Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tallahassee, Florida plus Wakulla Springs & More

Wed, Dec. 19th - Tue, Dec. 25th 
And John thinks we haul too much stuff around with us!      
Christmas in the campground.  Some people really take this serious.  Where on earth do they store all of this stuff?  I have one little 8" Christmas tree and I almost didn't bother to take it out. 
Our first little day trip in Tallahassee was to the free State History Museum, right downtown near the Capitol.  Juan Ponce de Leon was the first European to explore Florida in 1513, but there is no evidence to support the legend that he was searching for a fountain of youth.  In 1896 Wyoming was the first state to give women the right to vote.  In 1920 when the 19th Amendment finally gave women the right to vote, Florida was still not one of the 38 states to ratify the amendment. 
This mastodon skeleton was excavated at Wakulla Springs in 1930.  They went extinct about 10,000 years ago. 
After the coming of the automobile and decent roads, came the "tin can tourists", so called because they ate their meals out of tin cans and slept in their cars or trucks instead of staying at motels.  This is a 1923 Model "T" Ford Truck Tin Can Camper replica.  The front windshield separates in the middle and opens out like two doors.  Then the overhang flips down for the front wall and a bed in the ceiling pulls down.  Pretty slick! 
Over 15 million of the affordable Model "T" Tin Lizzie cars were made between 1909 and 1927.  In 1925 the Runabout cost $345 and had a top speed of 45 mph.  This one was repainted in 1950.  In 1970 it was stored for over 30 years and donated to the museum in 2004.   Electric cars were first produced in the U.S. in the 1890s.  This little green one was owned by American Industrialist, Andrew Carnegie.  He used it at his estate on Cumberland Island in Georgia.  It was purchased from his estate and driven around Gainsville, Florida until 1938 when it was donated to the museum.  It's a 1911 Baker Electric Car bought in Cleveland, Ohio. 
This Columbia bicycle was used in Michigan delivering telegrams from 1890 to 1909.  The large front wheel made them prone to accidents.  Today's style with same size tires was originally sold as a "safety" bicycle.  It quickly replaced the high-wheeled style.  The adult tricycle 1895 to 1915 was made in Michigan and was used for many years in Gainsville, Florida. 
Dugout canoes.  The one in the front is an 1870s glass-bottom boat first used at Silver Springs.  The one on the floor behind it is a 25' dugout canoe powered by three oars and a sail that carried up to 18 passengers.  It was chiseled from a huge cypress log by Seminole Indians before the Civil War.  It was purchased in the 1870s and used to carry produce and passengers on the St. Johns River at Jacksonville.  An 1853 silver quarter was found wedged in one of the ribs during restoration in the 1920s.  
Just a block away is the State Capitol, one of only four in the country that are built as a skyscraper tower.  The others are North Dakota, Nebraska and Louisiana.   While we were inside, a big storm whipped up with pouring rain and lots of wind and tornado watches an hour or two away.  So where did we go?  Up to the 22nd floor to the observation deck, where we met a custodian who pointed out lots of the sights for us, but the visibility was pretty poor.  So we had to come back another day to get a better view and take some pictures. 
This is a view of the lobby with the state seal, and the first two floors above it.  Printed around the railing with the welcome are lots of trivia facts about the state, like the state reptile, American Aligator, and state mammal, Manatee, state animal, Florida Panther, state flower, Orange Blossom, state pie, Key Lime and state song, Suwannee River, by Stephen Foster 1851.  "Way down upon a Suwannee River, far, far from home..."  Yup, that's where we are now.  The Suwannee River flows from dark Okeefenokee Swamp on the Florida/Georgia border twisting a moss-draped course over 200 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.  Fed by numerous springs, it can rise and fall 10' in a day, known as a "flooder".  The Chattahoochee River also runs from Georgia thru Columbus (where we drove thru, near the Alabama border) and through Chattahoochee, Florida to Apalachicola on the Gulf.  
