Yesterday’s bike ride and then the drive from Tallahassee to Ocala wore us both out. We decided that we would spend an extra day here in Ocala. After attending church at Ocala First Assembly we stocked up on lunch supplies and drove to a nearby county park. It was wonderfully peaceful there. After lunch we spread a blanket under a pine tree and rested there for most of the afternoon.
After leaving the county park there was still enough daylight to check out the nearby Silver River State Park. There were a couple of interesting trails that we walked on.
One trail led us down to the river, where we saw an alligator floating near the shore.
The alligator sighting was not that unusual because we have seen them before on our trips to Florida. On the other hand, the wildlife yesterday at Wakulla Springs was a special treat. There we saw our first manatees, up close and personal.
It was fun to watch them lazily float just under the surface of the water and then periodically surface for air with loud snorts.
Last evening just after sunset we crossed the border from Georgia into Florida. The day in Georgia had been quite enjoyable, as the weather had warmed up considerably. We spent several hours in Columbus, Georgia, where we rode our bikes on the River Walk Trail from downtown Columbus to Fort Benning.
For most of the 10 miles the trail parallels the Chattahoochee River.
One stop along the way at the Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center provided an opportunity for viewing nature exhibits, as well as a seat for me to enjoy the warm sunshine.
Last night we stayed in Tallahassee and found enough interesting activities that we decided to spend a second night here. The Florida Capitol building has an observation deck on the 22nd floor that gave us a bird’s eye view of the city at the start of our day.
We spent some time walking around downtown and then drove 12 miles south of town for an afternoon bike ride on the trail that was Florida’s first rail-trail.
We didn’t have enough time to ride all the way to the trail’s end at the town of St. Marks, where the St. Marks and Wakulla rivers come together before flowing into Apalachee Bay. We also didn’t have time to explore nearby Wakulla Springs State Park or Apalachicola National Forest. Have to leave something for another day!
Whew, I’m sure glad the cold front that brought freezing temperatures as far south as Florida is on its way out of here. The above picture was taken this afternoon in front of a fountain in Rome, Georgia. I bet there aren’t too many times when that fountain has ice in it.
By the time we had stopped in Rome for sightseeing the day had finally warmed up to 50 degrees. That was 15 degrees warmer than yesterday’s high. Monday when we were in Tennessee and looked at the weather forecasts we knew it wouldn’t do any good to hurry up and go south because the cold air was everywhere south. Not weather for walking around and certainly not weather for bike riding.
We did take a short walk today through the Chickamauga Battlefield after watching the educational video at the visitor’s center.
Because of the cold weather the last couple of days have been mostly cruising through Tennessee and Georgia seeing the sights from the warmth of our car. Having bright sunshine helps, too. Tonight we are in Lagrange, Georgia, about 60 miles southwest of Atlanta. We are hoping that tomorrow will be warm enough to ride our bikes. There is a bike path in Columbus, Georgia, about an hour south of here that sounds like a fun ride.
After that we should still have enough of the day left to get to Florida. Warmer weather, here we come.
4 states in one day! But we really didn’t drive many miles. I had never looked closely at the borders of these 4 states or noticed how they meet up around the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. It was a short 12-mile drive this morning from our motel in Charleston, Missouri, to the bridge across the Mississippi into Cairo, Illinois. Cairo is at the point of land formed by the “V” where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers come together. So it was a brief 10 minutes in Illinois before we found ourselves crossing another bridge, this time over the Ohio River into Kentucky. In Wickliffe, Kentucky, a 95-foot cross sits on top of a bluff that overlooks the 2 rivers and has a view into the 3 states.
The drive through Kentucky was a bit longer than the drive through Illinois, but not much. In about 30 minutes we crossed over the Kentucky/Tennessee border into Fulton, Tennessee. Our plan was to spend the night in Jackson, Tennessee, which was less than a 100 miles so we were in no big hurry. When it got to be close to lunch time we looked on the map to see if there was anything interesting nearby and noticed Big Cypress Tree State Park, not too far off the main road. We decided to check it out.
Although the map showed it as a state park, it’s actually just a natural area and a small one at that.
Since it was a holiday we weren’t even sure it would be open. But we just wanted a place to park the car and eat lunch so we drove in. It was too cold to get out of the car but nice sitting in the sun. There was only one other car in the parking lot and we observed a park ranger and a girl with him who was picking up trash. Soon the ranger came over to the car and handed us a park brochure. What a disappointment to read that the Big Cyprus Tree was no longer even there!
But the ranger told us that in 30-minutes he would be leading a walk through the park and explaining its history and features. We decided to stick around. It turned out to be a very educational hour and a half, as well as an enjoyable time chatting with the ranger, his daughter and the other 2 people who came out for the walk.
Tonight we are staying in Jackson, Tennessee, and will continue our journey through Tennessee tomorrow.
The last couple of days have been spent exploring central and southeastern Missouri as we slowly meander our way to Florida. We are thankful that the winter storms common in the midwest at this time of the year have not made an appearance, giving us the option of leisurely travel.
New Year’s Eve in Columbia, Missouri, promised to be a warm day and we had a couple of local options for bike riding. It was still quite chilly in the morning so we walked around a local park and public garden.
The city library was an interesting building and we went inside to have a look. We found a marvelous reading room on the top floor where the sunlight streamed in the windows. That gave us a pleasant hour reading and catching up on the newspapers.
We then decided to drive down to Jefferson City, the capital of Missouri. We wanted to explore the sights there and we figured by that time it would be warm enough to ride our bikes. We were impressed with the capitol building and especially liked the fact that all the streets were deserted due to the holidays.
