In and around Stephen Foster Folk and Cultural Center

Azaleas Along the Florida TrailI originally planned to hike the Florida Trail from Suwannee Springs.  But, I knew things weren’t going as planned when the desk clerk pointed out that rain was expected, followed by a cold snap. Last I checked Wunderground, my weather source reported that clouds were predicted. Back up in my room, they were calling for a minimal chance of rain. However, an hour later, it became 45% chance. Not surprisingly, when I walked to my car, a misty drizzle fell.

Alternative Plan: I decided to drive ten miles to stall for time and hike a different part of the Florida Trail: that which traverses Steven Foster Folk and Cultural Center State Park .  If the weather stayed awful, I could visit the museum and the craft demonstrations. White Springs also looked like an interesting place to take photos.

I arrived at the Florida Trail trailhead in the park. Drizzle continued, and the air temperature hovered in the mid-fifties. Well, I am a Floridian and a little rain doesn’t stop us, though the cold gives us pause. The trail follows the river closely. Like a roller coaster it goes up and down for the full three miles to the boundary of the park. Great for my need to hike some hills  As an out-and-back, it wasn’t as many miles as I had hoped, but the hills and wet sand gave the boots and the lungs a reasonable workout.

There are many scenic overlooks along the river, but there’s also a lot to see on the ground, such as these oddly colored fungi.

Colorful Fungus on a Log

Spectacular wild azaleas grow all along the river.  Azaleas along the trail came in all shades of pink with some areas thick with colorful bushes.  It appeared that I was probably lucky as had the season been warmer these may have reached the end of their blooms.

Pink Azalea surround the Trail

The Suwannee is a favorite of canoeists and kayakers, as it provides rapids and opportunities for long distance trips

Canoeist on the River

After the hike, I headed into the museum, which pays tribute to the music of Steven Foster, with ten quite unique dioramas that memorialize his songs.

Stephen Foster Diorama

and a carillon (not working and needs repairs). Steven Foster wrote over two-hundred songs, many about the South. He never actually visited Florida.

Next, I headed into White Springs, the former home of an early twentieth century era spa. In its heyday it was home to fourteen luxury hotels. Many burned in 1911, so not much remains and the town now has fewer than 1000 inhabitants.  The Telford Hotel, built early in the 20th century, has been closed since 2014.  People still remember eating and staying there, though. Telford Hotel

Next door, the lovely Sophie Jane Adams house dates to 1893, though I wasn’t able to find out much more about the house.

Adams House, circa 1893

The bad weather turned out to be a blessing as I didn’t spend my entire day on the trail. Tomorrow, though is another day!

Down Upon the Suwannee River

Bridge Over the Suwannee River

I’m heading into the stretch for my hike preparation. I now have eighty some odd miles on my boots and I’ve hiked as far as ten miles at a time.  But…I still haven’t done the kind of elevation gains that the REI folks recommended. Other than flying somewhere, I think that I am not going to find a 2000-foot elevation gain in Florida, or in Southern Georgia, for that matter. But the authors of the Florida Trail Guide   (the Florida Scenic Trail is Florida’s version of the Appalachian Trail) put together a listing of hilly portions of the Florida Trail.

The stars aligned!  Last week the Suwannee Spring Reunion music festival, an annual event, at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park popped up on my calendar wish list for the same  weekend that I wanted to do a long hilly hike. (I had wanted to visit the park for a long time) And….the trailhead for two Florida Trail hilly hikes happened to be just across the river on the other side of Suwannee Springs. About a 3.5 hour drive, this clearly was an overnight trip and I gave it two nights, with Sunday at the festival. Monday and a few hours on Tuesday will be for hiking. Camping at the park or motels in Live Oak are options, but need to be reserved well in advance of a festival.

The Festival was well worth the visit with some amazing Americana music (bluegrass, blues and country). Great for listening and photography. Sunday has two active stages; thus, you move back and forth…no downtime between bands.

The Infamous Stringdusters

 

Ralph Roddenbery

Bring your own chairs. Vendors sold food, much of it even healthy and there is also a café on site.  The Festival Park hosts a huge number of campers during events and many people stay for all three days.

SOS Cafe

I think they might want to call this hippy fest if the name hasn’t been taken already.  More tie dye here than probably existed during the 1960s, both for sale and on people.

Tie Dye Everywhere

After I finished listening, I headed over to Suwannee Springs across the road.  The ruins of the Suwannee Springs spa, which existed before the Civil War, remain as well as those of an old train trestle. A closed car bridge crosses the river to the trail.  Tomorrow looks to be some fun climbing. I can’t wait!

Suwannee Springs Spa Ruins

Foot Bridge Leading to the Florida Trail

 

 

 

Hiking the Serenova Tract Before It Disappears

Fishing Lake along the Hiking TrailJust an hour away from my home, the Serenova Tract of the Starkey Wilderness Preserve was next on my list last week for breaking in the boots. I was enticed by its purported 10.7 miles of hiking trails and 6500 acres of wilderness within an hour’s drive.

