Trouble in Paradise

The Suncoast

To me, one of the most beautiful things about Florida is the sky. The location on this long sandbar south of mainland America seems to limit the haze that tends to dim the sky in the south and mid-Atlantic states in summer. Here, the cumulonimbus clouds are vivid against the blue sky.

About two-thirds of the way down the state is the Sarasota/Bradenton region, also known as The Suncoast. I often wondered about the nickname and, after living here for twenty years or so, it’s clear why. Contrary to popular belief that it rains everyday at 3:00, there is not much rain along this part of the Gulf coast most of the year. (My Florida friends already know this, so I apologize to them in advance.)

A few unscientific observations:  I’ve noticed that the weather patterns here in Florida are different. It seems to me that in most of America, fronts generally move from west to east. If there is a line of thunderstorms approaching, you’re probably going to get wet. But here in Florida most storms are localized. It can sometimes rain across the street yet your yard stays dry. You’ll watch threatening clouds build over your head but before you know it, they’ve moved on without a drop on you.

Cloud (3)

In the summer, onshore breezes blow moisture from the Gulf eastward across the land baking in the sun. At the point where conditions are right, like in the photo above, thunderstorms form and the sky opens up with rain. Normally, that happens 10+ miles inland and the storms usually move east. But in the last few hours before sunset, the Gulf breeze sometimes weakens and the storms start to drift back toward the coast. But they often fizzle out as the sun goes down. Hence, The Suncoast.

Oscar (2)

Last week I camped at Oscar Scherer State Park, located about a mile from the Gulf. This is one of my favorite parks for its beauty and very convenient location on Tamiami Trail between Sarasota and Venice. Unfortunately, on my first morning there I awoke to the smell of dead fish. Sadly, the news reported we were experiencing another bout of…

Red Tide

I had never heard of red tide before moving to Florida. Apparently, it is a naturally occurring phenomenon reported as far back as the 1840s. What is it? Apparently, it is overly-fertilized Karenia brevis algae that bloom in bays and in the Gulf, reducing the oxygen in the water and killing marine life. It can also cause breathing problems for people. And we humans seem to be making it worse.

The Everglades is an enormous natural marsh that filters water flowing southward from Lake Okeechobee. At some point, people thought it would be a good idea to build a dike around the southern end of this huge lake to turn the swamp into dry land for sugarcane farming. The sugarcane farms create a lot of pollution. In addition, just north of Lake Okeechobee there is open pit mining of phosphate (an ingredient in fertilizer).

Lake Okeechobee is an area where the conditions are nearly perfect for torrential summer thunderstorms. When the rains come, the water in the lake rises along with runoff from the surrounding industries. The dike blocks the Everglades from receiving the water and from serving as a filter for the pollutants. The east and west gates are opened to release great quantities of polluted water into the streams and rivers that flow to the Gulf and the Atlantic.

Dyke (2)

 

Before it mixes with the salt water of the Gulf, the water looks green. Once it reaches the more saline bays and gulf, it turns the water a murky reddish brown. This current red tide bloom seems to have emanated from Charlotte Harbor and has spread south to Naples and north to Sarasota and Anna Maria Island – about 125 miles of prime beaches including Siesta Key Beach, the #1 Beach in America. Not only are fish being killed, but manatees, sharks, dolphins, and sea turtles are also dying. This disaster to our marine life and our tourist economy is being reported on national news and locals say they have never seen it this bad.

Dead fish

A few of our Florida politicians have received big campaign donations to see to it that regulations are minimized for the phosphate and sugarcane industries. We are seeing the real world results of that. This preventable situation is just another example of why we need common sense regulations to keep our planet from being ruined by greed.

After all, as Little Binski, says “If we’re going to go camping we need a safe and clean environment!” And he has a point.

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Florida Critters 1

Little Florida Critters

When we moved from Maryland to the Gulf Coast of Florida in 1996, we were surprised to find that we sometimes go for months without rain. So, the mosquitoes aren’t too bad most of the year. But a day or two of showers provide the conditions for an explosion of the critters. Camping near a swampy area after a rain can be a real no-no, especially in the summer. Rainy season (usually thunderstorms) is June through early October. The sign below could be us at Paynes Prairie State Park a few summers ago.

Mosquito

Other annoying insects are the “no see ‘ums” that you don’t see until they bite you. Dawn and dusk are the worst times. I’ve also been dive-bombed by some deer flies. Larger than a house fly, their bite feels like it’s taking a chunk of flesh. I feel bad for the deer! Luckily, they move slowly enough for your to swat them to death in retaliation.

