Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life-and travel-leaves marks on you.
----Anthony Bourdain

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Manatee Springs (Florida) State Park

This year for our annual Christmas-New Year’s getaway, we decided to try something different and go somewhere we’ve never been. Last year’s vacation to St. Andrews State Park (Fl.) was cold and rainy, so we decided to go a little further south. That turned out to be a good plan because St. Andrews was hit hard by Hurricane Michael and is, for all purposes, non-existent at the moment. One of the volunteers we met either last year or the year before mentioned Manatee Springs State Park so that was our choice for this year.
I called the campground on the morning of our reservation since I already knew we would be arriving after sundown when the gate is locked. I was told that the code was not given out until after 4:00, so I called again that afternoon and received the number to get into the campground. When we arrived at our site (#75) we were greeted by a couple of deer who were bedding down just behind our site. They ended up moving as we quickly set up the camper so we could crawl into bed after our 8.5 hours turned 12-hour trip. No one was in the site next to us so CH was able to pull through that site to drive into ours. I think this was one of the easiest pull-ins to a site we’ve had.
Campsite #75 ended up being a good choice; 74 has a trail leading to the springs right behind it so people were intermittently walking to get to the springs to see the manatees. Unfortunately, the area had quite a bit of rain; swimming was not allowed due to “brown-out” conditions of the spring. We were able to see the manatee coming up when they took breaths, but the water was too murky to see them otherwise. I heard people commenting that usually, the water is crystal clear. The springs feed into the Suwannee River, so when Georgia has a lot of rain the water backs up into the spring. The water was over the patio. That is a covered umbrella in the middle of the picture.
All of the sites are quite large. We were able to set everything up without worrying about the easy-up being too close to the fire pit. 
The sites are only along one side of the loop; the center of each loop is preserved with vegetation and the bathhouse.

We stayed in the Hickory loop, which is in desperate need of updating. You really notice it after looking at the Magnolia loops. I don’t know about the sites in Magnolia, but in Hickory, they aren’t raked between visits. The road doesn’t appear to be as well maintained as Magnolia, and the bathhouse is in need of updating. That being said, I’m not sure why Florida insists on putting up these hooks in their bathhouses that don’t hold anything on them. 
The bathhouse in Hickory was okay though. The shower didn’t have great pressure, but it was warm. Soap is provided by the sinks, although the hand dryer only put out cold air. This bathhouse had 2 sinks, 3 stalls, and 3 showers.
No benches (or hooks) in the shower makes it hard to change into dry clothes after the shower.
There is a handicap stall in Hickory Loop.
Needs updating but is very clean.
The 3rd shower stall had a space for changing when you get out of the shower, as well as a baby changing table.
Don’t even think about putting up a utility tent here, even if you don’t use it for showers. If you’ve read our other posts, you know that I put up the tent to store my luggable loo for those late night/early morning trips. We ran into this same problem at Edisto, but the ranger let us keep it up as long as we didn’t have water in it. The ranger at Manatee Springs was unrelenting. He put his foot down and said absolutely not. He said that if other campers see a shower tent they will think they can do it, too, and then he said something about gray water. We totally get that; we are very careful about gray water.
BUT…if they’re so worried about gray water, why don’t they have washing stations at the bathhouses for campers to wash their dishes? This is something I’ve always wondered about…where are you supposed to wash your dishes if they don’t provide a place? Not everyone is in an RV or camper with water. Tent camping is very popular, and people do cook outdoors on pots and pans. I’d love for someone to answer this for me.
See? Plenty of space for a sink to wash dishes. Take out the water fountain (I wonder if it's even used?) and put in a sink. 
Maybe we have been spoiled by the other places in Florida where we have stayed. There isn’t much to do around the park. It’s rather small, so after riding your bikes through the 2 trails and trying to see the manatees, you’re done. A week is really too long to stay; 2 days…3 at the most would do it. While it’s very cool to see the manatees in their natural habitat, we saw them better when we were in The Keys and they would come into the boat slips.

Baby manatee coming up for air.

There is a place at the springs to rent canoes & kayaks. They have a very small camping store; your best bet would be to drive the 5 miles into town and shop there instead. Wi-fi can be used at the snack shop but it has a very limited range…As in only directly in front of the window. We ate lunch there one day; their barbecue is pretty good; not the best we’ve ever had, but not the worst, and fairly reasonable.
View from the BBQ stand. There was Spanish Moss all over the trees.
If you’re a diver, there are a couple of sinkholes with caves. I wouldn’t be too sure about getting in the water with all of that green stuff on top, but apparently, it’s no big deal because we saw a few divers in Catfish Hotel.
Watered sink hole covered with green vegetation with divers going down the steps on the other side.
If you’re coming to Manatee Springs specifically to swim with the manatees, check the weather. I would even suggest booking a reservation in this park and another one at the same time. Just make sure you know the cancellation policy. We didn’t think ahead so by the time we were thinking about going someplace else, everything was booked. I definitely wouldn't plan on spending a whole week here; there just isn't enough in the surrounding area to keep you busy. 
Manatee statue on top of the title on a light blue background.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Panama City Beach Camping

