By DJ Wilson
As a child, I fondly remember a family trip to Florida taken in our old white station wagon. I recall piling in with our luggage and family dog and heading south. We took a few memorable wrong turns along the way as there were no GPS systems, only our Dad to navigate an outdated map in the dark. The radio sounded crackly and dull. We managed to giggle at funny things we saw along the way. We stopped infrequently and drove through the night, as our dog made it impossible for us to stay any place suitable. We talked and giggled over Mad-Libs, and depended on dear old Dad to stay awake while we slept. Once we reached our destination, I was awakened by my Father. I rubbed my eyes and squealed at the sight of palm trees swaying. The sky was bright blue with white puffy clouds sailing overhead. When we drove past the orange groves, it was as if God sprayed the most glorious, delicious scent upon us. And so, my love affair with Florida began.
The southeastern State of Florida is a favorite travel destination for many people. Boasting an average daily temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and 60 degrees in the winter, Florida is a delightful place to visit. Attractions like Disney World, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, and SeaWorld draw millions upon millions of visitors each year. While these tourist attractions are pleasurable, I learned as a child, Florida has even more to offer. Well worth the long car ride from New York, Juniper Springs is a destination near and dear to my heart. Located in the southeastern part of Ocala National Forest, the sparkling spring water stays a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit year round and creates a perfect atmosphere for swimming and relaxing. In addition to the swimming area, there are picnic facilities and nature trails ready for exploration. Experience the hidden beauty of Florida firsthand by walking along the inviting pristine path. Take an adventure and rent a canoe to paddle along the 7 ½ mile canoe run through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness area. Abundant wildlife and numerous species of plants and birds native to the area can be observed in this beautiful recreation area. Reservations can be made for camping for those who wish to fully experience the beauty of the Ocala National Forest.
Florida is rich in history as well as beauty. Searching for the “Fountain of Youth”, explorer Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in 1513 and claimed it for Spain. Florida was held at different times by Spain and England, and France established a colony there, until Spain sold Florida to the United States in 1819. The 19th century was plagued with wars with the Seminole Indians, resulting in armed conflicts, a great loss of lives, and a financial loss costing over $20 million dollars. The Seminoles eventually surrendered and were removed westward. By 1858, there was a nominal end to hostilities. The story of the Seminole Indians does not stop there. It is estimated that 200 to 300 remained hidden in Florida’s swamps and emerged with the opening of trading posts in the late 19th century. The Seminoles adopted a constitutional form of government and currently work hard to maintain economic independence as they raise cattle, run citrus groves, and sustain their schools on the reservation through tourism and bingo. Today, tourists can catch a glimpse of life in a traditional village by visiting the Seminole Okalee Indian Village in Hollywood, Florida. Just a 15 minute ride from Fort Lauderdale, visitors can observe many aspects of life on the reservation, and watch live demonstrations of crafts such as woodworking and doll making. Fascinating not only from an historical point of view, visitors enjoy the deep water alligator wrestling and wildlife preservation shows. The Seminole Tribes enjoy performing traditional dance and music to share their history with non-Indians.
Many tourists enjoy spending their vacations at great amusement parks like Disney World, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, and SeaWorld. While entertaining, these parks are often crowded, noisy, and expensive. As a young passenger in that station wagon on the long road trip to Florida, I discovered there is much more to The Sunshine State than pricey theme parks and fast roller coasters. I experienced Florida’s splendor by inhaling the aroma of fresh oranges ripe for picking, walking with my parents on the nature trail at Juniper Springs, and splashing with my brothers and sisters in the glistening warm springs. I learned of times gone by as I observed the Seminoles. Make Florida your next exciting travel destination and experience the inner beauty and history of Florida via her hidden gems. Let your own love affair with Florida begin.