Monthly Archives: December 2015

Don’t let go!!! Fun on 4 legs at Ladyhawk Farms

DSCN1841Our trip so far has been a mixed effort between not replicating what we did last time while still catching the things we loved. Horseback riding at Ladyhawk Farms was high on Hunter’s list to do again because we had so much fun last time. After his trail riding in August went so well, he was adamant that we had to go again!

Susanne and Jim are fabulous hosts and have great horses. The barn is very welcoming and we had fun brushing the horses and making friends while getting everything ready to ride.

We did the half day ride and it was a perfect length of time. You ride directly from their property, which is surrounded by the Withlacoochee State Forest that has specific horse trails (no bikes, no ATV’s etc.). The trails were scenic and peaceful while also being interesting and diverse. We rode to the top of Tillis Hill which houses an Equine Campground and great resources for a trail stop (water buckets for horses, tie off points, washrooms for people etc.) and then headed back to the farm.

One of our favourite parts about Lady Hawk farms is that you are highly engaged in the horseback riding activity – and this was very true for our cantor up the last hill to the barn. The horses knew exactly where they were and when we said “GO” it was all about holding on and holding on some more, especially as you came to a fence at the end of the trail and made an abrupt right hand turn. Susanne said to trust the horses and that was all you could do – while holding on! Hunter was thrilled and terrified at the same time, which was a great way to end the ride.

We strongly recommend Lady Hawk farms for a day ride or an overnight adventure.

In search of Florida Wildlife…

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We LOVE canoeing on central Florida rivers – they are usually warm due to being sourced from a spring and chock full of a wide assortment of wildlife. We’ve had 2 fun days of paddling so far, with more to come in January when the manatees are back in full force.

Our first paddle was up near Ocala in the Silver Springs area. Grandpa Bob had a canoe race so we came along in hopes that we would get the see the elusive monkeys. On our last trip here we found plenty of turtles and alligators but only one monkey – even though we came armed with a full bag of marshmallows, which is what they seem to love.

The weather was fairly grey, misty and cool for our paddle so we had to amuse ourselves with bird spotting as it just wasn’t warm enough for the cold blooded animals to get out and sun themselves. By the end of our paddle we found a few turtles but definitely slim pickings! We also struck out on the monkey sightings and came home with a full bag of marshmallows!

The next day we headed up to the Weeki Wachi River in search of some early season Manatees. With the weather having been so warm in November we weren’t hopeful but had to go and look anyways! We came across a mom and baby fairly early on our paddle up the river (grey blobs in the photos) and were excited that there might be more along the way. Lots of looking but no luck as we headed up to our favourite swimming hole…

About 2/3 of the way up the river there is a really deep hole on a right corner bend. Historically we have jumped off the small wooden pad on river right but were excited to discover that someone had created a whole new level of jumping by putting wooden boards on the tall tree directly across the river. The water was relatively warm and it was a great spot to stop and play!

Hunter started a “tradition” of snorkelling his way back down the river from the turn around point when we were here two years ago. He is a tradition oriented kid so there was no real discussion as to whether or not he was doing it again – it was just a given. Tim was a nice Dad and accompanied him from the jumping hole to the rope swing, which is just before you get back into populated water. I was left to paddle the canoe down, which was actually quite peaceful.

The boys spotted a small turtle on the banks as they were swimming down so stopped to check it out. Tim, being a country boy at heart, picked him up to check him out. Hunter worked up his bravery to hold the turtle himself and thought it was so cool that he chased after him after we let him go and picked him up again all by himself, wiggles and all!

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Fewer birds on this river and not many turtles or other animals out either. We were lucky to find another couple of manatees near the take out so that left us in high spirits and looking forward to coming back in January.

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Florida Mountain Biking???

G0452563When we hit the mountain bike trails in new destinations we find ourselves always comparing them to the trails at home in Whitehorse, where our trails have been recognized with “top” Canadian and North American status by a number of organizations. What the Santos trail system (Ocala, Florida) lacks in elevation it makes up for in wood features, which we really enjoy. After our great visit here 2 years ago, it was a “must do” for this years trip to Florida!

