Blue Spring State Park

The 72-degree waters at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida attract hundreds of manatees, also called “sea cows.” Situated by the St. Johns River, this park offers canoe and kayak rentals, a walking trail, a river boat cruise, food concessions, and more.


We’d heard about the manatees but hadn’t gone to this park before as it’s a forty-minute drive north from where we live. But when our daughter said she’d like to take our grandson there since he was off school for Martin Luther King Day, we jumped on the wagon – or rather, in her SUV.

Orange City seemed interesting as we passed through a historic section. My gaze was drawn to the 1876 Heritage Inn. However, the Alling House Bed & Breakfast has better reviews if you’re looking for a place to stay.

We turned down a two-lane road to head into Blue Spring State Park. Capacity was full by the time we arrived at 10:30, and they were only letting vehicles into the parking area as people left. We got into a snaking line from down the road, where you are stuck until you reach the park entrance. In other words, use the potty before you start on this excursion. You might want to bring snacks and water bottles, too.

We finally got in after a long wait, parked, and strode past the playground to the boardwalk where you can see the manatees. The large creatures glided past in the water, which was surrounded by woods. They were fascinating to watch. It’s a peaceful setting where you can picnic, hike, or just relax.


Can you spot the alligator on the log?

We walked along the waterside path and passed a historical house but didn’t go in. The Thursby House was built by Louis Thursby in the 1800s and hosted steamboat passengers as they made their way up and down the St. Johns River. Today it serves as a museum.


Ready for lunch, we bought burgers and hot dogs at the concession hut and ate under cover at a picnic table. The burger was bland. I’ve had better at other parks. Our grandson enjoyed the playground on the way back. Then we were done, got in the car, and left. However, someone had been injured in the park, and the exit was blocked while the attendants waited for the ambulance. I couldn’t imagine how it would get past the clogged traffic on the two-lane road.

After twenty minutes or so, the emergency vehicle arrived and cars were permitted to exit. Then once we got on I-4, there was another blockage due to a crash and we had to take an alternate route. At last, we made it home safely despite these delays, and it was worth the trip to see the manatees and the park. I’d suggest going earlier in the morning and on a weekday.

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Lake Lotus Park

Lake Lotus Park in Altamonte Springs, Florida has 120 acres of woods and wetlands. In the late 1800s, settlers arrived to buy land and to enjoy the desirable climate. The railway spurred development. In 1972, the City of Altamonte Springs purchased the property to preserve its unique ecosystem. The nature preserve has a one-mile-long raised boardwalk, picnic tables, walking trails, playground, restrooms, and a fishing pier on a lake.


The park has limited hours and parking is not always available on site, so check the times before you come. This nature preserve has no concessions so don’t expect a snack bar. You’re pretty much on your own. We were hoping for an office where we could get a map but that was nonexistent as well. We tromped around on our own, fortunately ending up on several loops that took us back where we started.


This park is located at 1153 Lake Lotus Park Road, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714.


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Kelly Park

Kelly Park is a 355-acre site in Apopka, Florida originally donated by Dr. Howard A. Kelly in 1927. It holds picnic pavilions, a playground, walking trails, a concession stand, volleyball courts, and the famous Rock Springs Run that is approximately three-quarters of a mile long. If you’re looking for a campsite, that’s available, too. There was a $3.00 fee for us to enter.


We started out meandering from the parking lot to find our bearings. Gentle slopes are graced by tall oaks with Spanish moss and other shrubbery to provide an oasis from civilization. Trails appear to be numerous, although we didn’t venture too far. Even with a map, I was afraid we’d get lost.


We followed people holding tube floats toward a breathtaking grotto. The natural spring flows at an average of 26,000 gallons per minute with a temperature around 68 degrees. This chilly prospect didn’t deter the crowds of people splashing in the water. The spring in this spot was shallow and crystal clear. It travels nine miles to join the Wekiva River.



At the other end in this park is a beach area with a deeper pool that’s even more popular.


We completed our exploration by getting ice cream sandwiches at the concession building that also houses restrooms. You can get lunch here with burgers and hot dogs on the menu along with other goodies. Picnic tables provide outdoor seating on the deck.


If you’re looking for peace and tranquility, to commune with nature, or to admire the magnificent natural springs in a lush green setting, this is the place to go. Kelly Park is located at 400 East Kelly Park Rd in Apopka, FL.


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A Trio of Florida Parks

Recently we visited a trio of parks all within walking distance of each other in Maitland, Florida. Our excursion began at Minnehaha Park. This seven and a half acre facility overlooks a lake with a scenic boardwalk through a wetland forest. A playground, exercise stations and picnic tables dot the open landscape. Restrooms are available.


A side path takes you to a tunnel that dives under the road and crosses to Covered Bridge Park. Here is the tunnel view from the Minnehaha side.


Here is the view from the Covered Bridge side looking back at the other park. This park doesn’t have much except a walking path in a viewable loop and the bridge. But if you cross this bridge, you come to the Jim Houser Azalea Garden.

This oasis offers bushes in full bloom during season, which unfortunately we’d just missed. Still, the winding path made from recycled tires was pleasantly relaxing.

We’d also visited Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs on another excursion. This offers a nature walk through forested land, also with picnic pavilions, a playground and restrooms.

Hillsboro Pineland

This nature refuge, located at 5591 NW 74th Place in Coconut Creek, FL, is a hidden oasis in a sea of suburban congestion. Just off Route 441 north of Sample Road, Hillsboro Pineland is a small park compared to others but its two hiking trails will give you a brief respite from civilization. It’s far enough removed that you can hear the crickets instead of the traffic. The first trail leads you through pinelands as per the park’s name. It’s a pleasant shady walk among tall trees.


