Underrated Joys on the Conservation

In a society where we are in need of constant entertainment, one would believe hiking through a natural conservation is a waste of time. In truth, these conservations don’t offer much. Maybe a few benches, a winding trail leading nowhere, and if you’re lucky, some view of a lake. Are you bored yet?

As dull as they may appear, they are critical to have in our ever-evolving environment. I will admit in the beginning stages of my traveling, conservations and preserves bored me to death. I decided that if it wasn’t a state park, I didn’t care for it much. As a person who admires open-mindedness and an adventurous spirit, I knew I needed to find joy in such places. Surprisingly, I have.

At first sight, the natural conservation at Sister’s Creek in Jacksonville, Florida, looks like a barren wasteland. Honestly, throw in some large bones and a few boulders, and it could become a spitting image of an Elephant Graveyard. There aren’t any trails to hike, just a long road with patches of crushed rocks and shells as parking areas to observe. With my tiny notebook in hand and eagerness to explore, I open my senses to the elements and take in what I can. Just because the low tide exposed the land to the heat of the Florida sun didn’t mean it was safe to walk across. It’s an illusion until you begin to trek across it and your feet sink fast into water-soaked sand. I haven’t played hopscotch in years, but I pulled out my old skills to get back to the creek’s edge.

Now with limited space to explore, I had to make do with what I had. I stood still and used my senses to explore for me. Big White Egrets flew low over the marshy area, searching for somewhere else to enjoy the loneliness of the land. They were smart enough to keep away from people like me. The low tide exposed a ton of oyster clusters. Now and then, you would see one spit water into the air. One oyster does it. Then others follow—sort of like doing the wave. Tiny fish swim in collective swimming patterns in the shallow water. What a show they put on going around in synchronized circles together? An old tree with peeling bark hovers over the depleted creek. Years of moving water caused erosion which exposed most of its roots. I found a sharp-drill conch shell beneath those roots. Lucky me! I tried to find another, but no success.

My favorite part was the tiny sand fiddler crabs. The mating season must be high because every male with their oversized claw danced for the group’s females. It was hilarious to see the small female crab snaking through the crowd. The males wave their giant claw in the air and bounce on their legs to catch her attention. I once read that when a female becomes interested in a male, he pounds his claw on the ground near his burrow. She goes into the hole, he follows, plugs up the hole, and returns to her to mate. How romantic, right? To watch this funny courtship dance, you have to stand perfectly still. Fiddler crabs are super scary. The slightest movement and they hurry into their holes. Once they feel it is safe, they come out of the holes and dance again.

ECO Magazine, fiddler crab waving his giant claw to attract a mate.

These conservations may not provide the most fun that a state park may provide, but they serve a tremendous purpose. If we want to continue to see the dancing crabs, graceful Egrets, and synchronized fish, we must take the steps necessary to protect their home and environment because once they are gone, they’re gone for good.

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.

Evening on the Southbank Riverwalk

Living in River City has its perks for sure. With the demolition of the infamous Jacksonville Landing entertainment area, the Southbank Riverwalk is basically all Jacksonvillians have left for entertainment and social gatherings. Granted, Jacksonville is a large city, and there are a million and one places you can go for entertainment, but downtown Jax is the beating heart of the city. There is too much history, and we just lost one of our biggest gems.

 

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The Jacksonville Landing before demolition. (visitflorida.com)

The Southbank Riverwalk sits across the river from the former Jacksonville Landing. It begins at the Friendship Fountain and runs beneath the John T. Asop Jr. Bridge (aka Main St. Bridge) and along the river’s edge until it reaches the Duval County Public School building.

