Leu Gardens

28 03 2018

A couple months ago before the cold hit, I did a quick little photo trip to Leu Gardens in Orlando (Winter Park, really). I’ve always loved this place! Pieces of it were still closed from the hurricane, but there was plenty to see.












Not-So-“Supermoon” Experience

22 11 2016

So apparently, we had a supermoon recently  – the biggest in 60-some years. I tried to meet up with a photo group in Green Cove Springs to attempt some photos of the thing, but the night didn’t turn out quite as planned.


A photog crowd gathered on the banks by the dock right at sundown. As you can see, a massive cloud cover blocked the night sky. I passed time taking some random pics:


…a fancy boat across the river, and the gazebo in the park behind me:


But the night drew on, and still no break in the clouds. So I just started shooting randomly from the tripod.




And then even more randomly:



…until we finally had to admit defeat – the moon was not gonna show itself that night. Stupid clouds!


Right before I packed up, I got a fun shot of a bicycler:


And that was it! No supermoon. 😦 I did get to see the moon the next night (perfectly clear, of course), but it did not look super! Guess 1 day really makes a difference. Oh well, maybe 18 years from now!

The Tower on Iron Mountain

10 08 2016

Should have titled this “Bok Tower,” but Iron Mountain makes it sound more dramatic! Bok Tower gardens is just south of Orlando and is a beautiful way to spend a few hours on a sunny day. I first and last went in high school, so it’s been quite a while since I’d visited.

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The gardens charges reasonable admission and includes an eatery, visitor center/museum, the gardens themselves, and Bok Tower (which you can look at but can’t actually go into). The area actually *is* on Iron Mountain, which seems like a misnomer if you know anything about Florida (a perpetually flat land), but it really is the highest point in the state. They charge an additional fee if you want to tour Pinewood Estate – more on that later.

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This is the area right by the restaurant and visitor center  – pretty like everything here!

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They’re doing a bit of new construction right now to add some cool stuff: a kids’ area, outdoor kitchen, and an edible garden.

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This is going to be worth another visit when finished! It looks like it nearly is:

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…and the edible garden:

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check out this okra! Now, saying “edible garden”… I don’t think you’re supposed to just pick and eat things, but I anticipate they’ll use this stuff in their outdoor kitchen. Some yummy looking eggplant:

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And look who we found amongst the veggies!

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After that we began exploring gardens. They have some trails and some sections (e.g. wetlands). Ultimately, it’s not a huge area; you can see the tower from several points:

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It’s also not too far to walk to Pinewood Estate:

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Honestly, I didn’t know this was here. We completely missed it on my last visit. If you paid for the admission, you get a ticket and can line up for a tour, about every 15 minutes. The initial portion had a guide but after you can roam around, except you go on a directed path, and there are attendants in most rooms that will give a speech or else be available for questions. Luckily, they do allow photos inside!

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I’m excited they did, as most estate home museums in America don’t.

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I think the docent described it as “Mediterranean Revival” style, but am not sure. I was paying more attention to taking pictures.

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They had this one super narrow staircase that was pretty cool:

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You can walk around outside the house too and see its gardens.

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I read a book that featured a moon garden as a major plot point but had never seen one, so I was excited about this:

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However, they said it was never finished, so I guess I still don’t know what a moon garden really looks like.

After that, it was clouding up so we made a beeline for Bok Tower itself. On the way and leaving Pinewood, we saw some cool trees:

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Winding our way through tree-lined paths, it didn’t take long to reach the tower.

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Truly, a beautiful and unique Florida icon. Its carillon bells ring at different times of the day. Like I said, you can’t go inside but can get fairly close.

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I didn’t get a good picture of it, but the pond is filled with koi fish.

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A sundial, truly cool. The whole thing is ornate.