Some of the worst pests have migrated up from Central America and, apparently, are still marching northwards. (Tomorrow could be your lucky day!) One of my first mistakes in Florida was absent-mindedly stepping on a fire ant hill. These little red-colored critters seem to have organized armies. Just touch a fire ant hill and watch them go crazy! And do they sting!!! Believe me, there is a reason they are called “fire” ants.

Fire ant

Medium Florida Critters

While the insects are bothersome, there are some Florida critters that can kill you.

Binski and I were taking a walk through the campground at Alafia River State Park, a beautiful state park slightly off the beaten track and a favorite for trail biking. I was admiring one of the RVs, not paying much attention because we were in a well mowed area of the park. Then, I felt a tug on the leash. Something had caught Binski’s interest and he was on his way over to take a look.

Rattler

As you can see, what caught his attention was a 6 to 7 foot diamondback that was moving from a pond and across the campsite where a camper had tethered his dog just a few hours before. The snake slowly slithered under the RV and into an open field beyond.

Prior to that day I usually walked two dogs at a time, each pulling in a different direction. Since then I almost never take more than one so I can keep a close eye. Luckily, this rattlesnake was in the open where it could be easily seen. But it was an important lesson about becoming complacent.

If yours are like mine, when you’re walking on trails, they like to go to the edge near the brush, a potentially dangerous place. I’m now wary now of letting them do that. And, although I love retractible leashes, I keep the leash short when I take them on trails.

I saw a bobcat a few weeks ago at Oscar Scherer State Park, just moseying through the campsites looking for chihuahuas. (Hopefully just kidding.) Anyway, it was the first one I’ve seen in the wild.

There are lots of armadillos and big turtles, squirrels and rabbits. And, for those unfamiliar with Florida, we have zillions of little lizards. But they are cute.

Big Florida Critters

Florida is beautiful but it can be a wild place. And developments are often located right next to the habitats of some of the big critters. Shamrock Park in Venice, Florida borders a community where many of my students lived. It’s located on the aptly-named Alligator Creek. When some neighborhood dogs went missing recently, animal control was called, and this is the big boy they found. From the looks of that gator’s belly, he has sure been chowing down on something. There are tales of finding dog collars in the stomachs of nuisance gators.

Venice Gator

There is a community just north of Venice where residents living along the ponds divide their back yards with a chainlink fence. They give the gators a setback of 10 feet or so along the bank of the pond for lounging in the sun, which they seem to like to do in the winter when the water is cool and the sun is warm. The fences offer some barrier of protection for their pets. I’ve heard, however, that if a gator wants to get beyond a chain link fence, he’ll find a way. Kinda gives you chills, thinking about it. We owned one home here on a pond, but it’s not really a priority for us anymore…

The Moral of the Story

Most of the time, camping in Florida is calm and cozy. But, as you can see, it’s wise to keep your eyes open and anticipate dangers for your pets.

After reading through today’s blog, if you’re still interested in Florida camping, stay tuned to Doggystylerv.com. Have a great day!

George and the Kids

Florida Camping

The State Parks

Most of our doggy adventures are in Florida’s state parks. And we are lucky to have so many of them to sniff around in. According to tripsavvy.com 50 of Florida’s 161 state parks offer camping facilities.

Mana

Lake Manatee State Park – I could swear I saw a squirrel!!!

During the warm months, June through October, sites are generally available. However, during “season” which is December through early April, when the “snowbirds” are here, it’s nearly impossible to get a reservation. Like everyone else, I have to book sites 11 months in advance, and be one of the first on the ReserveAmerica website to get them!

In the parks in winter, we see as many license plates fom the northern states as from Florida. Lots of folks visit us from Canada, some of whom are tenting in temperatures in the 30s. Of course, we’re freezing but I assume it’s relatively cozy for them compared to where they live.

God Bless A/C – Camping in the Florida Heat

If you camp in Florida in the summer, try to book a shaded site if you have pets, just in case the a/c goes off for some reason. The summer sun here is brutal and the inside temperature can escalate in minutes.

If you’re not hooked up to shore power, be sure your generator is in excellent working order to power your a/c. In fact, in the summer the a/c is my biggest worry since I do have to leave the dogs alone from time to time. When it’s hot I try not to be away for more than a few hours at a time. It’s a bummer, but their safety comes first.

We’ve all seen the flickering lights and heard that gasping generator sound when something cycles on that draws extra power. In my current RV my generator has shut down when my refrigerator compressor cycled on. It has even decided to shut down when I’ve put out a slide.

Yes, I know that in a perfect world my generator should easily be able to power my refrigerator and my a/c. But what I’ve decided to do is run only my a/c on the generator. I keep my refrigerator running on propane so there is no extra draw or cycling while I’m away that might cause that finicky generator to shut down.