Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wakulla Springs State Park: Home of The Creature from the Black Lagoon

         A prehistoric beast prowls the depths of a remote jungle, preying upon visiting scientists in Hollywood’s Creature From the Black Lagoon.  I’m about to discover the secrets of this primeval forest on a tour of Florida’s Wakulla River, which doubled for The Amazon in the 1954 film.  
The last tour of the day is about to depart when I arrive at Wakulla Springs State Park late in the afternoon.  I hurry to the dock and take my seat on the flat-bottomed boat, along with 10 other tourists.
Our park ranger points to wildlife along the shore as we trawl the river.  Bird life is abundant, including these species: great egrets, blue herons, moorhens, anhingas, wood ducks, black vultures, white ibis, green herons, cormorants, widgeons and hooded mergansers.  The river is also home to reptiles and we spot alligators and turtles sunning themselves on partially submerged logs. 

An Anhinga perches in the dense vegetation along
the riverbank.

Reptilian resident of the Wakulla River.

The boat enters a narrow channel where moss drips from tropical vegetation.  Old growth cypress trees—some of them 400-600 years of age—line the riverbanks. Movie scenes were filmed here and the area has an eerie, sinister feel, as if the monster could be lurking nearby.

No, it's not The Creature—a Great Egret
graces the swamp.

The ranger impresses us with these facts on this fun and educational tour:
The Wakulla is fed entirely by a spring 185 feet below the ground which gushes from the earth at the incredible rate of ~400,000 gallons per minute; divers have been exploring the spring beneath the river and have discovered a series of underwater caves 385 feet deep and 4 miles long.  

After the tour I check into my room in the old Ed Ball Lodge. The lodge was built in 1937 and is definitely showing its age.  Kind of dark and spooky, a la Stephen King’s The Shining, but it should be OK for one night.
In the lobby I discover the genuine—not cinematic—creature from the Black Lagoon, a large alligator specimen with a sad but interesting story:  Affectionately known as “Old Joe” the alligator was of undetermined age (some say he was 300 years old), over 11 feet long and 650 pounds, and he lived on a sand bar in the Wakulla River across from the park’s swimming area.  “Old Joe” never hurt anyone and was considered a part of the family by those who worked in the park.  
Tragically, “Old Joe” was murdered on the night of August 1, 1966;  State Park personnel found his body the next morning, shot between the eyes and floating in the lagoon outside the swimming area.  Presumably he was too heavy to fit into the poacher’s boat.  The Audubon Society and The Wakulla Springs Foundation offered a $5,000 reward for information on his murder but the killer was never found.  Who knows?  Perhaps, in a turn of poetic justice, “Old Joe’s” murderer met his fate at the hands of Hollywood’s mythical swamp beast.
For more information on this fascinating Florida park run, don't walk, to this website:

The Wild Wakulla River has remained
virtually unchanged for hundreds of years.

              I've just been reminded by a fellow blogger that today is the first anniversary of this blog.  Vickie Bates and I, along with 13 other hopeful bloggers, signed up for a Spring 2011 beginning blogging class with Media Bistro.  As of today, only Vickie and I remain as active bloggers.  Please read her excellent blog:  nobadlanguage.net/

Monday, March 19, 2012

Spring in Utah's Desert: The Corona Arch Hike

          A hike on the Corona Arch trail provides a delightful introduction to the desert’s assorted charms.  The trek begins with an uphill climb; the Colorado River comes into view on the ascent and you may witness rafters drifting along on the gentle current.  Next, a half-mile walk across open terrain showcases desert flora while lizards dart across your path.  Finally, you’ll traverse slickrock while reveling in expansive views of both Bow Tie and Corona arches.  If you’re lucky, when you reach Corona Arch you’ll have it all to yourself—relax, gaze skyward, and reflect in solitude upon this awe-inspiring monolithic span. 
The Corona Arch Trail is everything a desert trail should be—try it and see for yourself.  Find the trailhead by driving north of Moab, turning left on Potash Road and continuing 10 miles to a parking area on the right side of the road.  This hike is best attempted in late March or early April when moderate temperatures and blooming cacti increase its enjoyment.

NOTE:   In the year since this post was written, climbers have figured out how to adapt climbing gear to set up a 250-foot pendulum ride under the arch, transforming this once tranquil place into a thrill-seeking Disneyesque attraction.  Now, while reclining under Corona arch, you may have your solitude broken by adrenaline junkies swinging through the arch.  
Two days ago (March 24, 2013) a climber was killed when he misjudged the length of his rope and crashed into the ground.  I fear this unfortunate incident is likely only to increase interest in this "ultimate thrill ride".

Descriptions of the hike can be found on this website:  http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/moab/recreation/hiking_trails/corona_arch_trail.html  

        The following photos detail our progression on this rewarding hike.

A Claret Cup Cactus plant flashes its brilliant red flowers.

The final half mile of the hike presents these panoramic views
 of Bow Tie Arch—left, and Corona Arch—right.

Bow Tie Arch

Rita approaches Corona Arch.

Tim relaxes by the base of Corona Arch.

