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The Forgotten Coast

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The Forgotten Coast

Beach on the Florida panhandle and devastated the entire region. As I drove through the area, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the wreckage I saw driving around New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While there is a ton of work going on along the coast, and construction crews are keeping busy, it is still a tragic place to see with a long road ahead. The whole time I was in the area, I couldn’t help but think that since Hurricane Michael filtered out of our news feed, it also filtered out of our minds and hearts. I hear politicians every day from both parties talking about their very different “America first” policies, but both seem to be talking about hypothetical Americans in hypothetical situations. Yet out in the Florida panhandle are real Americans with real problems, and nobody seems very concerned about them or their very real struggle to reclaim their lives and rebuild their homes and businesses. This region has been referred to as The Forgotten Coast, but probably rarely has that nickname had more meaning than it does right now. Here are some photos from my visit to The Forgotten Coast, mostly taken around Port St. Joe just southeast of Mexico Beach. Always remember that tragedies may only last a few days in our news feed, but they last considerably longer for those affected.

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This Week on the Road - February 14th-21st

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This Week on the Road - February 14th-21st

And just like that, Florida is behind me. I had a wonderful 6 week stay in the Sunshine State and really learned a lot about it. It is a huge state, so I had to plan out my journey and make some decisions early on, and the biggest decision I made was to cut out the big cities. While I did stop in Orlando and Miami to catch up with people, I generally spent my time in smaller towns and state and national parks. This gave me an interesting look at the state and a new perspective and appreciation for all it has to offer. While I plan on writing more of my thoughts on Florida this coming week, suffice it to say I enjoyed myself. I spent the last few days in Florida in the panhandle, and then made a mad dash across Alabama and Mississippi to Louisiana. It’s almost time for Mardi Gras, and it is great to be back in New Orleans.

After we parted ways last week, I did indeed head on to Destin. I’ve always liked Destin with it’s fine white sand beaches and beautiful warm blue water. We used to escape to Destin from New Orleans when we needed an escape. It’s not the cheapest place to be, but there are some good restaurants, plenty of amenities and beautiful sunset views. I didn’t do much in Destin other than enjoy some long walks along the beach, put my toes in the water and do some writing for my podcast, but I sure enjoyed the two days I was there…

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Snapshots: Lighthouses of Florida

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Snapshots: Lighthouses of Florida

If you’ve been following this blog, you already know I’m a big fan of lighthouses. I think they are really interesting in both form and function. I love stopping to check them out and I really love to photograph them. Florida has lots of lighthouses, especially since it has such a long coastline. I only got out to see about half of Florida’s lights over the last 6 weeks, but I thought I would share those photos with you here! Enjoy.

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Snapshots: Wakulla Springs

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Snapshots: Wakulla Springs

Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park may be a mouthful, but it is a wonderful place to visit. It’s also only about a half hour south of Tallahassee, so it makes a wonderful day-trip from the Capitol city. There are several reasons to visit Wakulla Springs beyond the obvious namesake springs, which provide a great place to swim year round. The 1930’s era Wakulla Lodge is a peak at yesteryear, offering 27 guest rooms (book early), a full service restaurant and a neat soda fountain where you can try the park’s signature soft drink, the Ginger Yip. A ranger-led boat trip down the Wakulla River was the real highlight for me though. At just $8, it may be the best bargain in the state. Our captain/guide gave a wonderful running commentary on the flora and fauna of the area and we really saw a lot on our trip. We saw hundreds of birds, dozens of alligators, a few snakes and even a pair of manatee. You can see why this area was chosen to film the Tarzan movies and Creature From The Black Lagoon. While most of these photos were taken on a cloudy morning, it did clear up in the afternoon for a few of them. This was one of my favorite state parks which I visited in the state, and I would definitely recommend it if you are in the area. I hope you enjoy these photos from Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park.

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The Springs of Florida

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The Springs of Florida

Florida is home to over 700 natural springs which combine to produce more than 8 billion gallons of freshwater every day. That means Florida produces a gallon of water for every person on Earth every single day. That’s impressive. There are more natural springs in Florida than almost anywhere else on the planet. 33 of these springs are considered First Magnitude Springs, meaning they produce at least 64 million gallons of water a day. That is simply awesome.