Once I began my research on this hike, it became more than a hike. A few interesting articles popped up. It seems that Pasco County had been trying extend a major road directly through the center of the preserve since the 1990s. The Ridge Road Extension dispute pits Pasco leaders, who assert that the road is critically needed as a hurricane evacuation route, against environmental groups  bent on saving the wetland. For a variety of reasons, the County hasn’t received permits from the Army Corps of Engineers. The Suncoast Sierra Club has formed a thirty-four member Save our Serenova Coalition.

Well, not only was this a hike, but it was a story!

Most of the local hikes that I have completed have been in isolated rural areas.  But clearly, for some of the places I visited, such as Little Manatee State Park and the Serenova Tract, development squeezes these little islands of greenery.  Major roads surround Serenova on three sides. The trailhead is now directly across from a brand-new Publix grocery store.

But once I started walking down the trail here, the outside world receded. I kept thinking to myself as I passed lovely little fishing lakes, streams, and passing equestrians: “What kind of person thinks about putting a road through here?”  Many of us think that this road really isn’t about the hurricane, but is about accessing more land to develop.

The scenery here IS remarkable, with towering pines and laurel oaks.

Towering Pines

This is real Florida with wetlands, the occasional flooded trail, and the ruins of an old homestead near a tiny lake.

Homestead Ruins

There are also areas that are so arid that prickly pear cactus grow. Butterflies flit everywhere, but sad to say wouldn’t stand still to have their pictures taken.  At one point I traversed a field of palmettos intermixed with wild lupine that seemed to me to just glow.

Wild Lupine

So what about the trail? Well the quality of the trail markings doesn’t quite live up to the magnificence of the scenery.  There are only a few signs and lots of unmarked trails. Hairpin curves on the main trail remain unsigned. Main intersections are supposed to be marked, but many of the signs were missing or broken.

Broken Trail Sign

I ended up losing the trail and navigating out of the preserve with my phone. I did manage to get ten more miles on my boots.

With a little work this place can and should be preserved as the world-class park that it is!

You can sign the coalition’s petition to save Serenova Tract here.

Wildflowers and Other Delights After the Inferno: Croom Wildlife Management Area

I have now spent the better part of a month working towards a comfortable pair of hiking boots and a renewal of my long dormant “hiking legs” in preparation for my trip to Greece.  I exercise weekly at the gym and pretend the treadmill is a hill; run up and down our local causeways; and head to our lovely public lands to hike. Florida is the place to be in late winter. This last week I hiked the Croom Wildlife Management Area . Folks from my local chapter of the  Florida Trail Association suggested hiking along “Loop B-C” starting at the Tucker Hill trailhead. Tucker Hill Trailhead

This trail turned out to be quite the treat (yes there were hills) as parts of this trail have experienced a recent “prescribed fire”. These supervised fires clear the underbrush, prevent uncontrolled burns, and encourage new growth.

Sunflower
Sunflower

Happily the resultant open sunny areas abound with spring wildflowers and bright green young pines and turkey oaks. All this attracts butterflies. I even saw some common milkweed that will attract monarchs.

common milkweed
common milkweed

During my hike, though, the place was instead hopping with tiger swallowtail butterflies.

I haven’t often seen wild lupine, but I found a large patch. Many more would bloom soon in the surrounding area.

Wild Lupine
wild lupine

Along the way, a small gopher tortoise literally came running along the path. I didn’t think that a gopher tortoise could run, especially as fast as this little guy.I was waiting to see if a large rabbit was in hot pursuit. The gopher tortoise, a keystone species, plays a critical role during a fire. Many small critters are protected within the gopher tortoise borough during a fire, allowing for quick recovery after the fire.gopher tortoiseThis is for the most part a dry pinewood forest, but surprisingly there is a small amazingly beautiful little wetland near the campground.

Wetland Near the Trail
Wetland Near the Trail

Hiking the Hillsborough River

 

Bridge over the River

When we first moved to Florida I searched the area for hiking spots near our house.  Most of the nearby hiking trails were less than a mile long, so hiking didn’t seem a viable exercise option. During the last couple of years though,I missed my woodland activities, so, I signed up for a hiking trip to Greece. New boots in need of breaking in, I began the hunt for places to hike, preferably, with some hills and less than two-hours away by car. Ah you say, hills in Florida, that’s not going to happen. Well there are some, apparently, though a bit of a drive.Map of Possible Hiking Destination

I set as my goal to have a 100 miles logged onto my shoes by mid-April. Admittedly, some of that would be treadmill hill climbing.

As of this post I have reached about one-third of my goal.  My last couple of trips were up to north Hillsborough County to the Hillsborough River.  In order to hike the river, you need to know who owns the land.  The  lands surrounding the river may belong to a county (Hillsborough, Pasco or Hernando), a municipality, the State (as State Parks or State Forest),  Water Management District (affectionately known as Swift Mud by us locals), or even the Federal Government. The SWFWMD site  and the Fish and Wildlife Site are the most helpful in choosing trails as they have the most up-to-date information. But…and it is a big but, the descriptions of hikes are often somewhat vague.  Google and other online maps may or may not show all parks from all jurisdictions. You may want to check alltrails. com , for the reviews. However, their maps seem to be out-of-date, as do the existing books.

