Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Manatees of Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River, Florida

There are manatees everywhere. I look ahead as Renita points out the brown shape of a sleeping giant and just then a mother and calf swim right next to the canoe. I gently paddle the canoe and I tell myself to be careful so I don’t touch the massive creatures. Ahead one lies sleeping and I propel the canoe towards it as Renita snaps image after image.

The joke we tell people is that we carry the canoe so we can find our truck in large parking lots. It does seem ridiculous at times as we can go for long stretches of time between uses. However just when I think it’s foolish to put up with the hassle we find a place like the Crystal River and the boat presents us with an unique chance to see wildlife up close.

So when we visited the Crystal River Preserve and Visitor Center we asked about paddling opportunities. There a young man told us of two of his recommendation, The Three Sisters Springs and another launch site on the west side of Kings Bay.

The next day we headed for the Three Sisters Springs and it was really wild as we passed the Kayak Shop and launch site twice before we saw the store. It was right in the middle of a busy shopping area and it seemed so out of place, that Manatees could be so near to a busy highway.

The store owner, Mary, told us the etiquette of paddling near the giants and informed us of new regulations. These were a ban on disposable items, like sandwich bags, in the springs themselves. She told us it was only a ten minute paddle to the mouth of the springs and so we launched and started to glide past trees laden with swaying beards of Spanish moss.

Small bluegills and a school of mullet swam by us. Needlefish were everywhere and we soon spotted a hunting snowy egret. An anhinga flew by and landed in a canal as it prepared to fish. Passing houses, we turned several times and there were divers ahead. Could the manatees be that close?

A guide boat was anchored near the opening and a volunteer paddled over on her paddle board. She answered our questions about the spring’s access and cautioned us about the soon to be closed area that was choked with brown shapes.

Entering the narrow springs opening, Renita exclaimed her delight as a manatee passed right under our boat, in water clearer than that in a glass of tap water. A little further in we saw two divers and then another manatee approached the canoe, almost touching us but silently diving beneath.

School of fish swam unconcerned and the springs themselves consisted of three deep areas where the water rose bubbling up through white sand. We canoed back to the canals and then headed towards Kings Bay, again past houses, avoiding all the divers and the other manatee gawkers.

A tour boat told us that there were over fifty manatees in the bend ahead and I am sure he was right as there were sleeping forms and snouts everwhere we looked. I worried that we would startle one and it would upset the boat, but they always knew about us and dove safely as we neared.

One large barnacle encrusted giant lay on the surface Renita reached out and almost touched its side. It didn’t seem concerned and we had been told it was ok, as long as we didn’t harass mothers and calves or tagged individuals.

It seems like everyone with a boat has a manatee diving business and there were four pontoon boats that disgorged their clients. We were told it was a quiet day and we even had the springs to ourselves, (We were told there would be hundreds of divers during Thanksgiving and Christmas break). We paddled through the canals and again there were manatees everywhere.

After three hours we reached the parking spot and pulled the canoe from the water. It had been a magically day and it only cost five dollars, three to park the truck and two for the use of the private ramp. Renita said it was the best five bucks we had ever spent and I silently agreed. This is a comeback to place and if you ever want to see manatees up close, this is the place! Now if I had a wet suit, to go with my mask and snorkel………. Clear skies

From Livingston,Texas to Crystal Springs, Florida

The drive from Livingston.Texas to Livingston, Louisiana was long and hard. I really had forgotten how bad the roads are in Louisiana. Interstate Ten has some new stretches but the bad parts are actually the worst we have seen, and that includes most of the Alaskan Highway.
So I was tired and sore and we checked into a Passport America park that didn't honor it on holidays and here they consider Halloween a holiday. Tired, we paid fifty one dollars for a night and I will never stay at Lakeside Rv Park again.
From there we drove two hundred miles to the Escapee Park at Rainbow Plantation in Summerdale, Alabama. This park is one of Renita's favorite parks with large grassy spots and interspersed oak trees. Again, the skp parks are such a refuge for weary travelers and of course we got our hugs.
The next day our goal was Beaver lake Campground, in Quincey and it was twenty bucks for full hookups. The park itself was basically a grass field with no amenities and again overpriced but we are back east. At least the Florida roads are a dramatic improvement.
Our next stretch was a short bit on Interstate Ten and then we headed south on the Florida Georgia Parkway. The traffic dropped off and it was a pleasant drive down a beautiful road. We stopped for the night at Rock Crusher Rv Park, in Crystal Springs Florida and it is so beautiful here that we are staying for three nights total. Its the prettiest private rv park we have ever stayed in during five years of full timing and is much like a state park. With the Passport America discount it is only seventeen dollars a night and that's a deal!
We are going to try and get a paddle in before we finish our south bound trip in Largo. Florida. There we plan on spending about two months as we visit our daughter. It will also give us a chance to sit and get ready for the Texas shows. Clear skies

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fredericksburg and Livingston, an Unexpected Show

We left Balmorhea and headed east and of course we had a strong crosswind. Luckily it finally calmed and we were able to make it all the way to Fredericksburg. Checking into the RV Park, the park assistant told us about the weekend’s two festivals and so one night turned into two.

