Near our campground is a nature center/research center focusing on the estuary ecosystem. We decided to spend a bit of time there since it was much too windy and chilly for good beach-going. One of the coolest things was to see their aquariums with estuary fish and wildlife. It was awesome to get a closeup look at some flounder!


Since we are right in the middle of oyster country, and neither of us can remember ever eating oysters before, we decided to try some for lunch. We went to a place called Red Pirate Grill and ordered a take-out order of fried oysters and brought them back to our campsite. I was amazed at how delicious they were! They have a mild and creamy taste. Who knew?


The best place to get out of the wind but still enjoy the sun and the water was at the pool at our campground. So, we did the only reasonable thing: we spent a couple hours just hanging out in the sun at the pool.


As the sun was heading down, we headed out to find a kayak launching place that would give me access to one of the rivers in the area. At the nature center we learned how important fresh water is to the area, and we learned that the rivers support a rich grassland, sort of like a savannah. So I wanted to experience this ecosystem first-hand, in the kayak. I thought it might be possible to see some wildlife if I went out at dusk. We found our way to a launch site in the Appalachicola National Forest. Well, there was no wildlife, but I did have a nice time of paddling in the grassland.

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Arbuckle Creek – Central FL

My sister and her husband moved to Sebring, FL this past fall, and when they heard we were going to be touring Florida they invited us to stop by and see them. On Thursday, after our brief beach time, we headed east to the center of Florida for a couple of more family days.


On Saturday my sister found me a creek to kayak in, so off I went to experience an inland Florida paddling adventure. I didn’t know what to expect, but when I got to the launch site I found a peaceful river flowing among farm fields and cypress trees.

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Parts of the paddle were really beautiful; parts not so much.


The most exciting part was the slight tinge of fear that came from not knowing just what I might find. Would there be alligators? Snakes? I knew there would be birds, because there are birds everywhere in Florida.


I was paddling slowly and very quietly through some areas that I thought might support some wildlife. Up ahead – way ahead – I spotted something that just might be an alligator. I was way too far away to tell for sure, so I got out my binoculars to see what I could see. Sure enough! It was a gator! I have a video camera with great zoom feature, so I dug that out and began filming. I was able to get some decent footage of this fellow as he slid through the water. I didn’t go any closer, because I didn’t know how he’d react to my presence.



A short time later I got a good look at a wading bird that was fishing. It may be a type of heron.



A little while later I got a good look at some sort of raptor enjoying a picnic lunch.


It was quite a morning!

Chillin’ in the Heat

This was a day to lay low. We’ve been pretty busy so far on this trip, with very little time to “do nothing.” The campground we’re in (Manatee Hammock Campground) has access to the Indian River, and it has a pretty nice little pool, so we decided to stay “home” today.


When I say “the river,” it’s a little hard to convey the actual size of this thing. It is WIDE! I’m guessing the land across the river is about 2 miles distant. It’s a substantial body of water. I was able to get out on the river at about quarter to ten. This was probably about an hour later than I should have started out, because shortly after I was on the water the wind began to increase. I’ve been out on Cayuga Lake in very heavy seas, so I knew what the kayak could handle, and I knew I wasn’t in any danger. Yet. But I was aware, the whole time I was out there, of the rapidly increasing wind and waves. I knew my time was limited. I paddled along the shore and enjoyed seeing various camps, mobile home parks, and a few expensive properties. There is hurricane damage all along here, and even the expensive homes are still unable to use their docks and boathouses. I think what I’ve heard is that there is such a backlog of repair work that no one can find contractors to do the jobs. (This is from Hurricane Irma which touched virtually the entire state of Florida in fall, 2017.)


The whole time I was on the water I was looking for wildlife. Manatees? Alligators? Who knew what might be lurking below the brown waters?  After I turned to head back I did spot a dolphin about 30 yards away.


The rest of the day was very peaceful and restful as we relaxed in the campground. It felt really good to have a day without an agenda.


Class I and II???

