A Travellerspoint blog

February 2013

Soaring Through The Wild Blue

A Unique Exploration of a Florida Crown Jewel

semi-overcast 78 °F


I am soaring through the wild blue. Superman is envious of my perfect form. The landscape below is interesting. I pass over huge bowls of limestone, their bottoms flat and sandy. I speed up as I glide over the lip - a victim of physics. The grasses on the sides of the rock reach out and try to grab me as I hurl along inches above their emerald tips. Then I pass over another rim of different rocky bowl. It is as though I’m filming one of the dramatic aerial scenes with an I-Max camera. You know this scene: The camera soars along a rocky mountain range before narrowly skirting by several jagged peaks and over the valley far below. The effect leaves the viewer thinking they are truly flying, though they are sitting firmly in their seat.

I am NOT sitting in a seat. I AM flying! A surge of tingles erupts at the base of my neck spreading downward through my body to the tips of my toes. I forget about everything, and start a series of lazy barrel rolls. My face holds a wide madman’s grin. This is as good as it gets.

Suddenly, I realize I have done one barrel roll too many. My intake is clogging and my engine coughs at the sudden moisture build up. I thrust myself upward and break through the surface of the water with a choking gasp. I force the water through my snorkel with a gust of breath that clears the airway. I pause for a moment to ease my breathing and take in my surroundings.

I’m bobbing along the Rainbow River in central Florida. It may be the most beautiful river I have ever seen. I think this is because of my choice of exploration technique. Snorkeling a river is far more intimate than other modes - kayaking or canoeing cannot compare. You can look at a beautiful woman, or you can make love with her. Which would you rather do?

Snorkeling reveals the underwater realms in their awesome hidden splendor. Now, I realize not all rivers are equal. Many rivers have terrible visibility-a condition of their hydrology, surrounding lands, trees, and geology. This is not my problem today. The Rainbow River has superb water clarity. The limestone beneath the river filters the water before releasing it by hundreds of springs. The springs on the Rainbow move so much water through that the entire river purges itself every four hours. This is a watery dream.

The water is relatively warm, holding through the winter months at 72 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m wearing a thin wet suit, fins, snorkel and mask. I’m comfortable enough, though slowly getting chillier as the day goes on.

The river holds a steady one knot current. This doesn’t sound like much, but when soaring over those grassy rims of bedrock the flow enhances the feeling of weightless flying. I’m STILL grinning about it. This is a drift dive. This means the river current carries me downstream and I won’t be ending where I started.

The riverbed is beautiful. The main channel rises and falls. There are deep holes and shallow grass beds. I swim over steady sandy slopes and level bedrock. It is an interesting landscape unto itself. The swaying grass is mesmerizing. There are sunken logs and trees to explore, the hiding places for snails and turtles. The underwater springs percolate through the sand and bedrock, often changing my speed as I float over them. Some of the springs were large “caves” that I dove down to explore.

The wildlife under water is tolerant of me. I watch two different types of turtles. They held still for a minute before paddling off to hide in the dense grasses. One of them was a good-sized slider; its bright lines along its head and tail were very vibrant in the bluish clarity.

I love interacting with fish under the water. I didn’t bother them at all. To them, I was just a very strange ungainly fish (to be fair, I have no idea what a fish‘s opinion of me is). There are small schools of bluegills swimming around me. I wiggle the tip of my index finger at them. Sure enough, one of them stops, turns around, and looks at me face-to-face - mere inches apart. It slowly swims up and gives my finger a quick peck to see if it was edible. Realizing it isn’t, it swims off. I did this to other bluegills, and had two fish come up to me and peck me on the eye of my goggles. It was so cool!

I also saw a large gar in one of the deeper holes. The gar is an interesting looking fish with a long narrow crocodile like snout. It had beautiful one-inch spots on its body, to aid in camouflage and artistic delight.

The dive is over and I pass my gear up to the dive captain before climbing up the ladder. I sit down, dripping water, and shivering. I reflect on my day and smile.

One of my philosophical mantras is, “Go with the flow.” Well, today, I did just that.
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Posted by Rhombus 11:10 Archived in USA Tagged turtles snorkelling fish water rivers flying springs florida exploration Comments (2)

From Philadelphia to Washington D.C.