Rita is dwarfed by this magnificent rock span.
The Oxford American Dictionary defines corona
as "Architecture a part of a cornice having a
broad vertical face".
I think you'll have to agree that not a single man-made
piece of architecture could hope to compete with
this natural corona.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Florida's Spring Training Baseball: Then and Now

People ask me what I do in winter when there is no baseball.   This is what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring. 
  ---Rogers Hornsby*


          Ah spring, that time of year when a woman’s fancy turns to...baseball?  Yes, it’s true.  I attended my first spring training game in 1984 and have returned to Florida to watch Grapefruit League games four times since then—most recently in 2007.

Flash back to March of 1984:  I’m in Clearwater, Florida to see the Philadelphia Phillies play at old Jack Russell Stadium.  We saunter up to a small booth, buy $8.00 tickets and enter a ball field not unlike that of high school diamonds.  Our bleacher seats are close enough to the action to hear players talking and laughing.  A few rows behind us Phillies announcers Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn sit in an open-air box; fans walk up to chat with them between innings.
Fast forward to March of 2007:  I’m on the outskirts of Clearwater to watch the Phillies play at brand new Bright House Field.  No more leisurely ticket buying on game days.  Many Phillies spring training games are now sell-outs and tickets may be purchased months in advance for $30.00 to $90.00.  The new venue, while cozy and intimate, has the feel of a minor league ballpark rather than that of a neighborhood town park.  Our seats, though more comfortable than bleachers, aren't close enough to hear players jawing.  Phillies announcers sit enclosed in a broadcast booth high above the field, inaccessible to fans.

Top photo:  I'm posing in front of Jack Russell Stadium in 1984.
Bottom photo: Entrance to the Phillies current spring training facility—

Bright House Field. (Internet photo).

Top photo:  The Phillies play in Jack Russell Stadium in 1984.
Bottom photo:  Pre-game ceremonies at Bright House Field in 2007.

                 Despite the differences during the 23 years from 1984 to 2007, spring training retains its laid-back charm.  It’s still that place where players sign autographs before games and pitchers toss balls to kids standing near the bullpen, still an experience that's worth the trip to Florida for this life-long Phillies fan.
             Florida’s Gulf Coast has seen other changes since the 1980’s:  traffic chokes the roadways, turning a formerly 20 minute jaunt into an hour-long slog; four-lane highways spread across land where orange groves once blossomed; homes and condos replace heron-filled ponds and meadows.  
             And yet... It’s March, and Florida’s 80 degree temperatures, blue skies and palm trees beckon, inviting me to return.  If you’re a baseball fan, go ahead and indulge your springtime fancy—visit this website to find out how:  http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/tickets/spring_training.jsp

“That's the true harbinger of spring, not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on a ball.”  
                                                     ---Bill Veeck**, 1976

*Rogers Hornsby (1896-1963), considered one of the best hitters of all time, played 23 seasons of Major League Baseball.
**Bill Veeck (1914-1986), longtime owner of the Chicago White Sox, was known for the innovations he brought to Major League Baseball.


Philadelphia's Ryan Howard, 2006 National League's Most Valuable Player,
autographs baseballs for devoted fans.  My nephew Mark—on left—is next in line.

Wonderful McKechnie Field in Bradenton—home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
You can still catch a game here for $20.00
My nephews Paul and Bob are standing at the base of the palm tree.

"Two All Stars"
Phillies All-Star (and all-around good guy) Jimmy Rollins
poses with my nephew Bob (an all-around good guy too!).

View from Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, former spring training home
of the Tampa Bay Rays.
In 2009 the Ray moved to Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bryce Canyon's Clear Air—Threatened

         Would you like to travel to Bryce Canyon National Park and see those impossibly blue skies—featured in last week’s post—for yourself?  If so, you had better visit soon because Bryce’s azure skies are threatened by a proposed expansion to the Alton Coal Mine, a mere 10 miles from the park.  
Currently the mine operates on 635 acres of private land but mine owners are seeking permission from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to expand their operation to 3500 acres of public land—land owned by you and me.  Alton Coal is the only strip mine in Utah; consequences to the area will be increased air pollution, noise and truck traffic, all of which will negatively impact Bryce Canyon’s transcendent views and serenity.  

Bryce Canyon's clear skies, as well as area wildlife, are threatened
by a proposed coal mine expansion.

I know the facts: coal generates over 50% of our nation’s electricity and we’re all using more and more of it (that goes for those of us sitting at our computers). And yes, all that coal has to come from somewhere—but I hope you’ll agree with me that the BLM should proceed with caution before approving a large strip mine on the boundaries of an incomparably beautiful national park.
Read more reactions to Alton Coal’s proposed mine expansion on these websites:   http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/politics/53434361-90/alton-blm-comments-county.html.csp#.T1Kmr0N_Vaw.email
Find out how you can register your disapproval by visiting this website:  http://www.haltaltoncoal.com/
The National Park Service Retirees is a group of individuals working to ensure that the national parks stay true to their mission of protecting resources for future generations of Americans.  This is a worthwhile goal from a respectable organization.  Visit their website:   http://www.npsretirees.org/