B-Day Part 3: Arboretum and Cloud Canyon

8 08 2017

On my actual birthday we stopped by the Reflection Riding Arboretum, which is also on Lookout Mountain, followed by an unplanned but amazing hike at Cloud Canyon State Park. The highlight of the Arboretum is undoubtedly the tree house!

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The rest of the Arboretum I found a little disappointing. Maybe I was expecting too much. They do have an area with animals they are rehabilitating, which is nice, and then the rest of it is mainly this huge grassy area you can do a driving tour around, and they give you a brochure outlining the path with points of note, but the brochure doesn’t always match to what’s there. Anyway, this tree house was fantastic.

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It’s not very big and is really built on stilts over this wetlands area, but the trees run right through it and the architecture – well, just look! Plus it has some cute details…

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The interior is fairly sparse but quiet and peaceful. There’s a little bench-swing and some other chairs inside. I didn’t get a good shot of it, but there’s also some interesting carvings.

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..not to mention some cool stained glass windows.

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I just love the aesthetic of the place!

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One last tree house shot, walking away toward the canoe launch and animals:

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The Arboretum didn’t take as long as expected, but it was around 4:00 I think, so near closing time for many attractions. However, state parks are open til sundown. We discovered Cloudland Canyon State Park not too far away and decided to head there.

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For something unplanned, Cloud Canyon ended up being one of the most memorable parts of the trip. You park up on a mountain (obviously), and immediately come to one of many overlooks on scenes like the one above. I took a ton of shots with my camera and cell and not a single one captures the grandeur of the place (needed a wide angle). You can barely see a waterfall in the bottom left of the picture. The main waterfall attractions are down in the bottom of the canyon – a very long trek!

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Rock formations everywhere! Above, this is pretty early on in the journey. Before we were sweating with burning calves from countless stairs.

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Impressive rocks tower over you as you make the descent. At one point, there’s a fork and you choose – the waterfall to the left is easier to get to, and in my opinion, prettier to look at. People climbing back up from the right side looked like they were about to pass out (to be fair, it was really hot).

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…making our way down to the waterfall on the left (I’ve forgotten its name!)…and here it is, a first glimpse:

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If I’d had a towel I would have loved to have taken my shoes off and gone in the water, even though it says you aren’t supposed to (observe: no one heeding the sign).

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Beautiful!! Next we made our way to the waterfall on the right. You can’t get as close (technically, you can, but you have to go down off a boardwalk so it’s trickier).

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And then back up we go…

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This is just partway. It doesn’t look like much, but according to my FitBit, we climbed 56 floors. Oye! Learn from my mistakes and bring a water bottle. Oh and when you get back to the top (overlook part), go all the way to the right to the furthest overlook – it has the best views!





B-Day Part 2: Ruby Falls and The Lost Sea

31 07 2017

Ruby Falls is just a skip away from Rock City, so you can easily see both on the same day and still have time in your day. The Lost Sea is about 1.5 hours away in Sweetwater, TN, and we saw it a couple days later, but since they’re both caverns, thought one post made sense.

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For Ruby Falls, you park right by the building, go in, and buy a ticket (if you haven’t bought a combined one first) and then at your ticket time, take an elevator down into the caverns to wait on your tour to start. The elevator gets a little packed and is really the only way in/out. Most of your journey to the falls looks like this:

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…fairly dark and narrow, but throughout there are some labeled rock formations and come cool lit up rocks.

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We went on a day when a lot of little kids were there on field trips, and the path is only wide enough for one group to go through (single file) at a time, so it was a little annoying having to press up against a rock wall every few minutes and let people through. Also didn’t give us any time to really stop and take pictures, but that’s because the main attraction is the fall itself. When you’re finally there, it opens into this huge cavern – I mean monstrously high – and your group herds in and waits in almost darkness until the “show” starts where lights and sound bring the falls into view:

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Not a single picture even looks 10% as awe-inspiring as this thing really was. The height is incredible. I couldn’t get the whole thing in a single shot. Here’s the top (interestingly, no one is entirely sure where the water flows from):

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…and here’s the bottom of it:

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The lights kept changing color and were beautiful.

