Wekiwa Springs Trails: Orange County

We started last week with another daycation. This time to Wekiwa Springs State Park.

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Upon entering the park, we received a list of twenty-five ways to enjoy Wekiwa. Of course, we started at the spring and were a little surprised to find several people swimming on a cool January morning.

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A short walk on the “wet-to-dry” nature boardwalk, (number 9) on the list was the next order of business.

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We then checked out the trail map and selected one to hike (number 2) and saw more than a few deer tracks on the trail (number 19).

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On such a beautiful, cloudless morning, there was no doubt we’d take lots of photographs (number 15). And since a controlled burn was in progress, it was no problem finding evidence of recently burned areas (number 21).

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Before leaving the park, we ate a picnic lunch (number 7) at one of the pavilions, making it easy to leave our stresses behind and relax (number 25).

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Seven of the Top 25 Things To Do at Wekiwa Springs State Park, only 18 to go! We also took a selfie, something not on the park’s list.

Daycation: Wekiwa Springs State Park

 

Let’s Keep Florida Real

With all the news regarding the Florida State Parks and the desire by some to make them self sufficient, it seems like a good time to remember the purpose of our state’s treasures. The purpose and value of the parks was discussed in an article titled, “Green for Green” in the Friends of Florida State Parks newsletter.

The first question we all have to ask is why do we have state parks in the first place? State parks exist to protect and preserve a particular location because of its natural beauty, flora and fauna, historic and cultural interest, or recreational potential. That is the reason we have state parks and that is why we need to protect and preserve them. The Florida Park Service with limited resources does a fantastic job.

Whether at one of the parks along the coast,

or ones protecting our springs and rivers

as sites for camping

or learning about our state’s history

our parks do indeed protect and preserve the real Florida. Let’s do our part to keep Florida real.

 

 

Where is this Wednesday?

The Florida State Parks have been posting a picture each Wednesday accompanied by the question, where is this?

Each picture is from one of the state’s award winning parks and it’s fun to see if you can identify the location, or if not, claim the park as one you’ve visited.

So “Where is this?”

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Hint: It is one of Florida’s State Parks.

Take a Daycation

It’s easy to get caught up in the ordinariness of life and get stuck in routines. Work. Household chores. Lawn care. Errands. An endless list of “to do’s”. But it’s important to make time for fun.

One of my favorite ways to do this is by planning and taking Daycations. These daycations require only a single day, little planning or expense and always begin and end by waking up in my own bed and returning to sleep at home.

Here’s a list of some of my favorite ways to spend a daycation.

Visit one of Florida’s State Parks.

 

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Rent bicycles or take your own and ride one of the wonderful bike trails located in the state.

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Kayak, canoe or float down a river. You can find lots of information about paddling trail from the Florida Paddling Trails Association.

Attend a festival or other special event. Festivals celebrating art, music, food and history take place every week and are good opportunities to get out, walk around and enjoy some fun. You may even want to partake in an offbeat event like a Possum Festival or Grape Stomp. Here’s a great list of Florida Festivals and Events to give you some ideas. Search by month or location to find something close to home.

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Go for a swim. Beaches on the Atlantic and Gulf, springs, and lakes are perfect places to spend a day.

 

There are so many opportunities to make any day a one day vacation. Less than 24 hours…less than $100…including gas and meals. These daycations rejuvinate without the stress or expense of planning a vacation.

Plan a getaway. Take a daycation.

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Mom

Cape Florida: A Piece of Old Florida

A trip to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park combines many of the best things about Florida.

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First, the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County, the nearly 100 year old lighthouse on the cape overlooks Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic. Unfortunately, we arrived too late for one of the twice daily tours…a good excuse for a return visit.

The bike trail leads to the Lighthouse Cafe and Boater’s Grill, two restaurants offering authentic Cuban fare, as well as to picnic areas with pavilions and grills. Dream of boat camping in the bay.


Sit on the seawall and fish or watch the boats sailing in Biscayne Bay. You may even encounter an iguana or two.


Then head out to the beach. Swim. Rent a chair and umbrella to enjoy the perfect South Florida weather…can’t think of a better place to spend a December day. Warm and sunny.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park another of Florida’s jewels.

Taking a Bite Out of History

IMG_3650Why stay in one of the chain hotels when a room at an historic Florida lodge can be booked for the same price? That’s what inspired us to begin a weekend camping trip at the Wakulla Springs Lodge. Instead of trying to pitch a tent in the dark, we stopped just south of Tallahassee for the night.

The interior of the lodge reminds guests of a time gone by with marble throughout the lodge on floors, baseboards, counters, and staircases, including a 70 foot marble bar in the gift shop, the world’s longest, and according to the lodge website, the walnut elevator is the only surviving period art deco elevator in operation. The artwork on the ceiling draws attention to the painting of local wildlife scenes…beautiful.

