Monday, December 31, 2012


The Stephen Foster Museum framed with a Live Oak
Our Michigan neighbors, Dale and Nancy Cobb, invited us to come down for the Festival of Lights at Stephen Foster State Park in northern Florida. The park is situated on the banks of the legendary Suwanee River and honors the memory of American composer, Stephen Foster, who wrote "Old Folks at Home," the song that made the river famous. The beautiful museum pictured here is a memorial to Foster and features facts from his life and dioramas of his well-known compositions.
I missed being home at Christmas and this place at least got me into the holiday spirit.  Our campground was filled with recreational vehicles decorated for Christmas, and for the month of December, as darkness descends, the park comes alive with about 5,000 lights decorating the grounds, and Christmas carols ring throughout the day from the bells of the 200 foot tall, 97-tubular-bell Carillon Tower. Even the majestic oak trees are wrapped in lights. It also “snows” in a Winter Wonderland display near the tower.
The Carillon Tower
At the S'More tent before the crowd arrives

The Cobbs have volunteered for several winters during this festival and asked if we'd be willing to help out three evenings with the visitors who would arrive to view the lights and enjoy the festivities. I helped out at Cousin Thelma Boltin's Gift Shop at the park's small village of craft cottages and Dick worked at the S'more tent and was the "Fourth Assistant Stick Washer". He washed marshmallow sticks where people lined up for free marshmallows for their S'mores. The night temps were down around freezing and he said his wash water felt about the same. We were told over 3,000 people attend each night and he said he was sure every one of them roasted a marshmallow or two. He's still not sure he likes this volunteering at parks. Unless he can be a Burmese Python hunter in the Everglades.
Dale and Nancy Cobb and Skipper in the Museum

On Christmas Eve, we were invited to join the Cobbs at a gathering of friends in the historic town of White Springs. We felt so welcome and enjoyed celebrating the holiday at this cozy home with great people and lots of good food. Then we were invited to join a group of the park's volunteers for Christmas dinner at a Chinese Restaurant in Valdosta, Georgia. So if I must be away from home at Christmas, then it sure would be great to return to this park, but I promised Dick only I would volunteer but he could just go hiking and be a wildlife photographer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


From St. George Island we continued along Florida's Scenic Hwy 98. We visited historic Apalachicola on the banks of the Apalachicola River, and continued east to Ochlockonee River State Park, then on for a few days in St. Marks, the easternmost point on the Forgotten coast. Each area is different, and all are uncrowded Natural Wonders.
While in St. Marks, each morning we got up before daybreak to drive the 7 mile Lighthouse Road inside the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. It is a bird watcher's paradise. Besides a variety of birds, we saw a huge cottonmouth lying across the road. We stopped to take pictures (from the safety of the car). We thought it had been run over, but then again it could just be warming up on the asphalt so we stayed in the car. On the return trip about an hour later, the snake was still there in the same position, still with it's mouth wide open. We took more pictures still not sure if it was dead or not. We did another hour hike in the area and returned once more to check on the snake but it was GONE! At one point I had suggested Dick get out and pick it up and I'd take some pictures. This was one time I was thankful he didn't listen to me.
While hiking I saw out of the corner of my eye what I thought was another snake but it was only a stick. I had jumped and grabbed Dick's arm. He said, "Don't hang on so tight because if something jumps out of the bushes it's every man for hisself!"
We've met lots of friendly people in these tiny Florida towns. One morning we stopped to buy some Tupelo honey and Mayhaw jelly from an oldtimer on the side of the road and listened to him tell of his childhood when he and his "mama" would collect Mayhaw berries while "daddy" was fishin'. "Mama wore an apron with big pockets to collect the berries, and then we'd go home and make mayhaw jelly and serve it with hush puppies and fried fish and maybe some butter beans or skunk cabbage fried in bacon grease." Some of these people have such a southern drawl that I "cain't" always understand what they're sayin'. We were talking to a local sawmill man and he was explaining about "lauder" the heartwood of the pine tree that's full of turpentine. I asked him to spell lauder. He said L-I-G-H-T-E-R.  This has happened to me a couple of other times on this trip. I think I'll just keep my mouth shut and act like I know what they're saying.
I just have to mention that we passed through the little town of Sopchoppy. It's the worm gruntin' capital of the world. I remember seeing this on DIRTY JOBS.  Viewer discretion is advised

In my last blog I mentioned Dick was getting into wildlife photography. He's really loving it. Here is a YouTube of some of his pictures.  Click on widescreen to make them larger.

1. The Red cockaded Woodpecker is endangered but we saw a few around the Ochlockonee River. This woodpecker nests in cavities they create in living pine trees and naturally protect themselves from rat snakes by pecking around the cavity and causing sap to flow. When a snake climbs the tree gets sap stuck under its scales and, more often than not, will fall out of the tree before being able to eat the red-cockaded woodpeckers.
2. The white squirrel found at the Ochlockonee River State Park is a Leucistic Eastern Gray Squirrel.
3. Info about Worm Gruntin'
4. St. Mark's NWR is one of two winter homes for Whooping Cranes who were led here over 1,113 miles from Wisconsin by ultralights.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


We enjoyed several beautiful warm, sunny days at St. Joseph State Park and then the overcast and rain began yesterday. During late afternoon when the rain let up we went out to get some fresh air and exercise. Two great horned owls were talking to each other and we decided to try and locate them. It took about 30 minutes. They are so well camouflaged they blend right in with the pine bark. We finally spotted them when the male flew to the female to mate with her. It was amazing. Our patience and persistence paid off.
This picture wasn’t taken by Dick even though he now has a new hobby as a “wildlife photographer.” When he was convincing me he needed a new camera he said I was going to really like it because he’d be gone taking pictures and it would give me the time alone I needed. Worked for me.

