Sometimes, it’s nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Living in a big city like Jacksonville, even on a quiet Navy base, it’s a real treat to get miles away from it all into the wilderness. We ventured into the Ocala National Forest this weekend for an RV adventure at Lake in the Forest Black Bear Resort. Expansive, beautiful, and so quiet once you’re out on a hike that the only sounds are those of the birds, it’s a big difference from home. Our weekend flew by all too quickly.
One challenge with being stationed in one geographic area so long is that eventually you run out of close-by places to go camping. We have a lot of requirements: not too busy, safe for the kids, and full of things to do (hiking, fishing, exploring, and playgrounds are good!). I found Lake in the Forest while doing an Internet search and it seemed to fit the bill. Acres of forest to explore? Check. Playground? Check. New? Check. While we’ve camped elsewhere in the Ocala, we’d never heard of this campground. Time for a new experience! We desperately needed to take the camper out too. It’s a great, affordable alternative to a hotel room… if you use it often enough to be worth the money!
When we first pulled into the campground, I wasn’t sure what to think. 3 hours in the car with noisy kids had made us all a bit grump and the spot we were assigned was cramped and right between two other campers with noisy, barking dogs. Oh, heck no. That’s not peaceful in the least and there was no where for the kids to play. We asked for a new spot and soon got a better location, next to the open field and farm animals. Much better! The kids absolutely need room to run and explore and barking dogs are a huge pet peeve of mine. Who wants to be up all night listening to them, or have them barking at the kids every time we play outside? Not I. As soon as we pulled into our spot, an elderly Prussian lady on a golf cart pulled up and introduced herself with a heavy German accent. Omi owns the campground and wanted to tell us all about it. She wanted us to come and meet all the other campers, who were having wine and cheese at the main building. This was our first sign that this campground was a bit different from any we’d ever visited. “Everyone knows each other,” Omi explained, “They’ll want to know who you are.” Hubby and I were not overly thrilled at first and wanted to set up the RV and feed the kids, who were hungry and tired of being cooped up. We said we’d be thrilled to meet the campers in the morning. Yet, after a lot of persuasion, the kids and I went with Omi to meet the horses, ponies, llama, and turtles. Hubby continued setting up the RV, detaching it from the Armada, setting up sewer, water, and electricity, etc. The kids were excited to meet the ponies and to feed them horse cookies and to throw bread into the tortoise hole of “Cookie Monster.” By the time we got back and finished setting up, it was nearly 7 pm! The kids were ravenous and hadn’t been so happy to eat pasta and sauce in a long time.
The next morning, the breakfast bell rang at 8 am sharp. This was something new too. The community gathers together for breakfast several mornings a week, including Saturdays. For $2 per adult and $1 per child, we were served piping hot blueberry pancakes and sausages. Hubby and I also had coffee. We took up the entire length of one table and the dining room filled quickly. Despite the camp’s website featuring lots of pictures of families and kids, it quickly became apparent that we were the only campers under the age of 70. It’s snowbird season! Snowbirds are northerners, mostly retirees, who come south for the winter. Everyone was very friendly and was pleased to see the kids. D talked their ears off and all the kids went through a large stack of pancakes. We met people from all over the country at breakfast. Once the kids had eaten their fill, we went off to visit the ponies again, hike to the lake, and play. Derek talked about his pancake breakfast all morning!
Omi saw us out and about and came to visit again. Her husband was a Colonel and they bought this land together. He passed away several years back. She was so friendly that soon it didn’t seem that weird at all to have so many visitors on our “quiet” camping trip. Usually, people simply leave you alone when you camp. Not this time. Omi told us about a “jungle gym” and we set off to find it. It turns out that the jungle gym was a large tree with branches the kids could climb. Different to be sure, but fun. My monkeys don’t usually get to climb trees and spent several hours climbing and exploring. They reveled in the stories I told about climbing trees as a child, so high my mother would be so mad at me and demand I come down at once. I made them laugh so hard when I climbed about 10 feet into the air and found a comfortable spot to sit and supervise them. They got so filthy, a bit scraped up, and a tiny bit sunburned, but had such a great morning.