We were excited to play in the new skills park that has been built right at the trailhead – lots of small jumps/table tops and various sized skinnies. Hunter, as usual, was the master of the skinnies and was able to complete even the most difficult by day three.

Most of the trails are a mix of dirt and sand with some roots and chunks of coral. Those that are deemed most difficult are due to the technical nature vs significant up or down hill sections. Thanks to some good trail design they even have really nice flowy sections that you can bank your turns on even though they are perfectly flat in terms of terrain.

The more difficult wooden features are in the “vortex” area of the Santos Trails. You can experience various sized wooden drops that culminate in the roller coaster and the new wooden corkscrew feature that requires you to really manage your speed, breaking and descent angle all at the same time.

G0542703One of the best parts of the Santos trail system is the fact that there is a state campground right next door. Nice clean sites with power and water and a simple bath house with large showers. It is almost always fully booked on the weekends (you can make reservations) but only moderately used during the week. This is a great stop for anyone travelling through and needing a day of biking or as a destination as part of a Florida trip.

Exploring Devil’s Den – Florida’s prehistoric spring

DSCN1519Devil’s Den, one of North America’s most prehistoric places, is an underground spring inside a dry cave in Central Florida. The remains of many extinct animals from the Pleistocene Age (2 million – 10,000 years ago) were discovered at Devil’s Den, including the bones of early man, dating back  to 7,500 B.C.. With year round 72f water, it is a fun place to scuba dive and snorkel anytime.

Once you pay and enter the actual park, there are picnic tables and shelters to use to store your stuff. Once you and your gear are organized, you head through the entrance and down a single set of stairs under ground.

The cavern or sinkhole is about 20 feet under ground. There is a fairly wide opening that lets in sunlight, which helps you see things more clearly.

At the bottom of the stairs is a multi-level platform that you can stand on to get flippers on and then enter and exit the water. This place is heavily used for Scuba lessons so there are many features, like varying heights of decks, that align with the different skills and instructional needs of Scuba instruction.

We had fun snorkelling around and checking out some turtles and various fish. It also gave Hunter a chance to practice diving down and being comfortable under the water. More than anything it left us thinking about another dive/snorkel trip to a tropical place with colourful reefs – one more thing to add to the planning list!

The Devil’s den has camping on site for both RV’s and tents. The RV sites have electricity, water and sewer and there are shower facilities up near the main site that can be used. There is also a swimming pool that seems to be focused on scuba training but could also be used to just play. It was a fun overnight stop for us and it seems that dive enthusiasts come and use this for a base for multi-week dive vacations that explore the various springs in the area.

 

 

Everyone MUST go to Columbus, Georgia

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We spent a fast paced 3 days in Columbus, Georgia over the US Thanksgiving long-weekend and LOVED every minute of it. We knew very little about the town other than what I had seen online from the Kellogg and Holcombe families kayaking experiences and were blown away by the amenities, the history and the people.

Columbus is located on the Alabama/Georgia border with the Chattahoochee River running right through the middle of town. It was built on a bluff beside the river and founded in 1828, named for Christopher Columbus. In 1850 the railroad arrived and by 1860 it was one of the more important industrial locations in the south, with textile mills up and down the river. With the civil war in 1861 Columbus industries increased capacity and Columbus ranked second to Richmond as a centre of commerce within the Confederacy.

Although much of the town was destroyed at the end of the Civil War by union troops, most things were quickly rebuilt and by the Spanish-American War the town was thriving again. The addition of Fort Benning has also been a significant contribution to the community and local economy.

The late 1990’s saw a significant revitalization occurring through the establishment of a Business Improvement District downtown. This non-profit group has focused on major capital investments that have resulted in Columbus being noted as a top place to live as a young person.

