Today is packing and cleanup day in preparation for a travel day tomorrow. I leave Bushnell after having spent four weeks here, headed next to the Fort Pierce, FL neighborhood. It was a great stay here – visiting with family and friends, and checking out the many splendid parks, forests, and nature and bike trails present in the central Florida region. I thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and look forward to my next adventures.
Family and Friends
Visiting with family and friends is always my most favorite activity while traveling around the country. I’m fortunate to have lots of both of those here in the Bushnell area, and despite seemingly not spending enough time with them, I’m thankful for the time I had. Super Bowl Sunday was particularly fun being with lots of folks, and the New England Patriots win was icing on the cake. Big thank you to Kelly and Jose for hosting the great party. Wonderful to see Danny and Claudia there, as well as my sister-in-law Debbie and my two brothers Gerry and David. A few days later I spent the day at David’s house to make use of his power tools to build a couple of wooden pads for my leveling system. They turned out terrific! Also had a nice home-cooked dinner with them. Great seeing and spending time with my brothers. Hope we can spend more time down in Fort Pierce.
Also got to spend time with friends Cheryl and her husband Rob – who I’ve not seen in over 30 years. I worked with Cheryl back in the Fort Meade days, and was blessed to have accompanied them to their family cabin in Berkley Springs, WV on several weekends. I have many fond memories of camping, sitting around the campfire playing guitar with her dad, and just enjoying the simpler things back then. Now they are mostly retired, and spend time living the good life between their home in Ohio, and the one here at The Villages. Cheryl gave me an excellent supplemental tour of The Villages, followed by a nice dinner at a local restaurant. A few days later, Cheryl and Rob came down to the RV for the afternoon to see about my lifestyle, and dinner. It was really terrific catching up with them after all these years!
I’ve been enjoying much of the natural beauty that is abundant here in central Florida. One such visit was to the Ocala National Forest. Established in 1908, this forest is the second largest nationally protected area in the country, spanning over 600 square miles, and is the nations southern most national forest. Ocala National Forest has more than 600 lakes, ponds, rivers, and springs – including three 1st Magnitude springs (springs are often classified by the volume of the water they discharge. The largest springs are called “1st-Magnitude” and discharge more than 100 cubic feet of water per second). These springs offer boating and swimming opportunities in crystal clear waters. I visited two of the springs, and they were absolutely beautiful. There were several swimmers, some with snorkels and even others with full diving gear. There were also lots of folks in kayaks and canoes gliding through the pristine waters. As you might imagine, lots of wildlife calls the national forest home, necessitating the use of special “bear proof” trash receptacles at all the park and picnic areas.
The other beautiful area I got to visit was the Apopka Nature Preserve. You are able to enjoy this natural habitat via the Apopka Wildlife Drive – an 11 mile one-way, 10 MPH dirt road that meanders through the preserve. There are several pull-off areas where you can view and enjoy the the bounty of birds, gators, and other wildlife that occupy the area. For me, I enjoyed getting up close and personal to the many ducks, egrets, herons, and the like, but preferred my encounters with the gators from the safety of the inside of my truck. I put together a short video from this trip which you can view below.
Open since 1962, Boyetts Grove and Citrus Attraction in Brooksville, FL is an eclectic family attraction representing “Old Florida” at is finest. Many attractions have become commercialized over the years, but this one has retained the charm and quirkiness of roadside attractions of the 1950s and 60s. There is a a gift shop, vintage arcade, ice cream, large zoo, dinosaur cave and mini-golf, and historic memorabilia.
The decor and contents of the gift shop were as strange as the overall place. This included gifts you would not otherwise find in a regular store, such as Alien Snot Soda, and Zombie Brain Sauce. But alas they did carry the one iconic Florida treat that I remembered from my youth – Coconut Patties. That was something my parents would bring back from their trips to Florida, and something I always enjoyed. So of course, I had to buy a box!
The zoo portion of the attraction was kinda dated, but the animals that were there seemed in good health. For an extra few dollars in admission, I received a large paper bag of miscellaneous food that I could feed to the animals. The feed included bread, some green nugget things, and a cut up orange. There were no instructions regarding what food to feed to which animal, so I had to kind of wing it based on what the animals seemed interested in. It was a fun adventure, and a great way to spend the afternoon.
I also chased after a few other roadside attractions. One in particular was the collection of murals painted on the sides of various buildings in downtown (old town) Brooksville, FL. Painted in the style of Trompe-l’oeil – a french term meaning “deceive the eye”, this art technique uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions. I found a half dozen murals around town, painted by several different artists, depicting life and times in Brooksville from the 1800’s to early 1900s, including a scene from the 1863 Civil War battle called the Brooksville Raid.
Also in the Brooksville area is the birthplace of Coney Island Drive-Inn, featuring footlong hot dogs. Founded in 1960 in what was then an old boat manufacturing building, the iconic restaurant continues to serve lots of hot dogs today. There’s also history in this place including a legend that Elvis Presley visited and consumed a footlong in 1961 while filming a movie in nearby Inverness, FL. The restaurant was also featured in the 1972 movie Death Dream. A cool place to visit, and of course I did have a footlong myself.
Lastly, I payed homage to the Headless Dinosaur Sculpture located on state road 476 between Lake Lindsey and Nobleton. This unfinished concrete brontosaurus was among 30 various animals created and built by painter and interior decorator August Herwede. Sadly, in 1967, August fell from some scaffolding while working on the dinosaur, broke both legs, and died a few months later at the age of 80 leaving the dino unfinished. All of his other animals were subsequently sold off over the years, while the unfinished brontosaurus remains in place to this day.
While much of the north has been enduring cold, and sometimes brutal arctic weather, snow, sleet, and freezing rain, I’ve been fortunate to enjoy the more seasonal and warmer climate that is winter in central Florida. I’ve enjoyed many days in the 70s, and even low 80s these past several weeks. Nothing like spending the winter months hunkered down in Florida.
This nice weather has allowed me to continue my bike riding adventures, catching what has been the nicest bike trail I have ever been on. The Withlacoochee State Trail is a 46 mile long, mostly flat, wide paved trail that runs from Dunnellon to just north of Dade City, traversing through three Florida counties. It is officially designated as part of the Florida Greenways and Trail System, and also designated as a National Recreation Trail which offers rich opportunities for viewing plants and wildlife. I took about a ten mile run on the trail, and the scenery of tree lined trails, lakes, parks, and such, were absolutely beautiful. This trail is truly a Florida treasure!
Tomorrow I’m off to my next stop, Fort Pierce, where I look forward to catching up with more family and friends, and maybe getting in a bit of beach time. Till then, safe travels!