We have spent several days exploring reserves, preserves and state parks north of Jacksonville, and there are a bunch. There was Pumpkin Hill on Pumpkin Hill Creek, Cedar Creek and Betz-Tiger Preserve. These are on Pumpkin Hill Creek, so there are various kayak/boat launches. We have wandered roads and walked trails. What we discovered is there are some wonderful horse trails in this area. It would also be fun to kayak. It’s good to be alert when walking trails in Florida. I’m also sure there is some great fishing if you know what you are doing. In the evening Sandra fixed a great dinner of Chicken Picata, asparagas, salad and a nice bread 😊
Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park
Just east of Jacksonville, Florida is Kathryn Abbey Hanna State Park is an unusual spot. To its north is Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve. In fact there are many reserves to the north and west. There is so much water in this area, it boggles the mind – Back River, St. John’s River, Pumpkin Hill Creek, Clapboard Creek, Trout River, Ribauld River and more. We went exploring some of these reserves, but they are so vast, one could spend a lifetime exploring all the waterways. But then, as often happens, the best was right in our back yard – in Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, a great blend of beautiful beach on one side and a number of lakes on the other, where birds and alligators abound. While Martha, Ruff and Sandra took a Tuk Tuk tour of Jacksonville, I explored Kathryn Hanna.
Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve
Just north of North Beach Camp Resort is a research reserve, so Martha and I drove up to take a look and go for a hike. We spent 45 minutes in the very nice Visitor’s Center with all kinds of fish hanging from the ceiling to make you feel like you were in the water. It also helps identify salt water fish of all kinds. It would be fun to take a boat tour through the reserve. Out on the dock behind the visitor’s center seagulls and pelicans gathered for a nap.
Driving across a dam on the Guana River, we went to the end and went for a walk. Rain was in the forecast, so we took our rain gear. There are a number of trails, but not knowing the area, we opted for the main trail, which started out as a sand road. It’s a very pretty area, and despite the weather, there were a number of other hikers. There are 15 miles of trails, and connects with a 7.7 mile loop in Guana River Wildlife Management Area.
About ¾ the way around, it started to rain. Then it came down really hard, but it was still a great walk
Dinner at Vilano Beach
From North Beach, we decided to go to dinner at Cap’s On The Water just north at Vilano Beach. Driving up, a sign said all parking was free valet parking. The parking area was a sandy yard between palm trees. Although we were early, the lot was rather full. They don’t take reservations, so we checked in and gave our name, then walked out back to the end of a pier and sat on a bench. Two waitresses were posted there to order drinks, a nice touch. I looked at the smiling lady next to me and asked what she was having. She said it was an excellent margarita. I ordered a manhattan, but Martha, Sandra and Ruff ordered margaritas. We all toasted, and to be neighborly, we toasted our new neighbors.
After a few minutes, I glanced over to see our new friend’s drink was half gone. I asked if it was a good one. “Oh yeah, but I have to be careful. Tequila makes my clothes fall off”. Well that broke the ice. Probably a reference to Joe Nichols’ country song, “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off”. Her husband rolled his eyes. They sold their house in Albuquerque, NM, bought a class A camper and have been traveling for a year and a half. They have gotten a hotel room and dinner out to celebrate her birthday.
Before long, we were talking like old friends, learning about the children, jobs and all kinds of stories. Cindy and Dennis were their names, and we were disappointed when a waitress came to say their table was ready. Not long after, we were called for dinner. Ruff must have enjoyed his drink because he paid for ours as well as his. By the time Ruff and I got to the dining area, we couldn’t find the girls. Shortly Dennis came up and said they had found a table for all of us.
Dinner was excellent, looking out over the Tolomato River and continuing our conversations. We enjoyed the bubbly Cindy with the huge smile and outgoing personality. Then she told us about her cancer, a rare form of cancer, but she was going to beat it, and had already been through chemotherapy. How could that be? We exchanged contact information as we paid our bills. I was sorry Ruff didn’t pick that one up too.
Outside we waved goodbye as the valet brought their car. We continued talking as we waited for our car. After a few minutes the young doorman pointed to a car with open doors and asked,”Isn’t that your car?” We reflected on an evening that will stay with us for a long time. I hope we cross paths with our new friends again.
Anastasia State Park
It’s next to impossible to get a campsite in Anastasia State Park to the east of St. Augustine. Only Jane B knows how to get it done! Although we love North Beach Campground, we drove over to Anastasia to check it out. The campground is excellent, and there are two main attractions – the beach and a big lake. It is also nice being close to St. Augustine. We went for a long walk on the huge, flat, peaceful beautiful beach, where there are no houses or hotels for four miles. The alternate mode of travel was the bicycle, or even better, an electric bike with fat tires. This is one of the prettiest beaches I have ever seen. I can’t imagine what it is like in warmer months.
