Please join us in celebration as we release our 7th YouTube episode, E1.7 Summer Rides – Pemberton. In this episode we discuss summer riding and take you on an extensive tour of the Pemberton Loop at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.
Please subscribe to our YouTube channel if you like our adventures, we want to bring you more! We’ve listened to your comments, boosted our audio and offered better maps!
Welcome to day 3 and 4 of our not-quite-as-live-as-I’d-like blog from Moab. Today we’re coming to you from the Eklecticafe where exceptional eats and coffees are found aplenty.
I’m blogging from here because cell coverage on the Colorado stinks, even with the booster. So we took a nice lazy morning to imbibe some flavored caffeine, eat some delicious strudel and share the past couple days in photos and prose.
Leaving Slickrock Campground
We left Slickrock campground but not before a furry-friend sendoff.
I have some ambiguity about this campground. The prices were high, but possibly not out of line when you consider being in the heart of town. The facilities were used – hard – but the staff was friendly, and they sold beer at the front desk. The electrical connections at the site bordered on a fire hazard, but the pads were clean, shade covered and otherwise well maintained.
I suppose my conclusion is I would come back, but probably again just as a mid-point while trying to land a better location on the Colorado.
Camping the Colorado
On day 3 of our adventure we moved to Goose Island Campground.
Goose Island is a remarkable BLM facility located not much more than a mile east of Moab on Utah 126.
We like this campground because it’s close to town yet limited to a couple dozen sites nestled up against a dramatic bend in the Colorado River. For $15/night you get unbelievable views of the river and epic sandstone cliffs worked meticulously by water and wind.
The campground offers trash collection and immaculately kept vault toilets but no water. Generator hours are a little odd at 8AM to 8PM, though we understand everyone wants to enjoy the outdoors in quiet.
Being so close to town this campground is busy. All sites are walk-ups so prospective campers (including ourselves) troll the area at all hours trying to score a spot. It’s also not entirely unusual for outside campers to stop by and drop trash in the receptacles, though there not supposed to. Given the amount of activity around here it’s understandable.
As I mentioned earlier, cell coverage here stinks. With the booster I can get internet but it’s too flaky to upload pictures for the blog. Still it’s entirely sufficient for texts and email.
Lastly as seen above foliage is light making satellite reception a snap.
Dead Horse Point State Park Take 2
In an effort to economize on our three-day pass to Dead Horse Point State Park, we rode there again on Day 4. You can read up on the trail details in our previous post here. Below are a few more non-mountain biking highlights.
The Point of the Point
The point of the point is this.
I’ve been to the Grand Canyon numerous times but I find this view infinitely more rewarding. It’s still grand, but somehow more intimate.
A Little Moab Walkabout
On Day 3 we spent some time in Moab grabbing food and groceries. We highly recommend the Moab Brewery. Patio seating is the best.
Eddie McStiff’s has awesome Pizza, though oddly not until after 3.
The Moab Information Center right next door has a gorgeous garden.
To be continued….
We’re lazing around today, I might ride North 40 if I can get out of vacation mode – you’ll find out tomorrow. Peace!
*At the time of this blog Chatfield State Park is undergoing extensive renovation to fill the reservoir an additional 12 ft (3.7 m). It is said the park will remain open during these renovations but perform your due diligence before booking.
This is another mega-post, primarily amount mountain biking the Denver area. Enjoy the photos and take your time!
Reservations for Chatfield can be made on the Reserve America portal. When I was a kid Chatfield was considered to be way out in the sticks. I only have one distinct memory of actually going there and at that age I felt like we’d driven to Utah. Now days though, Chatfield is in the middle of the massive urban sprawl that has become Denver. RV sites bloom over three massive loops, but owing to the park’s immediate proximity to the city it is still extremely busy and it pays to make reservations way in advance.
We were able to get reservationos, albeit over Memorial Day, but only at a site with power and water but no sewer. As a result we towed to the dump station once a week. The dump station, by the way, is the best we’ve ever used owing to small concrete bumps that tilt the trailer gently towards the driver side making it drain faster.