Today was to be a transition day; a day between musical events. We had to drive a bit more than a hundred miles west, to the small, high-mountain town of Hot Springs. The campground is on the French Broad River, a river known for its whitewater rafting. I learned that the “wild” class III and IV rapids are upstream from the campground, and the section downstream from the campground has several miles of flat water with “some class I and class II rapids.” I felt that this would be ideal for me and for my level of skill with the kayak. I begged E to help me out with the driving so that I could put in at the campground, paddle down stream to a park several miles down, and have her pick me up there. (Since she hadn’t yet driven our pickup truck, this was a BIG sacrifice on her part to be willing to do this. I greatly appreciate her for doing this.)

I put the kayak in the water just outside the campground, and I immediately found myself in white water. It was “whiter” than I’ve experienced before. I’ve been in class I and class II rapids before, and really enjoyed it, but this seemed more … exciting … than I remember. There were some pretty sizable waves, and some of them did manage to find their way inside the boat. When I got through this section of rapids, I pulled in to shore and beached the boat. I took a walk back upstream to take a photo:

Is this Class II rapids?

The rest of the paddle was pretty exciting too, because during the stretches of flat water I could hear the sound of rapids that I was approaching. After my first experience, I was unsure of just what I would find in the next set of rapids. It was an experience made for a Hollywood movie: moving downstream with the increasingly loud sound of an approaching area of rapids. All that was missing was the dramatic musical background score. If the people who recommended this stretch of river considered what I had just been through to be mild and friendly (which is what they said), then would I be riding rapids like that all the way down to the park? The answer is, yes. Almost every set of rapids was just a little bit more than I had bargained for. By the end I was getting more comfortable and more confident. I guess the only way to learn something like this is to experience it, but I probably would have benefitted from doing it with a guide. In any event, this experience was one of the highlights of this trip for me, and again, I greatly appreciate my wife’s willingness to drive the truck for the first time and pick me up when I completed my run.

An Allegany Day and Evening

I hear from people all the time about how wonderful Watkins Glen State Park and Letchworth State Park are. I agree; they are great parks, and they are well worth a visit. I rarely hear about Allegany State Park, and that is a marvelous curiosity. ASP is a very large state park that sits in the far southwestern area of New York State, virtually on the Pennsylvania border. When I found myself with a three-day weekend with my wife away at a special event, I decided on ASP as my destination. I really could have gone anywhere. Here are the major factors that went into my decision: (1) it’s not too far from home but not really too close either (2.5 hour drive), (2) it has great hiking trails, with a high likelihood of seeing wildlife, (3) it has lakes for kayaking and fishing, (4) it has dark skies for stargazing, (4) there are many campsites at two different campgrounds, so no reservations would be needed.

I arrived at the park shortly after noon on Saturday. The weather was spectacular, so you would expect a good-sized fall weekend crowd at the park. It was evident that there were a lot of people out enjoying the day at the park, but it is such a large park that there were no places that were crowded at all.

I selected a campsite in a large, open, grassy field so that I would be able to enjoy stargazing at night. I did not want a site with electricity, because I wanted to put my new solar setup to the test. However, all the sites that would provide me with good stargazing were electric sites. That meant I would be paying the premium price for an electric site (50 amp!) but not using it. Oh well. You can’t always get what you want. There were only about six or seven other parties camping in this loop, and there are a total of 42 sites in the loop. (The campground map indicates that there are a total of 164 sites in all the loops of the Cain Hollow Campground.)


After setting up camp I spent a couple hours fishing and kayaking at Quaker Lake, which is less than a mile from the Cain Hollow Campground. There were several other kayakers out on the lake on this beautiful fall day, but the lake is so large that they were seen mostly off in the distance.



I had brought a little bit of kiln-dried firewood with me, but I knew that I would need more. I spent some time gathering, cutting, and splitting some downed trees that I found in the woods next to the campground. When a neighbor saw me splitting he came over and offered the use of his sledge hammer to help with the job. I really appreciated the thought, but I didn’t need the tool. We introduced ourselves to each other, and I invited Jeff and his group over to see stars and planets through the telescope later at night.


The stargazing was good but not great. My telescope has a lot of electronic, navigational features that are not working properly. I was able to manually find Saturn and Mars, but not much else of interest. Further, I couldn’t get it to focus completely. I don’t know what’s wrong with the darn thing. I was thankful that Jeff and his folks did not come over.