Our first trip was to the Fredericksburg Trade Days, and it was about what you would expect, a large flea market. We did find one shop that did wire wrapping, using copper and aluminum wire. Much to our surprise we ran into a vender we know who specializes in selling his families Native American Jewelry. He was definitely the top end of the market and he must do ok as he does all of their fall and early winter shows.

After lunch we headed to the Gourd Show. It’s a gathering of Texas Gourd artists and if you haven’t seen what artists do with gourds, you really should go see. One artist told us one carving and glazing took her almost two years and another insisted I pick up her stunning carving of an Indian Women on a horse. As I looked inside I saw a price of $15,000 and I almost had another heart attack as I carefully set it back on its stand.

The next morning we drove to Livingston, Texas and Rainbows End where we got the SPK hugs and welcome. It’s so nice to go to a park and feel like your home with friendly welcomes, hugs, and smiles everywhere you go. That night we went to the Ice Cream Social and to our surprise David and Cathy sat down. Unexpected meetings are part of our lifestyle and it was so nice to be able to catch up on both our travels.

It turned out Tex Fest was starting and so we also able to register for a spot a Market Day, (thank you Kelly). So the first night was spent finding our displays getting ready for a new show. The next day we got set up and of course we had to take turns seeing what else was on sale.

One table had beautiful dichromic glass and another featured handmade wooden jewelry. We actually sold a nice cabochon and not expecting anything we soon sold a mammoth ivory pendant. It was our first mammoth ivory sale and I breathed a sigh of relief as you never know how people will react to your work.

We sold some other pendants and even had another mammoth ivory sale. It actually turned out to be one of our better shows and now I wish I had bought more mammoth tusk. I guess it’s better to run out instead of having too much and we still do have more in the storage space. Hmm, maybe we need to go back to Alaska in2014.

So here we are till Friday when we shall head south to Interstate Ten and then east as we plod on to Florida. We both look forward to seeing our daughter but with Florida being a contested state, we aren’t excited about the constant political commercials. Clear skies



Saturday, October 20, 2012

Balmorhea State Park

We left Benson and headed east. After a long day, for us about three hundred miles, we arrived at one of our favorite places, (great rock shops), Dream Catcher Rv park in Demming, New Mexico. Now its not the fanciest rv park but its an Escapee Rainbow park and so its cheap and extremely friendly, yup we got our welcome hug. At happy hour we even ran into Brenda and Dave, who own a spot at Star Valley Wyoming.
Avoiding purchasing any rocks, we took off for Balmorhea State Park. There I wanted to stay for two nights and unwind a bit by swimming in the huge natural spring fed pool. Being a Texas State park, you buy a park pass which is a good deal if you spend some time in Texas, (you also get four coupons for fifty percent off one nights camping).
After the long days drive I quickly found my snorkel, mask and fins and headed to the pool. Now the pool itself is made up of a mixture of cement bottom, rocks, and moss and the pool actual contains two endangered species so you get to dive with the fish!
After getting adjusted to the cool water I saw a soft shell turtle and quite a few catfish, before finally spotting some Comanche pupfish. They were kind of hiding at the bottom and were difficult to spot. Mexican Tetras, another minnow, were everywhere and when I entered a shady spot the minnows surrounded me. Flashes of gold highlighted their tails and it was really a great way to unwind from a long days drive.
The next day we needed some supplies so we drove into town where to our surprise we found a great rock shop. Vowing to not buy any rocks, the owner showed us the prize of the area, Balmorhea blue chalcedony and so we had to support her store by buying some. She also showed us the stunning fire agates her husband had mined and ground and they were the finest fire agates we have ever seen!
To add to our enjoyment the Orionid meter shower is taking place and so I went out early and even saw a few of the falling stars from the old tail of Halley's Comet. They are few spots in the USA with as fine a dark clear sky, but thats what you would expect deep in the heart of Texas.
What more could we ask for with diving, more rocks for our fifth wheel, and a meteor shower? Clear skies

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Benson, Telescopes and Tombstones

Benson, Telescopes and Tombstones

After nice visits with friends in the Phoenix area, we left for Benson. I had originally planned on staying at the SKP Coop but the office was closed so we went to Butterfield Resort. This place is on the top end of our budget, but they do have a beautiful telescope, a sixteen inch Meade, and it is a really nice park.

So when we arrived the desk told us that the telescope was broken so I told her that I have worked on telescopes and so we made a deal. If I could fix it we would get a free night. Soon after we setup up the manager showed up and we went to see what the problem.

We never did figure out why the scopes computer drive went screwy, (some theories but we didn’t want to recreate the problem), but I did suggest that the scope should be polar aligned and when that selection was picked the scope soon was back to normal. That night we got a private star party and it was really amazing to be able to quickly see Messier objects, as quickly as you could give the scope commands and move the dome cover.

