Rainbow Springs, A Playground for All

Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon, Florida, is a playground for whatever crew you decide to bring along. My mother was eager to join me on my adventures. We were glad to get there before the church crowd let out. I had never heard of Rainbow Springs before, but I imagined it was similar to the other springs I’ve visited in the past. There’s always a limited swim area for kids. Scuba divers and snorkelers are welcome to explore the depths. The water always painted a glittery teal and green but clear as glass on closer inspection. One can see straight through to the bottom of the striving ecosystem below. Rainbow Springs had all of this and much more. Different areas of the park drew in their own fan base. 

A small shack at the end of the right side trail allows for canoe and paddle board rentals.
This couple’s canoe began to sink. They had to hurry back to the launch ramp.

Paddle Boards and Canoes

There are two short paths to follow on either side of the spring. One side has paved trails to view waterfalls; the other side leads to the limited swimming area and a small shack where you can rent either paddle boards or canoes. My mother and I can’t swim, so we have a natural fear of canoeing. The very thought of it flipping over gives me the heebie-jeebies. We watched as families and couples launched off the off-ramp into the spring. One team who was a bit too heavy for the double canoe had to quickly paddle back to the off-ramp because the water filled the canoe. A small boy about seven or eight with an exotic European accent entertained us with his knowledge of canoes, paddles, and the paddleboards. I was fascinated to see a kid take such an interest. He was born to be on the water. Mother and I watched brave people take on the paddleboards. If I thought canoeing was scary, standing on a board with a single paddle over deep waters with only balance as your saving grace is downright horrific. I challenged my mother to try it out. She laughed it off. 

Limited swim area for the kiddies.

Limited Swim Area for Kids

Every spring I visit has an excellent area for swimmers to play and enjoy themselves without sinking into the depths of underground caves. (Which are expected at some of these springs). At Rainbow Springs, there is a dock where parents stand to watch over their children as they play around in the clear water. Coming off the dock is a large area where families set up their carts and backpacks. There are no lifeguards, so it’s nice that the parents have a decent spot to keep a close eye on their children swimming and playing. 

Lawn Area for Picnics and Yoga

When you come through the state park entrance, a large sloped grassy area is on the right. From a distance, it looks as if everyone on that lawn will slide down into the spring, but the slope isn’t as steep as it appears. The lawn itself is full of sun. The trees are along the perimeter of the lawn, so if you want shade, you’d have to bring your own umbrella or tent. This area is famous for sunbathers, yoga groups, and larger families enjoying picnics. 

Paved trails throughout the park.
Boardwalk near the waterfalls. Gives another extended view of the spring and river.
Check out the Sandhill Nature Trailhead. (Florida Hikes website)

Hiking Trails for Explorers 

When driving into the park, you may see a crossing area where hikers can cross from one hiking trail to another. This is common in most state parks, preserves, and conservations I’ve hiked. Rainbow Springs only have one hiking trail, Sandhills Nature Trailhead. I never got the chance to hike the trail. According to the Florida Hikes website, the trail gives you a sneak peek into the surrounding area that was mined for its resources of limestone and phosphate nuggets that put Dunnellon, Florida a “boomtown.”s

Mom checking out the waterfall.
Hardly any rain for days. The waterfall is dried up.

Waterfalls

My mother and I are suckers for waterfalls. We damn near died on a rigorous trail in North Carolina just to get to a waterfall. If I hear about a waterfall at a state park or nature trail, I intend to do whatever it takes to see it. Could you imagine me at Niagara Falls? One of the things I love about state parks is that they allow their waterfalls to be all-natural instead of hooking up water pumps. Florida hasn’t had much rain in a while.  A couple of the waterfalls at Rainbow Springs were dried up. Smaller waterfalls along the trail had water running successfully because of excess water from the spring. 

The views comes off the end of a boardwalk.

Scenic Views for Photographers 

Naturally, as a travel writer, I have built-in photographer interests in me. I am always searching for charming views to show off on my travel blog and social media pages. Rainbow Springs is full of areas to take nice photos. The hilly geography allows for high views of the spring. (As seen in the featured image of this post). The highest point of the park is right at the entrance. As soon as you come through the gate alongside the visitor center and gift shop, you can see the length of the river that the spring dumps its 600 million gallons of water into every single day. If you want the best views of the spring, I’d recommend renting a canoe. Otherwise, you’ll have to make do with the boardwalks and staged open views between the vegetation. 