I needed hikes that would be greater than five miles, so the SWFWMD properties seemed to fit the bill. But beware, a lot of the trail here is paved. The unpaved trail is a lightly used hiker-biker trail. The best parking area is the Flatwoods Site.  After paying your $2, walk about a quarter-mile, to the Central Kiosk where there is water and everyone gathers.

If you need information there is usually someone who is familiar with the area.  From here you can do up to sixteen miles hike on the Main Eubanks Trail, a loop trail.

Signage is good at the Flatwoods Park The trail here is well-marked with numbered posts (this wasn’t true at the other parking lots where I couldn’t find the numbered posts).  February is a great time to hike as there are no bugs and the humidity is manageable.

About ten miles north of the SWFWMD property (or according to one map just an extension) is Hillsborough River State Park. The park has a number of well-maintained stacked trails, including part of the Florida Trail.

White Lilies

There are lovely old trees and many flowers and quite a few remnants of the Civilian Conservation Corps as this park was one of ten Florida Parks built by the CCC.

CCC Picnic Table

The trail here follows the river so has some awesome views. Three stacked trails, including the nature trail, the Barnyard Trail and the Seminole Trail allowed for a seven-mile goal on my visit to the park (could have gone ten). It was slightly hilly.

Botanical Gardens In and Around Tampa Bay

Bromeliads at the Florida Botanical Gardens

February begins Spring in Florida. Many tourists head this way, tired of the cold weather that is likely to last up north until May.  One great way to enjoy Florida is through visits to one or more of the botanical gardens throughout Florida.These are great places to run, walk, sit or best of all take photographs of birds and lovely flowers. I took many of these on my morning run this week, through the Florida Botanical Gardens, using my 25-50mm lens set to a macro setting, compensating for the incredibly lovely sun, or using my 75-300 mm telephoto lens.Watching Birds is a Favorite Pastime

Snowy EgretBe sure to check out the website of your local botanical garden before you leave. Determine if they are members of the   American Horticultural Society.  As a member you get reciprocal admission privileges throughout the country. This can really add up to some great savings as some gardens charge as much as $25 for a single visit.

February in Florida fills with color as we have the tail-end of the camellia season and the beginning of the azalea season in Central and Southern Florida. Succulents also bloom in the Spring.

 

Easy day trips for those in Tampa Bay are the Florida Botanical Gardens, Marie Selby Gardens, Sunken Gardens, Bok Tower and the University of South Florida Botanical Gardens. Check out some of my photos from this and previous years. Afternoons bring out the butterflies and napping among the Flamingos (at Sunken Gardens).

Flamingos at Sunken GardensFlorida Botanical Gardens Butterfly Gardens

 

Myakka River State Park: Great Florida Hiking!

Myakka River State Park

I bought a pair of discontinued COLUMBIA Women’s Culvert Mid Omni-Tech Hiking Trekking Boots for the upcoming hiking trip to Greece.  I had managed not to have to buy boots for decades as my feet hate boots. The guides for my upcoming hiking trip to Greece, though, were adamant on the need for ankle coverage as the hiking would be rocky and dusty.

With two-and one-half months to go, I need to get movin’ and get these boots broken in. So every week I will seek out a place within an hour or two of home to break in the boots. With this in mind, Hubby and I set out for Myakka State Park, a little over an hour drive, near Sarasota. We hiked three trails using the State Park trail map we got at the visitors information center, an old Civilian Conservation Corps building.

We had a really nice trip and expect to go back another day as we missed out on getting permits to hike into Deep Hole Lake. Most of the hikes in the park are short unless you hike out onto the backpacking or bicycle trails, but you should try all of them. Everyone needs to visit the Canopy Walk, near the river. It’s ultrashort, but provides different view of the park from above.

Next, we hiked out onto the Birdwalk boardwalk.  We came upon a female Florida Softshell Turtle, busily laying eggs.  She was huge, probably two feet in diameter. Mostly these turtles aren’t easy to see as they only come on land to lay eggs.

Next, we headed onto the Myakka River trail.  Backpackers and mountain bikers use this trail to reach primitive campgrounds throughout the park. Although, we had the book and a park trail map, we found the trail to be confusing as there were red, blue and unmarked trails.  But I did get my boot workout.  Though it’s February, it is already warming up and so the unshaded parts of this trail are already getting warm.

If you don’t want to hike, a boat tour and rental kayaks may interest you.  This is certainly worth another trip in the future. The boots may even be comfortable by then.

Myakka River State Park View

 

Taking to the Open Road in an RV Rental (Part 1)

Winnebago Travato

As with many retirees, my husband and I have bounced around the idea of chucking the whole “life with walls” for a life on the road in an RV. We discarded this idea for a variety of reasons.  Mostly, I felt that a life on the road limited me to traveling the US and Canada.  rather than seeing the world. My husband concluded that a life on the road would actually end up being pretty expensive as costs for an acceptable RV and campsites have risen with the popularity of the lifestyle. But we still had this idea in the backs of our mind, even if as something to do in a few years.