I ran the furnace a lot at night because the temperatures were well down into the lower 40’s or upper 30’s. I wanted to operate all the electrical things in the camper without exercising any conservation efforts, because I wanted to see how quickly the battery got discharged and how quickly my 100-watt solar panel would be able to recharge it. I did not use a meter to measure my voltage, but the solar control panel indicated a “partially” discharged battery in the morning. I was very pleasantly surprised when I noticed at 9:00AM (in bright sunlight) the charge was back up to full. So a full night of keeping the furnace running (on and off as needed to keep the temperature in the mid 50’s) used only enough electricity to enable full recharging with about 2 hours of sunlight. Amazing.

River Day

This was to be our last day of relaxation before beginning what would be a two-day drive home. So we wanted to make the most of it. I was still pestered by the desire to do some river kayaking (even though, sadly, without whitewater), and my research had led me to information about the Bluestone River, less than an hour south of us. The Bluestone River and a dammed section of it, the Bluestone Lake, were available for kayaking. We decided to go there for a picnic and an afternoon of kayak explorations.


As has been the case for a week and a half now, the roads to get there were incredible. Winding, steep, and narrow. Once again I was glad I didn’t have the trailer along with me on this one.


The park was OK but not fantastic. There were hardly any people there, and we realized that the children are all back in school now. The pool was closed. We found a nice, quiet spot on the riverbank with a launching area for the kayak. I took about an hour and a half or two hours to paddle the river, and I saw lots of birds and wildflowers.


Here is a Great Blue Heron I was watching for a while:

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I saw a bird that I couldn’t identify. Later I looked at about 50 pictures of birds, and I couldn’t find any that even closely resembled it. What is it?

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Here is a white heron that I was watching:

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It was a relaxing day, but we didn’t meet any people to write about. Tomorrow we begin the drive toward home.

Wild and Wonderful

Well, today was decision day. In all our planning we knew that this would probably be the end of the music part of our journey. The next venues that seemed to have any promise at all, musically, were a few hours south. And none of them were all that compelling. So we had been discussing changing the focus of our explorations at this point of the trip and beginning to explore the coalmining heritage of West Virginia. There is a lot of coal heritage stuff to see down in the region of Beckley, WV, which is a few hours southwest of where we are now. So we made the decision today, and headed for the coal heritage area around Beckley.


Also in that region there is a lot of whitewater rafting on the New River and the Gauley River. We would be driving right through the thick of it. That opened up a whole new realm of exploration. Yes!!!! Adventure!!!!

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We stopped at the Canyon Rim Visitor’s Center, which overlooks the New River Gorge Bridge in Lansing, WV. The bridge itself is amazing; the view of the river far below is breathtaking; but the real impact of the stop, for me, was the idea of using my kayak to try some river kayaking in the New River. I had read that there is a 15-mile stretch (the Upper New River) that is more mild and “family friendly.” This sounded good to me, since I have no experience with anything above class II rapids in my kayak.


I got some information about a 5-mile section of river that was recommended for beginners, and I began to imagine myself as a river kayaker. Then I found out that there were two sections of class III rapids in this “beginner’s” section. I began to wonder about the wisdom of setting off on this adventure. I realized that I probably lack the knowledge and experience needed for this sort of thing. Then, when I reflected on the fact that I would be doing this alone, I became even more doubtful of the prudence of doing it. I thought about it for about a half a day, and eventually realized that I not only lack the knowledge, the experience, and companions, but I also do not have a kayak skirt or a helmet, I realized it would be foolish for me to do this on my own. I thought about getting a lesson, but realized that I probably don’t need to be getting that involved in something new right here and now. So … I decided that now is not the time for whitewater kayaking for me. Maybe another time. When the time comes I want to do it right.


The bridge was another story. Amazing. It is the longest single-span arch bridge in the western hemisphere. It was opened in October, 1978. Every October they have a celebration – Bridge Day – and people rappel, ascend and BASE jump from it. Here it is:

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Wouldn’t you love to jump off that?