Looking straight down on the west side is the Florida Supreme Court Building.  Beyond that is the state museum and far out to the right is FSU.  To the far left, not showing on the picture is FAMU where the big scandal in last year's news was about the marching band razzing one of it's member until they killed. him. 
Looking straight down from the east side, is the old Historic Capitol scaled back to it's 1902 form.  The population of the state grew so fast after WWII, they couldn't keep up and just kept adding wings onto the Capitol. 
Finally, in the 1970s they built the new Capitol Tower, with the plan to tear down the Old Capitol.  This is how it looked when they finished.  There was a public uproar about tearing down the old one.  So the compromise was to remove all the recent wings that had been added and put it back to it's 1902 look, with just the original rectangle and dome.  So, now you walk out the back door of the tower across a small courtyard that is like a wind tunnel, into the back door of the Old Capitol.  
This is the front of the Old Capitol with the new tower directly behind it.  They have all kinds of interesting stuff about the history of the state and events that caused changes to their laws.  One was Gideon vs. Wainwright.  Clarence Gideon, a convicted felon, was arrested for breaking into a poolroom and stealing $65 in 1961.  The judge denied his request for an appointed attorney.  Under Florida law one could only be appointed for a capital offense, like murder.  His self-defense failed and he was sentenced to 5 years.  He wrote to the Florida Supreme Court claiming illegal imprisonment, and to the U.S. Supreme Court when the state refused to consider his case.  The U.S. Court ultimately agreed with him, ruling counsel must be appointed to represent all indigent defendants charged with serious crimes.  He was granted a new trial with a court appointed attorney, resulting in an aquittal.  In 1964 Anthony Lewis wrote "Gideon's Trumpet", immortalizing the poor man who changed Florida and U.S. law.  Henry Fonda portrayed Gideon in the 1980 TV movie.
This is the House of Representatives.  They had no gallery above for observers, so the public sat in chairs right behind the rail.  It was said that one of the wives sat right behind her husband and nudged him and told him how to vote on bills.  
We walked about another six blocks to tour the Knott House, which is owned by the Museum of History and, also free.   The Spanish moss that hangs on all the trees throughout Alabama, Georgia and here is harmless to the tree, but is definitely eerie looking.  It makes me think of spooky cemeteries, halloween, voodoo and such.  The moss grows 2' to 3' per year and attaches to everything.  It is not a fungus, but a member of the pineapple family, and absorbs moisture through the scales of it's leaves.  The crown span of the live oak trees like this one can reach over three times the height of the tree.  The live oak has the densest trunk of any tree in North America and was used for ship building until the late 1800s. It was so valuable during the Civil War, that the North's control of Pensacola's live oak forest played a key role in the Union victory.  Very impressive trees! 
So here is the Knott House, behind all that hanging moss.  The house was built in 1843 by a free black man, as a wedding gift for  someone's bride.  Thomas Jefferson's grandson lived in it for a short time around 1860.  It served as Union headquarters at the end of the Civil War.  The Emancipation Proclamation was read from the front porch, freeing all slaves in the Florida panhandle.  After the war it was purchased by a doctor.  His young driver, a former slave, showed an interest in medicine.  The doctor funded his study at medical school and helped him establish a practice.  He became Florida's first black physician.  In 1928 the Knotts bought the house, when he became State Treasurer, serving until 1941.  She was a political activist and the sale of alcohol was banned in the state capitol for over 50 years, in part because of her involvement in the Temperance Movement.  Their son Charles lived here until 1985.  He was well-known for leading quail hunts and entertained in upper social circles, including such notables as Marjorie Merriweather Post (heiress to the Post Cereal fortune) and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, famous for his abdicating the throne of England to marry American divorcee, Wallace Simpson.  A recent and very good movie starring Colin Firth, "The King's Speech",  is about his younger brother, George, becoming King and conquering his speech impediment. 
Presbyterian Church, the oldest public building in Tallahassee, built between 1835 and 1838.  It still contains the original slave galleries and was used many times as a place of refuge for women and children during the Indian wars. 
