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.

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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.

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.

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.

Warnings at High Falls State Park

Imagine the feeling o top of the world as you tower on a boulder above a rapid river. Suddenly, your foot slips, you plunge beneath the surface as intense water pressure and gravity forces you to the bottom of the mad river. The temperature of the water is the least of your worries. The half of breath left in your lungs is all the survival you have before fluid replaces the air and you drown. Perhaps your last thoughts are the four warning signs you passed to get to that boulder. Your last feeling is regret for not heeding those warnings.

According to the 11Alive.com investigation article at High Falls State Park, there have been fourteen reported injuries since 2013, three fatalities.

When I recently visited the park, bright red warning signs were outlining the rapid river bank. Honestly, how could anyone miss them? You can barely get a decent photo of the waterfall without one of the many signs in the way. An observant hiker takes note of information boards that are usually located at the beginning of a trail. As I read the board, I notice the same-o same-o about the history of the area, the map of the trail, what committee sponsors the trail, blah, blah, blah. Management of the park posted a warning post stating that anyone climbing on the rocks has to pay a $5,000 fine and do over 100 hours of community service. It probably results in janitorial duties. Yikes.

You see the first few warning signs when you descend the steps leading to the best view of the waterfall and rapid waves. After that, it is obvious what you should and shouldn’t do while hiking the trail. Park management went so far as to create a barrier using twine to rope off the bank’s edge. Honestly, I’m not sure what else could be done to clarify the danger of the raging river. I hope that visitors be responsible and heed to the warnings so the park won’t be forced to put up large fence walls.

It’s cold.

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.

Stinson Park: A Public Gathering

I couldn’t imagine the bravery of the Ancient Greeks that took public baths together, fortunately for Geese, it’s like sitting down to a Sunday dinner.

Stinson Park, a tiny park located in Jacksonville, Florida, provides many uses to its visitors. The park may appear to be only a regular backyard in width, there is much to do. Benches are scattered along the winding loop trail for readers and lovers to spend time alone. A couple of picnic tables there have been used for parties, a group of painters painting the river landscape, and teenager,s sitting together enjoying each other’s company. A short dock stretches out over the water used for boat launching and fishing. A large playground located at the heart of the park for children to run and play. Every day this park is used to its fullest extent.

On this particular day, though, the park belonged to a flock of geese who wanted nothing more than to bathe, eat, and relax together.

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The high tide was in which accounts for one of Stinson Park’s downfalls. Stinson Park lacks a seawall to keep the water from overflowing, so when the tide comes in, or during Hurricane Season, the grassy area becomes a mud bath. The geese love it.

I wasn’t expecting the geese when I visited the park so early in the day. I just wanted to beat the crowds of parents and children, so I went while everyone was at work and in school. The greyish sky and the misty rain helped keep visitors away. I was about the only car in the fifteen-car parking lot. I whipped out my headphones to listen to some ambient instrumental songs to help me brainstorm for more writing. When I spotted the large family of geese, my phone became my Nikon.

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I crept along the winding sidewalk to get closer. Of course, the geese saw me coming a mile away. I’m guessing the largest one of the flock, the leader, made sure he kept his eye on me. He’d take a step and then halt. I made sure to keep my distance. Geese can be unpredictable, and they aren’t afraid to fight. There were no chicks among the flock, so at least I didn’t have to worry about their paranoid high security. The flock continued on splashing, flapping their wings and diving their heads beneath the water to nip at grass. I burned my battery up, trying to get the perfect photo whenever one flapped their wings. Just to be there, period was enough excitement for me.

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After a few more splashes, half the group waddled out of the water and onto the grass. Feeding time. Together they each vacuumed up grass blades. Their long necks jiggled and arched as they fed on the grass seeds. They even stopped watching me watch them, though I know at least one of them kept an eye out just in case I did anything stupid. More importantly, they were at peace. No one was at the park, the temperature was perfect, and the water was high enough for them to stand on the edge and enjoy a bath, together. It was a public gathering of peace and serenity. I’d say there’s a lesson we probably should take back to our own families.

Florae: Weeds are Flowers Too

Weeds are indeed the Devils of the Earth. They are resilient, durable, and, most times, annoying. I often wonder if that was the reason I created my hobby to hunt flowering weeds. I’m not sure what began the hobby, and I definitely wouldn’t talk about it amongst gardening addicts. They’d probably gouge out my eyes with their pruning shears.

Anyway, I took an interest in trying to see if weeds were as awful as we tend to make them out to be. I could compare weeds to sharks. Society (and Hollywood) created this fear in sharks making people believe that they purposely hunt human flesh when that is not the truth at all. Weeds appear as a serious problem. Yes, they are annoying. Yes, they can overtake an entire yard and are resistant tend to build resistance to weed killers. Yes, they have been around for hundreds of years, with no end in sight. I get it, but isn’t that the best part about them?

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Apart of the Liliaceae plant family

I do a lot of hiking when I can. I never really noticed weeding flowers before until I picked up this strange little hobby. Now, on my hikes, I see them everywhere. I can barely get through a decent walk without stopping to snap a photo of a flowering weed I notice. And now I have an entire collection of weeding flowers on my MacBook. ( I am not ashamed. I won’t share it with anyone.)

