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. 🙂


Exploring Middleton Place

5 07 2016

Last post was about our hotel experience – now for the estate itself! Having the freedom to just walk over from the hotel, we spent some part of 3 full days there.

So, when you walk over from the hotel path, you have 2 options: you can walk down some steps to this little building that then feeds into the path in the picture below, or you can keep walking on the upraised hotel path, cross a little bridge, and end up closer to the main house. Obviously we did the former and were greeted with this sight!

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Oh, just a gator in the sun while a hapless couple walks toward it, unaware. They eventually saw it and skirted around it but said they really couldn’t see it from that vantage point. Sneaky gators!

Here’s a shot from inside the little building:

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It sits right on the water of the river, and is also right on the banks of the “butterfly pools” or ponds created for Middleton. Here’s a shot of the building and ponds:

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We walked around all this way, because that gator was on the other side of that stretch of land. Anyway, they don’t move much and tend to go back into the water if people get close. The land is tiered up, so by the time you climb to the top:

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So here we’re standing where the original main house was, facing onto the back side of the estate (and the Ashley River). The hotel would be basically up and to the left. The main house was burned down by Union troops right before the end of the civil war. The house had a north and south “flanker” on either side of it; one was also burned, but one survived, and that is the house museum that you can tour today.

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Here’s the backside of the remaining flanker, above, and the front side:

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Now, on one side of the flanker (and leading far up the property) are the gardens, and on the other side are the animals/stable area and a restaurant. We walked toward the animal side from the back of the house..

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Above, you can see the ice house (the bottom floor was used for cooling things), with the top floor being a chapel for all races to attend service in. To the right, past the water, is the hotel path that goes to the bridge. Down at the water, what did we see?

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Lil’ sneaky! Anyway, back up the hill toward the animals, we passed by the restaurant:

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…and then up and out where the animals are, first goats,  and then water buffalo!:

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They keep types of animals that would have been kept by the Middleton family in the 17-1800s. Apparently one of the Middleton men saw water buffalo on a trip to Asia, I think, and thought they’d be good help with rice farming (yes, rice – people always think of cotton and tobacco as the staple old Southern crops, but rice was the thing here).

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The estate is known for letting its sheep wander freely around the grounds. I was really excited about this because I thought it’d make a cool picture (and I wanted to get a selfie with a lamb, I admit), but this weekend they were kept pinned, because they were doing special events on the lawn and thought it would be too much for them. Okay…sigh… I understand.

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This next picture was taken Sunday morning. They do a cow milking daily at 9 and again at 4, and you can go and participate!

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This guy gets the cow set up and then you can step in if you like… I did it for a minute, but didn’t get any pictures, plus my hands were gross afterward. He kept saying the cow was being difficult that day, but she was good during the milking – I guess because she was eating hay.

Anyway, around that stable area there are demonstrations, like a blacksmith, or candle making…

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Didn’t get many pics of that stuff, as I was distracted by:

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Peacocks on stagecoaches!!! Sleeping! I was so excited about the peacocks, you don’t even know. They get a whole post to themselves, later.

So we then walked up the grounds and to the other side. If you drive here versus walking from the hotel, there’s an area where you park and pay admission, and right outside of it’s this little market with some food and gifts.

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We grabbed some pre-made chicken salad sandwiches (that weren’t great, honestly) and had lunch before heading to the gardens, on just the other side of this.

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I believe that this was the statue they buried during the war to save it. These gardens are the oldest landscaped gardens in America, I believe. They’re very woodsy and wild, so not the flower-filled, super landscaped type I typically think of, but still nice. Because it was mostly long stretches of greenery (with some water), I didn’t take many pics. It mostly looked like this:

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Though in season, the azalea walk is probably really beautiful. And then they also have some areas like this, with the finely trimmed hedges:

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They do have this long pool where a couple swans swim about at times, but the swans were in a cage this time. 😦

Some nice flower shots:

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Didn’t get any pics of the house tour since they weren’t allowed, but the tour is worth it. Lots of good info on the many generations that lived there, and neat heirlooms too.

Hot and tired, we made our way back to the hotel path, seeing one more gator:

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…and a good few of the ponds:

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Next time… peacocks!

Inn at Middleton Place

30 06 2016

Last month, I took a 3 day weekend to celebrate my birthday, and we went up to a hidden gem just outside of Charleston, South Carolina – Middleton Place.

Middleton Place itself is an old estate (parts of it from the 1700s) that you can visit, and right next to it – actually connected to the grounds – is an Inn that just happened to offer better prices than anything in Charleston proper, admission included to the estate and gardens, and the most beautiful scenery.

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After a stop by Pie Society for a birthday pasty on the way up and a 4 hour drive, we checked in to the Inn and were given a map, keys, and the code to the gate. Our rooms were to the left of the Lodge (above); everything circled a grass courtyard that faced (to the right) over the Ashley River.

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Our rooms, the bottom far left and the bottom middle, above. Rooms were fairly big with 2 twin beds and fireplaces (!), but the fireplaces were closed in the summer. The bathrooms have good counter space and large tubs. I’m a shower person, and glad of it because after my first shower, some bugs appeared in the tub, probably attracted by water. I think the place is clean, but being on the ground and so close to the river, bugs do get in. It’s literally the 1 downside about the place.

