Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ichetucknee


The Ichetucknee River must be my favorite place ever.
My parents were driving through town in the beginning of October, so I took advantage of the no summer crowds and the still hot weather and brought them there. They had already been years ago when I first started UF, but this time I had a secret weapon. Floating lounge chairs!

All those years I was using circular inner tubes when I could have been relaxing on these lounge floats! Well the tube rental place only had two left so I graciously let the old folks have them while I took a clear inner tube.

I guess the only way to really get the river to yourself is to go during the week. There were still some people but it was finally quiet enough for us to see animals! First we saw turkeys as we were driving into the park. There's a really nice stretch of woods leading up to the pay station that was full of fall wildflowers. Weaving their way through were some wild turkeys but I didn't have access to my camera.

I tried to keep my voice down as I excitedly pointed to the wild pigs rooting around by the shoreline. My parents seemed to have conked out on the incredibly comfortable lounge floats and I ended up yelling to get their attention. Surprisingly this didn't phase the pigs. They were so intent on what they were feeding on that they didn't even look up as we floated by, less than 4 feet away. There were two but were blocked by foliage.
Next up was an entire family of OTTERS!!!! I was so excited that I spotted these and this time my parents were on the alert and saw them too. Sadly we floated by much too fast for me to get a focused picture. The only other time I saw otters was when they were swimming upstream and they were pointed out to me by someone else.
Of course we saw the obligatory turtles, herons, and fishies.

Next up is my review of Blue Springs Park in Gilchrist county and my 12 mile hike in the Ocala National Forest!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fruit and Spice Park

This is a photo of a lotus flower (that lost a lot of it's petals) at the herb garden in the Fruit and Spice Park. My parents and I visited it a couple of weeks ago while I was visiting South Florida. It's located in an area of Homestead called The Redlands, named for the red soil. This is the part of Florida that grows most of our food.

We always take US 27 down and the scenery on the drive there is distinctly South Florida.
First we have a stop off at the eastern edge of the Everglades.
Between this view and the road is a dike and a canal where they got the fill dirt to build the dike. For a long time, anything beyond the road was not visible because of all the Malelueca trees and Australian Pines that were growing. These are two extremely invasive plants to South Florida and keeping in tradition with most invasives, were originally brought here with a engineering purpose.

Maleluecas were brought in by the Army Corps of Engineers in order to drain the Everglades and many years later they realized they were sucking up all the fresh drinking water! Australian pines came in from developers to create shade and wind breaks but have fast outcompeted the native plants around them. They can't withstand hurricanes like native trees can and create millions of dollars of damage. While interning for the NRCS one summer in West Palm Beach, I went out with an engineer as he surveyed damage done by the recent hurricanes specifically by Australian Pines in a suburban neighborhood as they fell on houses, powerlines and canals.
So now more millions of dollars is being spent on trying to get rid of these invasives and today large stretches of the roadway show the dead tree trunks.
These two pictures were taken on the same day (as evidenced by the same car in front of us). There are still some patches of the old forested area alongside the road, but most of it looks dead and barren and extremely out of place in a land where everything is lush and green and overgrown.

Finally at the park, we missed the tour so we had cuban sandwiches down the road and came back just in time for the next tour. It was so hot and humid out that my mom initially didn't want to come and tried to get me to save the trip for winter, but I insisted and in the end she agreed it was a great experience. However between the uncomfortable heat and wanting to pay attention to the tour guide, I forgot to take any pictures. We rode in a tram and would stop at different spots to get out and try any fruit that was in season. Their one rule is not to pick any fruit off the trees, so we mostly looked for the freshly fallen fruit on the ground. They had tons of jackfruit trees with humongous fruits, but the park employee claimed they didn't have the right kind of solution to cut the fruit open.

The jackfruit produces a rubbery liquid when cut open and requires the right cutting utensils. I don't understand why a park that had more than 10 trees of this fruit and specializes in letting the public taste exotic fruits didn't have the equipment. Instead we tried Dragonfruit, Cashew fruit, and many more that I forgot the names of.

