This past Saturday was Florida Lighthouse Day, where a few lighthouses that are not normally open to the public were open for visitors to climb to the top. As was the case with the one I visited on Anclote Key Preserve State Park just off the coast of Tarpon Springs (the sponge capital of the world) near Tampa. So I left for my 5-hour trek across the state early Saturday morning so I could make the 10 am cruise out to the key. Since I arrived a little earlier than expected, I took a nice walk around the historic section and the Tarpon Bayou. I’ve been through this section before but mainly on my bicycle as the Pinellas Trail goes right through here. I then boarded the boat that took me out to the Anclote Key Lighthouse. The view from the top of the lighthouse was amazing, and I also got a chance to walk around and explore the island. Upon returning back to Tarpon Springs, I had a delicious seafood lunch at Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill
I next drove just down the road to Fred Howard Park, a beautiful and crowded beach park that offers a great distant view of Anclote Key and the lighthouse. After an hour or so there, I then drove another short distance to A. L. Anderson Park, where I hiked along the scenic waterfront trail of Lake Tarpon. I then made my way just east of the city to Brooker County Creek Preserve. Another beautiful park, with a winding boardwalk that meandered through the preserve, I saw about a dozen armadillos noisily shuffling through the underbrush and apparently, just missed a bobcat, who was also strolling along the boardwalk.
My next destination was about half an hour up north to New Port Richey and Werner Boyce Salt Springs Park. Expecting this park to have its own beach along the ocean, I was a bit disappointed by the one small hiking trail that goes nowhere near the water. Since it was getting close to evening, and my hopes of watching the sunset at this park were dashed, I was hoping to find a beach area close by but this part of the coast does not have any beach access areas. So I decided to head back east inland to find my campsite. As I made my way there, I saw a sign for a county park so I took a detour to check it out. I ended up at Crews Lake Park in Spring Hill. I was very impressed with this park and particularly the observation tower, where I spotted a sandhill crane family, complete with mom and dad and two young ones. I really wished I had gotten here earlier to ride along the bike path, but I only had about 20 minutes to hang out before the park closed. I next headed over to my campsite at Cypress Creek Preserve in Land O’ Lakes.
Luckily I got there with some daylight left and even luckier that a park ranger was there to show me where the campground was. I definitely would not have figured it out had it been after dark. As I settled into my mysterious surroundings, I realized that I wasn’t alone and could only imagine how many animal eyes were on me as I had this 7,000 acre piece of land all to myself. The wall of cricket and frog sounds was pretty amazing and a bit eerie too.
After a great night of sleep and no animal attacks, I bid adieu to my forest paradise and headed south to Hillsborough River State Park in Thonotosassa. I’ve been to this park a few times when I used to visit my father vacationing in Florida, but I’ve only been here once since I moved down ten years ago. And I can’t believe I haven’t come back sooner as I forgot what a cool park this is, with some fantastic hiking trails along the Hillsborough River. And as a extra bonus, there was a tour of a fort from the Second Seminole War in the mid 1830’s called Fort Foster. My next stop was at Alafia River State Park in Lithia. Never being here before, I didn’t realize that the main focus of this park are the mountain biking trails. Since I only had a road bike and no helmet, I wasn’t able to bike any of the trails, but judging by the last time I went mountain biking, it’s probably a good thing. I did hike a mile or so of the trails but didn’t want to get in the way of any of the many bikers out enjoying this park.
I was really looking forwards to my next stop as I had just learned of this place a few weeks ago while online – Solomon’s Castle. Located in the middle of the state in a small swamp town called Ona, Harold Solomon began building his ‘castle’ back in the early 70’s as a showcase for his many sculptures and other pieces of art. Along with the castle, he also built a 16th-century-style boat that now serves as a restaurant appropriately titled the Boat in the Moat. The tour was both fascinating and very entertaining, as his crazy sense of humor shone through in his art pieces. And of course, I had to have lunch in the boat. My last stop was at the Caloosahatchee Regional Park in Alva. Even though there was a threat of rain throughout the whole day, a drop never fell, and that was a good thing as the hiking trails at this park were already wet enough. But I still enjoyed my time here before I headed back for the two and a half hour drive home.