Visiting some of the bigger springs in Florida has been one of the absolute highlights of my visit to the state. The water is often clear and beautiful and the springs are usually surrounded by lush vegetation and an abundance of wildlife. In particular, several of these springs provide a winter home for the amazing West Indian Manatee who would otherwise freeze to death in the cold ocean waters. The constant temperatures of the springs allow the manatee to stay warm enough to make it through the winter and then head back out to sea for the summertime.

During my six weeks in Florida, I only scratched the surface of all the wonderful springs the state has to offer, but I thought I would share some of my favorites with you here…

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This Week on the Road - February 7th-14th

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This Week on the Road - February 7th-14th

It’s been another great week out here on the road. This week I’ve made my way to a handful of Florida’s 700 natural freshwater springs, enjoying some swimming, kayaking, snorkeling and boat tours as I went. I also dipped into some real “Old Florida” towns, most notably at Cedar Key and Micanopy. This week I also visited the State Capitol in Tallahassee and enjoyed the Florida History Museum there as well. I ended off the week by dropping down to the “Forgotten Coast” and cruising along the Gulf of Mexico through hurricane ravaged towns. I’ve seen some really stunning places this week and learned a lot as I went. As I write this, I’m coming to the end of my time in Florida, and I must admit I will be sad to see it pass into my rear view mirror

My week started with a visit to Three Sister’s Spring National Wildlife Refuge in Crystal River for one more look at the manatees. Once again, as has been my experience throughout Florida, this proved to be a little too expensive to provide value for money. You have to park at City Hall and pay the $15 entrance fee and then hop on a shuttle for the five minute ride to the refuge. Once there, there is a nice boardwalk around the spring itself, which is beautiful, and some great spots to view the largest population of manatee in Florida. When I was there, it was a fairly warm morning, so there were only about 20 manatee around. They were amazing to see and photograph, and there were tons of volunteers around to help answer questions, but if it had only been $7-8 it would have been better. I hope the money went to preserving the habitat and keeping the manatee healthy…

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Swimming With Manatees

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Swimming With Manatees

If you’ve been following me through Florida, you know how much love and appreciation I have developed for manatees since I have been here. It has been amazing to see them so often in so many different places, especially knowing that not long ago they were on the endangered species list. These beautiful, big mammals are so peaceful that I find them relaxing just to watch. During the winter, the open ocean and Gulf of Mexico become too cold for the manatee, so they make their way upriver to natural fresh water springs, which have constant temperatures year-round. The manatee will spend their winters there, venturing out when the water is warmer to find food.

The only place you can legally get in the water to swim with manatees in Florida is in Crystal River, and I have been looking forward to doing this during my entire stay in the Sunshine State. I chose to do my trip with the company Fun 2 Dive, because they are established, family owned and got excellent reviews . Also, being Miles2Go myself, it seemed appropriate. I chose the 7 a.m. departure because the colder it is, the more likely you are to encounter the manatee near the springs (and thus in clearer water)…

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Snapshots: Koreshan State Historic Site

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Snapshots: Koreshan State Historic Site

In the late 19th Century, Dr. Cyrus Teed founded a communal society called The Koreshan Unity in New York. He later moved to Chicago where he expanded his following. The society was based on the ideas of communal living, reincarnation, and eternal life and on a universe which occurred inside of the hollow Earth. In 1894, Teed led his followers to Estero, Florida where they began building their “New Jerusalem” Utopian commune. Those who joined him were promised security, order and a sense of achievement in return for all of their worldly possessions. On this new site they fought hard to clear the land through heat and humidity and mosquitoes for many years. They planted crops and fruit trees to help feed themselves. They built a “Planetary Court”, where the seven women who made up the governing body lived, a bakery, a store, a school, an art hall, two machine shops and several private homes and cabins. It certainly wasn’t an easy life, but they were all in it together, and that sense of community meant something to them. During the first decade of the 20th century, their commune included over 250 members…

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Snapshots: Myakka River State Park

