Ellison and I have been wanting to visit Suwannee River State Park for awhile now, even more so after our visit to Big Shoals last month. We were loving the limestone bluffs and views of the river so much that honestly we wanted to get out and hike along the Suwannee again as soon as possible. So about two weeks ago we drove an hour or so north of Gainesville to Live Oak and made it a mission to check out each the park's five different hiking trails (but one was 12 miles and that seemed a bit too much for Sunday, so we ended up only hiking the other four. The fifth one gives us a reason to come back). The park was beautiful - along with weather cool enough to prevent both sweat and mosquitoes, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. That's a total win-win in our book.
We first hiked the Earthworks trail, which just takes you to an overlook offering views of where the Withlacoochee and Suwannee Rivers meet. It was also the site of an old Confederate sawmill and railroad stop. The sawmill is gone, but there are still active rail lines that run across the river. Ellison had never actually touched train tracks so she had to go check this off her list. I'm not sure it was as exciting as she had anticipated, but a moment for her nonetheless.
Ellison loved looking for animals along the shoreline and was super excited when she got to pick up a handful of crayfish. She thought they were cute with their tiny claws and made little houses for them in the pools of water in the rocks (don't worry, no crayfish were harmed under our watch!). Now some of you may agree with her and think these creepy crustaceans are cute. Or maybe you like to eat them as part of some special southern dish. Or maybe you just love every single living thing without judgement and I applaud you for such a spirit of love and inclusion. But make no mistake - these are nothing more than river roaches in my book and I'm not ashamed to say that they really do just gross me out. I didn't tell Ellison this, of course. Until now.
So when the lighting was just right, certain parts of the Suwannee banks resembled Middle-earth from The Lord of the Rings. It was awesome. So much so that Ellison perched herself on a rock to meditate and watch the tiny waterfall flow into the river.
The last trail we took led to an old cemetery where 23 people (sadly, a good portion of whom were infants and small children) were buried back when this site was the home of the small town of Columbus. The city hasn't existed for years and the last person was buried here in 1967, about 30 years after the acreage around the cemetery was purchased by the state for the purpose of creating a state park and wildlife refuge. It is believed to be one of the oldest cemeteries in Florida and Ellison and I both thought this was the best part of our visit. We read each of the headstones and talked about what life must of been like in north Florida in the 1850s, what might have caused people to die so young and how lucky we were to be enjoying the day in both comfort and safety.
This has been one of the busiest starts to a school year I can remember and while we have had a lot of fun things going on, it has definitely kept us from getting outside as much as we'd like. Our trip to the Suwannee River reminded us how good it felt to be out hiking together, just the three of us. We are going to really make a point in the next few months to take at least one day a week to get outside as a family. And, on that note, we have our annual hiking trip to Tennessee coming up in two weeks and we are literally counting the days until we get to the mountains. Last year Ellison did her first 10+ mile hike and this year we're hoping to go even further. She's up for it so now we just have to find the perfect trail. If you have any recommendations we'd love to hear them!
See you back here soon!
One of the best things about living in Gainesville is the accessibility to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Ellison and I posted about the a small segment of the prairie (La Chua trail) last year, but never about the park itself so we decided this was the week. I brought along two of my nephews and Ellison was so excited to get out and hike with her cousins - especially after I read the list of animals we could potentially see on the trail. The boys are both so in love with the outdoors and their enthusiasm for the hike was contagious.
We love this park so much and, after having such a great time on this particular outing, Ellison and I decided to make a list of the reasons that everyone should visit Paynes Prairie.
1. The Observation Tower
This is basically a big tree house with three levels that, from the top, offers the opportunity to survey the grassland below from 50 feet in the air. The kids loved it and swore they could see the prairie bison that roam alongside the wild horses and cattle. There didn't appear to be any of the ever elusive bison and as many times as I've looked over the past 16 years, I haven't had a sighting yet. Trevor and Ellison claim they have, but I'm not sure I believe it. But regardless of false alarms, the tower offers a fantastic view of the expanse of Paynes Prairie and Ellison loved running up and down the stairs.
