February 12-19 Florida Keys and the Locks

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Eva has constantly been scouring websites for any decently priced campsites. We can always find a place to stay if we spend $80/night but we try to never do that. Plus a lot of the times they have not as much grenery and room for our kids to run around. The best priced sites are typically Federal owned, followed by State owned and then county owned. The Federal Parks are usually $30 or less a night. State are in the $30-$40 range while county are a few bucks more. The hardest sites to get this time of year are in the Florida Keys. There are only a couple of state parks there and they fill up to the day seven or so months out.  With Eva’s constant checking we were able to get two nights at John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo. We all had a great time there. Less than 1/2 mile from the campsite is the swimming beach, complete with a mock Spanish Shipwreck. Although the underwater plants and coral are trampled by tens of thousands of feet a year we still saw some life. We did see a stingray, a puffer fish and a number of large tarpon. There were even a few tropical colorful fish. Visibility was not great you get to see foggy pictures.

Since Makai still had his casts he was restricted to the beach but at least he could make sand castles.

They also had a neat aquarium there and we made sure to be there at 11am to see the feedings. The lobsters were the coolest to watch. they ran out of their caves to grab their lunch.

The next two campgrounds were both located near Lake Okeechobee. This is the largest lake in Florida and it is connected to both coasts of Florida with a canal. Since the lake is a god bit above sea level there is a lock system run by the Army Corps of Engineers. We stayed at Ortona locks on the West side of the locks for a couple of nights. We then spent a single night at St. Lucia South on the eastern side of the locks. The kids enjoyed seeing how the locks worked and since it was a nice weekend there were boats going through constantly.

20180216_13062620180216_13092220180216_12594120180217_18165820180217_10524720180217_17565920180217_180719This Sunset was very cool. I wish we could stay at St. Lucie South bit longer, but we were able to get only that one night. Now off to Savannas Recreational Area for next 8 days. This will be the longest time we stayed in one place since we left, but that was not our choice

 

Leg three of our Camping Excursion

 

Makai, our youngest son, had surgery in Atlanta on January 29th while we stayed at my parents house. We cannot thank them enough for the hospitality. Since we no longer own a house going to GeeGee’s and Grandaddy’s home is what the kids count as home. I assume this will change once we move onto our boat in April but Georgia will probably always be referred to as home. Makai did amazingly well during his surgery and now has casts on both of his lower legs. We borrowed a stroller from my sister (thanks Josie) so we can move him around but it will be an interesting six weeks with a six year old that cannot walk for a while. We are very proud of him for being so brave. As always he was ready to eat even after a surgery.

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We headed out on the road again on February 2nd. We only made it a few hours south since we knew we wanted to stop in Macon at Divers Supply. All of the kids got some shorty wet suits and some snorkel gear. Eva got a new snorkel while I got a bahama sling spear gun. We are now set to hit the water once we get closer to the ocean. The shop has great prices and it is far better than buying online when you can try things on. That night we spent at Lake Obesofkee near Macon. It was a beautiful sunrise on the lake the next morning. and we quickly headed south again. We drove for about an hour and stopped in Tifton, Ga and spent the better part of the day at the Georgia Agricultural Museum. It is a great stop for all ages if you on the way to Florida. On Saturdays you get into the park via a one mile train ride. There is an entire town filled with buildings and actors from around the 1880’s. It is a living history museum so the people tell you all about what life was like back then. The kids had a great time and Eva and I even learned a few things. Marco got to try out lassoing a pvc calf and we all met the largest mule I have ever seen names Junebug.

 

 

On the 3rd we made it down to Stephen Foster Folk and Education Center near Lake City Florida. It is a great State Park with nice live oak trees all over the place. The next morning was a great home school experience as the kids had to write about the dioramas in the museum. They are all based on the songs of Stephen Foster. You may have heard of a few: “Camptown Races” or “Way Down south on the Suwannee River” among 280 others. The dioramas took tens of thousands of man hours to create by hand.

DANG IT. there should be some great pictures here but we keep forgettting our cameras. We gotta do better next time!!!

The next day we headed further south. We finally hit warm weather near Ft Pierce Florida. We found two nights at Savannah Recreation Area. We nabbed a spot on a small creek near the marsh. The kids really liked it here. Out our back we saw an alligator, turtles and tons of birds including the Common Moorhen, the Great Egret and the Little Blue Heron. We even took a canoe trip through the marsh. Everyone paddled and saw some great birds. We ended up on a skinny canoe trail that led to a larger lake. The Savannah’s Recreation Area was one of our favorite campsites. We had to leave after a couple of days to get down to Ft Lauderdale but we will be back there soon.

 

Feb 6-9 we spent at TY Park near downtown Ft Laudedale. This was a big reason for us coming south. Our soon to be new home is being repaired there. Hopefully in April we will be moving aboard our sailboat. During the trip the kids got to see our sailboat and they even helped give it a good washing. They really got into the cleaning and seemed to be more excited about moving onto the boat. All three kids picked out their bedrooms too. Their favorite part was having a day without homeschool!

The below picture is our boat before the hurricane hit it last year. We hope when we start sailing it will look even better than this.

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Our boat has yet to be repaired but we did hear back from our insurance company that our quote was approved so hopefully repairs will get underway soon. We even had a chance to drop off our liferaft to get recertified. The campground at TY Park was nice since it was near the boat and it had a great walking trail but we had a busy train track less than 50 feet from our door. There was a commuter train about every 30 minutes that would blow by. At night when those became less common we got to hear the freight trains. I believe I got woke up at least fifteen times each night.

We were happy to leave the traffic of Ft Lauderdale but were not sure where to head next. Since this trip was planned at the last minute we had no reservations. Many of the good state parks fill up six months ahead of time. We took a chance and headed West into the swamp where there are a few campgrounds. It is weird when you head west out of Miami. There are strip malls and parking lots everyone and all of a sudden there is nothing but water, sawgrass and swamp. There is only one road that stretches across Big Cypress Swamp from the Miami area on the East Coast to Fort Myers on the West Coast of Florida. We saw a hundred or so gators even driving at 60 mph! A couple of hours later we pulled into Midway Campground and were lucky enough to get a site for a single night. It was the very last site left! We even had a view of the small lake with gators in it. Later on we walked around the campground and ended up near the small canal that parallels the highway. We were amazed at the clarity of the water. There were tons of fish including some large gars.  We slept great that night as it was finally quiet. Here is a picture of our present home. All 33 feet of it.

On the 10th we had to head further West since Midway Campground was full. Driving along the highway there were gators everywhere. We stopped at the Big Cypress Visitors Center and there must have been fifty gators right out front. We stayed for a Ranger led gator talk and the kids started another set of Junior Ranger books. Later that day we did two hikes. The first was at Gator Hook Stand. We made it about 1/2 mile before we turned around. The trail was total mud and started to turn deeper and deeper the farther we got. Marco seemed to love the mud. Mei not so much. Makai ended up being the only one with clean feet since he was on my back the entire hike. The last hike of the day was a boardwalk hike so it ws dry. We saw plenty of Bromeliads, Anhinga and one large gator. The day ended as we pulled into Monument Lake Campground for a two night stay. Yes, Eva carries Makai on the second hike.

 

We are still having a great time but it is not all fun and games. Trying to keep things clean with five people in 33 feet is tough. So is the home school and living in such close quarters to each other. Even so I am happy that we are doing this trip. It is great to be able to interact with my kids all day long. Next up the Florida Keys and some snorkeling!