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February 15 thru March 15th - Two cities and a Swamp

St. Augustine

While we were still in Brunswick, Georgia we took a ninety minute drive south to visit St. Augustine, Florida.  St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States, it was founded in 1565 by the Spanish.  Our first stop was at the Visitors  Center for information and then it was a short walk over to the
Castillo de San Marcos - a 17th-century Spanish stone fortress with views of the St. Augustine Inlet. The Fort is a National Park and someone forgot her NPS passport so we had to walk back to the truck to get it.  That's ok, it just added to our step total for the day.

After picking up my passport we decided to walk through the tourist areas (lots of restaurants and stores) and eat lunch.  After lunch we continued our walk down the main drag with a stop at America's first Parish - Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine which was founded on September 8, 1565.
An appropriate place to visit on Ash Wednesday
Courtyard of Flagler College
Our next stop was Flagler College which at one time was the Ponce de Leon Hotel built in 1888.  The college was founded in 1968.  What a beautiful place to go to school - the architecture and courtyard were amazing.

Looking up at the dome in the lobby

Tilework inside the lobby

Here's a link to some information on Henry Flagler, he was a pretty interesting guy and is a very important person in the history of Florida.


After leaving the college, we finally made it to the fort.  After getting my passport stamped (yay!)   we walked around the "ground floor" and peeked into all the rooms and then climbed the stairs to the top and checked out the lookout areas.   

Soldier's Bedroom, first floor of fort

Here's some information from the National Park Service website regarding the fort:

The Castillo de San Marcos is unique in North American architecture. As the only extant 17th century military construction in the country and the oldest masonry fortress in the United States it is a prime example of the "bastion system" of fortification, the culmination of hundreds of years of military defense engineering.

It is also unique for the material used in its construction. The Castillo is one of only two fortifications in the world built out of a semi-rare form of limestone called coquina (The other is Fort Matanzas National Monument 14 miles south)

Given its light and porous nature, coquina would seem to be a poor choice of building material for a fort. However the Spanish had few other options; it was the only stone available on the northeast coast of La Florida. However, coquina's porosity turned out to have an unexpected benefit. Because of its conglomerate mixture coquina contains millions of microscopic air pockets making it compressible.
A cannon ball fired at more solid material, such as granite or brick would shatter the wall into flying shards, but cannon balls fired at the walls of the Castillo burrowed their way into the rock and stuck there, much like a bb would if fired into Styrofoam. So the thick coquina walls absorbed or deflected projectiles rather than yielding to them, providing a surprisingly long-lived fortress.

Top level of the Fort overlooking St. Augustine Bay
Sentry Turret, those soldiers must have been short
As we were leaving the fort we saw these guys heading over to the water for a shooting demonstration (a very loud shooting demonstration).
set, fire!

That was it for our day in St. Augustine.  It's a beautiful city with lots of history and if we're ever back in this area we'd definitely visit again (we never did find the Fountain of Youth).

Okenfenokee Swamp

We were scheduled to stay in Brunswick, Georgia for a full month but decided to leave a few days early to visit the Okefenokee Swamp (that's so much fun to say).  It was an easy 125 mile drive west and we were in the park by 2:00 on Sunday, February 25th.  We stayed at Steven C. Foster State Park which is in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone service or internet!  We did have limited cable television so we weren't totally cut off from civilization.

Okefenokee means Trembling Earth
Steven C. Foster State Park is located within a National Wildlife Refuge and it's a 17 mile drive in from GA Hwy 177.  The campground is surrounded on three sides by the Okefenokee Swamp. We had a nice campsite in the woods with a fire ring so we finally got to have a campfire (and marshmallows!). There weren't a lot of hiking trails so we usually walked from our campsite to ranger station/store and back for steps.  Anywhere there is water there are alligators so sticking to the road worked just fine for me.


Swamp boat ride
On our first full day at the park (Monday) we took a ranger guided boat ride thru the swamp.  It was great since we were the only ones on the boat and could ask all the questions we wanted and he even took us on a little detour when we asked "what's over there?".   We saw so many Alligators!!  It rained in the afternoon so it was good that we took the 10:00 a.m. tour.

