Northern Florida – Beach, Swamps & Pools

Florida welcome center Happy Hour at The Villages Florida The Villages Florida The Villages Florida Jacksonville Beach Florida

Mixed flock of gulls and Black Skimmers.

Jacksonville Beach Florida Mt. Dora Florida Jacksonville Beach Florida

Royal Tern

Jacksonville Beach FL Mt. Dora Florida

Swampy marsh

Mount Dora, FL Alexander Springs State Park Florida

Mark always has the luck of the Irish

spotting shamrocks.

Alexander Springs State Park Florida Alexander Springs State Park Florida Alexander Springs State Park Florida Alexander Springs State Park Florida

Timucuan Trail

Alexander Springs State Park Florida Alexander Springs State Park Florida

Northern Florida

February 5th - March 5th, 2008 - After freezing to the bone in Arizona in January we

decided to dash across the country to Florida.  Besides warming up, we had lots of family

that was in Florida for the winter, so it made a great destination.  When we first arrived we

spent a few weeks in The Villages  in north central Florida.  This was a hub of activity for

much of Mark's extended family.  The Villages is a unique masterplanned community of

60,000 people surrounding two town center facades -- they are real, in that there are real

shops selling real goods, but

they are fake in that the

buildings and environs were

constructed in the last twenty

years to resemble old fashioned towns from another era.  The

mirage is exceptionally well executed.  We walked along the town

lake, past the "Bait Shop" to the town pier.  It was odd to discover

that the boats in the water were props, including one that was

"shipwrecked" on the pier.  The scene was lovely to look at, but had

no heart.  As we

walked we

listened to The

Villages radio

station piped over the intercom throughout the town center.  Ads for housing in

this massive development played constantly.  We turned and saw that the

largest building in the town square was the sales office -- a lovely building with

pillars and a huge

inviting front porch.

But the sign above

the porch bore The

Villages logo and

said "Sales


It is a kind of Santa's

Toyland for retirees, a

great place to spend a

week of escapism

vacation but (for us) a scary place to spend your golden years.  Happy hour was

at 4:00 everyday with insanely inexpensive drinks and community-provided live

entertainment.  We boogied with WWII vets and drank two-for-one margaritas til

we stumbled.  We had a blast, but it felt good to get away and get a dose of reality

in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville Beach, and its neighboring

Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach, is a simple

stretch of sand lined with tall grasses, beach

houses and seabirds.  The seabirds were

especially engaging.  The Royal Terns looked to us

like 1980's punk rockers, with damp saltwater

stiffened feathers on their heads that looked like

mohawk hairdos.  The laughing gulls careened

everywhere, cackling their high-pitched cries as

they flew.

The far north end of

Mayport Beach is home

to a mixed

flock of


primarily Black

Skimmers that

have a fierce

predatory look

with a bright

red sword of a


We took a

daytrip to Mt. Dora.

This small town has

a cute cycling statue and a sign marking the trailhead for a bike path.  What

a surprise to find out that this town has no bike path!  Just some artwork and

a trailhead sign.

However, the town does have a

beautiful boardwalk out into the swampy

marshes on the edge of the town lake.

Snakes and birds and exotic swampy

plants line the boardwalk.  Our best find

was an alligator swimming around

partially submerged in the lake.

We spent some time in Ocala National Forest.  One

evening as the sun set we had all our windows open in

the trailer.  One by one the swamp creatures began to

sing their evening songs.  The forest came to life around

us.  We sat for an hour letting the darkness descend, listening closely as the strange noises

from these animals filled the night air.

After a heartwarming visit with one of

Mark's cousins we were packing up the

trailer to head over to the Gulf Coast.

Busily bringing in the slide and raising the

jacks, we talked to his neighbor -- now

our friend.  She started describing her

favorite local camping area, Alexander

Springs.  By the time we got in the truck

to drive away we had changed our

destination -- to Alexander Springs.

It is a beautiful little jewel in the forest, a natural, clear,

warm spring with a lovely boardwalk trail through the

swamps around it.

We wandered along the trail, marveling at the lush

plants and the bright turquoise water of the

springs.  Some scuba divers were there that day,

and after watching them sink down a few feet they

vanished into their bubbles, and then even their

bubbles seemed to vanish, surfacing only as gentle

disturbances to the glassy surface.

Our travels took us up and down the east

coast and central parts of Florida several

times.  Daytona was our next big stop.