Well, this is embarrassing! I looked at the last post and realized it's from last year!  Due to some family issues over the past year, I (Mary) didn't go camping at all. Last summer, Robert went out to Colorado with some of his Overland buddies, so he camped. Now...if I could just get him to write some posts! 😁
We revisited St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach, Fl.  between Christmas & New Year's Day. Things were very much the same as last year, except the weather. This year was cold, rainy, and windy, but we made the best of it. We had 2 days of warmer weather, and we didn't let the bad weather deter us. We brought bikes with us this year and we rode almost every day.
We thought way ahead this year (as in we made our reservation in Feb.) and ended up with this site: (I took this picture last year as an example of the water-side sites.)
I actually thought I had reserved the next site over, but this turned out to be a pretty good one. Since there was some foliage along the water, it did block some of the wind.
This was our setup this year. We took the camping kitchen but didn't set it up because of the weather.
We used the windscreens on our canopy the whole time except for part of 1 day.
Last year we discovered the Farmer's Market that is next to Captain Andersons. We were pleasantly surprised to find that it was open on Saturday. There were a few more vendors than last year.
We discovered Lumpia made by an extremely nice military family. They had samples; we tried them and then bought lunch. If you're in the PCB area, check to see where I Roll Lumpia can be found. Well worth the search!
We didn't see any deer around the campsites this year, but we did see them out and about in the park. Our first night there, the people next to us had to shoo away a raccoon, but we never saw any.
We didn't cook as much as we normally do. Robert fixed a couple of breakfasts and dinners. We have a 2-burner stove in the camper, but we don't use it. We do all of our cooking outside.
Robert saw this log in the store and wanted to try cooking on it. He made some shrimp that had been marinated in Italian Dressing. We have a little basket that Robert put the shrimp in & then put over the fire.
Robert gave it a thumbs up. I could taste gas (from the wick maybe?) and wasn't a fan.
Even with the rotten weather, there was plenty for us to do around the area. Our first stop was Thomas Donuts in Laguna Beach.
Last year we found another excellent place to eat, drink some beer, and watch some football: Dat Cajun Place. We ate here a couple of times and stuffed ourselves each time. This definitely isn't a fast food place! Go, enjoy the atmosphere, and have a good time!
We enjoy the beach in the winter. As Robert said, "the solitude feeling of strength".
During a bike ride, we discovered this old still in the park. As many times as Robert has been to St. Andrews, he had no idea this was there.
The birdwatching. Need I say more? (These were all taken from the edge of the water at our campsite.)

This is the edge of our campsite. I had to walk on the boards to get the pictures.
This heron was at the water across from Gator Lake.
Scenes from our campsite at night:

We had 1 day when it was warm enough to get rid of our sweatshirts:
I don't think I've ever seen the water so clear there.
The 1 decent sunset we saw. This was also from our campsite.
This was the most time we've spent in our camper. Even though it's small, it was very cozy. We have gas heat but, since there is electricity at the sites we used a small electric heater. We stayed warm, relaxed, watched movies, and read books. I can't think of a better way to spend a vacation!

Friday, January 20, 2017

St. Andrews State Park (Florida)

St. Andrews State Park is just outside of Panama City Beach, Florida. After visiting The Keys for several years (and having "our" campground plowed down to make way for condos), we started looking for somewhere to visit between Christmas & New Year's. We have been wanting to go to St. Andrews for a while, so we thought ahead (for once) and were able to get reservations.
 We had an inner site; not the best, but definitely not the worst, either. (Site 161) It was a good size for our little trailer. Robert had no trouble getting into the campsite.
The water-side sites appeared narrow, but then they opened up to give you plenty of room.
The bathhouses (there are 4) were big, nice, and clean.
3 toilets, sinks, and showers are included.

The showers are a bit unique: the control is outside of the shower, which seems like a good idea at first, but the pressure is so hard that it blows the curtain. Not only is the pressure really hard, but the shower head is stuck in one position. Not so much stuck, but it's designed in a way that you can't move it. The drains in the women's showers in #4 bathhouse don't work well, so make sure you don't put anything on the floor.
Each bathhouse has it's own laundry and Coke machines.
They also have a dishwashing sink, which we're always happy to see at a campground since our trailer doesn't have water.
A playground is in the campground, so if you have kids, it's a great place for them to stay busy.
Just across the road from the playground, there's a firepit and a little amphitheater. We were a little bummed that they didn't have anything scheduled for New Year's Eve, but one of the state rangers said they may have something next year.
The campsites have a fire ring, electricity, and water. There are some sites with hook-ups, so if you need them, make sure you get a site with that offer.
 This is another example of in inner site. Deer roam freely throughout the campsite. There were signs of raccoons, but we never saw any animals other than deer in the campground.
We had good cell signal while we were there, and were able to use the hot spot. There didn't appear to be any wi-fi. 
Make sure you take your bike; there are several things that are too far to walk, but are within biking distance:
Take a hike around Gator Lake. We didn't see any gators, but we did see birds and a rabbit.
 And a lot of fauna.
There were a few people fishing on the jetties. And, a few brave souls were actually in the water.
The State Park has a pier. It's a little farther away than the jetties, but would be very easy to bike to.
Another point of interest is Shell Island. The state ferry doesn't run in the winter, but we did see some private ferries at the marina.

Overall, we enjoyed our stay. The campground was fairly quiet; not as friendly as others that we've been to, but the people we talked to were very nice. It's very close to shops, restaurants, and grocery stores. Pets are allowed and are to be on a leash at all times. There were plenty of bag dispensers around the campground for the pet owners to pick up after their dogs. 

Oh, and a definite perk of having the beach close by:

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