Saturday, October 4, 2014

Savannas Preserve State Park

Savannas Preserve State Park contains the largest, most ecologically intact stretch of freshwater marsh in southeast Florida. During the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), Lt. Colonel Benjamin Pierce first used the term 'savannah' to describe the series of ponds and marches found in this area, which stretches more than 10 miles from Ft. Pierce to Jensen Beach, encompassing more than 6,000 acres.

The Savannas are comprised of six natural communities. Each community is characterized by a distinct population of plants and animals that are naturally associated with each other and their physical environment. The communities consist of:
Pine Flatwoods
Wet prairie
Basin marsh (covers nearly 1,000 acres and is home to the largemouth bass, alligators, waterfowl and bald eagles)
Marsh lake
Sand pine scrub (home to the Florida scrub-jay and gopher tortoise)
Scrubby Flatwoods

The park is also home to a rare plant called, savannas mint that grows nowhere else in the world. It also contains nearly all of the remaining populations of the fragrant prickly-apple, an endangered cactus species.

There are many ways to enjoy the park including biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and horseback riding. There is also a small picnic area and an eco-friendly restroom. We had planned to hike for the day but the landscape changes dramatically with the rainfall and many of the paths were closed off due to flooding. We went as far as we were able to go and then we visited the Education Center. The staff was extremely friendly and told us about the numerous interpretive activities available to school groups and park visitors such as guided or self-guided walking tours, kayak, and canoe trips. There's even a moonlight kayak tour which I definitely want to try. 

The Education Center features interactive exhibits and displays on local history, the preserve's natural communities, plant and animal species, and live animal exhibits. 

We didn't have much luck with the hike but we did get the rare opportunity to watch these turtles mating. I've worked for several zoos and the circumstances have never been right to be able to witness what appears to be a fascinating feat of turtle acrobatics.

The entrance fee for the park is only $3.00 per vehicle and it's open 365 days a year. The Education Center is open Thursday-Monday.

Monday, September 22, 2014

St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine was never really on my radar as a travel destination in Florida until my niece went there on a school field trip. When most people think of places to visit in the Sunshine State it usually involves sunscreen and a beautiful beach. I did a bit of investigating on Trip Advisor and discovered that St. Augustine is not only teeming with history but there was so much to do that I had to narrow down my list to the top-rated attractions and pick and choose what I wanted to see most on our weekend trip. 

First, a brief yet very important timeline of St. Augustine, the Nation's Oldest City.

1513: Ponce de Leon explores Florida and names it "La Florida"
1565: Pedro Menendez establishes St. Augustine
1586: Sir Francis Drake raids St. Augustine
1620: Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock
1668: Pirates sack St. Augustine
1672: Construction begins on the Castillo
1695: Construction completed on the Castillo
1702: English siege of St. Augustine
1740: English bombard St. Augustine
1763: Treaty of Paris-Florida to England
1776: American Revolution
1783: Florida returned to Spanish control
1821: Spain cedes Florida to the United States
1835-42: Seminole Indian war in Florida
1845: Florida is 27th State of the Union
1861: Confederacy occupies the Castillo
1888: Flagler opens Ponce de Leon Hotel
1927: Original Bridge of Lions completed

Spain's Queen Regent Mariana realized that St. Augustine was the keystone in the defense of the Florida coast so in 1672 the construction of the Castillo de San Marcos was begun. For many years it was Spain's northernmost outpost of it's vast New World empire. It's the oldest masonry fort and the best-preserved example of Spanish colonial fortification in the continental United States. It protected St. Augustine from pirate raids and from Spain's major rival, Great Britain during the time when the coastline was an explosive international battleground.

The Castillo offers guided tours or you can do a self-guided tour of the entire Castillo and most of its rooms which contain exhibit panels and displays to help tell you the story of this National Monument.

