America’s Best Idea

April 27, 2011

What could be more democratic than owning together the most magnificent places on your continent? Think about Europe. In Europe the most magnificent places -the palaces, the parks – are owned by aristocrats, by monarchs, by the wealthy. In America, magnificence is a common treasure. That’s the essence of democracy.

Carl Pope, Sierra Club, in the PBS documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns, 2009

To celebrate our “common treasure” (our national parks),  the  U.S. National Park Service sponsors a National Park Week every year, with free admission to all National Parks in the country. Last week, April 16th-24th, was this year’s sponsored week and we participated by heading to St. Augustine and the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, otherwise known as the old Spanish fort in historic, downtown St. Augustine.

The Castillo de San Marcos is “the oldest masonry fort and the best preserved example of a Spanish colonial fortification in the continental United States.” It sits on the edge of the  historic district, right on the water. It may not be the Grand Canyon, but it is history and it is beautiful.

The courtyard allows access to rooms within the fort, including the guard quarters and a confinement room for those who required a little discipline. Other rooms contain historical information boards.

Courtyard, Castillo de San Marcos

And no fort is complete without cannons….

There are 394 National Park sites in the United States and Florida contains 10 of them. They are:

  • Fort Caroline National Memorial
  • Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
  • Fort Matanzas National Monument
  • Canaveral National Seashore
  • Big Cypress National Preserve
  • Biscayne National Park
  • Everglades National Park
  • Dry Tortugas National Park
  • DeSoto National Memorial
  • Gulf Islands National Seashore

I’m not sure I would call the establishment of the National Park System America’s Best Idea, but it does come close.


Florida Archaeology Month

March 30, 2011

In honor of March being Florida Archaeology Month, I sought out archaeological sites to visit close to home. According to the Florida Public Archaeology Network website, there are over 29 such sites between Jacksonville and New Smyrna Beach alone! I chose the two closest to my neighborhood and headed out.

Dunlawton Plantation Sugar Mill Ruins (Port Orange)

The Dunlawton Plantation Sugar Mill Ruins site is described as “coquina and brick ruins of an 1830s sugar mill complex and assortment of sugar mill processing equipment.” After a short drive to its location, I entered the gates and found myself surrounded by a beautiful botanical garden.  To my surprise, the ruins were largely intact and amazingly preserved. 

According to a sign near the ruins,

In the late twentieth century, archaeologists began studying the factory site systemically. They discovered foundations, buried floors, machine objects, and discarded items of everyday life.” 

Kettles where extracted cane juice gradually thickened before being ladled into wooden cooling troughs.

Area where the Purgery stood. Crystallized sugar was packed in barrels and stored in the damp rooms for several weeks.


Samuel Butts Youth Archaeological Park (Daytona Beach)

I may never have known about the Samuel Butts Youth Archaeological Park if Florida Archaeology Month didn’t exist. 

I was stunned by the beauty of this park. And it’s all thanks to Daytona resident and amateur archaeologist Samuel Butts. Mr. Butts  found “copious spear points, bone tools and pottery fragments of the Timucuan Indians as well as skeletal material from a mastodon that roamed Central Florida during the Ice Ages” at this site.  He also found remains of a 1920s general store, complete with groceries, which had burned to the ground. Mr. Butts decided to make the 29-acre area a park, with panels interpreting the  prehistoric and historic sites in an effort to educate others.

Panel interpreting site where prehistoric shell tools and broken pottery were found.

Panel on the finding of a 1920s General Store which burned to the ground.

The pond was excavated in 2001. Butts found a "bone bed" over 10,000 years old containing the remains of prehistoric animals.


Thanks to the Florida Public Archaeology Network website, I have now found more explorations for my year ahead.  It looks like I will never run out of things to do here in Florida!


Jupiter Jaunt

March 23, 2011

Another birthday has come and gone, but I was fortunate to spend it in such beautiful locations as Juno Beach and Jupiter, Florida. And one of our explorations was of the 1860 Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse.

Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse

The Lighthouse is located near the Jupiter Inlet and is a great place to do some major boat watching. We paid for the tour of the lighthouse grounds, and climbed the 105 stairs to the top. What a view!

View from top of the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse


Jupiter Inlet as seen from the top of the Jupiter Lighthouse

Not to sound like a broken record on this blog, but lighthouses are some of the most mysterious and romantic buildings on earth!  And I am, as always, in awe of them, jealous of all those who were privileged to live and work in them.

No Ordinary Tree

On the lighthouse grounds a beautiful, massive Banyan tree grows. As I gazed up into its branches, I felt an overwhelming urge to climb up, as high as I could. Although I’ve never been much of a tomboy, and can’t recall ever climbing a tree in my youth, this one could make up for all that.

Banyan Tree on the grounds of the Jupiter Lighthouse

After a relaxing drive on Jupiter Island, we circled back for lunch at The Crab House.  We had been to this restaurant eight years ago, during our very first dive trip to Florida from North Carolina. Then it had been a bit exotic. This time it appeared to be a mass server of mediocre food, and less than perfect service. But, it’s all about location, location, location. And this place has it.  Directly across from the lighthouse, a diner can watch boats of all sizes go by, or instead focus on the dozens of brown pelicans that occupy the shoreline, dive bombing into the water, and coming up to swallow their catch.

Brown Pelicans

Jupiter is definitely a place to revisit….again and again!

A Floridian in Texas

September 10, 2010

Instead of staying in Florida this past Labor Day Weekend, we decided to wander around the great state of Texas.  

Of course you can’t see all of Texas in just four days, so we chose the area west of San Antonio.  We based ourselves in Del Rio, on the Mexican border, and started wandering.  The title lyrics to the song Wide Open Spaces by the Dixie Chicks kept playing in my head, over and over again, as we drove through wide open land full of cacti, blooming sagebrush, longhorn cattle, horses, and goats.  We explored breathtaking caverns and canyons, and hiked mysterious trails.  We even recovered from a u-turning vulture that slammed into our rental car.  And we sat in the hot sun, eating ice cream, taking in the scenery that is Texas. 

Did I think of my home state of Florida during those wanderings?  Absolutely.  For example, as we enjoyed the views on our drive to Sonora Caverns, we ended up on I-10 for a few miles. Oddly enough, I never equated our I-10 with the rest of the country.  The Interstate that starts in Jacksonville does not end in the Florida Panhandle.  Instead it continues across 8 states before ending at the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, California.  The difference here in Texas, however, is a lawful speed limit of 80 miles per hour.  

The Lone Star Flag of Texas

I also thought of Florida after seeing several Texas State Flags flying high -at ranches, banks, homes, restaurants and just about anywhere else you can think of. This was the case throughout our wanderings.  Texans are proud of their flag, proud of being Texans.  Matt and I sat dumbfounded one day, trying to recall exactly what the Florida State Flag looks like.  We blamed it on the fact that we rarely see it hanging at residences in our neighborhood or beyond.  Are the Texans more proud of being Texans than Floridians are of being Floridians? 

State Flag of Florida

I also thought of the Sunshine State on Monday night after we clicked on our hotel television set for the first time and saw the wrath of Tropical Storm Hermine which came ashore around Brownsville, Texas.  Trackers had it heading straight for San Antonio on Tuesday, the day we were to fly back to Florida. Fortunately we had no problems getting out of Texas.  But it did remind me that Texas and Florida do share the seasonal threat of tropical storms and hurricanes just the same. 

It’s always wonderful to travel to a place different from your own, but it’s also wonderful to return home again.  And Florida is home.   But if I couldn’t live here, Texas would be a top contender for my weekly wanderings.