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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Colleton and Home

The railroad in St Marys didn’t delay us too long and we arrived at Colleton State Park in South Carolina just before they closed the gates at sunset. 

We did stop for more bread on the way and found another Sprinter camper van, this one a Roadtrek, parked at a Publix. Couldn't resist parking beside them.

Colleton overlooked the pretty Edisto river. The park ranger was very accommodating and encouraged us to come back for a winter break. They only charge half price if you sign up for a month during the winter. We explored the boardwalk through a cypress swamp before we headed out the next morning. 

Our Campsite at Colleton

Lots of Tall Pines Throughout the Campground

Boardwalk Through the Cypress Swamp leads to the Canoe Launch

Edisto River

We made it home to Durham just in time for me to prep for a minor medical visit. The procedure went fine the next day and I recovered in time to sing with the Heart of Carolina Chorus at a Christmas concert in the nicely decorated Cary Arts Center. 

During the unseasonably warm week that followed we cleaned and winterized the van. The plumbing should be safe from the freezing temperatures that are bound to come soon.

We wish you all happy holidays and a peaceful New Year.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Saint Marys Subs and More

Leaving Tomoka in the rain we headed north again. Once we crossed the new bridge in Jacksonville, it wasn’t long before we left Florida and were ready for lunch. Remembering that there is a submarine museum in Georgia, we pulled into the little town of St. Mary’s to find it in the midst of a Christmas in the Park celebration. The submarine museum was open and we had fun looking at the models and playing with the real periscope that is twice as high as the little museum building. For some unknown reason, I've always been fascinated by submarines. In fifth grade, back at the Campus School, in Plattsburgh, NY spent most of the year building a full-size replica of the "Turtle" much to the detriment of my other studies. It was cool to see a reminder of that 1775 submarine.

The town itself had many nicely decorated homes and historic buildings. One of my favorites was a simple church decorated with wreathes and bows. Another was the “Orange House” with formal pillars and simple greenery.

As we explored the waterfront, three masts beckoned at the end of main street. A tall ship was in town and they were welcoming people to come aboard. The “Peacemaker” was built in Brazil and carries 10,000 square feet of sail. At 150 ft long with masts towering 126 feet over the water she was an impressive vessel. Launched in 1989, the vessel is very modern for a wooden sailing ship. The electronic instruments on the bridge contrast with the miles of lines and ropes that make up the rigging. Owned by a religious commune, the boat was a peaceful place on a cool fall afternoon. The mood was confirmed as we stepped into the main saloon where a fire was burning in the wood stove while a crew member played haunting chords on a harmonium.  Another fellow touring the boat was a marketing person for the Maine Windjammer Association. He noticed my “Mary Day” schooner sweatshirt and asked if we enjoyed cruise. The answer was a resounding yes and reminded me I should post photos from that wonderful week off the Maine coast. Knowing we needed to get going to our next campground, we broke out of our reverie, headed down the gangplank, and back to the van. 

On the way out of town we were “delayed” by a sharp whistle and another reminder of Maine. The local railway museum was running a Santa Train and we had to wait for the steam engine to clear the road crossing. My parents are from Maine, so I had to send a photo of the old Maine Central caboose that brought up the rear of the train.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Tomoka SP

Flooded Streets in Homestead
Last I wrote, we were leaving the Florida Keys because it was non-stop rain. Stopping at a filling station, we had to stay out of the street because there was so much water. Avoiding the busy tollways in Miami, we drove route 997 north through the sawgrass of the everglades. After miles of almost nothing, we were soon surrounded by lush tropical vegetation as tropical plant nurseries lined both sides of the road. A field of longhorn cattle and the road kill of a huge boa constrictor were the only interruptions for almost an hour. 

Our last stop in Florida was Tomoka State Park where we enjoyed an evening on the river with only a little bit of rain. It was near Cape Canaveral Space Center and we were hoping to see the launch of a resupply mission. Unfortunately the winds were too strong and the launch was scrubbed. The sky provided a consolation prize as a rainbow appeared between showers.

