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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Jonathan-Dickinson Thanksgiving Base

A full moon greeted us as we pulled in for the third time in four years, at Jonathan-Dickinson State Park. The location allows us to join in the annual Thanksgiving gathering with Beth's family.

Noah is flying down to join us on break from NC State, so his pup tent is set-up on our site.

Finding we were near other Pleasure-Way Lexor owners, we met Jackie and David Polge at Harry and the Natives, a funky, fun spot for lunch. Jackie and Beth shared storage ideas.

Discussing the potential for rain, the Polges volunteered their inflatable bed to let Noah sleep inside. After an enjoyable lunch, we followed them home to borrow their air bed.
Thanks Jackie and David!
Though designed for the Sprinter cockpit, it does work in a ProMaster.  You can get one of these for $169 in the Pleasure-Way store. Noah tried it and it worked, but at age twenty he opted to sleep in his own little tent rather than be in the van with mom and dad. The heavy rains didn't materialize, but if they had he would have been happy to move inside.
One of the fun things to do here at Jonathan-Dickinson is take the guided pontoon boat tour up the Loxahatchee River to Trapper Nelson's and back. This section of the river is still in an undeveloped state so offers lots of opportunities to see birds, turtles, and the occasional alligator. Call ahead to make sure of a time when the tide will be at a level so you can explore Trapper Nelson's homesite. If the tide is too high, you can't get safely onto the dock and you don't get to go ashore.

Near the docks, a visitor's center houses a small museum showing wildlife and geography of the area.

Donated by friends of the park, this battery powered all-terrain chair is available in the visitor's center to allow folks with disabilities to get out on the park trails. There is no charge to use the chair, but you might want to call ahead to insure availability.
Bugs are sometimes a challenge, especially near the river. Bat houses like this one help with natural insect control.

Biking on old military roads, we did veer to avoid a rattle snake. Shortly afterwards we saw this Osprey making a meal from what may have been the same snake!
We put in lots of miles riding from the front campground to the river and back every day. Trying to get creative here, it really only shows the need to replace my bicycle saddle.


Speaking of saddles, there are guided horseback riding adventures in the park everyday. You can rent a steed or bring your own.

There are a few campsites next to these stables in the center of the park. If the regular campgrounds are full, you might want to ask if there are sites available here.

The red line on this map represents the paved route from Pine Grove campground to the River campground. There are also nine miles of one-way off-road biking trails. It didn't really take us two hours, we stopped at the visitor's center and watched a movie.
Crossing the tracks that bisect the park, we noticed that the signal shed still bears the name of the old Camp Murphy military base. True to its name, the Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) serves the east coast of Florida from Jacksonville to just south of Miami.
Hearing a train in the distance, Beth humored me and waited while I captured some photos of the rapidly approaching freight train.
Headed by two General Electric ES44C4's connected by a special fuel tender, the mixed freight trains roll through the park at full speed.
FECR is the only US railroad using Liquid Natural Gas as fuel. It is lower cost and pollutes less than diesel. Click on this Railway Age article for more in-depth information.
Cement ties are used instead of traditional wood to avoid termite troubles.
Trains will pass through the park more frequently if Virgin Trains USA (formerly Brightline) expands their current West Palm Beach and Miami passenger service to Orlando.

Signs
New signs were being installed as we explored the park. Sharing the road with gopher tortoises seems like a fine idea.

 
Wondering if helmets help protect you from gators, or just add a delicious crunchiness, this became my favorite sign combination.
Not willing to test the gator trail, we opted for the bypass route. The gators will have to look for an alternate food source.

We did look for alligators every day. Three spots in the park produced reliable sightings when the sun was shining. If you look closely, you can spot this guy in the upper right corner off the photo.

We moved closer to one on the opposite bank of a small pond and startled a frog. Unfortunately for the frog, he hopped across the pond and the gator snapped him up while he was in the air.


