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.

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.

Evening on the Southbank Riverwalk

Living in River City has its perks for sure. With the demolition of the infamous Jacksonville Landing entertainment area, the Southbank Riverwalk is basically all Jacksonvillians have left for entertainment and social gatherings. Granted, Jacksonville is a large city, and there are a million and one places you can go for entertainment, but downtown Jax is the beating heart of the city. There is too much history, and we just lost one of our biggest gems.

 

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The Jacksonville Landing before demolition. (visitflorida.com)

The Southbank Riverwalk sits across the river from the former Jacksonville Landing. It begins at the Friendship Fountain and runs beneath the John T. Asop Jr. Bridge (aka Main St. Bridge) and along the river’s edge until it reaches the Duval County Public School building.

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The Friendship Fountain

 

The Friendship Fountain has been around since my mother was a girl. The aging fountain is still running on all cylinders and is still a treasure to the people of the city. There are about fifteen active spouts that run during the day. On occasions, they sprout high into the air and dance with color projectors attached to towers adding wonder to the spectacle. The fountain is popular for setting a romantic mood near the river and becoming every child’s running track around the 200-foot wide pool of water. Along the outside of the fountain are white arbors with benches beneath for resting or reading. Picnic tables are set up in the grassy area left of the fountain for family events. The Museum of Science and History is only 100 feet away if you want to do something entertaining for the entire family. Further left of the grassy area and the fountain is the River City Brewing Company, a good place to wine and dine yourself. If you have a boat, you can park right outside the restaurant in their marina.

 

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The Friendship Fountain

 

 

St. John’s River

The St. John’s River is the soul of Jacksonville. I would that is why Jacksonville is named the “River City” because the St. John’s River runs directly through the city. As you walk along the boardwalk, you will get the view of at least five of Jacksonville’s iconic bridges; the Hart Bridge, the Matthews Bridge, the John T. Alsop Bridge, the Acosta Bridge, and FEC Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridge (or train bridge).

As you walk away from the Friendship Fountain, you have two paths to choose, you could either climb the ramp that will allow you to walk across the John T. Alsop Bridge or you take the boardwalk that will lead you beneath the bridge further along the boardwalk. If you take the bridge ramp, you can take awesome selfies at the top of the Main St. Bridge and walk into downtown where all the cafes reside. If you continue on the boardwalk, it will seem like you are preparing to walk underwater due to the boardwalk’s dip. The river is literally at your face and gives the illusion that it may spill over at any moment. Beneath the bridge is a commissioned mosaic art piece of glass and tile along the wall. It, too, is perfect for selfies. If you are lucky, you can catch a pod of dolphins playing and swimming together beneath the bridge. In my experience, night time is much easier to see them. It’s quieter at night, and there are no boats zipping back and forth, so it is safer.

 

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Beneath the Main St. Drawbridge

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“Mirrored River: Where do you see yourself?” commissioned mosaic piece

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Boardwalk leading under Main St. Bridge.

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View of the Acosta Bridge and the Train Bridge.

 

The Boardwalk

Along the boardwalk, you take notice of more than just the pretty views. You can also see the see in full scale, and it’s growing development. There seems to always be construction cranes seen somewhere to show something new being built in the city. Lately, a lot of hotels and condominiums are being constructed. Jacksonville lives and breathes for tourism, so it would make sense. When you come from beneath the bridge, you can see as far west down the St. John’s river as your vision will allow you. Across the water, you can view the TIAA Bank Stadium home to the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars. If you are a coffee fiend, Maxwell’s Coffee manufacturing plant can be seen and smelled no matter how far you are. At some point along the boardwalk, new helicopters will fly above your head as they circle around the bridges and highways for traffic readings. If you get tired, there are fancy-designed benches with triangular umbrellas overhead to keep you cooled off. Near the end of the boardwalk, you get a great look at the Strand Apartments building and its high-class lifestyle through its glass lobby walls.

 

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Benches with triangular umbrellas.

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TIAA Bank Stadium for the Jacksonville Jaguars

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River Taxi

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The Hart Bridge

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Maxwell Coffee manufacturing plant.

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The Strand Apartments

 

An evening on the Southbank Riverwalk is perfect for families, couples, soloist, photographers, and even runners. No matter how much Jacksonville grows and expands, the beauty of the River city will always lie at the heart of downtown Jacksonville.