We’ve enjoyed fun visits with Shiona and Randy, the campground hosts. They’re the ones with the “VIP LOUNGE.” We always meet good people when we travel. We’ve kept in touch with so many, hoping to meet again somewhere along the way. We also enjoyed good conversation with a woman (picture below) from Vancouver Island, British Columbia who bought a small travel trailer and truck and left home in June. She, with her dog as her traveling companion, has ventured all across Canada and down through the eastern U.S. to Florida and then will head west and north to be home by late March. She had never done this before but just decided to go for it.

Remember the snake I mentioned in the last blog that killed someone’s dog? While our Canadian friend was walking her dog one day, ahead of her in the road was a huge black snake that stopped and lifted its head to check her out and quickly slithered away. We think it was the same snake who killed the dog because it came from the site where it happened. I'm always looking ahead wherever we walk. I don't want any surprises.
We're leaving in the morning, not because of the snakes, but to check out St. George Island State Park 40 miles east of here. On to new adventures!

Sunday, December 9, 2012


We left Grayton Beach, following the Gulf SE to the St. Joseph Peninsula. We're staying at the 2,500 acre State Park. We discovered this park two years ago and love the peace and quiet, the secluded white sand beaches, dunes and the heavily-forested interior. The weather has been perfect and it's wonderful sleeping with the windows open. We listen to the Great Horned Owls talking to each other as we fall asleep and then they're still hooting when we wake up at dawn. Every morning we walk along the boardwalks and roads as the sunrises, coffee in hand.
Our Traverse City friends also traveled here for a couple of days. Diane told us when she walked to the bathroom one night the light on her headlamp spotted large spiders that had glowing green lights coming out of their "butts". Of course we all laughed and didn't believe her. The next night she had us all out looking for glow in the dark spiders. She could see them but we couldn't. Then we finally figured out why. We had to put on her headlamp to see them. That is the trick. A flashlight held in hand doesn't get the right angle of light. We looked them up and identified them as Wolf Spiders and it's their eyes reflecting in the light. That cured me of going barefoot here.  We were talking with another camper who said she just about walked by a water moccasin (Cottonmouth) on the board walk but looked up in time. After hearing that and the host telling us someone's dog got bit last week and died. I'm more aware of my surroundings now.
 We plan to stay another week. We enjoy exploring on bikes or on foot. We've had fun and laughs with the campground hosts at their "VIP LOUNGE". A great way to meet other campers too. There was a karaoke party going on at one of the campsites. I said to Dick we should go check it out and he said, "Somebody thinks they can sing and I don't want to encourage them." Dick has recuperated from his gate injury. Funny Face (the cat) hasn't tried to escape again and I enjoyed a day to myself when Dick walked into the Wilderness Preserve 14 miles to the end of the spit and back. All is well.

For those who are interested in our wildlife spottings:

Florida Box turtle (endangered - beautiful design)
Immature Bald eagle
Bob cat (small one crossed the road)
Cow Nose Ray (jumping out of the water trying to fly)
Great Horned Owl (still haven't spotted them, but hear them)
Great White Heron
Wolf Spiders

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


We are still at Grayton Beach State Park in Florida and our Traverse City friends, Dean and Diane Tobias, happened to be here for a few days too. We’ve had a great time visiting with them while beach-combing, bike riding, etc...One afternoon we decided to go explore the nearby towns on our bikes. As the four of us approached the campground gate, the steel arm went up and we all rode through.  At least we thought we all rode through. All of a sudden we heard a loud crash and groan. We looked back to see Dick stopped and holding his head.  The heavy gate arm came down and hit him in the face.  It bent his glasses and the right side of his face was bleeding. He's OK but doesn't look so good. Later when I asked him if his face hurts he said he wasn't going to fall for that trick. He always asks people that and when they say "no" he says, "Well, it's killing me." I hope this is the only “pre-Dick-ament” we have on this trip. 

This morning as I went out the motorhome door, Funny Face did too!  There’s a pattern with this cat. Whenever we start on a new trip she just has to escape one time and then realizes it’s scarry outside and we chase her out of the bushes and back into the motorhome. Usually that one time cures her of wanting to go outside and she doesn’t go near the door for the rest of the trip. This time it didn’t happen that way. We couldn’t find her for several hours and when she returned she looked at us as if to say, “That was great fun.”  Sure enough, she tried to escape again this afternoon.  She's wearing a collar with a tag but it really wouldn’t do much good because she’d never let a stranger catch her. 

When we lifted up our electric box cover to plug in the motorhome at our site, there were several green tree frogs sleeping there. They are so tiny but all together make big sounds in the night.

Birders - While here at Grayton Beach we've seen a bald eagle, osprey, sanderlings, mockingbirds, great blue heron, wrens, cardinals and a Dick E. Bird among others.  

Did You Know?
The stunning sugar white beaches of this area along the Gulf are composed of fine quartz eroded from granite in the Appalachian Mountains.  The sand is carried seaward by rivers and creeks and deposited by currents along the shore. The long physical journey (about 350 million years) has broken down, bleached and polished the bits of quartz that we see today.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


A row of vintage Airstream restaurants in the town of Seaside.
When you spend some time in cold and snowy weather it sure makes you appreciate the warm weather. We arrived at Grayton Beach State Park on the Florida coast and shed our jackets, opened all our windows and went for a walk on the beach in the sunshine. We can't stop making the comment how wonderful this weather is.
Salt marshes, sea oats covered dunes, crystal-white sand and beautiful blue-green water of the Gulf make up this 2200 acre park. We've enjoyed the hiking and birding, and biking on the extensive bike trails to the unique seaside towns.
As a good friend once said, "This is sucking the juice out of life."

Western Lake at Grayton State Park