Saturday, October 27, 2012

Wolf Branch Sink

Last Saturday I woke up and got the paper and my whole day changed because of a story on the front page. The Lake County Water Authority was allowing visits to Wolf Branch Sink, a natural phenomenon not seen every day around these parts. There is a small waterfall on the site, one of two in Lake County, according to the video on the Orlando Sentinel website. If you are familiar with Florida topography, you know how flat the state generally is and a waterfall, however small, was worth the 45 minute drive to Mt. Dora.

While Mt. Dora is far from mountainous, it is pretty hilly and I have spent many weekends walking up and down the hills during the antique extravaganzas at Renninigers. The turn-off for the sink was just south of the railroad bridge over 441, down a nondescript road that took you by both a brand new housing development and ancient orange groves. Upon entering the property it is apparent why this sink exists as the elevation drops severely and all the water from a 5-mile square area funnels to this spot.

A Water Authority employee at the site told me that due to the recent drought, this branch had been dry for the last 3 years. But a very wet summer, including a September where it seemed like it rained every day, gave new life to the creek and the waterfall. I was told that the waterfall was first observed to have been flowing about two and a half weeks before. They hoped it would continue through today as they were opening up the site for visitors again.

The water flows from wetlands in the area and collects into the small branch which flows downhill over the small waterfall down a tiny "ravine" to a sinkhole where it slowly flows back into the aquifer. In a way a sink is the opposite of a spring.

The sinkhole was pretty modest, and we weren't allowed to explore its rim. The waterfall was flowing less when I saw it than it was in the Sentinel video, but it was still a pretty interesting. I followed the paths back into the Preserve and followed the creek all the way back to the railroad tracks. Huge stands of palmettos guarded ancient live oaks. Beautyberry bushes were everywhere and I wondered if I might see bears eating their brightly colored purple berries. I had a lovely, quiet walk on the well-marked trails and when I came back to the sink, the place was overflowing with visitors. The road leading into the preserve was packed with cars and I had to dodge pedestrians on my way out. I guess the novelty of a waterfall was so unique that it brought out large numbers of observers. But I found it very hopeful that so many people cared about this rarity in nature. On this day I found another encouraging sign that people in this state care a great deal about the environment, despite the reckless manner in which their elected officials treat it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Daytona's Atomic Tunnel

I admit it, I love roadside attractions, in particular those of Florida's golden age of tourism.  The sunshine state has been home to many unique attractions that did not survive the age of the interstate like Six Gun Territory, Tom Gaskin's Cypress Tree Museum, the Great Masterpiece, Floridaland and more. Check out the Florida's Lost Tourist Attractions website for a good list.  One of the wackiest on the list has to be Atomic Tunnel which was located on U.S. 1 just south of Daytona near Port Orange.

The Atomic Tunnel was the brainchild of W.R. Johnson who turned his 1950s bomb shelter to use as a tourist trap according to a history on the Vintage Roadside website. My friends at VR have done a great deal of work researching the short-lived Volusia County attraction, even finding its original location, which is a good trick from the opposite site of the continent (they are based in Portland.) Jeff and Kelly of Vintage Roadside are committed to keeping stories of unique places place like the Atomic Tunnel alive so they don't vanish from our collective memories.

An early rendition of "Happy" the attraction's mascot

Here's some more of what they were able to find out about the Tunnel:
-The Atomic Tunnel was renamed the "Tunnel of Fantasy" and then the "Tropicolor Fantasy"
- In addition to featuring the attraction's mascot, "Happy" the Walking Fish, other attractions included Smokey the monkey, Mac the macaw, a man-eating piranha and dancing mice

Promotion from when the name was changed to the "Tunnel of Fantasy"

I've rocked Vintage Roadside's awesome homage to the Tunnel in the form of a great red T-shirt for a number of years. So when the opportunity came to team with Vintage Roadside on one of their creations,  a limited edition Atomic Tunnel shirt, I jumped at the chance. They create a quality product and are a first class operation. Every person that wears one will be keeping a bit of old Florida alive. And at the rapid rate the quaint and charming disappear from this state, preserving every little bit helps.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

My journey to the Fountain of Youth

I feel like I need to go to confession, even though I am not Catholic. Father, forgive me for I have not blogged in almost six weeks–I'd confess to my readers. But the reason is good–my Fountain of Youth project is going to be published and be included in a museum exhibit!

