Coquina and the Castillo de San Marcos

Try to imagine what the city of St. Augustine, Florida was like in 1565. The little Spanish colony constantly suffered from Indian attacks, pirate raids, and foreign invasions. Every wooden fort they built to defend themselves either burned, collapsed in storms, or rotted away from damp conditions.

Finally, somebody discovered an amazing substance on nearby Anastasia Island. Enter, Florida’s rock of ages, coquina. Coquina is a sedimentary stone composed of tiny shell fragments cemented together with calcium carbonate. The Spanish colonists might not have known the composition of coquina, but they knew they’d found a rock. They were excited! At last they had a building material that might endure. (Maybe they heard the story of the third little pig and wanted their fort to last whenever the big bad wolf came to call. After all, bricks worked for him.) The colonists petitioned Queen Marina of Spain for funds to build a new fort. She authorized the construction of the Castillo and large scale mining began on Anastasia Island in 1671.

IMG_3333 (2) Looking at a piece of coquina, it’s hard to believe a rock comprised mostly of shells would be very strong. The Spanish learned that although coquina is soft when first quarried, the stone hardens as it dries. Construction of the Castillo began in 1672. There are over 400,000 blocks of coquina in the fort, all cut and set by hand. The people of St. Augustine weren’t playing around this time. They had one goal: survival.

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The fort was designed by Ignacio Daza using a bastion system. Four diamond-shaped bastions project out from a walled courtyard. Each bastion contains a tower where guards can see in every direction. The second floor gun deck mounted over sixty cannons. The outer walls of the fort vary from fourteen to nineteen feet thick. The coquina rock was covered with plaster to seal out rainwater.

CGGD9783 (1)A drawbridge provides the only entry. Standing on the bridge, a person might think it once crossed a moat filled with alligators. Not so, the low ground around the fort was used to graze animals. The Castillo was built  as a place of refuge for the townspeople of St. Augustine. Most Spanish soldiers lived in town and shared guard duty. In a sense, the Castillo was a castle, built to protect the community in times of war.

IMG_3389 (1)It’s amazing to think that the small courtyard housed 1,500 soldiers and civilians for fifty-one days when the English attacked St. Augustine in 1702. The rooms around the courtyard housed food and military supplies. Enemy cannonballs bounced off or got stuck in the coquina without breaking it. Their defense plan worked.

The Castillo protected St. Augustine for over two hundred years. Today the fort remains as a national monument to human determination. The monument is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Plan your visit to the Castillo de San Marco soon.

 

 

 

 

Our Twilight Tour of Forks

Forks, Washington seems like any other small American town, except for one unique difference. According to the Chamber of Commerce, 8.5 vampires live in Forks. When I entered the visitor information center I picked up a brochure inviting me to “Experience Twilight” in Forks.  The pamphlet included a self-guided driving tour of sites featured in the Twilight books and films.

I haven’t read the Twilight books, but I did see the first movie with my daughter.  Both are very popular with young adults. The story focuses on a love triangle between a teenage girl (Bella Swan), a vampire (Edward Cullen), and a werewolf (Jacob Black).

During our vacation in northwest Washington, my husband and I thought it might be fun to experience the self-guided tour. Our first stop was Bella’s home on K Street. The pamphlet stated that Bella’s bedroom was on the top floor, but “don’t disturb the residents of the house or the neighbors.”

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As you can see, the real family who lives here took measures to keep Bella’s fans from approaching the house.

We drove to Forks High School, where Bella was a student. I bet scores of giddy teens feel goosebumps in this place where Bella and Edward’s relationship began. How romantic!

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We walked into Forks Outfitters, a clothing store where Bella worked. Right next door Bella bought her groceries at the Thriftway. Both of these stores were stocked with Twilight T-shirts. No, I didn’t buy any.

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By the time we arrived at the Cullen House, home of the vampire coven, my bubble of excitement burst. Since this building is an inn, we were permitted to walk onto the porch. A sign next to the front door read, “Although this house was the setting for Stephenie Myer’s Twilight books, none of the movies were filmed here.”

