This trip description was given to me. Though it was done by folks in a car, it would be a nice trip on a bike as well. You can see the sun rise and set on both coasts in the same day in Florida!!
Sunrise, sunset: A Florida adventure
Ken Clarke | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted February 18, 2007
Editor's note: At Travel, we're often asked about day trips or weekend getaways that showcase the beauty and breadth of our state. Newcomers want to learn more about their surroundings; others seek a day at the beach, a visit to historic sights or a temporary immersion in another culture. We were reminded of that recently when a reader, Pilar Hargis of Orlando, wrote an essay for the Travel section's "Being There" column. She had been inspired by a 1996 Travel story documenting a day trip that started at Marineland on Florida's east coast and ended with sunset at Cedar Key on the west coast. Hargis made her own journey, following writer Ken Clarke's route, and enjoyed a side of Florida she'd never seen. Here is Ken's 1996 story.
Maybe there are better ways to start the day than sitting on a surf-washed beach as the sun lifts its splendid face out of the Atlantic.
And maybe there are better ways to say goodbye to the day than by admiring the sun's blazing slide into the Gulf of Mexico.
But I doubt it.
And you can do both on the same day - if you live in Florida (don't try this in Iowa).
So on a recent Saturday my friend Annette Day and I set out on a unique Florida adventure that took us from coast to coast, sunrise to sunset. Unhurried, we traveled mostly two-lane roads on a roundabout route that carried us from Marineland, south of St. Augustine on the east coast, to Cedar Key, west of Ocala on the Gulf coast.
We fell into synchrony with the unhurried rhythm of the rural land, stopping frequently to admire the beauty that is there to be seen if only you take the time: the dignity of a country church, a fiery field of phlox, gently rolling countrysides of huge oaks and pampered horses, unspoiled lakes wearing fringes of cypress trees.
We visited (or passed through) 13 towns that have populations of less than 900. We talked to a potato farmer, we crossed the St. Johns River on a two-car ferry. Leisurely, we covered 234 miles in 9 1/2 hours. We loved every minute of the day.
There isn't much in Marineland, and that was the attraction for us as a starting point. Marineland is the home of the world's first oceanarium, but it's also an incorporated city with a population of 12, not counting the dolphins. The humble marine park and an oceanfront motel allowed for a quiet, almost private beginning to our journey.
Arising from the sea at 6:42, the sun tried to sneak into the sky behind a bank of sullen clouds, refusing to dress the morning in its usual array of gentle gold and orange pastels.
Except for the rumble of the waves upon the shore, the beach was quiet, and the morning was ours.
Shortly after 9 we started our journey, driving north on State Road A1A to Crescent Beach, then west on State Road 206, bound for Hastings 22 miles away. The land quickly changed from coastal marsh to hardwood forest, then gradually to pineland, and finally to the potato fields of Hastings (pop. 629), Florida's potato capital.
It was harvest time at Fortner Farms. Imagine 480 acres of french fries and potato chips just waiting to be plucked.
Lou Fortner has been boss of the operation since his dad died when Lou was 22. ''That'll scare the heck out of you,'' said Fortner, 48. ''I went from being a kid, really, to running a farm.''
As Fortner talked, tractor-drawn wagons arrived at the loading shed from the fields. One by one they were relieved of their spuds by a 100-foot conveyor belt that spewed the potatoes into a tractor-trailer. Along the belt a dozen workers culled the bad and undersized potatoes.
By the time the tractor-trailer pulled away, it contained 86,000 pounds of potatoes bound for a transformation in Pennsylvania.
''They will be chips by Tuesday or Wednesday,'' Fortner said.
We left the farm and continued west on S.R. 206, then south on State Road 207, all the while surrounded by fields of potatoes, cabbage and broccoli. We passed roadside vegetable stands, each one announced by hand-lettered signs (''Cabbage: Slaw Down!'').
In East Palatka we picked up U.S. Highway 17, then took County Road 309 about seven miles to Welaka (pop. 547). Along the way, wildflowers called phlox embraced the road in passionate splashes of red, pink and magenta.
Turning off C.R. 309, we followed a dirt road 1 1/2 miles to the Fort Gates Ferry. There has been a ferry in these parts since 1856. If you want to cross the St. Johns River without driving 50 miles out of your way, this is where you come.
The half-mile ride on the two-car barge costs $9, but there's a bonus: natural beauty as wonderful as any in Florida. Deep forests of cypress and oak hug the broad, dark river with moss-draped arms. Patient herons stalk the shallows, ospreys circle in the sky and catfish abound in the dark water.
Only lightly have humans touched this land. In return, the land offers timeless serenity.
On this day, Bob Briant was the ferryman, guiding the barge on crossings that never become routine. ''Every trip is a little different,'' Briant said, ''depending on the wind and the tide.''
A washboard posing as a dirt road greeted us on the west side of the river. It was five jangly miles until we saw asphalt again, another 10 miles until our eyeballs would hold still.
We were heading for the community of Cross Creek, where the home of author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings has become a shrine for those who love books and Florida.
To get there we took several backroads, passing through the villages of Fort McCoy (pop. 167), Orange Springs (pop. 56) and Citra (pop. 737) before finally turning west off U.S. Highway 301 at Island Grove (pop. 60) onto County Road 325. Four miles later we reached Cross Creek (pop. 285).
