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.

Visiting St. Marks Lighthouse

I have visited every lighthouse within don’t-need-a-hotel driving distance. So I’ve been lining up vacation plans so that I can stay overnight somewhere and visit more lighthouses. When I found out that Tallahassee, Florida had a lighthouse, I was too excited. It was only a two-hour drive from me, it was perfect for a day out.

Honestly, I thought Interstate 10 West had too many trees to count. That interstate had nothing on the backwoods of Tallahassee. I drove past more trees than I thought existed in Florida. Either way, once I got past all of them and FINALLY arrived, I was told by a ranger that the lighthouse lies in between the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and the Flint Rock Wildlife Management Area. That explained the endless trees.

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So many trees…

From researching the lighthouse online, I figured, from a review on TripAdvisor.com, we would have to hike to the lighthouse. Bloody hell, Jacksonville was already eighty-nine degrees, Tallahassee was going to be at least ninety-two. I was determined to see this lighthouse, so I said to hell with it. I haven’t hiked since my trip to Atlanta months beforehand so I suppose it wouldn’t hurt. On arrival, I find out, there is a single road that I could take to drive straight up to it. Thank God.

Down the single road, I made many stops to get out and look at the projects of the “refuge.” It appeared that the only thing being preserved were fish and strange flowering weeds. Luckily, I got to see a couple of alligators, a bird that clucks like a chicken, and a scorpion.

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I finally got to the lighthouse, and it was perfect. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go inside and climb to the top due to damages. Looking at it from the outside sufficed. It was quiet and the view of the Apalachee Bay gave us a scenic view of the Gulf of Mexico. The area around the lighthouse was mostly surrounded by water so there wasn’t much else you could do besides sunbathing and swimming if you really wanted to.

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I was glad to check off another lighthouse from my listen. Despite how quick the visit was, I enjoyed visiting the landmark. It serves as another piece of important history in the making of our country. At one point St. Mark’s lighthouse meant the world to someone in an era. Just to be alive and able to be near it was all I would ever need to take back with me when I return home. Me buying a postcard from the visitor center on the way out didn’t hurt either.

 

 

Lighthouse of Ponce de Leon

Honestly, I thought I knew all the lighthouses within a two and three hour mile radius. I was wrong. The lighthouse of Ponce de Leon had popped up on my travel searches. It was only a couple of hours away from me so I made it my priority to get there since I intend to visit every lighthouse in Florida.

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St. Patty’s in St. Augustine

The holiday St. Patrick’s day couldn’t have fallen on a better day this year. This year it was on a Saturday during Spring Break and Bike Week in Daytona, FL. My dear friend and co-worker, Maddy, lived in Jacksonville for ten years and had never been to a lighthouse. Since we were both finally off on Saturday we thought we’d make the best out of it and head to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum. I had already been once but since it was her first time, I thought why not?

We ate our breakfast on the road since we had an hour drive to go from Jacksonville to St. Augustine. I made sure to gas up the day before because I already knew the traffic we were going to face on the way. With everyone on Spring Break vacation and bikers flooding the Atlantic coast line back and forth from Daytona for 2018 Bike Week event, it was bound to be a ton of traffic and endless lines everywhere we went.

We finally arrive at the lighthouse and Maddy and I cut through the gift shop to take a peak at all the cheap trinkets we’d buy to savor the memory. Maddy had a heart set on a t-shirt and I craved jewelry or a snow globe. After paying the fee to climb the lighthouse, we started on our way through some covered garden area. Maddy saw the lighthouse through the trees, whipped out her phone faster than Superman ever could and began snapping pics. The smile on her face resembled a child on Christmas morning ready open gifts from Santa.

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First sighting of the lighthouse through covered garden. Image Credit: Maddy Shade

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Maddy enjoying the lighthouse. Image Credit: Maddy Shade

We bought water before heading up to the lighthouse just incase we needed it for the rather steep climb up. 219 steps to be exact. Seeing the warning sign before entering the building brought back the horrid memories of my last climb up this twisted goliath. I honestly felt like my lungs were going to burst, this time it wasn’t so bad. I suppose all the hiking I’ve done at other State Parks has helped my body prepare for strenuous tasks… sort of.

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Last minute warning sign before climbing. Image Credit: Maddy Shade

Before actually climbing the lighthouse, visitors have a chance to check out the artifacts of the lighthouse including a sample oil bucket of what the Light Keeper had to carry up and down the stairs. The steel bucket is about forty to fifty pounds and that’s without oil! The oil’s weight jumped it close to seventy pounds!

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Sample oil bucket. Image Credit: Maddy Shade

Before the climb up, Maddy snapped a picture of the twisted stairs that were crowded with other visitors sporting their green for St. Patty’s day.

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The twisted Goliath. 219 steps. Image Credit: Maddy Shade

After getting to the top, the view was incredible, just as I remembered it. Every body of water were filled with sail boats, ships, and yachts. Every street was packed with people and traffic. Even the sky had a few planes buzzing through. The weather was perfect. The scenery was breathtaking. We had the luck of the Irish on our side.

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Top of the Lighthouse Image Credit: Maddy Shade & The guy who took our picture.