Travel Break: Create Pet Instagram

With social media being free, the things users create with that freedom are fascinating. One can make accounts for personal use, marketing, small business, portfolios, and even with their pets. Yes, animals have their social media accounts. According to a survey by Mars Petcare U.S., one out of six pet owners have created a social media account for their pet. The Instagram hashtag #DOGSOFINSTAGRAM has 1.3 million followers alone. (Me included…. shhhh.) I’ll let you in on a secret; my dog has one too.

@cookiejones2000 – check out his Instagram!

My precious Cookie Jones has his very own Instagram account. Surprisingly, I didn’t do it to hop on a trend. I did it because my dog is getting older, and I wanted to create memories. During this process, I’ve discovered there are rewards, beyond popularity, to creating Insta-worthy content to promote your pet’s best life in your world.

Practice Composition

There is one thing about social media and constantly posting selfies and videos for likes. To some degree, it teaches us how to compose content worthy of those likes. Even if you aren’t a photographer, you learn what angles work and what filters don’t. The difference with photographing your pet is that you deal with a moving subject who doesn’t communicate with words. Unless your dog is trained with commands, you’re going to have good and not-so-good times trying to capture that perfect picture. Case in point, my dog, Cookie. He HATES being photographed. He knows when he’s being filmed. He takes off running before I can get a decent photo. The significant part about this is practicing how to get the composition I want despite Cookie’s objection. The challenge is in achieving the goal using what you have.

One image can tell an entire story. Practice on detail and composition.

Make Friends, Support a Cause

It’s not hard to make friends online when you have a dog. In the beginning, when I created Cookie’s Instagram account, it didn’t take long for him to rack up on, “_ is now following you” notifications. Every day, some other dog or cat wanted to be friends with my precious boy. He made more friends in a week than I did in the four or five years I’ve had my Instagram.

Social media today is made up of algorithms. So if your dog’s account is all about dogs, it won’t be long before every charity supporting animals will pop up on your pet’s feed. There’s nothing wrong with it, and I would suggest taking an interest in at least one charity cause. Whether you believe it or not, thousands of animals worldwide are being abused, hunted unjustly, and abandoned for the agenda of evil human beings and capitalism. You don’t have to empty your pockets for the sake of saving all the animals and pets around the planet, but a small action is significant. For example, your dog could become a brand ambassador for a company that donates part of its proceeds to animal shelters.

Support a cause! Small steps make big results!

Show Off Your Pet

Why not? No one knows your pet exists unless you show them off. Look at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. How often have you been amazed by the type of dog breeds in the world every time you watch this show? You don’t have to be in a dog show to show off your doggie. Showing off your dog to 1.386 billion users on Instagram should be good enough!

Sup!

Improve bonding

There is nothing ever wrong with improving the great relationship you already have with your pet. Your pet is your family, after all. Pets love when you involve them in your lifestyle and activities. Use that as an opportunity to create more content for your pet’s Instagram. Show the world that your dog enjoys the things you do. What an excellent excuse for more car rides, neighborhood walks, and road trips?

There are a ton of rewards that can come from showing your pet off to the world. More importantly, have fun with the process. Let your creativity go wild, support a cause, and improve your bond. Allow your pet to bring just as much light in our world as they do in yours.

If you’re looking for ideas to get started, Buzzfeed.com gives a list of twenty dog instagram accounts you can follow.

Reddie Point Preserve, a Simple Relaxation

Often, living in a big city, nature has to be compromised and created. In other words, nature trails are paved, and paths are forced to their destination. Their use is designed for a specific group of people. Despite the history of Reddie Point Park, it is clear that this park is intended explicitly for fishers, runners, and retirees with pet dogs. Quite a simple relaxation.

Welcome to Reddie Point Park

My favorite part would be the lake at the entrance of the park. The water is still. It looks like glass, reflecting the trees and the sky. If you walk down the bank, the water is so clear you can see the entirety of the thriving ecosystem beneath the surface. I only wish I had a canoe to float out to the lake center to see the depths. God knows what I’d discover.

Lake with water like glass.

A small trail from the parking lot leads you to a tabby-stone-filled shoreline of the St. John’s River. Across the river is a large plant, and in further distance, one can spot massive cranes designed to load containers onto cargo ships.

The shoreline is filled with tabby stones.
A factory or plant across the St. John’s River.

While visiting, I spotted a group of people with binoculars studying the surrounding trees. I had never seen a birding group before. It was interesting to see this form of hobby come to life. I’m sure the birds put on their best performance because the “oooos” and “ahhhhs” were laughable.

