Sunday, February 12, 2012

Georgia - Florida - and a Surprise

Georgia On My Mind...
We left North Carolina on December 6 and headed south, originally planning on a few months in Florida.

We visited the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. What a neat place. The porpoises brought back memories of when I volunteered at Sea Life Park in Hawaii while I was stationed there in the Marines.

I do wish we had opted for a "behind the scenes" tour. I would have been more interested in the operations and logistics of the place than the exhibits themselves. Having said that, the aquarium exhibits are fantastic.

What a wonderful Southern city.  We took a trolley tour of the historical district.  We saw where Forrest Gump mouthed "Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."  An interesting tidbit is that the actual bench he sat on is in the Smithsonian.  Now there is just a marker on the spot.  Also, the bench was originally bought as a prop from Home Depot.

We had planned to eat at Paula Deen's restaurant but the crowds were so large we did not feel like waiting. Oh well.

We stayed at Skidaway Island State Park, a short drive south of the Savannah proper. What a wonderful park. We had so much fun we kept extending our departure until before we knew it we had exhausted the 14 day limit.

We met all the Park Hosts and had a handful of fun get-togethers.  We had our first experience with dutch oven cooking.  One of the Park Hosts, Vi, invited us over.  The roast and all the fixin's were yummy.

The park held their annual Christmas fund raising event on Saturday before Christmas. Santa visited and sat for pictures with the kiddies and pets. There were hayrides around the park and LOTS of hot chocolate and cookies.

A couple days before the event, Santa was injured and rendered unable to help out. Another elf was recruited to fill the gap. The replacement elf REALLY did not want to do it sooo, I called upon my Santa experience from over 40 years ago and volunteered to sit in.

Everyone had a lot of fun!

We took a couple hikes through the forest.  The weather was rainy when we arrived.  Our hikes in the rain were more fun than we expected.  The colors were spectacular.  We were all alone.

We visited an old Civil War fort on Tybee Island, Fort Pulaski.

We had never toured a fort before. Very interesting.  We found the fort when we were looking for a Rails-to-Trails trail to ride our bikes on. The fort is at one end of the trail.

We were in heaven. We had a six mile trail plus the entire National Park setting to ride on. Yay!

There was an interesting place at the end of the trail.  Nestled in the wood was an eclectic art collection that consisted primarily of items found along the shores of the river.

The fort was cool, too.

After having been thoroughly impressed with Georgia, we reluctantly left and headed south...

We planned to spend a couple months in Florida.  Guess what - all those freezing northerners are in Florida this time of the year. If you do not make reservations early (can you say many months?) in advance, places to camp are few and far between, unless you want to part with some serious cash.

After a few nights at Walmart in Gainesville we snagged an opening at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. We chose this area for its 20 mile Gainesville to Hawthorne Rails-to-Trails trail.

Come to find out, the trail passes through the park but the road to the trail head is 10 miles OUTSIDE the park. And, the road is a busy logging truck thoroughfare.

Hey, I've watched episodes of American Loggers on the Discovery Channel. We do not want to have anything to do with routing ourselves on one of their roads. We also did not want to load up the bikes and truck them to the trailhead. Plus, we were both psyched for a long ride.

Here's and idea: let's do it on Christmas Day. I bet all those tough log-truck drivers will be at home in their jammies opening presents. The road will be ours.

Christmas morning came. Guess what - NO TRAFFIC!!!

We rode 10 miles to the trailhead. Interestingly, this trailhead was right at the halfway point on the 20 mile trail. 10 miles one way to Gainesville or 10 miles the other way to Hawthorn. We did the 10 miles to Gainesville. What a nice trail.

We encountered a number of folks out enjoying the day. I have no idea how many times we were wished a "Merry Christmas!"

We saw some beautiful countryside. The Spanish moss covered trees were beautiful.

I especially like this pic.  I am going to use it on our contact/business cards.

Unfortunately, Paynes Prairie State Park was completely reserved for the upcoming week so we had to leave the next day. We were perplexed with the difficulty of finding our next campsite.

We decided to head south toward the Keys and take what comes.

The Keys, or...
Soooo, we left Gainesville, headed for Jimmy Buffet land.

40 miles south of Gainesville is Ocala. There we refilled our propane tank and grabbed a sandwich at Firehouse subs. The phone rang just as we climbed into the truck after leaving the restaurant.

Surprise, Surprise!!!
It was McKinney Falls State Park in Austin!

We were scheduled for a Park Host stint during March and April. They were calling to see if we could come early.

"When do you need us?"

"Right now - can you be here by January first?"

"Heck yeah. We're on our way!!"

We literally left the parking lot, turned north and headed to Texas. Campsite problems solved and we were returning to our favorite park.  Doesn't get better than that!

We arrived back in Austin on December 31. Due to the New Year's holiday we were scheduled to begin on January 2.

Man, it feels good to be back.  We have wanted to Park Host at McKinney Falls for years. Now we are doing it as we continue "Chasin' our Dreams"