2. Wild Horses!
A herd of Florida Cracker horses (and cattle) runs free within the park. They've been there since a band of Seminole Indians corralled them here in the 1700s and we were lucky enough to have a group walk by us on Cone's Dike trail. While they seem unphased by our presence, they made a huge impression on Ellison and the boys. There were about six of them and, clearly hurrying off to somewhere specific, they rushed by without even giving us a glance. For the rest of the afternoon, all Ellison could talk about were the horses- how beautiful they were, how close they came to her on the trail, how desperate she is for riding lessons. This is quite a departure from the attitude she had on our one and only riding experience in the Hawaiian mountains last summer. She swore off horses forever and claimed she never even wanted to see one again (it actually had been really fun, but it was her first time even being around a horse, let alone riding one by herself). Honestly, seeing this herd was a pretty unique experience. I have been to this park dozens of time and have only ever seen them far off in the distance.
3. The variety of trail options
The park contains 8 trails, the longest of which is 8.5 miles. We took the Wacahoota Trail to the observation tower first (its only like 1/4 mile) because the kids were dying to climb to the top and then walked about 3.5 miles on the Cone's Dike trail. According to the rangers, this is where you are most likely to see wildlife. There is an interactive map in the Visitor Center that allows people to place magnetic images of viewed wildlife on trail locations - this was a big draw for Ellison and they boys. Each really wanted to have a unique sighting and to be able to move the magnet. Cone's Dike worked well for us this visit because the majority of the trail offers a clear view ahead and the kids could run free. They loved it and were off planning their lives, which on this day naturally included a tree house and a barn for the horses.
Paynes Prairie is worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Gainesville. If you can't make it to the park, there is also a roadside boardwalk off of I-75 that offers a short walk out into the prairie where, even though it's right off the highway, you'll frequently see sunning alligators, grazing swamp rabbits or any number of different types of wading birds.
The years go by so quickly and to see Ellison out with her cousins, in the woods, laughing and talking about silly and serious things, was a reminder that they'll all be grown up before I know it. These boys are the closest people she has to siblings and I just hope that the fun they have on days like this one encourage countless more hikes that strengthen their bond with each other and the outdoors. They're such great kids and so lucky to have each other!
See you back here soon!
It's been awhile since Ellison and I got out and did some hiking. First it was the heat, then school started, then hurricane Hermine. But last weekend we decided that rain or shine, we were going to get back in the swing of things. At the top of our list of places to visit was Big Shoals State Park in White Springs. It is the only place in Florida to have whitewater rapids and we knew that the excessive rain would have made the rapids even stronger. Definitely worth the drive.
Despite it's relative proximity, Big Shoals isn't a park we have been to often (or ever, in Ellison's case) and we were both looking forward to seeing the rapids and maybe getting into the "fall spirit" with a change of scenery. About an hour north of Gainesville, Big Shoals runs along the Suwanee River. It has a terrific network of trails, particularly if you're looking for something longer distance, and has some of the most scenic north Florida terrain. Frequented by kayakers and canoers looking for a more challenging experience than just floating down river (it has an official Class III Whitewater classification- is that good? I don't know anything about whitewater rafting), you can also camp, bike, trail ride and fish. Dogs are also welcome (but we didn't bring Waylon because he is old and it was hot).
We started out by heading down to the Big Shoals rapids through the main entrance to the park. You can also enter from the Little Shoals entrance and then take the connecting Woodpecker Trail to Big Shoals. From the parking lot it was a little over a mile to the river. There was some evident storm damage, but nothing so severe that it prevented trail use. So Ellison and I were thinking that it was going to be relatively overcast, with maybe a nice breeze since it had been so rainy lately. We were surprised by the total lack of shade and blazing heat. Why? I don't know. It's the beginning of September in Florida - the hottest time of year. But yet, there we were, sweating and complaining like we hadn't experienced this every summer of our lives.