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You just can’t even fathom the scope and height of the place without being there.

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It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. Worth it! Go see it!

Now – for The Lost Sea. While still underground, this was completely different in feel. The caverns are much, much wider and roomier, so you’re never squished walking through it, but they also don’t use the colored lights Ruby Falls does, so the place is more natural in color (albeit not as exciting). Still really cool.

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Your tour starts walking down a yellow passageway, above.

You enter into the huge cavern and take a look at some formations before starting your walk to the underground lake. I will say the part at the beginning was a little alarming, because you walk out on this slightly rusty, narrow, metal walkway suspended high over the bottom of the cave.

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The tour guide will point out interesting things, like these living crystals on the ceiling, below:

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…and these charcoal writings done by people in the cave during the civil war and the decades after:

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.. Down, down you go…

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Stopping by a small waterfall:

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And finally down into the dark pit where the sea resides. It was so dark, my camera had trouble focusing, so I had to use flash for some pictures:

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One thing to note, they advertise glass bottom boats, but with the intense darkness of the cave and the cloudiness of the water (which I think was due to recent rain storms), you can’t see anything through the glass.

The group gets in a boat or two which is taken very slowly around the lake – it’s almost silent it’s so slow. The only light comes from these few white lights embedded just under the water line. Every now and then you can see the shadow if a fish swimming around. The below shot was actually really overexposed so you could see some light!

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It was a cool experience, albeit a little creepy. My favorite photo was taken below on the walk out – little scratches people have made on the dark side of an emergency call box:

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Leaving the caves and going into the sun again is a shock:

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As you can see, the rest of the Lost Sea attraction are a group of buildings outdoors that sell some touristy things, have some food and ice cream, and a glass blowing shop. Cute little place! My favorite were the remnants of an old kids’ train ride out back.

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Both cave attractions were fun and worth it, but very different!





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. 🙂

 





Magnolia Plantation

13 07 2016

Just 4 miles down the road from Middleton Place is Magnolia Plantation. Compared to Middleton, it’s more crowded and landscaped with more flowers. They feel very different, and I think both are worth visiting.

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Admission to the house is separate, and we didn’t go for that as we only had a few hours there. Even without the house, there is plenty to see wandering around the gardens – that’s the bulk of what you go to see.

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The thing about Magnolia is that it has some of the most gorgeous bridges – some people were doing wedding shoots on them, and it’s almost impossible to get clear shots with all the people in general (not to mention hard to get a sweeping shot when you only have a 50 mm lens!)

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…and in looking for all the bridges, you might stumble upon some more beautiful things like this gazebo:

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…or this carved tomb:

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Then there’s the Peacock Café (roof painting below), an outdoor situation with sandwiches, hot dogs, and similar. And yes, peacocks really do walk around it!

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But most of the peacocks stay in the petting zoo, which was an amazing experience! You’re not supposed to pet the peacocks, but they wander around close to you, so you can get some great photos (more on that later!), plus there are deer wandering around (and yes, you can pet them!), and feed is available for purchase.

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Some other animals that are in cages, like this white squirrel (below), or a pot-bellied pig.

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There’s plenty more there, but our visit had to be brief. Definitely a place to stop by if you find yourself near Charleston.





Not Forgotten

20 06 2016

30 peacock22I’m still here! Sorry for the super long hiatus – I had a big birthday, left one job, started another, went on a big business trip, and then got sick, so it’s been a little cray. Posts will be coming in the next few weeks, and this pic is a little teaser of what’s to come. 🙂





The Fair

23 02 2016

Back in November, I spent an afternoon/evening at the Jacksonville Fair. So much to see! Finally uploaded my photos…procrastinating as always.

This sleepy little guy, just hatched, was one of my favorites:

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He’s going to have a companion soon….