Metropolitan Park: Death of Childhood Fun

When I was in middle school, on the weekends, my best friend, my sister, and I would bike ride three miles to Metropolitan Park. Metro park was heaven on earth for most of the kids in my neighborhood. It was a place for everyone to be wild and free from our school and home lives. You made friends so quickly because you all shared in the freedom and adventure of riding through Jacksonville’s rugged downtown. There was never any question of what the plan was when Saturday came. We’d spend hours biking along the St. John’s River, having bike races beneath the Hart Bridge Expressway, and playing on the empty stage. With very little security and adult supervision at Metro Park, we were alive, wild, and free. Fifteen years later, I visit the place that made our childhood magical. I see only an investment in the death of childhood fun.

The city of Jacksonville is adamant about tourism and catering to our NFL team’s fans. So much that they painted Jaguar pawprints on the main streets around the stadium to appear, “festive.” Not exactly the word I would use, but whatever, right? Anyway, you drive the curved street around the stadium until you get to the entrance of the park indicated by a sign. Unfortunately, the metal gate behind it is closed, like most of the entries going along the park. There is only one way into the park, and it makes you do some zig-zag dance to finally getting to the parking lot. The first parking lot you come to is, of course, for anyone using the marina. So now you have to go back out the way you came to find the right lot to park. I didn’t have time for that so I just parked. (Hehe.) I grabbed my travel writing journal and prepared to be taken back in time to my favorite place, unfortunately, that was not the case at all.

The renovations to the park made the park seem… tamed. In the eyes of teens, the land was wild and barren. It was a haven for bike riders, skateboarders, and kids who just wanted to play. Now, it was a place for people who just wanted to walk around and sit on benches to gaze at the scenery. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What in the hell is this?” The park screams boring and antisocial but visually “pretty.” The fishermen were yards away from each other attending to their equipment. It was Sunday, and the park was as lifeless as a cemetery. I remember Saturday, and Sundays were filled with bodies. Families having parties and BBQ, skateboarders doing tricks on whatever rail they could find, and bikers racing down the winding sidewalk. Now, I was looking at a multi-million dollar dead zone.

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Granted, I may have come on a quiet day. The NFL Jacksonville Jaguars team wasn’t playing Sunday so I suppose that’s the reason for the lack of attendees at the park, but it’s Metro Park! This park was the heart of the city, the creme de la creme of parks. It didn’t have fancy jungle gyms or slides, but it was the place where your imagination created fun. Now, all the cute hedges and paved walkways make it another tourist attraction and profit for the city. My childhood memories swiped away with a signature.

“Life is about change. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s beautiful. But most of the time it’s both. ”   – Lana Lang

I realize the city’s need to improve and upgrade their property. Tourism is a major payday to any growing city. A lot of programs and services probably depend on that income. Change is inevitable. Change exists in every aspect of human life. I am not a bike-riding teenager anymore. I am a working tax-paying adult. The old Metropolitan Park will always live in my memories and that will be enough, I hope.

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The Trails of Kingsley Plantation

The near three-mile, pot-hole filled, low-land, flood-threatened dirt road entrance to the Kingsley Plantation is only the beginning trail among other trails which recounts the story of slavery and freedom. The trails at Kingsley Plantation offers more than your typical southern slavery tale. It provides the opportunity to let your imagination drift back into a critical time in history, even if it means hallucinating a bit. 

 

The Entrance Trail

Growing up in the modern world, I couldn’t be happier to be able to drive on paved streets. Though my Toyota Camry has hit some potholes in her day, it was nothing compared to the rugged road from Hell, otherwise known as the entrance to Kingsley Plantation. Unless you have a boat, there is only one way in and out of the plantation through the entrance trail. Previous rain makes the trail worst. My car bounced and jumped through hole after hole to the point where I had to reduce my speed to crawl mode. Tall trees and vines enclave the narrow road, so it appears darker than it actually is outside. I had to roll my windows u,p thanks to the drop in temperature due to constant shade and humidity. Along the way, the trail past several marshes. Because of the rain, the water levels are high and slowly inch across the path, nearly consuming it. As I approached water-filled holes, I either had to maneuver the car to drive on half trail half grass in order to escape the hole or I had to floor the gas pedal through water-filled holes to keep from getting stuck. The trail seemed like it would go on forever until you come to a split road, one going to the Kingsley Plantation. The other road going to the Ribault Club, a beautiful mansion often used for weddings. After another quarter of a mile, you come to some ruins of a tabby house off to the left and voila! You are at the Kingsley Plantation. It is very interesting that your first welcome through the gates of the plantation is a semi-circle row of slave quarters. 

