The $40 Solo Day Trip

Back when I worked at Amazon, you would work four ten-hour days and had three days. It was the best and worst job I’ve ever had. It was the best because of the fun we had and because the three days gave me some freedom with my travels. It gave me plenty of time to take some day trips. I got to visit some of the Florida springs in Central Florida. I also got to see the nature reserves in Southern Georgia. The best part was, all I needed was $40 to enjoy it all. I have a flash drive full of memories due to trip planning and cheap budgeting.

Might be good better adjusted further

PRE-TRIP PLANNING

It makes a good habit and plain common sense to plan your trip. In my opinion, going on a whim is reckless. You never know what can happen to you on the road. Are you willing to take that chance? You have to be prepared for breakdowns, getting lost, and other wild card situations that may pop up. Not only is it reckless, but you could easily spend two or three times what you should have budgeted. If you live paycheck to paycheck like most of us in this country, you can’t afford to blow half your earnings on impulse buys.

St. Mary’s, GA

The night before a day trip, I take an hour to plan where I want to go. Since I travel solo, I know eventually I can get drowsy behind the wheel. I don’t want to spend most of the day driving. I usually go somewhere about one to two hours away from my city. (Remember, you have to drive back from where you are visiting. A two-hour drive is actually four). Once I know where I’m going, I use Google Maps, Trip Advisor, and social media apps to see exactly what is at the place.

Fort Clinch

$20 FOR GAS

Now you may think $20 for gas is a lot for a day trip that’s only one to two hours away. Well, obviously, this depends on the type of car you have. I do it for peace of mind. As I said, you never know what you’re going to run into. I want to make sure I have enough to go and come back, considering traffic or excess use of the air conditioning. (I live in Florida, it’s to be expected.) These twenty dollars are also where you can have what I call “budget play.” If you know for sure that you only need $10 for your trip, this gives you $10 to spend as you want or need. Now you can spend a little more on food (or leave a better tip), or you can spend a little more on souvenirs.

Hillsborough Lighthouse in Boca Raton, FL

$5 FOR ENTRANCE FEE

This is tricky. I’m an outdoor person. I visit state parks to hike and explore, but my day trips also include museums, festivals, flea markets, art walks, and nature conservations. Most of the entrance fees to the state parks near me are about $5. It’s always wise to take a little more. One state park I went to cost $17. Museums depend on admissions, so naturally, they’re going to be more than $5. That’s where that “budget play” from the gas money comes from. Once again, you never know what you’ll run into.

Dames Pointe Park

$10 FOR FOOD

If food is at the center of your day trip, then you want to adjust where this is the focal point of your budget. For example, if you’re going to a shrimp festival, then the bulk of your budget should be focused. The food will be a more expensive than Captain D’s or 2 for $20 at Red Lobster. These festivals are run by small business owners who are looking to make a profit with their specialty foods as their business card. Don’t expect to go and spend $5 on a platter. You can expect there to be seafood cooked in ways you’ve never thought possible. You may want to try that out so be ready for it. Now, if a food isn’t the focus of your trip, then maybe a $5 sub combo from a sandwich shop will hold you over until you get back home.

St. Simon’s Lighthouse. St. Simon’s Island, GA

$5 FOR SOUVENIR

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need t-shirts, large posters, or some giant statue to remember where I went. That’s what cameras and memories are for. My memories mean more to me than any physical object. I use my camera to make sure I never forget those memories. BUT, it doesn’t hurt to take a little souvenir. I have an obsession with postcards. Postcards are always the first thing I look for when I go to a gift shop at the nature park or museum. Postcards are usually only a dollar, so ten dollars allows me to splurge on something you may not find online, like local art sold through the gift shop. Treat yourself… It’s worth the trip.

I know, I know. You may be thinking that you will need a hell of a lot more than forty dollars to enjoy your day trip. You may be the type who likes to “go big or go home.” Perfectly fine. You’re the captain of your ship. You spend how you see fit. But it’s much more enjoyable to take a million affordable day trips than several big-budget day trips. Numbers don’t lie. In my three days off, I can afford two-day trips for under $90. OR, think of it this way, if I take one day trip every weekend, that’s $160 a month in traveling (more or less depending on how much you spend.) That’s not bad if you’re a lover of traveling as I am.