As I was doing some research on another topic a month ago, though, I stumbled on a local source for renting a Class B Motorhome.  These are large, self-contained, camper vans that sleep two.

Thus far I have found RV rental to be expensive, but this is as much an educational as  recreational experience.  For us this will be a “shake down” expedition for the lifestyle and a way to assess the long-term costs. We are renting this from Lazydays RV, located north of Tampa, Florida (also available in Colorado and Arizona). The base price for a Class B rental is $225 per night, plus optional extra costs for sheets and kitchen equipment. This will include unlimited mileage and generator time. We will be renting for six days. I’m still working through the issue of whether or not our insurance will cover the rental. We did a lot of the reservation online, but I spoke with Becky, the rental rep.

The other option for renting a Class B is RV share.  This site includes individual owners who rent through a service, similar to Airbnb. The price seemed comparable, but the rentals came with more restrictions. The service provides for roadside assistance.

We are planning a circuit trip around to the Atlantic coast, Key West and through Central Florida.

Florida in January: A Great Place for Horsing Around

 

Opening the Lippizan Peformance

Central Florida  in winter is ideal for photographing horses in a variety of appealing settings. Not only will you enjoy our sunny days, but you will come away with some amazing shots. You can go to Tampa Bay Downs to see Kentucky Derby hopefuls; spend a day watching polo ponies at the Sarasota Polo Club at Lakewood Ranch;  marvel at the gorgeous Lipizzans practicing “Airs Above the Ground” at Hermann’s Farm. Other options include rodeos and fox hunts. Horse and rider make great photographic subjects as they appeal to a wide audience; these photos are portraits of the coordination and athleticism of horse and rider united to achieve a goal. To take full advantage of this opportunity, a telephoto lens would be ideal. Most of these photos are taken with an Olympus OMD-EM5  75-300mm lens.

Racing at Tampa Bay Downs
An Exciting Race at Tampa Bay Downs
Polo Players Ride Down the field
Polo at Lakewood Ranch

But in addition to the excitement of competition, there is an intimacy between horse and rider to capture as they work as a team. Most of the venues in the area have opportunities to capture these moments in stables or after events.  Below is a photo from one of the practice sessions at Herrmann’s Farm and a post-race photo from Tampa Bay Downs.

So enjoy our bright sunny days watching horse and rider work while you create some great photos.

Lipizzan Horse

Happy Holidays: A Gallery of Favorite Florida Holiday Photos

Well this has been a lovely year to photograph holiday displays.  Here are a few of my favorite places: St. Augustine, Gulfport, Ft. Myers, and Tampa. We still have another week to visit more holiday displays.  May you, your camera, your family and your tripod enjoy another year of great photographs.

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St. Augustine’s Magical Holiday Lights

St. Augustine Florida’s holiday lights celebration lasts the entire month of December with countless opportunities to see lights on foot or by any number of conveyances and tours.

We were warned about crowds, even on Sundays. In order to avoid some of the stress, we stayed at the Best Western Spanish Quarters Inn which is directly across from the National Park Visitors Center and the main Old Town trolley stop.  I highly recommend staying at a centrally located hotel or a Bed and Breakfast ( B&Bs, decked out for the holidays, have daytime tours).

Sunday through Thursday, crowds are less and you have your pick of lodgings; weekends are more expensive. Weekend lodging in Old Town sells out early.  Most tours run during the week, especially on Monday and daily, close to Christmas and New Years. so you won’t miss out.

Our visit in early December reminded us that Florida does have weather cold enough to justify funny winter hats, and hot chocolate, so be sure and bring winter clothing.

Winter in Florida courtesy of James Mellicant and his Lumia 950 XL phone

For the photographer, viewing lights on foot provides the best opportunity, but had we wanted to ride the trolley, tour by boat or ride a horse-drawn carriage, we could have done any combination of tours.

After 7:00 PM, on Sunday, at least, crowds and lines began to abate when families and day-trippers headed home making for less harried photographing

Though I used my tripod as recommended for low light, I don’t think it added much except the hassle of carting it around over a couple of miles.  The lights are quite bright and almost feels like daylight. Hand-held shots are more likely successful with a boosted ISO (I used 2400).   You might also want to photograph during the hours before and after sunset. Holiday Lights look great early in the evening when the sky is still blue. I used my 12-50mm lens for nearly all my photos simply because switching out lens wasn’t really convenient. Lenses are a matter of preference and there are no wrong choices.

Photo from Jim Mellicant’s 950 XL Phone

St. Augustine literally has miles of holiday lights. I could easily spend more than one night here.

Waterfront Lights
Waterfront Lights Are Most Spectacular

Spectacular Lights

 

St. Leo’s Benedictine Abbey

 

San Antonio, Florida, in Pasco County, has many photo opportunities:  The San Antonio Pottery,  lovely places to hike, and the St. Leo Benedictine Abbey,  justify a trip to this tiny town north of Tampa.  Often in passing through town to do the other two, I had seen a sign on the campus of St. Leo’s University for the Abbey.  Last week after a quick visit to SaintLeoAbbey.org, I set out with my trusty Olympus OM-D, EM5, to take some photos.