Walking in the Footsteps of History, Walking Through Philadelphia, An Amazing Three Days in Washington D.C.

sunny 40 °F

I have no interest in politics, but I have a keen interest in history. I’ve been walking in the footsteps of my forefathers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Washington D.C. In a historical sense, these two cities are among the most important to our country. Our chief revolutionaries met in Philadelphia to strategize the birth of our nation in the late 1700‘s. Their successors moved the whole kit and kaboodle to Washington D.C. in 1800 - the newly minted capital.

The Potpourri of Philadelphia
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I’m well into a seven-hour walk through the streets of Philadelphia. It’s a good day for walking. The sun is bright, gliding through wintry pale blue skies. It’s brisk and downright cold in the shadows. But I’m moving fast, and feeling warm in my woolen layers. I tuck into a coffee shop for a cup of warmth. It tastes amazing. I pull out my notebook and make a few notes about my day.
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In Philadelphia, it’s easy to get a sense of what the city looked like in the old days. Much of the old city is just as it was hundreds of years ago. The brick buildings have a colonial clean look to them. However, the tenants drive cars around the narrow cobblestone streets instead a horse and carriage.
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I’ve walked all around the old city following signs that point the way to historical landmarks. The signs are helpful. Many of the old locations in Philadelphia stand among modern businesses and buildings. So far, I have seen Betsy Ross’s quaint brick house. I peered through the wrought iron bars at Benjamin Franklin’s Grave. I paid my respects to the unknown revolutionaries buried in Washington‘s Square.
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My heart beat a little stronger as I walk around Independence Hall. I’m not sure if its patriotism or if I’m realizing that I’m walking in the same footsteps as Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and Hancock among many others. What is it like to overthrow a government and create your own? It must be an awesome feeling. On the one hand, you fervently believe your cause is just. Yet terrifying to think about what you are actually doing. At the time of the American Revolution, nobody had overthrown a government before.

Beyond that, I like Philadelphia’s trees. When combined with the deep shadows formed from the low angled winter light, they are beautiful.
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Three Days In Washington D.C.

I push open the front doors of Union Station and step out into Washington D.C. I’m not sure where I am. When I look out at the city, I see the U.S. capital building in the distance. I know the capital is south of where I am, and therefore, my hostel is west. I turn right and walk two hundred yards. Sure enough, there is Massachusetts Avenue right where it ought to be. I tighten the straps of my pack and walk on.

I check in at my hostel. I grab my pack and head out for the National Mall. It takes me 15 minutes to get down to mall. I only have three days to explore the mall. I know I cannot see it all, but I can explore several museums and monuments.
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I turn into Joe Tourist. I’ve never to Washington, and I aim to make the most of my visit. The first thing I see is the Washington monument. I’m impressed. It’s a cool monument.
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I walk along a straight path bordered by trees with birds singing in them. For some reason, I really like this trail. I think it is the warmth of the day. I’m happy to see the soggy green grass of the park. It reminds me of early spring. Where there are signs of spring, there is a sign of hope. And I’m digging my life.
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There is an impassive ranger standing against a pillar in Lincoln’s main chamber. He looks as though he is thoroughly sick of tourists and all that goes along with them. I can’t blame him, we tourists mob Lincoln’s statue as if it’s a celebrity. There is a sign at the top of the stairs that attempts to set a quiet, reflective mood when viewing Lincoln. Instead, the braying calls from camera toting tourists echoes throughout the main chamber.
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Lincoln is much bigger in person. He looks a bit haggard sitting on his throne, as if he had too much to drink the night before. I prefer the deserted side chambers that have two of Lincoln’s speeches etched into the wall. As a writer, I can admire the Gettysburg address for its succinct prose. It’s not easy to say so much with so few words.
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I like the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Wall. They are both moving in their own way, a reminder of the true cost of war: human lives.
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It grew dark and I find myself somewhere out in the middle of the mall. To the west, a brilliant sunset bloomed right behind the Washington monument. It’s the best sunset I’ve seen this year, and I can’t help but admire my timing.
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To the east, the capital building glows white against the darkening sky. It’s beautiful in its own right, but it doesn’t compare to sunset behind me. I turn around and watch the orange glow of the clouds fade as the monument grows brighter under the floodlights.
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The Museums
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I knew before I set foot in D.C. that I would never be able to see all of the museums given my limited time. I didn’t want to race through them in a mad attempt to see everything. I wanted to enjoy each museum for everything it was worth.

With that mindset, I’m going to mention the museums I visited, and which exhibits struck my fancy.

