Friday, March 10, 2023

Crystal River Archeological Park

Everyone seemed to sleep well last night, although the barn owl was calling near the canal around 4 am. Mark made scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast, then we took the dogs on the usual walk around the neighborhood.

We did our Duolingo lessons, then Mark and I set up his new Wyze wireless outdoor security cameras. Unlike the wired models, these communicate with a base station that sends the videos from the camera. Installation was fast and easy. He has a clear image from each of the cameras. We tried to determine the function of one of the light switches in the downstairs hall. We also looked at the wiring going to the outdoor light in the middle of the front yard. The light on top of the pole is now a solar powered light, but there are wires inside the pole. We couldn't determine if there was a switch or connection that needed to be made that would power the wires in the pole. We hoped that one of the unknown switches would do it but no such luck.

When we left the house, we stopped at Rural King in Crystal River. Mark and Cindy were hosting a family event in a few days, so Mark wanted to get a large outdoor pot fueled by propane that is commonly used to deep fry a turkey. He planned to use the pot to steam local shrimp. Rural King’s prices on this kind of thing are much better than other stores. Unfortunately, they were out of stock on propane tanks.

When Mary and I were in this area in 2014, we went to the Crystal River Archeological Park and recalled enjoying the area. We were looking forward to going back to this small (61 acre) Florida State Park that is just a 30-minute drive north of Homosassa. This area along the Crystal River near its mouth has been occupied by Native Americans for over 1600 years. At this time there are 6 mounds including burial mounds, middens, a temple and a plaza. Artifacts in the area include many trade items that appear to have come from the Hopewell culture occupying southern Ohio. A featured exhibit in the park is a large stone or stele that has a carving that resembles a human face. After walking around this area and enjoying the view from the mounds, we decided to head back toward the house to continue packing for our trip home early tomorrow morning.

We made a stop at Home Depot to look for a few things then made a stop at the Twistee Treat for a cone. On the way to the house we had driven past the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park many times. Today we decided to stop and learn about a part of this area’s history. This equipment was part of a 5000 acre sugar plantation from the mid-1800s. This steam driven mill crushed and pressed the raw sugar cane for the nearby dehydration vats, where the sugar, syrup and molasses were made. The waste sugar cane was burned to provide some of the fuel for the steam mill and to cook the raw juice from the cane. Today the ruins of the mill are a small roadside state park, but the informational signage make it a worthwhile stop.

Back at the house, Mark made cheese tortellini with marinara sauce and a good garden salad which we enjoyed. We packed our things into the rental car and prepared for an early departure since the drive back home was long. Taking I-75 was the most direct and fastest route, although we would have to go through Atlanta which no one likes to do. We hoped that by leaving by 6 am we could be back to Georgetown at a decent hour.

We had a great time with the Whittingtons and look forward to seeing them again soon. We hope they can be at our house this summer, and perhaps we can visit them in Idaho in fall.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Fort Cooper State Park

Breakfast was cold cereal and tea before we took the dogs on a long walk around the neighborhood. The temperature was already in the upper 70s by 8 am.

Sandhill Crane

We drove east to Fort Cooper State Park near Inverness where we hiked along the interpretive trail and read about the three Seminole Wars in the 1800s. The area is beautiful and has a lot of gallinules, egrets, herons and sandhill cranes. We spent a lot of time on the trails, especially along the shore of the lake.

Cooter Pond

On the way back to the house we stopped by Cooter Pond Park in Inverness. This small park surrounds a pond with Cooter turtles, fish and several alligators. We walked out on the boardwalk and through the park before driving west toward the Gulf Coast. We stopped at the Lowe’s store in Inverness so Cindy could get the materials and supplies to stain the Adirondack chairs on the dock.

