Sunday, August 6, 2017

Fore Lake RA Ocala NF First Visit

After an absence from Florida of nearly 24 years, our first task was to settle somewhere for awhile and start learning about the area all over again. A lot has changed during that time, including more people and traffic. We had been through Ocala before, when we used to come down to Salt Springs All Seasons Resort (when they still managed it). But now, we didn't even recognize the highways we had used so many times in the past, and yet I know we had to come and go by that same route.

Silver Springs, which we had visited so many years before, and in which we had even taken a glass bottomed boat ride, didn't look familiar, either. We saw an abandoned amusement park on the southeast corner of highways 40 and 35, just west of the Silver Springs entrance, that must have been a part of the Silver Springs attraction at one time, and yet we have no recollection of it. It is (unfortunately) closed and apparently abandoned now. Such a shame.

Silver Springs entrance sign.

Silver Springs itself has become a state park, rather than a privately owned concession. Some old-timers will remember it as one of the filming locations for Lloyd Bridges "Sea Hunt" television series. We have yet to investigate it again, but will report on it with more photos when we do.  For now, we needed to find somewhere to park...preferably for an extended period of unknown duration, until we could become acclimated to all aspects of the area again.

We had already decided on the Ocala area (within 50 miles) as our target destination long before we left Arizona. We wanted to stay out of major cities as much as possible, and remain in the northern part of the state, where it is less congested, slightly cooler, and makes for an easy exit to the north...whether making trips to Indiana or escaping hurricanes. Being near the coast holds no fascination for us, beautiful as it is at times. The higher prices there would be a waste of money for us. We're just not "water people".

General location of Ocala NF.

Another reason for choosing the Ocala area was that we have come to love the beautiful pine forest areas, as opposed to organized campgrounds. And Ocala National Forest being the size it is holds many such camping areas...more than any other national forest in the state. They are not only much less expensive, but afford a certain amount of privacy and separation from other sites. The disadvantages include no (or very few) hookups. For us, with our 300 watts of solar and 225 amp hours of batteries, backed with a 2000 watt pure sign wave inverter, it wasn't a big problem...other than being parked with too much shade.

If we were still relying on the 120-volt refrigerator in the trailer, it definitely would have been a problem, but by using the propane refrigerator in the RV, our other electrical needs were not that great. As long as we stuck to using our propane catalytic heater (which requires no power), and minimal usage of computers and phones, we could get by with what solar charging we could get through the trees. We did have to start the RV or the generator a few times to build the batteries back up when it got too cloudy, but since the RV was still our daily driver, our errand runs helped take care of part of the charging.

Map of Fore Lake Recreation Area

The hosts at Fore Lake Recreation Area were very friendly and accommodating. However, the spaces large enough to fit our RV and trailer were few when we arrived, so they suggested the overflow area until something opened up. That was fine with us, as we seldom use outside amenities anyway, other than our chairs.

The entrance road to Fore Lake RA with our RV in overflow on the left.

The overflow area was plenty large enough. It is a drive through area where we could angle park or parallel park as needed. It was also right across from the public beach and a restroom building.

The Fore Lake RA beach area across from the overflow area.
Our windshield view of the Fore Lake RA public beach area.

We only stayed there about three days before a normal camping space opened up, but we would have been fine with staying there much longer.

The white sand beach at Fore Lake RA.

A walk past the beach area revealed a nicely shaded loop drive, with beautiful moss hanging from the oak trees. Just past the beach is a nice public picnic pavilion that we saw used several times while we were there.

The public picnic pavilion at Fore Lake RA.

A view past the picnic pavilion to the first curve in the road showed several sites on either side. The motorhome at the curve in the distance is on site #3 that we ended up using on our second visit, but we'll discuss that in a later post.

The start of the loop road at Fore Lake RA, across from the picnic pavilion.

After the weekend visitors cleared out they suggested we move to site #30, which is at the far end of a short cross street in the main loop, and another nearly ideal spot right across from the shower building.

Our view from site #30 at Fore Lake RA. The door in the middle
is a dish-washing station for those camping in tents.

The only disadvantage there was that they could use better closers on the doors. Every time someone let them slam they made a loud thump that started Angel to barking again...every time! The site is also a back-in site, as are most of the sites in that campground, but backing a trailer has never been a problem for me.

We backed the trailer in as far as we could, and dropped it there. Then I pulled forward slightly, so we could come and go with the RV as needed.

Our RV and trailer on site #30 at Fore Lake RA.

Although the sites look pretty level, we did need a 2 x 10 block under the right front wheel to get level enough for safe operation of the refrigerator, but that was not a big deal either. We would leave it in place when we ran errands, and make sure we backed onto it when returning.

Nearly every site in Fore Lake RA has a concrete pad, a nice picnic table with a lantern post nearby, and a fire pit and/or a grill. Sites are well-maintained as are all the buildings and facilities.

Site #30 at Fore Lake RA, with our RV and trailer.

We would often set out our folding "Big Wide" recliners, and enjoy reading or computer work in a comfortable setting.

Our folding recliners in use at site #30, Fore Lake RA.

One of our first errands was to get the excess stuff out of the RV and trailer that we had emptied out of the rental storage unit in Blythe, California. We managed to put up with the clutter all the way across the country, but we were feeling crowded. I had found a cheap storage unit on a 2nd floor in Ocala, but could never find a manager around, and phone calls were always redirected somewhere else. I have little patience for inept management and decided to look elsewhere.

We found another place east of Silver Springs and much closer to where we were staying, although it turned out the rent was much higher. But the convenience of everything made it worthwhile.

Silver Springs Self Storage.

So we were finally able to eliminate the excess clutter and weight in the RV. Four of the boxes were about 14 inches square and filled with LP albums that we intended to digitize when we could find time, and those were about 80 pounds each! The other items were more bulky than heavy, but when combined, probably totaled about 500 pounds. The RV thanked us!

The only problem with the state and national forest areas is that they typically have a 14-day staying period, after which you have to vacate that particular area for a certain amount of time before you can return. And around Ocala NF there is nowhere else we could go that was close. Our only option would have been to rotate between there and Osceola NF about a hundred miles north. If there were any other timing issues in getting back in, we would have resorted to short Walmart stays while roaming around. But that all adds expense and hassle, and fortunately, we didn't need it.

Being able to use our senior discount cards is great, though. And yet, when all things are considered...the fuel spent in moving around, the wear and tear on the RV and trailer, and the lack of electric power, it really isn't that much of a savings. Even if we stayed a full month at $6 a day, that's $180, plus the hassle of having to hit the road every two weeks. We have seen RV parks in other parts of the country that we could get into for as little as $150 a month, and have full hookups plus more amenities, so in reality, what is gained?

Fortunately, we got lucky. One of our RVing friends and YouTube stars invited us down to her place for a few days. We were able to time everything so that we could leave Fore Lake at the end of our two week limit and drive down to Inverness to stay for another week. By the time we returned to Fore Lake, we had been away long enough to satisfy their rules. But we'll post again on our stays at both places, and share our other experiences along the way. In future posts I'll also talk about where we are now and what we have been doing.

Thanks for following our adventures, and as always feel free to comment. If you have been to Fore Lake Recreation Area, Ocala National Forest before, or even the Ocala area in general, share your experience!

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