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More rooms, with hammocks. Seriously the most peaceful place. Would make a great artists’ retreat.

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Should have mentioned that the grass courtyard also overlooks a pool, which overlooks the river – it’s gorgeous! The only pic I got of the whole thing was on my cell phone though.

If you walk down to the left of the pool (like 1 minute from our rooms!), you’ll see the kayak area:

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We went kayaking the next morning for about 3 hours. I didn’t get pictures, but you can see from this vantage point of the hotel pathway some of our kayak path down the river:

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It’s great, because the fee is reasonable, and they give you the oars, map, lifejackets, etc. and push you off, then you’re on your own. (Or we were, but they have guided tours you can do.) We went around 9 and were the first ones out there. The tide was low, and there were tons of alligators on the banks that would slide into the water as we approached. I was a bit freaked out by it! That’s one thing to watch out for; there are gators everywhere here.

Anyway, if you walk a bit further than the kayak area, you’ll find a huge mulberry tree!

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I’d never seen one before and was so excited. You can reach up and pick the berries and eat them (I mean, you’re probably not supposed to, but I did), and they’re SO sweet and delicious, but they do stain everything red. Go for the dark ones; those are ripe.

Walk past that, and you’ll find a clearing that’s lined with a wall of sweet-scented jasmine:

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You can’t really tell in the picture, but there’s tons of it, with the little white flowers. This was in mid May, so not sure if it’s still in bloom.

Back at the hotel, they do a happy hour every night in the Lodge from 5 – 7 with complimentary (included in your stay) drinks and apps. It was very worth it!

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Beyond these cheeses and fruits, they had crackers and a hot dish or two each night (we were there for 2). The first night was pretty rushed, because we walked around actual Middleton Place a bit (more on that later) and then went to downtown Charleston. The second night was a Saturday, and lots of people went to the happy hour.

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The Lodge itself was pretty cute – 2 stories with the food area up top, this chess table halfway down, and below some games you can play, including croquet. Here’s the backside of the Lodge in the next morning’s light:

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They do a complimentary breakfast in the Lakehouse, which was really nice. It’s a quick walk from the rooms on a shadowy path….

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Oh, and do you see the umbrella stand above, with all the umbrella handles sticking out? They had umbrellas everywhere, including outside each room – which I thought was nice.

Anyway, the Lakehouse breakfast is cereals, an oatmeal bar, coffee and juices, and is self serve, and/or you can order hot items for extra charge.

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I was content with oatmeal, because they have so many add in options! (I’m on an oatmeal kick now.) I got blueberries, pecans, walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Yum!

The Lakehouse overlooks a creek and beautiful greenery. You can sit indoors and admire the view while listening to classical music, or sit outside on the deck. We sat inside, because it was chilly in the mornings.

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Pretty view! We spent most of our time walking across the wooded path to the estate, which is super convenient, as you can go anytime between sunrise and sunset….I wanted to go at night, but with all the gators (they live in the estate pools and like to hang out on the grass, hard to see in the dark), I didn’t want to risk it.

I would highly recommend the Inn at Middleton Place to anyone really, understanding that it is a “woodsy” place, so some bugs are inevitable. I actually didn’t sleep well either night because of that, but it had so much else going for it, that it was way worth it.

The Inn also has horseback riding, but there was no time. Next up – Middleton Place itself!



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.

Sunrise Over Jax Beach

17 02 2016

Crossing one off the bucket list, finally woke up on a weekend early enough to catch a sunrise over Jacksonville Beach. (By the way, even in FL, a beach in January is COLD!)

Upon arrival:

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It even looks cold in the picture! But just for comparison, below – pre and post sunrise shots of a beach cactus:

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Quite the difference! Anyway, we spent maybe 30 minutes on the beach in total, freezing the entire time. By the end of it, I could barely move my hands.

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Love the one above. The sea foam looks like some kind of floating ice.

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As the sun came up, I was impressed with this guy that managed to stand there in the water watching it. Caught him in the right of this picture:

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It’s up! And the birds are awake:

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What you don’t see here that I found interesting were the other people on the beach there for the same thing. Well, maybe not photographing it, but watching the sunrise all the same. Not a large number of people, but enough to notice, quietly, reverently observing. Beautiful event.

Little Snail

8 12 2015


This little guy was on my window the other day. What a cutie!


More art stuff to come soon, just a crazy time now with work/life.

Biltmore!: Part 2 (The Gardens)

30 07 2015

If you aren’t sick of greenery by now after my South Carolina and Pisgah Forest photos, you might be after this post, because I’m completely dedicating it to the gardens of Biltmore, a must see if you visit.

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The gardens by the conservatory (greenhouse) are an easy walk down from the house under this wisteria draped trellis (above) and some winding sidewalks, peppered with blooms and trees on either side. Immediately in front of the conservatory are tons of roses!

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Well, roses in May. Tulips earlier in spring. And I’m not sure what else the rest of the year, but I’m sure they come up with something. They’re very artful.