I always enjoy walking around campgrounds to see the tents, trailers, and RV’s people use. This tiny pop-up camper could be towed behind just about any vehicle. In the morning we checked out the remainder of the campground where a neat little store and marina bordered the Tomoka river. Beth elected to stay in the van as the skies opened up once again.

Campsite at Tomoka State Park

River access

Not Everyone Needs a Big Rig

Rainbow Instead of Space Launch

Community Center

Store and Marina

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

South to the Keys

Mark & Beth at New River Groves - Photo by Judi

Noah had to return to North Carolina for school, but we didn’t have to go north yet. We dropped him at the airport in Fort Lauderdale and one of the other student’s parents picked him up in Durham. We waited at the airport until we watched his plane take off so we could be sure he was safely on his way. There was a good park right next to the runway where we could relax and watch the planes come and go.

With Noah safely back at school, we headed south to the Florida Keys. On the way we stopped to visit with a friend in Miramar. Being concerned about our finding a parking spot large enough for the van in South Florida, she suggested meeting at New River Groves. It turned out to be a traditional orange grove and fruit stand with tasty lunches. The highlight was their Key Lime pie. We liked it so much we bought one and put it in the freezer so we could take some home for Noah. A friend of the owner gave us a tour of the grounds. There were several Happy Birthday banners around, so we asked if the owner was still active. It turns out he had passed away in May – at the age of 104!

I’d always heard about the great diving at John Pennekamp State Park, so we reserved three nights there. Consider reserving eleven months in advance if you want to insure you get a spot. This was the last campsite available when we reserved it back in June. 

The campground, on the island of Key Largo, was small with only about forty sites. Our site was nicely shaded. The main expanse of the park is in the ocean stretching 3 x 21 miles while protecting coral and fishes along the coast. 

We signed up for a snorkeling expedition where they took us three miles out to a reef. The seas were a little choppy, so we ended up diving at Grecian Rocks instead of the reef with the famous Christ Statue. The visibility was good and the reef was alive with a wide variety of reef fishes.

Beth managed to fit our wetsuits, fins, masks and snorkels in the van. We were very happy to be able to fit into the suits seven years after leaving our sailboat. What we hadn't counted on was that we needed to dry them inside the van since it kept raining outside. Ever resourceful, Beth set-up a line in the cab so they could dry out.

Waves Breaking on the Reef Three Miles Offshore

Winding through the Mangroves as we Head to the Atlantic
Drying wetsuits in the cab of our van.

 We had three nights at the Pennekamp and about the only time it wasn’t raining was when we were diving. We did run into interesting local residents. It turns out that Iguanas are invading the islands. We found these prehistoric looking lizards in the campsite, in trees over the water, and even walking across bridges between the islands. 

Iguana in our Campsite
Iguana Perched in the Mangroves
Beach at Pennekamp State Park

A wide variety of people came to see the park and we heard all kinds of languages. A couple from Germany shipped their van over and are exploring the USA. Their duck, cat, and bear paint job is much more interesting than a standard RV! Another family had a Sprinter with a Hobie Tandem Island Sailing Kayak on the roof. We have the same boat and tow it on a trailer. I can't imagine lifting it nine feet in the air. We may bring ours if we return here. The park has a good dock for campers and there is no extra charge to keep a boat. The kayak would be perfect for exposing the mangroves and sailing in the shallow bay.

Tandem Island on a Roof Rack

Dock for Campers

With the off and on rain, we set off down the overseas highway to see more of the Keys. We made it as far as the Seven Mile Bridge before the weather pushed us back to Key Largo. There was a good spot to park the van at the Pigeon Key visitor center. The guide was helpful and showed us how to get to walk to the bridge without having to cross the busy road.  There are boat tours that leave here and head out to Pigeon Key where the workers lived when Flagler built the railroad that linked these islands in the early 1900's. An old Florida East Coast Railway passenger car serves as a visitors center and gift shop.

The Keys are interesting! We hope to return when we have more time and better weather.

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