I started this blog to share some of the thoughts I have along the journey of life. I love to travel and spend time with my family and friends. A good meal, breaking bread with those I love, gives my life meaning. So does travel. I adore dreaming of sites to visit, not just to check them off on a list. Rather, I consider myself a student of life, traveling as an explorer, to open my mind to all the possibilities the world holds in store for me and for others. I love to travel to discover how different the world is in terms of climate, cultures, politics, terrain, economy, etc. but also to discover how SIMILAR the people are. Despite language barriers, much can be communicated with a smile or gestures. Language is simply a means to communicate, yet there are so very many other ways to communicate. Once when I was in French-speaking Canada, I realized that my 7th grade French class didn’t teach me the word for “straw”. However, when I thought about it, I was able to communicate to the very French-speaking waiter in a very French-speaking restaurant about my need for a “cylinder through which to drink” in my limited French vocabulary. Travel challenges the mind and soul, stretching us to problem solve and form conclusions about all that we experience. THAT is the type of travel I enjoy best. “All’s well that ends well”, as they say………….”Life is Good” as well.
“Let’s get out of this town Drive out of the city away from the crowds….”
-“Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift
Last weekend, we traveled to Gainesville to get out of town broaden our horizons. We haven’t gone on long day trips because of the increasing Covid-19 numbers in Florida so we don’t want to stay in a hotel. However, armed with our masks, we thought this might be a good day trip with few people, as it was opening day at the museum. We had planned to go on a zip line in Micanopy at the Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park, but it rained immediately after we got out of the Natural History Museum.
The real draw for me to the museum was the Butterfly Rainforest at the Natural History Museum, which is right on the campus of the University of Florida and only about an hour and forty-five minutes from Orlando. This large screened in pavilion is home to many tropical (non-local) butterflies and their nectar plants.
I was surprised to hear that the pavillion contains no host plants, so the butterfly population is not self-sustaining and needs to be replenished.
I had been to other butterfly aviaries before and was a bit disappointed that there were not as many butterflies as I had anticipated, although this was the first day the aviary was open after closing for the pandemic.
It was well-maintained and beautiful with many colorful plants and flowers nestled among a waterfall and a winding path.
The Butterfly Rainforest admission is $14.00 for adults, $12.00 for seniors, college students and Florida adult residents. Children from three to seventeen are charged $7.oo for admission, but their fee is waved with proof of an “A” in science on their last report card.
After going through the butterfly aviary, we meandered through the museum admiring the many butterfly research stations, collections, and other exhibits.
I loved the Florida cave exhibit, which had a cave to walk through along with stations describing the geology of the cave in Florida. Many people don’t realize that Florida is home to a spectacular cave with impressive stalactites and stalagmites in Marianna, FL.
There is a large fossil collection here as well, and there are updated signs with photographs which beckon the visitor to read them, which is a little different than other museums I’ve visited whose signs haven’t been updated in many years. Here I learned that Florida was home to rhinoceroses around twenty-four million years ago, where the geography here resembled that of an African savanna. Fascinating.
Because we couldn’t do the zip line on our way home, we stopped at our favorite “Silver Springs” to stretch our legs, admire the blue waters, and get a little exercise. I just love this place and never tire of this little spot of “Old Florida”. This park has wild rhesus monkeys among the trees, but we have yet to encounter any during our visits there.
Life is good. Carpe diem, friends…………..enjoy today.
I am always fascinated with the themes of perception and reality, ignorance and truth. In fact, when I was a young girl, I noticed some numbers adjacent to the inside door, close to the check out counter, in our local convenience store. These numbers were arranged in color-coded blocks, similar to those near the exit door at Lowes. I asked one of my parents about these brightly colored numbers, and one of my parents described that they were there to help identify the heights of any thieves that tried to steal from the store. The numbers represented the heights of the suspects, and the colors were designed to help the store clerk remember the numbers. Fascinating, especially to an older, inquisitive child. This really left an impression on me.
