In the past month and a half I've left my base in Orange County and traveled through the following Florida Counties: Seminole, Volusia, Flagler, St. Johns, Osceola, Polk, Lake, Sumter, Marion, Alachua, Gilchrist, Dixie, Lafayette, Taylor, Jefferson, Wakulla, Leon, Madison, Suwannee, and Columbia. The more Florida I see, the more I want to see. It's a great state and not enough people living here realize that. And not enough people living here, do enough to preserve it.
• 20th century roadside resources are vanishing quickly from our state. Signs and motels my brother and I photographed just a couple years ago are gone or repainted. The places still open, appear to be hanging by a thread.
• The poorer the area, the greater the number of roadside resources. When there is money to renovate, remodel or rebuild it usually done. Many of the best surviving relics of the road are in some pretty tough areas.
• Florida's old attractions are fascinating. The places that appealed to folks driving in pre-interstate Florida are still pretty interesting. Some are literally time capsules, opening a window into an earlier time. Places like Bok Tower do a great job of embracing their past and looking towards the future. Others like Fountain of Youth and the Stephen Foster Memorial are so rooted to the past that they lack the political correctness of the 21st century. All of them, however, are worth a visit.
• There is often great artwork at some of these forgotten places. I've blogged previously about the New Deal era murals I've discovered in St. Augustine and Lake Wales. My latest discovery is two incredible paintings by famous illustrator Howard Chandler Christy in the museum at the Stephen Foster Memorial in White Springs Florida... who knew?
• History is around every corner. We discovered places we'd never heard of that played major roles in shaping our nation. San Marcos de Apalache or Fort St. Mark was such a place. We just stumbled across it in the little town of St. Mark and were quite impressed with the production values of the short film explaining it's remarkable history.
• Florida's little towns are gems. Places like Lake Wales, St. Marks, White Springs, Apalachicola, Micanopy, etc. are small but infinitely interesting. Perry seems worthy of more investigation. I can't wait to explore the museums of Tallahassee when I have more time (although it's not really a small town.)
• Sprawl is just downright ugly. The closer you get to the interstate, generally the uglier it gets. I'm sure there is an upside to Lake City. But the road we took was just awful.
• If you can take the blue roads- do! Interstates are for moving you fast from point A to point B as quickly as possible. But if the you believe that how you get from one point to the next is just as essential as getting there, take US 98, 27, or 441. You'll never know what you'll find.
• Floridians are blessed with an amazing state park system. They preserve history and nature and educate the masses about our state in a generally entertaining way. We visited 4 parks over Christmas and enjoyed them all. And thanks to the "Friends" organizations for taking special care of these places (Friends of Wakulla Springs for example.)
• The panhandle is the Deep South. Central Florida is about the least "Southern" place in Florida, aside from maybe South Florida. But there is a Southern twang in the panhandle and it's quite refreshing.
• The Big Bend area of the panhandle is gorgeous, but go there soon. While largely undeveloped, it appears to be sprouting up residential neighborhoods left and right just like the rest of Florida. At least St. Marks Wildlife Refuge is safe, what a treasure!
• I can't wait to see more. I can't wait to start exploring Miami's Art Deco and mid-century modern architecture. I'm anticipating visiting more of our old roadside attractions again (Weeki Wachee, Silver Springs, the Citrus Tower) and for the first time (Hall of Presidents, Potter's Wax Museum, Alligator Farm, etc.)
2009 is going to be a fantastic year, but I urge everyone to seize the opportunity to visit this great state because it's changing fast!