After a couple of weeks in Georgia, we hoped to see more availability for campsites in Florida leading up to our reservation in the Keys April 1st. Be sure to scroll all the way to the end of this post to see pictures!
Moss Park – Orlando
Moss Park in Orange County had a reserved site available so we snapped it up. Being an Oregonian and unfamiliar with Orlando, I imagined a big city, with traffic and theme parks. However, the scenery and jungle-like parks were a welcome surprise. We elected to avoid theme parks and save our cash for the Keys.
Moss Park is a large, beautiful park on a reservoir with large sites spaced nicely in the woods. A “back yard” area behind the RV held a large fire ring. Our 3-night stay at Moss Park at the beginning of March allowed us only two days to explore. We enjoyed hiking the first day on the Florida Trail where it crosses through the park.
Hiking kicked up the appetite so we made time for lunch at the Nona Blue Modern Tavern restaurant nearby in Lake Nona where they served up a decadent and delicious “handwich” called the Maine Lobster BLT Grilled Cheese. Description: Cold Water Lobster salad / Havarti cheese / Applewood smoked bacon / Diced tomato / Texas toast. It was like an enhanced Cape Cod lobster roll! Revisiting this place will definitely influence our trip routing in the future.
Canaveral National Seashore
An excursion to Canaveral National Seashore on our second day at Moss Park gave us a new perspective of the landscape. Hanging out at the beach seemed to be the primary activity at Playalinda Beach, our first stop at the National Seashore. During certain times visitors can watch a Cape Canaveral rocket launch, join ranger-led hikes to view sea turtles and see the night sky.
Protected dunes and natural, open and beautiful Atlantic Ocean beaches accessed by wooden stairs and decks over the dunes. The most crowded beach displayed a warning “may encounter nude sunbathing”. Our destination was the visitors center which was on the other side of a natural area and only accessible by going all the way around the Seashore to the North side.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
On our return from Playalinda beach near Titusville, The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was a welcome stop. The refuge visitor center had some exhibits and a nice boardwalk trail past a pond and through the jungle. Chattering from hundreds of birds near the visitor’s center sounded like cheery Red-Wing-Blackbird but we never saw them to confirm. Watching kids scanning the ponds looking for alligator and hearing their excited voices every time they found an alligator-shaped stick was hilarious!
Parking was full at the Apollo Beach district, which was over an hour away from Playlinda Beach through town to the other side of the designated Seashore. Rangers were directing people to overflow parking except those destined for the Visitors Center, where we were going. People were lugging coolers, chairs, and pulling wagons piled high with stuff like they were on wagon trains to the Oregon Trail! It’s a long way to walk from the overflow parking to the beach entrances. Weary expressions on faces of those who were rushing to the wooden beach walkways with all their gear trying to get maximum beach time on this precious Sunday afternoon! The visitors to the nude beach were the exception, they traveled remarkably light, had a peaceful expression and maybe even a twinkle in their eye!
We continued past all the beach entrances, to the small visitors center to get my National Parks Passport stamped and to check out the gift shop. A kayak launch into Mosquito Lagoon was looking inviting until we went up the road to look at a nearby homesite on the lagoon. Immediately attacked by hundreds of mosquitoes and no bug spray available, we retreated to the car slapping the mosquitoes off our bodies and the inside of the car where they had followed us (Mental note, always carry bug spray in Florida). No wonder they call it Mosquito Lagoon! Kayaking here will be better in the early morning with plenty of bug spray which doesn’t fit into our travel plan this time.
A picnic lunch on a deck over the dune had a gorgeous view of the Atlantic Ocean and the white sand but the flying beetles were pretty thick and got into everything, landing on our sandwiches and faces, getting into our clothing and the cooler. We called our visit to the National Seashore complete after lunch and felt lucky that we didn’t eat any beetles! I’m sure the beetles wouldn’t have followed us onto the beach but we were out of time and started the long drive back to Moss Park to get ready to leave the next day.
We moved March 4th from Orange County to Hillsborough County without confirmed reservations this time. The Florida State Parks were still full and popular RV resorts are not our style and are expensive, so we were “winging it” to find a campsite.
Lithia Springs was a No-Go
Some Hillsborough County parks near Tampa don’t take reservations so we took our chances and decided to show up in hopes of getting a site. Fueling up was ridiculously busy at a truck stop on I-4 which pushed our arrival at Lithia Springs to one-oclockish, a little later than we would normally try for a site like this.
Getting into Lithia Springs was a nightmare drive through a road construction project that was just starting up on the two-lane road. The project was very disorganized and had impossible narrow lanes, sometimes pushing us into the shoulder where bushes and overhanging trees scratched the RV. Huge machinery, similar to the boulder crushing trucks that we saw in Alaska occupied one lane and we could barely squeeze by. Lithia Springs was FULL and they suggested Medard, so back out through the construction we went!
Medard Park – Plant City
Getting worried about what we would do, now pushing 2:00 to get a walk-up site. We lucked out, they had 3 sites available at Medard! Best thing is, we can pay as we go until we are ready to leave. At Hillsborough County Parks, the maximum stay is five months! No wonder they have very little availability; low turn-over reduces the chances of getting walk-up camp sites.