 

The Garden Trail

The last time I visited Kingsley Plantation was in the summer. Usually, the sample garden displays planted crops. Crops that would have been sold when the plantation was operational. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I am visiting in the middle of winter, and there are no crops. I walked over to the enclosed garden, camera in hand, and there are only weeds that obviously haven’t been touched in weeks. The weeds were so high they were taller than the wooden fencing surrounding them. However, in one corner was a small orange tree and, in the other corner, two stalks of corn. I couldn’t tell at first with all the weeds covering the stalks. Back then, the plantation grew three primary cash crops: sea island cotton, indigo, and sugar cane. Off to the left side of the sample garden are three crates built like an ascending staircase. These boxes were used to produce dyes from the indigo plants they grew. The process was lengthy, and according to the info board next to the boxes, 100 pounds of plant material created only four ounces of dye, the total cost selling at forty bucks. On the right side of the sample garden are four white posts outlining the exact dimensions of a single acre, giving visitors an idea of the workload of working sixty acres that the slaves actually worked. 

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The Slave Owners Home

Slave owner homes are popular for being massive and luxurious. As seen in Hollywood films, the homes were often two-story,  painted bright white, with pillars, and wrap-around porches on both levels. Kingsley Plantation is big too, but not quite like Hollywood films. There is the main house where the owner and his family stayed, and then there’s the kitchen house where food was prepared. A walkway with lattice siding connects the main house and the kitchen house. Visitors are free to walk through the kitchen house, but certain areas, like upstairs, are off-limits either for safety reasons or for remodeling. I never went into either home on my last visit, so I thought I’d do so on this one. I grabbed onto the old metal doorknob and stepped into a small space. The floor is made of tabby (a mixture of oyster shells, rocks, and cement), the windows are small, and the room has been set up as a presentation. Big posters lined the walls detailing the story of the plantation, how it operated, how the slaves were treated before and after Spanish rule. I tried to visit the main house, but only those taking the exclusive tour, led by a Ranger, were invited. These tours often take place on the weekend. The most you can do is admire the structure of the home from the outside. The house was built next to the Fort George River. The large windows and the front porch facing the river was the intentional design to take advantage of the wind that came off the river. Summers in Florida are brutal, so the Kingsley family stayed cool by opening their windows and sitting on the porch. 

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The River Trail

The quiet Fort George River runs pass the Kingsley Plantation. The river was the easiest way to transport goods to and from the plantation. Today, the river is mostly used for watersports and fishing. You can stand on the shore and see how much as changed since the peak days of the plantation. When facing the river, to your right in the distance, you can see the scenic Florida A1A Highway. To the left, boats and jet skis snake through Clapboard Creek. The last time I visited the Kingsley Plantation, a wild peacock walked about the grounds. Every now and then he displayed his lovely feathers. This time he was there, but there are two guarded burrows in the ground for tortoises and other burrowing mammals. A second large building apart from the Slave owners owns houses modern restrooms and a gift store where you can buy trinkets, sign up for a tour, and see artifacts collected on the plantation grounds. 

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The Slave Quarters Trail

When you enter the metal gates of the Kingsley Plantation, you are instantly greeted by a long semi-circle line of slave quarter ruins. From the small parking lot next to the plantation barn is a mulch trail that leads you directly to the beginning of the line of ruined homes. Each home designed from the tabby material. With the roofs missing and the walls nearly deteriorated down to the ground, you can see the interior dimensions of the rooms. It was common for slave quarters to be just as crowded at the slave ships the slaves sailed onto. The rooms were no bigger than a walk-in closet. With only two rooms per living quarter home, it isn’t hard to imagine the cramped lifestyle. Each “living room” area is furnished with a brick fireplace and chimney. Most of the walls in each quarter has three medium-sized holes used for ventilation. As you move down the trail studying each home, you get a greater sense of what lives were like for the slaves. The last time I visited the plantation, I found myself slightly hallucinating. I could hear singing and children laughing. I imagined seeing slaves walking around with huge containers filled with cotton and other vegetables. Naturally, when we think of slavery, we think of the beatings, slave auctions, and slaves running for the lives to freedom in the dead of night. Despite the constant turmoil, there were days that were less tragic than others. In their free time, slaves danced and ate together as one large family. Gazing at the slave quarters together as they are, built like a community filled with support and strength to make it to another day.

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The trails at Kingsley Plantation is an education in itself without textbooks or guided tours. The livelihood of this plantation was a part of a changing country. It would be decades before the actual change would come along, but every story leading to freedom is one worth telling. The Kingsley Plantation is one brick in a very long wall, but it helps to build the story that will forever be told in our American history. 

 

 

Murals of Murray Hill

Growing up near Murray Hill, I never paid much attention to the historic neighborhood. Well, at least until the murals began popping up. Like a child, I am drawn to colors and works of art, no matter the medium. More importantly, I am drawn to the messages that hide in art. Perhaps it is as simple as, “grow” which could mean multiple things depending on how you see it. Regardless, Murray hill looks a lot brighter with it’s decorated murals and their messages.

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