I had been planning this past weekend’s trip for a long time. I just had to do some research to see what else was in the area and the right time to go. And Christmas time seemed to be perfect, especially since I was going to Christmas, Florida. Yes, the only city in the states named after the famous holiday, I first drove through Christmas on Christmas Eve back in 1999. Not intentionally planned. I just happened to be exploring Florida and ended up passing through the small Yule town. But I do remember seeing a sign for a Fort Christmas, and always wanted to go back up there and check it out. And 9 years later, I finally made that thought a reality. I also wanted to see more of Titusville, as I had never really stopped there long enough to really check it out.
So I started my 3-hour northern trek early Saturday morning to my first destination in Titusville at the Enchanted Forest Nature Sanctuary. It definitely lived up to its name as I truly enjoyed the wooded hiking along the wooden boardwalk and dirt trails. And I even came across some wild hogs, which are not very enchanting creatures and can be downright mean and aggressive. Luckily, they were more scared of me than I of them and they left me alone. I then continued to head north, where I commenced my next adventure at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
I’ve been here a couple times before, where my memories take me back to a plethora of dragonflies around the area. This lush wilderness area has many fun roads to drove along and great hiking trails to explore. I particularly enjoyed the Black Point Wildlife Drive, a 7-mile one-way road that meanders through marshlands and pine flatwoods. There is also a great bird-watching trail along the drive that attracted quite a few onlookers that morning. After spending a couple hours in and around the refuge, I then made my way still further north to to the small town of Oak Hill and Seminole Rest, home to the ancient Snyder’s Mound and the Instone House, built around the late 1880’s. The first floor of the house has been converted to a museum about the area and its rich history.
I then started to head west to my next stop in DeBary. As I drove through the quaint town, I came across a historical sign for DeBary Hall. Instead of stopping, though, I decided to continue on to Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, where I set up my tent. After hiking around the park a bit and with just a few hours of daylight left, I went back to check out DeBary Hall, the winter home of Frederick deBary. Built in the 1870’s, this historic house is full of artifacts from that time period and is also used for many weddings, including one that was taking place at the time of my tour. I then drove just down the road to River City Nature Park, where a 9-hole disc golf course was just installed. I was just able to get in a couple rounds before dark. Since I was so close to Deland, I drove to the historic downtown section for dinner and, to my surprise, a classic car show. I was definitely in hot rod heaven. I then went back to my camp site at Blue Spring.
One fun-filled day deserved another, so Sunday morning, I made my way down to Sanford to visit the Central Florida Zoo. This small and quaint zoo was a great way to start the day, and I thoroughly enjoyed walking around the grounds and checking out the different exhibits and animals. It was now time to ‘celebrate’ Christmas, and I first went to the Orlando Wetlands Park. I found the name of this park odd as I was definitely not in Orlando, and I also got yelled out by a park ranger for trying to sneak into the main park section during hunting season. It actually worked out well as I was more interested in going a mile or two up the road to Fort Christmas Historical Park.
I love checking out different forts and this was definitely one of the most interesting ones. Built by the U.S. Army in late December 1837 during the Second Seminole Indian War, they decided to name it Fort Christmas because of its commencement date of December 25th. And that is how the town got its ‘jolly’ name. Although small compared to many of the other forts I’ve been to, I found the wooden structure fascinating. Equally enticing were the small Cracker-style houses, all built between the 1870s through the 1930s. The majority of them were open to the public and I loved walking through each and every one of them as I tried to imagine what life was like back then.
My last stop on my whirlwind tour of the middle northeastern section of the state was at the Jungle Adventures Nature Park & Zoo, also located in Christmas. This interesting zoological park is accessed via the Golden Gator Bridge, as you stroll along a path with animal exhibits on either side of alligators, exotic birds and other ‘jungle’ creatures. I also checked out the Native Indian village and the jungle boat cruise around the park, where more gators were spotted. I was expecting more out of this park than I saw, but for the most part, I was impressed. I thought the jungle cruise ride was cool, and it was a nice ending to an adventurous and exciting weekend.