Camping with vultures

We wanted to do another short camping trip, and decided to leave on Tuesday 28th February, as the weather forecast for that week was good.  We planned a route to take in a few places we hadn’t already visited.  At the campground we chose for our first night, only one site out of sixty was still available, so we booked it.  And then of course the forecast changed.  We considered postponing the trip, but thought the weather might be even worse the following week, so we decided to go ahead.  Here’s what happened.


We headed east, with a brief stop at the Pioneer Park in Zolfo Springs.

Old railway engine at Zolfo Springs

It always amazes us how empty central Florida is, once you get away from the coasts (and the theme parks).  Our first destination was Bok Tower Gardens, and our ‘combination’ tickets enabled us to visit the adjacent Pinewood Estate, including a house confusingly built by a Mr Buck. The building was attractive, but we were unimpressed by the interior.

Pinewood Estate

Tiled staircase

The main feature of the Gardens is the very photogenic tower, including a 60-bell carillon. We listened to the 3pm recital in a special viewing area, where you can see the carilloneur on closed circuit TV.  She was a young woman from Poland, and we were able to talk to her afterwards.  We were also interested to learn that the bells were made in England, at the Taylor Bell Foundry in Loughborough, where we used to live!

Bok Tower

Detail of the Tower











We were rather disappointed by the Gardens – to us, more like a park.  But we discovered that Iron Mountain (where the tower is situated) is, at 324 feet, the highest spot in all of ‘peninsular’ Florida. It dwarfs Hobe Mountain, the highest spot in southern Florida, where we were last month!

Wedding excitement

After leaving Bok, we made our way to Lake Kissimmee State Park, where we had booked a campsite.  We’d had fine weather so far, and there were lots of stars – a good sign, we hoped.


Before leaving the state park, we did the short (2.8 miles) Gobblers Ridge Trail, which took us to the lake.  The views were rather disappointing, as there were lots of reeds between us and the water.  However, we climbed the observation tower, and found about six vultures waiting at the top!  We got fairly close before they flew off.  And when we were almost back at the car, we saw a couple of Sandhill cranes, which seemed happy to be photographed.

I spy tasty tourists!

Sandhill cranes

From Lake Kissimmee we headed north. Our next main stop was Mount Dora, an attractive small town on the shores of another lake (there are lots of lakes in this part of Florida). We ate our picnic lunch in a pavilion right on the water, and then walked around the town centre, using a map which identified the historic buildings. It was late afternoon when we left the town, too late to go as far as we had originally planned.  We tried one campground which was full, but luckily we found a suitable site just a few miles further on.  The stars tonight were even brighter than last night – the lack of light pollution creates a wonderful show.

Whoops – she’s shrunk!

Mt Dora Lighthouse



John P. Donnelly House


Despite the stars, it was very grey when we got up.  There were several rain showers (some quite heavy) through the day; fortunately they came while we were in the car.

It was not far from the campsite to our first destination: Ravine Gardens State Park at Palatka.  We’d passed close by last summer, but our information said the best time to visit was in the spring, preferably February-March.  So here we were, but we were sadly disappointed.  Sun might have helped, but it was not only the weather.  Some footpaths were poorly maintained; there were not as many azaleas as expected, and many of them were already dead.

Ravine Gardens State Park


We had a brief stroll around Palatka in search of our morning coffee, and noted the many murals in the town.

Palatka mural

Coffee stop

Then it was on to the Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park at Gainesville.  This is a massive sinkhole: you can descend 236 steps into it, and walk round a short trail at the top.  When we’d done that the weather still looked miserable, and we’d seen all the places we planned to visit on this trip, so we decided to head home.

Devil’s Millhopper State Park

Back in Sarasota

Being back a day earlier than planned gave us the opportunity to visit the ‘Quilts in Paradise’ show.  Quilting is a big thing here, and our friend Jane was exhibiting.  The quilts were beautiful – there are obviously a lot of skillful and talented people around!

Psychedelic quilt

One of Jane’s

The weekend followed our usual pattern:  ‘pub crawl’ on Friday evening (including free wine and opera on Palm Avenue), walk downtown (market, library etc) on Saturday morning, and theatre on Saturday evening.  This time we saw Born Yesterday, the third of the Asolo’s so-called ‘Washington trilogy’. It was quite different, being a comedy, and written soon after World War II, but although the acting was excellent, we didn’t enjoy it as much as the other two plays in the series.

Opera on Palm

On Sunday we did our usual beach walk, this time south along Turtle Beach.  We noted that the sand brought in last year to replenish the beach was already being washed away.  After returning to ‘base’ we got out our chairs, had coffee and started reading, but we didn’t stay long because of the winds which have been so strong recently.

I wonder why this place is for sale?

Pelicans in flight

Monday was rather different from usual.  It was our final Italian lesson, but this was a ‘practical’: instead of a classroom session at the college, we had lunch together in an Italian restaurant in Venice (appropriately); the waiters had been given instructions to talk to us only in Italian.  Coincidentally, we’d been invited to a meeting of the local ‘Europeans in America’ group, 6pm at an Irish pub between Venice and Sarasota.  It made sense to call there on the way back, so we filled in the time doing a tour of Venice thrift shops; we found a few things we needed and bought some other things we did not!

Ian and Marianna at the Europeans in America dinner


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  1. #1 by Ato Arhin on March 8, 2017 - 11:50 am

    Interesting scenes. Europeans in America !!!!!

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