We were hungry by then and decided to have dinner at The Freezer in Homosassa. Other than a few seasonal items, the menu at The Freezer is very simple: steamed shrimp. The Freezer serves shrimp fresh from the boats that harvest it in the Gulf of Mexico. The d├ęcor is like a seafood warehouse including the slit plastic coverings on the entrances. You order and pay for the pounds of shrimp at the window, and then an employee brings the shrimp out to you. We sat at a table on the water and watched pelicans and fish wait for diners to throw bits into the water. Mark had a bowl of chowder, and we shared a container of smoked salmon spread and a sleeve of saltines as we waited. Our 1 ½ pounds of shrimp was delivered to our table quickly and was worth the wait. The shrimp were well seasoned but not too spicy, and the amount of food was just right to give us our fill without leftovers.

We came back to the house, took the dogs on a shorter walk, then watched the finale movie for The Detectorists on Acorn before turning in for the night.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Kayak Fishing in Mason Creek

Hoping to get an early start on fishing in Mason Creek and out around the islands, we ate cold cereal for breakfast. We loaded our gear into the kayaks and used the new dock launch to get on our way. We were out on the water a little after 8:30 am.

We planned to use the shrimp that we bought on Monday to catch a few small pinfish to use as bait, then baitfish under the floats that are commonly used here. We paddled out from the house, down the canal and into Mason Creek. The wind was very strong, and we had a lot of difficulty paddling around the islands. We saw an otter swimming in the channel, and Mark floated over a large manatee. We tried fishing in several spots, but the wind was so strong that controlling the kayaks was all we could do. We found a sheltered spot but had no success in attracting fish. We tried using the leftover shrimp from Monday’s fishing trip and still had no bites. By about 10:30 we decided to give up and paddle back to the dock behind the house.

We unloaded the gear, washed the saltwater from the tackle and put everything away. We left the kayaks out on the dock in case we decided to go out on Thursday or Friday.

Mary and Cindy put teak oil on the new wooden folding chairs as well as the picnic table and benches on the back porch. The wood looked a lot better after being oiled. Mark and I installed one of the Wyze security cameras under the eave of the garage, giving a good view of the garage doors and the porch and front door. We pulled the wire into the attic and attached the cord to an extension cord. We looked at Mark’s GPS with satellite telephone and started setting it up.

Mark and I ran out to Home Depot to get a lantana for the yard and materials to put a vent in the gables of the room over the garage. I needed some reading glasses and stopped at the Dollar Tree, while Mark went to Winn Dixie for Napa cabbage and other grocery items.

We looked at the area where the gable vents would go and discovered that we couldn't safely reach it, even with Mark’s extension ladder. I think he will need to get a roofer with scaffolding or more secure ladders to get the vents installed on each side of the gables.

Mark made marinated chicken with a salad of Napa cabbage and toasted ramen noodles. It was all very good. We took the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood then came back to watch an episode of Moonshiners on their Sling account. Cindy was struggling to get her scanner to work, so far without success.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Kayaking the Chassahowitzka River

After waking and doing our morning German lessons, we took the dogs on a long walk around the neighborhood. When we returned to the house, we had oatmeal with raisins, walnuts, and brown sugar for breakfast.

After breakfast we loaded the kayaks and gear for a day of paddling. This time we loaded the boats into Cindy’s new Ram pickup. We drove a short distance south to the Chassahowitzka River, where we launched quickly and paddled toward some of the springs. The first springs have interconnected tunnels allowing swimmers to snorkel through from one spot to another. Cool water was gushing from the tunnels feeding the stream.

We went into a small inlet where we saw a cow and calf manatee. They were swimming under the kayaks but would surface to breathe from time to time. Not many other visitors knew about the manatees, so we were able to see them without interruption.

We went up Baird Creek toward The Crack, where a large spring produces a steady flow of saltwater fed by the Gulf of Mexico. We paddled up the narrow stream that had many shallow places, as well as submerged logs and rocks. Fighting the current was difficult in the narrow stream. When we it as far as we could navigate, we beached the kayaks on a sandbar and walked up the streambed. The large break in the coral stone is where the saltwater spring emerges. Along the way, I stepped in a pit of mud and broke both of my sandals getting out of the sticky mud. At The Crack, I waded into the deep water to wash the mud from my legs up to my shorts. By the time we were leaving the spring, many kayakers had gathered at the sandbar. We had a snack lunch of corn nuts, jerky and fruit before paddling back down the narrow channel.

