This weekend, Pokermon and I hauled the kids up into the panhandle for a camping excursion, which is always entertaining. Because I’m lazy, most of this post will be a cut-and-paste from Yakko’s homeschooling blog. Starting now.
I got my gear in my pack
I got my pack on my back
Today’s the day I’m going camping
Just got the go-ahead sign
The weather’s gonna be fine
Today’s the day I’m going camping
I’m gonna pitch me a tent
Won’t have to pay any rent
It looks like ev’rything is “A O.K.”
As far as I can see
I think it’s gonna be
a perfect camping day
-John Denver and The Muppets
Of course, we hauled our gear in a Subaru rather than on our backs, and you do have to pay modest rent to camp at State Parks. However, we did pitch us a tent and had a perfect camping day!
Yakko is always entranced by the model cave at the Florida Museum of Natural History, so we made plans for him to see the real deal at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna.
We arrived Friday evening, and it had been raining all day. The campgrounds are on rich dirt with a lot of clay, so the mud was truly impressive. Another homeschooling family who are our frequent “camping buddies” arrived a few hours after we did, and their dad was very gracious about letting the kids throw Mud Bombs all over his truck while he pitched their tent. Five children ranging 1-6 years of age flinging clay — later, one of them was heard to inquire, “Daddy, what’s Lord of the Flies?” Of course, homeschooling parents take comfort in the knowledge that such activities lay the foundation for later physics studies on vectors and viscosity. They’ll probably be ready for the intensive number-crunching portion of these studies around the same age that we let them actually read Lord of the Flies.
Clay mud is good for more than just Mud Bombs, of course. It is also excellent for retaining detailed impressions of raccoon feet:
That’s a nice view of hind and fore paws — you can even see the claw tips. Based on the different sizes, we think there were at least two of them inspecting the grounds as we slumbered:
Yakko counts 9 different prints in that photo.
Yakko, Wakko, and a Camping Buddy mingle their prints with the raccoons’.
After breakfast, we headed up the the cavern entrance to purchase tour tickets at the Visitor’s Center.
The grounds surrounding the entrance are really lovely, and we spent about an hour hiking along several of the trails. They were moderately challenging, as the ground rises and falls quite steeply (for Florida). Limerock-studded paths wind their way along the upper rim of a flood basin, and every so often we’d discover small cave entrances that undoubtedly connect to the cavern system below. The few that are large enough to admit human animals have iron bars blocking them. It set me to speculating whether or not Yakko is old enough for Tom Sawyer at bedtime. Maybe in another 6 months.
Cypress knees. Plaques along the trail informed us that cypress and gum trees have very wide root bases to keep them stable in windy storms, since the roots can’t grow deep in this variable landscape.
Young Explorers investigate a small cave. There was speculation as to whether snakes or raccoons might reside within, and it was decided that, regardless of its inhabitants, the cave would make an excellent shelter should a freak tornado occur during our hike.
The cavern system was discovered when a storm blew down a large tree. The roots were wrenched out of the ground, revealing the extensive cavities below. The rock formations were constant obstacles, and in most areas the floor-to-ceiling clearance was only a few feet. During the 1930s, the Civilian’s Conservation Corps worked for years to clear paths through the caverns from the original discovery site. They crawled on their bellies with pickaxes, digging down and shifting rock until there was standing room, then they’d carry the loose rock out to the surface. They were paid a dollar per day. There’s a strapping shirtless statue honoring these workers at the foot of the hill leading up to the Visitors’ Center.
And here are some of the gorgeous formations found within:
This small but detailed tableau has actively dripping stalactites building the stalagmites below. The tour guide told us that if water drips on you in the cave, it’s called a “cave kiss” and is considered lucky for future exploration. Yakko and Wakko both got kissed on the tour.
The flowstones are always impressive. This one was particularly interesting because of the texture. Tiny ridges formed all the way down, rather than the smooth sweep of more steeply angled living rock.
This frothy formation features a lot of the white calcite-rich rock. The more common brown formations are more iron-rich. In the middle foreground, you can see “soda straws,” which are fledgling stalactites that are still hollow as the mineral-laden water drips through the center. As they grow, the hollow straw fills in and becomes solid, and the true stalactite widens at the base, forming a sharper point as the water drips down the exterior.
After the tour, the kids played on the grounds while the grownups rested their tired feet. Another park visitor was kind enough to point out an itchy menace lurking on a nearby oak:
Leaves of three, let it be!
We capped off the day with fire-roasted corn on the cob, coal-baked potatoes, and, of course, flaming marshmallows. The next day we traveled home in muddy pajamas, tired and happy, with renewed appreciation for Florida’s State Park system.
My fixed-width template cuts off pictures wider than about 500px, so click on anything that merits a closer look (like the flowstone).
Saturday night, it got down to about 45 degrees. Our sleeping bags are rated at 50 degrees. It matters. The kids had extra blankets and were cozy, but Pokermon and I shivered on our air mattress, bodies clenched and bladders squeezed. He got up 3 times in the night to pee on a tree. It’s the first time in my life I’ve experienced penis envy. Relief for me would mean finding my shoes and trekking 75 yards through the sucking mud to the facilities, and I just couldn’t make myself do it. The final time Pokermon zippered his way back into the tent, I whispered, “is it close enough to morning that we can just pack up and go?”
“Oh thank Gourd.”
We aren’t normally morning people, but we were gassing up by the interstate at 7am.
An hour into our drive, Pokermon asked, “isn’t today your birthday?” Why yes, yes it was. Not like I hadn’t realized it was coming, but when My Special Day dawned, all I was thinking about was bladder relief and caffeine, so it was a genuine surprise in that moment. We had talked a few days before about getting me a Nano Ipod, but they’re about $100 out of our budget. I assured Pokermon that the camping trip was celebration a-plenty, as I love any excuse to build a fire.
When we got home, Mom took Yakko grocery shopping, where he picked out a mega-chocolate cake with strawberries on top. The boy has excellent taste. Then she made a meatloaf dinner for us and did the dishes while I lazed about, and I felt pampered indeed. After the kids were in bed, I went through the mail and opened a birthday card from my dad. It included a check for $100.
I picked the green Nano.