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The Friendship Fountain

 

The Friendship Fountain has been around since my mother was a girl. The aging fountain is still running on all cylinders and is still a treasure to the people of the city. There are about fifteen active spouts that run during the day. On occasions, they sprout high into the air and dance with color projectors attached to towers adding wonder to the spectacle. The fountain is popular for setting a romantic mood near the river and becoming every child’s running track around the 200-foot wide pool of water. Along the outside of the fountain are white arbors with benches beneath for resting or reading. Picnic tables are set up in the grassy area left of the fountain for family events. The Museum of Science and History is only 100 feet away if you want to do something entertaining for the entire family. Further left of the grassy area and the fountain is the River City Brewing Company, a good place to wine and dine yourself. If you have a boat, you can park right outside the restaurant in their marina.

 

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The Friendship Fountain

 

 

St. John’s River

The St. John’s River is the soul of Jacksonville. I would that is why Jacksonville is named the “River City” because the St. John’s River runs directly through the city. As you walk along the boardwalk, you will get the view of at least five of Jacksonville’s iconic bridges; the Hart Bridge, the Matthews Bridge, the John T. Alsop Bridge, the Acosta Bridge, and FEC Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridge (or train bridge).

As you walk away from the Friendship Fountain, you have two paths to choose, you could either climb the ramp that will allow you to walk across the John T. Alsop Bridge or you take the boardwalk that will lead you beneath the bridge further along the boardwalk. If you take the bridge ramp, you can take awesome selfies at the top of the Main St. Bridge and walk into downtown where all the cafes reside. If you continue on the boardwalk, it will seem like you are preparing to walk underwater due to the boardwalk’s dip. The river is literally at your face and gives the illusion that it may spill over at any moment. Beneath the bridge is a commissioned mosaic art piece of glass and tile along the wall. It, too, is perfect for selfies. If you are lucky, you can catch a pod of dolphins playing and swimming together beneath the bridge. In my experience, night time is much easier to see them. It’s quieter at night, and there are no boats zipping back and forth, so it is safer.

 

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Beneath the Main St. Drawbridge

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“Mirrored River: Where do you see yourself?” commissioned mosaic piece

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Boardwalk leading under Main St. Bridge.

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View of the Acosta Bridge and the Train Bridge.

 

The Boardwalk

Along the boardwalk, you take notice of more than just the pretty views. You can also see the see in full scale, and it’s growing development. There seems to always be construction cranes seen somewhere to show something new being built in the city. Lately, a lot of hotels and condominiums are being constructed. Jacksonville lives and breathes for tourism, so it would make sense. When you come from beneath the bridge, you can see as far west down the St. John’s river as your vision will allow you. Across the water, you can view the TIAA Bank Stadium home to the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars. If you are a coffee fiend, Maxwell’s Coffee manufacturing plant can be seen and smelled no matter how far you are. At some point along the boardwalk, new helicopters will fly above your head as they circle around the bridges and highways for traffic readings. If you get tired, there are fancy-designed benches with triangular umbrellas overhead to keep you cooled off. Near the end of the boardwalk, you get a great look at the Strand Apartments building and its high-class lifestyle through its glass lobby walls.

 

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Benches with triangular umbrellas.

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TIAA Bank Stadium for the Jacksonville Jaguars

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River Taxi

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The Hart Bridge

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Maxwell Coffee manufacturing plant.

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The Strand Apartments

 

An evening on the Southbank Riverwalk is perfect for families, couples, soloist, photographers, and even runners. No matter how much Jacksonville grows and expands, the beauty of the River city will always lie at the heart of downtown Jacksonville.

Review: My Top 3 Fave Apps for Day Trips

Are you an heir or heiress to a fortune? Did you hit it big in the lottery? Are you living off of a rather gracious trust fund? If not, then most likely, you are working a full-time job (or two part-time jobs). Either way, you have little time for long weekends exploring exotic places. Now and then, we need an escape from our daily lives, so why not take a day trip? Who says you need a weekend to fully enjoy yourself? What if all you needed was a day bag, a tank full of gas, the open road, and three awesome apps that made five to six hours away from home feel like an entire weekend?