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Snapshots: Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State Park surrounds Florida’s first designated Wild and Scenic River. The river winds through a vast expanse of wetlands, prairies, hammocks and pine forest, and is a welcome break from the Tampa-St. Petersburg corridor just a little over an hour north. The park showcases an amazing diversity of flora and fauna and it felt so unspoiled when I visited. I went with my friend Amber, who is a serious naturalist, and she showed me all kinds of wonderful things while we were there. We started our visit at the suspension bridge and observation tower which took us through and then above the canopy for a bird’s eye view of the park. It was amazing to look out across the park and not see a building in any direction. From there we went and hiked out to Mossy Hammock Campground along the Fox’s High Road and were surrounded by live oak draped in Spanish moss and beautiful birdsong. We emerged into the prairies for a while, where her dog could run at full speed. When we finished our hike, we spent some time by the lake, enjoying the magical reflections we saw there. In all, it was an amazing day out in the wild with good company and beautiful weather. It was a little wet on the trails, but we managed. This was a great park to visit, and I hope you enjoy my photos from Myakka River State Park.

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This Week on the Road - February 1st-7th

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This Week on the Road - February 1st-7th

February is upon us. Hard to believe, but it’s really here. I know I’m not the only one that thinks February is weird because it’s so short. Why don’t we take the two days from some of the months with 31 days and add them to February to balance it out a little bit? I don’t know and I’m not going to look it up. I guess I could use the same argument I make against the metric system - boring! But it is February, and that means spring is coming. It’s just about a month until Mardi Gras, and then it’s only 40 days until Easter. Before we both know it, it’ll be May and I’ll be back at home in D.C. and planning my next moves. I’m not going to lie, I am going to need a break. I’ll be going back to guiding this summer where I hope to do some planning, some real site maintenance, some catch-up, and figure out where Miles2Go goes from here. In all honesty, the loneliness is getting to me. While I have amazing friends who have been super supportive and amazing to catch up with around the country, my day to day is a little too isolating and a little too quiet. I don’t know what the answer is to that right now, but I will let you know.

It’s been a pretty good week out here in West Florida. My second Georgia podcast is finally done. This one took a while because the weather has been so great here, and my mind has been on other things, but it is up and published. You can find it at THIS link, or by searching “American Anthology” on iTunes, Stitcher or most podcasting apps. Other than that, I’ve been catching up with friends and trying to get out and enjoy this great weather in some of Florida’s beautiful parks.

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In Focus: Everglades National Park

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In Focus: Everglades National Park

species of birds, 300 species of fish, 50 species of reptiles and 40 mammal species. Included in these numbers are the endangered Florida panther, and the American crocodile, which is only found in the Everglades. In addition to its National Park status, the Everglades is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and part of the International Biosphere Reserve. It’s a remarkable place.

I have visited the Everglades many times, and always enjoyed myself there. There are always alligators out and about and hundreds upon hundreds of birds. On this visit I went in the east entrance all the way to the beautiful boat harbor at Flamingo, across the Tamiami trail, and down to Everglades City and the 1000 Islands as well. I was hoping to do an overnight kayaking trip, but the weather was threatening, so that will have to wait until next time. While it was fairly dry during my visit, the area will get extremely wet during the frequent summer rainstorms. I prefer the less buggy winter months though. I love getting out and doing airboat rides in the Everglades, and my favorite place to do them from is Everglades Alligator Farm outside the east entrance. To be fair though, I’ve gone with half a dozen different companies in my life, and never had a bad airboat ride. Inside the park, I particularly liked the Anhinga and Gumbo Limbo Trails near the east entrance. They have lots of wildlife and some pretty awesome trees to check out as well. The trails were flat and pretty easily accessible as well.

I hope you enjoy these photos from the Everglades, and I hope you can get out and explore them for yourself…

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The Best of the Florida Keys

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The Best of the Florida Keys

I had an amazing week in the Florida Keys, exploring the parks, pubs and restaurants that make the Keys so great. I’ve been coming to the Keys since I was in high school and they’ve always held a special place in my heart. They’re America, but not. The Keys are like a little slice of the Caribbean, right over the bridge. While last week I wrote up my ultimate Keys Pub Crawl (which you can read HERE), some people have been asking for more ideas and suggestions on the Keys. So I thought I would jot down some of my favorites to help you navigate through the islands and find some really top spots along the way.

Beaches

Many people are surprised to find out there aren’t many great beaches in the Keys. The islands are generally surrounded by mangroves so the sand beaches are mostly man-made. That isn’t to say there aren’t some great beaches along the strand, but you do need to know where to find them…

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