Festival of Lights and the Suwannee River

I love viewing Christmas Lights and one of my favorite displays is at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center in White Springs, Florida. We first stumbled upon the festival a few years ago when we stayed at the campground on our way south. This December we met friends there for a few days.

All the buildings were decorated for the holidays. Christmas music from the Carillon tower could be heard all around the park several times a day.

20181212-Museum-(1)
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center Museum

During the days we enjoyed exploring in and around the park. The weather was chilly and the Suwannee River was high.

20181211-Stephen-Foster-(8)
Suwannee River in White Springs, FL

We were able to explore the historic Spring House on the Suwannee River early in the week before the river level became too high to reach it.

20181211-Stephen-Foster-(10)
Spring House in White Springs, FL

The Suwannee River level kept rising all week. By the end of the week the Spring House was surrounded by water. The photos below illustrate just how high he river rose. On the left is the way it looked when we were there in February earlier this year, and on the right is the way it looked at the end of our stay in December.

One day we enjoyed a picnic under the oak trees after walking along a trail beside the river in Big Shoals State Park. The river was swift and so high we couldn’t see the shoals.

20181212-Big-Shoals-(3)
Big Shoals trail on the Suwannee River

One afternoon we stopped at the Carillon Tower to hear Jan play her Mountain Dulcimer and play the Steinway Grand Piano that was once owned by Andrew Carnegie. I’ve never heard a piano that sounded so beautiful.

20181213-White-Springs-(21)
This Steinway Grand Piano in the Carillon Tower was once owned by Andrew Carnegie

White Springs was once a thriving tourist destination with several hotels. A fire in 1911 destroyed all the hotels except for the Telford which is still standing. We took a walking tour of downtown White Springs and enjoyed seeing the historic buildings.

At night, the park came to life with the Christmas light displays.

We had a great week hanging out with our friends and exploring the park and White Springs.

I posted about our 2016 visit to the park at Way down upon the Suwanee River and our February, 2018 visit at Spring Flowers and the Suwannee River

Spring Flowers and the Suwannee River

It’s been two years since our last visit to Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs. During that stay we did a lot of exploring around the park, the town of White Springs, and nearby Big Shoals State Park. I posted about those adventures at  Way Down upon the Suwannee River.

We returned to the park this February. The carillon tower is a focal point in the park and one of my favorite things about being there is hearing the the bells from the carillon chime on the quarter hour and hearing Stephen Foster’s music throughout the day.  Unfortunately, the carillon wasn’t working this year.

20180225Stephen-Foster-Folk-Culture-Center-(37)
The carillon at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center

We didn’t visit the museum on this trip but there are interesting exhibits about Stephen Foster and his many songs.

20180226Stephen-Foster-Morning-(8)
Stephen Foster Museum

Even though it was only February there were some beautiful spring blooms. Gotta love Florida!

One day we took a drive to Suwanee River State Park near Live Oak to check it out. High on the banks above the Suwanee River, we enjoyed a walk on an easy trail to the confluence of the Suwanee and Withlacoochee Rivers. Beside the trail were relics from riverboats that once traveled up and down the river.

We enjoyed wonderful views from an overlook at the confluence of the two rivers.

20180226Suwanee-River-SP-(12)
Confluence of Suwanee and Withlacoochee Rivers
20180226Suwanee-River-SP-(17)
Bridges over the Suwanee River
20180226Suwanee-River-SP-(14)
Withlacoochee River

After our walk we sat on a wooden swing overlooking the Suwanee River enjoying a picnic lunch. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Historic Silver Springs

Tourists have been traveling to Silver Springs to see the crystal clear water since the early 1800’s. One of Florida’s first tourist attractions, the first glass bottom boat tours began in the late 1870’s. During the 1900’s the attraction grew to include a jungle cruise and animal exhibits.

Silver Springs was a popular filming location for Hollywood during the 1900’s. Some of the films shot there include several Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller, the 1954 version of Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Moonraker (a James Bond movie). It was also a location for the TV series Sea Hunt. Some of the sets still exist around the property.

In 1971, Silver Springs was named a National Natural Landmark. Today, Silver Springs State Park is owned and operated by the state of Florida. The state operates the famous glass bottom boats now but there are no more jungle cruises. Visitors can walk beside the springs or sit in one of the rocking chairs to enjoy the view. There are boardwalks and trails as well as a boat launch area with canoe and kayak rentals.

This is one of our favorite Florida state parks and we wanted to spend a few days there to unwind after the excitement of the Daytona 500. We were able to reserve our favorite campsite and I was glad to see it hadn’t change much. There was gopher tortoise hole right next to the campsite just like I remembered and the resident tortoise paid us a visit our first night.

20180220Gopher-Tortoise-Silver-Springs-(16)
Gopher Tortoise by our campsite at Silver Springs State Park

One day we drove over to the main entrance of the park for a ride on one of the famous glass bottom boats. Captain Oscar has been working at Silver Springs since the early 1960’s and had lots of interesting stories about the park.

20180221Silver-Springs-Glass-Bottom-Boat-(9)
Entering Florida’s Silver Springs park
20180221Silver-Springs-Glass-Bottom-Boat-(11)
Glass bottom boat at Silver Springs
20180221Silver-Springs-Glass-Bottom-Boat-(28)
Captain Oscar has been working at Silver Springs since the early 1960’s

After the boat tour we wandered around the path next to the springs before taking a walk on the boardwalk trail.