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I couldn’t believe it. I felt let down. It was uncanny how much the various buildings reminded me of scenes from the first movie.  Still, I thought, Stephenie Myer must have visited Forks to write her books.

No way.  I checked the author’s website, and learned she never visited Forks until after she wrote Twilight. Myer discovered Forks when she searched for the rainiest place in the U.S. on the internet. She thought it would be a good place for vampires to live since it receives so little sun.  The Twilight Tour was really a make believe world invented to represent her imagination.

The whole town played along with this charade.  City Hall was involved. The driving tour directed us to stop by the water department and pick up a free souvenir. An employee gave us a stamped ticket which indicated we paid our water bill. Every person who follows the driving tour interrupts this lady from her job duties numerous times a day to get their free souvenir.

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The local Community Hospital had a special parking place for Dr. Cullen, head of the vampire family, and Edward’s father. That means this parking space could not be used by anyone else.  After all, on a slow night Dr. Cullen might be visiting the lab for a snack.

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Between Forks and the Quillayutte Indian Reservation, a sign indicated the treaty line between the vampires and the werewolves. This was the territory of Jacob Black and the rest of his werewolf pals.

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The Pacific coastline near Forks looks eerie right before sunset. Hmmm… that would be at twilight, wouldn’t it?

I appreciate Stephenie Myer’s creativity.  She successfully captured this setting without visiting it first. Myer’s home at the time was in Arizona, quite a contrast to the rainforests and rocky coast of Washington.

As much as I felt fooled by Forks, I have to give the townspeople credit for capitalizing on a fictional idea.  The town economy has benefitted from tourists (like me) who stayed at the Dew Drop Inn motel and ate at the In Place. Both of which I highly recommend. Hats off to the Forks Chamber of Commerce for promoting an image that’s brought new life to a once declining logging town.

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Olympic: Not Just Any National Park

Located in northwest Washington, Olympic National Park is like no other place I’ve visited. After reading about the glacier-capped mountains, wild Pacific coast, and the temperate rain forests,  I placed this destination at the top of my bucket list.

My husband and fellow adventurer, Herb, planned our trip to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary. However, he did not plan on Hurricane Irma’s arrival in central Florida, one day before we were scheduled to leave. Our flight to Seattle was cancelled which threw our itinerary off. When we arrived in Olympic on September 13, we relished our escape from the stress we experienced prior to, during, and after Hurricane Irma.

As we hiked the Staircase Rapids Trail,  I felt like I’d walked into nature’s cathedral. Huge conifer trees stretched heavenward in their quest for light. The fresh woodsy scent of cedar permeated the air. The gentle ripples of the Quinalt River refreshed my tired body. The experience was like a dream.  It was as if we’d suddenly been transported to another planet.

IMG_0513Little did we know, the beauty of Staircase Rapids was only a prologue to the wonders awaiting us.

The second day in the park we hiked to Hurricane Hill. This area is named for the seventy-five mile per hour winds which buffet the ridge. We joked about the name “hurricane.” Of course I had to send a picture of our location to my friends in Florida, with the comment, “Wish you were here.” Nothing like rubbing in our good fortune.

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I struggled with the seven hundred foot elevation gain, but the views of the surrounding mountains were worth the climb.

IMG_7083 Herb photographed a marmot in an alpine meadow.  This little guy was very excited. We heard him sounding an alert to his marmot friends.

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At the top  of Hurricane Hill we met a gentle deer in a grove of trees.  We were never this close to either of these animals. Herb used his telescopic camera for these images.

The mountain ecosystem of Olympic is in the center of  922,651 acres of  wilderness.  Highway 101 circles the  perimeter of the park and few roads lead into the interior.

We stayed in all four of the lodges operated by the parks service. Our favorite was Kalaloch Lodge, located on the Pacific Ocean. We saw a beautiful sunset from the porch outside our room.

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The beaches of Washington are very different from Florida. Few people swim in the freezing water. The shores are rocky and littered with dead trees.  We were thrilled to arrive at Beach 4 at the right time to see the tide pools.

