The Deserted Old Spanish Trail

Time and time again, I’ve made the long straight journey from Jacksonville to McClenny. The only accurate scenic view is a river. Besides that, its trees, car shops, corporate stores, and trailer homes. Beaver Street, also known as US-90, was once called the Old Spanish Trail. It runs well over 1600 miles, hitting most of the major cities in the Southern States like Interstate 10. Along US-90 between Jacksonville and McClenney, I kept driving past a building built in Spanish style called “The Old Spanish Trail.”

There was more to the area than you could see from the street. Most of that white parking lot area is now covered over with trees and overgrowth.

Every time I drove past it, it drew me in, as it begged me to explore. This past Saturday, I finally felt it was time. I had nothing else to do. Why not? I packed my camera, notebook, and Gatorade and was off.

The parking lot stretches another quarter mile back, but you can’t see it.

When I arrived, I noticed that the fence was kicked down. At first glance of the building made me realize that vandals wanted to have their way with the place. They did not disappoint. It was vandalized so severely, the outside staircase that led to doors on the top floor was completely gone. Nature did what it did best when there was no one there to tend to the weeds, bushes, and other overgrowths. I drove through the broken fence across broken slabs of pavement littered with grass and weeds.

At the back of the building, it looked like a haunted house. There was trash all over the ground. The railings rusted to the core. Windows left open. Surprisingly, the windows weren’t boarded up like most of the others. The doors had been kicked down. It was pitch dark inside, but with the help of whatever sunlight that breached the windows, it was evident that someone had a field day with the internal structure. The ceiling was falling apart. It appears the stairs were collapsing too. No way in hell I was brave enough inside. My hearing had never been sharper listening for even the tiniest sound of movement. I even had my knife on me just in case something came running out of the doors.

Ransacked and vandalized.
There use to be stairs here.

Inspecting the rest of the building, it was clear that it was unique in its time. It wasn’t designed like any of the buildings surrounding it. There were archways that you only ever see on old castles and fancy homes. The cascading stairwell on the west side of the building would have made perfect scenery for a wedding. According to some research through google, the Old Spanish Trail served as many things in its prime. Including a grocery store, a haunted house, and a speakeasy. The final owners of the building were forced to abandon it due to costs for it to be made up to modern-day building codes. Now, The Old Spanish Trail’s remaining purpose is to sneak into the imagination of those who drive or walk past it. If anyone is lucky, they’ll be able to tell the tale of the little boy who supposedly haunts the building only seen by three of the previous owners.

Graffiti at its best.

For more on that story and the history of the Old Spanish Trail, check out the Time’s Union article, “Call Box: Spooky tales, colorful past in Jacksonville building.”

Big Red at Holland Harbor

Being Floridian, my body never needed to adjust to twenty-degree weather. I knew the moment I pressed my fingers against my sprinter van’s window; I’d probably regret getting out. When I looked out across the beach of Holland State Park, at the medium-sized, bright red lighthouse floating above still seaglass teal water, I told myself to Hell with it. I snatched up my Nikon camera, my backpack, and my thick gloves and jumped out of the van. There would be no telling when I would ever get another chance for this, so I took it.

As a delivery driver, I continuously fail to remember how much weight I’ve put on. The realization doesn’t hit me until I either have to hike some inclined nature trail or trudge across beach sand. Nothing, I mean nothing, tells you to start dieting like a walk across beach sand. The closer I got to that cherry red hunk of wood, metal, glass, and beauty, the more I cared less about my wheezing and dragging feet. Also, as a delivery driver, I was usually only in a location for one day. It was rare that I would return to that location again within the week or month. I got to see New York City twice. Both times were four months a part.

After struggling across the beach sand, I thankfully made it to concrete pavement. I couldn’t take my eyes off “Big Red,” the unfortunate nickname they gave to the Holland Harbor Lighthouse. According to research, painting this particular lighthouse red was a requirement due to its location on the harbor’s right side. Regardless, if you couldn’t see the lighthouse’s bright light at night, you’d have no problems seeing it in the day. You’d have to be color blind to miss it, seeing as how no other buildings behind or beside it along the coast are painted red.

Two light posts at the end of the water breakers
Water breakers

I had to rush my adventure visiting the light. I felt the feeling in my fingers disappearing. By the time I had reached the pavement, my fingers were hurting so bad from the cold, they felt numb. My thick gloves prevented me from using my zoom and pressing the shutter button. I was forced to take all of my photos barehanded. Thankfully I brought my beach towel along with me (only God knows why), so I could maybe sit on the beach and enjoy the view. Nope! I reassigned it to keeping my hands warm. Unfortunately, you can’t run from Mother Nature. My fingers continued to burn inside the gloves wrapped in the towel.

I had never heard of water breakers before I studied the Holland Harbor Light. They’re essential for multiple reasons, including slowing down coastal erosion, and prevent waves from battering the lighthouse in rough weather. Most water breakers are built with large boulders, but these breakers, but these breakers are built with slabs of concrete and significant boulders to hold them in place. Mother Nature has been working her magic on it as well. As you head out to the end of the breaker, you’ll notice that two of the slabs have shifted so far that you only have about one or two feet of connected concrete to cross over.