We made good use of our bikes to explore Columbus and rode all the way out to Fort Benning and the National Infantry Museum (37km round trip). It was a beautiful fall day and the river walk trail is very scenic and well maintained. The museum itself is a bargain – there is no entry fee, just a requested donation of $5.00. The exhibits cover off the life of the Infantry from the Civil War to current day as well as highlighting the role that Fort Benning plays in the development of the Infantry. Needless to say, Hunter was thrilled and we spent a good 3 hours wandering around the various exhibits.

The main draw for us to go to Columbus was the whitewater play park that they have built right downtown. As part of their Ready to Raft 2012 campaign, the community developed over 8 miles of whitewater features on the Chattahoochee and some great play features right in the middle of downtown. This created the longest urban whitewater rafting venue in the world. The river is dam released and while we were there the water ranged from 1 Turbine (about 1,000 cfs) up to 3 turbines (about 8,000 cfs). At times it can run full out at between 15-18,000 cfs, which makes it the biggest water volume on the east coast outside of the Ottawa River. On both Saturday and Sunday it was running at 1 turbine during the day and then shifted to 3 turbines at 5pm. We planned our paddles to warm up at 1 turbine and then get to ride the flow increase all the way up to 3 turbines – it was really neat to see the features change as the flow increased.

There is a nice big island right at the put in and it usually attracts lots of people for photos along the river and to watch the paddling scene. The lights kick on just as dusk starts and stay until 10pm in the winter and 11pm in the summer making you feel like a total rockstar! It does help to have paddled the features during the day so you have some sense of the water…

IMG_3157Broadway Avenue is 2 blocks up from the river and full of shops and restaurants. We did not move the truck between when we arrived Friday night and when we left on Monday at lunch time. Everything we needed was in walking or biking distance, which was so handy. Best dinner was had at Your Pie – a custom pizza place in the historic district. Hand made, brick fired pizza plus yummy drinks on tap. It was so good (and came after our epic day of biking) that we ordered a full second round of pizzas!

DSCN1501Our amazing experience in Columbus was completely due to the five star service from the staff at The Outside World, a local gear store in town. They helped us find somewhere to park, pointed out everything we needed to know and were beyond friendly. They also have great gear in their store! In addition to that, every kayaker we ran into was happy to contribute to our knowledge and education about the water and the waves.

Columbus has something for everyone and we will definitely be back again!

 

 

Sledding in the sand at White Sands National Monument

DSCN1141We were missing snow so much that we rushed home for a quick trip to the Fraser Summit – NOT!!! We did however have a fun 18 hours at the White Sands National Monument, where those of us that are very familiar with snow would swear that you are surrounded by snow piles not sand dunes.

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At one point driving down the sand road we had to hit the breaks due to some other cars slowing down and both Tim and I cringed while waiting for the skid of the truck and the swing of the trailer until we remembered that this is a sand road not a snow road – what tricks our brains can play on us!

We got to the park an hour before dark and were able to experience the sunset there – it seemed to go on forever. With very little surrounding light and an almost full moon it was a fabulous place to spend the night. The only downside was the temperature – it got down to freezing and I fell asleep still wearing my winter hat and mitts. Tim got mild frost-bite in his toes from running around in the dunes in bare feet that night!

We were up bright and early the next morning and drove around the park checking out all the various parking lots and picnic sites. You can definitely envision how busy it is in the summer time. Their picnic covers are really quite cool and futuristic looking – the shade cover and the table are all one piece and made of metal.

By 10:00 am the day had warmed up enough to get out and play on the sand dunes with the 2 sleds we bought at the gift shop. Sand definitely has a higher friction factor than snow so you need to pick tall dunes to get some speed going. It was a morning full of giggles and smiles with many versions of head to head racing, and the workout of climbing back up to the top.

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We finished off our junior ranger book by lunch time and were then back on the road headed eastbound to Balmorhea State Park in Texas. White Sands National Monument is barely out of the way for anyone heading east or west along I-10 and definitely worth a stop to play for the day.