Chatfield State Park is located south of Denver and has two major entrances, one off of Roxborough Park Rd to the south and another off of South Wadsworth Blvd to the west, though it appears that entrance may experience interference during renovation. The entrances are guarded during the day and unmanned at night. One sour patch for us is we found it cheaper to buy an annual pass rather than pay a daily vehicle fee and the park rangers threatened us with a ticket if we didn’t affix it to the passenger-side windshield!
Camping is split among three enormous loops, Loop A, Loop B (our loop) and Loop C, as well as some group camping options. Each loop contains a combination of bath houses, laundry and bathrooms. We were somewhat put off by having to pay for showers – a curiosity that never took place before or again on our entire trip.
Pads were a mixture of asphalt and concrete backing up to extremely well groomed and open play areas with a fire pit surrounded by gravel. There was also a publicly available WiFi network that was fast and reliable, even during Memorial Day weekend. Even without the WiFi, cell signal here was strong and catching a satellite signal was a snap.
We found noise at the campground to be highly variable, depending on where you were located. Our site experienced intermittent music but the park patrol was omnipresent and we enjoyed our stay, which the deer did too.
Activities around the park include kayaking , swimming, boating, hiking, fishing, bird-watching and biking. It pays to bring binoculars when possible as the wildlife in this area is prolific along the water line.
Owing to its immersion in the city, groceries are easily fetched from King Soopers in Highlands Ranch or King Soopers on South Wadsworth Blvd.
I also mentioned we were in Denver to drop the Airstream off at Windish RV, which we did immediately after staying here. Denver is a giant city, so you can find all your needs here from propane to trailer storage.
Ah yes, my favorite topic – mountain biking. The Denver area is bubbling over with mountain biking opportunities, some of which I mention below.
Waterton/South Platte Canyon & Wetlands Connector
The South Platte Canyon trail follows the South Platte River up into the Rocky Mountains and can be accessed via the Wetlands Connector Trail directly from within Chatfield. This ride is not even close to technical and beginning at the Waterton Trailhead riding here can become exceptionally congested, especially on the weekends. This trail also suffers frequent closures so perform your due diligence before showing up to a closed parking lot.
The ride is slow and lazy climbing an easy few-percent grade along a mild-mannered road that hugs the South Platte river, which feeds the famous High Line Canal.
On the way back we often stopped on one of the bridges, ditched the bikes and stuck our tootsies into the cool water.
Another amazing feature of this ride is the bighorn sheep, which appear en masse.
The bighorn sheep are protected…
And there is extensive signage here alerting people not to interact with these guys in any way.
Buffalo Creek Trail System
The Buffalo Creek Trail System is roughly an hour from Chatfield by car though you can link into it directly from Chatfield via the Colorado Trail Segment 2 (which we did not do). This trail system is rich and complex allowing you to make your own loops, much of it threading through a former burn area, but still gorgeous and wonderful.
Though this trail system is not wildly technical nor crazy on the grades, for one reason or another I found it to require high fitness.
Staunton State Park
Staunton State Park is located just a little north of Buffalo Creek and it too offers a wide range of trail options.
Sadly I was somewhat ill on this expedition so we only rode Staunton Ranch Trail South to Bugling Elk Trail and back. I realized I was ill at the beginning of Border Line Trail so we only went up it a mile or so before bailing. Staunton Ranch and Bugling Elk were mild-mannered greens. Border Line is marked as a blue but I feel like it could easy be called black, at least owing to fitness.
The highlands ranch trail system is private, but we were granted access while staying with family. This is a twisty and satisfying system that forms complex loops through foothills scrub oak.
Even though highlands ranch is private, the trail system hooks directly into the Bluffs Regional Park which is open for all and has awesome views of Littleton, Centennial, Highlands Ranch and in the distance, Denver.
Green Mountain overlooks the C470/70 interchange and provides jaw-dropping views of the Denver Metro area. We rode the Green Mountain Intermediate Loop multiple times and found it to be massively difficult on fitness and moderate technically. I highly recommend it though, the views are worth it.
Our final ride in the Denver area was up Rollins Pass. Make no mistake about it, Rollins Pass is primarily an OHV road but lots of mountain bikers ride there too. It takes a good two hours or more to get there from south Denver so I realize this might not be “the Denver area” in the strictest terms, but this stands out as the best mountain bike ride I have ever done. Ever.