Long shifts at a warehouse only made enough time for me to rest on my days off. I’ve always been an explorer at heart, and I enjoy the outdoors. I craved traveling to places outside of my city, so one day, I planned a day trip, and now every week when my off days roll around again, I pick one of them as my day to “disappear off the radar.” Three apps, in particular, helped make my day trip smooth and fun. It’s all in the trip planning.

 

Google Maps

Honestly, what is there not to like about anything Google designs? When they first launched, their browser page stated, “Most comprehensive search engine.” beneath their search bar. Like, bruh! I use Google Chrome like nobody’s business, so it’s no surprise that I seem bias towards then. Beyond that, Google Maps keeps getting better with every upgrade. Now, Google Maps is the one-stop-shop for everything you need to search for in a flash. When planning my trips, I pull up a map of my city and study what cities or towns are within a two-hour radius. From there, I tap the ones I’m interested in and look at images (still and 3D). I know I’ll get hungry so I’ll study the nearby restaurants and shops to enjoy myself. On the day of your trip, Google Maps helps with traffic and detours. It even detects speed traps! (It saved my butt from a hidden State Trooper just two days ago!)

 

Trip Advisor

This website and app are just excellent for pre-planning. Once I know where I want to go, I use Trip Advisor to check out things to do in that particular area. Through the app, you can view images, read reviews from other explorers and tourists. You can even buy tickets or schedule tours you may want to take when you get there. If you’re going to extend your day trip to overnight, you can book a hotel, vacation rental, and flights right through the app. It is a bit of a one-stop-shop. A small but cool feature, you can set up a profile and post all your trips for others to see or view other profiles.

 

Instagram

Honestly, the only reason Instagram is on this list is that Instagram can give you something Google and Trip Advisor may lack. Instagram’s primary use is uploading images of your everyday lifestyle or adventures. Instagram is perfect if you want to discover the world of a town or city you’ve never been to before. Other websites will advertise cute and picturesque photos of a city, but if you want a sense of how the locals live, Instagram is great for that because those images are often not edited for advertisement but to show off to friends. Instagram broke a tie between two destinations I wanted to visited. Beyond that, Instagram doesn’t offer many services to help you to trip plan. It helps, so it’s worth a shot.

Whatever websites you use, take the time to take a day away from your busy life. Four or five hours may not seem like much for a “vacation,” but a trip is what you make it, so make it the best!

 

Great Makeovers for U.S. Road Rest Areas

I remember traveling at a young age, and we would pull into a rest area for restroom breaks. They were the absolute worst places to go but, when you got to go, you got to go. Often times you go into a rest area, and the bathrooms look like something from the pilgrim era. The entire restroom smelled like a port-o-potty exploded. Sanitation was beneath passing. Honestly, I couldn’t see how the state would allow this.

In the coming years, though, I’ve seen a significant change to rest areas. I would think the improvements would only extend to making the restrooms more pleasant, but rest areas makeovers are doing so much more. It was my thought that rest areas represent the state. Think about it, travelers and tourists go to a rest area in Texas. If the rest area is filthy, they may assume the worst about the state in general. It sounds unlikely, but humans often judge a book by its cover or generalize because of one little thing happening. It happens.

Now, these rest areas are being built with so much more to offer now. They aren’t just a place to get an overpriced soda and a quick place to potty. They come equipped with hiking trails for dogs, jungle gyms for kids, museums, libraries, game rooms, and other stuff to entertain people while they break. The rest stop I visited in Arkansas had a library and a museum displaying Arkansas as the world’s leading source for quartz minerals. A rest stop and visitor center at the Texas state line had an entire boardwalk you could walk on and catch alligators and other wildlife in the preserve.

Where in the hell was all this when I was little? The most we could get out of rest areas back then playing with rocks outside the building sat at picnic tables that were covered in bird poop, and boring brochures desperately displaying the vacation hotspots of the state. Now rest areas are a bed short of a hotel.

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I am glad that the rest areas have made big changes since I was young. Tourism is everything to any state or locality. It would be wise to improve first impressions.

