Mixed flock of gulls and Black Skimmers.
Mark always has the luck of the Irish
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
listened to The
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
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
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
The far north end of
Mayport Beach is home
to a mixed
have a fierce
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.