There they were, walking up to greet me as I stood with my extraordinarily heavy pack looking around for them at the Deland train station. Uncle Carl and Aunt Nettie looked great, like they always do, and once all my baggage was stowed in the trunk of their car, they announced they were taking me to Ponce De Leon Springs for a make-it-yourself pancake breakfast! That sounded fabulous, and as we pulled into the State Park I was astounded to see that it was the very place I had spied from the train window on my trip to Deland (just a few miles before getting off the train) that I had said to myself “Gee, I’d really like to see that State Park” – and now here we were! I was astounded at how my wish had come so quickly true!
The Ponce de Leon State Park contains the very spring that Ponce de Leon considered to be the Fountain of Youth. We put our name in on the pancake breakfast waiting list (45 minutes wait!!) and strolled the grounds and spring area. After about 20 minutes we decided we would go somewhere else for breakfast, and left to dine at a Friendly’s where meals were served much more quickly.
From there they took me to Blue Springs State Park which is off the St. Johns River. The spring pumps out over 100 million gallons of spring water a day, which is enormous, and it is crystal clear and heavily mineralized with calcium, magnesium and another mineral which is temporarily escaping my memory . The park is very well maintained and has a walkway all the way along the water up to the source of the springs, along which you can see Manatees swimming, eating, playing, assisting the young ones to the surface to breathe – it was a treasure to behold! They are exceedingly large, very docile creatures. You could see that some of them had been clipped by the propellers of boats. The white scars on their backs were testaments to the problems posed by uncovered propellers on these gentle mammals.
The spring’s source is a deep gash in the ground were the almost oxygen-free water gushes up from deep below the surface. I was surprised to learn that Florida has more springs than any other State in the Union, and that Manatees are found only here. Their numbers have risen from 14 individuals in the mid-1970’s to almost 200 in 2005, which is an excellent sign of recovery but still not significant enough numbers to rule them out of the woods from being in danger of extinction. They require warm water to live in, and during the winters as water in the rivers and oceans cool, they head up river into the Blue Spring area where the waters are a constant 73 degrees year-round.
Uncle drove us back to their home in Leesburg, and we went to dinner at their dining room/restaurant downstairs. We had a shrimp salad dinner that was delicious, and retired to their apartment to watch a charming old movie in black and white starring Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald about San Francisco during the famous earthquake. Clark Gable goes from “bad boy” to “repentant good boy” and Jeanette sings like a beautiful bird all the way through – and it’s not a musical! It’s wonderful – I highly recommend seeing it, even though I can’t remember the name of the movie itself.
The next morning we prepared for a big trip to Cape Canaveral. We took the 1.5 hour drive and arrived at the Kennedy Space Center with gray clouds, wind and intermittent rain accompanying us. But though the weather was not with us, the facilities and features were awesome! We immediately hopped on a tour bus that took us around the Space Center to two other stop-offs, where we viewed the Saturn V engine and the lift-off platform and the giant transporter for the rockets, and the computer panel array that supported the first moon landing and walk, and the re-enactment of the first moon-mission launch. It was more than Awesome – it was Mega-Amazing! I wanted to become an astronaut right then and there!
After about 4 hours of being there, my dear Aunt and Uncle were getting a little fatigued, so we drove back to Leesburg and had a nice leisurely dinner at their home – more shrimp, this time with noodles and broccoli – yum!
I had decided to depart the next day to head back to the Kennedy Space Center – my ticket was good for a free return visit for 6 more days and there was a lot I still hadn’t seen. I reserved a rental car with Enterprise in Leesburg, and prepared for an early morning departure to the coast and more immersion in outer space exploration.
Unfortunately, Enterprise failed to tell me they do not accept out-of-state driver’s licenses with a debit card. I do not purchase anything with credit cards anymore, so don’t carry one. They needed me to have a credit card, and even though I’m in their system as an “e-Plus” member, that didn’t mean anything to them. Aunt and Uncle came in to talk with them, and they were still unwavering. That is the second time I’ve tried to rent a car through Enterprise and been refused. Thrifty Car Rental has honored my debit card every time – so there you go, folks…I am recommending Thrifty over Enterprise to all my friends.
Subsequently, that Monday morning after being turned down for a car rental by Enterprise, we took my backpack out of my Uncle’s car trunk and all my other belongings out of their car, and I re-arranged it all back into my backpack on the steps of Enterprise and walked out to the road to hitchhike to the coast (much to the great concern of my Aunt).
My first ride was with Steve, a fine young man who was on his way to the recycle center to deliver all his cardboard and mixed packages and cartons. I rode with him to the recycle center and helped him empty his two big containers. He then drove me to the end of the town that put me on the route I needed to hitch to Daytona Beach. Thank you, Steve! That was an immense help you gave me, and I sincerely appreciate it!
I walked with my now 70 pound backpack for about half a mile until my next ride, Jim, pulled over to pick me up in his ultra-high, huge tired truck. He almost looked like he was out of a great cowboy flick – cool boots, nice fitting jeans, and a very nice white shirt I liked the look of. His hat framed his face nicely, and he looked a little like George W. – only much younger and more attractive. I was so lucky he gave me a lift – he offered to take me all the way to Daytona Beach! Before you could say “Cut! that’s a wrap!” we arrived at the coast, and after lunch together he assisted me in getting a rental car through Thrifty Car Rentals at the International Airport in Daytona Beach, which is right next to the Daytona Speedway, the 2.5 mile racetrack you see on television – it’s enormous! A hearty Thank You to you, Jim! Your generous help in getting me to Daytona Beach and my rental car is deeply appreciated and will never be forgotten!
Waving good-bye to Jim, I drove off to Panera Bread where I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on my blog.
The next day would be spent back at the Kennedy Space Center where I planned to experience the same vertical G forces that astronauts experience when lift-off occurs. I also was looking forward to seeing all the 3D movies and other shows they have, plus all the exhibits I had missed on the first time around. It crossed my mind that having just been to the Wilbur and Orville Wright Monument at Kitty Hawk and now to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, I had seen within a couple weeks the two most important locations for the beginnings and culmination of human flight! An awesome achievement in 66 short years from the Wright Brothers to the Moon walk! And now I could hardly wait to experience the rest of the goodies the Kennedy Space Center had to offer!