Smithsonian Museum of American History
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This was one of my favorite museums. I saw Horatio Jackson’s automobile. Jackson was the first person to cross America by auto long before there were any reliable roads. I saw Julia Child’s Kitchen (which would have made my mom happy). I saw the gold spike that marked the completion of the first continental railroad. I saw the 30 by 38-foot Star Spangled Banner that inspired Francis Scott Key’s poem.

Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian
I played an interactive Peon Game of the Kumeyaay tribe. I loved the song they sing while playing. I like the exhibit about the Mohawk ironworkers. I would like to learn more about the Tohono O’ odham people of the American southwest. There were dozens of beautiful hand crafted items with each exhibit. I am in awe of the craftsmanship and detail put into each piece.

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
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I saw Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” and The Wright Brothers “Flyer.” I really enjoyed World War I flying ace Ray Brooks’ story of facing eight Fokkers in a hellish dogfight. “It got to the point where I tried ramming the other planes, to see if I could knock them out of the sky.” I enjoyed the exhibit about Aircraft Carriers and I learned how fighter pilots launch and land their jets on a pitching deck of a ship at sea. I liked this museum more than I thought I would.

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
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By far my favorite display was the Nature Photography Contest Winners. The photographs were stunning. When I left, I wanted to get my camera and head out into the wild.

National Portrait Gallery, West Building
I didn’t give myself nearly enough time in this gallery. I stopped in for an hour as I had an hour to kill. This museum was full of gorgeous paintings, portraits, sculptures and the like. My favorite pieces are Thomas Cole’s “The Voyage of Life.” I could look at these paintings all day without tiring of them.

Smithsonian Museum of American Portraits
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This museum has later hours than most of the galleries on the mall. I stopped in after dinner for an hour to walk through the main level. One exhibit was about Amelia Earhart. The single piece that caught my eye was her pilot license. Her photograph is beautiful. I wonder why the government started using mug shots of people instead of a beautiful likeness such as this. My passport photo makes me look like a homicidal killer with social interaction problems.

This museum also featured large-scale sketches from contemporary artists. I love to sketch, but I’ve never showed much talent in my art. These pieces were mesmerizing. How can they draw the human form so accurately?

International Spy Museum
I love this museum. This museum is completely interactive, giving you the chance to spy on your fellow tourists. For example, I climbed through an air vent. The goal was to pass through without making any noise. It was simple enough, but it put me into a sneaky mindset for the rest of the museum. I loved listening to the stories about famous spy rings, and dangerous escapes. The museum was full of interesting gadgets and tools of the trade. Spies used many of these clever devices in the field during World War II and the cold war. They seem clumsy to use by today’s standards, but cutting edge back in 1944.

I could have spent all day in this museum alone, but alas, I had to go.

I didn’t spend nearly enough time in Washington D.C. Three days is not enough. If I was planning a trip to D.C. I would plan to spend at least a week if I could spare the time. There is so much to do and see. I only scratched the surface with my visit.

Like MacArthur, I shall return.

Next week? Florida!

Posted by Rhombus 21:32 Archived in USA Tagged museums cities walking history monuments photography americana philadelphia Comments (2)

The New York City Sessions

Photographs From a Week in the New York City Area

overcast 33 °F

The New York City Sessions


New York has been good to me. I’ve spent this past week exploring the city and surrounding lands. I’ve seen a lot, and have collected a healthy stock of images that I want to share with you.

Fire Island
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New York City in Pictures

The city is more approachable than I thought it would be. I love walking through New York. I can see why there are photographers who spend their entire careers here. Every street is different. Every street carries its own vibe.

Walking in Manhattan is like exploring a massive canyon system full of interweaving maze of steep U shaped valleys. Instead of a river, there are the streets, teaming with cars and people like water over rocks.

The lighting is beautiful. It changes throughout the day and time of year. The light bounces off the side of the wall of tall buildings and glass.
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Street Scenes
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Central Park
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The Brooklyn Bridge
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I really wanted to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I read about its construction in David McCullough’s book, “The Great Bridge” some years ago and wanted to see it for myself.
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I started out on the Brooklyn side. I wanted to get some perspective from Brooklyn Bridge Park. From here, I could see both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge. The park was deserted, my friend and I the only ones brave enough to face the chilly winter air. I didn’t mind. I love deserted parks.