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What a delight to witness a world that is usually underwater. I felt like I was trespassing. IMG_7574

These sea stars (starfish) and sea anemones reminded me of alien creatures.

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Sea stars come in various colors and walk using tiny water filled tubes located under their arms. Fascinated, I could have watched the pools for hours, but as the tide was rising, we had to retreat from the rocks before water surrounded them.

Olympic National Park is home to one of the most spectacular temperate rain forests in the world. The Hoh Rain forest receives up to twelve feet of precipitation each year.  Not only do trees compete for light, they compete for space. In the rain forest, plants grow on top of plants.

PGBF5398 Various kinds of moss hang from the limbs of primeval trees.

Trees also compete for space on the forest floor. When one tree dies and falls to the ground, other trees sprout on top of it and absorb the nutrients from the decayed tree. These dead trees are called “nurse logs.”

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When a nurse log disintegrates, the result is a very strange looking tree with a bend in it.

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During our two week visit, I tried to learn the names of the giant trees which have lived here for hundreds of years. We saw the oldest spruce tree in the world.

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And what about our anniversary celebration? Over dinner on September 17, we tried to remember how we spent our previous 39 anniversaries. We could only recall ten of them. I think we’ll remember this one.

 

 

The High Sierra Wilderness of Yosemite

What comes to mind when you think of wilderness? Wide open spaces? Pristine lakes? Miles and miles of forests? Maybe something more scary including wild animals, or worse yet, no internet?

For most people wilderness is a place without roads, vehicles, or permanent structures. In 1964 the U. S. government created the National Wilderness Preservation System for the protection of American wilderness. Today 110 million acres of undeveloped land exists for our enjoyment. However, these places of solitude and renewal must be accessed by foot, horseback, or boat.

In 2013 my husband and I visited the High Sierra region of Yosemite National Park. Herb and I left our car at the trailhead on Tioga Road, and walked up the May Lake Trail, a distance of 2.4 miles. In our backpacks we carried a few basic necessities for an overnight stay at May Lake Camp.

Contrary to the overpopulated valley of Yosemite, the High Sierra region is a rugged, solitary wilderness. Upon our arrival at the lake we rested and soaked up the view while we munched on trail mix and granola bars.

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The water was calm and clear. Across the lake, the salt and pepper colored granite of  Mt. Hoffman rose up to meet the cloudless sky.  The 5.6 mile trail to the summit was listed as moderate in our guidebook.  We were determined to hike up as far as our legs could carry us.  I’m a flatlander from Florida. For me the hike was extremely rocky and rough. As we continued to climb above the tree line the trail seemed to disappear. We could only find our way because of the rock cairns left by previous hikers.

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I pushed myself to keep plodding along, stopping to rest every twenty yards or so. Each time I looked out at the surrounding spectacular peaks I felt refreshed and energized. From Mt. Hoffman at 10,000 feet, May Lake looked like a pond.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were completely alone. Eventually I reached an impasse, unable to continue because of loose rocks under my feet. I was fearful of falling. We took a photo of our stopping point.

IMG_0226On the way back down My husband suddenly froze and pointed nearby. “Mountian lion,” Herb whispered, “Follow me.”  I was silent and followed his lead. We walked a different direction away from the outcropping of rock the mountain lion was sleeping under.  When we felt it was safe, we began our descent.  I must say we walked a lot faster going down the mountain, than up!

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My legs were weak by the time we made it back to May Lake Camp. The tantalizing aroma of roast pork made us realize how hungry we were. All of the guests in the camp eat together family style. As we enjoyed a delicious meal, everyone shared their adventures. Five camps are located in the High Sierras, all a day’s hike from each other.  Some folks had walked ten miles to May Lake and planned to move on in the morning.  Hikers can spend a week or more in the High Sierras. It’s a great vacation, hiking all day and spending the night at a camp where someone else prepares your meals.  Food is carried into the camp by mules the same way Phantom Ranch receives supplies in the Grand Canyon, (Click on the link to read my previous post about that experience.)

