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.

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.”

Ink Art Gallery

O how I miss art studios, art galleries, art museums, and monthly art walks. COVID-19 drove everyone indoors and our social society had to find other ways to enjoy the arts. With America slowly opening back up again, we can finally (and safely) return to the places we love, like, art galleries.

My insanity jumped out of the window after days of being indoors. My iPhone recorded me spending more time on Pinterest than any other social media app. I couldn’t help myself. All I wanted to do every single day was make something from scratch. I developed an interest in building Fairy Gardens, creating vintage postcards from scratch,  pastel coloring, and even making soap. Now I’m trying to take on mixed media art journaling. I’m BORED, sue me!

I snuck out of the house to Fernandina for a taste of outdoors and window shopping. It felt good to be a couple miles in one direction from Fernandina Beach and a couple of miles in the other direction from the Fernandina Marina. A lot of the stores (and restaurants) were closed, but the art studios were open. Thank God! I usually go to Art on Centre, they display some of the best local art. Expensive, but well worth the price. I make sure to bring my Nikon on days when I visit.

This time though ,I fell upon Ink Art Gallery. It is a small studio with a few local artists who create and sell their works right on the main street. Along with selling watercolor and oil paintings, the gallery also takes part in selling items created by other locals. For example, they sell soaps, clay jewelry, bracelets, stones, sage, photography prints, candles, and other things all made by other creatives in the area.

IMG_8383IMG_8380IMG_8381

My favorite part is the boho-themed atmosphere. The colorful carpets, wooden chairs, the hanging greenhouse plants, bean-bag chairs, and the magnificent floral-garland wall. Of course, it’s something you would definitely see on Pinterest. I don’t know how I missed that.

IMG_8374

IMG_8377

I didn’t spend much time in the studio because I was running out of time to get a jump on beating traffic to get home. I can’t wait to revisit the gallery to take more photos of their beautiful workspace. Hopefully, COVID-19 will move on to another planet so that I can get back to immerse myself in the world of art once again.

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.

IMG_3055IMG_3054IMG_3056

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.

Antique Shops: Overpricing History

When I was younger, I was like most teens thinking that shopping in thrift stores was lame and for “poor folks.” My mother took me to my first one, and good God did I get hooked. I found things in there that I could never find on the shelves of stores in the mall. You can imagine what life became like for me when I visited my first antique shop. My first real antique shop was in North Georgia, headed to Talulah Gorge State Park. I spent nearly $100 in there. It was heaven on earth to be surrounded by artifacts of history. It didn’t take long for my love of antique shops to stop short. That pissed me off.

IMG_2564

IMG_2561

On my second visit to North Georgia, I tried to find the same antique shop I had found the first time. The prices were high for the items in the store. You could imagine my surprise when I found out that the store was shut down. The new owner of the store had bought the old inventory and jacked the prices sky-high. So now, instead of paying seventy-five cents per vintage postcard, I was kicking out nearly three dollars for each. What the hell? That’s a 300% increase in price!

I paid attention to other antique shops I visited and noticed the same ridiculous pricing. I understand that because an item is no longer in production or hasn’t been in production for years, but to slap an outrageous price on an item assuming that someone will pay any price for it is terrible business. The worst part is, most of the inventory in these shops aren’t antiques. They’re just items that maybe didn’t sell well through a company, for example, a tall lamp pole covered in different seashells (the most hideous thing I’ve ever seen). And for the love of God, if I see one more massive collection of Coke Cola glass bottles…

IMG_2563

IMG_2562

My visit today at a rather famous antique shop in North Florida nearly made me want to start a strike. The items were beyond overpriced. They wanted five dollars for vintage postcards, twenty dollars for supposed “Free-Trade African Seaglass” beaded necklaces, and $210 for a large wooden sailboat. Like, are you kidding me?

I love antiques with a passion because they tell the story of a time I never got to live through. Not only that, but they showcase the evolution of art and design. To be simply put, it’s history! These antique store clerks are the gatekeepers to new generations, discovering another time through these artifacts. It would only be fair if they priced each item by their value and not because they want to overprice because it sits merely inside of an antique shop.