Infrared photo of the Okefenokee Swamp

Hold your camera to the lens of the telescope and snap the picture - pretty cool

The highlight of our day on Tuesday was driving the 17 miles into the town of Fargo, GA and using their wi-fi to check emails and download podcasts.  We had forgotten to drop off something at our last campground and had to mail it back and the Post Office just happened to be next door to the gas station where there was wi-fi.  And since the Post Office didn't open until 12:15 and it was only 11:30 we got to sit in our car and download to our heart's content.  I noticed the guy in the car next to us was doing the same thing.

a little too close for comfort
Wednesday was hot and muggy.  We did our morning walk to the office and in the afternoon we rode our bikes to the Suwanee Sill - the headwaters of the Suwanee River (can't get that darn song out of my head).  The ride was about 12 miles round trip on a nice flat road.  As we were riding along the road we saw a couple with a red pick up truck stopped at the side.  The man was trying to get the attention of a very large alligator on the other side of the sill (the sill was only about 20' wide).  This man had been fishing on the river and was attaching one of the fish he caught to his line and then trying to cast it over by the alligator.  Lucky for us his aim wasn't very good; the couple had a truck to get in if the gator started moving and all we had were our bicycles!

Steven C. Foster State Park was definitely one of the most interesting and beautiful parks we've stayed in; four nights was just right.  We've stayed in  three Georgia State Parks so far this year and we really enjoyed each of them. 

We headed back into civilization on Thursday, March 1st.  Our reservations were at Sumter Oaks RV Park in Bushnell, Florida until March 15th.  We stayed here a couple of years ago and really liked it for it's location.  It's an Escapee Park and since we're members it's very affordable.

Our two weeks in Bushnell were pretty relaxing.  Marty noticed that my bike tire needed replacing and we remembered that there was a bike shop right off the bike trail in Floral City. We dropped it off on Friday and it was ready on Saturday.  When we went to pick it up we started talking to the man in the shop about recumbent bikes and he let us try a couple out.  He claimed that once you try one you'll never go back to a regular bike. They were fun to ride and super comfortable but  for $4200.00 each, we'll have to wait till we win the lotto to get ours.

On Sunday we stopped in at Walmart for some shopping and noticed the Blood Mobile.  They were giving $10.00 gift cards with each blood donation so we figured what the heck.  Once we were inside the woman told us their supplies were low because of the Parkland School shooting which made us feel even better about donating.


There is a flea market every Monday in Webster which is only one town over from ours.  We walked up and down almost every aisle, got lots of steps and even bought a few things.  This was a fun, old-fashioned kind of flea market - something for everyone and not a lot of video tapes and tube socks.

I loved this book when I was a kid

Buy your guns at the flea market - no license required - Very Scary!!

My sister Judy and her friend (and mine) Annie were sailing out of Port Canaveral on a short cruise Wednesday morning.  Since they were flying into Orlando on Tuesday which was about 1 1/2 hours away from us we decided to meet  them halfway in Clermont for dinner.  We met them at Lilly's on the Lake, had a very nice dinner and visit and, much to our surprise, it was Karaoke night. All four of us all went up there throughout the evening (my first live performance in an english speaking country). It was so much fun, it was a good thing the restaurant closed at 9:00 otherwise the girls may have missed their ship the next morning.

Delta Dawn, what's that flower you have on..........

We drove over to Clearwater on Wednesday for a quick visit with Aunt Arlene and Uncle Al; from there we stopped at the Hard Rock Casino in Tampa (no luck).  Thursday, Friday and Saturday were spent relaxing and enjoying the beautiful Florida weather.

Tarpon Springs

Tarpon Springs is the sponge capital of the world.  It is a town on the Gulf of Mexico and someplace  I've always wanted to see.  We took a drive over on Sunday, parked our truck and while looking for a bathroom found Craig Park.  Craig Park is a spring fed bayou and we saw lots of manatees and a few rays swimming around.  From there we walked into town searching for the sponge docks.  This is a very cool area with lots of shops and restaurants and places to sign up for boat tours.  We didn't have a lot of time to spend here because we were heading over to visit my cousin Cindy so we decided that we would come back on Tuesday and make a whole day of it.  We had a very nice visit with Cindy and her daughter, Alex.  Aunt Arlene and Uncle Al even came over to see us one more time and they brought some really good Chicago style pizza - YUM!

Diver Jason
On Tuesday (3/13) we drove back to Tarpon Springs and took a sponge dive boat ride.  It was only about 40 minutes but very interesting watching the diver go down in the water wearing the 100 year old helmet and lead shoes.  He brought up a sponge and passed it around so we could all touch it.

