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Snapshots: Coral Castle

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Snapshots: Coral Castle

Coral Castle is the magnum opus of Edward Leedskalnin, and sits as a tribute to his life’s work in Homestead in far south Florida. Edward was born in Latvia in 1887. In 1913, he was engaged to marry the love of his life, but she called off the wedding at the last moment and never saw Ed again. Heartbroken, he moved to the new world, and took up work as a lumberjack and miner in several places around the US and Canada. Somewhere around 1919, he developed tuberculosis and moved to Florida for the warm air. He settled in Florida City and began work on his now infamous castle.

Ed hadn’t forgotten his former fiance, and worked to build this castle for her, in the hopes she might change her mind and come join him in Florida. Working mostly at night, for both the cool temperatures and privacy it provided, Ed slowly but methodically built this impressive structure over the next twenty years. In 1936, Ed bought a different plot of land in Homestead, and slowly moved his castle north, one piece at a time, and reassembled it in its current location. There he continued its construction until it was completed in 1940. The real marvel of the project are the 10 ton coral walls which he cut, moved and placed by himself in the middle of the night with only primitive tools and pulleys. He also built doors which weighed several tons and rested on ball bearings which allowed them to swivel easily using the pressure of just one finger. These doors gave the site the name which Ed called it in his time: Rock Gate Park. How exactly he moved and placed these giant pieces is still somewhat of a mystery, and one which he took with him to the grave. The man who built this impressive structure was only 5 feet tall and weighed in at a diminutive 120 pounds. He lived in his castle for the rest of his life, and offered tours to the general public, first for a dime and then later for a quarter. Today it will cost you $19 to tour the structure, a bit much in my opinion. For me though, I am always interested in seeing something which is a tribute to one person and their individual and unique dream…

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This Week on the Road - January 11th-17th

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This Week on the Road - January 11th-17th

It’s been a sunny and wonderful week here on the road in Florida. While the locals are wearing their winter coats, I’m enjoying the sunny, breezy 70 degree days and cool, perfect nights. I stalled for a bit in West Palm Beach, finding some great little spots to hide out and taking a bit of a break from moving around. Many of the things I want to see in the far south of the state are in National Parks, and with the government closed I want to try and wait the shutdown out. As you know if you are a constant reader, I try and stay away from politics whenever possible, but closing our National Parks over a partisan dispute is a disgrace. People travel from all over the world to see our amazing parks, and there is simply no excuse to close them down. There are many other sides to that story, but I will leave it at that. Despite thinking about politics too much this week, I had a wonderful stay in West Palm Beach and everywhere I else I visited this week. It’s been a quiet but fantastic week in east-central Florida.

I spent Thursday slowly making my way down the coast from Vero Beach. I stopped in Fort Pierce at the Bluewater Beach Grill for a delicious ahi tuna poke bowl, which I ate looking out at the inlet from the wonderful waterfront park there. I continued down the A1A to Stuart which had one of the most treacherous intersections I’ve ever seen, and I’ve driven in a lot of places in the world. It was like a roundabout, but there were weird (and dangerous) inlets and outlets at strange angles. I have no doubt they see their fair share of accidents there. Thankfully I made it through in one piece. I thought about turning around and trying it again because it was so crazy, and then thought I wouldn’t push my luck so I continued down to Jupiter, just north of West Palm Beach…

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Snapshots: Life Under the Blue Heron Bridge

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Snapshots: Life Under the Blue Heron Bridge

Phil Foster Park under the Blue Heron Bridge in West Palm Beach is one of the coolest places I’ve visited on this entire journey. Situated on a small island literally under the bridge in the middle of the intercoastal waterway, this park is surrounded by warm, calm, turquoise water perfect for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving. Considered by some to be one of the top shore dives in the world, I had to go see for myself. Geared up with equipment rented from nearby Force-E Dive Center, I walked off the beach and descended into the blue. It really was a spectacular dive site full of big and little creatures alike. Plenty of fish were around, as were crabs, shrimp, lobsters, starfish and even one small nurse shark. I found two elusive scorpion fish - see if you can spot them in the two photos below the starfish in this post (and remember you can always click my photos to see a bigger view). You can only dive this site one hour before and one hour after high tide, so you do have to time it properly, but Force-E is there to help with tide charts and sound advice. After my spectacular 100 minute dive (it’s only about 20 feet deep), I had just as much fun above water as below. The park has a nice little beach to relax on, a good sized picnic area, bathrooms and showers, a fishing pier and great views from every angle. It was a perfect place to hang out and relax and watch the sun set behind West Palm Beach. If you ever find yourself in central east Florida, stop by Phil Foster Park for a dive, a snorkel, a swim or just a picnic and some great rays. You may end up there way longer than you planned to be. I hope you enjoy these photos from my time under the Blue Heron Bridge in Phil Foster Park.

