Emily & Silent Partner
continuing series premier series on places we’ve stayed in the Airstream, I am proud to introduce Florida Caverns State Park.
If I haven’t mentioned in the past, my partner and I lived in the Airstream for 15 months full-time. In the winter of 2016 we roamed all over Florida while the rest of the country froze to death. Florida has an exceptional state park system and a matching portal for searching availability and making reservations.
We used this site extensively as our planning rarely projected more than a few weeks into the future. Certainly southern Florida is more popular with the snow-birds so we stuck entirely to the northern parts. This suited us just fine – northern Florida has rolling hills, gorgeous mixed softwood/hardwood forests and not half-bad mountain biking.
* A small note on the Florida reservation system. Park attendants cannot change reservations – you have to do that online yourself. This worked against us, which I will mention in another entry in our series in the future.
Amenities & Activities
Florida Caverns State Park is small as parks go but we found it to be unpretentious, slow, quiet and exactly to out liking. There were a good mixture of spots from small car-camping areas all the way to large motorhome pads.
The campsite had showers and laundry, though no change dispenser and no change was available at the front gate. One of the washing machines was also intermittently reliable as the humid Florida air had done its worst.
There were three solidly enjoyable if short
hiking (pfft) mountain biking paths to choose from as well as kayaking on the Chipola River and swimming in the Blue Hole Spring when alligators aren’t around.
Also the campsites are deeply wooded, as shown in the feature image above. This made satellite reception possible but dodgy and highly dependent on which site we were in. On the up side cell reception (which is how I get internet for work) was excellent.
Now you know, Fred and I blog because we love mountain biking. As it happens, my (silent) partner likes mountain biking also. Much of Florida Caverns State Park looks like this.
In my way of thinking, this is a good thing. Take some time and allow your gaze to lazily wander to the blue blaze on the side of those trees on the right. That’s marking a trail (Chipola River Trail). Indeed, this trail run through a swamp!
The Chipola River Trail was overrun much of the time by its namesake, the Chipola River. The flooding wasn’t too deep though, only a couple of inches (10 cm), and it made for one of the most unique mountain biking experiences I’ve ever had. Yeah, I really rode that – repeatedly!
And even though I’m sure riding my bike through flood-plain swampland led her into an existential crisis, I rode three major trails – the Sinkhole Trail, the Chipola River Trail and the Fence Line Trail.
The Fence Line Trail was the longest of the three though none are especially rigorous. The zen I achieved on these rides was the unworldly experience of the swamp and the panoply of living things it offered. Honestly – this is one ride that sticks with me as the most unique ride I have ever done.
Buildings in the park were constructed in the 1940’s using natural stone quarried on-site. As many of you know, Florida is what remains of an ancient sea bed so the “stone” here is limestone riddled with ancient shells. It gives the entire park a singularly unique texture.
The Big Attraction
Ok, some sharp-eyed readers may have noticed this is Florida Caverns State Park. This is because this park contains the only open-air cave in northern Florida open to the public, or so they say.
For a fee, you too can enjoy an hour-long tour through the caves. The tour starts with an ominous descent into the underworld.
There are a remarkable number of rooms.
There is also a non-trivial amount of crouching involved in this tour.
This cave is still “living” indicating that the formations are growing even now.
The final room is really incredible and beautifully lit.
What Could Go Wrong?
Some of the more memorable and ultimately funny parts of RVing, especially full-time, are the things that go wrong. Below is a chronicle of what that park did to the Airstream.
Our stay at Florida Caverns State Park was our first park in Florida. The humidity there destroyed us, or more like, destroyed the Airstream. With the A/C running in the trailer virtual rivers formed on the windows and interior aluminum skin.
Though an annoyance for the most part this moisture ultimately led to a pretty severe mold problem under the mattress of all places. I think it’s because our bed is directly over the rear storage hatch. Just enough outside air seemed to pull through the hatch and flash condense…. right under the mattress.
I don’t recall what drew my attention to the issue but it taught us an invaluable lesson:
Put dehumidifiers in your trailer!
Put dehumidifiers in your trailer!
Put dehumidifiers in your trailer!
We placed one small dehumidifier directly in the compartment under the bed and another in the rear hatch area. I also placed a plastic barrier under the mattress. This seemed to solve the mold problem for the remaining duration of our stay in Florida.
Satellite vs. Trees
We have a Winegard TRAV’LER RV Satellite Antenna on our Airstream. It’s an excellent system but it simply couldn’t compete with the thick northern Florida forest. We had somewhat spotty reception the entire time we were there.
One trick we did learn is the SD channels seemed to make it through even when their HD counterparts did not, so configuring the satellite receiving not to remove “SD Duplicates” worked very well.
While we were staying at the park I found a leak in the bathroom one day. Carefully tracking its origin I found that the pressure reducer for the city water supply was dripping very slowly but steadily behind the bathroom vanity. In an incredible stroke of luck, I was able to reach under the sink service panel and tighten the fixture by hand. Considering this is nearly the only readily serviceable area I could reach in the the bathroom I still can’t believe our bad, then really good luck.
Airstream Build Quality
Though I dearly love my Airstream, it isn’t without its quality issues. One of the more curious problems that seems to plague my coach is popped rivets. Lots of them.
In this particular case, I lazily closed the front door one morning and watched in slow-motion shock as the chrome belt-line molding popped off and landed at my feet. Examination of the offending and very sad piece revealed four ruptured rivets.
Of course this was demoralizing but in an incredible stroke of luck I had very recently watched a video on my favorite YouTube channel by the wonderful folks at Long Long Honeymoon on repairing Airstream chrome trim.
I’m pretty handy so I got the gasket adhesive described in that video at a local auto parts store and restored the molding to like new myself. To accomplish this I already had a basic rivet kit from Ace Hardware, a cordless drill and a 1/8″ bit to remove the old plugs.
Over the time my partner and I have traveled in the Airstream we’ve noticed a recurring pattern: Some places have an “it”. This “it” is an intangible – you just begin to feel, for one reason or another, there’s a soul making this particular spot special.
Examples of other places where we felt “it” – Crested Butte, CO and Moab, UT.
Florida Caverns State Park definitely has “it”. Maybe because of the charm of small town of Marianna? Maybe because of the unique combinations of things to do in this park? Who knows. Whatever the reason I give Florida Caverns State Park a giant thumbs up. If you have the means I highly recommend you stop by and stay a while.
* We learned after leaving this park some folks we met there had to leave due to flooding. Also the caves flood from time-to-time. My only advice on this topic is to call the park and find out conditions before booking.