This is an eye-popping trail because it follows an old rail line over Corona Pass threading its way through spectacular Rocky Mountain vistas that straddle the continental divide. The “trail” begins at the Moffat Tunnel and tops out at the Needle’s Eye Tunnel which is at a comfy 11,600′ (3535 m). This entire ride is cloaked in thick forest until the last portion which is several hundred feet above timber line (the elevation at which there isn’t enough oxygen to support trees).
Our journey began in the early AM in Highlands Ranch.
Shortly west of Rollinsville we followed the contemporary Union Pacific rail line to the Moffat Tunnel.
Because this grade was followed by steam engines or yore, it rarely exceeds 5% – making for an extended but doable climb. Much of the former rail line was blasted right out of the rock.
My favorite part of the climb began at Yankee Doodle Lake, as you can look up see a little dot where the Needle’s Eye Tunnel exits towards the west. Knowing you’re riding a bike up there is exhilarating.
As the climb proceeds you are presented with the epic final grade where you can imagine old steam engines working hard to make the summit. Carefully examine this photo and you can see the tunnel up and to the right.
At the tunnel you can look down on the awesome climb.
The tunnel is closed but still fun to look at.
You can climb over the tunnel and look down on the aforementioned Yankee Doodle Lake.
This entire journey actually taught me the meaning of Rocky Mountain High.
What Could Go Right
I mentioned several times we got “caught” in Denver much longer than expected due to Airstream problems. But my god, look what it brought us. Windish RV did an awesome job on the trailer and their fixes got us back on the road. In the meantime while the trailer was undergoing repair we saw the most unbelievable side of Denver and surrounding area.
Yes, Chatfield State Park and the surrounding area has “it”! Go! Go for the water, go for the mountain biking and go for the trains and more trains!
Florida’s state park system portal can be used for searching availability and making reservations here. This park is located near the bucolic town of Chiefland, which itself is roughly a 2 1/2 hour drive from Tampa and 1 hour from Gainesville. This park was extremely busy and we had one night where we thought we might wind up at Walmart due to overcrowding. This is also the first place I dented the Airstream. More on both issues later.
Amenities & Activities
Manatee Springs State Park has one entrance off of Manatee Springs Road a few miles west of Chiefland. The road is rural and offers a beautiful drive through quintessential Florida farmland. The entrance is closed at night and secured with a code supplied at check-in time, though at the time we stayed there the gate had been destroyed in a crash.
There are two campgrounds in this park, Hickory to the north and Magnolia to the south. The Hickory campground is the smallest one forming a rough circle around an old but well maintained bath house.
The Magnolia campground is split into an older set of sites on the west side called Magnolia 2 and a loop of newer and larger sites on the east side called Magnolia 1. Both Marnolias circle around their respective bath houses. Magnolia 1 far and away offered the newest and nicest bath house. Sadly none of the campgrounds offered laundry so we did our laundry at Market Place Laundry.
We had the pleasure of staying in all three loops and found they all sat deep in mixed softwoood/hardwood forest. As with the other Florida parks we stayed at, this kind of foliage uniformly interfered with satellite reception. Our sites varied between 50 and 30 Amp electric and all supplied city water but no sewer so we towed to the dump station once a week. There was also zero cell phone reception which turned into a headache for me and my work. All the sites we stayed at were on fine sand so again we spent plenty of time cleaning the Airstream.
Though the park was very busy, especially on the weekends, the traffic on the campground loops seemed light and the noise low. Traffic on the main road and the day use area was heavy. Nighttime was particularly special as this is when the deer, owls and armadillos came out to play. It was somewhat routine, though discouraged by the staff, for people to place corn cobs and other offerings to attract the critters. We refrained from this and simply enjoyed whatever visitors came our way. Armadillos are a hoot!
The primary reason we visited this park is, of course, the springs.
Manatee Springs is a first magnitude spring producing up to 100 million gallons of fresh water daily, which subsequently feeds into the Suwannee River. I learned to scuba dive with my dad here back in the 80’s though this time my partner and I only snorkeled there. The springs are warm but still required a 3mm wetsuit to stay comfortable. The water is positively teeming with life including turtles, fish and many kinds of aquatic plants and offered hours of wonderful diving.
