There’s More to Florida Than the Sand and the Sea

After a few weeks of exploring the panhandle, south Florida, and the Gulf Coast I’m now based on the Atlantic side of the state in Ormond-by-the-Sea, a quiet beach community just north of Daytona.

In sharp contrast to the “AirBnB from Heck” that I described in a prior post, this place is very nice; everything is sparkling new, clean and comfortable, so I happily settled in for my month long stay here. My two story apartment faces the beach, but requires me to walk across a two lane road, Florida’s A1A, in order to actually get to the sand and the surf, a terrible inconvenience that requires about two minutes of my time, but I am trying to be brave and I need the exercise. There is also a lovely swimming pool about 50 steps from my door, so for this water-loving boy, I am in the right place..

Unlike the blindingly white sands of the Panhandle and the Gulf Coast, the beach at Ormond is characterized by a variety of colors, but predominantly a brick red color that is the result of crushed coquina, a sedimentary rock composed mostly of shells. Evidently this is a rather new phenomenon; the red sand only started to accumulate here over the last 20 years or so. The change seems to be the result of changing currents, winter storms and the occasional hurricane and because the coquina sand is coarser, it does not compress easily. This has made it impossible for cars to drive on the beach here as they still do down in Daytona Beach. I have to say I’m grateful for this, as the beaches in Ormond are a world away from the busy parking lots of sand one finds in Daytona. However, I do notice that walking the shore here is a little more strenuous, as you sink into the wet red sand far more easily than with the harder packed tan stuff further south!

My first weekend here was idyllic. The temperatures were in the upper 80s, but there was a refreshing wind, yet the ocean was virtually without waves. It looked like one giant infinity pool, and made it ideal for floating to my heart’s content. As I entered the water the surface almost looked carbonated: the result of dozens of tiny fish excitedly leaping around, and as I floated around, a much larger fish or two would leap out of the water nearby. These guys were brave, as there were regular patrols of pelicans swooping across the surface of the water looking for their next meal. The weather stayed like this for three glorious days, and then, alas, things changed dramatically.

We had a “cold front” all week, and the temperatures never got above 74 degrees. Coupled with a stiff wind coming off the ocean, it was way to cold to even put a foot into the pool, while the ocean was a churning, angry, frothing mess, bearing no resemblance to the calm seas of a few days ago. Unable to venture into the ocean or the pool, I had to turn my sights inland and spent the week exploring some of Florida’s State Park treasures.

On Tuesday I drove about 20 miles north to visit Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, composed of a section of coastline decorated by a jumbled collection of coquina rocks, and the remains of a former estate along the Matanzas River, which preserves the formal gardens of the estate. I seemed to have missed the rose garden’s full bloom by a few weeks, but there were still a few late blooming roses of every color to give me an idea of what it must have looked like at its peak. There are quiet reflecting pools and fountains and trails down along the shore of the river, and it was nice to be surrounded by all the green.

I then ventured down to the windy beach and after a 10 minute hike, found the coquina rocks. Although it was high tide, I still got a good look at the formation and marveled at the myriad natural bridges, pools and mini-waterfalls to be discovered in the rocks.

Today after getting a pretty spiffy and reasonably priced haircut from Dan at Hi-Pointe Barber Shop in South Daytona, I headed southwest, inland toward Orlando, to check out Blue Spring State Park. I was glad that I purchased an annual Florida State Parks pass last month, as it has come in handy. Blue Spring is one of literally a thousand natural springs throughout the state, and the warm spring waters are a winter shelter for the state’s lumbering “sea cows”, the manatees, as well home to dozens of other animals. It is possible to swim, snorkel, dive, kayak, or use an inflatable ring to explore some areas of the spring, though there IS the slight possibility that a stray alligator could be sharing the water with you. Rangers patrol the area where swimming is allowed, not only to protect the swimmers, but to protect the occasional manatee from being harassed by the swimmers. Even though at this time of year the manatees have mostly headed out to the ocean, I was happily surprised to see a half dozen or so of them navigating the crystal clear waters.

For me, the mystery of Blue Spring is why they didn’t call it “Green Spring”, as my photos will illustrate! I enjoyed a two mile walk along shaded boardwalks scoping out the wildlife: frolicking manatees, turtles, various birds, squirrels, and the obligatory gator. Some folks I ran into showed me enviable photos they got of a gorgeous owl they just happened to spot in the brush beside the trail. I became worried about a large turtle that had crawled out onto a large branch jutting out from the springs and appeared to have gotten stuck on a knot in the branch, unable to reach anything solid with its legs. It made me laugh because I could imagine this wayward turtle thinking to itself, “How in the hell did I get myself into THIS position? Oh God, I hope none of my friends see me stuck out here; I’ll never hear the end of this!”  I actually pointed this situation out to a ranger who said that as the turtles try to bask in the sun, they do get themselves into some precarious positions. But he assured me that, “If he got out there, he’ll get himself back into the water eventually!”  I will be rooting for him!

After a beautiful couple of hours, I drove into nearby DeLand, Florida, a charming town with a main street filled with cute shops and outdoor eateries. I had lunch at De La Vega, a “Latin Fusion” tapas-oriented restaurant, where I dined on chicken empanadas, and pork arepas, slightly sweet corn cakes topped with pork, avocado, sun dried tomato and sour cream. It was some good stuff. After lunch I stopped at Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe, also in DeLand and got one of their pies, by some estimates the best Florida has to offer, to bring home. Earlier in the week I also enjoyed lunch at Zen Bistro in Daytona, which serves up colorful and flavorful Thai cuisine. There is no end to the interesting places to dine in this area and I have only scratched the surface.

This coming weekend, the heat will supposedly return, the winds will dissipate, and the seas will be calm once again, so hopefully I’ll be once again happily floating in the Atlantic, thinking fondly about all the wonderful memories I collected back on land this week.

2 thoughts on “There’s More to Florida Than the Sand and the Sea

  1. Glad there is no repetition of the rental from heck! You are able to capture such beauty in nature in your photos! A joy threadbare and see.


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