The Blue Ridge Mountains

As long as you discipline yourself and stick to your budget, you can enjoy yourself. At the end of the day, it’s not about the money you spend but the memories you make.

The Deserted Old Spanish Trail

Time and time again, I’ve made the long straight journey from Jacksonville to McClenny. The only accurate scenic view is a river. Besides that, its trees, car shops, corporate stores, and trailer homes. Beaver Street, also known as US-90, was once called the Old Spanish Trail. It runs well over 1600 miles, hitting most of the major cities in the Southern States like Interstate 10. Along US-90 between Jacksonville and McClenney, I kept driving past a building built in Spanish style called “The Old Spanish Trail.”

There was more to the area than you could see from the street. Most of that white parking lot area is now covered over with trees and overgrowth.

Every time I drove past it, it drew me in, as it begged me to explore. This past Saturday, I finally felt it was time. I had nothing else to do. Why not? I packed my camera, notebook, and Gatorade and was off.

The parking lot stretches another quarter mile back, but you can’t see it.

When I arrived, I noticed that the fence was kicked down. At first glance of the building made me realize that vandals wanted to have their way with the place. They did not disappoint. It was vandalized so severely, the outside staircase that led to doors on the top floor was completely gone. Nature did what it did best when there was no one there to tend to the weeds, bushes, and other overgrowths. I drove through the broken fence across broken slabs of pavement littered with grass and weeds.

At the back of the building, it looked like a haunted house. There was trash all over the ground. The railings rusted to the core. Windows left open. Surprisingly, the windows weren’t boarded up like most of the others. The doors had been kicked down. It was pitch dark inside, but with the help of whatever sunlight that breached the windows, it was evident that someone had a field day with the internal structure. The ceiling was falling apart. It appears the stairs were collapsing too. No way in hell I was brave enough inside. My hearing had never been sharper listening for even the tiniest sound of movement. I even had my knife on me just in case something came running out of the doors.

Ransacked and vandalized.
There use to be stairs here.

Inspecting the rest of the building, it was clear that it was unique in its time. It wasn’t designed like any of the buildings surrounding it. There were archways that you only ever see on old castles and fancy homes. The cascading stairwell on the west side of the building would have made perfect scenery for a wedding. According to some research through google, the Old Spanish Trail served as many things in its prime. Including a grocery store, a haunted house, and a speakeasy. The final owners of the building were forced to abandon it due to costs for it to be made up to modern-day building codes. Now, The Old Spanish Trail’s remaining purpose is to sneak into the imagination of those who drive or walk past it. If anyone is lucky, they’ll be able to tell the tale of the little boy who supposedly haunts the building only seen by three of the previous owners.

Graffiti at its best.

For more on that story and the history of the Old Spanish Trail, check out the Time’s Union article, “Call Box: Spooky tales, colorful past in Jacksonville building.”

A Weekend at Fort George Inlet

One thing Floridian does not like is being cut off from our great body of water. Hell, even hurricanes don’t stop us from going to the beach. If anything, we embrace the strong winds, which bring on stronger waves to surf. Can you imagine what the Pandemic has done? There were many people upset when the beaches were forced to close to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus. I know the feeling all too well. When the park and recreation department closed the parking to the east side of the Fort George Inlet, I thought I would have to forge a letter to the Mayor. Fort George has always been a favorite. Not being able to visit hurt, but I suppose I could understand the reason.

A few months ago, it reopened. Everyone flocked to the Inlet for more fishing, swimming, and Jet Ski fun. This past weekend, I decided to revisit it for the first time since it reopened. Not much has changed, but a few things I noticed seemed different, as if the atmosphere had altered.

At low tide, a little sand island is exposed.