That being said, it was an awesome trail - beautiful pine and scrub forests, cypress swamps and numerous overlooks along the river. This all used to be cattle ranchland (the oldest in the state), then was used for logging and turpentine production. It is also being used to test for the prevalence of emerald ash borer beetles, an invasive pest that kills ash trees. The purple traps are set up throughout the park - the one below was knocked down during the storm. Trevor recently gave a presentation on the emerald ash borer (you can see it on the Florida Channel) and has been in charge of Florida's eradication program.
Once we reached the rapids, we walked along the riverbank and out into the water to get better views of the rocky limestone shoreline. The bluffs drop off roughly 80 feet and it almost makes it look as though flat Florida has some interesting topography. Almost. Ellison was really excited about the fact that the rushing water made it look more like the river and streams of Tennessee (don't think that she isn't already counting down to our annual trip to the mountains). Lately she has been really into photography, and into taking pictures of mushrooms in particular, so we spent quite a bit of time searching the trail and the banks for all sorts of fungi. The picture below is hers.
After scouting around for mushrooms, we continued another mile or so down the same route and then headed back to the car, where we drove over to the Little Shoals entrance. As previously mentioned, we could have taken the 3.4 mile paved connector, but driving was preferable given the heat. From there we walked roughly a mile down to the Little Shoals portion of the Suwanee. This area certainly wasn't as dramatic as Big Shoals, but it was still beautiful. Had there not been so many mosquitoes, Ellison and I would have hiked at least a few more of the 28 total miles of trails. In our opinion, this is absolutely one of the prettiest parks in Florida and worth numerous visits to really give it the attention it deserves.
Ellison took a video of the rapids to include with this post and we were both really excited about it, but then my phone died and something happened to the video in the process. So we found a couple on YouTube that we think really captures the beauty of Big Shoals in a unique way (definitely better than our iPhone clip). Enjoy!
See you back here soon!
Happy Birthday to us! We've officially been around for an entire year.
* Photo courtesy of Popsugar.com
Ellison and I decided we needed a cake to celebrate our blog-birthday. Not a real one, of course, because that would only add to the chaos otherwise known as the first week of school. But a beautiful fantasy online one that looks like it just magically appeared in the woods. Of course. So after we found the perfect layered woodland wonder (which was, for real, almost as fun as getting an actual cake), we went back through old posts, reliving memories we've made since last August 20, and put together a little numerical highlight reel. While we get out and hike more often than we blog about, this count only includes things we have posted on Girls in the Park. Enjoy it with a piece of pretend cake.
national parks: 3
State parks: 15
national/state historical sites: 5
botanical gardens: 4
rivers canoed: 2
oceans visited: 2
trips to zoos/theme parks: 2
Most popular post:
Least Popular post:
My Favorite Post:
Ellison's favorite post:
Such positive things have come from doing this blog and I can only say that we hope it's around to celebrate many more birthdays. There has been so much support and encouragement from so many people, both those we know in real life and online readers. While I don't want to formally commit by putting our travel plans out there, we do have some really cool trips in the works (state, national and international) for this year and I can only say that when we go, you can be sure we'll be posting about our outdoor adventures when we return. Thank you for continuing to read 'Girls in the Park'!
See you back here soon!
In honor of it being the last weekend of summer before we head back to school, Ellison and I decided that in order to properly celebrate it was necessary that we do something: outdoors, away from Gainesville (the return of UF students immediately doubles the size of the town and things get crazy) and involving water. So we headed to St. Augustine for the weekend and spent Saturday canoeing Salt Run around Anastasia State Park.
We were already feeling like the weekend was a success because of the incredible shooting star we saw on Friday night during the Perseid meteor shower. We went to the beach and were hoping to still be able to see something even though it was early in the evening and hadn't gotten completely dark yet. We were about to leave when we all happened to look up and catch the brightest and longest-lasting shooting star Trevor and I had ever seen. Ellison had actually never seen one before so it was awesome that this got to be her first sighting.
Every time Ellison and I have gone to Anastasia we've passed the kayak and canoe rental outpost promising that we would try it out on our next visit. This has been years of us saying the same thing as we drive by, seeing all the stand-up paddleboarders, kayakers and canoers heading out for the day. Well, we finally made it happen. We're slow movers around here. But it was worth the wait and we had a fantastic time.
