A Tour of Central Florida
This photo by Bok Sanctuary; all other photos by Nori J. Muster.
The Bok Sanctuary carillon is a beautiful 205-foot bell tower, built by Edward W. Bok during the years 1927 - 1929. It has sixty bells and there is a recital every afternoon. Bok was editor of Lady's Home Journal for thirty years, beginning in 1889. He hob-knobbed with all the important men of his day, including Mark Twain, President Calvin Coolidge, and many more. He built the tower on top of Iron Mountain, the highest point in the Florida peninsula, as a gift to the people of Florida and the world.
In 1928, during the tower's construction, Bok offered a $100,000 prize to anyone who could bring about world peace. He ran ads and attracted quite a bit of media attention. His proposal was as follows:
"The American Peace Award: An award will be given to the author of the best practicable plan by which the United States may cooperate with other nations to achieve and preserve the peace of the world."
To get to Bok Sanctuary, take Highway 4 west toward Tampa, then get off at exit 55 (Highway 27) and go south to Lake Wales. Cut off at Highway 17 and follow the signs. Visit Bok Sanctuary online at BokSanctuary.org.
Here's a close-up of the marble work on the tower. After you see the carillon, wander the 178 acres of natural wilderness and botanical gardens. Visit the open glade, where they are restoring the longleaf pine forest community, encouraging native plants to come back.
The oak dome
There's also an oak dome, a single tree with many trunks, connected by an extensive root system. If you stand in he Oak Dome and look East, you see an amazing valley. It's the Kissimmee River Plain, picturesque lowlands that were once under the ocean. Lake Pierce (in the distance) flows into the Kissimmee River and on to the Everglades.
Kissimmee River Plain
Bok Sanctuary practices controlled burning to keep their land in its natural state. They say that fire encourages plant growth and flowering. They're just continuing the natural cycle that has gone on for thousands (maybe millions) of years.
This is the view from the "Window by the Pond." You enter a little shed with a large glass window along the back wall to get up close to a herbaceous Florida bog. Bogs filter the water and provide a habitat for amphibian procreation.
This is the entrance to Bok Sanctuary. It includes a museum, gift store, and great cafeteria. Vegetarians: stop for lunch here. You will find several good entries. The people here are friendly, good cooks.
After Bok Sanctuary drive back to Orlando to see Leu Gardens. It's a beautiful place for weddings and they have several every day.
Besides weddings, you will find plenty of environmentalists working in and enjoying Florida's botanical gardens. By the way, don't feed the alligators! It interferes with the natural ecology. The alligators can find their own food.
The property a Leu Gardens was first settled by in 1858 Angeline Mizell, a pioneer woman who staked her claim while her husband, David, was fighting the third Seminole Indian War. In 1860 David bought an additional forty acres for $1.68 an acre. He became sheriff of Orange County in 1868. His son built a small farm house at this spot, with this view of Lake Rowena.
This is how the house looks today. The Mizell family sold the property to Duncan Clarkston Pell in 1902. Pell divorced his New York wife and married Helen Louise Gardner, a silent film star. They added onto the house and used it on the weekends for entertaining. The rest of the week they lived in downtown Orlando at the Wyoming Hotel.
In 1906 Joseph and Marha Woodward bought the house as a winter residence. They added a new living room, kitchen, and upstairs bedroom. When Mrs. Woodward died, the property went into a trust and became a rental. Harry and Mary Jane Leu bought the house and acreage in 1936 for $40,000, and updated it to its present size.
Harry Leu owned a successful industrial supply company, Harry P. Leu, Inc. This photo shows his desk, pretty much how it looked when he lived there. Mr. and Mrs. Leu traveled around the world collecting seeds for the botanical gardens. After the Leus died, the property passed on to the City of Orlando and the Orange county Historical Society helped restore it and open it to the public. The House and two outbuildings were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Find out more about Leu Gardens here: LeuGardens.org.
