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Florida in April

By Susan Van Arsdale

Published May 25 in The Burg

I questioned our decision to go to Florida in April, but it turned out to be the perfect time. I was afraid of missing Illinois spring, but it snowed in Illinois that week in April, while we were on a sunny beach in Tampa Bay. It turned out to be a great week to be in Florida.

It is a long way to drive, even to the northern part of Florida, so we stopped for the night just southeast of Nashville in Manchester, Tennessee. I googled where we were and found a place near our hotel called Old Stone Fort State Park, a small park with Native American history, beautiful waterfalls and a short trail. It made a great place to relax before heading out to the traffic of Chattanooga, Atlanta and Florida.

Lots of people go to Florida to golf. We went for baseball! One of our specific goals was to find Tropicana Field where the Tampa Bay Rays play. It turned out the White Sox were there the same weekend we were. The game was terrible, but the stadium was pretty neat. It is a dome so it didn’t matter whether it was too hot or too cold or too rainy. Their point of interest was a sting ray pool where we could actually reach in and touch live sting rays!

Everyone who goes to Florida visits at least one beach, so of course we did that, too. There were a few brave souls “swimming,” but in April the water was still pretty cool. The sand and sun however, were wonderful. I recommend Treasure Island beach near Tampa Bay. We went after the ball game and watched the sunset on the Gulf. Beautiful.

We also checked out Destin, Florida. Our hotel was right across the street from the beach, but we found huge hotels between ours and the beach. They roped off their beaches so we could not access the beach at all. We had to walk several blocks to a very small public strip of beach. I believe there was a larger public beach a couple miles away, but I was disappointed that the hotels had closed their beach front property. We did walk in the sand with the waves washing over our feet, but I felt like we were trespassing on a beach no one was using. Bummer.

A less well known beach was on Santa Rosa Island across the bay from Pensacola. There was supposed to be a fort at the tip of the island. We drove a long way on that island with dunes and beaches, sand and water on both sides of the road, but we finally found Fort Pickens.

Fort Pickens was built in the 1800’s to protect the US. It later became a stronghold for the Union, surrounded by Confederate states, during the Civil War. Interesting history. An extra plus for us was that the Blue Angels were practicing for a show the next day. We got to watch them from the top of one of the old bunkers.

On our way home we decided to try driving the Natchez Trace from Baton Rouge to Nashville. It was supposed to be this leisurely drive (the speed limit is 50 mph) with lots of historical stops. We got pretty lost a couple times, which was not relaxing, but we did find some interesting things to stop and see.

We found some Indian Mounds, a beautiful lake, the actual trail that the hunters and traders used 200 years ago, and of course, Elvis Presley’s birth place in Tupelo. We also branched off to Vicksburg for a battlefield tour.

However, my favorite spot of the entire trip was the Cyprus Swamp area on the Trace. The huge Cyprus trees grow right out of the water. A wooden bridge let us walk around the area where we saw several turtles sunning themselves. Then a man said, “Did you see the alligator?” Of course we had missed him, but we walked the trail again and finally found him, sunning himself with the turtles. It was so peaceful and pretty. The sun was shining through the trees and the reflections were amazing. And…there was an alligator.

We saw so many things and learned so much. I even ate some alligator! Maybe baseball isn’t your thing, but there is so much to do. We hiked, we saw manatees, we visited family, we found an interesting church. We had fun in Florida in April. Try it next spring!

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