The second trail takes you through marshland adjacent to a river that you can’t see from the boardwalk but you can see the water seeping through the grassy vegetation. Lots of wildflowers attract butterflies in this portion.


This park exhibits what I love about living in Florida. The trails go to what seem like two different ecosystems. Our state has a variety of terrain, from the sea-studded Keys to the hilly and cave-ridden north to the sandy beaches to the mangrove coastlines. Nearby, we can go to Flamingo Gardens and see hundreds-year-old trees or go to Volunteer Park to watch the turtles or take a shady walk on a trail in Tree Tops Park. Our peoples are just as diverse, celebrating our heritage as a melting pot of cultures. Our history, too, provides for a colorful past. And then there are the haunted hotels and plantations. We won’t talk about hurricanes. They’re offset by the flowers and balmy winter temperatures. What more could a writer want?


Green Cay Nature Center

We spent a lovely day on Saturday enjoying the serenity of nature at Green Cay Nature Center in Boynton Beach. Besides a boardwalk offering a couple of trails over the wetlands, there’s a science center with exhibits and a tiny gift shop.


The weather was perfect for a trek, in the seventies with cloudy skies that kept the heat away. It attracted the birds, however, because we saw many varieties.


What thrilled us was catching a glimpse of an alligator swimming along. It’s rare to see one moving like this, so we stared transfixed. See it moving on my Facebook page.

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Here’s another one sunning on a patch of higher ground.


The trees and vegetation were lovely and relaxing to our urban-glazed gaze. We strolled along, soaking in the bird sounds and enjoying the slight breeze.

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It pays to seek nature once in a while, forcing you to remember the days when electricity wasn’t abundant and people had to live off the land. You gain a renewed appreciation for all that civilization has given us, minus the ugly side of human nature. Here in this oasis, all is at peace and harmony. And so, peace be with you, my friends. Where do you go to seek tranquility?

Our walk made us hungry, so we headed to Seasons 52 for lunch. I’d say we enjoyed ourselves, yes?



As we approached Sedona, I noticed a change in the mountains. Layers of red rock made distinctive patterns along the cliff sides. The upper layers appeared to be tan, while red lay on the lower layers in a repetitive pattern. I stared in awe at these towering red rock formations. Taller trees than we’d seen previously on our trip and evergreens also came into view.

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We stopped by The Well Red Coyote so I could say hello to the bookstore owners. Then we headed into town to find a parking space. On foot, we bypassed the interesting shops on the main street to buy tickets for a Pink Jeep tour. It was cool and breezy so I bought a scarf in their gift shop. Then we boarded the open-air jeep for our adventure. We sat on benches facing each other on gray upholstery with pink trim and fastened our seatbelts.

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Don, our guide, told us how the ancestral mountains formed and eroded. Dormant volcanoes dated back to ten million years ago. During a seismic event, the side of the mountains cracked, and they dropped three thousand feet. Sand deposited and flattened into horizontal strata. Rusty water with iron oxide filled in the cracks and drained through the larger, round grains to settle in the more tightly packed, smaller-grained lower layers. The sandstone is either red or yellow. The difference is from the size and shape of the grains. The yellow is the larger, round grains and so is on top. The red is smaller and more tightly packed and lies on the lower layers where the rusty water came to rest. This explains the differentiation in colors, which is superficial. Grasses grew, and then cattle and sheep arrived. Overgrazing led to the current type of vegetation.

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We turned off from town at Dry Creek Road while Don named some of the trees: Juniper, silvery Arizona Cypress, green Pinyon Pine, Shrub Oak with serrated leaves, and more. Then Don pointed out the three fingers known as Chimney Rock.

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We drove up Thunder Mountain next (any errors are my note taking). It was very windy and cool so I was glad for the hoodie and scarf that I wore. We passed a dry creek bed, noting more angular mountains mixed with mesas in the distance. Next came our off-road adventure. We bounced over the red rocks and up and down slopes, the jeep tossing us from side to side as we gripped handlebars on the roof. Good thing we hadn’t eaten lunch yet!

We got out at one site and climbed to the top of a ridge with an expansive view. Don identified a yellow flowered snakeweed (good for building fires), prickly pear cactus, white daisies, indigo, agave and sage plants. Rattlesnakes, spiders, and mountain lions are some of the critters around, but not to worry. We didn’t spot anything other than fellow humans.

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After getting our fill of nature, we left the jeep tour and drove to Shugrues Hillside Grill for lunch. We sat indoors rather than on the terrace with the wind. Staring out at the lovely mountain view, we dined on butternut squash ravioli with Portobello mushrooms.

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Next we drove up Chapel Hill to the magnificent Chapel of the Holy Cross. This amazing structure is set on two red rock pillars amid towering rock cliffs. This site is so awesome that it inspires religion. Really, how could this spectacular setting be a random act of evolution? No wonder this region is known for its positive, uplifting spiritual flow. There’s no metaphysics needed, just awe and appreciation. The church is free to visitors. Its huge window faces the sky and the mountain ranges and valleys beyond. It’s quiet inside, with double rows of pews and candles lit on either side before the altar.

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By the time we descended from Chapel Hill, it was getting late and the weather had gotten cloudier. Warning signs on the road for Blowing Dust—Low Visibility made us hasten to leave town. Unfortunately, this meant we didn’t have time for shopping. We stopped instead at a couple of New Age stores selling books, crystals, and jewelry so I could buy some research books on the vortexes before heading for the hills and home.

How does this relate to my stories? While the ghosts in previous posts may appear in my next Bad Hair Day mystery, the spiritual energy vortexes at Sedona fit in perfectly with my paranormal Drift Lords series. So look for Arizona to be the featured setting in Bad Hair Day #12 and in Drift Lords #5.

Have you ever been to a site you consider a world wonder?