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Case in point: these sculptures of Victorian-attired women made entirely out of plants!

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But the roses? I’ve never seen so many in one place.

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You can even glimpse the house if you look closely:

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Once I’ve smelled as many roses as possible, it was time to visit the conservatory:

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I didn’t get many pics inside honestly (the limitations once again of a set 50 mm lens), but here’s an idea:

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The flowers outside are just as beautiful:

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The main gardens conclude in an outdoor quick-bites place (like with lemonade and small eats) and, the level below, a gift shop. However, the grounds are so expansive, there are plenty of trails you can walk on to see yet more gardens. I wanted to go on the Bass Pond Trail, since I’d never been before. We spotted some brilliant azaleas (they were finishing their season when we arrived):

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…and a beautiful outlook on a lake:

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There’s a little boat house, though we didn’t venture closer than this:

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…and some varied plant life:

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A long walk on uncomfortable shoes and in heat, but pretty scenic for sure. It eventually leads to a man-made waterfall. After much more walking, we eventually headed out for the day, intending to stop by Biltmore Village (a shopping district outside of the grounds, very commercial, like shops you’d find in a mall; I wasn’t impressed) before heading back to Asheville. Luckily, before leaving property, we noticed a small turn onto a dirt road that leads to a little clearing by a lake, and this spectacular view:

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Back of the house. Perfect picnic spot!

The next day we returned for another new experience: the Biltmore Rooftop Tour! Stay tuned. 🙂

Waterfall Heaven: North Carolina

24 07 2015

Following our adventures in South Carolina and in Asheville, written about here, we next dedicated a day to the great outdoors in the Asheville area, primarily because the Pisgah Forest nearby has some amazing waterfalls. Waterfalls always fascinate me, largely because we don’t really have them in Florida where the land is extremely flat.

Our first stop in Pisgah was Looking Glass Falls.

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Oh yes! Everything I’d hoped for. You park on the street (plenty of space when we arrived), and head down some stairs to a viewing platform. Naturally I hopped down from the platform to walk around on the rocks in front of the falls, which plenty of people were doing. I couldn’t get the whole thing in frame with my 50 mm lens. Below you can see more of the rocks above the falls.

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Beautiful, clear, cool water.

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Above, looking down-stream from the falls…

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It feels kind of like a jungle paradise (from the perspective of someone who’s never been to a jungle paradise, admittedly), because when you look at the falls from ground-level, it’s almost this enclosed space. Plus, there’s all this mist floating around. See the haziness below? Mist.

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I had to get a few phone pics to get the whole falls in:

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Above, that’s taken up on the first lookout point before you go down the stairs. Definitely, go down the stairs.

Next we drove further on, maybe 1 mile, to see Moore Cove Falls. This is much less obvious than Looking Glass. Looking Glass has a sign and lots of parking. Moore Cove is sort of nondescript with smaller parking, and the falls are at such a distance from parking that you can’t immediately tell that’s where you are. You park and walk, I don’t know how long, maybe .8 miles?

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Above, a view from the walk. It’s steep in a few places, but mostly not bad.

Just when you’re thinking “maybe I’m in the wrong place on some trail that goes on for miles and is nowhere near this waterfall,” you see it peek through the trees.

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I have no pictures that come anywhere close to conveying how cool this site was. Because of the size and then, if you walk behind the falls, the closeness and the sharp contrast of lights/darks, neither my narrow-lensed camera or my cell was really up to the task of capturing it. But trust me, it’s worth seeing in person.

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There’s a little lookout area where you get this view, above. I know it doesn’t look that big. But it’s very tall, and you can actually walk around and behind the falls.

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It’s like this huge cave/alcove thing, very cool temps inside. Huge outcroppings of rocks. Below just shows a portion – couldn’t get the whole thing in frame.

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One of those things you have to rely on memories to capture, but the experience made it my favorite waterfall of the trip.

The way back was very pretty:

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After a short excursion in a little town (no pics, sorry), we headed back to Asheville to see the botanical gardens. Online, they sound very small-scale compared to the Arboretum, which I’ve been to before and is truly huge and worth seeing. But the botanical gardens are well worth it. It’s free, for one, and even though we got there too late for the visitor center to be open, we could still stroll through. the place was actually pretty big and peppered with quiet groups of people and individual students reading and resting.

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Some of the landscape feels designed, and some feels very wild. There are many small trails winding around and up through hilly areas. Through one secluded walk we found this little wood hut thing:

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My favorite part by far was the scenery around a wooden bridge with the rocky stream, trees, and blooms below:

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The whole gardens had this aura of peace, with cool, flower-scented breezes carrying delicate, sunlit flower petals and seed pods through the air. There was also a bit of unexpected cuteness:

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Can you see him? The little chipmunk that appeared over the tree root with an acorn (or something?) in his mouth? In Florida, we have plenty of squirrels but no chipmunks, so I was super excited. He, on the other hand, was a little panicked and got away form us as fast as possible:

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Oh well! I wish I could take the botanical gardens home with me. Definitely see them if you’re in Asheville! We wrapped up our nature day, taking an early night to prepare for the next day’s adventure…a trip to Biltmore Estate.

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