There are a number of places to rent kayaks or canoes in St. Augustine and you certainly don't have to go through Anastasia State Park to do it, but we decided Anastasia Watersports provided an easy launch site with protected waters that allowed us the option of either staying close to the marsh areas around Conch Island if it was windy or head into the Matanzas River (Intercoastal Waterway) if we wanted to venture a little farther out.
Paddling out from the rental office is convenient and since you are initially moving with the current, you can reach the headwaters of the Matanzas River relatively quickly. After Ellison and I spent some time watching the Roseate Spoonbills feeding along the shore, we paddled out past the lighthouse and beached the canoe on Conch Island. When we got there the tide was out, revealing a long sandbar that allowed us to wade out and catch a ton of sardines and blue crabs; but the tide moves quickly so after an hour or so we got back in the boat.
The paddle back was considerably more difficult - we were going against the current and the wind had picked up. It was a beautiful day, however, and Ellison and I weren't ready to go home so we decided to paddle past the office and explore the end of Salt Run near the sand dunes. This is rumored to be the area with the best fishing and the fewest people so it was worth a look. We weren't disappointed- fish were jumping every few feet and there wasn't another boat in sight. Trevor caught the biggest ladyfish he'd ever seen and Ellison was excited to watch the redfish and mullet leap in to the air.
The woman working at Anastasia Watersports was so nice that she even called us while we were out to make sure we were having a good time and to remind us how much time we had left on our rental. All the employees we dealt with were so friendly and helpful - I can't recommend them enough. It's also nice because when you're finished canoeing or kayaking, you can head over to the beach since you're already in Anastasia State Park. And you can stop and get delicious fish tacos at Nalu's or a shaved ice (Ellison's favorite) on your way out. Awesome.
The only negative I could think of was that they only have one canoe and if it's already taken for the day then you're out of luck. Maybe think of getting a second boat? They don't take reservations so you just have to get there early (they open at 9 am). Luckily, the couple that had taken the canoe out Saturday morning came back shortly after we got there.
This trip was just so fun, y'all. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. Honestly, this summer has been a little frustrating in the sense that we didn't take a vacation or get away for an extended period of time - the focus has been on fixing up the house. Which is definitely much needed, but endless hours of painting house trim can get a little repetitive. This canoe trip, and the weekend overall, was a reminder that Ellison and I live in an area full of fun things to do - a place that people travel from all over the country (and world) to visit. If we lived in anywhere else we'd be thrilled to come to Florida, and St. Augustine in particular, to see the sights and hang out on the beach.
It's one of those things where familiarity and proximity causes a place to lose it's luster just a bit and to do something new rekindles your interest. For whatever reason, this canoe trip helped put my frustration in perspective and allow me to really appreciate my surroundings. It was exactly the kind of fun weekend our whole family needed before we head back to school.
See you back here soon!
When it's over 100 degrees in the shade, the only way to enjoy time outdoors is by the water and while the beach is always an option, Ellison and I wanted something a little more active. Since we hadn't been canoeing in what seems like forever, a trip down the Rainbow River, with its crystal-clear water and 72 degree springs, sounded like a great way to beat the heat.
You can go down the river from various points, like Rainbow Springs State Park, K.P. Hole Park, the Dunnellon bridge or the Dunnellon public boat ramp along the Withlacoochee River and there are a number of outfitters that do rentals. We rented our canoe from Rainbow River Canoe and Kayak (they also have SUPs). We had used them for a previous trip a few years ago and had a great experience. They are awesome, we love them and can't say enough amazing things about the level of friendly service we received. They drive you upriver from their office to K.P. Hole Park and then you canoe back to their headquarters, which depending on whether you stop to swim, fish or just float around may take anywhere from 2-5 hours. The boats are comfortable and have an adjustable stadium seat rather than the standard aluminum bench, which honestly makes a huge difference when you are sitting for hours, with a pop-up center seat (Ellison was not particularly pleased to be relegated to the center seat).