These numbers allowed me to see that everyone sees and remembers things differently. Our conception of reality is based on what we know or have seen, our personal biases, and our interpretations of what we’ve experienced. Fast forward to when I was young adult. Someone very dear to me and I went into a local field to fly a kite, believe it or not. College exams were over, and we were looking for a way to fly a kite as a way to unwind as I recall (based on my perception from many years ago, of course). We were laughing and joking, making a lot of noise, when out of the corner of our eye, we saw someone laying face down in the ground. Surely the person would have roused if asleep we thought. As we walked closer, we realized the person did not move at all, and the person’s calf was exposed and a bit mottled. We touched the person’s calf, seeking a pulse, when we realized the calf was cold. Stone cold. We looked at each other and came to the same realization at once. The person before us was dead. This was long before the days of the ubiquity of cell phones, so we RAN to call the police. Police arrived, and so did the local news reporters. I put my hood up, as it was cold in New England that day, the day we grew up, and I knew we would be there a while. More and more reporters arrived but were kept at a distance from the crime scene by the police while we gave our statements. The next day, reporters said a brother and his younger sister found the deceased person, likely due to the difference in heights between my companion and myself. Reporters said also that two young lovers were coming out from the woods that day, and nothing was further from the truth. Discrepancies upon discrepancies were reported to the public by the news media. We later learned that the poor deceased woman was an inmate from a local state hospital mental health ward and had ground privileges. The story that was told to the media by the police was that she fell asleep and died from exposure to the cold that day.
In Plato’s “Republic”, a story is told about a cave. In this “cave allegory” as it has been called by many people, there is a group of prisoners who have been chained since childhood in a cave such that they can face only one wall, and there is a fire burning behind them. As such, the fire casts numerous shadows in front of them, and they have come to accept that is what is real. This is the only stimulation these people have had in their dreary lives. The focus of their lives, in fact, are the shadows, which are the only things they have come to know.
One day, one of the prisoners escapes from the cave and makes his way out of the cave. Outside of the cave, he is shocked and afraid to learn that he sees numerous things he had no idea existed. He squints to see the sun, then focuses on the sights before him. He realizes there are other people outside the cave as well as real animals, too, and he delights in this knowledge. He returns eagerly to the cave, almost blind from the sun, and tries to explain to the others, with joy, about the world that exists beyond their little cave beyond the shadows. There is some suggestion in the story, too, that if the man tried to free the others from their confines, they would kill him, as they would rather remain in the cave with their eyesight healthy, just as it was.
So many of us live in a similar cave, surrounded by what we THINK is the truth, either metaphorically or in reality. Our versions of what we have come to know is based on our limited exposure and understanding to the events, people, places, and things around us. While some of us seek to see beyond the cave, despite the risks, others of us prefer to remain inside the cave among our own limited knowledge, perception, or ignorance. Of course, some of us prefer to live only sometimes in that cave, depending on the situation at hand. Sometimes we venture out of the cave, yet other times we are more content not to explore beyond our comfort zone. Human behavior and the motivations for such are fascinating.
On a separate note, I have never encountered a cave that I didn’t love. During this period of self-isolation, I am reminded of a few of my visits to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky during a moment of my own armchair travel. This cave is known as the longest cave system in the world and is over four hundred miles long. At time of this writing, the cave is currently closed due to the covid epidemic but is normally open 364 days a year, closing only on Christmas. Normal hours are from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM (Central Time) . Plan ahead before you go, as year round cave temperatures can be around 54 degrees Fahrenheit, so you likely might want a jacket. Reservations are strongly recommended, as cave tours often sell out in advance, but some self-guided walk up tickets are available at times. Ticket prices vary, depending on the tour you select, and there are many tour options to meet your needs. Some tours require passage through tight spots, and others do not. Other tours require long distances with hundreds of steps and steep inclines, yet others require limited steps through short distances. One way to experience something different might be the Violet City Lantern Tour, during which the only light for visitors is from lanterns. There is also an accessible tour for those with limited mobility as well.
It’s best to check the website below to plan your visit and to check on the status of any changes to park operations:
I love a cave, any cave. There is something magical about a cave. It almost feels as though I am in a mermaid’s grotto whenever I see the beautiful stalagtites and stalagmite formations around me. I find it fascinating, too, that most caves remain a fairly constant temperature year round, no matter where there are located.