We walked just across the way from the Capitol to a little park area.  We were curious what this little octagon building might be. 
Turns out it is a nine-story, underground parking lot.  It doesn't take much to impress us country folk. 
Also, in this area, is an ice-skating rink.  Well sort of, anyway.  It's not actual ice, but some kind of hard plastic.  One of the skaters told me she thought it was oiled or something, as it is very slippery and hard to skate on.  The Capitol Tower is in the background. 
This is the Hanging Tree where lynchings took place in the early 1900s.  You can see the Capitol Tower in the distance and we could see the tree from the observation deck when we were up in the tower. 

Well, it was getting to be supper time and we were getting mighty hungry, having skipped lunch again on another busy day of sightseeing.  So, of course, we chose another buffet place.  These t-shirts are oh so true, but at least we're getting good lookin' together!

On our way home, we drove through a beautiful park all decorated with Christmas lights.  There were lots of families there with excited kids running all over, from one display to the next. 
The next day we went for a drive to explore some of the beaches.  This is at Alligator Point.  
We stopped by Carrabelle Riverwalk to see if there were any manatee swimming around, but didn't see any.  Then we stopped at a small Mexican diner in Apalachicola for lunch before heading across the bridge to St. George Island.  
 Approaching St. George Island.  
Hiking along the beach in the beautiful sunshine.  It was only in the 60s, but it felt perfectly nice and warm.  Picked up a few sea shells and just enjoyed the view.  
 I didn't even notice the sun drawn in the sand when I took this picture.  There was a school of porpoises just about 20 yards off shore.  We walked along the shore keeping up with them for quite a ways and then decided we had better head back.  What a perfect day!  
 Walking out to the beach at Bald Point State Park on our way back to camp. 
 A deceased crab on the beach.  RIP.  
 Sun setting and time to head home.  
The next day we headed to Wakulla Springs State Park, one of the largest and deepest fresh water springs in the world, producing 150,000 to 600,000 gallons of water per minute.   Florida has more springs than any other place in the world.  The bowl where the spring bubbles forth is 165' deep and descends into a maze of tunnels in a massive limestone cave system that winds for miles through the springs.  This is where the mastodon skeleton in the museum was found in 1930.  But we came to see the manatee.   There were about 15 of them swimming around the observation deck and the swimming and diving platform. 
The West Indian Manatee is an endangered species with no natural enemies and can live 60 years or more.  They are related to the elephant and the average adult male is 10' long and 1,000 pounds, but can reach 13' and weigh 3,000 pounds.  Due to the constant 70 degree temperature of the water here at the springs, they migrate here in the winter to seek refuge from the Gulf of Mexico.  Some live here year round. 
They eat aquatic plants and consume 10 to 15% of their body weight daily.  They surface to breath every 3 to 5 minutes, every 20 minutes when sleeping.  They have a 13 month gestation and breed year round.  A calf at birth is 4' long and weighs 65 pounds.  They are very gentle, slow-moving, graceful swimmers.  They are curious and often initiate contact.  
We watched this father and son from the platform above.  They had their backs to the two manatee and did not see them approaching.  They were quite startled when the manatee floated right up next to them. 
The manatee feed on these sea grasses, which are not true grasses, but flowering plants that live in shallow waters of sheltered coastal areas.  They also keep the water clear by trapping sediments.  They are so thick, the birds can just walk on them on the surface.   In the distance you can see one of the tour boats they use here to take folks on nature tours a few miles down the river.  The glass-bottom boats and diving platforms were here at the resort in 1925. There was a profitable turpentine industry using the longleaf pines from the Civil War until the late 1920s.  They had an annual picnic celebrating Emancipation Day from 1865 until the 1931 when it was halted due to the depression. 
It cost $6.00 for the tour and, for the price, is definitely one of the best things we have ever done.  The Wakulla River starts at the springs and flows south 9 miles to St. Marks River, which flows to the Gulf of Mexico.  There were dozens of small Apalachee Indian villages along both sides of the Wakulla River north to Tallahassee and west to St. Marks River when the Conquistadors arrived in 1528.  Now there are many archeological sites.  Increased hunting almost wiped out the deer population, as up to 150,000 hides were shipped to England annually. 