Out on the breakers, the view was could have been nothing short of a fairytale. As a Floridian, I adore great bodies of water. I grew up around every type of body of water (sea, ocean, river, swamp, gulf, etc.) Lake Michigan was a sight to see, the water’s slow swells imitated breathing as the water rose and receded through the boulders. The color of the water itself made it appear as an ocean-sized sheet of seaglass. The coast packed of brown beach sand and tall sea oats nearly hiding the gorgeous vacation beach homes behind them.

Tug boat pushing platform out to sea.

I stood on the breaker, sinking into peace and reflection when a large horn sounds off. I nearly jumped out of my skin and into the freezing water. I turned around to see a red tugboat making his way out of the harbor, pushing some sort of platform in front of him. I watched the precision driving as the tugboat made its way out to open sea. I love tugboats. At this point, my frozen fingers became too much to bear. I gathered up a few more shots of Big Red and Lake Michigan and power walked back to my sprinter van. Other cars pulled into the parking lot. Groups of people hopping out in all smiles loving the frosty air. I could’t wait to crank up my heat on the highest setting before I became Frosty the Snowman.

I may never get a chance to return to Big Red, but if traveling has taught me anything, when you’re in perfect position to explore something, I don’t care if Big Foot is sitting outside the window, take the chance and capture your memories. Tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Travel Break: Small Car, Big World Pinterest Project

The day I discovered Pinterest was the day I truly lived. In fact, on one of my Instagram accounts, I labeled myself as a “Pinterest junkie” in my bio section. Since COVID-19 has everyone self-quarantined, Pinterest has been my primary source of entertainment. Every day I’m discovering new projects to take part in. So far, I’ve done everything from spray painted mason jars, to designing watercolor bookmarks.

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In my search for something new to do, I came across a photo of a tiny vintage car sitting on a beach shore. It was clearly a photoshop project, but the photography was stunning. The artist manipulated the image to make it seem like somehow the car fits perfectly into the big world. I just had to try this. I ran to Walmart and luckily found a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. The next day I headed to Sister’s Creek and took some really great shots. The objective is to use the right camera angles to show the car somehow being a part of the bigger atmosphere. Yes, the scale will be evident, but that’s part of the fun! I spent an hour walking around and taking shots of the car on different surfaces doing different things. The results are fantastic!

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My friend, Maddy, also made great use of her time indoors. She’s taken an interest in building things from scratch using whatever wood boards she could find. Her recent project includes a bookshelf, a new dog bowl holder, and shelves for her succulent plants.

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My other friend Jheanel, has taken up with painting and colored pencil drawings during her quarantine life!

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It is the amazing things that come from boredom. Commercials of people all over the world, creating ways to stay connected, show our infinite creative abilities. Hopefully, when this virus finally goes away, we can continue to be just as innovative. I know I will. Pinterest is in my blood and isn’t going anywhere!

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Search “small car photography” on Pinterest to see more cool small car photography.

New Mexico: Winter Damage Creates Beautiful Spring

The entire country is under lockdown during this unfortunate Coronavirus pandemic. As a truck driver though, the show must go on. Whenever my co-driver and I would stop at a truck stop for the night (for one reason or the other), I’d take full advantage and go for walks to explore the area I’ve never been to before. Our last stop was in Las Vegas, New Mexico. At first, I was pissed off because the truck stop wasn’t near anything fun. With Lyft drivers scarce due to possible contraction of the virus, we were practically stuck at the truck stop. There’s only so much one can do inside the truck so that made things worst.

My first stroll around the truck stop, it was about thirty-six degrees outside. My jacket was no match for the cold and wind, I was forced to return to the truck for warmth. After yet another nap to pass the time, I tried again. This time, it was about sixty-four degrees and the sun was out, but setting. The previously boring and desert landscape was illuminated by the setting sun’s brightness. The months of snow in this region damaged the tall weedy grass. The only thing lush in green were spiked grass blades that opened from its root like a blooming onion.

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Almost every ten steps I took, I saw more compositions to create a nice image. Coming from Florida, I’m used to the beauty of greens and life everywhere. Who knew the damage done by winter would create such beauty and renewed hope for the coming of spring? I suppose that’s the amazing thing about nature. It’s as if nothing in nature can be ugly or imperfect. Even the dirt paths covered in large pebbles and crushed weeds look enchanting and alive.

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I am glad that I took myself out of my disappointment to take these images. I am more disappointed in myself to expect too much. Life is short and no matter where you go, one should see the beauty in it. It is a lesson learned that there doesn’t have to be majestic mountains, exquisite waterfalls, and endless oceans to make a scenery beautiful or worth admiring. A small desert region has just as much beauty to offer, you just have to be willing to find it.