IMG_2566

 

Water Lilies: Bloom as Old as Time… Literally

When I took a picture of a massive cluster of water lilies, I didn’t realize at the time that I was looking at one of the oldest plants on planet earth. How silly I feel for just simply snapping a cute photo of it and walking away as if it meant nothing. I’ve seen my share of water lilies but never took the time to admire their actual existence.

According to hardwaterlilies.net, the website states,

Water lilies are one of the oldest aquatic plants on this earth. Early lilies were huge in size with fossils showing lily pads up to four feet wide. As these plants evolved over several thousands of years they morphed to the size we see today. Evidence of water lilies have been found in european pre-ice age cave drawings and these drawings show the early types to have been of the same basic form that exists among hardy species today.

FOSSILS! Seriously? I realize that roaches are as old as dinosaurs as well so I shouldn’t be surprised to be around something that has survived all the changes the Earth has been through, but lilies are so peaceful and quiet. They just grow and bloom and float on the surface of still waters. That is all they have ever done.

 

DSCN0545
Somewhere  in Tallahassee, Florida

 

With the way the world is changing again (and not for the better) with the crisis of Global Warming and animals going extinct at a rapid pace, we are at high risk of losing these ancient gems just as fast. It may seem so minimal now, like who would miss a water lily? But, once it’s gone, it’s gone, and a Google Image search will be the only way future generations will ever know the prehistoric water lily ever existed.

Flying Solo and Happy

A lot of animals in nature hunt, travel and live in packs, flocks, herds, or schools. Usually, this a wonder that is meant for your DSLR camera, but I think to see an independent animal is fantastic. It’s almost symbolic of true independence. You leave the nest, and the rest of your life is dependant on you and your choices. Freedom.

I didn’t realize this until I visited Mandarin Park (for the umpteenth time) and I sat on a bench and watched a large white bird (still unsure of the name) take his precious time strolling along the bank of the pond. Naturally, I couldn’t tell his emotions as he may not have any, but he appeared so content with life. Not a worry in the world. He gazed at the semi-clear water and moved on. How nice it must be? His only concern in his world is predators and hunters. Besides that, he had all the time in the world to be… just him.

DSCN0354

I followed him as he continued to go around the pond. He was very cautious of my presence, but he kept on. His twig-like legs tiptoed through the grass. Every now and then he bent his body over and shoved his long beak into the soil to peck at whatever he caught sight of to nibble on. I admired his grace, his lightness.

He was the wonder to me. I thought of him long after I had gotten home. He never meant to set that example or become the symbol of absolute freedom and independence. He simply lived and became everything I wanted. On the ride home, I couldn’t help but wonder how could I distance myself from the things that feel like shackles. I want less worry, fewer clusters, less confinement. I want freedom. His freedom.

Sweet St. Mary

I don’t think I’ve given St. Mary Georgia the attention it deserved. I am so eager to get to Cumberland Island, I fail to see the small city for what it is. Granted, there isn’t really much to see unless you’re on the Atlantic coast. That seems to be the only place where you can get a slice of old world livelihood. The old style mansions with wrap-around porches and mom and pop shops. Anything beyond that and you run into Corporate America’s Popeye’s Chicken, Walmart, and Dollar General.

After a trip to Cumberland Island, I was in no real rush to go back to my home city Jacksonville, so I took a little tour of the front coast. I got to sit on outdoor swingsets that faced the marina. What a view. They had a lovely fountain at the center that people threw their lucky pennies into in hopes of making some form of a wish come true. A small white church further down the street had some famous burials in its backyard Cemetery. That creeped me out too much to go and check it out (sorry). There seemed to have been a bed and breakfast house on every corner. It must be a favorite thing in these cutesy small Georgia towns and cities. Lastly, was the marina itself which house a large ship with all the ropes and sails, and wooden planks just like from pirate films.

DSCN0002DSCN0006DSCN0011DSCN0010ship

I must say St. Mary may not have had much to show off, but it’s doing well enough to keep tourism high. (Despite being the port of entry for Cumberland Island). Hopefully, in the future, I will definitely give more time to St. Mary. If the citizens are willing to invest in its small economy, then so shall I.

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.

 

Falling-Creek-Falls-690x462

What I saw on Google. (FloridaHikes.com)

DSCN0393

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.

DSCN0376DSCN0384DSCN0389

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.