Exploring Florida Forests

At Tate’s Hell State Forest, we had the $9.17/night campground all to ourselves.

Cheap, cheap. Is that the sound of birds in the tall trees around us? Or is that just us not opening our wallets so much? LOL.  In comparison to Texas and Arizona, Betty & I have learned that Florida can be an expensive state for RVers. We have already committed to a week near Disney World with our kids & grandkids at $69./night, and have a reservation at a Key West campground for double that rate. But otherwise, will we be able to do Florida on a reasonably cheap budget, or will we blow out the bank account?

800 pages of where to stay in the U.S.A.

Before we left Winnipeg, we purchased on-line “The Wright Guide To Free and Low-Cost Campgrounds”  in the United States, and have been using it, the “Free camping Near Me” website, Harvest Hosts, and Boondockers Welcome, to help reduce our accommodation expenses.

While BLM land is popular and available in New Mexico & Arizona, Florida has a number of other low-cost options. In addition to state parks, which are plentiful but often just plain full this time of year, Florida has Wildlife Management Areas, National Forests, and State Forests which often allow camping. This week we have been exploring the forests, and hope that our luck continues in finding great, cheap, accessible campsites.

Ocala North RV Park was a well-treed campground, with acorns pounding on our roof during an overnight wind storm.

After Tate’s Hell State Forest ($9.17/night), we went to Ocala North RV Park($38.70/night) because it was on our route, available, and we needed to dump and do laundry. It turned out to be a very well-kept full-service private park with level, cement pads, and included cable tv and excellent wi-fi. Bonus! It was also located in Reddick, Florida – a bastardization of our last name that we see sometimes when people have trouble with …och (the proper Scottish spelling. LOL.)

Our campsite (#53) was across from a park, which was adjacent to the campground swimming pool.

The wi-fi allowed us to research other inexpensive (Betty doesn’t want to give the impression we’re cheap. Lol) camping options, and ended up at the Big Bass Campground (site #13) in

Nestled in the trees at Ocala National Forest, our solar still kept our batteries charged enough that we didn’t turn our generator on once.

Ocala National Forest ($10./night). We weren’t sure if the campground would be open, because of the federal government shut-down, but there was no gate across, and we used an honour system box to deposit our camping fee. While the site itself didn’t have services, there was potable water nearby, as well as bathrooms, garbage bins, and a dump station.

Apparently the flea market opened at 5 a.m. for enthusiasts. When we arrived at 2 pm., almost everyone was gone…

Before and after Ocala National Forest we stopped at two famous Florida flea markets. One was called “The Market of Marion” at Belleview, Fl., and the other “Swap O Rama” atWebster, Fl.. On the thrifty theme, I was there in search of a new set of golf

Bush’s Beans, in a variety of tasty flavours. lol

clubs, as I had previously seen cheap, cheap clubs at Belleview on an earlier visit with Betty’s brother, Jack. Unfortunately, I had no luck this time, but we did pick up some fresh fruit and vegies while there.  BTW, on the food topic, while we still have been bbq-ing rib eye with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus from time to time, we also have been slumming it sometimes with a variety of Bush’s Beans on toast…

Our site (#30) at Cyprus Glen Campground, in Withlacoochee State Forest.

We are now in Cypress Glen Campground Withlacoochee State Forest ($13.45/night) site #30, which includes 50 amp service and water at the site. Many of the campsites in this

Charlie’s steppin’ out at our current campsite. He just needs to learn to shut the door behind him!

area are sloped side to side, or front to back, so would be hard to level our motorhome. Fortunately, site #30 is reasonably flat, with boards needed under only 2 wheels. We are looking forward to visiting the Gulf coast from here, but also having a quiet stay in this tranquil forest, with only the chirp of birds ringing in our ears.  Cheap, cheap!


Our $10. campsite in Ocala National Forest included a picnic table and grill, with a small pond in behind. What a price for a water-view property!


Joyce Kilmer, 18861918

I think that I shall never see   
A poem lovely as a tree.   
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest   
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;   
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;   
A tree that may in summer wear   
A nest of robins in her hair;   
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;   
Who intimately lives with rain. 
Poems are made by fools like me,   
But only God can make a tree.