We were stopped at one tree eating Hog Plums, with liquid squirting all over as we bit into them. The tour guide announces that they're related to Mangos and I instantly drop my plum. I am allergic to mangos so I immediately wash my hands, face and mouth off with water. Luckily the only reaction I got were some chapped lips that went away within 2 weeks.

I also got to try Stevia, which is a natural sugar substitute. I put a leaf of it in my mouth, along with a leaf of chocolate mint and the combined flavors were better than candy! The park has fruit trees from all over the world and it seems that there is always something in season. I can't wait until we can go again and try different things!

When we stopped along the dike to look at the glades, there were giant grasshoppers all over the place. They kept moving and made it difficult to take a picture so my dad picked one up for me.
Here is a photo of my parents at a photo-op the park had set up. Of course my dad went straight for the tropical Chiquita Banana woman. After the park we stopped at Robert is Here fruit stand as it seemed to be a popular tourist attraction. However everything was overpriced, the honey was "flavored" with extremely unnatural flavorings (we're not talking the usual tupelo or wildflower honey, this was ginger honey and green tea honey). There were a million people in line for tropical fruit milkshakes so we left after buying a watermelon and an eggfruit.
My dad bought the eggfruit or canistel and we tried it the next night. The inside of the fruit is yellow and creamy like an egg yolk that has been boiled hard. The taste is sweet and reminiscient of a mamey. Mostly what I remember was the texture as it was so unusual.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Work Travels

Lately I've gone to some interesting places for work:
Steinhatchee is a small fishing village on the coast, northwest of Gainesville. Everytime I find out I have work to do here, I look forward to it. No matter where you look, you find a scenic view of the Steinhatchee River or coastal homes that remind me of Key West and Cedar Key.
These brightly painted townhomes seem to be more for the weekend tourists.
There was a good mix of tourist homes and homes like this wooden one that fits in better with the scenery and looks a bit more authentic. I love all the tin roofs.

Next up is White Springs, located on the northern portion of the Suwannee River, which seems to be the main attraction of the town. The actual downtown stores appear abandoned but the victorian homes are well kept and there's a kayak outfitter and a large State Park that probably get good traffic from the outdoor enthusiasts attracted for the river. I like to stop at the old Sulfur Springs and look at the old pictures from when it operated as a spa.
This is me being reflected from the glass case as I was trying to take a picture of what the spring house looked like back in the....late 1800s?
This is what the spring house looks like now. There's only one level to walk on and this is looking out to the river.

Next town is Yankeetown, located southwest of here on the Withlacoochie River. I don't know too much about this place but during lunch one day I discovered a park with trails to stretch my legs after driving for so long.
The environment here is mostly coastal grasses with cabbage palms. The paths are extremely well maintained and clearly marked with a map that you can take with you at the trailhead.


Coming back from Yankeetown is this curiuos piece of land. I've always spotted it on my drives but never noticed the gate open until this time. I had an intern with me so we decided to drive up and see if it was a park.
Not a park but open to the public. Driving in, I got a better look at what I had been seeing in a blur driving fast on the road,
There was no information about what the structures were for or anything besides a paper listing the development opportunities. Once I had internet access, I looked it up and it has an odd but interesting history. I guess it's currently used as grounds for weddings/corporate events/etc but the owner is a developer and wants to sell it.
Driving around the grounds was surreal because of how well manicured and landscaped the place was, but absolutely deserted. Plus it's in the middle of nowhere on highway 19 in between Inglis and Chiefland. I tried to get a picture of the stream connecting the big structure to this lake and the features on the backside of the big fountain but my camera died right after this picture.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Boston

A couple of weeks ago I decided to visit my friend, Ana, in Boston.
I was getting a bit tired of Gainesville and wanted to see an old friend, eat some good food and experience weather cooler than 90 F.
I saw this on a building as we were walking to the Southend Farmer's Market. I had to take a picture for Jason because he loves the movie, Good Will Hunting. If you can't read the photo, it says "How you like them apples?" which is the main phrase I remember from the movie. there's some weird bowl (?) in the middle of the graffiti with "thee" (again?) thrown in there. Not really sure...