The long pier that extends out over the St. John’s River is the best place to go if you want to witness the bending river. Unfortunately, if you aren’t there when the park opens, you’ll have to deal with the abundance of fishermen overtaking the pier.

The fishing pier becomes overcrowded as the day go on.

Reddie Point Park is a 102-acre nature park located behind a group of subdivisions. The most significant part about this park is that it rests where the St. John River bends. You can spot this clear from the long pier. On a positive aspect, the park is relaxing, family-friendly, and offers a gorgeous, inviting river view. Negatively, the park provides nothing for true hikers and nature buffs like me. The hiking trails are too easy and only showcase the exact nature you find in your backyard. The pier is overcrowded with fishers from the time the park opens until it closes. Would I recommend this park? To lovers, dog owners, families, and fishers, yes. Other than that, you’d be highly disappointed for adventurous excitement.

The Disappointment of Polished Historical Ruins

In my imagination, when I think of historical ruins, I think of a fascinating testimony in the time of an event that took place. It’s fun to put the ruins back together in your mind and imagine the people who inhabited the ruins. This was the case when I visited Fort Clinch. I imagined the Confederate army scrambling around, preparing for the Union soldiers to go to war against each other. At the Dungeness ruins on Cumberland Island, I’d imagine the Carnegie family living their best lives on an exotic island. At the textile mill ruins at Sweetwater State Park in Atlanta, Georgia, I can see the workers toiling night and day to meet the growing demands of the industry. I realized something about these ruins. The atmosphere and surroundings of these helped sell the story of the past. Ruins are designed to tell their own stories. It is a disappointment when they are tampered with with modern technology to appear ruined. The polished upgrade ruins the story. I have seen two recent examples of this: The Castillo de San Marco fort in St. Augustine, Florida, and the Horton House in Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Dungeness Ruins

The Castillo de San Marco fort looks fantastic on the outside. It has that old-world look with the greyish rough high walls, the cannons peering over the top edge of the fort, the American flag waving proudly in the breeze. You would think at any moment, one would hear the sound of cannon fire, and the battle would be on, but that isn’t the case on the inside. The first time I went inside the fort, I was disappointed that it looked like some theme park at Disney. The worst of it was the installation of modern bathrooms and food venues in the fort’s rooms. They used the fort as a prop to use capitalism to make money off of its historical importance. I’ve been to forts in the southern part of this country. I’ve never seen anything like this. They stole the natural beauty of a historical landmark and turned it into a carnival.

Castillo de San Marco fort. Library of Congress Archives.

I recently went to Jekyll Island, Georgia, for my birthday weekend. (YAY!) Like always, I pre-plan my trips down to the restaurants I’m going to dine within. Using Trip Advisor, I planned to visit the Horton House and its pond on the island after spending some much-needed time on the beach. I couldn’t wait to see it because it was a historical ruin with a story to tell. Now, granted, Jekyll Island is infamous for tourism and caters to the rich and powerful. I will admit, never being rich a day in my life made me feel uncomfortable to be in that atmosphere. The perfect example, everyone on the beach had the $90 4-wheel carts. I, of course, had the $30 “homeless cart” that you see most people riding the bus used to carry groceries. I didn’t care too much. In my mind, it was a different method with the same results. It still bothered me, as if I was reminded of the reality of my upbringing and livelihood.

My birthday getaway in Jekyll Island, GA
My wop-sided beach tent and my $30 cart to hold my stuff.

Anyway, after enjoying private time on the beach, I decided to ride over to the Horton House ruins for pictures and notes. Like the Castillo de San Marco fort, I was disappointed at the ruins of the Horton House. It looked as if they built it yesterday. It appeared as if someone came up with the idea to place some ruins on the island to give the tourist a little taste of history. Other tourists there took pictures in front of it as if it were some background filter for Snapchat. At first, I just stared at the tiny, so-called ruins and wondered if its story was even real. I wasn’t able to go to Horton’s Pond because it was blocked off. I eventually snapped my few images of the Horton house and left in my misery. The Horton House was my primary focus. It was the reason I chose Jekyll Island for my birthday getaway, just to be disappointed that they polished the ruin so that it could fit into the prestigious reputation of the island.

Horton House
Inside the Horton House

Ruins, to me, are a metaphor for living life, that one day we are in our prime, and eventually, we age and die, but our story lives on for others to know long after we are gone. I can understand preserving the ruins because, finally, nature will wipe them clean from our grasps, but it is wrong to polish them and mold them for the satisfaction of reputation and capitalism. These ruins are supposed to tell their own story, and we should allow them to do just that.