On arrival, sandhill cranes congregated in the parking lot and made me feel welcome as did the welcome center.

Gathering in Greeting in the St. Leo’s Benedictine Abbey Parking Lot

I’ve always wondered about San Antonio as It seems fairly isolated. The 1880s, though, things were hopping.  The South Florida Railroad passed through nearby Dade City and the Orange Belt Railroad stopped in San Antonio on its way to St. Petersburg.

In 1889, Benedictine monks established a monastery and Catholic high school and founded the town of St. Leo (later incorporated into San Antonio). The monastery became an Abbey in 1902. The Benedictines constructed the first concrete block building in Pasco County, St. Leo Hall, begun in 1906, completed in 1911 and still standing.

St. Leo’s Hall

The construction of the Abbey church began in 1931 and the church was finally consecrated in 1948.  The  Abbey website has more detail on the history and construction. I love the part of the story where the monks barter oranges for church furniture and building material with another group of monks in Indiana. Great stuff!

The lovely abbey, typical of many important pre second world war buildings, is in the Florida Mediterranean style. I have more description of this architectural style in a couple of my posts: Wakulla Springs and Bay Pines VA.

 

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The intensely hot, bright July day proved attractive to multiple butterfly species.  It gave my telephoto lens quite the workout.

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I hope to go back on a day where I can photograph the lovely stained glass windows (the light was just too much) and the grotto on the grounds. Stay tuned for Part 2!

 

 

Rainbow Springs State Park: An Antidote to the Florida Heat

Rainbow River

According to the Website floridasprings.org, “Rainbow Springs is Florida’s fourth largest spring and is designated a National Natural Landmark…The spring pool is about 250 feet wide and shallow, with especially clear blue water flowing over the beds of green aquatic plants and brilliant white limestone and sand…Seven vents contribute to the first-magnitude group near the spring bowl and are augmented by five more springs and hundreds of sand “boils” to create the Rainbow River. The river runs about 5.6 miles before joining the Withlacoochee River.

During the early twentieth-century the area was home to phosphate mines, parts of which can still be seen on park hiking trails.

Waterfalls built on old phosphate mining waste

The 1930s brought tourists and the spring became a theme park that included a zoo, gardens, rodeo, monorail, a swimming pavilion and artificial waterfalls built on old phosphate tailings.

Like many of Florida’s older tourist attractions, it couldn’t compete with the mega attractions in Orlando so closed in 1974. It reopened as Rainbow Springs State Park in the 1990s. after local volunteers supported the acquisition and restoration of the park.

Today pleasant  gardens and shady hikes invite a visit.  Butterflies and ancient trees abound.

Monarch enjoying a meal

 

Zebra: A common Florida Butterfly

 

Gulf Frittilary

The  Park provides a great place to escape the heat and swim in seventy-two-degree water in the head springs or kayak or tube down the river.We try to visit the park about once a year as this is the closest major spring to the Tampa Bay region. Florida springs are the perfect antidote to beat the Florida heat.  The gulf water and pools around our areas are all in the 90s.  The spring water though, ah a lovely seventy-two degrees!

Rainbow Springs State Park Swimming Area

The park tubing concessionaire, Nature Quest, rents tubes and provides tram service every twenty minutes up the river.  You grab your tube, float with the current, and two hours later you are pleasantly cool.  Tubing is available between April and the end of September (Before Memorial Day and after Labor Day rentals are limited to weekends)

Nature Quest Rents Tubes and Kayaks at the Park

We arrived around eleven: a reasonable time for a week-day but we probably would have been too late on the weekend as the park closes when the parking area fills. Early arrival is also advised because of frequent afternoon thunderstorms in the summer. For people, desirous of a quieter experience, I suggest a visit during the week or early or late in the season. Between the entry and two tubes, it cost us $45.  This includes the state park admission, tube rental and the tram ride north.

We floated two miles in about two hours. All manner of boats, tubes and kayaks take advantage of the cool water.  Given the crowds, we still saw quite a few birds, including anhingas, blue herons, and ibises. The water is clear, and feels just wonderful, as the air temperature was in the nineties.

A few important details: alcohol, coolers and disposable packaging (water bottles, food packaging and the like) are all prohibited on the river. The outfitter will keep your keys for a small fee. Additionally, even if you bring your own tube, you will still pay the $15 per person fee.

Perhaps the only drama occurred when I tried to pose for a photo at the end.  I did find out that the current near the end is strong enough to make it difficult to paddle the tube against the current.  Thus, into the water I went to paddle back to the ramp and off floated a sandal and hat.  Just a word to the wise.

An Unplanned Ending to a Great Tubing Trip (Photo Courtesy of Caity Mellicant)

 

Lettuce Lake Park-A Photographer’s Dream

About a month ago for one of our weekly field trip, the Florida Center for Creative Photography sponsored a photo walk to the Lettuce Lake Regional Park, north of Tampa. I’d been to the park a few years back sans camera, however, this visit found me well-equipped, with lenses in hand and accompanied by three expert members of the club. We got some great shots, so I decided to head back  to the park with my daughter and see it from the river in one of the park’s rental kayaks. Most of these shots are from the first visit, since I didn’t take my Olympus OMD out on the water and instead used my Windows 920 cell phone camera.