 

Of course, eating at the lodge had to be included, and while we enjoyed the fried chicken and seafood platter, the setting is what makes dinner in the lodge something to experience.

The rooms are decorated with antiques and provide comfortable accommodations for sleeping, but if television or other modern technology is required, guests will be disappointed. We enjoyed the quiet and listened to a University of Miami football game on the radio. And really, listening to the radio (even if on an iPhone app) seems to match the surroundings perfectly.

Eating breakfast at the lodge was not on the agenda, but since the lodge is located miles away from other facilities, we found ourselves back in the dining room in the morning devouring a hardy meal before taking to the river and bike riding at Wakulla Springs State Park, and then on to the campground.

The REAL Florida Passport

Last May on a trip to Coconut Grove we purchased the Real Florida Passport at The Barnacle, one of the Florida’s 160 state parks.

Our passport has spurred us to visit parks that we might never have given a thought. It’s designed as a travel journal which can be used to plan park visits, record experiences, and collect park stamps.

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The passport is divided into five regions: Northwest, Northeast, Central, Southwest, and Southeast, with a page devoted to each park providing a brief description of the park and its location as well as space for recording the date of the visit and notes. And of course, there’s a space to collect the park stamp which can be obtained at the ranger station.

In the five months since purchasing the passport we’ve collected 32 stamps with plans for at least three more this coming weekend.

When all stamps have been collected and verified we’ll be eligible for a Florida State Parks commemorative passport gift for visiting all parks and discovering…”the Real Florida”.

Only 125 to go!

And the Sign Says:

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

The lyrics to this 1971, top ten Billboard hit, describes the scenery at many of our state parks. Do you really think the No Swimming sign is necessary in the alligator habitat?

IMG_6348Of course, I appreciate the entry signs with the name of the park. The brown signs with the Florida Park Service logo are easy to spot and mark the entrance to the parks.

 

IMG_6226But upon entering the park there are numerous signs: directional signs, parking signs, trail signs, and informational signs galore.

With all of the warning signs, you’d think our parks are among the most dangerous places in the state.

But at least, a few provide a chuckle.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign!

Weeki Wachee: Spring #11

Is this anything? That’s the question that kept running through my mind as I watched the “famous” Weeki Wachee mermaid show.

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You may remember the David Letterman bit where he, Paul Shaffer, and sometimes a guest judge would ask the question, “Is this anything?” after watching a performance. In addition to the the act they were judging, the hula hoop girl and meat grinder girl sometimes accompanied the “Is this anything?” performer on stage and often times, they were more entertaining than those being evaluated.

Well, I’m afraid my impression of the mermaid show was that it was simply a longer version of one of these performances but this time missing the hula hoop and meat grinder girls. And in fact, when we left the theater, my question to John: “Was it anything?”

Unfortunately, we both came to the conclusion, that no, it was nothing. The bubbles between acts provided more interest than the mermaids.

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park turned out to be a major disappointment. Due to the large crowds, no rental canoes or kayaks were available so our plan to paddle down the river went down the tube.

The boats were not operating in the park, and the mermaid show was less than spectacular. Fortunately, we did not pay the $13 per person entry fee since we purchased the annual Florida State Park Pass and admission to the park was included in the with the pass.

The $99 admission to a Florida theme park looks like a bargain compared to $13 at Weeki Wachee. However, the admission does permit visitors to spend the day at Buccaneer Bay, the water park, so on a hot summer’s day, it may be worth a visit for those with children.

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On the bright side, we set a goal to visit at least 14 of Florida’s springs this year and Weeki Wachi makes eleven. I’m glad we went to see an old time Florida roadside attraction, but I don’t need to go again.

 

Ichetucknee: Spring #10

Tubes of all sizes and colors line the entrance roads to Ichetucknee Springs, the state park popular with tubers for its six mile run from the head spring to the point where it joins the Santa Fe River. Beginning Memorial Day weekend, tubers can float down the river from three different starting points allowing for float trips ranging in length from 45 minutes to 3 hours.

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However, tubing is not the only activity available at the park. Visitors can hike the Pine Ridge,  Trestle Point, or the Blue Hole Trails. While the shortest of the three trails, the half-mile Blue Hole Trail leads to the largest spring in the park. One that was nearly deserted on our recent visit.

After eating a picnic lunch, and hiking to Blue Hole, we waded into the crystal waters of the Ichetucknee Spring with flippers, mask, and snorkel and explored the head spring.

The Ichetucknee and its run, the most beautiful landscape in the world. ~Archie Carr, A Naturalist in Florida

There were many tubers on the river, but since they are not permitted in the head spring there were only a couple dozen people swimming in the area with only a handful snorkeling in the waters farther from the limestone steps making it possible to enjoy the Ichetucknee Spring on a summer afternoon.

The Icketucknee’s waters bubble up out of the ground and flow like melted diamonds across a sandy bottom through a natural forest. ~Al Burt, The Tropic of Cracker