The $40 Solo Day Trip

Back when I worked at Amazon, you would work four ten-hour days and had three days. It was the best and worst job I’ve ever had. It was the best because of the fun we had and because the three days gave me some freedom with my travels. It gave me plenty of time to take some day trips. I got to visit some of the Florida springs in Central Florida. I also got to see the nature reserves in Southern Georgia. The best part was, all I needed was $40 to enjoy it all. I have a flash drive full of memories due to trip planning and cheap budgeting.

Might be good better adjusted further

PRE-TRIP PLANNING

It makes a good habit and plain common sense to plan your trip. In my opinion, going on a whim is reckless. You never know what can happen to you on the road. Are you willing to take that chance? You have to be prepared for breakdowns, getting lost, and other wild card situations that may pop up. Not only is it reckless, but you could easily spend two or three times what you should have budgeted. If you live paycheck to paycheck like most of us in this country, you can’t afford to blow half your earnings on impulse buys.

St. Mary’s, GA

The night before a day trip, I take an hour to plan where I want to go. Since I travel solo, I know eventually I can get drowsy behind the wheel. I don’t want to spend most of the day driving. I usually go somewhere about one to two hours away from my city. (Remember, you have to drive back from where you are visiting. A two-hour drive is actually four). Once I know where I’m going, I use Google Maps, Trip Advisor, and social media apps to see exactly what is at the place.

Fort Clinch

$20 FOR GAS

Now you may think $20 for gas is a lot for a day trip that’s only one to two hours away. Well, obviously, this depends on the type of car you have. I do it for peace of mind. As I said, you never know what you’re going to run into. I want to make sure I have enough to go and come back, considering traffic or excess use of the air conditioning. (I live in Florida, it’s to be expected.) These twenty dollars are also where you can have what I call “budget play.” If you know for sure that you only need $10 for your trip, this gives you $10 to spend as you want or need. Now you can spend a little more on food (or leave a better tip), or you can spend a little more on souvenirs.

Hillsborough Lighthouse in Boca Raton, FL

$5 FOR ENTRANCE FEE

This is tricky. I’m an outdoor person. I visit state parks to hike and explore, but my day trips also include museums, festivals, flea markets, art walks, and nature conservations. Most of the entrance fees to the state parks near me are about $5. It’s always wise to take a little more. One state park I went to cost $17. Museums depend on admissions, so naturally, they’re going to be more than $5. That’s where that “budget play” from the gas money comes from. Once again, you never know what you’ll run into.

Dames Pointe Park

$10 FOR FOOD

If food is at the center of your day trip, then you want to adjust where this is the focal point of your budget. For example, if you’re going to a shrimp festival, then the bulk of your budget should be focused. The food will be a more expensive than Captain D’s or 2 for $20 at Red Lobster. These festivals are run by small business owners who are looking to make a profit with their specialty foods as their business card. Don’t expect to go and spend $5 on a platter. You can expect there to be seafood cooked in ways you’ve never thought possible. You may want to try that out so be ready for it. Now, if a food isn’t the focus of your trip, then maybe a $5 sub combo from a sandwich shop will hold you over until you get back home.

St. Simon’s Lighthouse. St. Simon’s Island, GA

$5 FOR SOUVENIR

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need t-shirts, large posters, or some giant statue to remember where I went. That’s what cameras and memories are for. My memories mean more to me than any physical object. I use my camera to make sure I never forget those memories. BUT, it doesn’t hurt to take a little souvenir. I have an obsession with postcards. Postcards are always the first thing I look for when I go to a gift shop at the nature park or museum. Postcards are usually only a dollar, so ten dollars allows me to splurge on something you may not find online, like local art sold through the gift shop. Treat yourself… It’s worth the trip.

I know, I know. You may be thinking that you will need a hell of a lot more than forty dollars to enjoy your day trip. You may be the type who likes to “go big or go home.” Perfectly fine. You’re the captain of your ship. You spend how you see fit. But it’s much more enjoyable to take a million affordable day trips than several big-budget day trips. Numbers don’t lie. In my three days off, I can afford two-day trips for under $90. OR, think of it this way, if I take one day trip every weekend, that’s $160 a month in traveling (more or less depending on how much you spend.) That’s not bad if you’re a lover of traveling as I am.

The Blue Ridge Mountains

As long as you discipline yourself and stick to your budget, you can enjoy yourself. At the end of the day, it’s not about the money you spend but the memories you make.