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After dinner we retired to our tents, which we shared with other travelers, bunkhouse style.  I couldn’t get to sleep.  I tossed and turned, wondering about the mountain lion we encountered on our hike. What was it doing now? Could it be on the prowl nearby? And what about bears, everyone knows they frequent this area.  In the wee hours of the morning I finally drifted off to sleep.

Without my knowledge, my husband rose early and walked down by the lake to see the sunrise. He captured my feature image of the beautiful reflective waters of May Lake and another of Half Dome from the backside. (A sight unseen by visitors who stay in the valley.)

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Wilderness intrigues me. Its rugged beauty captivates and terrifies me at the same time.  In the wilderness anything can happen.  It has a spirit of its own, powerful, and untamed by man.

 

The Many Faces of Marineland

“Science couldn’t explain it… but there it was, alive in the deep waters of the Amazon. A throwback to a creature that existed one hundred million years ago.” So begins the opening remarks from the trailer, The Creature of the Black Lagoon.

When My husband was growing up he loved to watch the horror movies of the 1950’s.  Even today his eyes seem to light up whenever he talks about the time his parents brought him to Florida for a vacation. They visited Marineland in 1962. Back then two of his favorites movies were The Creature of the Black Lagoon (1954) and it’s sequel, Revenge of the Creature (1955). He couldn’t believe he was seeing the studios where scenes from both of his favorite movies were filmed. It’s something he will never forget.

This summer we made a return trip to Marineland.  We learned the attraction first opened as Marine Studios in 1938. It was designed to be a location for Hollywood filmmakers to shoot underwater footage for movies and TV shows, including Sea Hunt (1958)

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A concrete prop used in the filming of underwater film scenes.

Naturally underwater movies call for animal actors. In addition to making films, Marine Studios wanted to give the public an opportunity to see and learn about bottlenose dolphins. During the 1940’s public dolphin feedings evolved into dolphin performances. Keepers discovered how high a dolphin can jump.

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Flippy, the world’s first trained dolphin.

During the 1950’s and 60’s the dolphin performances drew crowds of adoring fans. A favorite celebrity, Nelly, starred in TV shows. Nelly was born at Marine Studios in 1953 and lived under human care for sixty-one years. As dolphin performances continued to grow in popularity during the decades of the fifties and sixties, the focus of Marine Studios changed. It became more of an animal theme park with a new name, Marineland.

As we strolled through the present day facility I was taken by its beautiful location. The dolphin pool is located in close proximity to the beach. Over the years Marineland staff have rescued hundreds of stranded whales and injured marine animals.

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Today’s view of the dolphin pool with the Atlantic in the background.

However, Marineland’s location also contributed to its demise.  As the decades passed, salty air eroded the buildings. Destruction from two hurricanes made it necessary to close the park in 2004. In addition, Marineland experienced a decline in admissions after Sea World of Orlando opened in the late seventies.

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A bottlenose dolphin looking for a playmate.

During the next two years Marineland constructed a new facility dedicated to education and human/animal interaction instead of animal performance. In 2011 Marineland was acquired by the Georgia Aquarium and renamed Marine and Dolphin Adventure. The attraction offers dolphin encounters, summer camps, and field trips for school groups. The Behind the Stage Tour takes visitors below deck where they can view historical exhibits from their years as a film studio. We were surprised to discover the attraction sells a wedding package for avid dolphin loving couples.

We concluded our visit with this snapshot taken at a photo spot, a memento of our return to the hallowed ground of childhood memories.

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My previous blog about the Florida Citrus Tower shares another piece of Florida history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida’s Lonely Attractions

Roadside stands like the one pictured above are fairly common along freeway exits in Florida.  This outdoor display invites travelers to pick up a bag of oranges for loved ones up north who may be digging out from a snowstorm.  Today people can buy citrus at any grocery store year round, so purchasing oranges may no longer be a novelty.  This business expanded it’s inventory by selling Georgia pecans, citrus wine, gator jerky, and fireworks. I admire the creativity of Florida entrepreneurs who work hard to keep their businesses alive.

Tourism has a long history in Florida. I’m amazed so many of the older attractions are still open. Today most tourists spend their entire vacations at Disney or Universal Studios. They miss out on the unique attractions which preserve Florida’s past.

