Fun in Fort De Soto

The two places I haven’t been to in this amazing strip of the gulf, is Honeymoon Island and Fort De Soto.  They are on opposite ends of the Clearwater St. Petersburg area. Besides having the only off-leash dog friendly beach, I’ve just learned there is camping at Fort De Soto.  Snap to it, off we go to check this out before the end of the year!

The ride to Fort De Soto takes us back down along the Gulf where we ended our beach hopping day.  I’m tempted to pull into the Winery I missed on the last trip.  No, we need to stick to the plan.  Maybe on the way back.  The thing about this area is, it can take forever to get from point A to point B, because if you don’t take the main drag, you have to weave up and down all sorts of “fingers of land” with water and boat slips and Marinas in between.  After awhile, it all starts to look familiar, making it easy to second guess and get turned around.  So, I took the direct route and got to the park entrance within half an hour.  That drive into the park starts with paying a toll and feeling like you’re heading in a one way with no way out.

Entering, the “Twilight De Soto Zone”.

Wowza.  Cool, cool place.  Cool place.  Did I mention this is a very cool place?  First stop, the campgrounds.  Quickly I learn it will take an act of God, Congress or both to get into this campground.  They are booked solid forever.  The ranger tells me I need to check in daily to see if there are any cancellations, early pull outs, or no shows.  It does happen. Ok.  I want this so bad, I commit in my mind to get here daily until I get in, or get too old, or die trying. 

We are pumped.  What a great place.  Fort De Soto represents 1,136 acres of parkland and beaches, spread across 5 interconnected islands—or keys.  The 236 site reservable campground has a store, laundry, electric and water hook up and “modern” restrooms with showers.  In addition, there is a canoe trail (and rentals), a 2,200 foot handicap accessible nature trail, and 7 miles of multipurpose trails.  A boat ramp, two giant piers, two beach/picnic areas, swimming beaches, a museum, historic fort, snack bar and gift shop, AND, the dog park and OFF LEASH dog beach with dog showers and water fountains.  This is where we need to be.  For sure.  I am committed to get in line until we get in.

We pull up to the designated dog area.  Wow, a huge fenced in dog park, with separated areas for big and small dogs, and showers to cool down the hot dogs in the park.  I leave the kids in the truck while I take a walk to find the off leash beach.

Within minutes, I come up on an amazing beautiful beach with people laying out and playing with dogs that are running around and into the water, playing and laughing, and I am about RUNNING back to the truck to get the kids and start our day.  And boy, they know something is up, and are on their best behavior, especially Buddy.  I pack up the bumpers and the Frisbees, their Christmas bones, water, treats, and my towel and sunbathing needs, and we hit that beach like a hurricane.  I snag a picnic table, get us all set up and the fun begins.  The girls spread out on the blanket, while Buddy and I hit the water and chase around.  We are having the best day ever.  Meeting people and dogs and talking about training and hunting and how to get their dogs to do what Buddy does.  Funny. 

We take a break and go sit at our table.  Along comes an elderly woman, she stands at the edge of the sandy beach and looks rather flustered—I walk over to her. She could be close to 80ish!

“Hi, are you looking for someone?”   I ask, thinking maybe she isn’t ok.

“Oh, no, dear, just for somewhere to sit. It seems someone has my bench.”

Yikes, she is referring to the picnic table we have confiscated. 

“Oh, please, come sit with us! We are just having a ball here.” I exclaim, and beckon her over to the picnic table.

“You have dogs? Oh, I love dogs!”  She replies, and carefully makes her way to our little family spread.

 Introducing  Jill, the amazing lady from Wales. She is here visiting her son Stuart. A Snow Bird, she comes here every year for the winter.  She was married for 62 years, but has been widowed for the past 3 years.  Stuart drops her off at this beach every day at this time, and picks her up 3 hours later.  She stays in a separate apartment at his place, to stay out of the way of their normal life.  Jill is interesting, lively, educated, and an amazing conversationalist.  She was a professor. We talk about so many things I cannot keep up.  I find myself missing my dad.  I’m wondering how much more rich my life would have been if this woman would have been in it.  She is so totally amazing. Adopt me.  Adopt me, Jill.  Buddy is showing off his fetching skills for her.  She is completely invested in cheering him, and us, on as we play on the beach.  The girls are doing their best to grab some of her attention.  She distributes lovins’ equally among the three.  She is actually wearing tweed.  Isn’t that a Wales thing? We laugh, I share my Gatorade, Swiss cheese and strawberries with her.  She applauds me on my quest to carve out a better life and travel across country with my kids. Stuart arrives and is stunned to see his mom not ready to go back.  He goes for a walk down the beach and we continue our conversation.  Home remedy secrets.  Recipe secrets.  Life and love secrets.  She traveled the world with her husband.  She appreciates that Stuart let’s her come every year.  All too soon, he reappears, and we need to say goodbye.  She asks me if I will return next year. 

“If you will be here, absolutely!  And, maybe sooner!”  We hug goodbye.

Buddy and I spend the rest of the day running on the beach and splashing in the water while the girls lay under the picnic table working on their raw hide bones.  Swimming together is something we’ve only ever done one other time, and it sure wasn’t in the ocean.  He looks at me over and over in disbelief as we bob around in the salt water together.  What a bonding experience. Afterwards, I spray him down with fresh water in the dog park. Exhausted from the long beach day, we head back to the truck and hotel. 

Jill, have a Happy New Year.  I will look for you next year at our picnic table.  Stuart, I hope you realize lucky you are.  Best wishes to both of you.

Don’t Want to Miss a Thing? Subscribe to My Blog

Speak Your Mind

*