Back roads to near and far places, a photo journal of my travels

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Cocoa Beach to Vero Beach

Down A1A up US1

June 14, 2012

Having recently purchased a Nikon D7000 camera, I was anxious to use it for a road trip. A potential client looked through my photographs at the Orlando Farmers Market at Lake Eola, loved my retro technique and asked if I had any old style vintage looking Florida beach scenes that she could use for her salon. I hadn't thought of that. I haven't driven to the beach in years because over time, I developed a phobia of bridges. It has a name Gephyrophobia. Apparently it runs in the family as my cousin Dottie also suffers from this; she has had to call the port authority to drive her over the bridges from New Jersey to Pennsylvania. I learned of this anecdote years later from my Aunt Mildred. Growing up in South Jersey, if I wanted to partake in exciting nightlife, I often drove over the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman bridges to Philadelphia. I also drove over the Delaware Memorial Bridge daily when I was in management training with a restaurant company in Media, PA. When I moved to Florida in 1985, I certainly had no fear of bridges as I often traveled to Vero Beach to visit my friend Priscilla. I used to drive to Clearwater and Naples to visit other friends. Years later as my phobia became full blown, my friends drove me to the beach. I would cover my eyes as we crossed, in the midst of a panic attack. The running joke was "Oh Harriet, you can drive over the bridge yourself, just close your eyes."

Determined to shoot some beach photos, I enlisted the help of my friend Tres. Although I find much fault with his driving skills, I knew he would drive over bridges. We left early before dawn from Orlando to Cocoa Beach. The plan was to go to Sebastian down A1A then back up US1. I didn't learn until later the photographer's adage to "go west in the morning, east in the afternoon and north anytime". So unwittingly, I timed the trip so that the light was against me.

As we drove into Cocoa Beach, I saw many motifs that seemed staged for a photographer, but Tres and I would have to test our timing. I had to learn to say stop, go back, without hesitation. To just mention that I would have liked to stop and shoot something once we passed the opportunity would not suffice. We also had to encounter boundary issues. If I thought something was interesting enough to photograph, and Tres did not deem it worthy, he would tell me. That did not sit well with me. I don't want anyone to edit my creative efforts. We had a situation in which Tres threatened to hitchhike home, leaving me to drive back alone across the bridges. The stalemate took place in a strip mall parking lot. I could have stood my ground but my phobia kicked in and I apologized. He apologized also, so it became an unspoken agreement that he not infringe upon my creative freedom. We were on our way for the rest of the journey. This is the photo that caused the uproar. I liked it because of the graphics as I am also a graphic designer.

Cocoa Beach Trolley Sign

I wanted to head south, he insisted we go north towards Titusville. Up we went, to the marina where the big ships are docked, we turned around. Oh, I just checked the order of my photographs and this happened first before the trolley sign showdown. Anyway, I impressed upon him that I was losing the morning light; besides my increasingly foul attitude was becoming apparent. So down into Cocoa Beach we went. And if I said stop, he stopped, if I said turn around, he did. First up was the Cocoa Beach mecca for surfers and all manner of tourists.

  Ron Jon Surf Shop Cocoa Beach Sepia Tones Surfer Sculpture Ron Jons Cooca Beach
Ron Jon Surf Shop Cocoa Beach
  Ron Jon Surf Shop

We went onto the beach, it was lined with Tiki Heads. As we traveled through town, it became apparent that Tikis were the city's symbol.

Tiki Head Cocoa Beach Tiki Head Cocoa Beach
Tiki Coconuts Sculpture Cocoa Beach Tiki Sculpture Cocoa Beach

We got back on the main road to head out of town when I saw the City of Cocoa Welcome sign and City Hall. Snapped a couple of shots. To my dismay, I realized the light was way too bright. At the time, I was ignorant of the photographers' rule of light and direction. Advice from photographers had been to shoot during the sweet hours before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.

Cocoa Beach Sign Established 1925 Welcome to Cocoa Beach


Down A1A to Sebastian Inlet State Park

We drove down A1A past Patrick Air Force base, I thought to take some pictures, but vaguely remembered a post 9/11 law about photographing military bases. We continued on passing the condos and private homes along the beach until we got to Sebastian Inlet where we saw a State Park access to the beach. And here is where I made a mistake that would cause me trouble for numerous shoots thereafter. I changed a lens in the car with door open and the camera body facing up. Later I wondered what those big globs on my photos were. I never had this problem with the Olympus I used prior to this new camera. It cost me a trip to Colonial Photo and Hobby on Mills. Wasn't it called Bob's Photo & Hobby once upon a time? Do you know how fortunate we are to have this shop as well as numerous others? When I was in South Jersey, there were no camera shops except for Ritz at the mall. The hobby store in Pitman NJ had gone out of business, nothing like this exists there. Anyway, I am now a little wiser and more careful and mindful of the direction of the camera body as well as the direction of light. This is a retro cross process effect on Sebastian Inlet Pier and the beach. Are those stakes in the sand for turtle hatchlings?

