Best Kept Secret In Florida

Despite a gallant effort, I had to give in to the LaQuinta Inn last night. I was unable to get to Jenns campground before they closed the gates.  But today, we will be there as soon as they open.  G.Q. will never know.  Sounds like the ride will be short.  We will have the whole day to set up camp.  Everything will be just fine.

We’re up early to clear out of the motel room, have breakfast, get walks in, and hit the road. We drive through the heart of Tampa City to get to the park.  By 10 am, my GPS directs us into the gates of Secret Spot Park. 

First bonus: $24 per night versus $89 in the hotel. 

Second bonus: They have openings!

Third bonus: no issues with having dogs.

Forth bonus: beautiful spacious campsites

Fifth bonus:  almost no one is camping here

This is awesome.  I drive around the west campground, then the east campground, to pick out my new temporary home. I am leaning toward the west campground.

This little park is awesome!  Picture a 250 acre hand with its fingers spread wide apart.  The arm is the road that brings you to the park from the highway.  The wrist, check in. Each finger is a narrow strip of white sandy land flanked by mangroves with a road in the center of the finger, and campsites or recreation sites on each side. The palm of the hand is the boat launch, large group area, rental areas, and parking. Between each finger is brackish waters, teeming with mullet, trout, catfish, and a very long list of “you never know what you might catch in these waters” creatures.  Reaching out past the fingertips is the Bay, and beyond that, the Gulf of Mexico.  St. Petersburg, Tampa and the Sunshine Highway are all visible from the beach.  So are the barges, cruise ships, and dozens of fishing charters. 

This place is awesome. There is a huge boat launch area, multiple picnic shelters and group event sites, canoe rentals, the two campgrounds, fishing docks and waterside clearings everywhere for fishing, and virtually no one is here.

So I drive around and around the campgrounds, carefully inspecting my many options for setting up a new temporary home.  I pull up to Campsites 8, 6, and 4.  This area looks good,  fairly close to the bath house, (a stellar cement structure, and the ideal place to run to in the event of bad weather) and just a short walk to the giant blue garbage dumpster where I can quickly dispose of any food smelling substances (which helps keep any critters out of the camp).  There’s a 5th wheel on site 5, but no one else until site 11 on the other side of the bathhouse.

As I am pondering my decision, a tall man, maybe in his 60’s, glasses on his nose, tousled hair, sweatpants and an oversize T shirt, smoking a cigarette, comes across the road from site 5 and up to greet me.

“So, you thinking about raccoon alley?  Ya know, this is where they live.  And so do the no-see-ums. They’ll like you!” 

Already I see this guy is hilarious.  Yup, I know where I’m staying.

“What do you think about this number six?”  I ask

“Six is good.  So is four. What are you pulling?  Where’s your rig?”

“This is my rig.  I have a tent”.

The man bursts into laughter. “Oh, yes they’re gonna love you.  I can’t wait to get my lawn chair out and watch this—welcome neighbor!”

What an odd duck.  I drive back up to the office, announce my decision, and pay for a couple nights to see how things go.

As I pull back in to site 6 on the west campground, there’s the man across the road, lawn chair pointed toward my campsite.  I smile and wave. What a clown.  I back into the spot, get out and start walking around, checking the ground for rocks, dips, or anything I need to clear away.  He comes strolling back across the road and up to me.

“They sleep in the trees”  he whispers.

“They sleep in the trees?  Who does?” I play along.

“The coons!”  He points to the sparse live oaks and palm trees. “This is their home.”

“Um, ok, well, not once I get things set up here, especially with my dogs.”

“You got dogs?  Great! They like the dogs, too.” He chuckles and walks away across the road, chattering, “I’ll be right over here.  You let me know if you need anything”. He disappears into his 5th wheel.

I proceed to remove the straps and tarps covering the cargo rack.  I pull out my ground cloth tarp for the tent.  As I open it up, I discover is it completely covered with ants!

ARGHHHH!  I throw it off towards the road, while brushing ants off my arms and legs. Then I try and open it up.  The wind is catching the tarp. They are everywhere!  They must of come from the hotel parking lot?   Just at that moment a guy in a mint green shirt and shorts is heading toward me,

“Hi, what have we heeahhh?  A little ant issue?  Let me help you.” He has a thick east coast Boston accent.  Together we shake off my tarp to remove all of the ants, and fold it back up so I can easily unfold it into place on my site.

“Thank you so much!” 

“Let me know if you need anything.  I’m right down theyahh, Lois and Buddy, we ahhh the camp hosts” and he points down to site 11.

“Will do!” and I head back over to my dismantled cargo rack full of gear.

What an awesome place!  Can’t wait to tell everyone I know about it.  The remainder of the day I spend setting up camp, taking the dogs on an investigation walk and cooking dinner outside before it gets dark at 5:00.

On second thought, maybe I want to keep this under wraps as my Secret Spot Park.

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