In past blogs I've revealed my obsession with Poncebilia, the Fountain of Youth, and Florida's springs. As I traveled to sites around the state, I began to see a narrative develop and my initial thought was to create an exhibit for the Orange County Regional History Center. So I started collecting ephemera and taking photos to support that exhibit. When it became apparent the exhibit space wasn't available at the History Center, I shifted my goals to a book. Originally I thought I would merely collect images, create an outline and hand it over to my friend Joy to write. But as the project came more into view, we decided that I really need to be the one to write it. So I soldiered on–collecting, photographing and writing whenever I had a free moment.

As I was working on the project, I got an email from an individual in Gainesville who was collecting images for a similar book about the Fountain of Youth. While I couldn't share my images, (because of my own project), I found that this individual was a kindred spirit and she introduced me to the work of Gainesville artist Margaret Tolbert and her Aquiferious facebook page. This opened up a whole new world and the book grew to not only include images and text about Florida's Fountains of Youth in the past, but also content about the current and future states of Florida's springs. That's how I learned about the proposed  project threatening Silver Springs. When the Save Silver Springs artwork I created caught the eye of nature photgrapher John Moran and his girlfriend Leslie Gamble, we collaborated on posters for a protest. I ran into John again at a Glen Springs clean-up in Gainesville and he wanted to learn more about my book project. After showing him the content for my book and my original exhibit proposal, he invited me to be part of an exhibit he was planning for 2013 at the Florida Museum of Natural History, then titled "Amnesia Springs." He also loved my book and sent an email to the publisher of his book "Journal of Light," University Press of Florida.

Photo by John Moran of me at Glen Springs
Poster I created with John Moran and Leslie Gamble at the Silver Springs protest

Weeks passed after that initial email introduction and I kept collecting materials for the book, and refining the text with the intent of self publishing. Then I received a call from the publisher expressing interest in my project. From that point on, events happened at a rapid pace. The text was finalized and sent to readers with a pdf of a preliminary layout. The manuscript was sent two experts on the subject, both of whom are authors of books on similar subjects, and they both gave glowing recommendations. The book was then submitted for approval by the editorial board. After the board gave thumbs up the project was rushed into production so it would be ready for spring of 2013 and the 500th anniversary of Ponce's landing in La Florida. The final manuscript was submitted, a contract was signed and I went to work on the layout, expanding it to 144 pages.

Before I finalized the layout I delivered a paper at the Society for Commercial Archeology's Conference in New Jersey titled: "Finding the Fountain of Youth: Florida's Magical Waters as Roadside Attraction." As I am a graphic designer by occupation, not a writer, the book is driven by the layout, and I was fortunate that the publisher allowed me design it. The final layout was submitted last week, and the book is now in the publisher's hands. I am currently waiting for edits, and in order to make our print date the book needs to go to the printer by December.

My goal with the book was to create something that would appeal to an audience that would not normally purchase a book about Florida history. Full of pop culture imagery, it is designed to be eye-catching and easily readable. It explores how the myth of the fountain of youth has become part of the branding of Florida and how our adoption of that paradigm has led Floridians to make choices that aren't necessarily the best for our state. In a way the book chronicles my own journey that started at the Fountain of Youth and grew into my desire to document Ponce de Leon imagery throughout the state, and culminated in recent trips to Florida's magical springs. At each step on this journey, I had no idea what the next step would be. I was committed to making the project happen, but I didn't know how. But I kept pressing onward.

So 2013 looks to be a big year for Ponce and me. The book should hit the shelves sometime around the 500th anniversary of Ponce's arrival and my part of the exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History should open in March. There is much work to be done, and there are many details that still need to be worked out. But I'll keep on taking one small step at a time, believing that somehow it is going to work out to be something fabulous and wonderful, and that it can make a real difference for our state in the end.