March 31 – April 6
For our final day in Tallahassee we again opted to just be tourists, particularly as we’d received numerous recommendations to visit Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, often just referred to as Wakulla Springs. Set inside the State Park, the spring is one of the largest in the world, discharging an average of 260 million gallons of water per day. The spring pool is an impressive 315 feet in diameter, and the huge that feeds it vent is about 82 feet wide, 50 feet high, and 185 feet deep.
We drove to the park and left the car in a lot on the edge of a picnic area adjacent to the Wakulla Springs Lodge, built in 1937 by financier Edward Ball, who discovered the area in the 1920s, while touring Florida’s panhandle looking for land to purchase to grow pulpwood. The Lodge, with its 27 rooms, restaurant, and the world’s longest known marble bar at 70 feet 3 inches in the Soda Fountain/Gift Shop operates to this day.
As recommended to us, we made a beeline to the ticket booth to get our seats on the boat tour, a forty-minute three-mile cruise down the river and back for just $8 per person. One option that is sometimes available is to take out a glass bottom boat, but the recent rains had churned up sediment and those boats weren’t running. The Wakulla River is home to a remarkable variety of wildlife, including alligators, turtles and many types of birds.
It was a perfect day to be out on the river with an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. We spotted gators swimming, sunning and just generally hanging out, a treat for Joanna, who had been on the hunt for them since we camped in Mobile earlier in the week. As we completed the tour and cruised back to the dock, circling the spring pool, we watched folks taking turns jumping off the diving tower into the 70-degree water, an exhilarating rush for them I’m sure.
After docking, we walked over to the lodge to check out its interior, browsed the gift shop, examined out Old Joe, the eleven foot stuffed alligator, and shared a pretty good ice cream cone from the snack bar. With a bit more time on our hands we took a short hike on the nature trail, which leads through southern hardwood forests and maple-cypress habitats.
The first half-mile of the trail has tree identification markers, affording us the opportunity to put a name to many of the trees we recognized. Along the way we encountered a snoozing snake, giving it a wide berth.
Finished with the hike and feeling that we’d done as much was we wanted to that day, we drove back to camp, stopping at a Winn-Dixie on the way to pick up some pasta, a jar of red sauce and some fresh vegetables for one of our camp food standbys for dinner, a primavera washed down with some red wine. We’d head east the next day for a return visit Fernandina Beach to visit my Uncle Dale, cousin Debbie, her husband Marshall, and the rest of the family.
We’d visited there last year and found the opportunity to connect with my Mom’s side of the family irresistible. As with our last stay, Debbie and Marshall’s daughter, Misty, her husband Jeremy and their blended family of five children have been living at the house, making for an often chaotic environment that at first makes you wonder how you will manage to last the visit.
Before you know it though the noise and confusion, the routine squabbling of siblings is offset by the joy of being in the midst of so much life, energy bursting at the seams. My Uncle Dale, a few years past ninety, is a wonder and any time we get to spend with him is a link to the history of our family and those many members now long gone. We spent an hour or so listening to his WWII experience as a bomber gunner in the South Pacific, a moment in his life that defined him as it did for so many others of his generation.
By the end of our second day it was as if we’d lived there with them for some time, blending seamlessly into the routine of each day. Sometime in the near future Misty and Jeremy will move to their own place again and the house will fall quiet, at first a relief to have it back and then I’m guessing the crazy positive energy will be missed. Culturally we don’t embrace the concept of multi-generations in the household; it’s at times like these when I think we are missing out on something, the value received from having three generations under the same roof.
The drive home on Wednesday went smoothly, with a stop at a Denny’s for breakfast, another better than anticipated meal. As we pulled in the driveway we silently hoped that nothing would be leaking from the garage or falling off of the roof, our welcome home presents of the past year or so. All was good though and we celebrated another successful short trip, full of friends, food, sights, and fun. There would be more in the coming spring. Stay tuned for those adventures.
Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wakulla_Springs