Having evacuated Tyndall AFB’s Family Camp to flee the path of Hurricane Michael, we landed at Cousin Robb and Colleen’s in Gainesville. We have stayed with them a couple of times before, enjoying short stays in an actual house and bonding with the twins, Maeve and Nola. Things were even more convenient this stop; they have moved a few blocks from their previous home and the new place has a larger driveway that accommodated Serenity.
Big ole driveway, room enough to even put out the left side slides.
When staying with friends or family, we try to make ourselves useful to offset the inconvenience of house guests, however welcome we may be. In addition to springing for pizza and bread rolls at their preferred joint, we made sure the fridge was stocked with beer (though we consumed our share as well,) made a repair to their jammed and off track pocket door, put a new handle on the porch screen door (admittedly after I broke the original,) helped the twins with geography studies, and upon request extended our stay one day to mitigate a latch key situation. Yay us, such responsible house guests. Don’t you want us to visit?
Not at Robb and Colleens. This is foreshadowing…
I spent a good amount of time geocaching the local area, and even took the girls on a short hike to find a couple. They had done some caching as part of a school event once before, but this time we found a great one in the woods that had a selection of trinkets for them to pick over while I added some replacements from my stash.
PKM, however, was not happy with the new addition to their family, a still young cat named Nova. Apparently Nola had made a presentation to the family, including charts and other visual aides, justifying the acquisition, and who can argue with that? PKM can, that’s who. As chill a cat as she is, happy with all adults, nearly all children (even graspy little toddlers,) and even most dogs, the one thing she hates is other cats. She instantly goes into hissy territorial mode whenever one is in sight. We kept them separate, but between Sunnybelle’s (their dog) intensive, insatiable curiosity and Nova’s mere presence, our cat devolved into an angry “NO ONE TOUCH ME EVER” critter until we were able to engineer a greater degree of distance between her and the animal hosts. A lesson learned for other visits with cat owners.
Still looks angry.
We were lucky enough to secure a full week reservation at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park in High Springs, about 30 minutes west of Gainesville. Haven’t heard of this Florida State Park? Probably because it was a private place between 1958 and 2017. The state purchased the 407 acre property and, after a few months of renovations, opened it in October of last year as Florida’s newest state park.
I say we were lucky to get a week because the place is popular and has only 18 RV sites (plus another 7 tent only spaces.) The popularity is fully justified: the park is fantastic, and is near the top of our list not merely for Florida State Parks, but for any state park, perhaps even any RV park at all. The main spring is gorgeous! A little smaller than the similar looking Wekiwa Spring State Park, but with a jumping platform and a much longer crystal clear swimming run and boating run out to the Santa Fe River. One clear advantage it has over Wekiwa is that the RV sites at Gilchrist are a hundred yards from the spring rather than two miles.
In addition to miles of hiking and biking trails, the park also has two other clear springs just a couple of hundred yards from the main one, and one of them is great for casual swimming and snorkeling. Apparently most of the visitors are unaware of or don’t care about the existence of these other springs, so even during peak hours you might very well have them to yourselves.
The second spring. Hard to see from this picture, but its a great little swimming hole.
Robb stayed with us one night there, and got to enjoy the place after the park closes to day users, meaning the normally crowded main spring was virtually empty. Colleen brought the girls out for an afternoon after their Wednesday half day at school. We all had a fantastic time, swimming in the main spring, snorkeling, paddling or wading down the main run and up the secondary run to the previously mentioned smaller stream, and generally being as loud and excited as ten year old kids can be.
Halfway down the run from the main spring to the Santa Fe river.
We spent a lot of time on the jumping platform, perhaps 8′ above the water’s surface, even Colleen took a turn. I managed to catch a few underwater shots just as the girls were entering the water.
Rose and I sprung for a half day tandem kayak rental in order to spend a few hours on the Sante Fe River. In addition to the natural beauty and wildlife, we ran across other springs leading out from short runs into the main river. Apparently this region of Florida has the highest concentration of fresh water springs in the world. caches and a bunch of others in the general area. It is not exactly a high density caching area, but there were plenty of rewarding hides and I picked up a surprsing number of “trackables” (serialized items that you can track the movement history of online) that I will move to another city or town.
We also did a bit of geocaching, clearing all but one of the cache’s in the park and a bunch of others in the nearby area. I found a surprising number of “trackables” (serialized items placed in caches that you can register on line an check their travel history.) I dropped off some I had found in other states, and plan on moving these to other cities and towns.
We found one geocache inside this giant cypress.
Is Gilchrist for everyone? No, no it is not. I was reminded of this as I swam in Wekiwa Springs the other day, and chatted with a couple of other RVers there, one of whom had a lot of negative things to say about Gilchrist, which he had also recently visited. The road in to it is about 1.5 miles of pure washboard dirt that requires you to creep along at less than 10 mph or risk vibrating your molars out. The dirt road from the front gate into the campground is very rutted, and you have to be very careful so as not to bottom out.
Rose caught this great picture of me diving down to the bottom of the main spring. If you find the negatives of Gilchrist too much, I will happily take your spot.
Some of the sites are quite awkward to back into. Ours had a very large oak nearly in the center of the entry way, requiring me to turn around and drive the full loop in order to make a rather challenging back in from the opposite side. Last, the loop itself has not been cleared of tree limbs and branches such that a big rig will have a very tough time with parts of it. So if these are things that concern you, stay away!
That oak tree that sort of looks like it is right in front of my RV? It really is.
Next up: Our first Fall market, and its a big one!