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The Citrus Tower in Clermont opened in 1956 as a tribute to Central Florida’s citrus industry. Did you know Central Florida once had a booming citrus industry? No one would know it today. Neighborhoods and roads have replaced miles of fragrant orange groves.

The tower is located on one of the highest hills in central Florida, a whopping 128 feet above sea level.  The structure rises 226 feet and was constructed of concrete and reinforced steel to withstand hurricane force winds. I entered the elevator for the scary ride up twenty-two stories in total darkness with no air conditioning. Who needs the Tower of Terror?

When the door opened I stepped out onto a glass enclosed observation deck and walked around. I could see the rolling hills, spring-fed lakes, roads, and parking lots, but no orange groves.

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I wish I could have been here in the old days when citrus was king.

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This is an artist’s view of the land surrounding the Citrus Tower during the 1950’s. The hard freezes of the 1980’s killed the orange trees. Growers sold their land in the Clermont area to real estate developers. I enjoyed reading the historical information outside the gift shop located in the base of the tower. Back in the day, the attraction included a restaurant. A menu from the past was posted in a display case. I couldn’t believe the price of a sizzling T-bone steak with onion rings was $3.50.

The Citrus Tower offers a  light show during the Christmas season and is open evenings in December. The view from the observation tower is reported to be spectacular at night. Click on the above link for more information and reviews.

IMG_7753 (1)If you visit the Citrus Tower be sure to see the President’s Hall of Fame next door. Ronald Reagan described this museum as a national treasure for over forty years. The Hall of Fame features one of a kind presidential memorabilia.

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Here’s an interesting photo spot. Where did they get that idea?

Stay tuned for more lonely Florida attractions next week.  A side of Florida few people see, and more should.

 

If Walls Could Talk

If you like architecture and history, Savannah is the place to go. Although I’ve lived in Orlando for 27 years, I finally made a trip to Savannah last December.  A great place to visit is the Massie Heritage Center.  Built in 1856,the building was originally Massie Common School, the oldest public school in Georgia.  The school operated for 117 years, until it became a museum in 1978.  Children still learn here. The museum is a popular place for  field trips. Travel back in time with me to a classroom in the year 1872.

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Walking among the empty desks I wonder what it was like to see the classroom in operation.  I imagine rows of children sitting in their seats…

Quiet children of course, feverishly writing multiplication tables on their slates with chalk. The smiling teacher, sitting calmly at her desk, overseeing her brood…. Everyone doing what they are asked to do… except for one student, usually a boy of course. The teacher, who does not tolerate idleness, asks the slug to stand. She places the notorious dunce cap on his head in order to publicly embarrass him. Wearing the cap, he perches on a high stool at the front of the classroom. She wants him to see that all the other children are working. She also wants the class to know that she means business.

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Who is this guy, anyway?

I awake from my daydream and continue to observe the details of the classroom.

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George Washington’s picture hangs on the front wall. Boys and girls, let’s not forget the Father of our Country. He’s watching you too, so you better do your best.

Side note: When I taught elementary school, I had a picture of George in my classroom, but it creeped out the kids. After many of them complained, I took it down. Too bad, he might have made a positive contribution to their development.

In the 1800’s rules didn’t only apply to students. On the teacher’s desk I picked up a handout, “Rules for Teachers in 1872”. Some are written below.

  1. Each day teachers will fill the lamps and clean the chimneys. What does that mean?  The kerosene lamp has a chimney?
  2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session. And I thought I had it ba’d whenever I had to buy school supplies for the class.
  3. Each teacher will make pens for the students by whittling the nibs. Is this a foreign language? What exactly is a nib? Thank goodness we had pencil sharpeners and some were electric.
  4. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed. That leaves me out since I’m married. I’m not going to try to define “unseemly conduct.”
  5. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will receive an increase of twenty-five cents per week, providing the Board of Education approves.  I get it. In many ways, it’s the same today.

A plaque attached to the front of the teacher’s desk read,

“WHAT YOU ARE TO BE, YOU ARE NOW BECOMING.”

I guess that just about says everything…

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