Friday Faves: Florida’s hidden gems

Freedom-loving Americans are looking at my home state of Florida in a different light these days. Following the actual science shows that the current levels of restriction, economic hardship and suppression of liberties may not be warranted by the current health crisis. As a result, states like Florida and Texas are being viewed as potential havens by people who want to resume living semi-normal lives.

People often view Florida as a place with a dull, flat landscape and oppressive heat that they are willing to endure for the freedom of being ale to live as they please. I don’t blame them for believing this. We’ve been relegated in the minds of most America to three things: Mickey Mouse, Daytona Beach, and Florida Man, none of which are particularly endearing characteristics. True, it is very hot here six months of the year, and the landscape is void of mountains. However, it’s also a balmy 78 throughout most of the winter.

A little known reality about the state of Florida is that our landscape is anything but dull. There is a reason why the Spaniards named this place “the land of flowers”, and it’s not because of an ugly, lifeless landscape. Of course, to experience it you have to exit the interstates and wander off the beaten path, something few tourists bother to do. I’d never bothered to do it, which is why I was approaching middle age before I realized the wealth of natural beauty surrounding me for my entire life.

One development of the initial lock down is that as our church stopped meetings, we began exploring creation and Florida’s natural beauty most every Sunday. Using sites such as Florida Hikes and others, we have walked hundreds of miles of some of the most beautiful hidden gems of terrain on the Florida peninsula.

We’ve gone to beaches that make Daytona Beach look like a dump by comparison. We’ve been reminded that vast swaths of Florida are still quite rural, that cattle country in alive and well down here (learn here that Florida, not Texas, has the oldest U.S. cattle ranching history), and that our spicy varieties of life reveal tourist traps for the plastic fakery they are. There are times when artificially generated fun is enjoyable, but the equating of my home state with artificially generated fun is to miss the reality that God’s fingerprints are here as much as they are anywhere else.

This week, I decided to share some things most people would never consider when asked what they know about Florida. Some of these are places we’ve explored in recent years, and others are on our list of places to visit some time in 2021. First up is cattle country.

We visited Lake Okeechobee area last year, and the scenic beauty of the ecosystem was breathtaking. It’s also one of the biggest cattle ranching areas in the state. The following two photos are from Trip Advisor, but they mirror very closely the things we saw while we were there.

Southwest Florida, besides being friendlier and even more freer than the mostly free rest of the state, is the home of one the thing I’ve enjoyed most as we’ve toured Florida off the beaten path. The Edison-Ford Estate, where Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone spent winters working 100 years ago is a wonderful place to explore. The gardens, the labs, and the old architecture is worth a visit. And the southwest beaches, trails and parks are nice also.

From my amateur photo collection
from my amateur photo collection
Statue of Edison. Cool or Creepy? I like it!
Lil’ Old me down at the base of a massive Kapok tree on the estate.

Up further north from the Southwest corner of the state are a few quaint towns along beautiful lakes and riverbeds.

Most of the beaches down here are what you expect from Florida. Pretty flat sand dunes, but I really enjoy them anyway. However, not all of our beaches are without individual character:

There is one more place our family is making plans to visit on the not too distant future: The Florida Caverns State Park. Yes. You read that right; Florida Caverns. They have a campground there as well, and we plan to make good use of it when we visit.

Photo credit
Photo credit

I could dig through my photos from the past year and post more, but I’ll not bore you. Wineries, hills, Bok Tower Gardens, and countless other state parks, landmarks and natural wonders. We’re a lot more down here than Mickey Mouse and a state where you are still free to go to the gym or out to eat.

But it helps if you know where to look.

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