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My favorite part might actually be the ironwork for the gate in front of it (there are gates to a bridge that crosses the moat surrounding the tower). It’s both creepy and cute:

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And now to prove it really IS above sea level:

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The view down the mountain, behind the tower:orange groves of Lake Wales. Oh, and a little local denizen we came across:

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Bok Tower is definitely worth a visit. If you don’t live close, you can easily combine it with a visit to Orlando or the surrounding area. 🙂


The Florida Theatre

23 06 2016

For May Art Walk (every 1st Wednesday in downtown Jacksonville, FL), I met up with a couple friends… as always, always stuff to see during art walk, like this community painting (we contributed to the reverse side):


Or this cute/weird bird:


(Sorry for the photo qual – only had my phone.) Eventually, we stumbled on The Florida Theatre. Now, everyone from Jax knows about the Theatre; it’s been around since the 20s and is pretty famous. But honestly I hadn’t been there since a field trip when I was much younger. It’s a shame because it is SO pretty! Turns out during Art Walk they do free tours, so naturally we took advantage!


Just the entryway alone is pretty. You could get wine or whatever drink (below) and take it with you on the tour, but I needed both my hands free (one for phone pics, one to hold onto railings so my clumsy self doesn’t fall down stairs.)


You go up some stairs and then into the main area  – my favorite!



It reminds me of Epcot’s Mexico. 🙂 The plaster décor is all original.


These doors are NOT original, which is impressive because in person they really look authentic. Anyway, then you get to go into the theater itself:



…You get to climb right onto the stage and see all this behind-the-scenes stuff! I didn’t get any good shots from the stage looking onto the audience because it is just so massive, it wouldn’t even properly fit into the panorama.

After this, we walked through this little door to the left to go “backstage.”


Love these mirrors! I will say, the bulk of backstage is surprisingly unglamorous. It surprised me anyway. Very plain, narrow stairs, that kind of thing. I mean, even Elvis performed there! I thought there’d be some fancy chairs or something. But these mirrors were cool, and the lights put off SO much heat!

Then we went upstairs…


I thought it was really amazing that even these garlands are original:


I mean, from the 20s! We went on the second level of the theater and got to walk all the way up. Finally, a good pic of the view!


I can’t get over these amazing lights!


iPhone pictures definitely don’t do it justice. Or show how enormous they are. We heard about how some of the seats still have the original upholstery and learned about the “ghost” seats off to the side.

Last we walked in a room used by their patrons that used to be a nursery.


The bunny in the corner there is from the original paint of the nursery.

It’s a really great tour – our guide was a wealth of info, and we loved seeing behind the scenes. Highly recommend stopping by if you go to Art Walk!

A lovely night in downtown:


Silver Springs – Kayak Adventure

16 03 2016

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Silver Springs in Ocala, Florida used to be a roadside attraction/theme park. No coasters, no Mickey Mouse, but plenty of flowers, animals, and attractions (famous glass bottom boats that originated in the 1800s). You bought tickets and spent the day. There used to be a lot of things like it in Florida; few are left still operating. I remember going on a field trip once in 5th grade and seeing giraffes.

Well, a few years ago Silver Springs was sold to the state, so now it’s a state park. They left a lot of the structures, and the restaurant and glass bottom boats are still there. Took a day off work and visited to go kayak!

First we wandered around trying to find the kayak area, past the “shop” with the restaurant:

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And the treat place that still makes fudge:

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Which is right by the dock for the glass bottom boats with pretty glass windows:

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The boat area is right by the head springs..

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…and you can circle around that and walk down the river, admiring the flowers, like azaleas just starting to bloom (a couple weeks ago)…

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….and whatever this pretty thing is:

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But we were there for the kayaking. I had never kayaked before, and Silver Springs seemed like a great option for a beginner. You can rent from the park directly kayaks, canoes, and tandem kayaks at reasonable prices, and can choose between a 2+ mile loop course or a longer 5 mile one that goes down the river. We choose the shorter one and made our way to the kayak area. Currently the path from the park to it is under construction, so you walk back into the parking lot and can get to it there.

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It’s a small but serviceable launch area. Behind us in the above pic were the guys you rent from. They provide you with life vests, a whistle, and a laminated course map. It was a cold morning, so they had a fire going:

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But we were ready! We opted for a tandem kayak:

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The guys pull your kayak to the launch ramp and push you off when you get set up, so you don’t even have to get your feet wet. And we’re off!

