the river. They were able to do this by providing boardwalks or bridges over any section where the banks had been washed away. As we approached the rapids you could hear them and the overlook built by the CCC in the 1930s was well positioned to give an excellent view of them. While I don’t argue they are a Class II rapid, it is only about 100 feet long with a couple of small drops. We have now seen what Florida has to offer as a “Pass” in the Everglades and a “rapid” on a river.
On Wednesday, the weather had certainly taken a turn for the worse for Florida, with temperatures during the day in the 50s and projected to get below freezing over night. For the next two days we would have to survive through Florida’s winter so we decided to stay home and not brave the weather (he says sarcastically). Therefore, Wednesday and Thursday were spent on catching up on my blog and Kal did the laundry again. I also got some cleaning done on the RV in preparation for taking the RV back to Tri-Am on Saturday.
Friday was our last chance to get out and the weather had improved with temperatures back into the 70s. We had survived the brutal winter in Florida. I feel very sorry for all our friends in Auburn and family in North Carolina and Maryland who have really had to deal with a brutal winter that seems like it will not end (for everyone not in Florida at least). We stayed close traveling only about 10 miles to Dade Battlefield Historic State Park. As expected this battlefield is associated with the Second Seminole War, however, what we did not know was this battle essentially began the Second Seminole War. Tensions between settlers and the Seminole Indians had been increasing since they Seminoles were forced to leave their towns, homes, and cattle ranches in northern Florida to a reservation in central Florida that is essentially swamp land and dry sandhills in the 1800s. Now that Florida was part of the United States, settlers wanted this land as well and President Jackson was determined to move the Indians west to the Arkansas territory. After three treaties that the Seminoles were forced to sign, they were supposed to move west. Government troops were determined to make them move and the Seminole Indians led by Osceola and other chiefs were determined to fight back. They established forts near Ocala, Fort King, and near Tampa, Fort Brooke, with a Military Road running through the Seminole Reservation. In December, 1835, Major Dade led 108 US troops north from Fort Brooke to resupply and reinforce Fort King. The Seminole Indians shadowed the troops they entire journey, but after passing the three river crossings in the south, Major Dade thought the danger had passed. However, the Seminole Indians were waiting for Osceola to join them who was delayed at Fort King. Once they were within 100 miles of Fort King, the Seminole Indians decided they had to attack without Osceola and set up an ambush in the pine flatwoods by hiding in the saw palmetto and grasses. The initial volley killed most of the officers, including Major Dade, and by the end of the day only two soldiers were left alive since they had been unconscious and presumed dead. This battle so outraged the public, that a major offensive to force the Seminole Indians out of Florida commenced that would last for 7 years before calling it a victory even though there were still hundreds of Seminole Indians in the Everglades that never surrendered. The historic site is very small since it includes only a small Visitor Center and the location of the battle along the Military Road. There are a couple of monuments that were erected over the location where Major Dade and one of his lieutenants were killed. There is also one of the largest live oak trees that I have ever seen and the nature hike through the pine flatwoods was interesting. They are attempting to recreate the forest conditions to the time of the battle, which means frequent burns. They have successfully reintroduced fire on part of the land, but still have a long way to go. While it only took a couple of hours to visit the battlefield, it was worth the visit.