The first night, we ate at an Iranian restaurant in Cambridge. I had rice with barberries, orange peel and something else that sounded awesome with a chicken kabob on top. The barberries were good. I was worried they'd be like cranberries, but they were smaller and sweeter. Ana had lamb with a pomegranate/walnut sauce, which was also very good. The next day we had lunch after our shift at the place she volunteers every week: Community Servings. This organization is so inspiring. They prepare meals for people with AIDS and other diseases who are homebound and can't cook for themselves. That night we had dinner at Ana's friend's house, potluck style, and I met a lot of great people. The next day we had dim sum in Chinatown, which is the photo above. I love dim sum so much, it's ridiculous. That night we went back to Chinatown for a family dinner with Ana's extended family in Boston. I was excited because I've never had a meal like that before. There must have been 9 courses: soup, an entire fish, an entire chicken, a huge plate of lobster, a seafood mix served in a taro bread ring, sauteed greens, snap beans with beef, something that i can't remember and finished up with red bean soup for dessert.
While in Chinatown, we stopped in a grocery store to pick up candies and I was amazed when I saw their seafood section. I grew up in South Florida, I know what lobsters in a tank look like. But I've never seen a fish aquarium with live fish swimming around right underneath the iced dead fish on display!@!!! what the heck? It was cool but when I thought about it too long, it creeped me out a tiny bit.

After that, we headed over to Boston Commons and crossed over into this park, that I don't know the name of. I saw the duck statue and had to get a picture of me on it. This is when my quest to take pictures on top of bronze animals became official.
The ducks reminded me too much of this photo taken two (three?) years ago on my last trip to Boston. I took it because my friend and I were on a historic tour following a red line around the city and I got distracted when I saw this donkey. I knew i needed a photo on it! It was much easier to sit on than the duck, but I guess that should be obvious. It's funny b/c my hair now is the same length as it was back then, but I've had it much shorter in the meantime.
These are some plants that were in the same park as the ducks. I don't know what they are, but they were gigantic! While in Boston, we also hit up the Cambridge River Festival and some shopping along Newbury Street and downtown. The temperature never really went above 70 and it was awesome!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Manatee Springs



This past weekend Jason and I went to Manatee Springs, in Chiefland. Between spending parts of my work days in the recent heat index of 110 F and hearing my coworker talk about her plans for Silver Glen Springs in the Ocala National Forest, I decided a spring was the perfect way to spend our Saturday.
One side of the spring is filled with cypress trees and the other is a retaining wall with sets of stairs leading into the water. The spring flows into the spring run and eventually into the Suwannee River.
So yes, it was ridiculously hot outside and yes I've been in springs before, but lets face it...there's a reason these scuba divers are wearing wet suits. When I jumped in the water (slowly going down the steps turned out to be too painful) I think my body temporarily shut down from the freezing cold water. We also didn't realize until after that, that the steps we took into the water were the closest to the spring opening and the other steps were further away and a tiny bit warmer.

When visiting any spring, I think it's a necessity to bring a mask and snorkel. Even though the water is clear, it's usually so deep that you can't see the cave openings, plants and animals from up on the surface. The only downside was that not only my mask but my camera kept fogging up because of the extreme cold water! Although my snorkel masks always fog up no matter where I am. I don't have the right saliva mixture or something.

After eating our Publix subs, cooling ourselves off in the water, warming ourselves up in the water by swimming, we finally dried off and put our stuff in the car. Before leaving, we took a walk on the boardwalk that leads from the spring through a riverine cypress ecosystem and out to the Suwannee River where boaters can dock their boats while they visit the springs. This is a picture of the river. Everytime I see it, I'm always surprised by how wide the river is!
This sign was at the beginning of the boardwalk. I'm the last person to be labeled a squirrel feeder, but felt it was necessary to take a picture anyway. I was in Boston last weekend (post to come soon) and was astonished at two young girls in the park feeding squirrels peanuts while their parents looked on lovingly. I made an angry comment about this to Ana and was probably a little too loud b/c the family looked up at me in surprise. Rabies anyone?