To walk the promenade across the bridge is to walk across history. The story of this bridge is fascinating. John Roebling designed it, then died from having his foot crushed on site. His son Washington took over, but was disabled and bed ridden by Caisson disease. His wife Emily became his eyes, ears for the project, directing the workers and engineers with written orders from Washington. The bridge was complete in 1883, and has been the link between Brooklyn and Manhattan ever since.
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The New Paltz Old Cemetery
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I found this cemetery walking through the town of New Paltz, NY. The side light of a wintry mid winter afternoon lit the old headstones beautifully. I enjoy walking through old cemeteries. They are peaceful, a good place to reflect.
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I may never make it back here again. However, it won't be from lack of trying. New York is amazing, and if you get an opportunity, go. Spend a couple days walking around Manhattan and Brooklyn. Spend some time in Central Park. Take a bite of the Big Apple, I think you'll find it delicious.
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I know I did.

Posted by Rhombus 16:56 Archived in USA Tagged bridges parks streets rivers walking newyork manhattan photography brooklyn cemeteries Comments (0)

A Day In Chicago

The Pleasures of Sleeping In, The Chicago Institute of Art, Reflecting at Millennium Park, Miller's Pub, Business, and a Long Walk Home

rain 64 °F


It’s funny how most of my adventures begin by sleeping well past my alarm. A rare January thunderstorm rolled through last night, and I took time to appreciate it from the comfort of my bed. When my alarm went off at 6:30 a.m, I didn’t want to get up. I decided to catch the 8:40 am train to Chicago instead of an earlier one. I reset my alarm, and happily dozed off.

Moments later, my nieces started up their daily morning ruckus-not happy at all about having to go to school. Sleeping in is that much sweeter when your housemates have to get up while you lie in about in warm drowsy comfort.

An hour and a half later, my sister came into the room to inform me that, “It’s probably going to rain all day in Chicago, tomorrow is another day.”

She woke me out off a sound sleep. I grunted, and then sleepily told her, “I’ll think about it.” She left, and I wondered why I said that. I’ve learned that if I respond politely to people waking me up, they will go away. I looked at my clock and saw that I had failed to turn my alarm on after I had reset it. I was going to have to get up and get moving if I wanted to catch my train.

I ate a quick breakfast. My sister dropped me off at the train station, and I stepped aboard the Metra north line bound for Chicago.

I took a relaxed approach to Chicago. I walked east to the Chicago Institute of Art. I paid my admission and started wandering through paintings, photographs, statues, armor, antique furniture and the like.
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I enjoy a good piece of art.

I started to get weary and drowsy. This always happens when I visit a museum. Museums strictly regulate the air as not to disturb the paint. I’m a guy who thrives on fresh air, and museum air saps my will to remain upright. I decided to get some fresh air before I became an exhibit called, “Comatose Man on the Floor.”
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The cool air of Chicago revived me. I walked a short block north to Millennium Park. I sat down on a strategically placed bench near the buildings of changing faces.
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I walked across the park to “The Bean,” less commonly known as the “Cloud Gate.” I love the bean. Everyone loves the bean. It’s a great piece of art that brings a smile to the face. I doubt anyone ever walked up to the bean, and said, “I hate this thing.“ Instead, people walk up to it, grab their camera, strike a pose, and snap a picture. I’m no different.
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It was time to eat. I walked a block and a half to Miller’s Pub. I did my research the night before. I found this pub not only convenient and decently rated, but it had a great name. I kept it simple. I ate a great burger with two Dead Guy Ales.

Satiated, I went in search of a cup of coffee. On Jackson St. I stopped at Intelligencia Coffee Brewers. I ordered a medium roast and sat down at a table. I pulled my book out of my pack and began to read. I overheard the other patrons talking about business. I hate business. Business is designed to keep you busy for the wrong reasons. I peeked over my pages and saw that I was the only one reading a book. I try to lead by quiet example. Coffee tastes better with a book in hand.
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I finished my time in Chicago by walking through Union Station. It was a reconnaissance mission. I wanted to see the layout of the Amtrak station before I arrived there two days later to catch the train to New York City. It was a straightforward layout and I passed through to the west entrance. I walked outside and found these giant columns. I love symmetry.

I was satisfied with my day. Chicago is a great day trip. I boarded my train and listened to music until I arrived in Kenosha. “It was a dark and stormy night,” (to steal Snoopy’s line). I decided to walk home. It was a long walk in the rainy gloom. I passed by a cemetery, and I was struck by the darkness of the scene. It became my closing photograph.
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That’s all from the Midwest for now. I’m off to New York City.

Posted by Rhombus 07:17 Archived in USA Tagged art parks cities walking restaurants chicago museum sleep coffee Comments (1)

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