St. John’s River: The Fish are Assholes

For the first time since I was sixteen, I have been able to enjoy unemployment. I don’t like to waste my days away, so I decided to visit all my favorite parks. One, in particular, is Baker Point Park in the fancy-schmancy Ortega area of Jacksonville. Usually, the park fills with squads of moms jogging with strollers to lose their baby fat. The park has become rather popular. If you don’t get there at the right time, the only twelve parking spaces they have been filled. Unfortunately, there is no room to park on the street or the curb unless you want to risk a ticket.

The worst visitors to the park are fishermen because they hold parking spaces for hours catching fish, or at least trying to.

I sat on the sea wall relaxing with my notebook in hand as two young fishermen pass by me to set up further down the seawall. I noticed fish jumping out of the water randomly. It was a refreshing sight to see fish compete to see who could jump the highest. The two fishermen set up camp and threw their hooks into the water.

It wasn’t until half an hour later when I found the funniest thing happening. The fish continued to jump out of the water near the fishermen’s’ hooks. The two men would reel in their lines and toss them back out where they last spotted a fish jumping. I noticed how the fish start jumping in a different area a few inches away from the hook. This kept happening over and over for another half hour. I couldn’t stop laughing every time a fish would propel out of the water near the hook as if to laugh at the fishermen yelling, “Looking for me?” Eventually, the guys packed up and left.

It truly made my whole day to see how nature outsmarted man once again. Karma must have come around to the fish eventually because a small pod of dolphins enjoyed themselves tossing fish out of the water and catching them in the mouths before diving down to enjoy their meal.

Wild on Cumberland Island

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Fishing boat docked during heavy fog advisory in St. Mary’s Georgia 

Visiting the ole undeveloped seashore again was a great Christmas present indeed. The first time I went, I was very new to the island, so I wore out quickly and panicked at getting lost. I was ready this time. I had the trail mapped in my head. I remembered the shortcuts I would use to save time to get to the areas I didn’t get to see the last time, including the beach. I packed my new hiking backpack (which was sooo very helpful), my Nikon and determination and we were Georgia bound.

The first time I visited the island, I was everywhere with my idea on what to take pictures of, but this time I already had categorized what I needed and wanted to take collect for my blog. I ended up with nearly 120 images. Of course, the hard work would come later when I have to dissect each photo to make sure it was perfect. My categories included the Dungeness ruins, the wild horses, and the beach. My destination was that beach. I wasn’t leaving until I saw that shoreline.

Due to the fog, the wild horses seem to have up and disappeared. I had already been walking for two hours through the wilderness, hiking trails and boardwalks and still haven’t seen a single horse. It’s not like they were kept in barns and released during certain times of the day. They were untamed, the Rangers supervising the island allowed these horses to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. It wasn’t until the sun had fully peaked out of the heavy fog when one or two finally walked across the Dungeness grounds.

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One of the oldest horses on the island. Untamed their entire lives.

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One of my favorite parts of the entire trail across the island was the boardwalk. The last time I visited, it was low tide, and I got to see a raccoon go down on the shore and steal whatever seafood he could get his hands on while he could. This time I got to see this metallic Blue Heron sitting on the boardwalk rail. I tried my best to be as quiet as I could to get close to him. Even though the zoom on my Nikon was fantastic, I suppose for the thrill, I just wanted to get close as I could to it. It didn’t work, of course, his eye remained glued to me from the moment I stepped onto the boards. I wasn’t within three feet before he took flight. I watched as he made a giant u-turn in the sky and landed back on the same rail but several more feet away. I tested my luck again. I took two steps before he just said screw it, and took off across the salt marsh.