On our way back to the boat launch, we saw the two manatees again but didn’t stop to take photos or watch them for long. The launch was busier than in the morning. We were able to get the kayaks loaded quickly and get on the road for the short drive back to Homosassa.

When we pulled into Standish Drive, we thought we heard something falling out of the pickup. After checking the road carefully and inventorying the contents of the truck, we decided that nothing had fallen out.

Unloading and packing things away went quickly, and we came in to clean up before dinner. Mark fixed some of the sea trout and redfish that we caught on Thursday. We had them as fish tacos along with white rice. Everything was very good.

After dinner we relaxed and watched an episode of The Brokenwood Mysteries on Acorn before turning in for the night.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Kayak Fishing

After waking and doing our morning German lessons, we had a breakfast of cold cereal then took to the dogs for a morning walk. Even early in the day, the temperature was in the upper 70s when the sun came up, and we knew it was going to be a warm day.

Mary and Cindy left for The Villages around 9 am. They were going to meet Mark’s sister, Jodie, for hair appointments and some shopping. Mark and I configured the kayaks for single paddlers and prepared to launch from the new Seahorse Kayak Launch that we installed last week. We made a quick trip to McRae’s at the public boat launch to pick up some tackle and frozen shrimp.

We gathered our fishing gear and boating needs but were delayed by the people across the canal who were having difficulty trailering their crab boat. Keeping the engine running was part of the problem, and aligning the vessel on the trailer was another. Once the boat was loaded, the truck struggled to get back up the slick ramp. We left by 10:30 and had lines in the water by 11 am.

We paddled around several of the islands, casting crankbaits that are also used for freshwater bass fishing. Mark caught and released a ladyfish and later a 20+ inch snook. I only caught a small pinfish on a spoon lure. We changed to shrimp in the afternoon and had several bites but didn’t land any fish. I caught a fair-sized blue crab, whose pincer was caught on the hook.

We returned to the house around 4 pm, shortly before Mary and Cindy returned from their outing. We all unloaded and put things away before cleaning up for dinner.

Mark grilled a small, well-seasoned tri-tip that was excellent, and we finished up the baked beans, broccoli slaw, and other leftovers. Everything was good.

We took the dogs on their evening walk as it was getting dark, then returned to the house for brownies and ice cream while we watched an episode of The Brokenwood Mysteries on Acorn.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Visit from Jodie and Grant

Breakfast was biscuits with sausage gravy and scrambled eggs. As always, it was very good and filling. As soon as breakfast was over, Mark and I went out to Home Depot where he bought a 20-foot extension ladder, some materials for the weather station mast, oil for the outdoor furniture and a few other items. We made a quick stop at Publix for milk and eggs for Cindy to make brownies for the company this afternoon.

Steps with safety paint

Mary took over painting the edges of the concrete steps in the back of the garage. She has a much steadier hand and did a much better job than I did the evening before. While she was doing that, Mark and I installed the Ambient Weather Station on a mast of 1.5" galvanized pipe on the peak of the boathouse roof. It was easy to install and configure the weather station and took less than an hour. We put our tools away and helped Mary clean up from her painting. Cindy cleaned the house, then she and Mary took the dogs for the morning walk since they were not allowed in the back yard while the paint was wet. Mark placed the security cameras in the best locations and planned where he would put additional cameras for the system. He was even planning where he would want to place them around the Idaho property. We were happy that we got our outside jobs done early, since the day was hot and humid by 11 am. We were happy to stay inside in the air conditioning while the temperature was in the upper 80s.