Low visitation

In the middle of the day on a Sunday, it was surprising to see that hardly anyone was there. Usually, I’m the late one who has to ride around to find a parking space. Nope, I was right upfront. Even after an hour of being there, hardly anyone came. I assume because the area was closed for so long to the public, it forced people to find a new favorite place to be. And now, as we go into another wave of the Pandemic, another close will drive even the most loyal away. It’s not a massive concern because Fort George plays a vital part in boating around Northside Jacksonville, so one can always count on someone to be there.

Erased all the graffiti. 😦

Graffiti Erased

I am so glad that I took pictures of the last graffiti I came across when I visited Fort George. Now when you walk through, all of it has been painted over. It makes the underbelly of the highway look bare and boring. The attractive miniature artworks gave character to the hideout. Now, it’s business as usual. No need to fear. Concrete pillars are natural canvases that will always attract the artistic and creative.

Two needlefish out of about ten shown here. They’re aggressive at feeding time.

Behold the Needlefish

As many times as I have visited Fort George Inlet, every time I go, I seem to discover something new. Last time, I found oysters spitting water at low tide. This time I studied a school of long, skinny blue-ish fish that were leaping out of the water at impressive speeds to catch low-flying bugs. On closer observation, they had long noses like spears. They skid across the top of the water so fast if you were to blink, you’d miss them. After curious research, I learned these little devils are dangerous to human life because of their speed. Several fatalities have been caused by being at the wrong place at the wrong time, caught between a Needlefish hunting prey.

Overgrowth of the grass. It never use to look like this.
Weeds are flowers too.

Overgrowth of Grass and Trash

Of course, there’s the primary issue of a closed area used for entertainment. Daredevils trespass and have their fun despite the warnings. They leave behind trash that gets entangled in the unkempt grass, making the place look almost undesirable.

Despite the changed atmosphere, the view is still a wonder. Watching massive foreign cargo ships come in to dock at Jacksonville’s most exclusive port is exciting enough. Seagulls squawk as they glide on the high winds above the highway. Jet skis race past in competition. The tide exposes the salt marsh, and people in high boots drag nets behind them to catch whatever they can get. Families barbecue on the beach. Couples and friends kayak together in the calmer waters. In the distance, across the Inlet, dogs, and kids run too and from the shore taunting the crashing waves.

The Inlet is a place of beauty, peace, and wonder. No pandemic could ever keep us loyal Floridians away.

Lightner Museum, A Collection of Underrated Busts

In St. Augustine at the Lightner Museum, the art collections are breathtaking. From the oil paintings, a part of the Daywood Collection, to the complex, beautifully cut glass vases, bowls, and bottles. Every floor of the museum is a world of its own. As tourists and visitors strolled around the rooms, they admired everything except the statues and busts. People walked past them as if they were invisible. Whereas for me, these sculpted pieces of brilliance swallowed the majority of my phone’s photo storage space. How could one not stop and admire the imaginative detail of these busts and statues?

I suppose the popularity of art theft and every Tom, Dick, and Harry owning a statuary business. Each one is stocked with replicas of the infamous European statues. I purchased a replica bust of Michelangelo’s David, two Venus de Milo statues, and two Greek Goddess busts from multiple statuaries right here in my city. To make matters worst, you can order a replica from anywhere in the world by simply opening your Amazon Prime account. Now you can have all the greats right in your home, why bother to visit the museum.

I understand that nowadays, that busts are made out of plastic, concrete, and alabaster. Like most productions today, objects are made by the hundreds per hour as they run through machines. Wouldn’t this fact alone make the ones seen in museums that much more valuable? Could you imagine how difficult it was for sculptors like Donatello, Michelangelo, and Gian Lorenzo to sculpt entire bodies and details using only simple hand-held tools? They were the machines! I try to keep this in mind whenever I visit a museum and I run across a bust or statue in the collection. It doesn’t matter how many statues I have at my home, standing before an original will alway leave me in a state of awe.

In my opinion, I believe the Museum should find a way to make the statues and busts more appealing. It’s not fair that they’re overlooked like another home decor item at a store. Perhaps a small room dedicated to them just like the Porcelain and Glass floor. All art should be admired regardless of the medium, subject matter, and purpose of creation.