This is an anhinga bird, sometimes called the snake bird, because only it's long neck shows above the water, as it swims around looking for food. 
 I think this is the same bird after it has dried off.  
 Here he is with his wings spread, drying himself off. 
Here are a couple of male Hooded Merganzer ducks with a couple of American coots in the distance.  We watched an eagle repeatedly dive bomb a group of coots, trying to get lunch, but they dove under water every time he attacked them.  
Here is a group of Suwannee Cooters sunning themselves.  We saw several other turtles.  In the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s several movies were filmed here using the jungle setting and clear water, including several Tarzan movies and two about the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  The Creature movie starred a local lifeguard known for being able to hold his breath for a long time, Riccou Browning, who later went on to write and produce for the tv series and movie "Flipper".  Other movies here in 1976 were "Joe Panther" with Brian Keith, Ricardo Montalban and A. Martinez: "Airport 77" with Jack Lemmon, Lee Grant and James Stewart; and "Around the World in 80 Days" with Lloyd Bridges.  For you youngsters, Lloyd is father to Jeff and Beau Bridges, and best known for the TV series "Seahunt".  
This is a group of ibis with one snowy egret in the middle. 
This was one of about a dozen American Alligators we spotted on our little cruise down the river.  Alligators are 6" to 8" long when they are born and 6' (1/2 tail) by the time they are 10 to 12 years old.  Florida's record is 14' 3/8" long.  
This ibis seems unconcerned, standing next to what appears to be a very fat and lazy alligator. 
If you look closely, you can see a Great Blue Heron standing in the grass right in front of the tree stump. 
This is the observation platform where we stood watching the manatee.  There is a roped off swimming area to keep the swimmers in a small confined area, but the manatee hung right around there and kept swimming into the area. 
We walked up to the beautiful Spanish-style lodge to see "Old Joe", the famous stuffed alligator.  He was 11' 2" long, weighed 650 pounds and was over 100 years when he was killed.  He had been a popular resident at the springs for many years and was probably the most photographed alligator in the wild.  His body was found at the bottom of Wakulla Springs and the murder was never solved.   While you are at the lodge, be sure to look up at the painted ceiling and check out the marble topped bar that is supposed to be the longest in the world.  Also, ride the elevator, which is supposed to be the only one of it's kind left in the world. 
Then we went for a short hike on the nearby tree walk.  There was never much doubt that we weren't going to jump in for a swim, but this sign was the clincher.  The bald cypress trees that are common to the backwoods, swampy areas down here are among the longest living trees on earth.  Related to the Sequoia Redwoods, they are known to live well past 1,000 years, with the oldest estimated at 4,000 years old.  Their average life span is 600 years and their maximum height is 130 feet.  
Before heading home, we made a quick stop at Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park.  This is where the locals, including old men and young cadets, held off the Union on their attempt to come up St. Mark River and take Tallahassee.  It was the only state capitol not taken by the Union during the Civil War.  The river just disappears here and flows underground for a ways before coming back up a little further on.   
This is Alonzo Smith Gaither, FAMU Rattler's Head Coach from 1945 to 69 and his assistant coaches.  He was the most winning coach in college football during his time.  He was the only coach to ever be awarded the "triple crown" in coaching, receiving the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award, the Walter Camp Award and was inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame.  His career record was 203 wins, 36 losses and 4 ties at FAMU. 
Back at camp, we find Santa and his empty trailer.  Of course he can't use a sleigh here.  There's no snow!  With his toys all delivered for another year, he can sit back and enjoy the sun for a while.  Maybe I should bring him a margarita.  After all, it's 5:00 o'clock somewhere! 
And Happy New Year to all!  We will be near Tampa starting Wednesday for ten days. Happy sledding, or surfing, depending on where you are.