Ambient weather station mounted on boathouse

Jodie, Grant and Carolyn arrived a little after 2 pm. After Cindy walked them around the house, Mark grilled hamburgers and Cindy put out the baked beans, broccoli slaw, macaroni salad and other fixings for the group. It was a very nice lunch, and we all enjoyed each other’s company. The group played Phase 10 for most of the afternoon and evening and had a great time. I took the opportunity to make a few telephone calls, purchase my temporary Florida fishing license, and catch up on these trip notes.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Hiking at Hog Pond and Burnt Bridge Trails

Breakfast was sheet pancakes with maple syrup and bacon, which we all enjoyed. We did our morning language lessons when drove the short distance to the Hog Pond and Burnt Bridge area of the Withlacoochee State Forest and Chassahowitzka River and Coastal River Swamps. The area is really beautiful and has a diversity of habitats. There are areas with longleaf pines, some with palmetto and others are open savannah. There were areas where the pine forests had burned, but we were uncertain whether it was a controlled burn or an accidental fire. The area and trails had been closed the prior week because a man was thought to be missing in the area. His car was at the trailhead, but there had been no sign of him for days. Rangers, police and volunteers had been searching for him since his disappearance had come to the attention of authorities. There was a spot along the trail where we detected a scent of a dead animal if the wind was blowing correctly. I took a waypoint of the location with the GPS in case it might be helpful to searchers. We ended up hiking for over 7 miles before we made it back to the trailhead where Mark’s pickup was parked. As we were preparing to walk to the truck, a sheriff’s deputy came to the trailhead so I walked over and told him about the smell. While it could have easily been a dead deer or other animal, he was happy to get the coordinates and said that someone would check the area.

Hiking at the Withlacoochee State Forest

We were all very tired after the long walk. The dogs were especially exhausted, so we gave them water while we cooled off in the shade of the parking area. The temperature had been in the mid-80s and was overcast early in the day, but when the sun came out, we got very hot. We drove to the house and put the dogs in the air conditioning, and we made a run to Ace Hardware for materials to mount the weather station and some blue safety paint. We also went to Publix for a few grocery items since Mark’s sister, Jodie, and her husband, Grant, were coming for a visit on Sunday afternoon. They were bringing a friend, Carolyn, from The Villages as well.

Mark and I masked some of the areas around their driveway and garage with steps in the concrete. I painted the edges of the steps in the front of the house with the bright blue safety paint. We hoped that this would make the steps more visible and reduce the chance of someone falling. As we were cleaning up, we noticed that the charcoal grill starter that we were using as a solvent for the oil-based paint had a familiar smell. It smelled exactly like the distillate that comes from a bourbon still.

Siding damage from strong wind

The Ferrells and Koehlers met for an outing at the Cincinnati Zoo today, and it sounds like everyone had a good time. We asked the Ferrells to stop by our house on their way home to check the damage from Friday’s wind. Ian sent photos of the siding loss, but there didn’t appear to be much other damage. We felt fortunate to have avoided as much damage as others in the area.

Surveying the menu at Marguerita Grill

We went out to Marguerita Grill for dinner. Although the restaurant was busy, we were seated right away and the service was good. The restaurant is owned by a very conservative older man who has the interior and exterior decorated with posters for military branches and right-wing political movements. We opted for a table outside since the evening had cooled off and the weather was nice. Mary had the seafood platter, Cindy had spanakopita, Mark went with steak and shrimp, and I had the fish basket. We split a pitcher of margaritas and enjoyed sitting on the deck.

Once we returned from the restaurant, we watched a couple of episodes of Swamp People Serpent Invasion on their Roku. I was very tired and went up to bed before 9:30. Mary and the others turned in around 10 pm.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Assembling the Kayak Launch

After a breakfast of toast and eggs, we gathered the materials ,to assemble and mount the kayak launch to the dock. This apparatus allows a kayak to be lifted out of the water for storage then lowered onto a cradle allowing easy boarding and launch.

Kayak launch behind Whittington's house

We used the accompanying instructions to assemble the apparatus then mounted it to one of the piers on the boat dock on the canal behind the house. The kit was very well designed and easy to assemble, at least until the instructions blew into the canal. However, by that time most of the assembly was complete and we were able to complete the project successfully. As we were finishing the installation, Mary and Cindy returned from a day of shopping, so we had them do the first launch from the lift. The lift worked really well so Mark and I took it for a quick turn around the canal. Since we aren’t as agile as the wives, Cindy took video of the two old husbands clumsily boarding a kayak.