Tortoises were less threatening park residents. This one actually used the cross walk to cross the road before heading off into the bushes.
We did drive the van south every day to visit relatives. We seemed to get stopped by a drawbridge almost every trip. Having traversed this section of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) by boat, we enjoyed the delays by watching the boats cross the road. There's a tall mast just to the right of the raised spans here.
Not all condos allow vans in their parking lots. Fortunately, we could park, at least during the day, at both of Beth's sister's homes. The Lexor, at just under 21 feet, backs easily into most parking spaces if there is a little area behind the rear axle.
On one of our excursions we checked out the John Prince Park Campground in Palm Beach as an alternative to Jonathan-Dickinson. Contained within a large and busy park, the campground has a gated entrance, but the park does not. We asked permission to drive around to check out the sites, but weren't allowed to drive. They did let us walk in and see some of the sites near the entrance.  Although it was on a small lake, we were turned off by the litter on the ground and the proximity of sites. Other parts of the 300 site campground may be different.

We did see some large iguanas like this one climbing a palm tree. This park was just far enough south that it stays warm enough to support these non-native lizards.
On the way back we stopped at a small private airport guarded by this young alligator.
Thanksgiving was fun and filling. Noah borrowed his aunt Paula's kitchen to make pumpkin pies. It was the first time I'd had pies made from actually cutting up pumpkins and they were delicious. Pie pumpkins are smaller and sweeter than those used for carving.
Beth made napkin holders for everyone. She bought a used embroidery machine and has been having fun learning to use it.1
Dinner was held at Judy & Gary's new house. The backyard pool right off the living room was great fun.
Noah and David got some good railroad playtime in after the big meal.
Many thanks to Judy and Gary for hosting a full house. The traditional roasted turkey with amazing mushroom stuffing was wonderful. As usual, they had all their ducks in a row, and when we went to leave we found evidence.
Needing to work off some of the excellent Thanksgiving dinner, we took a different bike route the next morning. Biking through scrub led to Hobe Mountain, the highest natural point in the state south of Lake Okeechobee.
On top of the 86 feet of natural elevation, an observation tower allows views of the entire park. Gazing east, we could even see the Intracoastal waterway and Atlantic Ocean beyond.

The park was a military base started in 1942. The army used it to train recruits how to operate the new secret system named radar. The camp expanded to have close to 1,000 buildings that included a bank, movie theater, church and bowling alley. Almost all of these were dismantled before the opening on the site as a state park in 1950.


On another bike ride, this time to the northern edge of the park, we noticed large, moving, antennas off in the distance. We learned from a ranger that there is a Missile Tracking Annex that isn't open to the public. It serves as launch support and has a microwave relay to Cape Canaveral for rapid communications. This enables a command destruct system that can be remotely activated if a launch vehicle were to veer of course and threaten populated areas.

Noah had to fly back to NC for classes on Monday, so we asked him if he wanted to go anyplace special. Both he and Beth found items to purchase at this used book store and comic shop.

Always trying to avoid rush hour traffic in south Florida, we drove to a park near the airport early. We made dinner while watching an intramural baseball game out the windows.  I'm still amazed that three of us can prepare and eat meals in this little camper.

By sunset, traffic had cleared and we drove another mile to the airport to send Noah on his way with no traffic issues. We had done the same thing the evening we picked him up. Timing was good that night too, as we watched the airport road close and re-open for the motorcade whisking the president to his resort at Mar-a-Lago.
The next morning, Judy and Gary texted an invitation to join them for leftover mushrooms and turkey soup for dinner. Never ones to miss out on their culinary skills, we extended our camping site another day and joined them once again.
Back at Jonathan-Dickinson we started seeing more B vans arrive. This Winnebago Revel is four wheel drive. We were impressed that the couple managed to fit folding electric bicycles inside the short Sprinter chassis.

After not seeing any other small rigs during our first nine days here, we met a couple with a Roadtrek and another Pleasure-Way moved into our loop the day before we left.
Between 285 watts of solar panels and driving around locally, we didn't need to plug-in at all during our ten day stay. You can see the readout showing 10.7 amps of power coming in from the sun! Water and propane are now the constraints on how long we can stay away from civilization.
Looking out at the moon over Jupiter one more time, we headed to bed so we would be ready to start wandering north in the morning.

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