I finally got my favorite statue of all time. It’s a replica of course, but it’s mine.

Underrated Joys on the Conservation

In a society where we are in need of constant entertainment, one would believe hiking through a natural conservation is a waste of time. In truth, these conservations don’t offer much. Maybe a few benches, a winding trail leading nowhere, and if you’re lucky, some view of a lake. Are you bored yet?

As dull as they may appear, they are critical to have in our ever-evolving environment. I will admit in the beginning stages of my traveling, conservations and preserves bored me to death. I decided that if it wasn’t a state park, I didn’t care for it much. As a person who admires open-mindedness and an adventurous spirit, I knew I needed to find joy in such places. Surprisingly, I have.

At first sight, the natural conservation at Sister’s Creek in Jacksonville, Florida, looks like a barren wasteland. Honestly, throw in some large bones and a few boulders, and it could become a spitting image of an Elephant Graveyard. There aren’t any trails to hike, just a long road with patches of crushed rocks and shells as parking areas to observe. With my tiny notebook in hand and eagerness to explore, I open my senses to the elements and take in what I can. Just because the low tide exposed the land to the heat of the Florida sun didn’t mean it was safe to walk across. It’s an illusion until you begin to trek across it and your feet sink fast into water-soaked sand. I haven’t played hopscotch in years, but I pulled out my old skills to get back to the creek’s edge.

Now with limited space to explore, I had to make do with what I had. I stood still and used my senses to explore for me. Big White Egrets flew low over the marshy area, searching for somewhere else to enjoy the loneliness of the land. They were smart enough to keep away from people like me. The low tide exposed a ton of oyster clusters. Now and then, you would see one spit water into the air. One oyster does it. Then others follow—sort of like doing the wave. Tiny fish swim in collective swimming patterns in the shallow water. What a show they put on going around in synchronized circles together? An old tree with peeling bark hovers over the depleted creek. Years of moving water caused erosion which exposed most of its roots. I found a sharp-drill conch shell beneath those roots. Lucky me! I tried to find another, but no success.

My favorite part was the tiny sand fiddler crabs. The mating season must be high because every male with their oversized claw danced for the group’s females. It was hilarious to see the small female crab snaking through the crowd. The males wave their giant claw in the air and bounce on their legs to catch her attention. I once read that when a female becomes interested in a male, he pounds his claw on the ground near his burrow. She goes into the hole, he follows, plugs up the hole, and returns to her to mate. How romantic, right? To watch this funny courtship dance, you have to stand perfectly still. Fiddler crabs are super scary. The slightest movement and they hurry into their holes. Once they feel it is safe, they come out of the holes and dance again.

ECO Magazine, fiddler crab waving his giant claw to attract a mate.

These conservations may not provide the most fun that a state park may provide, but they serve a tremendous purpose. If we want to continue to see the dancing crabs, graceful Egrets, and synchronized fish, we must take the steps necessary to protect their home and environment because once they are gone, they’re gone for good.

Cold Hike at Magnolia Mound Plantation

Magnolia Mound Plantation is a well-preserved historical landmark that harbors an eerie silence as you transcend into another century. Unlike other plantations I’ve visited, this particular adventure down history’s memory lane left me feeling low. Perhaps with everything happening in the country regarding racial division, seeing a plantation only reminded me of how far (and not so far) we’ve come. 

I love the hike across the wide-open spaces as you tour one home to another. The French architecture made the homes appear romantic ad inviting. I imagined myself opening large French doors to a gorgeous two-story house with a wrap-around porch. I am floating on cloud imagination until I gaze at the slave cabin and realize the reality behind this plantation’s beauty. The crooked, uncut wood boards used as doors struggled to operate o their hinges. There are no fancy locks. Inside was an old school locking system where a board is placed in two hooks to keep the doors from swinging open. Inside the cabin is nothing more than a studio apartment. The bed mattress looked stuffed with toilet tissue. It caved heavily in the center. I could only imagine the back issues resulting from such a bed. Iside the homeowner’s home, the mattress is high and fluffy, resting on a proper frame for support. The rooms where separated. No issues with soot and ash from a fireplace. The two buildings symbolized the inequality of races during those times. It reminds a tourist of the same economic and racial divide of today.

