“THE SKY CALLS TO US.” CARL SAGAN
CAROL WRITES: From the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, the State of Florida is 160 miles wide at its widest point. Our next destination was smack in the middle of the Florida Highlands at Polk City, a small community along Interstate 4 midway between Tampa and Orlando.
It is a fact of life that traffic on I-4 can be insane at times, such as when the Orlando theme parks close for the day; however, at Bay Lake Motorcoach Resort we found a sleepy, peaceful oasis.
This was one of those RV properties where individuals can purchase their RV site outright, then amend it with structures and landscaping in a variety of ways permitted by ownership rules. Over the past 7 or 8 years since Bay Lake opened, only several dozen lots out of a potential of a couple hundred have been developed, so that left a lot of open space. Most owners had charming pastel-colored mini homes and pleasing paver driveways with parking space and utility connections for their large motorhomes. Add in luscious tropical landscaping and the result made for a very quaint and sweet “second home” vacation spot for the owners.
I have borrowed a few pics below from the resort website.
From my point of view, this place felt pretty deserted and we had all the time and space poolside that we desired, in addition to a lovely rural setting for our mile-or-so loop walks every day.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER
Periodically, Al has mentioned that he sort of regretted that we didn’t get down to Kennedy Space Center while we were in Jacksonville. Not to worry… Florida isn’t that wide and NASA’s ole “Cape Canaveral” was only a couple of hours away.
Since the days of the Mercury Space Program in the early 1960s to the final mission of the Space Shuttle in 2011, the lives of us baby boomers have been enriched by countless inventions related to the space program. America’s long space legacy was lovingly preserved at Kennedy Space Center, where we enjoyed a fascinating walk down memory lane with many highlights …
A bus tour out to the famous Vehicle Assembly Building, where large space vehicles are constructed,
Preserved sections of primitive launch control consoles from the early days of Project Mercury,
A look at the underside of a massive Saturn V rocket like the one that was used to propel astronauts to the moon,
A loving tribute to three astronauts whose lives were lost in a catastrophic fire during training in their Apollo space capsule,
and a brand new “Heroes and Legends” building with an astronaut Hall of Fame that included some of our most notable space heroes.
Of interest to me were the front pages from newspapers around the world that celebrated America’s achievement of landing men on the moon. I couldn’t resist a picture of the very Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper that I remembered reading in 1969 when I was a young college student and Ohio’s own Neil Armstrong was the first human to set foot on the moon.
For us, the star of the Kennedy Space Center was clearly the eye-popping and creative display of Space Shuttle Atlantis,
mounted indoors on supports that created the appearance of a space shuttle flying through the room,
with its cargo door open…
and Canadian robot arm extended!
Voices were quite hushed in the hallway where tribute was paid to the astronauts who lost their lives on Challenger and Columbia. Haunting pieces of wreckage from each tragedy evoked much reflection.
While the end of the 6-ship space shuttle program
closed another chapter in space exploration, present-day Kennedy Space Center was anything but inactive. Private enterprise was clearly alive and well with SpaceX playing an increasing role in launching satellites, in addition to payloads to the International Space Station.
The week after our visit to Kennedy Space Center, from our own campsite we were able to watch a 2 a.m. SpaceX launch of an EchoStar communications satellite that would enhance television viewing across Brazil. What an impressive ball of flame in the sky 80 miles in the distance!
At our campsite a few days later, we saw an early-evening launch of an Air Force GPS satellite from its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center.
Steven Hawking has stated that he believes the future of the human race most likely lies in space. Thankfully, that hope is alive and well-nourished every day at Kennedy Space Center.
BIKING THROUGH FLORIDA WETLANDS
On the outskirts of Polk City we were lucky to discover the James A. Van Fleet state bike trail, a paved trail that runs through 29 miles of some of Florida’s most scenic rural wetlands landscape.
In addition to a nice tranquil bike ride, we were hoping for some wildlife sightings, and we were amply rewarded…
blue herons that we never tire photographing,
and huge adult alligators just along the trail’s edge. Al encouraged me to get a little closer for a really great pic, but of the four adults gazing at this gator I figured I was the slowest runner, so I felt just fine where I was…
Nothing more rewarding than observing wildlife totally in harmony with its unconstrained habitat.
BOK TOWER GARDENS
Very near the top of the list of attractions in this part of the sleepy central Florida Highlands was an historic landmark site called Bok Tower Gardens. This contemplative garden and bird sanctuary, located on one of the highest points of the Florida Highlands, was completed in 1929 and was the brainchild of a Dutch editor and humanitarian named Edward Bok.
Al and I both had doubts that a 50-acre garden and 200-ft carillon tower would impress us all that much, but we couldn’t have been more mistaken.
For a start, the gardens were striking and thoughtfully varied with…
annuals at peak bloom,
and a spotlight on Florida vegetation.
Added into the mix was a tour through an historic 1920s Mediterranean-style home
with an architectural style that oozed coolness and old-Florida allure.
However, the predominant attraction of the day was the neo-Gothic pink stone carillon tower decorated with ironwork and tile mosaics. Although neither of us is particularly fond of carillon music, the St. Patrick’s Day selection of Irish tunes had a certain toe-tapping pizzazz.
Bok tower itself was the complete Florida package, with Florida-themed carvings of herons
and a nifty sundial.
The choice of Edward Bok’s burial site at the foot of the golden paneled door to his beloved tower seemed quite fitting. We ended up spending the better part of the afternoon at Bok Tower Gardens, coming away with much more admiration for Bok’s crowning legacy of community betterment and service to others.