So, before we even begin to talk about our trip - and before you rush out to canoe thinking that you'll be all up in the natural wonders of Florida, getting away from the crowds and all that - I have just one word for you. Tubers. More tubers floating down the river than you could ever begin to imagine. Tubers as far as the eye can see. Literally. Which is all good. This is a heavily trafficked river with loads of houses along the banks and pontoon boats galore. But we knew that going in - it was a summer Sunday afternoon on a cool, clear river. And as many people as there were, it honestly wasn't too obnoxious. The main issue was trying to navigate through so many boats, canoes, paddleboards, kayaks, tubers, snorkelers...the list goes on. It got a little crazy at times.
There are a number of great places to stop as you make your way down the river, but if you go midday they're usually pretty crowded. Even so, it is possible to find a little place to tuck away and have a picnic or a swim. Or if you're feeling it, use tall trees as diving boards or fling yourself into the water from any number of strategically placed rope swings. We didn't try them so we can't personally attest to the level of fun or fear involved. What we did do is catch and release a ton of fish. Ellison loved fishing both in the river and from the canoe and she and Trevor caught a load of little bass and bluegill. The larger fish were too smart to take our bait. They didn't grow that big by chasing cheap lures, y'all.
The majority of the river is unshaded and it was a sunscreen reapp like every 15 minutes or your skin will promptly burn off your body kind of hot. Barely a cloud in the sky. Luckily, there were a few spots where we could paddle into the patches of cypress trees and get some relief. It also gave us the opportunity to see more wildlife since we were away from the crowds. Ellison was particularly excited about seeing the turtles since we have two at home. She came home and told them all about their 'wild river relatives'.
It was a great trip and a such a relaxing way to spend a Sunday. Overall it took about 4-5 hours. We put in around 12:30 and got out around 5 pm (if you're using a rental, be sure to call way in advance to reserve a spot. They fill up fast in the summer and the early spots go first. We ended up with an 11 am reservation, which worked out well, but it would have been nice to start around 9 am). I think next time we'll try the Withlachoochee River, which intersects with the Rainbow River, but isn't spring-fed so it isn't as clear. It's a longer run, but there is less traffic and it is a more natural experience.
Yeah, so on a side note...we're quitters. Quitters and proud of it. Ellison and I have decided to quit doing the 52 Hike Challenge. While it is certainly a worthy thing and we love the way it encourages people to get outside and get fit, it just isn't for us. We don't want to keep track of the number of hikes we take, we don't want to have to pass up canoeing because it isn't a 'hike' and we don't want to try and come up with 'hikes' that aren't really what we feel like doing just so we can reach 52 by the end of the year. Ellison and I started this blog as a way to commit to memory the times we spent together doing some of our favorite things and, sometimes, the places we would like to visit or books we like to read. If it encourages or inspires others, then that's awesome. If not, then that's awesome, too. It's ultimately a record of our outdoor lives and while we might take 52 hikes this year, we might not. We still love you 52, but its over. It's not you, it's us.
See you back here soon!
In Florida, the west coast is the best coast and if you need proof then look no further than Lovers Key (and the whole Bonita Springs, Sanibel and Naples area). For Hike #9 of our 52 Hike Challenge we walked the length of the beach at Lovers Key State Park. Right after the hurricane force winds nearly blew us out to sea.
But first, the important things. Like the fact that our trees and bushes produced fruit this year. Like real fruit that you can eat and no one seems to think this is nearly as exciting as I do, but whatever. I feel like a survivalist. Except I'm not the one who planted (or maintains) them -that's Trevor and Ellison's domain. I am, however, reading quite a few gardening and planting books so that should count as participation.
We had peaches, apples, blueberries and blackberries. And they were delicious. And of course, like any proud first-time fruit parent would do, I took pictures documenting the moment like we were the first people to ever grow anything edible. Like we were the ones who invented these trees. It was pretty much awesome in all ways. Except for when Waylon ate one whole blackberry bush. Not just the berries, but the whole bush. The only one that was fruiting. But he is really cute (and patriotic) so I included a picture of him, too.