Don’t get me wrong, the plantation is a dream. The landscape is nicely kept, the grass a bright and healthy shade of green. The vegetable garden is filled fence post to fence post with fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The garden is my favorite. I am always fascinated by Mother Nature and watching mere seeds grow into fruitful products. The plantation provided a very decent lesson in history, but that cold, eerie silence remains. The moment your mind dives into reflection, silence takes over. The reality of what was and what is coming to light. 

I am grateful to visit these plantations. As an African-American, I think it’s essential that we visit them. In my opinion, by not visiting these historical landmarks, we turn a blind and ignorant eye to all our ancestors went through. It doesn’t matter whether the tourist is black or white. What happened at the plantation and in most of the South did happen. African-American and other slave descendants owe it to our ancestors to visit these places and gain first-hand knowledge and experience what slaves endured. Caucasian-Americans or slave owner descendants should visit to understand and be rid of ignorance. 

Follow Comey and me on Instagram @nikkiandcomey

Travel Break: Quarantined Water Art

In the past decade, the word “Travel” ignited the imagery of beautiful beaches, exotic forests, and the City of Lights, Paris. With the world at a standstill due to COVID-19, the new norm is “boredom.” Any form of travel for me is freedom. From a hike on Cumberland island to a four day trip in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina was what I lived for in my free time. Now, for the sake of preventing the spread of the deadly virus, I have had to dive deep into my favorite past time hobby, watercolor painting. With so much time on my hands, I could do more than just paint for a hobby. I can find a way to let it benefit me financially.

I recently went to the Riverside Arts Market in my home city, Jacksonville. I bought two pieces of watercolor art from a painter and fashion designer named Teresa Cook. Her work was original and fun to me. I envied her technique and the confidence she has in her work. It didn’t hit me until I got home that I might have the talent to make a little money on it myself. I only use to paint when I became too stressed out or my bad days with depression would take hold of me. I never wanted my hobby to become work, and it would take away the therapy I received from it.

Until I can get myself together with how I will come to make watercolor art financially beneficial for me, I will enjoy my thoughtless doodles and splashes of imaginary wonders on paper. I can’t wait for the moment when we could all get back to traveling and appreciating this gorgeous Earth.

Check out Teresa Cook’s instagram page, @teresacookartanddesigns.

A Diamond Among Trees

What defines a nature trail? Is it the winding path snaking through acres of protected land? Is it the scenic views of lakes, marshes, or lagoons? Or could it be the wildlife which thrives under every rock, behind every bush or in every tree? No, I dare say those only define a fraction of what truly defines a nature trail. Trees. Yes, trees are the wonders and the beating heart of nature. Of all the nature trails I have hiked on in my young life, I have learned that if you have seen one tree, you definitely have not seen them all.

In my observation, trees are like fingerprints. Unique and bares their own story to tell. If two Birch trees grew up side by side to each other for decades, cut them open, and each will tell you something different. It amazes me the number of visitors that visit these trails and never notice the beauty before them. During my hike at the Hubbard Valley Park in Seville, Ohio, I saw a diamond among trees I vowed to never forget. In fact, I discovered three diamonds as the single trunk spawned three healthy trees.

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In my early days of hiking, trees were ornamental to a trail hike. I was eager for wildlife and scenic views. Trees became background noise simply because they were everywhere you looked. Like most people you being ignorant until you are educated, I Learned just how vital trees were to our ecosystem. Trees have fed, housed, and protected all sorts of vulnerable wildlife. It was then my interest deepened. Now on a hike, I observe trees one by one (at least the one closest to the trail.) On my walk in Ohio, I came across this massive trunk with three trees growing straight up into the sky. Their branches stretched far in every direction. Leaves covered the branches to protect anything beneath from the rainfall. A closer review of the bark showed that the trees split apart young. The bark looked as if it were covered in running veins. The veins wiggle up from the base, and then they split off in two different directions, a fascinating design to be sure.