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I always go to the animal area first, because I love seeing the baby pigs! They’re so playful:

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Next we went to the Exhibition Hall, where they have…exhibits, obviously; a large plant sale (where I bought a cute kalamancha – no pictures yet); and this year, an interactive butterfly area.

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They asked for donations outside, which we were happy to contribute to. Then you go into this enclosed, netted area full of butterflies and plants. They invite you to take a sponge brush that’s been dipped in some kind of nectar or sugar water and “feed” the butterflies.

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First you hold the brush near a butterfly, seeing if it’s hungry. If so, it’ll wander onto the brush and you can carry it around for a bit – gently, of course.

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Very cute to see kids enjoying this! Next we went outside to catch a show from Robinson’s Racing Pigs (so cute!)

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Unfortunately, my view was of the back ends, but still cute. The best part was the swimming:

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Up they go…. they race across…and then: a shake to dry:

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They’re rewarded with crushed oreos. 🙂

When night fell, I got some shots of the rides:

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Definitely a good time!





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.





South Carolina Adventure: Hagood Mill and Twin Falls (and a bit of Asheville, NC)

22 07 2015

For my birthday in May, I made a 5 day fun trip to the Carolinas. I used to go to North Carolina every fall with my family as a kid since my mom loved the changing tree colors (which we mostly lack in FL), but I’d never really been as an adult (with a decent camera of my own.)

Cake made by a talented employee of mine - how sweet! No pun intended. Day before the trip.

Cake made by a talented employee of mine – how sweet! No pun intended. Day before the trip.

We drove up through South Carolina first to see the old family cemetery (yes, I realize how creepy it sounds) in the Easley/Pickens area – the Jameson Family Cemetery where my great-great-great-great grandparents are buried, and a few paces down the road happened across a U-Pick strawberry farm!

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Check out this loot, only after a few minutes of picking! We only did about 1/2 a basket since we would still be in the car most of the day with no refrigeration.

I’d found, thanks to Trip Advisor, that the cemetery area was only about 11 minutes away from Hagood Mill, which looked too good to pass up. We sat on picnic benches and ate our strawberries. It was a truly gorgeous site:

You can see the mill behind the stones. You can walk through it anytime, but they turn the wheel and make grits and things that they sell every other Saturday.

You can see the mill behind the stones. You can walk through it anytime, but they turn the wheel and make grits and things that they sell every other Saturday.

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View from up in the mill. Of course, had to sneak a few cell phone shots since I only brought my 50 mm lens which is really narrow.

View from up in the mill. Of course, had to sneak a few cell phone shots since I only brought my 50 mm lens which is really narrow.

I was enchanted by all the beautiful flowers – don’t quite know what they are, but they were covering the place in beautiful whites and pinks:

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Is it just me, or does that wooden box above look creepily like a coffin? I couldn’t get close enough to really check it out. Anyway, highly recommend checking out Hagood Mill. Even if it’s on a day when the mill isn’t turning, it’s a beautiful place to wander around. While we were there, there was even a group of musicians meeting up to play country/classic on the porch of one of the cabins.

After, we headed further north to a site nestled right in the mountains – and incredibly hard to find – Twin Falls. There are places called “Twin Falls” in various states; this one’s in South Carolina, and online directions are very tricky because the roads are very curved and with super tiny signs. And there are NO signs that say Twin Falls. I think that’s really weird, because it’s actually a big site, and worth seeing:

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Lots of greenery on the path approaching…

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This doesn’t properly convey the size at all; it was very impressive.

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We climbed down from the lookout to get the last couple shots, which may be difficult for some people  – a bit of a steep jump down and then some slippery rocks, but not that bad.

After Twin Falls, we said goodbye to South Carolina and rode onto Asheville, North Carolina. The bulk of our visit was spent outside the city (as I’ll show you in a few future posts), but I’ll include our little in-city experience here:

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These adorable pig statues (pigs are the cutest!) are in the heart of Asheville. We passed them on our way to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, which I’d seen online and had to visit. Their descriptions of the different types of hot chocolate they had were drool-worthy.