You can't visit St. Augustine without taking a trip to Ponce de Leon's Fountain of Youth archaeological park. It's the oldest successful European settlement in the U.S. located in the area first explored by Ponce de Leon in 1513 and settled by Pedro Melendez de Aviles in 1565. St. Augustine was founded right in this spot, 55 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, and 42 years before Jamestown was colonized. The 1565 Melendez Settlement of St. Augustine was founded on its grounds. The 1587 Mission of Nombre de Dios Church was the first Christian church built in the continental U.S.-constructed right on its property. Even the first documented Thanksgiving feast between Europeans and native Americans occurred here.

Located in the Spring House is the Fountain of Youth (which tasted very much like sulfur and was quite disgusting) I will let you know in the future if it actually worked! However, there's much more to do in the park than just drink from the Spring of Eternal Hope. There's the planetarium where you can learn celestial navigation techniques used by early European explorers. Then there's the discovery globe which slowly rotates to reveal early Spanish explorer's routes to and from the new world.
Other exhibits on the grounds are: The Timucua Burials, Caravel Down Shipwreck, Timucua Village of Seloy, Historical Weapons Exhibit, Melendez Settlement Field, Archaeological exhibit, Chalupa shipyard, Maritime Traditions exhibit, the Cannon firing, Spanish watchtower, Timucuan dugout canoe, 600' founders' riverwalk, 1513 Ponce Landing Memorial, and the Ponce de Leon Statue.

The next main attraction we chose to go to was the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum. In addition to climbing up to the top of the 140 ft lighthouse to enjoy the view you can also look into the lens room where the lighthouses's original 1st order Fresnel lens is still rotating. The Fresnel lens magnifies a 1000 watt lightbulb into a signal visible from 25 miles away. 

The grounds also include the oil house, the boat building area, artifact conservation, a 19th century herb garden, a shipyard play area for kids, the Keeper's house exhibits and a room filled with recovered artifacts from the 1764 wreck of the sloop Industry.


There was loads more of museums and historical sites that we didn't have time to see but aside from that, you should take time to walk or drive around the city to appreciate the beautiful architecture of the churches and Flagler college. St. George street, located in the downtown historic district, is closed to vehicles so it's the perfect place to stroll charming little cafe's and shops. You can stop and view the Colonial Quarter, Old St. Augustine Village and the Oldest Wooden schoolhouse but you'll have to dodge the pirates roaming the street to get to the fudge shops and restaurants.

I rarely comment on the food I eat on my trips but every restaurant we chose had fantastic food. I would recommend Harry's Seafood Bar and Grille if you want to taste some mind blowing seafood gumbo and A1A Ale Works for (in my opinion) the best shrimp tacos in the world.

Although St. Augustine is a vast contrast to the rest of Florida, it's still Florida so we had to make a mandatory trip out to Vilano Beach. What makes this beach unique from any other is that you can park your car right on the sand. Back your car up facing the ocean and there's no need to lug chairs, umbrellas, and coolers. Just open the back of your truck or car trunk and you have everything you need right there.

I would definitely love to go back to St. Augustine and visit all the places we didn't get a chance to see the first time. There's so much to see and do, you could easily spend a week in this great city and never get bored.

Friday, August 1, 2014

On the move again

It's been six months since our last move and here we are moving yet again. After some rough calculations, I've realized that I've moved about sixteen times in the past fifteen years with the most time spent in one location being just under three years. I suppose I can't really call this blog, Museum Trekker if I don't keep on trekking. I'm hoping this will be my last move for a while because now I'm very tired! It's not easy to constantly pack up and start over in a new place, find a new job, a new place to live and make new friends. Plus, for the first time ever, we finally own this dwelling. An actual house; not a one-bedroom rent-inflated shoebox. We bought a foreclosure which I was really excited about because I love getting my hands dirty and I love fixing things and it had quite a lot of fixing that needed to be done. The picture below is the room I decided to make my art studio. I was probably the first prospective buyer to ever get excited that the flooring had been ripped out. Our realtor looked at me like I was totally insane. I thought it would make the perfect studio because I wouldn't have to worry about making a mess on the floor. 

This closet also has a lot of shelves to hold all of my art supplies.

The previous owner added this tiny office in the living room. It blocked all of the light coming into the house and it also made the room quite small. 

We tore out the office and recycled all of the 2x4's to build a large desk/workbench in my studio as well as shelves in the garage to hold all of my tools and hardware.

