Monday, March 14, 2011

LOVE Paynes Prairie

Gee, I just realized it's been almost a week since my last post. I definitely begin to wind down toward the end of the trip, and I'm fairly certain my faithful readers begin to get a little tired of our trip too! But, boy, we did good with picking this park for our next-to-the-last. For one thing, it's in a great location - we're only 10 miles south of Gainesville so have gone into town a number of times. Secondly, the park itself is just SO pretty! It has a great variety of environs - there is this huge prairie for one thing, then the pretty little 300-acre lake, and then the beautiful pine-and-oak-and maple woods. The woods are so different from the Florida scrub that we've been in for the past couple months - the trees are more spread apart and taller and just a lot prettier.

So what have we been doing this week? Gee... I don't really know! Well, that's not EXACTLY true, but it does seem like we've done a lot of just "hanging around." For one thing, the weather has been absolutely perfect - sunny, high 70's, no humidity, no bugs, no wind, no clouds - GORGEOUS! I HAVE been on about three hikes here in the park - probably some of the nicest trails I've been on during this year's trip. As I mentioned, the woods are just exceptionally beautiful, and the trail surface is great - a nice wide hiking trail with a soft pine-and-moss surface - very nice to walk on. And very smooth - not a lot of roots and things to trip you up (a BIG issue to us 60 year-olds who don't like the thought of falling!). We've also been out on the lake a few times - actually, Dave's been out a number of times - I've been out twice but plan to go out one more time tomorrow. The other day we just very. VERY slowly paddled around the outer edges of the lake - it took about three hours because we were BARELY moving - and we counted 37 (yep, 37!) alligators. The gators here are apparently pretty used to kayaks and people and stuff because we'd see one swimming - you CAN'T mistake those eyes sticking out of the water, with the spiny back just breaking the suface of the water - and he'd pretty much ignore us until we literally were within a few feet of him. Then he'd finally go below the surface, which is also kind of a weird feeling because you KNOW he's RIGHT below you someplace. But it was a gorgeous day - upper 70's, bright sunshine, no clouds, and not a hint of a wind. PERFECT day for a nice easy paddle. Besides the alligators, we saw lots and lots of birds (including two beautiful bald eagles - AGAIN!). I'm attaching a picture of a blue heron, but it might be a LITTLE tough to pick him out. We really do enjoy just being out on the water looking at things - you'd think it might get boring, but it really doesn't.

On another day I went into Gainesville with Brandi and did an AVA walk around the University of Florida campus. It's a really pretty campus with some beautiful old buildings, a very pretty bell tower, a couple of cool "bat houses" that do indeed house two of the largest colonies of a particular species of bats, a gorgeous auditorium, the huge football stadium, etc., etc., etc. I always enjoy walks around campuses - I like to see the different schools in the country. And this turned out to be the perfect week for this particular walk because the students were on their spring break so there were very few students to be seen (probably only the ones who don't have the money to go to the Bahamas or whatever!).

Today we drove into Gainesville and took Brandi to a nice dog park - I think in the future I'll "google" dog parks in every town we go to. She has a BLAST running around with the other dogs and we get a big kick out of watching her. After she got tired - which takes about two hours! - we left her in the car while we went in to dinner. We don't go out that often, so that was kind of a treat.

Tomorrow I hope to get out on the lake again and I hope to do one of the longer trails on Wednesday - and then we leave for the next park. It FEELS like these 10 days have gone really fast - probably because we're getting to the end of the trip and time begins to speed up! We definitely will put this park onto the DO-return list - I feel like this park is sort of little "hidden treasure" and that not that many of the "snowbirds" get here. There are only 50 sites, and about a dozen of those are just for tents, so not a lot of people are going to get in here. Plus a lot of people don't think of this part of Florida - kind of in the northern, central area of the state - when they are thinking about where to travel. But I would definitely recommend a few days here even if it's just a stopover on the way south to the more "glamorous" locations along the coasts.
So this is probably the last post from this park -the next one is the Stephen Foster Cultural Center State Park, about 90 miles north of here and another new park for us. We are getting VERY close to the state line, which to us kind of signals that our trip is getting toward the end. BUT NOT YET! NOT yet!

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