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Snapshots: Whitehall

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Snapshots: Whitehall

Whitehall was the winter residence of Henry Flagler, the father of Florida tourism. Having made his fortune in Standard Oil, Flagler set out to build a railroad from Jacksonville to Key West and a hotel and tourism empire along the way. Bringing tourists too Florida was one thing, but he also brought fruit and vegetables from Florida as well, making tourism and agriculture the two foundations blocks of the Florida economy. One of his signature hotels, The Breakers, is located in Palm Beach very close to Whitehall.

Built in 1902, this Gilded Age, Beaux Arts mansion boasts 75 rooms including a grand ballroom, a spectacular music room, a wonderful library and a beautiful dining room. When it was built, Whitehall included all of the modern amenities of the time including electricity, indoor plumbing and even a telephone. They also had central heat which was surprisingly used mostly in summer to dry the building out from the damaging Florida humidity. It is a beautiful home, inside and out with some phenomenal detail work (albeit most of it was created with plaster casts). I really enjoyed my visit, and I hope you enjoy these photos from Henry Flagler’s Whitehall.

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This Week on the Road - January 1st-10th

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This Week on the Road - January 1st-10th

Hello and Happy New Year! It is great to be moving into 2019 with a full year on the road stretching out ahead of me. 2018 was an amazing year full of new places and new people and 2019 is poised to be even better. I’m starting this year in the great state of Florida, The Orange State, and a good start it has been.

I rang in the new year with my old friend Peter and his family in Largo, Florida, between Tampa and Clearwater. Peter’s uncle had a party for the occasion full of food, friends and music. There was a campfire by the canal and fireworks throughout the night. It was a great way to say goodbye to 2018 and hello to 2019.

On New Years Day, I had the wonderful opportunity to cheer on my Penn State Nittany Lions against the Kentucky Wildcats in the Citrus Bowl right there in Orlando. It was my first bowl game, and I really enjoyed it. The weather was beautiful, the stadium was pleasant enough, and it was great to be watching football in the Florida sun..

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Snapshots: The Manatees of Blue Springs State Park

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Snapshots: The Manatees of Blue Springs State Park

Blue Springs State Park near Orange City is one of several winter homes for the wonderful West Indian Manatee. Also sometimes called the “sea cow”, manatees can reach up to 13 feet in length and can weigh as much as 1300 lbs. Despite their size, manatees are quite graceful in the water, propelling themselves with their large tails, and can reach speeds up to 15 miles per hour. Manatees are mammals, so they need to breath air, but can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes at a time. They are vegetarians, and have no natural enemies, but are often wounded by the propellers of passing boats. In the 1970’s, manatees were placed on the Endangered Species List, but their population has rebounded and in 2017 they were downgraded to threatened status. They are sheer pleasure to watch, and the water of Blue Springs State Park is so clear it makes the experience even better. I enjoyed hiking to the source of the springs, which is also a scuba dive site when the manatees aren’t in for the winter. The park also offers boat tours and kayak and canoe rentals to explore the St. Johns River, but the manatee habitat is closed for the private use of the animals. Located only an hour or so from Orlando, this makes a great getaway from the crowds and noise of the amusement parks. I loved my visit to this park and happily just stood and watched the manatees for hours. I highly recommend Blue Springs State Park for anyone visiting Florida in the winter when the manatees are in their winter home.

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Snapshots: St. Augustine

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Snapshots: St. Augustine

St. Augustine was founded way back in 1565 as part of the Spanish colony of Florida, making it the oldest continuously inhabited colonial city in what is now the United States. It is a beautiful city to wander around and I enjoyed taking these photos in the historic area. I wasn’t there long, as my goal is to spend most of my time in Florida out of the cities instead of in them, but I enjoyed the time I was there. Many of the buildings in St. Augustine are more modern than they look with the most iconic being built by Henry Flagler to attract tourism to the state at the end of the 19th century. Tourism was an excellent industry to choose, and has become a major industry for the state over the last century. This has left St. Augustine crowded, and a little over-touristy, but still a charming place to visit and spend a few days. Its proximity to lovely St. Augustine Beach is a bonus. I hope you enjoy these photos from St. Augustine: The Ancient City…

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Down the Georgia Coast

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Down the Georgia Coast

The last week or so that I spent in Georgia, I spent exploring the coast and barrier islands of the state also called the Golden Isles. This was such a great experience and each island was so different and diverse that I thought I would share a little more about the trip, and maybe give some pointers on how to see as much as possible if you choose to journey to the Golden Isles.

Savannah is definitely a must-see part of any trip up or down the Georgia Coast. Located in the far northeast corner of the state, Savannah’s beautiful oak-lined streets, public squares and beautiful homes make it one of America’s most beautiful cities. Even if you just stop in for lunch at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, have a late afternoon into early evening stroll around the historic district and end the day with a quiet cocktail in the basement of The Olde Pink House, you won’t regret stopping in this charming southern town. The longer you stay, though, the more you’re going to love it here so don’t be afraid to save a couple of days at the beginning or end of your trip for Savannah.

