From Canyon to Winter and Hope
Geological and marine nature
So you have a week to nine days to fill and are considering Florida? I get that, as we did the same and had a great time. This is the roundtrip we created – boasting nature, tours and beautiful sights. Follow along and see what we decided to visit and do!
Our flight from Toronto arrives on a Friday evening, allowing us to pick up the rental car from the airport and to make it over to our overnight hotel. Unfortunately, not the best start as it turns out because we end up in a room with just two double beds for the five of us. According to reception this is because of a fire regulation in Florida which dictates that we cannot get a roll-away bed.
Hotelroom rules Florida
We make it through our first night and have breakfast but decide to cancel our last night booked in the same hotel. We double-check the hotels up until Miami as we get underway. A smart move as this (two beds per room, even if sharing with five people) directive is enforced in a lot of places. It is a bit weird though because some of the rooms we get, do have the pull-out couch and then it seems fine to have more than 4 people occupy the beds.
Back to our first full day in Georgia’s southern nature however…
Heading for spring
Today, we’ll drive about 450km south towards Tallahassee. It’s late March and still bitterly cold and nasty in Toronto. The further south we go here however, the more spring nature embraces us. Grass gets greener and greener along the way and trees have, or are, sprouting luscious vibrantly green leaves. There are hawks and other birds of prey circling over the highway and the neighbouring fields everywhere. Anxiety and irritation are evaporating as we settle into our seats. The, at first, a bit shy sun is peaking through the clouds and the glass roof of the car ensures our skins can get that initial summer touch. Road trip, tours, experiences, and nature, here we come.
Providence Canyon State Park
After about 2 hours heading south, we take US27 towards Lumpkin. It leads us to Providence Canyon State Park, also known as the Little Grand Canyon. We pay our park entrance fee and park along the side of the road.
Colours and Sun
It is warm now (so nice and welcome!) and we eagerly start off along the edge of the bright white and orange-red clay and sand cliffs. The trail isn’t hard and mostly flat and allows for great views of this gorge that, in a way, is man-made. Due to unjust through farming, the soft top layers of soil were washed away to expose the underlying sediments. The bright white and sometimes almost burgundy, sometimes bright orange colours are in stark contrast to the luminescent green spring leaves around.
Nature’s Gorgeous gorges
We have been walking and trying to find our way ‘into’ the 16 separate gorges, following the path down and through a shallow, puddle-depth of water over the red bottom when we make it back up to the beginning. Fortunately, at the top is the park shop that sells maps, trinkets and water, and the ranger there directs us back to the watery bottom. It takes getting through most of the bought fluids and some cooling down in the shade until we (me?) convince ourselves to go back and do so.
Coming from this direction there are clear indications of where to go, upstream of the water which really isn’t deeper than the soles of our shoes. We are not alone but with a couple of arms to explore, we find some room to view these lively colours from light below to dark on top. It’s clear why this is called the little Grand Canyon.
Spring, summer and tomorrow Winter
With another 225 km/139 mi to go, we get back to the car and the air conditioning. Coming from overcast and cold straight into hot spring air and sun takes more than one day to get used to.
kilometer closer to Tallahassee brings summer closer too. Soon after we pass
Amsterdam, we cross the state line into Florida itself. We make it to the hotel
in time for the kids to try the outside pool for about 10 minutes returning
them as frantically shaking blue Martians, and we warm everyone up with dinner
at a local Mexican restaurant.
The Information Shortcut
Distances: Atlanta – Providence Canyon State Park (344km/213mi)
Providence Canyon State Park – Tallahassee (225 km/ 139mi)
Address: Providence Canyon State Park
8930 Canyon Road
Lumpkin, GA 31815
N 32.064445 | W -84.921913
Pricing: $5 parking
There is a seasonal shop where you can buy some refreshments and/or maps and trinkets.
Winter in Florida
Escaping from the frigid spring in Canada and then heading for Winter, what’s that all about? Well, every Saturday night we have French bread, cheeses, soup or simple sandwiches for dinner in front of the television. An easy-going day when we watch a movie together.
Over the winter(ha!) we watched ‘Dolphin Tale’ about a dolphin rescued on the coast of Florida. She’d lost her mother and her tail was badly injured. So much so, that despite the great care in the Clearwater Marine Aquarium she lost it. Without a tail she wouldn’t be able to hunt, thus live independently and so she stays at the aquarium, pining for her mother.
In the film a boy befriends her which perks her up. The protagonists try and find a doctor to make her a prosthetic tail, the aquarium almost has to shut down for lack of funding and you guessed it, it all ends well.
The movie was cute, fun and inspiring, even more so because it essentially is a true story. So, when we decide to do a roadtrip through Florida a couple months later, of course, we plan to go see: Winter.
Along the way from Tallahassee, nature’s colours become duller and more mature. The entire surroundings spell entering a different climate. That’s also very clear from the garlands of ‘Tillandsia Usnseoides’ better known as Spanish Moss decorating trees along the roads. Though it is called moss, it actually isn’t moss, nor is it a parasite to the trees it hangs from because it is not attached. The greyish-green plant self generates and grows, lying on whatever surface above the ground, where there is enough moisture in the air. In times of drought it goes dormant.