The Hillsborough River creates Lettuce Lake, via an overflow of river water. The river creates the swamp, named for the ubiquitous water lettuce plants.

Lettuce Lake
A peaceful morning paddle on the lake

In addition to lovely lake vistas, birds abound here.  Just a few minutes into my walk with the club, we came upon these two Limpkins.  They seemed to be literally posing for us for a good twenty minutes, until they finally caught some food and scuttled away.

 

Cyprus knees along the lake
Haunting Cypress Knees

The park has quite the collection of massive old cypress. pine and hardwood trees.  These trees seemed to have avoided the clearcutting that took out most of the woodlands during the 1920s and 30s. Perhaps because the area remains under water much of the year.

 

Swamp lily
Swamp lily hiding a cypress knob
Boardwalks
Boardwalks keep us above the swamp but allow for safe viewing

 

 

 

 

Swamp lilies, a native Florida plant, grow throughout, with waves of flowers bordering the river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty-five hundred feet of boardwalks, a multistory viewing tower, and a 1.25-mile paved trail allow easy access to wildlife, views of the lake and picnics.

canoes and kayaks
Rental boats make for great views of the park from the river

 

 

Kayaks and canoes can be rented here. We rented kayaks for four hours at the bargain price of $25. Rentals include all safety equipment and paddles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The park is home to the Audubon Resource Center where folks can find more information about the park. The website provides information on kayak and canoe rentals here and in other Hillsborough County parks.

Running Cypress Point Park

Beach
Cypress Point Park Beach

Although most people think that the Courtney Campbell  Causeway Trail begins in Tampa near the Whiskey Joe Bar and the Westin Hotel, the trail actually begins at Cypress Point Park.  The other day, I decided to explore that end of the trail on one of my “long runs”.

I did go online to try to find a map of the trail.  Trail maps are hard to find, but this one  is somewhat helpful, though it makes no distinction between on road and off-road trails. The entrance to the park, listed on the park website is an empty lot.  The actual entrance is through an office park, rather than at the entrance listed on the park website.

Parking at the trailhead seems adequate, though perhaps it gets crowded on the weekend.  This is a pocket park nestled between the Courtney Campbell Causeway and Interstate 275. Though it is encircled by many buildings, once in the park it feels blissfully isolated. It has just a little slice of our lovely Bay with a well-maintained little beach.

One oddity in this park, given recent controversies is an actual monument to a Confederate hero.

Salt Works
Tampa Confederate Salt Works

Trails through the park allow for perhaps a half mile of beach trail running and then a concrete path through the disc golf course adds another half mile: good for a warmup and some off-road running.

After warming up along the beach trails, I ran out the driveway (no signs here) and headed left on the trail which first hugs the edge of the airport then follows along Florida  Route 60.

Beach Trail
Beach Trail.

This trail is part of what will someday be a greenway trail system that traverses Tampa and connects to the surrounding counties.  For now, Cypress Point Park is the terminus for the Courtney Campbell Trail in Tampa with the other terminus in Clearwater at the Bayshore Trail.

The Courtney Campbell trail which leads to the causeway is interesting in that it has various levels of protection from the road.  From the looks of the various barriers, it doesn’t seem that someone using the trail will actually be hit by a car.  Trash and ambience, well that is a different matter.

Trail
Poorly protected  and maintained trails attract trash and are noisy

I suppose that when we develop trails, trash probably isn’t something that we are thinking about. But, it really does matter.  Roads generate trash and trash flies onto trails. Sturdy barriers keep out trash and they also keep out noise, thus improving the trail experience.

Near the Hyatt
A well protected trail gives the illusion of a quiet country path

One hears nary a peep here in this part of the trail near the Hyatt Hotel.

The Cypress Point Park and the nearby trail are well worth a run and in the future I expect to explore further with a bike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding the Cross-Bay Ferry

Checking in!
CCross-Bay Ferry in St. Pete
Cross-Bay Ferry in St. Pete

Some experts suggest that the future of public transport in the Tampa Bay region lies with the use of our waterways.  With that in mind, a few communities have ferry demonstration programs.  The Cross-Bay Ferry  began to travel between St. Pete and Tampa as a six month pilot project that will end this month.

Since the pilot was ending on April 30, I figured it might be the time to try this out. I visited the website last week to check out the schedule.  The first thing that struck me was that this really isn’t a commuter ferry.  On weekdays, the first ferry out of St. Pete is at noon and the last ferry out of Tampa is 5:30 PM.  I guess for folks lucky enough to work four hours per day, this might work! But for someone working eight hours per day, not so much. For retirees, tourists, and some late rising students, though this is probably about right. We saw one person who actually looked like a commuter. Nearly everyone we talked to was, like us, a local…curious about the service.