Diver Wannabe Marty

Diver Jason - Hey Girls he's 35 and Single! 
After the boat ride we walked around the shops and, of course, bought some sponges.  Then it was on to Yianni's for a Greek lunch.  It's fun to have a total tourist day.

We left Bushnell at 9:00 AM on Thursday, March 15th and arrived in Miami at 4:30 PM - what a long day of travel.  Are you wondering why this girl who really doesn't like hot and humid weather would travel even further south into Florida?  One reason - the Cubs!  They are playing their first series of the year against the Marlins and we're going to be there.  The last time we went to an opening game on the road was 2016 and we all know what happened that year!

That's it for this post - the next one will be about our month in Miami.  So far we've really enjoyed being down here. 

ahhhhh, the ocean

2 New States - South Carolina and Georgia!

South Carolina
The only other time I've been to South Carolina was when Tom came home from the Middle East during Desert Storm back in the early 90's.  There were seven of us in a mini-van (Mom, Sue, Eric, Donna, Judy, Amy and me).  We drove straight through (16 hours) to be there when his plane landed.  It was quite an emotional experience; we sat in bleachers and there was a welcome home ceremony.  Then all the Marines were dismissed and the crowd was let onto the field to find their soldier.  My favorite memory is of Amy yelling "Tom, Tom Merkes" and a marine tapping her on the shoulder asking if he could help her - it was Tom!  She flew into his arms screaming.  Great memories.

Amy, Mom, Tom, Eric and Mary

Ok, that's enough for the trip down memory lane.  We arrived in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on Wednesday, December 13th and stayed a month.  We stayed at Briarcliff RV Park which backs up to the Intra-Coastal Waterway.  It was also a very short walk out the back gate to "Barefoot Landing" a very touristy outdoor mall with a great Sweet Shoppe which we visited quite often (and not just for the free samples).

We've never been to this area before and weren't sure what to expect.  December/January are not necessarily the best months to visit Myrtle Beach. It's too cold for most snow birds (no sitting by the pool).  There are many golf courses, t-shirt shops, miniature golf courses and water parks.  The shops were open, everything else was pretty much shut down for the season.  There were lots of restaurants and we were only a one mile easy walk to the ocean, that was nice.

Sunset at Myrtle Beach, this was on our first night.

Pier at Myrtle Beach State Park
There are two state parks close to Myrtle Beach:  Myrtle Beach State Park and Hunting Island State Park.  We visited both and liked Myrtle Beach State Park best.  They have a special during the winter and we could have stayed a month there for a reasonable price, maybe next time.  Both parks were right on the ocean and the campgrounds were just a short walk away.

A beautiful day to be at the beach - those are horses behind me!
All of the above pictures were taken in December when the weather was still decent.  By the first week of January I was glad I had grabbed my winter coat from our storage locker - it was cold!  Temperatures with the wind chill were in the teens and there was talk of snow. We did get a dusting of snow but the big deal was the ice.  People were advised to stay off the streets because it was dangerous to drive.  We even had frozen pipes one night but once the sun came out everything thawed.   I miss Arizona!  

There is a theater attached to the Barefoot Landing, the Alabama Theater and a Patsy Cline Show was on the schedule for January 12th and 13th.  Since I love Patsy Cline we walked over to buy tickets for the Friday Night show.  While I was buying tickets, Marty was talking to a "Time-Share" representative who offered him a $100.00 American Express Card, a $25.00 gift card to a local restaurant and a $20.00 gift card to the theater's gift shop;  all this for only 2 hours of our time.  Marty told her no and we left to walk back to the rig.  When he told me about it I thought it would be worth it for all the goodies.  We went back the next day and signed up and then went to the presentation and stayed strong and did not buy anything.  Our sales associate was a young man (23) who was still in college and interning for this company, he was very nice and low pressure.  His boss did come by a few times to talk to us too but we got out of there with just our freebies!

At the theater to see Patsy!
Before the show on Friday night we walked over to the Greg Norman Restaurant to use our $25.00 gift certificate.  Dinner was delicious and pricey and we forgot to give them the certificate (we ended up giving it to the woman in our park's office and she was thrilled).  After dinner we walked over to the theater for the performance - it was amazing!  Gail Bliss was the singer and she puts on quite a show.  It started out as a radio play and told Patsy's life story - very well done.

On our last day in Myrtle Beach we saw this guy hanging out at the Mall

We left North Myrtle Beach on Sunday, 1/14/18 and drove south to Hollywood, SC (right outside of Charleston.  We arrived there around 2:00, set up and then drove around looking for someplace to eat.  We found the "Kozy Korner" a hole-in-the-wall soul food restaurant with delicious food. They even had lemon cake!

