Camping during the week of Thanksgiving is a family tradition. It began years ago when our children were young. We would meet friends I knew from high school, pitch a tent and spend a week roughing it in the woods. We would cook a turkey in the smoker and prepare the sides on the camp stoves. Our families were close and all the children grew up together becoming close friends as well. Each year more families joined us and what started out as a few friends camping together grew into something much larger. It was not unusual for eighty to a hundred people to share Thanksgiving Dinner. It was fun times and we have many great memories.
Much has changed since then. Our friends no longer camp during Thanksgiving, they prefer to stay home during the holiday. But we still do. Our children love being in the woods during thanksgiving. We are the die-hards. We are still making memories and having fun times.
This year we camped at Wekiwa Springs State Park north of Orlando, Florida. We made the reservations eleven months ago. That is as soon as we could make them according to Florida State Park rules. It was a coordinated effort with everyone involved. There were lots of text messages as the time to book approached. It paid off as we booked our sites next to each other.
Suburbia has surrounded Wekiwa Springs State Park since it was established in 1970, but behind the park gate remains 7000 acres of natural habitat where wildlife flourishes. The campground nestled in the trees is well designed with spacious sites. Unfortunately, the sites are now too close to a busy highway near the edge of the park that disrupts the quiet tranquil beauty you might expect in such a setting.
There are miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. There is also a picnic area circling a lake that is popular for fishing. The main attraction, of course, is the springs. It is the head waters for the Wekiva River discharging 43 million gallons of water each day. Swimming in the crystal clear spring is an exhilarating experience. The water’s temperature remains 72 degrees year round. Canoe and kayak rentals are available near the spring for a paddle down Wekiva River. There is a camp store and gift shop near the spring and a food service counter with a wood deck and tables.
Grammi and I along with Kacie and Derrick booked our sites for two weeks, so we arrived a week before the rest. That gave us plenty of time to get all the details worked out, get set up, and explore the area. We found the nearest grocery store only a mile away. That will be convenient as we have not yet bought anything for Thanksgiving dinner. We found a little gourmet cupcake bakery. Yummy! We will be celebrating a birthday while we are here so maybe that will come in handy too.
We checked out Wekiva Island located on the Wekiva River about two miles from the state park. It’s a place Kacie went to when she was a student at the University of Central Florida. It’s a popular place for the young and active crowd with canoe and kayak rentals, a food truck with an extensive menu, a bar, beach volley ball and other yard games. There is even an art gallery on the second floor and live music on the weekends. We felt confident there will be no lack of things to keep everyone entertained for the week.
The weekend before Thanksgiving the rest of the family trickled in and the good times begun. The sounds of grandchildren running and playing echoed through the trees and the smell of campfires drifted in the air. The weather could not of been better all week long. Mid seventies in the afternoon and forties at night. There was lots of campfire sitting and marshmallow roasting. I think we burned a cord of wood.
We had planned some activities during the week. Grammi and I organized a scavenger hunt one afternoon. Sixty items on the list like needle and thread, foreign coin, selfie with a deer, cattail, feather, wooden match stick, wild flower, etc, etc. They had one afternoon to find as many of the items as possible, but they could not leave the park.
There were prizes involved so it was competitive. We heard some funny stories when it was over about how they met everyone in the campground while asking for help with the items on the list. Amber said she chased down a motorhome with a Canadian license tag in search of a foreign coin. First place found fifty-four of the sixty items and received a $50.00 Amazon gift card, but there was a prize for everyone.
We had a chili cook-off. Each campsite was to make a pot of their best chili to be judged by secret ballot. Besides answering the question of “What’s for dinner?”, it was a fun and friendly competition with prizes. Grammi and I’s vegan chili, which I thought should of won first place, received very little interest. The chili made with sirloin steak was the favorite of the carnivorous judges and took the prize.
We all spent much of our days bike riding, trail hiking, swimming in the springs and canoeing. We brought our own canoe. Our kids took turns paddling the river. One afternoon, some of the guys went for a trail ride on their bikes and encountered a black bear. You don’t usually think of Florida as a place to see bears, but Central Florida has a large population of black bears.
Another morning all the girls went shopping. Grammi was blissfully pleased to be with all her daughters while trying on clothes and searching for bargains. I suppose a week in the woods was too much to endure. The guys went to Wekiva Island for lunch and to sample the adult beverages. There was also an arts and craft day where they ladies made gnome Christmas ornaments.
I began frying turkeys at 10:30 A. M. Thanksgiving morning. I fried four of them. They had been soaking in a brine for the past 24 hours. I began frying turkeys instead of smoking them a few years ago and now the family insists on fried turkey. The morning went by quickly as everyone was busy preparing the meal. Each person brought something to the banquet table. It was an impressive spread. After the turkey was carved all twenty-seven of us bowed our heads and gave thanks. We have so much to be thankful for — family, friends, health, and our way of life. It is times like this that we cherish. We are so very blessed.
The day after, I made a large pot of our traditional leftover turkey soup. It is one of our family’s comfort foods. I start by making a broth from the leftover turkey then added most all the other leftovers — green beans and corn casserole, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, cranberry relish, mashed potatoes, carrots. If it didn’t get eaten on Thanksgiving Day, it goes in the pot. We love it. After sunset, we set up the TV projector near the campfire and watched Christmas movies while slurping bowls of soup.
It was a perfect week. We had so much fun and enjoyed everyone’s company. Grammi and I are proud of our family. Now that they are grown, we seldom get to spend this much time with all of them together. We were a little sad when it ended, but happy for the good times and new memories. I think our grand daughters had the time of their life. Maybe they will continue the tradition when they grow. As far as we are concerned, there is no better way to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Until next time — Happy days, safe travels and may God bless.