In the spirit of edible backyards, Ellison and I can't wait to get the raised-bed vegetable garden planted. It should be finished no later than the end of July. Time is kind of running out for summer planting so we have to hurry. We're also creating a potted herb garden of which Ellison will care for exclusively. It feels good to be making use of what little green space we have.
Alright, if we're being honest I really just want to quit doing the 52 Hike Challenge because it's June and Ellison and I are only on hike #9. But, unlike the actual rules say, we are only counting hikes that are new to us, not the walks or hikes we rountinely take during the week. So it's slow going, for sure. We're going to try and catch up over the summer and see if we can make the January 1st goal of 52 different hikes in 2016. Ellison doesn't really care as long as we are still going to new places and that should be what this is all about so there really isn't a reason to give up. So, our hike at Lovers Key State Park is #9.
The sky was definitely ominous upon our arrival, but we weathered the short-lived storm and were rewarded when the sun came out by having the beach completely to ourselves, and by finding a ton of starfish and sea urchins brought to the shallow water by the strong waves. Ellison was in heaven. She is obsessed with sea urchins and spent the afternoon building a little holding pen for them in a slough. By the end of the day it was filled with urchins, starfish, sanddollars and a variety of other things she collected on our hike. This area is known for its beautiful shells and if you're into that sort of thing then Lovers Key would not disappoint.
While we just stuck to the beach, the park has designated hiking trails that take you along the mangrove swamps and hammocks. It isn't a boardwalk, just hardpacked shell rock and the north end of the Black Trail loop is shared with mountain bikers so be aware. You can also kayak or canoe in the estuary, which is really nice because the water is so flat and protected (although the Gulf side isn't particularly rough either - which is another reason west beats east). Being on the water offers a great vantage point for wildlife viewing and you could spot dolphins, manatees, alligators, eagles and ospreys. We saw a lot of osprey on our hike, a number of them babies in their nests.
While the weather wasn't the best, it is also summer in Florida so it's to be expected. This park lived up to its hype as having pristine white sand beaches and abundant wildlife, but I do recommend staying to southern end of the island because it offers a more scenic view. Not that the north end isn't pretty, but I just felt like the south end offered a little more tranquility. Ellison and I had a great time and she was begging to go back the next day for more sea urchin fun - it didn't end up happening due to time constraints, but it would have been nice. Maybe we'll looking into camping during the winter, although I hear that you have to make reservations up to a year in advance because it's so popular.
See you back here soon!
Ellison and I went along with Trevor to a work event he had in Bonita Springs last week. Just north of Naples and south of Fort Myers, it turns out that Bonita Springs is a great location for exploring southwest Florida. So in an effort to combine our love of history, old houses and the outdoors, we first opted for a trip to the Edison and Ford Winter Residences.
Relatively unassuming by the standard of living we associate with today's rich and famous, the houses and grounds of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. You get a glimpse into what is arguably one of the most intriguing and influential time periods in American history and you can eat one of the best pulled pork sandwiches outside of Pearl's BBQ. Anyone who knows Pearl's in Micanopy knows that this is the highest praise. If you're lucky it will be served by the World's Nicest Woman, who just happened to be manning the cafe cart the day Ellison and I visited. There is also a small museum that traces the lives of both men and discusses more in depth their attempt to find an alternative to foreign rubber sources, which was a major focus of Edison's lab in Fort Myers. He apparently tried over 17,000 different types of plants in this quest to create a domestic rubber trade. This all sounds super boring in retrospect, but I swear it's not! Or maybe it is and Ellison and I are just into this sort of thing. But I have to think we're not alone.
thomas edison house
In our opinion, the two highlights of the Thomas Edison's house are the banyan trees and the Edison Botanical Research lab. The banyan trees and their root systems are incredible, even if they do drop figs at even the slightest provocation by a light breeze. They're all over the property and, while there are a ton right at the entrance, the largest ones are across the street surrounding the two houses and down by the Caloosahatchee River waterfront.