Medard park was so nice that we extended our stay to 16 nights to March 20th before moving on. The campground is in a wooded area with large sites, good spacing in our section of the park, and lots of animal activity. The showers and restrooms are nice and there is plenty to do in the park and the surrounding area.
A much needed supplies delivery through Amazon Locker was so easy the first time, that we picked up several deliveries. We enjoyed sitting outside in our wooded yard watching and photographing hawks, two types of woodpeckers, lizards, and hearing many different birds, including cranes! I found out what a nighttime rustling sound was by shining my headlamp out the bedroom window in the middle of the night to see an armadillo rooting around. A crazy squirrel chewed holes in our brand new lighted patio mat, just aimlessly lying on it’s belly chewing! Memories are made of moments like this and we’ll think of the animals at Medard every time we use that mat. A beautiful hike along the water where we would kayak later was awesome. A nesting black vulture showed us her nest and gave us a sweet yawn.
Although Bruce had lived in Florida for many years in the Tampa area, he never attended the famous Strawberry Festival in nearby Plant City until now. A large county fair, a la strawberry, was complete with rides, carnival games, food trucks, merchandise booths, art show, musical performances and the typical state fair people watching.
Sharing a doughnut burger that was recommended by Bruce’s cousin Alan, was a must. It’s a hamburger topped with strawberry jalapeno jam with doughnuts for buns. Sounds gross but it was really good, sweet, salty and spicy. Next up, sharing a hand-dipped buttermilk corndog and a Strawberry shortcake dessert, in honor of the festival, and our lunch was complete.
Trees Roots and Disc Golf
Old-time potash mounds have eroded away leaving the roots of trees exposed in Medard park making them look weird and spooky, like the trees might walk toward you. Adjacent pits left from the mining have filled with water teeming with aquatic life and floating green duckweed that alligators like to hide in.
Around a bend on the mound was an unusual surprise, a disc golf basket! A nice disc golf course winds through the grounds in the park and is very popular. Disc golfers here use carts to carry their bag. We’ve just learned disc golf but it seems like carts are a little overkill!
Healthcare Paperwork Nightmare
Just when were ready to explore the area more, we learned that our son Ian’s health insurance had been inactivated incorrectly. Health insurance is life or death for him so we began a 10-day nightmare journey into state and county/state agency red-tape that controls the insurance plan he purchased through Covered California. Everyone was pointing the finger at the others and no one had the power to do anything except give us a reference number and tell us how long it could take for them to fix it (30 days if we are lucky). Meanwhile, critical doctor appointments had to be cancelled and prescription drug refills were pending. I had escalated at the insurance company, Covered California and Orange County, yet no one was able to turn the switch back on even though they could see it was an error. Only the “back office” can fix it and no one is allowed to call them, they can only send email!
Only after filing a Covered California Appeal was the insurance turned back on, but too late for the prescriptions. We had to pay thousands for them and hope to get reimbursed promptly. That work was only a temporary reprieve because Medicare kicks in next month so another several days spent researching and setting up all of those plans A,B,D, GAP, and now we are back to Medi-Cal again. More red tape! The system is broken. It seems like you need a full-time advocate to focus on paperwork and learn all about the loopholes!
A short walk from our campsite, the boardwalk gave us such a nice reprieve from the endless voice prompts, wondrous hold music, and phone conversations with the healthcare workers who rarely had English as their first language. It was so nice to stay at this site long enough to get through most of this process with wildlife to take our minds off of it.
The portion of the boardwalk that remains open after Hurricane Michael damage provides the best wildlife viewing that we’ve had in Florida so far. Many alligators, dozens of water birds, thousands of dragonflies and even some turtles are visible from the raised walkway. The boardwalk is popular with fishermen and they helped us spot the alligators that we could hear grunting all around us. We spent several hours photographing there. So much adventure, so little time.
Kayaking with Alligators
I knew it was supposed to be safe but it didn’t stop me from freaking out when the alligators were swimming within 10 feet of the kayak! Once they see us looking at them they just disappear under the water. I wasn’t too happy with the one that disappeared behind me, it felt like he would follow the kayak (“Jaws” music playing in my head).
The waterways wander through little coves and islands full of water birds and lots of alligators. We enjoyed watching the nesting heron and a bunch of black vultures that started up high in the tree and came down near the water as we were returning to the launch. I was floating closer and closer as I was trying to photograph the vultures sitting on a branch near the water. YIKES, I realized the vultures were so low in the tree to protect their nesting area from a large alligator that was standing on the shore in front of them! It was so well camouflaged that I didn’t see him and he wasn’t too happy about my approach. Finally, it slid into the water without a sound. I backed out of the weeds that I had drifted into and paddled as fast as I could out of there.
Medard park is high on my list of favorite places now. There is something about Florida with all the water, jungle, wildlife and nice weather that I really love. Besides being about as far away from Oregon as possible, it’s a puzzle why I haven’t spent more time here.
On to visit friends and family in Arcadia and Port Charlotte.