Disappointed Preservation at Julington – Durbin Preserve

Great. Just great. Another dead end hiking trail proclaimed as a “natural preserve.” Honestly, what’s being preserved? Grass?

Today I visited the Julington-Durbin Preserve and wasn’t impressed in the least. I don’t know if it was the ninety-nine-degree weather messing with me or what, but I can tell you right now, that is one hike I won’t be taking again. I don’t get what is it about these neighborhood park committees that think dirt, weeds, and tall skinny pine trees are what make a natural preserve. What the hell is being preserved?

 

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Trees and grass…

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more trees… more grass…

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and more trees and grass…

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and more trees and grass…

 

There wasn’t a drop of wildlife running around and to top it off, the preserve is surrounded by brand new shopping malls and gated neighborhoods for the wealthy. Really? They’ve stripped the area of deer, alligators, and birds and want us to believe that they are preserving something. What a great joke…

 

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New fancy homes for the elite.

 

They only wildlife I came across after about a mile of just heat, trees, and burned up grass were the vicious yellow flies. I recently encountered them in Lake City on a hiking trail. They tore my legs up. They bite with purpose, and you have to deal with the aftermath of constant itching and swelling long after you’ve smacked them off your leg. Bug spray? Not a chance. I literally bathed in Off Spray before I started the trail at the preserve and they came at me as if I wasn’t wearing a thing. Thanks to the removal of DEET (common oil ingredient used in bug repellent) in bug sprays, these mother truckers are having a feast on those who are prone to bug bites… like yours truly.

 

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Photo Credit: 30a blog

 

Little did I know, according to 30a website, these little monsters are out and about in abundance during May and June. Perfect. Be aware that they mostly reside near water like creeks, rivers, and lakes. Thank goodness the entire trail wasn’t all swampy, so I got to escape from them.

It is self-evident that this preserve was designed for wealthy joggers and cyclist living in this fancy neighborhood to have a quiet place to jog and clear their head. It was never intended for the actual preservation of wildlife to build a home and produce offspring. It’s an insult really. I wouldn’t recommend it to any real hikers in search of something fascinating in nature.

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Unless you like wild berries.

Falling Creek Falls

What a long week it has been trying to get my CDL license? Six days a week for eleven hours a day. Exhausting. I knew for a fact for my two days off, I would be getting out of the house and going somewhere. I needed to be lost in some forest or on some nature trail away from civilization. Standing in ninety-eight degree whether watching seventy-three-foot tractor-trailers back into tight alley docks, I was about to blow my own brains out. I made sure I made plans to be far away from anything that resembled mankind.

After discovering that a new nature trail I found was closed permanently, I decided to take to the road. I Googled recommendations and Falling Creek Falls came up. After seeing photos of a waterfall, my mind was made up.

An hour later I finally arrive, and to my disappointment, the creek was dried up. There was no waterfall but a trickle. I honestly could have screamed.

 

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What I saw on Google. (FloridaHikes.com)

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What I actually got when I arrived.

The lack of water was quite understandable because Florida has been short on rain. It hasn’t rained in about three weeks so I suppose I could understand, but I was so looking forward to sitting on the bench next to a waterfall and letting nature take me to another place. The view was lovely, so at least I know it will be worth visiting after a few rain storms.

On a better note, at least I got to see some wildlife.

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My stomach was upset from some food I ate the day before, but I wasn’t going to let it destroy my one real chance from getting away from everything. The building stress from trying to achieve my CDL license has sent me to a dark place. There is nothing like a moment alone in the woods with my music, Nikon, and adventurous spirit to help me bounce back to a better place.

 

 

Basin of Lake City

I’ve only visited Lake City once in the past… oooh… maybe 29 years. From my last visit, I confess it was quite dry and dull. The city looked like it had seen better days once upon a time. On my recent visit yesterday, the streets still seemed as dry and lifeless as it had the last time I visited. Often when I thought of Lake city, I would think of a lively small town where a large lake sat at the center of its location. The lake would be the gem of the city where everyone goes to have parties, weddings, reunions, and cookouts. Nope. The more I drove through downtown and the neighborhoods, the more I felt for the young adults who tell themselves every day how much they can’t wait to leave Lake City.

While driving to no particular destination in the hope of something that would make me want to whip out my anxious Canon, a large body of water caught my eye. Finally! After many u-turns from street to street, I finally found the best place to gaze at the gem of Lake City, the Ichetucknee Basin. The area wasn’t much to deal with, but it had the best view thanks to a single dock that stretched out onto the Basin. The pier allowed you to see how the Basin twist and turned in the distance.

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If it weren’t so hot, I could have stayed all day. The water is still and created a mirror effect on the sky. Because of the water’s semi clarity, I was able to look at all the species of fish below.

Lastly, I was on a mission to collect images of florae for my new Instagram project. I managed to collect a few helpful samples, and then I was on my way. Unfortunately for Lake City, It will be quite some time before I show my face again. Coming from a large city, Jacksonville, a small town would have to really put on a show to keep my interest.

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Maybe next time.