It’s been a few years since we’ve been camping. However, stuck way in the far reaches of the attic were storage totes with all our old camping gear. We found some things we could use and started the task of organizing and loading the new camper. Grammi loaded the inside with dishes and utensils. She found an old percolator for coffee. She loaded some essential food items, spices and condiments. She put in some bathroom items and I don’t know what else. It seemed like she worked at it for a couple of days moving things in and out and from one cabinet to another. I worked on the outside storage and made sure we had lumber for leveling, hoses and electrical connections. I put together a little tool box just in case. I loaded the folding chairs, a new outdoor carpet for the entrance and the marshmallow sticks. Oh yeah, those marshmallow sticks. We bought them years ago from the camp store at Cades Cove campground and have used them many times. We packed a bag and after going through a mental checklist declared we were ready. Of course grammi said what she always says when we prepare for travel, “if we forget something there is always Walmart”.
We arrived at our first campground with the new camper. It was an easy and uneventful tow up I-75. We checked in at Juniper Springs campground on SR40 in the Ocala National Forest. We were given site 60. It was a nice level site with plenty of room to back the camper in and set up. It had plenty of trees and there was separation and privacy from adjoining sites. Like most National Forest camping though, there was no water or electric hook up. There is a dump station on the way out of the campground for sewer.
After leveling the camper and unhooking from the truck, I set up the folding chairs and sat to enjoy a few minutes of quiet time. I could hear the sound of a small plane overhead, the faint sound of an occasional truck on SR40, a cacophony of birds and squirrels in the trees above and the distant sound of children playing. Okay so maybe not complete quiet but still a peaceful and relaxing feeling and I was going to take advantage because it was all going to change soon.
Our daughter, her husband and our two youngest grandchildren arrived to spend the next couple of days camping with us. They are planning on a camping vacation soon and wanted to try a couple of nights with the kids to see how it worked out for them. It was great we were able to share the site. After surveying the area they pitched their tent and unloaded the van. It’s crazy the amount of stuff you have to bring along when you have small children but they got it all unloaded and set up fairly quickly. I think they are going to be pros at it in no time.
Ivy is four and Eliza is not quite one year old yet. They learn so much at these young ages that I think it is wonderful for them to be experiencing camping.
For dinner the first night my son-in-law, Danny, wanted to try making pizza over the campfire in a dutch oven. Let me say first, that Danny is a good cook and does almost all the cooking in his house. Now the idea of a campfire pizza seems like a good idea and may be perfected with practice but this was not the night. The fire was too hot on the first attempt and the pizza burned black on the bottom and was uncooked on the top. In contrast, the second attempt turned out raw and doughy after being on the fire for about 45 minutes. Danny was quick to point out that a statistician would say we had a perfect pizza. Okay, I get that but grammi and I made a bean burrito.
That night in the camper I was awakened by a clap of thunder. I wondered how the kids were doing in their tent and kind of expected a knock on the camper door at any moment. With the rain coming down and the pitter-patter sound on the roof I slowly faded back to sleep feeling cozy and comfy under the blankets.
After the rain there was a refreshing coolness to the air. We spent a leisure morning sipping hot coffee. We made oatmeal with fresh fruit for breakfast. The kids said they stayed dry inside the tent and slept good through the night. We took a late morning hike along the boardwalk trail from Fern Hammock Springs to Juniper Springs pool. We could see the water flowing up from the sandy bottom in the spring. The sunlight shimmering through the trees gave the spring a turquoise tint that contrasted beautifully with the surrounding green ferns. There was much to see as we spotted fish, turtles, birds and even a snake swimming through the water. Our granddaughter was very attentive pointing out things as we walked along.
The Juniper Spring pool area is a day use area where people can come to picnic and swim in the crystal clear spring water. The water is 72 degrees year round. At the out flow of the spring is a small building with a water wheel. Inside the building is a display explaining the history of the area and the work the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) did during the depression years. There is a canoe launch area where it is possible to rent a canoe or bring your own for a trip down Juniper Creek. It is rated as one of the top twenty-five canoe runs by ReserveAmerica. It is for this reason that I will return to this campground in the future.
After lunch, we all put our bathing suits on and returned to the springs for a swim. It was cold at first but once you got over the initial shock the water was refreshing. We spent a couple of hours there and it was fun splashing around in the water with the grandkids. The spring bottom was sandy with large patches of eel grass. I made a mental note to self to put snorkel gear in the camper when we get back home.
After sunset, we sat around the campfire and roasted marshmallows for s’mores and told stories. The air was a little cool from the front that came through the night before making the fire feel all the more cozy. The campground was quiet even though it had filled up for the weekend. It was a perfect ending to a great day of adventures.
I slept in past 9 o’clock. I can’t remember the last time I slept that late. I’ve been sleeping pretty good in the camper. Who knew that all I needed for a good nights sleep was a cheap RV mattress. I woke to see Danny and Ivy making breakfast on the Coleman camp-stove. They were making biscuit donuts. You know, where you take a tube of biscuits, cut a hole in each one and fry in a skillet. Just add some cinnamon sugar and wah-lah, you have a tasty hot donut. I made a pot of coffee to top off the sweet treat.
The kids were going to be packing up this morning. The chore of taking down the tent, cleaning and folding everything before packing it all in the back of the van like an odd game of Tetris, is when a person might ask if it was really worth the effort. Of course it is! Creating memories, seeking new adventures and sharing time with family and friends is important to us all. Getting outdoors and camping is a great way to do that. I think my daughter and son-in-law gained some knowledge. They were able to try out some new camping equipment and practice setting up and breaking down their camp site. They survived a rain storm. Even though grammi and I were there this time to help with the grandchildren, I think they gained confidence knowing they can enjoy camping with their children. They have plans to camp in Fort Wilderness at Disney World very soon.
In the evening, grammi and I went down to the spring pool for a presentation on the American eel. We were the first ones there and the park ranger said “you guys are early” which I replied, “that’s the way we roll”. People meandered in and by 9:00 PM there must of been fifty people in attendance. The ranger gave a ten minute talk on the American eel along with instructions on what we should do to see one tonight. We walked down to the spring and stood on the edge of the pool. On the ranger’s command we were to all turn our flash lights on and point them into the clear spring water. Wouldn’t you know it, there were maybe a half dozen of those long slithering creatures swimming in the water. One of them came very close to where grammi and I were standing so we got a good look at one. The ranger explained that these creatures only come out at night and are very skittish to light. So with the flash lights turned on they all swam and hid within just a few minutes. The ranger said for us to all turn our lights out and we waited in the dark for about five minutes when he said for us to turn the light on again. There they were once again. We repeated this routine four or five times before grammi and I saw enough and head back to the comfort of our cheap RV mattress. Tomorrow were will be pulling out and headed for a new location.