Holiday Roadtrip 2016 — Day 9


DECEMBER 24: OCALA NATIONAL FOREST — Day One


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OCALA NATIONAL FOREST: Driving to Hopkins Prairie in the Ocala National Forest. The sky is blue and clear and the temperature is warm but not too hot. The road is nicely graded — much smoother than last time, and I will come to find out that is because there was recently a hurricane that wrecked havoc on the area and it was actually closed with these roads destroyed and impassible — the Forest Service brought in crews to clean up the debris, re-clear the main roadways and re-grade them. The work was just completed in November…


OCALA NATIONAL FOREST: The view across Hopkins Prairie, the beautiful spot I remembered from my first trip here…


OCALA NATIONAL FOREST: My campsite before I set up camp. It is a different one than last time, but right near the same spot, and I liked this one because there was this huge clearing right in the middle of the trees and it was all covered in the spanish moss, and I had a view out to either side of the prairie from this one spot…


OCALA NATIONAL FOREST: I backed the Jeep into the “driveway” (I got a lot of practice backing into this spot, and like to think I have improved my skills at backing up!) and set up the big tent with the cot and everything…


OCALA NATIONAL FOREST: I set up camp in a clearing between the trees, well covered with spanish moss. This was not my campsite from last time (which was occupied when I arrived — this year there were a lot more people camping for Christmas than there was that first year when I was all alone out here. If I hadn’t been to this spot and loved it so much before I probably would have chosen to camp elsewhere for more solitude, but I had decided to come to this specific location and chose to stay despite the “crowd” which turned out to mostly be a non-issue — except for one night when a guy came and played his radio really really loud so the whole prairie could hear his music (which was awful)… but he only stayed one night.) Anyway, I set up the big tent with the cot and everything making a real “basecamp” and it felt good to actually be able to camp in one location with all the “comforts” of a campground for a change (picnic table, fire pit, and a toilet not very far away)and not have to break down and set up camp every day …


OCALA NATIONAL FOREST: The spanish moss still fascinates me. My site was covered with it, creating great shade and camoflauge, but also adding to the ambiance. I still like to think of it as nature’s Christmas tinsel …


OCALA NATIONAL FOREST: The spanish moss overhead not only created shade, but also had a diffusive effect on the light, creating a soft kind of light rather than the harsh shadow and light that existed outside of my “cove”. I am not able to capture the magic of this plant in a single photo (maybe that is why i keep taking pictures of it, trying to render that essence)…


OCALA NATIONAL FOREST: The “prairie” which I really think is a marsh even if they call it a “prairie” here, seen from behind the spanish moss of my “cove”…


OCALA NATIONAL FOREST: The view out across the prairie from my campsite. There are herons in the marsh, and I do hear them take off late in the afternoon, though not in the end they will not be as “regular” as the last time I was here …


OCALA NATIONAL FOREST: The spanish moss hanging from the trees at camp creates a jungle-like silhouettes in the late afternoon sun …


OCALA NATIONAL FOREST: Late afternoon silhouettes of the jungle-like cove where I am camped…


OCALA NATIONAL FOREST: Sunset on Christmas Eve…


OCALA NATIONAL FOREST: My campsite tucked in what they call “hammock” here, which is like a cove of trees covered in spanish moss. I have my Tiki torches and my offlamp in addition to the fire, and it seems enough to combat mosquitos, which for the most part were not a problem at camp…


OCALA NATIONAL FOREST: My Christmas Eve campfire burned long and bright thanks to some extra wood I picked up on a scouting drive before settling in for the evening. I had gone to the forest road where last time they were clearing the land and it was full of downed wood, but that area had already begun to grow back in and I could just make out the spot where it had been cleared a few years ago. The jungle grows quickly and if I hadn’t known where the spot was, I would not be able to tell it had been “cleared”— the only real “evidence” was that there were no tall trees in that spot, just bush. In any case I found wood along the road. Apparently there was a hurricane recently that caused a lot of havoc and the downed trees that blocked the roads were cut by roadcrews, and cut “logs” of a sort were still on the side of the road. They were very big, not cut for making fires, just cut so they could be moved out of the way, so I was very glad I had brought a saw to cut them to a manageable size once I got them loaded in the Jeep and back to camp.…


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