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It took a while to find it, as the Garmin took us first to their old location. But here we are – so cute!

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Just a portion of their dessert case. I opted for a macaron, naturally, and an oaxacan hot chocolate that I’d been dreaming of since I’d looked up the menu online.

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The macaron was good, but I have to admit, the hot chocolate was – to put it plainly – a little gross. Not really sweet at all and full of clumps/graininess. Maybe I just don’t know what real hot chocolate is – I almost never drink it, so it’s entirely possible – but I honestly didn’t like it. Service was interesting…we ordered two hot chocolates and they brought us only 1 and were very confused about the other one. But, if I could, I’d try this place again. They had other things on the menu that looked good, and it’s a cute place with lots of seating.

Anyway, leaving there we walked around downtown a bit, peering into shops that were mostly closed in the evening:

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How cute are these dresses?

But my favorite storefront:

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Made we want to watch Alice in Wonderland all over again.

The next morning we went to another Trip Advisor find, the Sunny Point Café. This place not only met, but exceeded all expectations! Can’t recommend enough!

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Not much parking – have to find a space on the street. We were there around early-brunch time and it was pretty packed. We gave our name to someone on the patio and waited outdoors. Not too bad a wait though, maybe 15 min.

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Part of the menu, above… I was very hungry, which always makes it a hard decision, but I was really pleased when my choices arrived:

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Scrambled eggs, plain but just what I wanted (ala carte), delicious cheddar grits, and the most wonderful “organic cornmeal hotcakes,” which are gluten-free and have a slight orange flavor, topped with a berry butter. I can’t even describe how good those were. Like nothing I’ve ever seen back home.

After breakfast, we walked back to the car through the restaurant’s garden. Yes, they grow a lot of their own items right there!

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So pretty! Then it was on to our waterfall adventure, which I’ll write about next time…





Caves of Florida

18 08 2014

Back in May after my B-day, I took a trip to see the Florida caves for the first time. (Yes, this is much belated.) Who even knew there were caves in Florida? That aren’t underwater that is. The only above-water caves in the state are at Florida Caverns State Park, see here.

Swamp on the drive in...

Swamp on the drive in…

It’s outside of Tallahassee, a 4 hour drive from Jacksonville. It had severely rained the day before, so there were an unbelievable amount of mosquitos and over 1/3 of the caves were flooded, but it was still worth the trip.

statue in front of the path to the Visitor's Center

statue in front of the path to the Visitor’s Center

the first cave entrance

the first cave entrance

We had to pass the first entrance and enter the second to skirt around the flooded areas.

descending into the caves

descending into the caves

They do tour groups frequently – I think every 1/2 hour. It’s not a thing where you can just go on your own, but the tour is helpful anyway as the guide was very knowledgeable.

Some areas were much wider than I expected!

Some areas were much wider than I expected!

I had my low light lens, but it doesn’t do well in close quarters since it’s a set focal length. So I had to break out the cell phone for some of the pics (like the above grainy one.)

 

stalactites!

stalactites!

 

They call this the "wedding cake," and they actually do have weddings here, but for small parties only.

They call this the “wedding cake,” and they actually do have weddings here, but for small parties only.

plenty of lights...in some areas, the minors inlaid bits of ceramic plates in the rock to reflect light and spread light around more.

plenty of lights…in some areas, the miners inlaid bits of ceramic plates in the rock to reflect light and spread light around more.

impressive

impressive

All the lights are standard white/orange. I think they should mix it up with some blues/reds/greens. Thank you, Photoshop.

All the lights are standard white/orange. I think they should mix it up with some blues/reds/greens. Thank you, Photoshop.

more pretty....

more pretty….

I don’t really have a pic of it, but in some areas the stalagmites are gray or black colored. The guide said that oil in human skin causes it to react that way over time, so you should avoid touching anything.

still pool of water

still pool of water

Pretty sure a bat is lurking in there.

Pretty sure a bat is lurking in there.

It was pretty awesome. Can’t imagine being tasked with digging that all out in mostly darkness.

 








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