Sunday, May 17, 2009

Geocaching Trail in Florida

I've been geocaching a few times. For those of you that aren't familiar with this addictive hobby, its like a treasure or scavenger hunt, however we use a hand-held GPS device to help navigate our way to  cache. You can find the waypoints, which are the coordinates either at websites like, or from participating places (like state parks, CVB's, chambers of commerce, etc.). 
Recently I enjoyed a five day journey with some old and new friends as we traversed from Micanopy, FL (near Gainesville) all the way up to Tallahassee. Geocaching is great for individuals, couples and families. You can enjoy it locally, or as you travel. Just plug in a zipcode to where you are (going) and give it a circumference like say 2 miles, give or take and you will be provided a list of "caches", with a clever clue and the waypoints (coordinates). Everyone signs on with their own code name and when you find a cache, there is a logbook in the container for you to write your name, date and what you took and left. Each cache usually has some trinkets, some local, some for fun and they get exciting with "travel bugs" and unique coins for each cache. Then you go back onto the geocaching site and log in where you've been or if you move someone's travel bug.
Back to geocache trip.
This charming town of Micanopy, which I'd only seen from the Interstate (I-75), offers a great venue for day trippers who like antiquing, with a few local restaurants, unique shops, a bookstore and even a history museum. This rural town made a great backdrop for the movie, Doc Hollywood, several years ago. I had the pleasure of staying at a wonderful historic home and B&B, the Herlong Mansion and Inn ( Micanopy is a great weekend getaway and is near many other natural, recreational and historic places. After exploring the town and seeking out the cache, we meandered down the road, Old Florida Heritage Highway to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. 
We ventured off the beaten path, a 21,000-acre prairie, marveling at the vast marsh and wet prairie vegetation. We hiked a little on the Le Chua Trail in search of the wild bison, horses, alligators, endangered sandhill cranes and bald eagles. 
From here we continued on our scavenger hunt to another spectacular park, Devil's Millhopper State Park. Here we took a short hike to the large sinkhole. It's worth walking down the winding stairs (more than 200) to the bottom of the sinkhole, with the native flora and fauna and trickling waterfalls. After a good rain the waterfalls sound like they are rushing around you, as they spill out of the limestone.
After this wonder in Florida, we took a road trip up to Stephen Foster State Park (Cultural Center), in White Springs, FL. It's no wonder this amazing State Park is one of the Nation's pride and joys. Nestled in a quaint town, teaming with history and recreational activities, Stephen Foster State Park offers some wonderful riverside log cabins to rent. They also have hiking and biking trails, and the infamous Suwannee River. After a heavy rain the Suwannee River is swollen, oftentimes covering the hiking trails. Local guides would love to take you paddling down the river to show off their treasure. The State Park also offers a museum and Carillon Tower.
The town of White Springs Incorporated in 1885, however people lived around the sulphur springs for centuries. It is rumored the Paleoindians were the first to discover the springs, however the Timucuan Indians discovered the medicinal value of the sulphur water. They considered the area to be sacred. Later the Seminole Indians came to the area, although it was an American who capitalized on it. White Springs was a bustling town in the Twentieth Century, as a resort for the wealthy and business travelers.
Drive down the road to Big Shoals for a geocache hike along the Suwannee. There are several caches hidden in the park. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Haunted Places

Not too long ago I visited Eureka Springs, Arkansas and was immersed in yesteryear. Puting aside the long, hot bus ride up the mountain, this charming town captured my attention, even to this day.
Most people are fascinated by spirits, or hauntings, something related to the supernatural. Whenever I travel I am usually always interested in haunted places as well. Eureka Springs, Ark., has their share of unusual events as any other, especially considering they have more than 2,000 pre-1900's structures. (Can you say haunts?)
One famous place is the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa. While on tour here myself, I felt and saw something unusual upstairs and in the basement. (Not for the faint at heart.)
The Crescent Hotel & Spa is the premier resort in Eureka Springs, and is recognized as one of America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Crescent is of Victorian period with modern-day amenities, including a full-service spa, and 15 acres of formal gardens and nature trails. 
Tours are scheduled by appointment and often times, your guide will be in period costume. As I recall most of the tour was all conducted inside the hotel. Be prepared to stand or sit on steps, occasionally, if guests are present you will need to move. I believe the tour lasted more than an hour. An interesting history of the property will enlighten and surprise you.
Irish construction workers referred to the hotel as "The Grand Old Lady of the Ozarks". the newly completed railroad brought in thousands of tourists. There was even a stables with more than 100 horses, so everyone could ride.
At one time the palatial hotel was an all-girls school and later became a cancer hospital, before closing in 1940. It re-opened after World War II and in 1967 a fire destroyed most of the fourth floor including the center penthouse. 
As for the spirits...
It is rumored that during the construction of the hotel one of the Irish stone masons fell to his death in what is now room 218. And not surprisingly, this room proves to be the most 'spiritually active" room in the hotel. Guests are reported to have seen "hands coming out of mirrors", cries of a falling man in the ceiling, the door opening and then slamming shut. Naturally, many guests request this room. (During our tour, it was occupied so we didn't get a peek or feel anything unusual.) Guests have reported seeing playful spirits dressed in Victorian garb and employees have seen packages and furniture in the dining room move from one place to another. Others have witnessed Victorian era apparitions and have seen them or heard them speak. 
In a hallway upstairs, I thought I saw an apparition of a boy and a girl playing near a window.
The more eery feeling I felt, was in the basement where the morgue was, when the hotel was a cancer hospital during the 1930's. "Dr." Norman Baker, claiming to be a licensed physician, examined cancer patients while charging their families exorbitant fees. The stylish doctors apparition has been reported around the hotel too. The autopsy room was in the basement with a walk-in freezer, the braver of us walked in and around. I chose to stay outside the freezer as just being in the presence of the original autopsy table gave me the creeps, even as I think about it more than a year later.
A cancer patient is also reported as being seen in room 419, and has been known to talk to guests. 
Many more stories and apparitions can be seen or heard at the Crescent Hotel & Spa.