It's easy to find little flying flowers in the butterfly garden at Leu Gardens. They have planted this area with everything butterflies like.
These little lizard guys are everywhere. They don't need their own special garden. I also spotted a snake, but didn't have my camera ready.
Leu Gardens is in Winter Park, one of the most hip areas of Orlando. That's where you'll find all the antique shops, several art museums and an art school, a super-sized Whole Foods Market, the campus of Rollins College, and a great little shopping district near the campus. Here's a link to the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce for more information. The website for Rollins College is Rollins.edu. Whole Foods is located at 1989 Aloma Avenue (Whole Foods).
While you're walking around the Rollins College area of Winter Park, be sure to take a boat tour of the area. You will see Lake Osceola, Lake Virginia, and Lake Maitland. Your captain shows you points of interest, including Rollins College and numerous historic mansions that dot the lake shores. You go under two picturesque bridges on manmade canals connecting the lakes.
For more information, contact: Scenic Boat Tours, 312 E. Morse Boulevard, Lake Osceola, Winter Park, FL 32789 (407) 644-4056. Visit online: ScenicBoatTours.com.
If you're in Orlando, the best place to go to the sea side is Melbourne. While you're there, stop at the campus of the Florida Institute of Technology and wander down the Dent Smith Trail. It's a botanical garden planted by Dr. Jerry Keuper, president of FIT 1958 - 1986. Take Country Club Road off the highway to the campus. Stop in the Keuper Building for a free parking permit. It's just a short walk to the gardens.
The FIT gardens are beautifully natural and delightfully non-manicured. You definitely feel like you're out in nature.
Here's the beautiful ocean in Melbourne. Driving up and down the coasts in Florida you will discover beaches with powder-white sand like this one, and even beaches with shells instead of sand (like the one north of St. Augustine).
On your way back to Orlando, look for the Wild Oats grocery store on the south side of the highway (1135 W. New Haven Ave., Melbourne, Florida, 32904). You might get hungry back at your hotel, so stock up while you can. Visit Wild Oats online at: WildOats.com.
Photo of Melbourne Beach.
One last word about Central Florida. By the way, it's the theme park capital of the world. Over here in Los Angeles where i spend most of my time, we have a couple theme parks: the original Disneyland, the original Universal Studios (and what to speak of the real Chinese Theatre, the real Hollywood Walk of Fame, etc.). But here in L.A. you can hardly find the theme parks. Disneyland is way off in Anaheim, a single exit off Highway 5; Universal and the real Hollywood are up here hidden behind some mountains.
In Florida, theme parks literally make up a whole city over a twenty-five mile length of Highway 4, at the south end of Orlando. Eight freeway exits direct you to Universal Studios, Sea World, Walt Disney World, Disney MGM Studios, Epcot Center, Disney's Animal Kingdom, and other attractions like Ripley's Museum, Wet 'n Wild waterpark, the Orange County Convention Center, and the Gatorland Zoo. Our hotel, the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, was right off the Disney World exit on Osceola Parkway in Kissimmee. The hotel was an atrium enclosing an air conditioned everglades bog (it's hard to explain how that could be, but the temperature inside the atrium was about 62 degrees, while the temp outside was about 80). The rooms were big and comfortable, there were several great swimming pools, lots of restaurants, and a full convention center center with meeting halls, ballrooms, etc. The children and their families seemed to view the hotel as just one more theme park.
I visited Universal Studios with the North American Travel Writers (SATW). We enjoyed a buffet dinner in Seuss Landing, where they invited us to ride the Cat in the Hat (click here), the Caro-Seuss-El (an adorable Seuss character merry-go-round; the photo doesn't do it justice, but click here to see it at Universal), and the One Fish Two Fish ride (not pictured at their site).
Next we went to the Marvel Super Hero Island roller coaster area. Click here to see The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man; click here to see the Incredible Hulk Coaster. These were fun, but definitely not for beginners.
That's the last of the Central Florida photos. Go on to Northeast Florida (click the link below).