These weeding flowers are just like mushrooms; rain brings out the best in them. I’ve tried replanting a gorgeous weeding flower I saw growing in my neighbor’s yard. The plant didn’t last one day. I tried several times after that, and the same thing happens even though I had preserved the rootball. Strange and wondrous, isn’t it?

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Commelina erecta (Dayflower)

I’ve realized that flowering weeds are a great metaphor. They are strong and wild. Most of them have survived millions of years through evolution and continues to evolve. They are wild and beautiful, just like any Daisy, Rose, or Black-Eyed Susan. Perhaps that is why I began the hobby to hunt for them, to see them not as weeds but as this small power of life that thrives in places we don’t care to look. They contribute just as much to our ecosystems as any other living organism. Perhaps now, instead of seeing them as annoying and destructive, we could see them as little surviving heroes. At this point in our fight against climate change and Global Warming, we need all hands on deck to rescue our atmosphere.

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(not sure)

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Gaillardia pulchella (Indian Blanket)

 

St. John’s River: The Fish are Assholes

For the first time since I was sixteen, I have been able to enjoy unemployment. I don’t like to waste my days away, so I decided to visit all my favorite parks. One, in particular, is Baker Point Park in the fancy-schmancy Ortega area of Jacksonville. Usually, the park fills with squads of moms jogging with strollers to lose their baby fat. The park has become rather popular. If you don’t get there at the right time, the only twelve parking spaces they have been filled. Unfortunately, there is no room to park on the street or the curb unless you want to risk a ticket.

The worst visitors to the park are fishermen because they hold parking spaces for hours catching fish, or at least trying to.

I sat on the sea wall relaxing with my notebook in hand as two young fishermen pass by me to set up further down the seawall. I noticed fish jumping out of the water randomly. It was a refreshing sight to see fish compete to see who could jump the highest. The two fishermen set up camp and threw their hooks into the water.

It wasn’t until half an hour later when I found the funniest thing happening. The fish continued to jump out of the water near the fishermen’s’ hooks. The two men would reel in their lines and toss them back out where they last spotted a fish jumping. I noticed how the fish start jumping in a different area a few inches away from the hook. This kept happening over and over for another half hour. I couldn’t stop laughing every time a fish would propel out of the water near the hook as if to laugh at the fishermen yelling, “Looking for me?” Eventually, the guys packed up and left.

It truly made my whole day to see how nature outsmarted man once again. Karma must have come around to the fish eventually because a small pod of dolphins enjoyed themselves tossing fish out of the water and catching them in the mouths before diving down to enjoy their meal.

The Coming of Fall

Fall is coming and all I can think about are my past fall trips. Last year, my trip to Atlanta was the perfect start to fall. It was a big difference from the heat of Florida and enough humidity to make a dog actually sweat. Though Georgia’s winter wasn’t very kind to my ribcage arthritis, it is definitely not a place to forget.

Being a truck driver, I finally got to see what the coming of fall looked like. As I drove through Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennesse and Northern Georgia, I got to see the trees taking on the entire range of fall colors. The reds, oranges, browns, and yellows were amazing. It’s fascinating how nature follows this schedule as they prepare for winter. One could compare it to a peak season in a warehouse. (Yes I worked in a warehouse – Amazon). The entire atmosphere changes as the big event approach.

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While in Atlanta, I got to hike through a mountain that was preparing for fall. The trees were going bare, leaves blanketed the ground like snow and everywhere you looked were fifty shades of brown. I know it may sound like a dead zone, but it was anything but that. It was peace and serenity wrapped in a neat bow. You sit on one of the benches provided for you that overlooked the calm river and your head goes to a different place. You sit at in the center of a changing atmosphere, nature preparing for what’s to come ahead. Everything dying around you and yet more beautiful than you could ever imagine. 

 

It is unclear if Florida will even have a winter this year due to the bipolar weather, but the coming of fall is still much anticipated. Perhaps this year we will actually have a fall AND a winter. We’re never prepared for it like we’re never prepared for hurricanes, but for once, we’d like to experience what so many others around the country experience.

Water Lilies: Bloom as Old as Time… Literally

When I took a picture of a massive cluster of water lilies, I didn’t realize at the time that I was looking at one of the oldest plants on planet earth. How silly I feel for just simply snapping a cute photo of it and walking away as if it meant nothing. I’ve seen my share of water lilies but never took the time to admire their actual existence.

According to hardwaterlilies.net, the website states,

Water lilies are one of the oldest aquatic plants on this earth. Early lilies were huge in size with fossils showing lily pads up to four feet wide. As these plants evolved over several thousands of years they morphed to the size we see today. Evidence of water lilies have been found in european pre-ice age cave drawings and these drawings show the early types to have been of the same basic form that exists among hardy species today.

FOSSILS! Seriously? I realize that roaches are as old as dinosaurs as well so I shouldn’t be surprised to be around something that has survived all the changes the Earth has been through, but lilies are so peaceful and quiet. They just grow and bloom and float on the surface of still waters. That is all they have ever done.

 

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Somewhere  in Tallahassee, Florida

 

With the way the world is changing again (and not for the better) with the crisis of Global Warming and animals going extinct at a rapid pace, we are at high risk of losing these ancient gems just as fast. It may seem so minimal now, like who would miss a water lily? But, once it’s gone, it’s gone, and a Google Image search will be the only way future generations will ever know the prehistoric water lily ever existed.