Manatee Springs is so named not only for the springs, but for the manatees that can frequently be found here as the water from the springs offers a constant temperature around 72 °F (23 °C). We had the pleasure of diving while several manatees were visiting and watched them watch us. The are incredibly gentle and also surprisingly white!
Manatee Springs offers a wide range of other activities including scuba diving, kayaking, boating, hiking, bird watching and yes, mountain biking. While we were there I also managed to pick up a little liquid entertainment.
Manatee Springs offered superb mountain biking across miles of trails on the north end of the park. I made time to ride a couple hours a day constructing my own loops out of the Scenic Trail, Shacklefoot Trail, Clay Trail, Hornet Trail and a wide range of offshoots and connectors. The trails are very sandy but entirely enjoyable on a standard 29er/27.5 2.3″ tire.
I found the trails to be nearly deserted regardless of how busy the park itself was. This gave me deeply enjoyable quiet time swooping through the gently rolling forest, though I nearly had a heart attack coming upon a flock of wild turkeys. I also saw what I believe to be a rare Eastern Indigo Snake, but I could be wrong. On these rides I also saw black vultures and found evidence of, but never saw, wild pigs.
What Could Go Wrong
I’ve mentioned before, lots of thing go wrong RVing.
It was about this time I had to laugh or I would cry. It was also about this time I was beginning to realize we’d need to visit a dealer, too much stuff was breaking (and being broken by me).
I use a iOS application called Coverage to assess the suitability of a camp site before we book there, as my living depends on the internet. This application clearly shows Manatee Springs has terrible coverage but for one reason or another I convinced myself the booster would save us.
At best the booster got us 1x signal which was sufficient for voice but not data. There is a small concession near the springs that offers WiFi and I tried to work there a couple times but everyone else realized this too and by lunchtime the service was unusable.
Because of this I had to commute into Chiefland every day and squat at a Dunkin’ Donuts. I didn’t leech their WiFi though, I brought the MiFi. I also bought plenty of donuts and coffee to say thank you.
Why would a sewer cap snap? I don’t know.
Manatee Springs is when we began to realize our shower door was possessed. The glass was sliding out the bottom of the frame! More on that little gem in later posts.
My ‘Expert’ Parking Skills – And $3600 Later
There are two kinds of RV’ers – those that have accidents and those that lie about it. *Emily, 2016
We stayed at Manatee Springs State Park for two weeks but for one of those 14 days I simply could not find an open site. My partner and I routinely stay at Walmart while on the road and we decided one night at the Chieftan store would be just fine.
As luck would have it, though, on the Friday we were supposed to leave I was coming back from Dunkin’ and a very nice ranger at the entrance told me they’d had a cancellation. I raced over to the site and took a cursory look, decided it would be fine, then raced over to the concession with my laptop to make the reservation (because I couldn’t get cell phone coverage).
This is a super annoying feature of the Florida park system: The rangers can’t make reservations. I was stressed out by the crappy WiFi signal and struggled with the reservation system but ultimately snagged the site.
At this point I raced over to the trailer, hooked up and towed us over to the site. You can see where this is going. Going fast, rushing and not thinking with an RV does not go well.
It was at this point I began to realize this site was a little strange, owing to some peculiar wooden bumpers the park had clearly recently installed that limited my turning radius on the back-in. The site also had some poorly placed coral boulders that seem to have been there to convert the site from a pull-through into a back-in. They forced me into a strange angle.
Regardless of the reasons, I found myself in a very technical back-up scenario. I was going very very slow, and paying very careful attention to the nose of my truck. But not to the trailer. At a walking pace, or even slower, I jackknifed the trailer.
Though I wish now I had more pictures I just couldn’t bear to take any. I felt like an idiot. In the end I dented the driver side road segment and the rock guard. Total repair cost: $3600.
Airstream Build Quality
I’ve said many times before I love my Airstream. Still, the Airstream doesn’t always love me back. One of the more amazing problems with this model Airstream is the vents in the ceiling have a habit of dropping out at strange times…. like the middle of the night… and falling on you.