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After coming off the boardwalk, I encountered the worst part of the island, miles of beach sand. To make matters worse, it wasn’t flat like the average beach shore; there were tall dunes everywhere. If you wanted to get anywhere other than back where you came from, you had to suck it up and climb the dunes. The only good that seems to come from thirty minutes of trudging through sand was the view at the top of one of the dunes. You could see for miles off the island itself. At least it put a smile on my face until something flew over my head with the wingspan that could stretch from one end of the island to the other. I suppose I wasn’t the only one admiring the view. Later I learned that these significant spies were Black and Turkey Vultures. I wasn’t big on bird-watching, but I must admit these birds carried a sort of dominance that would give you chills. Now and then they would take fly and circle around the sky at the same time keeping their eye on me. They had to be guarding something. I quickly decided to quit whining about the tough beach sand and get myself somewhere out of sight of their nesting home.

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After crawling across mountains of sand dunes, I finally came to a sign that said beach ahead. First I had to cross over a small boardwalk that loomed over algae-filled ponds. Once I got off the board, there was a single trail surrounded by leafless bushes that eventually led out to the beach. There’s something amazing about being the only person on the beach. For miles in both direction was nothing but sand, waves, seabirds and open air. I felt like I was the only person on the entire island and it was exhilarating.  The tide was low, so the seabirds were hard at work with feeding and bathing. I took off my hiking boots and dug my feet into the sand. I set up camp next to the group of seabirds. Very bad idea. The second I popped out a Lunchable to eat, every eye was on me. One brave bird landed two feet away from me, just waiting for the opportunity to strike. I quickly scarfed down my Lunchable, but that did no good. They were convinced I had more food somewhere and followed me down the beach.

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The last time I visited Cumberland Island, I saw two fawns that seem to have been abandoned by their mom. They remain hid in the large bamboo area out of site. They often came out together to play and eat but they never strayed far from the bamboo.

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Two fawns staying alert while remaining close to the bamboo, July 2017 

On my recent visit I wondered if the two I saw coming towards me were the same two I saw months ago. It would make sense, they don’t have many predators after them. The only threat are alligators. Visitors are not allowed to bring any hunting gear of any kind on the island.

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Two deer grazing, December 2017

Cumberland Island is still as wild and beautiful as I saw it the last time. There is much more island to explore. At first, I was nervous about the idea of camping on the island, but now it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. I can only imagine what it would look like after the sun goes down and the sky fills with stars, and the only sound you hear is the crashing of waves against a shore that has been untouched by man.

Booking.com: An App that Makes Sleeping Much Easier

I remember seeing the hilarious Booking.com commercial and thinking, “I should check this out.” It wasn’t until my mother and I needed a last minute hotel booking is when it really came in handy.
What is Booking.com?
Booking.com is a site where you can find, review, and book hotels anywhere in the world. You simply type in a location and you can view all the available rooms within a radius of your designation.
Why this app compared to others?
I don’t know about anyone else, but simple is always the best way to go, especially when traveling. The last thing anyone wants is to stress over where you’ll be laying your head down at night. That was always the issue with my mother and me when we traveled, especially finding something at last minute. Too tired to research hotels, we usually settle for whatever is open. BAD IDEA! We’ve ended up with rooms with roaches or fleas. With booking.com we can read reviews in an instant, and check out the star ratings so we can know exactly what we’re getting ourselves into. The downloadable app is super easy to use and book in minutes. When we get to the hotel we just pull up our confirmation and boom, sleep easy.
What is your fave feature in the app?
My all time favorite feature is the part where you get to be the reviewer. I can take my own photos of the building and the room, upload them and show them to others who are planning to use the room. I think this feature is the best because it shows the truth rather than looking at a modeled room with professional photography. Another fave feature is the live feed of the rooms, the hotel posts bounce and dance right before your eyes so you can see if a customer just reserved a room in real time. This gives you a chance to see update feeds on the vacancy of rooms instead of seeing ten rooms available one minute and two minutes later they’re all gone.
How to use it?
Download the awesome app, make a profile, fill in your information and begin your search to anywhere in the world.
App or Online?
I’d say either way you prefer is great. The app is just as simple as the website. The interface is bold and inspirational as if to invite you into the world of travel with comfort, easy, and less stress.

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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