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You make a right at the tiny little bridge in the pic above to follow the Fort King Paddle Trail:

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And it’s pretty much smooth sailing the first half of the loop. Even at midday (around noon), there was plenty of wildlife to see.

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And interestingly, plenty of ruins too from its “roadside attraction” days. Maybe some would find them an eye sore amid all the trees and water, but I’ve always liked ruins.

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Soon, we approached one of the highlights of the trip: a gator sighting! Thought it was fake at first.

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But it was definitely real. And look at all those turtles! Immediately after, we caught a glimpse of what I’d really been looking for the whole trip:

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Monkeys! The land in the middle of the loop is sometimes called “Monkey Island” because of all the wild monkeys running around. I need to research their origin (either escapees from the original park or descendants of former pets of a guy that lived near there decades ago).

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They’re pretty used to people, but we were warned not to feed them, or they might jump in the boat!

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We didn’t get that long with the monkeys… they had some kind of argument/commotion and rambled off. Shortly after that, we reached the turning point: a left turn would take you around the loop and up to the head springs; a right takes you down the river. We went left – most everyone else went right:

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Paddling this way took more effort. You’re going against current and against a lot of wind, at least that day. But we had cormorants to keep us company:

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And a glass bottom boat:

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You have to give way to the boats, which made me nervous, because with all the wind I couldn’t paddle anywhere quickly. But the boats do their own thing; it wasn’t a problem..

The next picture was taken after the kayaking, looking down into the headspring, but I thought it sums up the water nicely: crystal clear and gorgeous!

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At the head spring, you turn left down a small canal to head back to the launch:

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We got photobombed by a cormorant! You can see the little bridge thing up ahead. Once you cross under it, it’s a short bit back to the launch, where the guys pull up your boat and help you out.

It took a couple of hours, so there was still plenty of time to wander the park. We walked in a museum-like area near the restaurant. It’s crazy to think how busy this place would have been in the past:

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It’s a little sad to see these places go underappreciated these days in favor of more commercialized things, but as a state park you can still enjoy it if you take the time to drive out. A Florida classic!

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Washington Oaks State Park

2 03 2016

Just a skip away from Crescent Beach, about 45 minutes from Jacksonville, is one of the prettiest little Florida parks you’ll find: Washington Oaks Gardens State Park.

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It’s not the biggest area, but is a great place to spend a few hours on a nice day, and close to St. Augustine!

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The gardens were low on flowers when we went a few weeks ago (the roses had just been trimmed), but the greenery amid all the fountains and ponds was still really beautiful.

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We did come at the right time, however, for the camellias (above). From far away they look like roses, if roses grew on trees.

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We made our way around the gardens and then to a beachy area where people were fishing. This guy was posing nicely:

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We learned later that he had some fishing wire wrapped around his leg, so that’s probably why he was so still for pictures! But it’s alright; someone called the park ranger to come and help the bird get untangled.

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We turned away from the beach and went on a nature trail:

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And of course, it wasn’t too far from the beach, hence these roots. Mangroves, maybe?

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But the best part of our walk on the trail was a cute animal sighting. Can you see it?

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Little squirrel peeking out of a tree hole! Well, it was a beautiful, bright day:

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So we decided to leave that side of the park and cross the street to the part that’s the actual beach.

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Bit warmer than my last beach trip, but still chilly. But the chills were soon forgotten in light of how beautiful this beach was:

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I dunno, maybe it was the lighting. Just a pretty, warmly lit afternoon. Made all the better by some playful, hungry seagulls:

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But the sun was going down and the temp getting cooler, so we took a last look at the beach:

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And made our way home on A1A, passing through St. Augustine of course via the Bridge of Lions:

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Lovely shot there through the windshield lol. Anyway, if you’re in the area and haven’t seen the park, it might be worth checking out. Easily something you can do in a couple hours.

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