Just east of Savannah along the coast is the beach community of Tybee Island. The Tybee Island Light Station is definitely worth a visit, and the beach is really pretty as well. The fishing pier is a great way to get out over the water and get some good views…

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Snapshots: Cumberland Island

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Snapshots: Cumberland Island

I first went to Cumberland Island National Seashore now almost 30 years ago. We went on our 8th Grade class trip on a tour that included Charleston and Savannah, and perhaps our favorite at the time, Kings Dominion amusement park near Richmond. I’ve often thought about Cumberland Island and how much I wanted to go back. Since I was there, I’ve visited 320 or so units of the National Park Service, but Cumberland Island has eluded me. Because you have to get there and back by ferry, it takes more than a few hours of commitment and at least enough planning ahead time to make a ferry reservation. But finally I made it back to the wild island off the coast of Georgia, and it was spectacular. One of my friends asked if it was as beautiful as she remembered and I told her one of the most beautiful things about a National Park site is that it doesn’t change much - that is, in fact, the whole idea! So while I am older and bigger and perhaps a touch wiser, Cumberland Island is much the same…

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Snapshots: Okefenokee Swamp

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Snapshots: Okefenokee Swamp

Covering 400,000 acres in southeast Georgia, the Okefenokee Swamp is the largest blackwater swamp in the country. The vegetation leaches out into the water making it the color of strong tea or weak coffee and it’s really beautiful. The Okefenokee Swamp is a National Natural Landmark and much of it is a designated wilderness area. It’s home to 600 species of plants, 400 vertebrates, 60 reptiles and 200 birds. There are 120 miles of water trails in the park, and getting out on the water is essential. I chose a kayak for my adventure because it was a beautiful day and allowed me to really get out into the swamp and experience it. It was so quiet out there, and by quiet I mean the absence of human noise. The sounds of the birds and the wind through the grass and the frogs and insects was amazing. I’m sure the bugs and heat are terrible in the summer, but when I was there, it couldn’t have been better. This was one of the best days I’ve had in Georgia. I hope you enjoy my photos from the Okefenokee Swamp!

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This Week on the Road - December 6th-12th

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This Week on the Road - December 6th-12th

Hello everyone and Happy Holidays to you all. I know I’ve had quite a few people subscribe this week, so if you’re new to this newsletter, welcome! My Week on the Road posts are basically my digital journal entries for the week just past. I do try my best to do one every week, but sometimes life has other plans. You can click on any of my photos to see a full-screen view, and most places I mention have links attached if you click on the name.

This week has been spent on beaches, near lighthouses and under Spanish moss as I made my way down the Georgia coast from Savannah to Brunswick. The scenery has been magnificent, and the people have been great as well and it has been wonderful to get some good seafood again. Brunswick has been my base of operations these last few days as I explored the coastal barrier islands of South Georgia. It’s been a busy week, as usual, but a good one. The days have been short, but the weather has been good. I’ve been in shorts and a T-shirt while North Carolina has been blasted with snow. I did get my Canon camera off to the repair shop for a new shutter, and it will be waiting for me at home in D.C. when I get there for Christmas. I have been using my old Olympus E510 this week which is pretty outdated at this point in time, but it’s been chugging along and I’m very grateful to have it. I apologize that my photos aren’t quite up to par this week, but they’ll be back on track in the new year. It’s been a fast month here in Georgia, as I have had to keep the pace up to make my flight home from Orlando next week, and I’ll admit I’m pretty tired. I’ve been going seven days a week all month, and I am definitely looking forward to a break. This last week was my last full week in the Peach State, and it has been a really good and fascinating week and month…

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Savannah For Morons

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Savannah For Morons

Having spent most of my life either working in travel and tourism or traveling myself, I have grown tired of organized city tours and rarely go on them. There are plenty of resources available in cities and I can usually sift through what I want to see and do pretty easily. Enlisting the help of the staff at the Visitors Center, the brochure racks around town, old standbys like Yelp and TripAdvisor, and maybe an outlier like Thrillist or Atlas Obscura, I can find the best that a city has to offer, custom tailored to my personal likes and dislikes. I don’t like the standard cramped bus tour and I’ve done enough ghost tours that they have started to sound the same to me. Unless it is an in-depth tour on a specific subject I’m interested in or it provides access to something I want to see but can’t unless I’m on a guided tour, I usually give them a miss. But every now and then something will catch my eye which I simply must try.

And so it was that I stumbled across a tour which I couldn’t leave without checking out: Savannah For Morons. Savannah For Morons is an irreverent look at Savannah history and culture hosted by the Moron Twins, Johnny and Danny Moron (actually John Brennan and Dan Gilbert of the local Front Porch Improv Group).

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