Mark and I started setting up the Wyze security cameras that would be placed around the property, especially for times when they would be away for extended periods. Once started, Mark easily activated and configured each of the four cameras. We would place them in their permanent locations once Mark had an opportunity to see where they could be places to best provide security of the property.

Whittington's boat house

We took the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood then Cindy and Mark walked over to the “Mason Creek Yacht Club,” which is a Friday evening social for residents in this community to watch sunset. Mary and I played with the dogs and did our evening German lessons until they returned at 7 pm.

We learned that there were strong winds in Central Kentucky, some reaching as high as 68 MPH on our weather station. Most of our neighbors lost shingles and trees from the intense wind. Virgil told us that a large cedar tree on our property had blown down, then Kevin Thompson texted that we lost some siding on the south side of the house. We will deal with repairs when we return home next week.

Dinner was fish tacos from the sea trout we caught on Thursday. We also had a bottle of dry Riesling wine that we brought from Kroger Spirits in Lexington. We watched a movie from my hard drive collection then turned in for the night.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Fishing with Capt. Mike

Mark fishing for sea trout with Capt. Mike

We woke around 6 and had cold cereal for breakfast. Not knowing what weather conditions would be like today, we opted for something light to be out on the water. Mark had made arrangements with one of his neighbors, Mike Baize, for a private fishing charter in the area around Homosassa. The primary focus of the trip was to familiarize Mark with the area and the techniques for fishing this body of water. Captain Mike was originally from Henderson, Kentucky in the western part of the state but has operated a fishing charter in the Gulf for many years. We met Mike at the Homosassa Public Boat Ramp next to McRae’s. We were out on the water by 8 am. We had used scopolamine ear patches for motion sickness, but the water was very calm so it was doubtful that we would need it.

Mark with a nice redfish

Capt. Mike took us to several rocky points on the many islands of Mason Creek, the Homosassa River and out into the Gulf where sea trout tend to feed. He had us using jerk baits that were soft plastic fish that we cast out and allowed to begin to sink. We would jerk suddenly then allow them to sink. Mark and I caught three sea trout each between 15 and 19 inches and were happy to learn how to fish for them. Later in the morning we moved further out to areas around islands where there is more mud mixed in with the rocky bottom and fished for redfish. The technique for these fish is to cast a shrimp on a lead jig very near the shore. We would feel small pinfish nibbling at the shrimp, but a redfish would come by grabbing the shrimp and, hopefully, getting on the hook. We were allowed one redfish over 20 inches, so when we got our fish we headed back to the dock. Mike filleted our fish as we regained our land legs and watched the pelicans grabbing the heads and bones from the fish. Mike offered to take Mark out to show him some good fishing locations once he got his boat. It was a fun day on the water.

The day's catch of sea trout and redfish

We boated past “Monkey Island,” where a population of monkeys can be seen each year from spring through fall. The monkeys are moved from the island in the winter for their safety.

It was after 2 pm by the time we got back to the house and froze most of the fish.

Mark made some excellent fish chowder with some of the sea trout that we caught. We enjoyed the asparagus on the side as well. We were both very tired from our day on the water, so we had a more relaxed evening and watched a little television before turning in for the night.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Drive to Florida

We were awake by 4:30, so after refilling our drinks, we headed east toward the WV turnpike. With each of the three tolls being $4.25, we saved a good bit having our EZ-Pass.

We drove through Wytheville, Mt. Airy, Charlotte, and near Charleston, SC, Savannah, and picked up I-95 then on to Rt. 95 around Jacksonville. We arrived at Wittington’s home by 8 pm. There was steady traffic for the entire trip, but we were never at a standstill. We were happy that we chose this route rather than taking I-75 which goes through Atlanta. We were pleased that the Nissan Versa got such good fuel economy.

Whittington's house in Homosassa

When we arrived at Whittington’s Homosassa home, everyone jumped in to get the car unloaded and our things up to one of the bedrooms on the second floor of the house. We were impressed with the new Ram pickup that they purchased to leave in Florida for when they fly in for a short visit. The pickup is very much like Mark’s new Ram, except this one is only a half ton and is slightly lighter grey.

Mark made ribs for us once we were unloaded. The meal was very good as always.