Another day we rented a kayak for a beautiful paddle on the Silver River.

20180222Kayaking-(17)
Kayaking the Silver River at Silver Springs
20180222Kayaking-(9)
Although there are no more jungle cruises, this fort built for the attraction is still standing
20180222Kayaking-(23)
Quiet and peaceful along the Silver River

I felt like I was in one of the old Tarzan movies as I walked along the river trail near the campground.

20180223River-Trail-(14)

20180223River-Trail-(18)

Back in the 1930s during the day of the Jungle Cruise boat ride, the operator of the ride brought in a group of wild rhesus monkeys to use as part of the attraction. Not knowing they could swim, he left them on one of the islands beside the Silver River. When he later returned to the island he was surprised to see they were gone. The monkeys are still living in the area and are often seen by visitors.

Although we didn’t see any of the monkeys on this visit, we saw many of them when we kayaked down the Silver River in 2009.

20090226Canoeing-with-Adam-and-Hannah-(9)
Wild Rhesus Monkey along the Silver River in 2009
20090226Canoeing-with-Adam-and-Hannah-(11)
We spotted this baby Rhesus Monkey beside the river in 2009. He must be all grown up now.

The monkeys can be very aggressive at times. All around the park are signs warning about the danger of feeding the monkeys. Now where else in the United States would you see a sign like this?

20180222Kayaking-(31)
Monkeys in Florida?

 

The Land of Trembling Earth

Okefenokee – “the Land of Trembling Earth”

What better way to begin our winter southern adventure than a stop in one of our favorite state parks, Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Much of the swamp is covered with thick peat deposits. The early Native Americans named the area Okefenokee which means “land of trembling earth” because  they felt the movement of the peat beneath their feet as they walked.

There were deer in the campground every day. One day we took a walk on the boardwalk nature trail near the marina and watched an egret searching for food.

The Okefenokee Swamp is one of North America’s most unspoiled natural wilderness areas. According to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge web page, “the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has 353,981 acres of National Wilderness Area within the refuge boundaries.

We always enjoy going out in a boat to explore the swamp. On our last visit we enjoyed our ranger guided boat tour so much we decided to go on another tour. While waiting for the tour to begin we wandered around the boat ramp and discovered Mama gator Sophie lounging by the ramp with some of her babies hanging out nearby.

As we rode through the man made canal into the swamp we spied more young gators on the bank enjoying the warm day.

20180214Okefenokee-Boat-Tour-(14)
Young alligators on the bank

A large gator checked us out as we exited the canal into the swamp.

20180214Okefenokee-Boat-Tour-(21)
Alligator in the Okefenokee

After a few days of cloudy skies and chilly days the sun was starting to warm things up. The warmer weather brought out plenty of  wildlife.

The water winds through ancient cypress trees and water lilies.

20180214Okefenokee-Boat-Tour-(71)
Beautiful day in the Okefenokee
20180214Okefenokee-Boat-Tour-(78)
Cypress Trees in the Okefenokee

 

 

Going Down into Tallulah Gorge

We were warned!

20171019Tallulah-Gorge-Suspension-Bridge-(3)
We were warned!

We went anyway.

20171019Tallulah-Gorge-Suspension-Bridge-(8)
Going down was the easy part

But only as far as the suspension bridge 80 feet above Hurricane Falls.

20171019Tallulah-Gorge-Suspension-Bridge-(10)
Suspension Bridge over Tallulah Gorge Hurricane Falls
20171019Tallulah-Gorge-Suspension-Bridge-(12)
Henry crossed to the other side of the gorge

With my fear of heights I could only go a few feet on the bridge. I did manage to see the top of Hurricane Falls.

20171019Tallulah-Gorge-Suspension-Bridge-(14)
View of Tallulah Gorge from the suspension bridge
20171019Tallulah-Gorge-Suspension-Bridge-(15)
Looking down on Hurricane Falls from the suspension bridge

I handed Henry the camera for some better pictures.

20171019Tallulah-Gorge-Suspension-Bridge-(21)
Looking down on Hurricane Falls from the suspension bridge
20171019Tallulah-Gorge-Suspension-Bridge-(25)
Looking down on Hurricane Falls from the suspension bridge

I took a picture of the falls from the stairs.

20171019Tallulah-Gorge-Suspension-Bridge-(36)
A view of the top of Hurricane Falls from the stairs

And one of Henry looking down from the bridge.

20171019Tallulah-Gorge-Suspension-Bridge-(45)
Henry on the suspension bridge above Hurricane Falls

We posed for a selfie before starting back up to the top.

20171019Tallulah-Gorge-Suspension-Bridge-Selfie-(1)
We were smiling before we started back up the stairs to the top
20171019Tallulah-Gorge-Suspension-Bridge-(46)
It’s time to go back up the 310 stairs

We made it back to the top after stopping at a few landings and resting on every bench.

20171019Tallulah-Gorge-Suspension-Bridge-(48)
I was finally able to capture some fall colors on top of the trail

Younger, braver, and more fit people can cross the bridge to the other side and go down 221 more stairs for a view of Hurricane Falls from the bottom. There is also access to the south rim trail on the other side of the bridge. For us, we are glad we made down and back all in one piece!