We also saved all of the moldings to replace in the areas of the house where the previous owner had ripped them out.

This is a picture of my husband and mom removing the walls.

Taking this room out made a huge difference. 

This is what it looks like now. We now have a large open dining area with lots of sunlight. 

My husband and I made this chandelier for the new dining area. 
My grandfather was a lamp maker and I think he would be very proud.

The color on the walls of my studio was very dark so I picked out some orange paint and my niece and nephew volunteered to help paint. Orange is my favorite color and it also promotes creativity!
We had to buy some extra cans of paint when we realized that the kids were only tall enough to paint the bottom half of the wall!
This is the room with the finished paint job. I added some cheap rubber tile flooring which makes it much more comfortable to work on than the bare concrete floor.

Here's where those 2x4 beams got put to good use from the office we tore down. We even saved and re-used all of the screws. The bench had to be built in two pieces so that it could fit down the hallway and be maneuvered into the room.

Instead of using plywood, I bought masonite for the tabletop so I could have a smooth work surface.

We painted the table white using the left-over paint that we used to touch up the molding in the room.
I was a bit nervous that it wouldn't fit right but the measurements were perfect and it even fit right under the windowsill. Whew! We cut holes behind the computers and printer so that the cords could run neatly underneath the bench to the power supply.

This Anco drafting table in the picture below was a fantastic flea market find. I bought it for a 1/4 of its actual value and it even came with the original drafting machine and lamp. 

Here's a picture of the finished space. I added shelves under the printer to hold all of my paper and envelopes for shipping my prints. I'm surrounded by some of my own art, the art I've collected from my travels and the art of my friends and family which keeps me inspired.

I have to give all the credit to my husband for this one. 
He paved the entire patio with recycled bricks.

I only work with oil paint outside because of the chemicals so now I also have an
 outdoor workspace which I love to use on cool days.
Now that I've got my new art studio, shelving for my tools, a workbench in the garage and a beautiful outdoor painting area, I can get back to making art. This truly is an artist's dream come true!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center is a major central Florida tourist destination and is approximately one hour's drive from the Orlando area. Located on Merritt Island, the space center is north-northwest of Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic Ocean, on what's referred to as Florida's Space Coast.

The admission cost per person was $50, which in my personal opinion was not worth it. In addition to that, you have to pay a $10 parking fee to park your car on their dirt lot. 

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers public tours of the center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. What they don't tell you is that this is not included with your $50 admission fee. You have to pay extra to take the tour. 

What you do get to see for $50 are these rockets in this photo on the left. Then there are several separate buildings that house various space-related exhibits. Much of it is sitting in dark rooms and watching movies. For example, in one building we sat in a dark room and watched a video about being able to live on Mars one day. There were a few interactive components in that building as well but most of the exhibit was centered around the film which repeated over and over until the point where we couldn't stand it anymore and had to leave without seeing the entire exhibit.

To get from one building to the other you need to walk outdoors. On our way to the next building, a bird pooped on my head. I will admit that having bird poop in my hair, plus the overpriced admission fee, and then the torrential downpour which left us unable to get from one building to another without getting completely soaked, possibly added to my negative review of the space center. 

At the next exhibit, we had to wait on a long line. Then we were corralled into a room where we had to watch another movie before we could enter the exhibit area. There was a lot of build-up to this grand entrance that I felt was a letdown. After the movie ended two large doors opened up to a room housing the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Yes, this part was very cool but I just felt that the whole movie watching and build up to it was a bit over-dramatic. This exhibit area was full of interesting interactive components. You could go inside a mock-cockpit of the space shuttle. There was another video of what it's like for the astronauts to eat, sleep, and use the bathroom in zero gravity. 

Much of this section was geared toward children, such as this giant slide in the photo below. There wasn't much information about what the slide was supposed to represent but then I finally figured out (when viewed far away from the side) that it was supposed to represent the angle at which the space shuttle descends when it lands back on Earth. I'm pretty sure this information was lost on the children but the slide was pretty fun anyway. Wheeeeee!
There was also a clear maze-like tube hanging from the ceiling that the children could crawl through, somewhat like a giant gerbil tube. It was too small for adults to fit and I'm not sure what the message was about there either. Depending on the child, this could either be terrifying or really cool. 