An oasis in west Texas – San Solomon Springs/ Balmorhea State Park

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San Solomon Springs has provided water for humans and animals for thousands of years. Native Americans also used the springs before explorers and settlers came to the area. In 1849, the springs were known as Mescalero Springs, for the Mescalero Apache who watered their horses here.

Mexican farmers called the springs “San Solomon Springs.” They dug the first canals by hand, and then used the water to irrigate crops. They sold those crops to residents of Fort Davis. With plentiful water and the arrival of the railroad, a cattle ranching industry emerged in the 1880s. In 1927, the Bureau of Reclamation dredged the springs and constructed a canal to better harness their flow.

Today, after the spring water flows through the pool and cienegas, it enters irrigation canals and travels about 3.5 miles east to Balmorhea Lake. Farmers today use that water to irrigate thousands of acres of crops such as alfalfa and cotton.

The State Parks Board acquired nearly 46 acres around San Solomon Springs in 1934. Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1856 built the park between 1935 and 1940.

After a long long day of driving we arrived at Balmorhea State Park in the early evening – an hour before the pool closed. We quickly got set up and headed out for a swim in the springs, which are around 72f year round. The park facilities were built in the 1930’s so are starting to age a bit BUT it is really neat to swim in what looks like a swimming pool but is actually a living and breathing ecosystem. The sides are concrete and a portion of the bottom is as well until it gives way to a natural bottom that is covered with greenery and lots of fish. It was a nice end to a long day…

DSCN1307It was a bit chilly the next day but we were hopeful that this would make the springs water feel even warmer! We headed off with warm layers, towels and all our snorkel stuff in search of turtles and cool fish! The campground is a 5 minute walk from the pool which is nice and convenient. It’s also a bargain at only $17 per night (in addition to your park entrance fee of $15 for the family).

Hunter had fun being the go-pro operator and swam around chasing fish and turtles for quite a while.

The springs exit the pool into a canal system and you can walk around these canals between the campground and the pool. We had fun watching the turtles and ducks play and they seemed equally curious about us!

Balmorhea State Park is a great stop and breaks up the long drive on I-10 through west Texas. We definitely recommend this to everyone!

Historic mining town of Bisbee, Arizona

DSCN1081The historic mining town of Bisbee is located in the SE corner of Arizona, just south of Tombstone and barely north of the Mexican border. It was founded in 1880 and has a long history of underground mining for various minerals.  In almost 100 years of continuous production before the Bisbee mines closed in 1975, the local mines produced metals valued at $6.1 billion (at 1975 price) one of the largest production valuations of all the mining districts in the world. This staggering amount of wealth came from the estimated production of 8,032,352,000 lbs of copper, 2,871,786 ounces of gold, 77,162,986 ounces of silver, 304,627,600 lbs of lead and 371,945,900 lbs of zinc!

After a brief stop in Tombstone we landed in Bisbee in the early afternoon and found a quiet camp spot at the Queen Mine RV Park, which is located on the edge of town just next to the Queen Mine. It also backs right on to the local open pit mine, which is HUGE and really enables you to see the various strands and layers of the sediment.

open pit mine bisbeeThe mine tour is run by former Phelps Dodge mine employees and they do a great job of getting you geared up and organized to go under ground – complete with rain coat, helmet, belt and light. We were then loaded onto a series of trolley cars that are pulled by an actual mine cart. Lots of safety conversations about not reaching out to touch the walls or leaning over to pick up your helmet if it falls off (so you don’t whack your head on the mine beams as they go by).

The mine tour takes you down over 1500 feet into the mine and you learn a lot about former mining techniques, life as a miner and the tools and technologies that were used over the last 100 years.

The tour is only an hour in length and goes by fairly quickly however there is a small museum that you can visit before or after and it is very informative.

It is also an easy walk into Old Bisbee to wander through the shops, check out the various artists and grab some food – of which there are a surprising number of choices (and variety). Well worth the stop if you are in the area!