The manager offered us a job doing star parties but Florida calls and we would rather do rock. It did turn out that the managers, Mark and Leanne also do lapidary, make jewelry and so we spent a pleasant afternoon showing each other our collections and our work. How funny to think that they operate a telescope, do star parties, make cabochons and jewelry, and that his first name is Mark!

Anyway we stayed an extra day and decided to visit Tombstone. Now the town itself isn’t much, basically a series of tourist shops, but the graveyard was a real hoot. WE had to try to keep a straight face as we read how the residents had been murdered, hanged, killed by Indians, or just plain died from gunshots. One poor person was killed while playing cards so all you card players out there be aware of your backside!  

New friends are one of the joys of traveling and so we had a nice time in Benson and plan on spending more time here again. However the road beckons and we need to cover some miles as we need to stop in Livingston, Texas before driving the final thousand miles to Florida. There we plan on hanging out till late December, when the shows and our wire wrapping classes will call us to Texas. Clear skies

Friday, October 12, 2012

Salt Lake to Surprise, Arizona

We left Salt Lake and headed south. Our preferred route was east across Wyoming but the forecast was for snow and so we took the long route, planning on crossing the Rockies on Interstate 40 and then east and south to Florida.

So the first day we drove all the way to Mesquite, Nevada and even stayed in a casino rv lot. We even ate in the restaurant and then Renita gambled three dollars of her mad money. I am saving my money and so I couldn’t bring myself to spend a dime fighting the casinos odds.

The next day we drove to Vegas and then turned south on ninety three before connecting with Interstate 40 in the town of Kingman. The drive was the first time we have crossed the Colorado River below Lake Mead and Hoover Dam. We took it easy and the truck didn’t overheat and so we felt good as there are some substantial hills.

Checking into a rv park, east of town, the owner told us to stay away from the Balloon Festival and so we decided to head further south to Surprise and drop in on friends around Phoenix. Again the drive was hot and hilly as we climbed up to the intermountain plateau, before dropping down to the Valley, Phoenix that is.

Again the truck behaved itself and the engine stayed cool, not even using any fluid. Perhaps its as it should be but time will tell as we still have 2200 miles till we reach St Petersburg. Checking into Sunflower Rv park we were disappointed to learn the lapidary shop wasn’t yet open, but we did get in touch with our friends Alan and Sharon and Paul and Mary.

So I am thawing some salmon and getting ready for show and tell and of couse listening to stories of Alan and Sharons summer travels. We are also ready to swap Alaska bear stories with Paul and Mary as they have gone to Alaska for the past ten years and were there again this summer.

Oh and of course we stockpiled wine and supplies at Trader Joes. It still amazes me how cheap things are here in the lower forty eight. I do feel sorry for the people here who have to put up with all the campaign commercials. We have already voted at our new Wyoming address. Clear skies

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sitting in Salt Lake City

Before we knew it September had passed and it was time to start our journey to Florida and then to Texas. First however we had one last doctor’s appointment to make and so we headed down to Salt Lake City. There we checked into the usual RV Park, and of course they had raised their rates, but somehow after Alaska and Canada the rates didn’t seem so astronomical.

We had a few days to wait before Renita’s appointment and so we fixed the counter extension and refreshed our larders with a visit to Sam’s Club. Shopping here is so different as some of the stores have supplies and meals set up for doomsday peppers. You can buy thirty days rations, all in cans, and even ninety two servings of dried scrambled eggs. Maybe they are preparing for the election results?

I got on the internet and we decided to visit the Utah Museum of Natural History, located on Utah University’s Campus. The beauty of the new museum grabbed us as soon as we drove up and parked. Its siding is copper and it is aging much like our untreated copper jewelry.

Walking inside we were greeted with a huge glass wall was filled with items, and most of them were from Utah. Fossils and rocks and Native American bead work all promised a fun day at the museum. Paying for tickets we headed up the elevator to the fifth floor and soon were enjoying room after room.

We finally reached the third floor where we enjoyed the rocks and the geology displays. A seismic station was set up and allowed us to jump up and make our own miniature earthquake waves. Bet you can't guess which waves were from me jumping up and down and which were Renita’s?

Of course we hurried across the bridge and drooled as we studied the rock and mineral specimens. One of my favorites is the varicite. It’s a mineral from Utah and makes beautiful green cabs, but we haven’t been able to get acquire any of our own.

Finally reaching the last two floors, I concentrated on studying all the dinosaur teeth. We have quite a bit of bone and some coprolite but teeth are really hard to find and even harder for us to correctly name. Regardless the dinosaur exhibit makes the museum well worth visiting. It’s arguably as good as the one in Thermopolis Wyoming, and far better the Peabody Museum at Yale.

So we finally left and it had been a good day. Renita’s doctor appointment came and she got the all clear so we head south on Sunday. We are kind of taking a strange route because it’s snowing in Cheyenne and so we will head south to St George and then east along interstate forty. The adventure continues. Clear skies