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De Leon Springs

So, with a slight detour through downtown Deland (which looks like a fun little place with lots of funky shops and antiques) and Stetson University (which my father had attended years back, and was curious about now) my parents and I headed to cook pancakes at De Leon Springs State Park, formerly home to the famous Sunshine Sally, the Water Skiing Elephant.

Seriously. Every once in awhile I attempt, and fail, to explain just how weird Florida is, so let me try this again: Water. Skiing. Elephant.

They had pictures.

But we were not there for water skiing elephants, but for pancakes and birds, not necessarily in that order. De Leon Springs is not, as you might have gathered from the elephant, exactly in pristine natural condition: it was the site of an old sugar plantation back in the antebellum and Civil War periods, then a cheap hangout for locals, then a tourist trap, featuring the old mill, the springs (carefully cemented off and transformed to allow for easy access to swimming areas) various Fun Things and the elephant. The state of Florida, unsurprisingly, has not been able to keep up with most of this, but the springs are still there for swimmers, snorkels, and divers ( it goes down to 30 feet before netted off for safety purposes), along with lots of picnic tables and pavilions and most importantly, pancakes at the old sugar mill.

The tables were filled, so this necessitated a slight delay, filled by (in my case) looking at jewelry (jewelry displays enhance any pancake restaurant) before we found ourselves right next to the rusting old iron sugar equipment, squeezed on an old bench and more comfy chairs, cooking pancakes. The restaurant serves two types of pancake batter – normal and whole wheat – lots of toppings, honey, syrup and molasses. I have to say, however, that raw molasses on pancakes, combined with coffee, is Too Much. I had to comfort myself with some honey. Many of you will understand.

After this, we headed out to look at the springs, stop into the little museum, which had elephant pictures, and take a boat trip on the nearby rivers. Alas, the pictures did not come out as well this time, but this should give you an idea.Collapse )

Homasassa Springs State Park

Sunday, chattycatsmeow viciously kidnapped me and took me to Homosassa Springs state park. (For the sake of her own safety, she allowed us to stop at a Starbucks along the way. This is the sort of kidnapping I approve of.)

As Florida state parks go, Homosassa Springs is a bit...odd. It used to be a privately owned tourist attraction, complete with a small and rather sad zoo. The state of Florida rescued the property, and is in the continuing process of restoring it to its natural state, and focusing on displaying Florida animals instead of, say, a hippo. As a result, the park still has a couple of ecological horrors that made me freak, but also has a number of rather lovely trails, and a boat trip.

Despite lousy looking weather, the park was packed, partly because the park also had a not very good art show going on at the same time. But, wheelchairs have an occasional advantage: we bought our tickets at the gift shop, saving time in line, just in time to find that wheelchairs also have an occasional disadvantage: the elevators were broken so we had to go round and round, just missing the boat that heads out to the zoo part of the park. Which meant more going round and round to the much less interesting tram, with a wheelchair lift.

(Those things are kinda freaky, by the way.)

So off we rolled to the other side of the park -- to run into the guy who had just sold us our tickets seemingly minutes before; for one terrible moment I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, or that Florida had suddenly started a new project of staffing all of its parks with clones. Once that confusion was gone, we arrived.

Alas, the weather was not with us, so most of my pictures did not come out. But, at queerbychoice's request, here are a few: Cut for large pictures.Collapse )
This entry is for felisdemens, who will understand why, in a recent quest to see manatees, I ended up at a post office museum.

These sorts of things happen to me. But let me explain. Back in December, I noted to my mother that I wanted to start exploring the many state parks of central Florida. "Oh," said my mother happily. "We can do manatees!"

Now, generally, I'm all about creatures that do nothing but lumber around in the water and eat, but I have to admit, manatees are kinda dull. The places where they spend the winter, though, generally aren't – manatees are creatures of comfort, said comfort being hot water, and they therefore head right to power plants and to Florida's springs, where the water stays at a nice 72 degrees year rounds, whenever it gets a touch chilly. As you might have noticed – it's apparently a lot more obvious if you are a cat – it's gotten a touch chilly. More than a touch. Which meant manatee time.

So, Thursday morning, we trundled my wheelchair into the car and headed up to Blue Springs State Park to go look at all of the wallowing manatees –

-- only to find that every other person in the state had had the exact same idea; a line of cars billowed along the road in a manner that was probably not all that kind to the manatees. The park, we were informed, was completely closed to further visitors.

So, back out we headed, passing all the houses with blankets and sheets draped over their plants and their lawns to keep the plants and the lawns nice and comfy and warm (seriously), looking for an I-Hop. Alas, Orange City, Florida, is not the I-Hop sort of place. We had, however, seen a large sign for a Gram's Kitchen, which, if it did not sound precisely like a place where manatees might congregate, did sound like a place where waffles might congregate. We liked the sound of congregating waffles (it's a universal love, isn't it), so up we went to Gram's Kitchen, which happens to be located in the historic 1876 Heritage Inn (in the U.S., if it's more than 100 years old, it's historic, even if, as in this case, absolutely nothing has ever happened at it) walked in –

To find ourselves in a manatee-free post office museum.

The museum itself fills the current and previous lobby of the still functioning hotel and rolls along through the hallways and to the bathrooms all the way over to Gram's Kitchen, and if you are looking for an in depth display of U.S. postal machines, stamping things, old fashioned mailboxes from the 1940s and free old U.S. stamps and envelopes, you have come to the right place. If you are looking for heated bathrooms, not so much. "I hope the restaurant is heated," said my mother, and fortunately, it was. Waffles congregated on my plate and begged me to eat them. I obliged, because I'm friendly that way to waffles, and then we looked at the post office museum a bit more.

The stamps, however, failed to materialize as manatees, so, feeling the goals of the day had not precisely been accomplished, back to the park we went – to find that the line, filled with people less willing to study the history of the U.S. post office instead of looking at lolling manatees, had not moved. So home we headed, where I had this exhilarating im conversation with a friend:

Friend: So, what were you up to today?
Me: I visited a postal museum! And I almost picked up a free used stamp.
Friend: I take it back. You might actually have a pathetic life.

Undaunted, my mother and I set off again, but this time much earlier in the morning, arriving at the park shortly before 10 am – and this time we got in. And saw manatees.

I even snapped a few photos. Cut for large images.Collapse )

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