On the way back to town, I stopped at a car wash and washed my filthy truck. We stopped at Ace Hardware for a new thermometer for the outside of the trailer. Then we met Sandra and Ruff at O’Steen’s Restaurant for lunch. We have eaten there before, and it is truly unique. They are always busy, with lines outside. We checked in and sat on the bench outside. I asked a fellow, who looked the part, which bike was his. He said the red one. It’s bike week, and they had enjoyed the ride up from Daytona for lunch at O’Steen’s. I sat next to a young man who rode a different kind of bike – a bicycle – with his grandfather. Four ladies were dressed nicely and had obviously been here many times before, as the the lady keeping track of the line knew their names. We were still sitting when they came out from having their lunch, toting little leftover boxes. I offered to buy one, but got no takers.
After serious study and debate, we all ordered the lightly battered and butterflied shrimp. They also have great vegetables and hush puppies. It’s where we learned about Datil sauce, made from local Datil peppers.They are great shrimp! Great service, great food at a good price. It’s on my favorites list.
St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
Mark Zablotsky told me to go to the Alligator Farm. Then my acupuncturist, Deborah Farley, said she couldn’t wait to go to the Alligator Farm. So off we went, not really knowing what to expect. How are there migrating birds at an Alligator Farm in St. Augustine? We walked around for the first 15 minutes, looking at alligators, lemurs, parrots, ducks and other things. Then we came upon a boardwalk winding through a lake. Trees were loaded with birds making their nests. Birds were flying everywhere. They weren’t caged, free to come and go, but they chose this place to roost. They are so used to people walking around, they were totally at ease. There is another advantage. No predators are going to swim past the gators to get to their nest. I could have spent the day there, but I was still able to get a lot of good shots. What a cool place!
Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine
Established in 1565, the Cathedral Basilica is the oldest Christian congregation in the US.
We have toured beautiful St. Augustine before, but have wanted to see the Tiffany stained glass windows in Flagler College, so we signed up for a tour. It was pouring down rain as we found a parking place for my big truck with two kayaks on top, then walked a few blocks to the college. All the tours are given by students, and we were lucky to have a good one. The college was once the Ponce de Leon Hotel, extravagantly built by Flagler for the ultra wealthy, who paid a flat fee of $4,000 for the season of February through March. His railroad extended from Newport, RI to St. Augustine and Flagler Beach. Built in 1887, the city was ready to tear it down in 1968 when Lawrence Lewis gave the money to restore it and start Flagler College.
Our tour really only covered the lobby, an event room, the courtyard and dining room. With heavy rains, we couldn’t go out in the courtyard, but it is truly magnificent. His father being a priest, the courtyard is laid out in a cross. Electricity for the hotel was installed by Thomas Edison and his Edison Electric Company. Murals were done by George Maynard (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ponce_de_Leon_Hotel).
North Beach, St. Augustine, Florida
Moving up to North Beach didn’t take long, and it was a pretty drive up the coast with the Inland Waterway to our west. We were in North Beach Camp Resort last year and we loved it. It’s a beautiful beach, a very nice campground with good facilities and a good staff and there are restaurants on either end. We met up with Ruff and Sandra, got settled and went to Aunt Kate’s on the Tolomato River for cocktails and dinner. We still rate Kate’s Key Lime pie as the best……well north of the Keys anyway.
The next morning we walked on the beach for an hour, then went to the grocery store.
Tomoka State Park, Florida
We drove east across Florida from Manatee Springs State Park to Tomoka State Park, passing near beautiful Ocala. It’s like Lexington, Kentucky, with gorgeous horse farms. This is the height of show season, and big horse trailers were traveling to events. Tomoka sits between Orlando and Jacksonville, just north of Daytona Beach and south of Flagler Beach. It is a very nice state park with well-protected campsites and sand roads. The Tomoka River runs through the middle of it, providing a great place to kayak.
We have never been to this park, so we drove around exploring “The Scenic Trail Loop”. It is certainly scenic. It was Bike Week, so lots or Harleys were also driving the loop, mixed in with local travelers. I came to a frantic stop at Boardman Pond, a beautiful spot on the Halifax River. I grabbed my camera, tripod and walked back up the busy road, and for 40 frightening minutes took a hundred pictures of ducks, little blue herons, big blue herons and great egrets as cars whizzed by a few feet behind us. It’s a dangerous place to shoot, but would prove to be the best of the trip. I would later learn there is a viewing platform on the other side, but we would not see so much at that location.
We drove over to Ormond Beach and went into Hull’s Seafood Market, maybe the best we have ever been into and bought a big Tripple Tail filet to grill over the fire. After lunch, we put the kayaks in and paddled Tomoka River for an hour or so. In the middle of the float, I was surprised by my phone ringing. It was Nick from The Apple Core. I find it difficult to understand people on a cell phone in perfect conditions, but with the wind blowing in my ears, I could barely make out what he was saying. He said he need to replace some chips and a board, that cost $450. The labor would bring it up to $920, and did I want to go ahead? “Yes, go ahead Nick.” That was an expensive bottle of wine!