Ellison and I both agreed that the research lab was fascinating. Thomas Edison created the Edison Botanical Research Corporation with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone in 1928 and while they never did create a natural alternative to rubber, they did further the research on plant hybridization and renewable resources. While you can only walk through the lab in its entirety on Tuesday mornings with a docent, you can get a close enough look from various arranged vantage points to get a real feel for what it must have been like for Edison and his assistants. I think it helped that we had toured the museum and read about the work being done in this lab beforehand - mainly because there was a thunderstorm and apparently you can't be outside if there has been a lightning within 10 miles of the grounds. So go ahead and scratch every summer day off your list of possible visitation dates.
henry ford house
So in our opinion, the Ford house was not nearly as interesting as the Edison house. Neither of us could actually think of a real reason why other than we just found Thomas Edison and his legacy to be more intriguing than that of Ford's. The house is aptly named 'The Mangos' and mango trees (and falling, and fallen, mangos) are everywhere. The grounds, particularly the palms, are beautiful and it is easy to see why both of these men would want to spend their time here. Ellison liked the style of Ford's house the best, but the furnishings of Edison's house better.
When you buy your tickets you also get those little handheld recorders that allow for a self-guided tour, which are great, but Ellison and I finally gave up after like the 5th or 6th stop. I think we were just worn out from the heat and from having to wait an hour in the museum because of the weather before we could go back across the street to the houses. Below is Ellison at the end of the tour. She would like you to know that our visit was way better than this picture suggests, but that it was really, really hot out and we'd been looking at houses for hours. I would like you to know that I agree with both of those sentiments and probably looked very similar.
Despite the heat, it was an afternoon well-spent. I picked up a copy of this Edison biography in the gift shop and have since finished reading it. Thomas Edison was interesting man in his own right, but it is the story surrounding the public perception of Edison and his rise to media fame in the late 1800s that is also so fascinating. 'The Wizard of Menlo Park' definitely makes it on to my recommended reading list. I think Ellison and I will listen to it as an audiobook during the next long car ride. A ride made possible in large part by Henry Ford.
See you back here soon!
As Ellison and I have mentioned before on this site, we love St. Augustine. And this past Memorial Day we had the chance to hang out in one of our favorite places in the city doing all of our favorite things - spending time with family, eating (tacos) and walking on the beach. A rare and relaxing weekend, for sure. It reinforced the need for presence (I didn't check my phone all day!), as well as our decision to have a slow summer filled with little things Ellison and I have been wanting to do together - baking, sewing, painting, drawing, riding bikes, starting a garden.
anastasia state park
The majority of our weekend was spent at Anastasia State Park, a location much definitely preferred over the public access parts of St. Augustine beach where the city insanely still allows driving on the sand. Don't even get me started. It's nuts and I just can't even begin to understand. But, anyway, Anastasia is beautiful and the dunes restoration has made it even more so. While many people choose to set up right near the boardwalk, we always head away from the crowds and go much further down the beach. Since this was a holiday weekend it was more crowded, but usually if you are willing to walk a bit then the crowds thin out and the beach is all yours.
Our hike consisted simply of walking a little over 2 miles north along the water's edge looking for shells, jellyfish and horseshoe crabs and then coming back along the dunes scouting for sea turtle nests. We had turned on the mapmyhike app to get the exact time and mileage, but it didn't seem to be working for us that afternoon so no such luck. There is also a marked hike (Ancient Dunes trail) through the mangrove hammock and dunes (which you should definitely do!), but it was so hot that we decided to skip it and stick to the beach where there was a breeze.
Ok, if you don't have an astronomy app on your phone or tablet then get one. Now. I am the first to admit that I have only a rudimentary understanding of space at best, but thanks to Ellison I am now addicted to using these apps to see what the night sky has to offer. Ellison has such an interest in astronomy and honestly knows far more about cosmological workings than I do. She frequently watches shows like 'Cosmos' and 'NOVA' and to hear her ask such insightful, nuanced questions about space warms my heart. So, with this in mind, we decided to take advantage of being at the beach on a moonless night and use some of our favorite apps to check out the current sky. It was really, really cool.