To Tate’s Hell Through Hurricane Hell

An unlikely name for a beautiful campsite at $9.17/ night.

Blue skies and sunshine, green leaves on tall trees – with not a breath of wind – a large, quiet, remote campsite.

Our site (number 21). There are only 2 other sites in this remote campground – both vacant.

That’s what greeted Betty & me today as we arrived at site 21 in Tate’s Hell State Forest, near Tallahassee, Florida. It’s about as far from hell as one could imagine!

Our free Harvest Host site. The owners weren’t there, but we left them a thank you note.

After leaving Big Lagoon State Park near Pensacola, Florida yesterday, we drove along the Gulf coast to a Harvest Host location – Three Oaks Winery– northwest of Panama City.  Having read and heard of the severity of Hurricane Michael in October, we were surprised to see little or no damage on our journey. The winery is only open on weekends in January, so the owners confirmed by phone that we would have the parking lot to ourselves for a restful, free evening.

Many of the homes along the coast have completely disappeared.

Today was another story. As we made the short drive from the winery to Panama City, we began to see more and more garbage on the roadsides, and wondered if there was some sort of sanitation strike in the area. But once

We almost missed the turn onto Highway 98 at Panama City, as the road sign was still flattened.

we reached highway 98 and began to follow the Gulf coastline eastward, we saw incredible destruction along the way. With Mexico Beach as its apparent epicentre, Hurricane Michael ripped out almost everything in its path – from homes, to stores, to offices, to schools, to churches, to whole

An American flag and a few palms stand vigil at what was once someone’s home.

forests. Most structures that remain standing are covered by blue tarps, awaiting roof replacements. The highway was washed away at many

In the background is an idyllic coastal beach. In the foreground, appliances have been hauled to the roadside for pick-up by the many trash collectors.

points, and we zig-zagged around pilons placed near temporary patches. The road was reduced to one lane in a number of locations as crews worked to restore a major artery. In the meantime, we waited in long lines as traffic alternated through the construction zones.

There appeared to be an almost arbitrary nature to the force, with most structures destroyed, and others suffering little or no damage.

For Betty & me it was no more than a minor inconvenience. But we couldn’t help but think of the hell experienced by those who lived through the hurricane, and the ongoing nightmare of trying to rebuild lives in a beautiful spot that is so vulnerable to

The view through this hazy window coincides with the current view for many area residents.

the extreme forces of nature. As we drove, we saw a lot of dazed looks on the faces of those we passed. But we also saw work crew after work crew beginning the rebuilding

Few trees were left unscathed in the forests we passed along the coast.

process. Our hopes and prayers are that those in the Florida Panhandle who suffered through this extremely destructive event will have the resilience to experience blue skies and sunshine, green leaves on tall trees, and not a breath of wind for a while.

Bright blue skies and sunshine, green leaves on tall trees, and not a breath of wind at Tate’s Hell State Forest today.

Sailing Into Big Lagoon

Betty adds Arkansas to our sticker map.

As Betty & I continue our overlandish odyssey, we capture images along the way – either on our phones or through my Nikon – that help to tell the story of our adventure. But we see far more on our journey than we record, and we post only a fraction of the sights captured. Sometimes, the story tells itself when we download the pictures, and sometimes we need to weave a thread that ties it together. This post is more of the latter, capturing random images from the past week.

One of our levellers began to bleed red fluid when we arrived in Russellville, Arkansas.
We called the Hose Doctor, and he performed surgery on our ailing Boy – from his modified ambulance – getting us back on the road with a new hydraulic hose to our leveller..
Our nice site at Buccaneer State Park in Mississippi was a short hour’s drive from New Orleans, Louisiana.
Gavin gets in on the action, adding Louisiana to our sticker map.
Through much of Mississippi, Route 90 follows the Gulf shoreline, with many miles of well-groomed white sand near the roadside.
We passed at least 9 casinos near Biloxi, Mississippi. This one sports a huge guitar on its front.
Betty & Charlie take a break on the beach near Biloxi.
Our add-a-room gets added at our Big Lagoon  State Park campsite by Gulf Breeze, Florida..
Betty strolls the squeaky sand along the Gulf Shores, at the Alabama – Florida border.
We had a great beach day in early January, near Pensacola, Florida.