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The feel of the trio’s bark was intriguing. The bulging veins were noticed but smooth to the touch. You could run your hand across the surface of these trees without a snag or chip. The bark is thick. When you knock on the bark, it’s as solid as concrete.

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I could care less about the look of others as they passed me by while I gawk at the wonderous trio. They are located at the heart of a forest, in a small town in Ohio unnoticed by so many. These trees are continued lesson to me to not just see things but to truly open my eyes and notice because I may never see it again.

Ink Art Gallery

O how I miss art studios, art galleries, art museums, and monthly art walks. COVID-19 drove everyone indoors and our social society had to find other ways to enjoy the arts. With America slowly opening back up again, we can finally (and safely) return to the places we love, like, art galleries.

My insanity jumped out of the window after days of being indoors. My iPhone recorded me spending more time on Pinterest than any other social media app. I couldn’t help myself. All I wanted to do every single day was make something from scratch. I developed an interest in building Fairy Gardens, creating vintage postcards from scratch,  pastel coloring, and even making soap. Now I’m trying to take on mixed media art journaling. I’m BORED, sue me!

I snuck out of the house to Fernandina for a taste of outdoors and window shopping. It felt good to be a couple miles in one direction from Fernandina Beach and a couple of miles in the other direction from the Fernandina Marina. A lot of the stores (and restaurants) were closed, but the art studios were open. Thank God! I usually go to Art on Centre, they display some of the best local art. Expensive, but well worth the price. I make sure to bring my Nikon on days when I visit.

This time though ,I fell upon Ink Art Gallery. It is a small studio with a few local artists who create and sell their works right on the main street. Along with selling watercolor and oil paintings, the gallery also takes part in selling items created by other locals. For example, they sell soaps, clay jewelry, bracelets, stones, sage, photography prints, candles, and other things all made by other creatives in the area.

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My favorite part is the boho-themed atmosphere. The colorful carpets, wooden chairs, the hanging greenhouse plants, bean-bag chairs, and the magnificent floral-garland wall. Of course, it’s something you would definitely see on Pinterest. I don’t know how I missed that.

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I didn’t spend much time in the studio because I was running out of time to get a jump on beating traffic to get home. I can’t wait to revisit the gallery to take more photos of their beautiful workspace. Hopefully, COVID-19 will move on to another planet so that I can get back to immerse myself in the world of art once again.

Travel Break: Small Car, Big World Pinterest Project

The day I discovered Pinterest was the day I truly lived. In fact, on one of my Instagram accounts, I labeled myself as a “Pinterest junkie” in my bio section. Since COVID-19 has everyone self-quarantined, Pinterest has been my primary source of entertainment. Every day I’m discovering new projects to take part in. So far, I’ve done everything from spray painted mason jars, to designing watercolor bookmarks.

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In my search for something new to do, I came across a photo of a tiny vintage car sitting on a beach shore. It was clearly a photoshop project, but the photography was stunning. The artist manipulated the image to make it seem like somehow the car fits perfectly into the big world. I just had to try this. I ran to Walmart and luckily found a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. The next day I headed to Sister’s Creek and took some really great shots. The objective is to use the right camera angles to show the car somehow being a part of the bigger atmosphere. Yes, the scale will be evident, but that’s part of the fun! I spent an hour walking around and taking shots of the car on different surfaces doing different things. The results are fantastic!

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My friend, Maddy, also made great use of her time indoors. She’s taken an interest in building things from scratch using whatever wood boards she could find. Her recent project includes a bookshelf, a new dog bowl holder, and shelves for her succulent plants.

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My other friend Jheanel, has taken up with painting and colored pencil drawings during her quarantine life!

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It is the amazing things that come from boredom. Commercials of people all over the world, creating ways to stay connected, show our infinite creative abilities. Hopefully, when this virus finally goes away, we can continue to be just as innovative. I know I will. Pinterest is in my blood and isn’t going anywhere!

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Search “small car photography” on Pinterest to see more cool small car photography.