I had read that the ferry was lightly used during the week, so I didn’t buy my tickets online.  Turns out that was almost a mistake.  We left home early, at 10:45, and arrived around 11:15, to get the noon ferry. Tickets were initially plentiful, but by 11:30, all the tickets for the returning 5:30 PM ferry had been sold. Parking was free for ferry riders and ferry tickets were $5 per person.

We boarded the boat 15 minutes before launch.  My daughter, Caity and I sat up on the upper deck…seemingly less popular than the air-conditioned lower deck near the bar.  The ride was uneventful, and took 55 minutes. The seas were calm. Many photo ops along the way.  I rediscovered a filter on my camera that makes for interesting water shots. Most interesting is the Port of Tampa.

From the Ferry
On the Ferry
Kicking back

Once we arrived in Tampa, we had numerous options to enjoy ourselves.  We decided to take the streetcar to Ybor City.  I hadn’t been there for a while.  We could also have headed up the Riverwalk on the west side of downtown.  Strangely many of the bus options downtown don’t run this time of the day, so getting to Waterworks Park at the end of the Riverwalk, north of downtown Tampa, would have been a long walk.  We had decided against bringing our bikes as we didn’t want to worry about them. We had also decided against the Pirate Water Taxi  as being too expensive ($18 per person). It did look like a neat idea if one were spending a whole day visiting central Tampa.

streetcar
Catching the streetcar
Water taxi
Water taxi

The streetcar trip to Ybor City took 20 minutes.  Lunch was at Hamburger Mary’s where I blew up my diet for the day with a bean burger and an awesome side of sweet potato fries.  Coffee afterwards was at a neat place called the Blind Tiger…great coffee. Ybor City is quiet on a Friday afternoon, and I think most of the folks we saw walking around had come over on the ferry with us.

The trip back was at 5:30 and we were tired by then.  I took more photos on the way back.  The light is good that time of the day.  For those who had missed out on tickets home, folks were selling unused tickets near the kiosk.  We arrived back at about 6:30 and were home for dinner by 7:30.

on the streetcar
Caity on the streetcar

Hopefully, the service continues as I think most of the people using the service seemed to enjoy it.  Would I use the ferry rather than drive into Tampa?  Probably not, as it we live too far from St. Pete and this adds at least an hour each way to the trip into Tampa.  If someone decided to develop a service from our side of Tampa Bay to Tampa, I would definitely consider it.  The problem though is likely to be cost.  The initial cost was to be $10 per person. At that price, I might have been hesitant…particularly if parking wasn’t free. Apparently, private sector support has allowed the price reduction…so it isn’t clear whether this will be affordable.  But for tourists staying near the waterfront, this is a great way to see the other side of the Bay.

Ferry
The End of the Day

A Day at the Kite Festival

A Day at the Kite Festival

We were out photographing the Twentieth Annual Kite Festival on the Treasure Island Beach  this past weekend with a myriad of other photographers.  Kite festivals make for great photo opportunities and attract us like flies.  You also have multiple colors plus much activity taking place on a beach or some other photogenic location.

Wide-angle lens gets a work out

I’d been to the festival during previous years and been somewhat disappointed for various reasons…bad weather, rain, grey skies…etc.  As I recall, I wasn’t yet equipped with a selection lenses and I hate looking at photos of places where people have clearly Photoshoped blue skies.  This time around I switched between my various lenses…and early in the day we at least had some blue sky.

Each time I photograph an event I become a better photographer.  Especially when I compare my photos to the 100s of other people posting on the internet.  Be-that-as-it-may, I came away resolved to improve my video skills as kite festivals are perfect for that modality.  As I am wont to do I looked at what I had on my computer in the way of editing software, as most of my past videos have simply been automated slide shows created in iPhoto or Photo.

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I reloaded my old copy of Premier Elements 11 (three versions out of date) and tried to work with iMovie.  I was trying to do something simple, flip my images and remove the guy in the corner of my video who was clearly picking his nose.  I’m still working on it. But…I did discover a great Adobe resource. For those of us who don’t buy into the idea of paying for every update, this is the place for us. I’m still working on that  guy but my daughter, Caity Mellicant, and I got some great photos.

Almost blue sky

Bok Tower and Gardens

Bok tower
Bok Tower

Every Holiday season I visit Bok Tower and Gardens.  The visitor’s center, café,  gift shop, and Pinewood estate glow with lovely festive plants and creative decorations.

Garden Entrance
Bok Tower Garden Entrance

Bok Tower has a great website where you can check out events, learn more about the Gardens and its founder Edward Bok and plan your day.  The visitor’s center is also a source of information on the gardens.

What's in Bloom?
What’s in Bloom?

The historic tower carillon bells chime with the sound of holiday music as they have since the garden opened in 1930 with daily and special concerts. Bok Tower is located near the town of Lake Wales in central Florida, about an hour from downtown Tampa.

We usually spend a half day here, but one could easily spend days photographing this ever-changing landscape, with its lovely collection of colorful plants, and still not see everything here. Certainly, one could spend weeks here with a camera.  Most gardens are macro photographer’s heaven and this place is no exception with lovely flowers and many butterflies.