After dinner we took a drive to the "Visitor Center" which turned out to be another promotional place for vacations.  For just one hour of our time we could get free tickets to Fort Sumter, a carriage ride through Charleston and a Plantation Tour - a savings of at least $80.00.  I think we've found a new career!

We drove into Charleston on Monday, sat through the presentation, grabbed our free tickets and headed over to Charleston's City Market to catch our carriage ride.  The ride was a great way to acclimate ourselves to the city and to see what else we wanted to do.

Yamasee was a very gentle horse

The City Market was very much like the French Market in New Orleans only smaller (maybe because it was January?).   After walking through, we strolled through Old Charleston to the waterfront and walked a bit more.  Charleston is a beautiful city and very walkable although the sidewalks were often cobblestone and you did have to watch your step.

Tuesday was our day to visit Fort Sumter.  Fort Sumter is where the Civil War started which I assumed everyone knew but after talking to a few of my family members discovered that there seems to be a lot of napping during American History classes.  Fort Sumter is on an island and during the winter there are only two boat trips a day to take you there.  Before you get on the boat you walk through a visitor center/museum which gives an overview of the history of the area, then it's on to the boat and a 1/2 hour narrated ride to the Fort. Here's a link to the Fort Sumter website:

Note the date - exactly four years apart

When we arrived on the island we were met by Ranger Scott who gave a very informative talk about the history of the Fort.  Fort Sumter was built because these was a gap between Fort Johnson and Fort Moultrie and enemy ships knew that cannons could only reach so far and if they went right in between those two forts they could reach Charleston Harbor unharmed.

My favorite fact learned was that Abner Doubleday was second in command there and we all know what he went on to do -right?? 
Fort Sumter

Fort Sumter Cannon

When we got back on land we found a deli for dinner and used our free American Express card to pay for it so we had a great time in Charleston for free.

Magnolia Plantataion House
On Wednesday we visited Magnolia Plantation.  Here is some information from their website:  

Thomas Drayton and his wife Ann arrived from Barbados to the new English colony of Charles Towne and established Magnolia Plantation along the Ashley River in 1676. Thomas and Ann were the first in a direct line of Magnolia family ownership that has lasted more than 300 years and continues to this day. 
We took a guided walking tour of a small portion of the former rice plantation (it's 500 acres total and was a lot larger pre-Civil War).  After taking a guided walking tour,  we hopped on the "nature train" (tram) for a more extensive, wilder tour - we even saw an alligator.  Once our train tour was over it was time to take the house tour,  we got to see every room.  This is a beautiful plantation and all three of our tour guides were very knowledgeable.

Camellia Flowers

The White Bridge

Bamboo Garden

The Plantation was the last of our three free tickets and it was well worth sitting through the one hour presentation to get them.  We would have done Fort Sumter with or without free tickets but probably not the carriage ride or plantation tour.

Our last touristy stop in South Carolina was a visit to the Angel Oak.  The Angel Oak tree is believed to be between 300-400 years old and is 65 feet high with a circumference of 25.5.  The largest limb has a circumference of 11.25 feet and is 89 feet long!  
Angel Oak tree
Georgia On My Mind
We left South Carolina on Thursday, January 18th and headed south to Skidaway State Park near Savannah.  It was an easy short drive and we were there by 12:30.  Check in wasn't until 1:00 so we walked around a bit and then registered.  This is a very popular Georgia State Park and pretty pricey for a state park - $42.00 per night.  We did have water and electric and, best of all, CABLE!   The sites here are very nice - all pull throughs and very large.  There were lots of hiking trails and just walking the campground was nice.  After spending over a month in private parks it was nice to be in nature.  Cable and nature - yes, life is good.  