We are thankful for the marvels of modern technology that allow us to share our travels with you. As we explore the state of Florida, and travel back up the east coast, Betty & I hope we can continue to transmit images that capture the epic nature of this marvelous adventure.


Fantastic Florida helps to fill out our sticker map.

New Orleans!

On narrow Bourbon Street, looking toward downtown New Orleans.

Readers of this blog may have noticed a number of references to songs that have struck cords with the writers: from Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again”, to Bob Marley’s “We Jammin”, to Glen Campbell’s “By the time I get to Phoenix”, or Marc Cohn’s “Walking In Memphis”, among others. But how is it possible to choose a song about our visit this week to New Orleans?  Should it be:

…the city of New Orleans. Say don’t you know me? I’m your native son…

Fats Domino: Walking to New Orleans

Johnny Horton: The Battle of New Orleans

Jimmy Dean: Big John

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Born on the Bayou/ Proud Mary

The Rolling Stones: Brown Sugar

Arlo Guthrie: City of New Orleans

The Animals: House of the Rising Sun

The Tragically Hip: New Orleans is Sinking

Chuck Berry: Johnny B. Goode

Janis Joplin: Me And Bobby McGee

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Mr. Bojangles

Wrought iron balconies surround many buildings in the French Quarter.

There are dozens of songs referencing New Orleans,  so we’ll leave it to the reader to pick their favourite…

OK, I can’t resist humming a tune from a special singer I saw live, back in the day. During the Festival Express tour in 1970, Janis Joplin belted out:

“Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin’ for a train
And I’s feelin’ near as faded as my jeans
Bobby thumbed a diesel down, just before it rained
It rode us all the way to New Orleans…”

Our Russellville, Arkansas campsite.

When Betty & I left Ivy’s Cove campground in Russellville, Arkansas, the forecast was for rain all the way into New Orleans, but by the time we reached Texarkana, the drizzle had ended, and it was clear sailing until our stop for the night, an attractive road side rest area south of Alexandria, Louisiana.  It was a bright sunny day when we passed Baton Rouge the next morning, so our windshield wipers were not

Our overnight rest stop, north of Lafayette, LA had seen lots of rain before we arrived.

slappin’ time, but I was holding Betty’s hand in mine, and we sang every song that we both knew. LOL.  For the next few days, we camped at the beautiful Buccaneer State Park in Mississippi, just an hour’s drive east of New Orleans.

Someone added an editorial comment on this Bourbon Street One Way sign. LOL

Betty & I have been to New Orleans twice during Mardi Gras: Once unintentionally with our 4 young children (on our way back from Disney World), and once with Betty’s brother

A mix of colourful low rise homes and shops enliven the French Quarter.

Jack, and his wife Christine. The focus then was very much on the party atmosphere. But this time we were able to

The large French Market borders the Mississippi River in New Orleans.

concentrate more on the unique architecture and lay-out of the French Quarter. The weather was warm, with blue skies

A beautiful day to stop at this courtyard cafe for some Cajun cookin’.

and sunshine as we walked through the French Market, and enjoyed an al fresco meal in one of New Orleans’ special courtyard restaurants. It was a magical visit, and enticed us to want to return again.

A late lunch at Cafe Amalie in the French Quarter.

“There Betty shared the secrets of my soul
Through all kinds of weather, through everything we done
Yeah, Betty baby kept me from the cold…

And, feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when she sang the blues
You know, feelin’ good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Betty  eee.”


Fresh flower baskets accent the unique New Orleans’ architecture.
Walkin’ in New Orleans…
Bourbon Street is a little more visible, without the Mardi Gras crowds. LOL
Getting a feel for the history of this unique city by walking through one of New Orleans’ above ground graveyards. 

“I’m the train they call the city of New Orleans
I’ll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.”