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A view of the Matanzas River and Vilano Beach. Image Credit: Maddy Shade

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Light and lens above the lantern room. Image Credit: Maddy Shade

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Selfies at the top of the lighthouse. Image Credit: Maddy Shade

After nearly an hour and a half up there, we made our way back down to finish exploring. In the Light Keeper’s mansion, we got to study some more of the artifacts from the lighthouse and checked out a basement area where we learned about diving equipment and treasure found in the sea.

The trip was a huge success and looking forward to another adventure!

Mother at Hillsboro Lighthouse

Recently, my mother and I went Boca Raton, FL for a vacation/business venture. I had a presentation to go to about cleaning up the oceans for future generations. My mother went to visit some church members who lived there. Boca Raton was beautiful in every way with the yachts that sat on the river docks.

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My favorite part was the Hillsboro Lighthouse. I suppose this adds to the obsession I’ve had surrounding lighthouse. I drove between Georgia and Florida just to be able to climb these historical magnificent beauties. I have a long way to go before I have visited them all, but I’m off to a good start.

The Hillsboro Lighthouse sits on private property, so visitors aren’t allowed to get close to it. You have to go to a park that sits next door to get a good enough view. If you have a boat, you can get the very best view by riding out of the marina, under the drawbridge and out into the sea. If only I had a million bucks, right?

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At night, the dark ocean swallows up and surrounding light so seeing the lighthouse at night can be difficult. The lens and spinning light is enough to make up for it though.

My mother loved it though. She finally got to feel the same feeling I got whenever I visit a lighthouse. These simple towers have such an influence on the imagination. Its presence alone strikes imagination curiosity about the days of the lighthouse and their important role in controlling the traffic of the sea.

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First Climb of the Lighthouse

What do you imagine when you see a lighthouse? Is it that movie scene where a lonely lighthouse lit in the middle of the blackness of night, and tall storm waves slams against its sides? What about a make-believe romantic novel scene of a couple who has been reunited after years apart laughing as they run up the stairs to the top, together at last? Regardless of what one may fantasize, I can assure you, it was anything but romantic.

In the past year, I have visited three lighthouses. One in St. Augustine, Florida, St. Simon and Tybee Island both in Georgia. All three are tall, beautiful, majestic even. You feel anticipation pumping through your veins like adrenaline. You can’t wait to see what the world looks like at the top of that lighthouse, so you ignore any warnings and bank for the stairs.

 

The St. Augustine lighthouse was my first one. I have to say, if you’re not accustomed to climbing stairs in your normal life, the climb to the top can damn near kill you. This particular lighthouse housed 219 steps. It sounds daunting… and it is. I walked around the skyscraper snapping all kinds of photos of it. The more I looked at it, the more I wanted to climb it. I gazed at the people already at the top and was jealous to be on the grounds. I purchased a coke (bad idea) and drunk it down, ready. I took a deep breath and headed inside the entrance.

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Lighthouse Entrance. St. Augustine, FL
I knew in my heart and mind I couldn’t do this, but of course, that little Devil sitting on my shoulder told me, go for it, worry about consequences later. At first, I stood under the spiral stairs and looked up at the beautiful design. This didn’t in any way help convince me not to do it. I took the rail and headed up the steps. Every fifteen or twenty steps or so there is a flat platform area with an open window. God bless those platforms and an open window. After the first session of steps, I could feel my legs weakening. I saw the distressed faces of people coming down. That was my first red flag.

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Looking up at the stairs. St. Augustine, FL
By the third window, my heart was pounding so hard in my chest I thought it was going to crack my ribs. Mind you, I weigh 230lbs with 48DD bra size. It wasn’t easy toting all this weight up 219 steps. I instantly regretted that coke. For the final climb, I gripped hard to the rail just in case my legs gave out and took each step one by one.

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Lighthouse Keeper’s home. View from 2nd window. St. Augustine, FL.
I finally get to the top, and suddenly my suffering disappears. The view is breathtaking and amazing. You could see for miles in every direction. Every river, lake, beach, and neighborhood was all there for you to gaze upon. I sat up there for nearly a half of an hour before it got too crowded. Going down was no issue at all. Nearly did it one swoop without stopping.

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St. Simon Lighthouse – St. Simon Georgia
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Tybee Island Lighthouse – Tybee Island, Georgia
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Tybee Island Lighthouse – Tybee Island, Georgia
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St. Augustine Lighthouse – St. Augustine, Florida
With each lighthouse I have visited after that, the climbs get easier and easier, mostly because the climbs are shorter. St. Simon’s light is only 129 steps, and Tybee Island is with 178. I would recommend the climb for anyone because believe me, the view is worth every painful step. I wouldn’t recommend to anyone with a weak heart. Curiosity really can kill the cat.

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St. Augustine Lighthouse
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St. Simon Lighthouse
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Tybee Island Lighthouse
The St. Augustine Light and Museum allows you to purchase a certificate of completing the 219-step climb of the lighthouse.

If you’re really into lighthouses and their history, you can take a virtual tour of the historical lights located in New England and upper east coast. Visit New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide.