Make us your home page
Instagram

Column: A few of my favorite surprising Florida experiences

Did you know that this was in Florida? The caves at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna are 38 million years old according to park rangers.

SCOTT KEELER | Times (2010)

Did you know that this was in Florida? The caves at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna are 38 million years old according to park rangers.

I'm from what you might call "real Florida," being several generations native to a wooded little town called Yulee along the Georgia border. My family has been in the area since the 1780s, when it was Spanish territory.

So you can imagine that my favorite parts of the state are those beyond Disney World and beyond even the beaches we all know and love. My favorites are the pockets of wild ripe for exploration, like the ones outdoors editor Terry Tomalin brings you every week in the Take It Outside Planner.

The best are the ones that come as a surprise.

On a recent spring break, when students from around the country invaded beaches from Miami to Panama City, you could find me and my sister sweating nights out in a Miccosukee chickee — a raised-floor, thatch-roof hut similar at least in theory to the ones Terry describes in this week's planner. We weren't paddling the Wilderness Waterway (I'm a much less experienced kayaker/hiker/alligator wrangler), but we were in the 'Glades. On the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in particular at a little spot called Billie Swamp Safari, a former hunting ground turned animal preserve with the ordinary (alligators, hogs) and the extraordinary (a very curious ostrich, water buffalo).

Speaking of surprises, we had to fend off an assault on our chickee from a particularly determined raccoon. It was an adventurous spring break I'll never forget.

Here are a few more of my favorite surprising Florida experiences:

Florida Caverns State Park: Fun fact: Florida has caverns! This state park in the Panhandle town of Marianna looks ordinary enough from above, but underneath lurks a series of amazing limestone structures.

Also something you wouldn't expect to find: waterfalls. About 30 minutes from the Marianna caverns, don't miss Florida's tallest waterfall at Falling Waters State Park. The topography is mottled with sinkholes, including one 20 feet wide and 100 feet deep that water tumbles into. Yes, the state's tallest waterfall is a sinkhole. That's so Florida.

River tubing: Any true Floridian knows floating down the Ichetucknee or Rainbow rivers is hands-down better than going to a water park. And if you've been, you know the biggest surprise is jumping into the chilly, spring-fed water. Once you get over the shock, all there is to do is kick back, relax and enjoy the ride through nature.

That's one of my favorite things about Florida's wild surprises: You don't always have to be super adventurous to enjoy them. Billie Swamp Safari is about 20 miles off Alligator Alley, so stop off sometime en route to Miami. Florida Caverns and Falling Waters state parks are each less than 10 miles from I-10. Sometimes, you just have to know where to look.

 

Column: A few of my favorite surprising Florida experiences 10/21/15 [Last modified: Monday, October 26, 2015 7:43am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 10 things to do in Tampa Bay for Aug. 24

    Events

    Lalah Hathaway: A Grammy Award-winning jazz and soul singer. 8 p.m., Tampa Theatre, 711 Franklin St., Tampa. $34.50-$69.50. (813) 274-8982.

    HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 03:  Recording artist Lalah Hathaway performs onstage during the BET Presents Super Bowl Gospel Celebration at Lakewood Church on February 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for BET)
  2. How to make a Strawberry Banana Smoothie

    Cooking

    Don't enjoy breakfast but need to get something in your stomach? Cranky around 3 p.m. and need a jolt of energy? Have trouble getting your daily recommended fruit servings? This smoothie is the cure for all of that and more. It's become my morning go-to. The secret ingredient here is kefir, a probiotic product that's …

    Strawberry Banana Smoothie. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times food editor.
  3. Hernando Events for Aug. 25-31

    Events

    25 Friday

    Free Zika training: Presented by the Hernando Computer Club, the training is for those who wish to assist in the effort to find a cure for the Zika virus. Club members are volunteers for World Community Grid and are donating their devices' spare computing power to help scientists find a …

  4. Robert Pattinson is better than 'Twilight.' 'Good Time' proves it

    Movies

    INDIE FLICKS:

    GOOD TIME

    Don't judge actors by the books they cover on screen. It appears truer with each performance that two of our finest got their starts with the Twilight franchise.

    Robert Pattinson hooks viewers in Good Time, an inventive crime story.
  5. In 'George and Ruth,' letters unearth revolution and romance amid Spanish Civil War

    Stage

    In 1936, Spanish nationalists led by Gen. Francisco Franco staged a successful revolt against a democratically elected leftist government, beginning the Spanish Civil War. Para-military socialist and communist forces of the International Brigades rallied to help the government in a losing cause. Among them was …

    The versatile Whitney James headlines Whitney James: Guitar Hero With Dan Heck and LaRue Nickelson on Saturday, Aug. 26, at the Palladium in St. Petersburg.