I highly recommend this to anyone and everyone who has even a slight astronomical interest. We used SkyView and Star Chart, but there are a ton of options. Ellison prefers Star Chart, but Trevor and I prefer SkyView (pictured below). They're both user-friendly, but I like the fact that with Star Chart you can just point the phone at the sky and up pops all sorts of information about stars, planets, constellations and satellites. The screen isn't too cluttered, making it easier to identify exactly what you're viewing, it works well for kids and beginners (that's us!) and also has soothing background music that gives your stargazing a kind of planetarium feel. Perfect. If you're in to planetariums, that is.
"Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television."
Ellison was so excited because she spotted Saturn, Jupiter and Mars all out at one time and was desperate to take a screenshot and send it to her friends, who she was quite certain had not experienced such wonders and were going to be very jealous of this tri-planetary sighting. We didn't end up sending any pictures, but Ellison has been talking about this night walk and seeing three planets at the beach all week. At her request, we are planning on spending much more family time outside observing the night sky once school gets out. I am happy to oblige.
See you back here soon!
Ellison and I are still slowly plodding along on the 52 Hike Challenge and this week we completed Hike #7. Let me just start by saying that Sweetwater Wetlands Park is one of the most pleasantly surprising places that I have been in a long time. We have been meaning to check it out since the park first opened last May and it took a year, but we finally made it. Honestly, my expecations were pretty low (I'm not sure why) and I suspected it would just be just like any other local trail, but figured it was still worth a visit. Well, Sweetwater Wetlands far exceeded our expecatations and Ellison and I quickly decided that this is our new favorite park in Gainesville - for many reasons. The boardwalks, the well designed trails and lookouts, the beautiful vegetation and abundant wildlife, the purposeful habitat and water flow restoration. All of this attention to detail makes Sweetwater Wetlands exemplary in terms of city environmental efforts. Oh, and it's designed in the shape of an alligator head. Of course.
There are almost 4 miles of walking trails, laid out in multiple loops winding throughout the wetlands, partially on boardwalks and partially rock and gravel. We went in the early afternoon when the sun was almost directly overhead so we weren't expecting much in terms of animal activity, but again Sweetwater Wetlands delivered with dozens of bird species, eight alligators and a very curious cotton rat. Ellison was most excited about seeing a huge alligator up close as it swam right up to the boardwalk. It beat out the rare sight of alligators mating that we witnessed later in the hike, primarily due to her concern over the fate of the female. It wasn't pretty. We were all a little worried.
Below is a baby limpkin coming out of its nest. There were numerous mother bird species with their babies, but this is the only one of which I could get a decent shot. Limpkins only eat apple snails and Ellison made a game out of collecting as many empty snail shells as she could find.
The boardwalks overlook the manmade wetlands that restore the water flow to nearby Payne's Prairie. Ellison counted 5 alligators and ten different types of birds from this spot. Her favorites were the Great Blue herons because she appreciates the way in which they strut regally through the water. Mine were the Red-winged blackbirds because of the bright red wing feathers that make it look like they're wearing military epaulettes.
And now for the much anticipated cotton rat...
Sweetwater Wetlands is such a fantastic little park and Ellison and I are looking forward to a return visit. We walked almost all of the trails, but did realize as we were headed back that there was one loop we missed. Even more reason to come back. We're thinking a dawn outing with our birding checklists to see how many species we can identify in one morning. There were numerous covered benches and seating areas seemingly designed for just this purpose. I think we could probably check off at least 20, maybe more.
This is Ellison's favorite shirt and she absolutely wanted me to include a close-up because she says she truly is happy every day. And I can attest to the fact that this is indeed the truth. I don't know how I ended up so lucky as to get his amazing girl in my life, but I need to find a shirt that says 'grateful everyday' because that would pretty much sum it up for me.
See you back here soon!
My family and I love to get outside and explore every chance we get. My daughter and I started this blog as a way to chronicle not only the places we have visited, but also as a way to preserve our time together. We hope you enjoy it and will make a little time for a hike with friends!