''When I came to the Creek,'' Rawlings wrote, ''I knew the old grove and farmhouse at once as home.''
That was in in 1928. Rawlings lived in Cross Creek until 1941 when she married her second husband, Norton Baskin, who owned a hotel in St. Augustine. From then until she died in 1953, Rawlings divided her time between Cross Creek and a beachside home in Crescent Beach.
Although Florida has grown by 12 1/2 million people since the time of Rawlings' arrival, Cross Creek retains its shy personality. In these parts, yesterday is closer than tomorrow.
Rawlings' Cracker-style house of cypress and pine and its 60 acres of land is a state historic site. It was on the broad porch that Rawlings wrote The Yearling, which won her the Pulitzer Prize and fame in 1939. It was probably on the same porch that she enjoyed the occasional - make that frequent - drop of alcohol. The house is filled with her belongings - furniture, books, bed, typewriter . . . liquor cabinet. A guided tour gives visitors a hint of what her life was like.
A quaintness break A dozen miles away is the town of Micanopy (pop. 620), the permanent address of quaintness. Micanopy (MICK-a-no-pee) also is the home of 12 antique shops, two bookshops and the Herlong Mansion, an impressive, historic bed-and-breakfast inn.
A visit to Micanopy is worth an afternoon, at least, but Annette and I could spare only a couple of hours: We had a sunset to catch, and we were still 80 miles from Cedar Key.
We started with lunch at Mildred's, a coffeehouse and garden cafe that is more yuppified than charming, then stopped at the Micanopy Museum. The museum is housed in what for decades had been the town's general store, run by John Thrasher, then his son, John Jr. The Thrashers are distant cousins (my maternal grandmother's grandmother was a Thrasher), so walking through the old store was like stepping into my family's past.
Returning to the present, we dropped by the town's bookstores, O. Brisky Books and W.G. Winter Bookseller. They sit cozily side by side on Cholokka Boulevard, the town's main drag, and both specialize in used and rare books.
On the road again, we drove 10 miles south on U.S. 301 to cruise through McIntosh (pop. 411), a town where even the Florida sun doesn't stand a chance: Huge old oaks seem to shade every square foot of the place, lending it an air of dignity.
We left McIntosh and drove west on County Road 318. Now west of Interstate 75, we found the towns more scattered. In the 30 miles between McIntosh and Williston, the landscape changed from the cool green of horse farms and pastureland to the harsh brown scrubland of dirt farms.
This is the kingdom of the gopher tortoise and the battered pickup truck. Here the towns are farming communities, dressed in dust, not charm, and stubbornly proud of it.
In this land we passed through Williston (pop. 2,19
, where C.R. 318 runs into Alternate U.S. Highway 27. It was 15 more miles to Bronson (pop. 86
, where a turn to the west put us on State Road 24, a straight and narrow homestretch that carried us 25 miles to Cedar Key (pop. 679).
The road to sunset A few miles outside of town, the hardwood forest we had been passing through yielded to sandy scrubland then quickly to coastal marsh.
Two kinds of people come to this town: Fishermen and other lovers of the outdoors, and tourists who value quaintness and simplicity. Cedar Key isn't a resort of landscaped grounds, fancy spas and lighted tennis courts. It's a scruffy seaside town with no traffic lights, no sandy beaches and no one who is in a hurry. It's humble and authentic.
If you weren't sure of that fact before arriving, the sign identifying J.D. Davenport's place on D Street is enough to convince you.
''Bait, tackle, art gallery,'' it said. (Which immediately brought thoughts of other incongruous combinations: Lisa's Lingerie and VCR Repair, April's Cafe and Fill Dirt, for instance.)
We checked into the Faraway Inn, which sits near the Gulf. The motel is run by Cleve and Rose Garner, who also maintain a home in Melbourne, 200 miles away on the east coast of the peninsula. Cleve makes the 400-mile round-trip at least once a week. He shrugs at the suggestion that such a routine is out of the ordinary.
''Lots of people live in Cedar Key and work in Gainesville,'' 50 miles away, he said. ''They're traveling as far in a week as I do.''
As sunset approached, we explored the 200-foot fishing pier, scouting the photo angles and occasionally dodging one of the bold pelicans that hopped and swooped about, looking for handouts from the two dozen folks who had lines dropped into the Gulf of Mexico.
For many of those present, the sunset seemed of little interest, perhaps because the display has become routine for them. Or perhaps because tiny gnats called no-see-ums were gnawing at all available ankles.
But it wasn't routine for us.
The pier points toward the southeast, more than 100 degrees from the magnificent show in the west. But it remains a strategic spot, giving visitors a broad, sweeping view of the horizon.
Standing near the end of the pier, I admired the western sky as it slowly changed from orange to lavender then to purple, its image doubled by the reflection in the Gulf of Mexico.
Camera in hand, Annette went from this spot to that, taking pictures in the fading light. We jumped into the car and drove less than a half-mile to a small beach that offered an unobstructed view of the day's final rays.
Now that the sun was down, our day, our adventure was finished.
We celebrated with wine.