Birthplace of Juliet Gordon Low, now a Girl Scout Museum
We drove into Savannah on Friday.  Our first stop was the Visitor's Center to pick up some maps and information.  Savannah is also a very walkable city and that's what we did, walked all over.  We stopped at the Colonial Cemetery which had headstones dating back to the 1700's.  From there we walked over to the Birthplace of Juliet Low, unfortunately it was closed during January for maintenance. The riverfront was a short walk from there so we headed over to check out the shops and find a place for lunch.  Then we walked over to Savannah's City Market where we picked up some sweet treats (lemon cookies - yum!) and headed back to the truck.  
These "historic steps" down to the waterfront were pretty steep!
Savannah's waterfront along the Savannah River

The weather in Georgia was pretty nice; we spent Saturday and Sunday at the campground doing a little hiking and a lot of relaxing.  We also took a drive over to Fort McAllister State Park (only 30 miles away) to see if we wanted to spend some time there. 
We liked what we saw at Fort McAllister so on Monday morning we packed up and headed south.  This campground has a wonderful winter special of only $16.00 per night - what a deal!  We had water/electric but, sadly, no cable.  
This was the view behind our campsite (past the trees) at Fort McAllister SP

This park was smaller than Skidaway but I liked it better.  It's located on the Ogeechee river and they had canoe and kayak rentals.  It was a little too chilly for us (maybe next time).  We walked every day and discovered that if we walked the causeway to the office/museum and back it was almost 4 miles.  

There were two trails in the park but the longer, 3 mile, trail was closed (because of hurricane damage?).  Since that trail was closed we asked a ranger for recommendations and she referred us to the nature trail in nearby Richmond Hills.  What a wonderful trail, it was a three mile loop partially paved and very serene and scenic.  It also was on the Ogeechee River.  

On Saturday we took a ranger-led hike to learn about local edible plants.  Ranger Scott walked us around the fort and pointed out what would be edible if we were ever stranded in the wilds of Georgia. After the hike we strolled around the fort on our own and learned some of its history.  

Here is some more Civil War history for those who were napping in American History class (this information is from the Park's website):  
Located south of Savannah on the banks of the Ogeechee River, this scenic park showcases the best-preserved earthwork fortification of the Confederacy. The earthworks were attacked seven times by Union ironclads but did not fall until 1864—ending General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea.”
Magazine built right into the hill.
We left Fort McAllister State Park on Monday, January 29th and headed south, 71 miles, to Brunswick, Georgia.  We are staying at a private campground, Golden Isles RV Park, which has a great monthly rate and is close enough to the coast for some interesting sightseeing.  We are staying here for all of February because we couldn't find a campground in Flordia until March 1st.

RV Junkyard
When we got here they sent us to a site that was very tight.  We would have been touching our neighbors awning and it would have been very difficult to get in (and out).  So I went back to the office and asked for a different site - she gave me #143.  I checked it out before getting Marty and it was underwater!  Once again I went back to the office and this time the woman came with me to find a satisfactory site.  We are all settled in at site #57 and we're at the end of the row so it's all good. 

There are no extra amenities in this park and quite a few of the campers have been here a while.  There is a walking path behind us and it's a short walk to the Winn Dixie so we can get our five miles a day in (walking the path 2-3 times).

Southeast Georgia and northeast Florida have many islands off the coast.  We've visited Jeykll and St. Simon in Georgia and Amelia Island in Florida.  They're all beautiful, it's always nice to see the ocean and we've been really lucky with the weather.  
Walking the beach at Jekyll Island in Georgia

St. Simon Island Lighthouse

Avenue of the Oaks, St. Simon Island


While on St. Simon Island we picked up a map at the Visitor's Center and went looking for "Tree Spirits".

From The Golden Isles Tourist Information Website:

What Is the Tree Spirit Mythology?

In the 1980's, artist Keith Jennings decided to make his mark on St. Simons Island, carving about 20 faces from the island's famous oak trees. Each unique face is hand-carved, taking the artist between two and four days to complete.

Legend has it, the images immortalize the countless sailors who lost their lives at sea aboard the mighty sailing ships that were once made from St. Simons Island oak. Their sad, sorrowful expressions seem to reflect the grieving appearance of the trees themselves with their drooping branches and moss.

But if you look a little closer, you can see that there are more than just sailors amongst these tree faces. Artist Keith Jennings attributes the artwork to the spirit of the tree. He carefully carves the faces from the wood, but his artwork simply reveals each tree's soul. The trees really do all of the work.
Found two, only 18 more to go
Mermaid Tree Spirit

Our current location of Brunswick, Georgia is only an hour away from Jacksonville, Florida so we've been there a few times for shopping (Costco) and an RV Show.  We walked through lots of rv's; every kind from Motor Homes to Class B's.  Our fifth wheel still fits our needs the best but who knows what the future holds. 

When we leave here on March 1st we'll head further south into Florida ending up in Miami.  The Cubs are opening against the Marlins and we're going to be there!!  Go Cubs!!