Manatee Springs State Park has ‘it’. Oh yes it does. Manatees, clear water, swimming, darn good hot dogs at the concession, miles of biking and unbelievable wildlife. We deeply enjoyed our stay here and often talk of returning. Should you find yourself in the area I highly recommend you stay a while, enjoy the critters and explore the trails!
Florida’s state park system portal can be used for searching availability and making reservations here. This park sits deep in Florida’s “Forgotten Coast“, a stretch of low-speed roads and lazy beach towns stretching from Mexico Beach to St. Marks. You will need to put forth some patience to get here but possibly for this reason T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park was easy to book, quiet and we managed a single site for our entire stay.
Amenities & Activities
T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park has one entrance on Cape San Blas Rd., which follows an utterly mind-boggling route beginning at Port St. Joe on the mainland all the way to the edge of the park’s wilderness preserve. I describe this as mind-boggling because there are parts of this peninsula that couldn’t be more than a hundred yards (91 m) wide, granting you incredible views of the Gulf Coast and St. Joseph Bay simultaneously as you make your way in.
There are two campgrounds in this park, the Sandy Pines northern camp and the Gulf Breeze southern camp, which is where we stayed. There is a rather extraordinary system of boardwalks connecting these camps which offers not only convenience but truly exceptional access to the peninsula’s wetlands, bird watching and sunsets.
Our site had 50-Amp electric and city water but no sewer so we towed to the dump station once a week. Traffic through the campground was generally light, noise was very low and the people were friendly. Pads were white sand and crushed coral so we spent a fair amount of time vacuuming the Airstream.
There wasn’t a single location in these campgrounds that wasn’t far from one water feature or another – I estimate our site was hundred yards (182 m) from the gulf-side beach and a quarter mile (.4 km) from the bay side.
Trees were sparse making satellite reception a snap. Cell service was poor but still acceptable when combined with our booster. The entire Peninsula sits at the awkward border between the Eastern and Central time zones so cell-phones often randomly toggled between times. At the time we visited there was no WiFi.
The campsite had wonderful hot showers and very good laundry but as always no change machine and no quarters at the entrance. As with the other parks we visited the gate was closed at night and operated with a rotating code supplied to you at check in time.
There was very little choice in mountain biking here of course so I mostly took Cape San Blas Rd from the park south and back again every day at lunch time.
You can ride on the beach but we weren’t ‘rockin fat bikes so the effort was fruitless.
I did speak to one man who rode a 27+ all the way from Sandy Pines to the northern tip of the preserve and he gave it a very good review.
This park was bursting with incredible wildlife as the northern half is a wildlife refuge, and therefore prohibits most human activity except with a pass. We routinely saw deer, bird, crabs, turtles, otters and even dolphins.
My silent partner and I snorkeled in several locations around the park and we had the best success at Eagle Harbor which is immediately before the campgrounds. The water was shallow and warm(ish) considering it was winter. We did need our 3mm wet-suits including head protection. In these adventures we saw scallops, jelly fish, sponges, conch shell and a variety of fish.
Below is a some video of a small inlet close to where we snorkeled.
T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park offered endless walks along the beaches and boardwalks. We enjoyed a particularly intense storm which stirred up quite a bit of sea-life onto the beach including Portuguese man o’ war which the local crabs feasted on.
There was also somewhat of an unspoken tradition around sunset where everyone migrated to the gulf side to watch our sun disappear.
We barely scratched the surface on activities at this park and surrounding area. I mean, we didn’t even manage to break out the kayak. This simply means we need to go back!
We also made several runs into town (keeping in mind Port St. Joe is over an hour investment round trip) where we bought some snorkeling gear, filled propane, ate some good breakfasts and found some good pizza. The locals were friendly and the traffic light.
What Could Go Wrong
As I mentioned earlier this area sits exactly on the border between the Eastern and Central Time zones, which makes the cell phones crazy. While mostly just annoyance we did get nailed one morning when we drove into Port St. Joe and found all the restaurants had just switched to serving lunch. Some helpful folks directed us north by 15 minutes where ‘suddenly’ it was an hour earlier and breakfast was aplenty.