The moss is a clear marker of this sub-tropical region and a sense of entering another area for tourists like us.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium
We pass by the Scientology headquarters on our way to the Clearwater Memorial Causeway to Pasadees Key, east of Clearwater where the aquarium is located.
We park in the lot a bit further down right in time to visit Winter and her dolphin buddy Hope (Dolphin Tale 2). The center’s mission is to ‘Rescue, Rehab, Release’ back into nature, and the animals therefore regularly change but for the ones that no longer can survive on their own. In that case, they become a resident at the aquarium.
Meeting the residents
Thus we get to meet Ricky (stage name Rufus) the pelican and his friends. They live close to the ‘office-set’ which has been left in situ for movie-aficionados. Among other turtles, we see Madam, Bailey, Max and ‘Mavis’. The latter portrayed in the film by the gender-secure Harold.
The highlight, of course, besides the always cute otters and touching of the stingrays, is the show by Winter and Hope. The synchronized swimming, the Formula 1 speed with which they race around the pool, the ‘waves’ to the public and their jumping is extra fun because of the cheeky smiles on their faces.
As a non-profit, the aquarium is dependent on its visitors to buy tickets and sponsorship in every way feasible to make their work possible. They do education trips for schools, sell items in their shop and of course, do dolphin shows. Something both the animals and the tourists enjoy.
It’s close to 7 pm when we leave the aquarium and make for our next hotel and a meal. Ready for the next day.
The Information Shortcut
Distances: Tallahassee- Clearwater Marine Aquarium (388 km/241 mi)
249 Windward Passage, Clearwater, FL 33767
Pricing: $ 26.95 adult/ $24.95 (online price) or $12.95 Sun down special between 4-8pm.
Child 3-12y/o: $ 21.95/$ 19.95 (online price) or $12.95 Sun down special between 4-8pm.
Senior: 60+: $ 24.95 /@ 22.95 (online price) or $12.95 Sun down special between 4-8pm.
Parking just around the corner. Consider going here during the sundown hours; better chances of parking, shows still happen and not too warm, easier to get your tickets if you did not order them online yet.
Everglades nature and airboat tour
It’s the third day of our Florida Roadtrip and we’re up fairly early. No problem when the sun is beaming down, the air is nice and warm, and there’s fun on the horizon. We have some ground to cover today, almost 480 km, so time to go.
From Clearwater, it’s 344 km to the Everglades State Park, the area that makes up most of Florida’s southern tip. Mostly known for the alligators and crocodiles but also diverse plants, mammals like the manatee (aka sea cow), the insects and spiders, and so much more.
There’s an airboat tour waiting for us at 12.30 pm at Everglades Airboat tours, and with just one additional passenger we go out for an hour’s worth of fun. Our driver takes us through the at times, very narrow waterways through the mangrove forest. He points out a nesting raccoon, the piranha, and we sit and watch dolphins play around our and other boats.
Flying over water
One of the very best things though going by the screaming over the two-way headsets we all wear is when we speed along the canals and ‘streets’ as they swirl around the nature park. The boat flies over the water, it spins and the massive propeller sprays us all with an invigorating mist. A grin is permanently on our faces. What fun! We see just a smidgen of this area that houses amphibians, mammals and indigenous birds and fish that all strive in fresh and/or saltwater.
It currently is the dry season and so we don’t see alligators during our boat tour but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. When we get back to our car and take our time driving through the park, there are numerous places where you can go for a walk through the park, and see alligators sunning themselves in shallow waters.
HM69 Nike Missile
Lacking that, the park also has an alligator farm to learn more about these creatures in nature and captivity and they do a show. In fact, there is more than enough to do to keep you occupied for a few days. Go fishing, hiking, camping, boating (some at gator tours available at night, as of 7pm) or visit the HM-69 Nike Missile at the Daniel Beard Research Center. A remnant from the Cold War which was in operation until 1979.
We make some stops along the way but head for Miami instead. Here we’ve booked a flat in an apartment building with use of a pool. Yep, you guessed it, that’s where we wash off our marsh sweat and prepare for our visit to Miami’s Art Deco district the next day.
The Information Shortcut
Distances: Clearwater – Everglades city (342 km/213mi)
Everglades city – Miami ( 134 km/ 83.6 mi)
Address: 907 DuPont Street
Everglades City, FL 34139
(239) 695-2400Toll Free: (877) 222-6400
Pricing (for 1 hour on a 6 pers. airboat):
Adult $43.92 (plus tax)
Child (up to 10 y/o) $ 25.23 (plus tax)
Art Deco, chocolate and the task system…
Check back next week for a report on Miami, a chocolate tour in a windy city and learning about the task-system in Georgia. Or, want to know how best to organize a trip like this yourself?
It may seem difficult but besides setting some time apart, I help you through the entire process. Starting this Thursday, make sure to check back or subscribe to stay up-to-date.
Canyon, Aquarium or Marshland State Park, which entices you most? What else would you want to go and see? Where should we have gone too?