The first time we met Sammy the Llama, kids had no idea what to think. “What. Is. That,” D stated more than asked. Sammy is not a beautiful creature. He has a face only a mother could love. B, who loves the book, “Llama, Llama, Red Pajama” and talks about Llamas all the time would simply not believe me that this was, indeed, a llama. Omi let us feed the ponies, llama, and horses dinner, so we got up and personal with all the animals. Sammy the Llama is very particular and only accepts treats from children. When an adult tries to feed him, he turns his head and runs off. Each of the kids slowly walked up to him, treat in outstretched palm. He ate it happily, besides for E’s. He shunned E with a turned head. Omi handed me a treat, and Sammy ate it right out of my hand! She couldn’t believe it. He doesn’t like adults, but he liked me. She said, “You must be blessed. Sammy likes you.” Lucky me, right?
The kids also got to ride the ponies and loved it. This was a real treat! How wonderful to be so included and learn so much about animal husbandry. I certainly didn’t expect that this weekend!
Close to our campsite sat a worn but fun children’s playground with a play structure, a play house, and some trucks. We went there several times, as we were the only family with children until late that evening. The kids swung, climbed, and ran to their heart’s content. We journeyed to the lake, too, and hiked the turtle trail. Each of the tortoise’s nests is marked with a sign and the turtle’s name. Cute! We didn’t spot any turtles, though, probably because the kids are so darn loud. We did so much walking. “Whew,” B proclaimed several times, dramatically slumping her shoulders and sighing, “My exercise is done!” As I had forgotten our jogging stroller, I did a lot of toddler carrying. One thing I love about camping is all the exercise we get. Blossom the Beagle was exceedingly happy about this.
Of course, not everything was smooth sailing. D and E were playing ball in front of the RV and the ball flew in front of the neighboring RV. D ran to get it and was bitten by the neighbor’s dog! Fortunately he was wearing long sleeves and wasn’t hurt too bad, but he was traumatized and scraped. Poor guy! The neighbor wouldn’t keep his dog on a leash and the dog ran up to the kids wildly on several occasions. That made me very mad. Secondly, Bella got a quick tummy bug and threw up AND I got a rash all over my arm. Apart from that, though, the trip went smoothly. No one had any lasting damage and had an overall good time. The kids got to hear wild woodpeckers and a hoot owl for the first time. They were able to climb and explore to their hearts content. D certainly didn’t want to go home today. “How about we go home to get more clothes and food, then come back?” he pleaded, “I don’t want to go to preschool anyway. I want to stay here forever!” A also pondered what it would be like to live in a place like that, acres and acres of wilderness and, of course, horses. That girl loves horses.
The sunrise was spectacular this morning. Rising pink and red through the fog, the aura was breathtaking. I took my canine companion on a nice, long walk, just the two of us. The only sounds in the world were the birds welcoming the day with their morning songs. We saw robins and swallows, blue jays and cardinals. What absolute peace. Walking through nature in the quiet stillness of the morning is so soothing and relaxing. It doesn’t happen nearly often enough. I love moments like that.
Our weekend away ended all too soon. Time to clean up, hit the road, and prepare for a new week of business. We had to visit the ponies, climbing tree, and playground one last time before leaving. Derek tried his hardest to convince us to stay forever. He loves camping! Had it not been for unleashed, biting dogs, we definitely could have stayed longer. Lake in the Forest Black Bear Resort was unlike any place we’ve ever stayed, but not in a bad way. It was more like a community than a campground. We met some interesting characters along the way, walked and explored, and enjoyed nature the way it’s meant to be enjoyed. The kids may not be able to connect with the forest and climb great trees every day, but I hope that adventures like these leave a lasting impression on them. After all, what is childhood without some dirt, tree climbing, and horses?