Caves transport us instantly to another time where it feels as though time elapsed photography happens before our eyes, as these beautiful cave formations happened drip by drip over many many years.
Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico is a beautiful example of a cave in all its glory. This area was surrounded by water approximately two hundred and fifty million years ago, and then most of the water in the area dried up. What was left behind is a bed of limestone now. Minerals have flowed over the limestone and collect to make the magical formations we see inside the cave.
The original cave was discovered by accident by a teenager named Jim White in 1898. He was riding his horse and saw many bats flying up from what appeared nowhere. He rode his horse closer and found a big hole into the ground. He left and brought a friend back with him, and they crawled through the caves with a torch and a ball of string to find their way back, according to the legend. Visitors can explore the cave through this natural opening (a 1.25 mile extremely steep trail which takes about an hour and is not recommended for those guests with heart or respiratory conditions) or take a seven hundred and fifty foot elevator to get to the bottom of the cave into the “Big Room” through the visitor’s center to walk along a 1.25 mile relatively flat trail, which takes about an hour and a half to walk. The Big Room is the only area accessible to guests in wheelchairs, and this trail can be bumpy. It is best for guests in wheelchairs to have help from another guest accordingly. Also, only guests with mobility issues are permitted to have a cane or walking stick in the caves, and the cane or walking stick must have a soft tip on the end.
Guests who enter through the visitor’s center have the option to visit a shorter .6 mile trail instead, which takes about forty-five minutes to walk. Apart from these “explore at your own pace options”, thrill seekers can go on a tour with a ranger into other, less explored, areas of the cave with reservations, as availability for these tours is very limited. Children under four are not allowed on any ranger-guided tours. Make sure you check the website ahead of time for any required footwear and other restrictions before you go. On these tours below, special equipment is normally provided by the park.
The Left Hand Tunnel Tour is a moderately difficult two hour candle lit tour
King’s Palace Tour – 1.5 hour tour requires walking up a steep hill where rangers frequently black out the lights for a few minutes in the cave
The Lower Cave Tour is a three hour tour, accessible by descending down sixty feet of ladders and a knotted rope that you need to hang onto as you descend backwards into the cave at some point (this tour is definitely NOT for everyone)
For adventure seekers, the four hour Hall of the White Giant tour might be for you if you are not afraid of confined spaces or heights, as in some parts you need to crawl through some tight openings, along with ladder climbings and free climbs as well. Minimum age for this tour is twelve, but anyone under sixteen must be accompanied by an adult.
The Slaughter Canyon Cave Tour is a five and a half tour into places without any electricity into narrow, uneven, and slippery areas.
In my opinion, the best time to visit Carlsbad Caverns is in August through September, where you can see baby Brazilian Free-Tailed bats fly out of and into the caves, along with adult bats, during pre-dawn or evening flights. The bats sometimes fly up to twenty-five miles an hour and are an impressive site. There is a ranger program that provides education about these fascinating creatures at Carlsbad near the “Natural Entrance” to the cave in the amphitheater. Make sure you check the website before going to Carlsbad during the Covid pandemic, however, to verify hours of operation, tour offerings, status, etc..
Speaking of bats, there is currently a huge concern with the bats at Carlsbad developing a disease called “White Nose Syndrome”, which has spread from the northeastern to central United States. This disease is caused by a fungus that causes the bats to wake up more frequently during their hibernation and to use up their fat reserves too quickly for the hibernating season, causing them to die. Visitors to Carlsbad Caverns, like many other caves in the US, will be asked to scrub their shoes on a special mat if they have visited other caves recently in order to help stop the spread of this bat disease, which is not contagious to humans.
Although Carlsbad Caverns is currently closed because of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, it is normally open during the following hours:
8:00 am to 7:00 pm daily – Summer Hours
8:00 am to 5:30 pm daily – Non-summer Hours
If you are looking for a good old road trip to an interesting destination once the pandemic is better and our travel restrictions have lifted, you might want to consider traveling to Carlsbad Caverns. There seems to be something for almost everyone here. “Holy stalagtites, Batman, ” said Robin!
Life is good; plan a road trip like no other in anticipation of when you can travel in the near future.