We also wanted to go in the simulator which replicates what it feels like during the shuttle take-off. This was a bit of a process. You had to rent a locker to store all of your personal items. I'm not really sure why. Then there was a long wait in line. To break up the monotony they placed video screens along the way showing - you guessed it! - more videos. Then before entering the simulator we had to watch yet another movie which made it seem like the simulator was going to be a big deal and pretty scary so I started to change my mind about going in. However, I had gone in the simulator at the Houston Space Center so I figured it would be the same thing. It was probably the best part of the whole exhibit but again the whole dramatic build-up towards it was anti-climatic. The wait in line and the movie were longer than the actual simulation which I think was about three minutes. 

Maybe I'm a bit of a Space Center snob because I had already been to the Houston Space Center which I think is a lot better than Kennedy Space Center but what I was disappointed about the most was the tribute to the Astronauts of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
I was in 2nd grade when the Challenger exploded off the coast of Cape Canaveral on January 28, 1986, yet I remember it so clearly. My teacher had arranged for a television to be set up in our classroom so that we could watch this momentous event. Christa McCauliffe was the lucky teacher who was going to get to go into outer space. In 1984 President Reagan announced the Teacher in Space Project. NASA wanted to find the first civilian, an educator, to fly into space. They wanted to find an "ordinary person," a teacher who could communicate with students while in orbit. McAuliffe was chosen out of more than 11,000 applicants including my 2nd-grade teacher. After all those months of training and the constant chatter on the news, they barely made it off the ground. In 73 seconds seven people were dead. Our whole class watched it live on the television and it's something that even at that age I could never forget. When I think about that day this image below is the exact picture that still remains in my mind. I don't think I really understood the magnitude of what had happened until my teacher collapsed in her chair and cried.
NASA hoped that sending a teacher into space would increase public interest in the Space Shuttle program, and also demonstrate the reliability of space flight at at time when the agency was under continuous pressure to find financial support but it wound up being a big fat tragic fail. That's why I wanted to make sure there was a big tribute to the seven people who lost their lives or at least a mention of it but I had to search the entire exhibit hall. Finally, there it was, hidden away and covered up like a scar they wanted to hide, tucked into a dark corner where no one would notice unless they were trying very hard to find it. 
Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.

I'm not positive but I think you can purchase some sort of all-in-one pass to Universal Studios, Disney World, the Space Center and other Orlando attractions. In this case, I would say it's worth a visit as long as you bring some sunscreen and an umbrella to protect you from sudden downpours and random bird droppings!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Little K&D searching for waves in Arizona

I started writing this post about a month ago and I'm just finally finishing it now due to a complete system failure!! This will be a quick one just to let you know that, YES, I am still here!

In February I mentioned that my laptop had to be sent in for repair twice so I was missing in action for a little while. Well, "third time's a charm" as they say (knock on wood!). I had to send my Macbook pro back to Apple once again.
If your screen looks like this it is very bad

The logic board that was replaced four weeks earlier had to be replaced again, as well as the hard drive, the optical drive, the optical drive cables, and a bunch of other cables. My misfortune at least timed itself conveniently enough that I had two weeks left on my AppleCare warranty so my completely rebuilt computer cost me nothing to repair.
A little bit prettier but still very bad

I've had a similar effect on some of my other electronics lately. My cell phone had to be replaced and I'm also on my third Epson Workforce printer in three months. I bought it new the day after Thanksgiving and have had to send it back for replacement twice already. So far, printer #3 is cooperating.

In the midst of shipping my electronics back and forth across the country, I also took a trip across the country and crossed State #28 off my list!  I have only 22 more States to go before I reach my goal of visiting all 50 of the United States!

Here are some shots of my trip to Phoenix, Arizona last month

Where's the ocean???
My adorable little Fiat rental car. Beep! Beep!


Hopefully, my technology troubles are behind me and I'll be able to post again on a more regular basis.
Please check back again soon for more Museum Trekker updates!