Butterfly Visit
Monarch on a visit to Bok Tower

But the garden features an opportunity for the landscape or architectural photographer. My strategy is to circle through the gardens switching lenses with each circuit (OLYMPUS M.: 9-18mm, F4.0-5.6; 75-300mm, F4.8-6.7; and 12-50mm, F3.5-6.3).

Bok Tower, the Art Deco Tower/Neo-Gothic center piece of this garden, perches atop the highest elevation in Florida. The 205-foot tall Singing Tower is a great example from the Art Deco movement.

Art Deco Windows
Art Deco Windows are great examples from the Art Deco Era
Golden Door
Golden Door at the Singing Tower

Industrialist C. Austin Buck built Pinewood Estates, a twenty-room Mediterranean Revival mansion in the 1930s.  Bok Tower Gardens acquired the mansion in 1970. Holiday decorations abound.

Pinewood Estates
Pinewood Estates

The new Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden provides unique approach to encourage kids to get outdoors. I wish I’d had such a playground when I was growing up!

December is a great month to visit these gardens as in addition to the holiday decorations, the huge camellia collection starts to bloom.

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We at lunch at the Blue Palmetto Cafe at the Visitors Center. In addition to sandwiches and wraps they have beer, wine and snacks.

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Bay Pines VA Hospital

Building 1
Bay Pines VA Building 1

Florida’s history is brief compared to other areas but does have its hidden history often only dating from the 1920s and 1930s.  Many of these in the Mediterranean revival style that I’ve mentioned in previous posts.  I found a great example of this architecture down in South St. Pete at the Bay Pines VA Hospital (now part of the C.W. Young VA Medical Center).  While I was hunting through my photos I found these photos that I took three years ago, with my brand  new Olympus OMD EM-5 in tow. I spent a morning photographing this great architecture. As I write this, I realize  that I made a typical rookie mistake of not researching my subject. I saw stuff I liked and snapped away.  But this really is a great place to spend a winter morning camera in hand.  Now that I know more about the history I plan to go back and take a more systematic approach.. Enjoy my rookie photos.

Construction began in the 1930s with Building 1, 2 and 13 with completion in 1933 . Fortunately these buildings still exist, though most have been repurposed over the years as more modern buildings replaced older buildings.  Newer buildings intermix with the old. This makes for a bit of a challenge sometimes if you are trying for iconic views of the facades.

Building 1 itself is a work of art.  Now housing offices, it is most noted for its three level entrance

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Nearby Building 24, though newer, is more accessible for photographic detail

Entrance
Building 24 Entrance

 

I searched for some historical photos of the buildings.  A few exist in the Florida Photo collection but many of these are old post cards. In 2011 the National Park Service published an extensive history and  background discussion of the buildings.

It isn’t necessary to obtain permission to enter the grounds to photograph the old buildings.  When I took these photos, I only had one lens, my Olympus M.12-50mm F3.5-6.3, but on my return visit I will go back with a better selection. These photos are exterior, taken early in the day. In the future I hope to do some of the interior (after getting permission) of the tile work.

This map will help you find the buildings. Of interest are Buildings 1, 2, 13, 20 and 24.  Parking can sometimes be challenging here…but visitor parking is well-marked.

Sunken Gardens

Sunken Gardens
Sunken Gardens is located in a great St.Petersburg neighborhoodFlorida

Florida has forty-two different botanical gardens to choose from. At 4 square acres, Sunken Gardens is perhaps one of the smallest Botanical Gardens in Florida.  But, what it lacks in acreage it makes up for by its location near downtown St. Petersburg, with its great music, art scene, and huge selection of eateries.  The Gardens are also co located with a children’s museum housed in an historic building.

Sunflowers
Colors lurk in interesting places
dutchmans-pipe
Look up for unique plants

Most of Florida’s old roadside attractions have been well catalogued, though Sunken Gardens seems to have missed out..perhaps because only bits and pieces still exist.

Old Forida
A Doorway to Old Florida

But, it exemplifies the kind of hybrid garden/zoo that was common in the state.  Thus the unique collection of birds here and the occasional interloper.

Chilean Flamingos
Chilean Flamingos
parrot cages
One of the many parrot cages
Racoon
A raccoon visits

Because of its age, this garden has some of the oldest trees and bushes that we see in the metropolitan area. Remnants of old Florida remain with the fauna here relatively unique. From the photographer’s perspective this  clearly provides opportunities.  It’s possible to come here mid-day and still have shade.  The flamingos, common in the past, in front of hotels and the like are now limited to places such as Sunken Gardens.  There are many flowers and birds that provide macro opportunities, but a wide-angle lens is useful for capturing the amazing landscape provided by the old live oaks, ferns and colorful Bougainvillea. On the other hand, the day I took these photos had started out bright, but my sun disappeared….making for a pretty dark day as reflected in these photos.

The small size of the garden and the seemingly steep entrance fee here are issues. The much larger Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo is free (described in a future post).   However, members of the American Horticultural Society, available with nearly any Botanical Gardens, membership will get a free pass here and Groupon has discount offers. These Gardens are worth a visit in conjunction with a visit to the ever-improving downtown St. Pete, or perhaps the Children’s Museum.