Cell reception here was… odd. Signal strength was wildly variable and our MiFi absolutely refused to respond to the booster. I wound up using the iPhone tether instead which got me through but there were times where even the booted signal was poor. I suspect this might be because the towers are on the mainland making for some strange water/signal interaction. If you depend on the internet for your living like I do I would ensure you have more than one cellular device, the iPhone rescued us in this situation.
I’ve mentioned the “it” factor in previous posts, and boy does T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park have “it”. Endless sugar-white beaches, snorkeling, biking and bird-watching kept us busy for days. The park rangers were incredibly friendly and everybody was easy going. Guests not interested in camping can even rent cabins.
To this day we talk about our visit and we absolutely can’t wait to go back. If that’s not the sign of someplace with a soul, I don’t know what is. I give this park two thumbs and two big toes up. If you have the time and means absolutely put this park on your to-do list.
Florida’s state park system portal can be used for searching availability and making reservations here. If your duration is longer than a few days try searching only for one or two days as you may need to make several reservations at the same park across several sites. This is the unfortunate consequence of people mostly making reservations for the weekend.
*My recommendations to the park manager on how to make their software better were met with polite “aren’t you cute” smiles, and little else.
Amenities & Activities
Acreage-wise this park seemed small, likely even smaller than Florida Caverns State Park though I couldn’t prove it if so pressed. There’s essentially only one large loop through the camping portion of the park so you’re exposed to quite a bit of traffic no matter where you’re located. The pads are clean, large and thankfully covered with large aggregate so keeping things clean is a snap. We had water and power but no sewer so we had to tow to the dump station once a week. Noise was average though the near-by Air Force base sometimes created quite a bit of aircraft “booms”, maybe from a system they use to clear birds from the runway?
This entire park is very heavily wooded leading to the dreaded satellite reception problem so we had to tweak the trailer a number of times to eek out a signal. There weren’t any sites close to the water and even if there were the foliage is so thick you can barely see Rocky Bayou. Cell reception was very good.
The campsite had showers and laundry, though these services were shut down one day due to plumbing problems and then for another couple days due to a freeze warning. As with all the Florida state parks the laundry was coin operated but no change machine was available.
There were a number of trails to enjoy including the Rocky Bayou Trail and Sand Pine Trails on the east side and the Red Cedar trail on the west side by the boat ramps. These trails are very short but well groomed, I was able to make a light mountain bike ride out of these trails by stitching them together into a 1 to 1 and 1/2 hour ride.
I tried to catch the Timberlake East Loop Trail at Eglin Air Force Base while we were there but was severely punished for not bothering to read the write-up on MTB Project, as you must buy a pass – which I did not….pathos.
Anyway, there is quite a bit of Rocky Bayou access on the boat-ramp side so we used that area to launch our kayak while dodging the “don’t get eaten by an alligator” signs.
These excursions out into the bayou reminded us why kayaks are called divorce boats.
This park is near Niceville, FL which was, well – nice. We ate some very nice food on the water.
Over at Henderson Beach State Park (take care this involves a toll road) you can enjoy the utter magnificence of the panhandle’s sugar-white beaches.
Even in January it was awesome.
What Could Go Wrong?
Ticks Ticks and More Ticks
Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park hand-delivered every tick in Florida directly to our dogs and us. We think it might be because it was nymph season (aka seed tick). We already give our dogs NexGard Chewables so the ticks, if left undiscovered, did die but there’s just something indescribably creepy about finding them on you and your dogs.
We wound up shaving the pups down to a very short cut especially on the face and ears to make discovering them after every walk easier.
Satellite vs. Trees
Same issue here as Florida Caverns State Park – the foliage is so thick it took quite a bit of tweaking the trailer to get a signal. If you have internet through your cell provider, and enough data usage, coverage was excellent and we utilized Amazon Prime Video extensively.
Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park was entirely suitable as a place to stay. Services were fine, we found sustenance at local restaurants and even washed the truck a time or two. That said, there wasn’t for us any “it” factor. I would give a mild thumbs up if you find yourself staying there. Henderson Beach State Park is of course, much more glamorous but reservations extended into the next century, which drove us to this park in the first place. I also didn’t especially appreciate the toll road to get out to the beach.
In our continuing seriespremier 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.