Finally, a picture of the button bush in bloom that was among the cypress trees on the boardwalk.
Overall Manatee Springs was a great park. They had nice grassy areas to lay out the towels and picnic. It was a tiny bit too crowded for me, but I think any spring during the summer will be over popular. I have to say even with the large amount of people, it was all families and we weren't worried about leaving our stuff on the grass unattended while we swam.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wildflowers


For the past two months, my drives through the country have had the best roadside scenery: Wildflowers everywhere!


The purple flowers were out first, along with pink/magenta, yellow and white.

The yellow are some variety of Coreopsis, Florida's state flower. These have stayed the longest out of all the flowers, lasting into our summer and enduring the heat indexes of 100+ that we've been experiencing lately.
This picture was taken a few days ago on the road between Bell and Branford. Middle of the day so the colors were faded. Actually most of my photos taken while working are like this.
This last picture was taken a few months ago in Brooksville. I think someone gave up on their orange grove, letting the oranges stay on the tree and wildflowers take over the ground.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Why I love South Florida:



The other weekend when I went to visit my family in South Florida, our neighbor told us about this orchid nursery in Homestead, RF Orchids. and we had to go. We didn't plan on buying orchids, but the grounds behind the nursery were amaaazing. The landscaping was inspiring and everywhere you looked were perfect specimens of tropical plants.

We arrived just in time for the tour and saw this pond that the owner built out of a small sinkhole. I think he had a sinkhole originally and made it bigger, stocked it with catfish, sharks and a baby alligator that seems to be replaced every time it grows too big and poses a threat to the visitors. I'm not sure how I feel about using the alligator like that and then getting rid of it when it's no longer useful... but my dad and I were instantly in love and wanted to dive in and swim around. Of course we were on a tour and didn't do that, but I'm sure had it been a friend's pond, my dad wouldn't have hesitated.
The owner added two waterfalls that blend in naturally with the rest of the structure. The tour guide told us that the water is natural springwater. I am surprised that it is so clear like North Florida Springs. Obviously I know nothing about geology but I wasn't expecting water from the Biscayne Aquifer to be so clear!
At the end of the tour, you end up in the greenhouses and can look at all the different orchids, and smell them too! Obviously at this point you're supposed to buy orchids, but I'm pretty sure I would kill it immediately (I am still amazed my african violet is blooming again). While we were looking around an employee came around and offered us cups of iced passionfruit juice.

For the past three months, I would get random phone calls from either my dad or my sister telling me they were at our neighbors visiting the cockatoos and they would gush on about how amazing these birds were. Then they would put the phone up to the birds and I would sit there and hear garbled noise. Feigning interest I always quickly found a reason to hang up. I couldn't understand why they were so obsessed with these birds. We've always been a furry/cuddly pet family, not highly excited by birds or reptiles.
But the last time I was home I got to meet them and boy are they fun! I don't remember this one's name, but he has peach underneath his little crest of feathers and loves it when you reach into his feathers and kind of massage his scalp. I was shocked at how friendly and affectionate these birds were. As soon as I paid attention to the other one, which was plain white, this salmon colored one would start flapping his wings and shrieking because he wanted attention and petting!
Here is Kokomo. I only remember his name because it was all my sister could talk about for practically a week straight. Also, he likes to bounce up and down repetively and sing "Kookooomoooooo". It's pretty adorable. Apparently Kokomo isn't allowed to sit on the Frangipani tree like the salmon colored one because he kept picking at the bark with his beak. So he sat on the hula hoop hanging from the tree. As soon as I would walk by the hoop, he'd hold out one of his feet (claws?) in the direction of my arm. I moved my arm closer to see if he'd come on it and he instantly did! Then he would walk all over my arm, up onto my shoulder, switch onto another arm a couple times.
When it was time to go, he wouldn't leave my arm and get back on the hula hoop! I had to give him to his owner who had a little more control over the bird.
This statue was sitting at the entrance to the orchid house, guarding over a small koi pond. I liked how they placed some fresh orchicds in his arms.