After looking around the capitol area we got on the Jefferson City Greenway and had a nice 12-mile bike ride, skirting the edge of the city.
We finished the day by driving to Rolla, Missouri. No staying up late to ring in the new year for these 2 tired travelers. Fortunately, Rolla was a small enough town that there weren’t local revelers to disturb our sleep.
New Year’s Day started with an inspiring worship service and message from God’s Word at Rolla First Assembly of God church. We got back on the road after church but since it was close to lunch time we didn’t drive too far before we spotted an interesting park and decided to make it our stop to eat the lunch we had packed.
Maramec Springs Park has a waterfall at one end of the pond where the water comes from the spring.
I’d never seen a spring this big before. The brochure says “average daily flow of around a hundred million gallons of water, enough to fill about 26 bathtubs every second.” There are also several trout rearing ponds managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. The ponds were filled with rainbow and brown trout, some of them really huge.
The remainder of our New Year’s Day was spent enjoying the scenery as we drove southeast through the Missouri Ozarks, ending in the flat Mississippi delta region at Charleston, Missouri.
A job that I had a couple of years ago required some business travel to St. Louis, Missouri. On several occasions I combined business travel with a few days of personal leave, driving from St. Louis up to Iowa City to visit the Malloys before driving back to St.Louis to catch my flight home. That drive has very fond memories for me. It was hard to say goodbye to everyone this morning in Iowa City, but I was looking forward to once again being on the stretch of highway I remembered so well. And this time Lee would be along to share it with me.
Well, I thought I knew the stretch of highway, but just when you think you know something, you find out you don’t know as much as you thought you did. We didn’t even make it out of Iowa City before we found ourselves going in circles downtown trying to figure out how to get back on the highway. Lee had wanted to go by the post office to mail a letter before we left town. All the time over the years that I have spent in Iowa City I guess I never had occasion to go by the post office. And after we mailed the letter and turned down a street I was suddenly in a part of town I didn’t recognize. I managed to get a map up on my smart phone but I wasn’t smart enough to realize that we were pointed south, not north. That meant that when I was looking at an upcoming intersection on the map and deciding that the street we wanted was to the right I should have been telling Lee to turn left because the map orientation was pointing north, not south. Oh well, we finally made it back to the highway.
Rather than going on into St. Louis, our plan was to take a slight detour in Missouri and check out the town of Columbia, Missouri, as our overnight stop. We didn’t have a Missouri map, but on my drives from St. Louis to Iowa City my favorite place for a rest stop was the Hannibal, Missouri, Visitor Information Center. I knew they would have maps there, as well as the tourist brochures that Lee likes to collect. I told Lee to just keep straight on the highway all the way through the town of Hannibal and the visitor center was on the south edge of town. Couldn’t miss it.
But miss it we did. Or rather we simply couldn’t find it because we got lost trying to get through town. I wasn’t paying close attention when Lee said he saw a sign that said the visitor center was the next left. “Maybe they decided to make a new route around the main part of the town” was what I thought as he made the left turn. But before we knew it we were on an interstate crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois. We knew that couldn’t be right and found the next exit to turn around and go back into Hannibal, where our troubles were just beginning. Nothing looked familiar. This time the smart phone was not getting good coverage or there wasn’t good map data for Hannibal because I couldn’t get any street names to show up. We finally stopped at a gas station and I went inside to ask directions. But I gave up in frustration when I couldn’t get anyone to help me. Just about that time as we drove up the next block I saw a sign that got us back to the highway that we had come into town on. From there I knew I could get us to the visitor center.
After we saw that the visitor center was called the Missouri Welcome Center we realized that the sign for “visitor center” that Lee had seen was the visitor center for all the downtown tourist attractions of Hannibal. There are a lot of those because Hannibal, Missouri, is famous for its part in Mark Twain’s life and stories. So I did get to see a side of Hannibal that I hadn’t seen on any of my previous trips through there. Not to mention, that as we backtracked while still lost along the river, Lee took a notion to follow a sign up a road that promised a viewpoint of the town from the famous “Lover’s Leap”. We joked that Lee was lucky I didn’t shove him over the Lover’s Leap after all the frustrations of getting lost today.
One of the nice things about our casual method of travel is that we don’t have any planes to catch or schedules to meet so the length of time that it takes to get from one place to the next doesn’t really matter. We had some daylight left when we got to Columbia late this afternoon, but will have more time tomorrow to explore. Columbia, Missouri, is home to Missouri State University and has nice parks and bike trails to check out tomorrow, depending on the weather. After checking into our motel we walked through part of downtown before enjoying a delicious dinner at a Thai restaurant.
Look closely to see that this was my attempt to capture on film our Christmas Eve crossing of the Mississippi River from Illinois into Iowa. Weeks ago when I thought about all that needed to be done before we would be free to begin our adventure I had a hard time believing that we would be able to make it to Iowa for Christmas. To finally be getting there was a significant event. I also thought the picture had an interesting effect as it shows the shadow of our loaded car with bicycles on back reflected against the bridge’s guardrail.
Mike and I had an app loaded on our phones that allowed him to periodically check our progress as we made the drive from Ohio to Iowa. He had 4 anxious kids constantly asking when Grandma and Grandpa were going to get there.
I would have expected a very early Christmas morning with kids excited to see what Santa had brought them. But they didn’t get up until 7:00am. We enjoyed the exchange of gifts, which Mike tried to manage with some order. Of course, it didn’t take very long before wrapping paper was flying everywhere and joyful voices were shouting in excitement.
After celebrating the reason for the season with worship and the Word at First Assembly church, we enjoyed the unusually warm weather by taking the dogs for a walk on the Sycamore Greenway trail that is near Mike’s house.