Sebastian Pier Sebastian FL
Sebastian Inlet Beach FL

I've always loved the summer clouds in Florida, so voluminous, sculptural, and imposing. You don't see clouds like these up North.

Palm Trees and Clouds Florida Beach Scene
Sea Oats and Clouds Florida Beach Scene

We continued driving south even though our original plan was to turn north once we reached Sebastian Inlet. I had the map in hand and saw that Vero Beach was fast approaching. If I kept Tres in the dark, I might get a nice lunch in Vero out of the deal. I had just the place in mind; this was my old stomping ground as it was my first destination in Florida in 1980 when I flew down to visit my friend Priscilla to deliver the cat she left behind from the life she abandoned in South Jersey. I haven't been there in years.


Back to the Past in Vero Beach

"Just up the road" was the answer I gave when Tres asked how far this Vero Beach place was. We rolled into town; memories of those hazy, crazy days from the 1980s surfaced. During this time Vero Beach was home to the Dodgers and New Orleans Saints training camp . You can also fly into Vero Beach airport, which I have done a few times. (I've also missed a few flights home from there.) A flight academy is on site. Vero Beach is a town where you can rub elbows with billionaires, it is the quiet Palm Beach; what happens in Vero, stays in Vero kind of place, playground of the rich and infamous. And for a young woman, it was a place of opportunity. Oh, but the naive farm girl from Jersey that I was, just didn't recognize opportunity when it presented itself. Too bad youth comes first and wisdom second. From houseboats to billionaires' yachts, I saw more than I had ever experienced before.

We found the Ocean Grill restaurant, it was bigger than I remembered. Priscilla and I had never made it past the bar for lunch. Tres and I were seated next to the window with a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean. There was a submerged shipwreck in the visible distance. Tres was afraid for his wallet, then delightfully surprised by the low lunch prices. We were thrilled with the food, view, ambiance. Rustic, eclectic, built with pecky cypress, wrought iron and Spanish antiques by Waldo Sexton, it has been serving up great food and memories since 1941. A huge recommend from me.

Ocean Grill Vero Beach Exotic Interior Ocean Grill Restaurant Vero Beach Interior

Now in search of Waldos! We walked down the street looking for the Driftwood Inn aka Waldos. It was built by Waldo Sexton who also built the Ocean Grill. He was one of the founders of Vero Beach. When you go to the link for the Driftwood Inn, check out the panoramic view of the courtyard as I was unable to capture it to its full glory with my camera. At the time of the photo shoot, I did not realize this was on the National Historic Register.

Waldos Last of the Great American Hangouts Vero Beach FL Waldo's Plaque at the Driftwood Inn Vero Beach FL

Time to head out for the last leg of the trip up US1 along the Indian River. I was searching for iconic old Florida subject matter.


Bridge to Heaven or Hell

We drove through Wabasso and there I saw it, an old rustic bait and tackle shop on US1. We turned around and parked in the lot. There were vehicles in front obliterating the view. I took some photos over the cars and pickups but was not satisfied. Tres suggested we drive down the road and return when it was less crowded. We took Route 510 along a scenic highway. Tres suggested I take a picture of another sign but it didn't work out. This one caught my eye. Not a word from Tres as to the worthiness of this shot.

Indian River Lagoon Sign Florida Scenic Highway

We drove down CR 510 and shortly looming before us was the bridge of my nightmares. The Bridge of Terror, the one that caused my Gephyrophobia— fear of bridges — if you weren't paying attention in the beginning of this blog. Back in the 1980s Priscilla took me to Sea Oats Plantation to their country club for lunch. A little too much Chablis (can you believe we ever drank that) and she thought she was Mario Andretti behind the wheel. We approached the bridge which I had crossed numerous times on my own while visiting Vero Beach from Orlando, and Miss Priscilla lilted "Oh Harriet, it's the Bridge to Heaven!", as it is a steep upgrade that makes it appear as if it is going straight into the sky. This is where I pinpoint the start of my phobia. She floored the accelerator to at least 90 mph coming down the other side which had a curve at the end that I didn't think she could negotiate. I wasn't sure I would be headed for Heaven if this was my final moment.

Bridge of Terror CR510

It doesn't look so frightening from beneath, does it? I related the bridge story to Tres who decided it was time for me to be rid of the phobia, plus we had some time to kill. He drove me over the bridge back and forth, back and forth until I could open my eyes and look at the surrounding scenery. It was exhilarating, what a view! I had always wanted to move to Vero Beach, but somehow got stuck in Orlando. Perhaps it was a good thing, maybe I wouldn't have survived Vero.

We drove back to the tackle shop, one vehicle was still in front. I went in, waited until everyone left and asked the guy behind the counter if I could photograph the place and if he could move his vehicle and a couple other things that detracted from the image. He was more than happy to oblige. The agreement was that I send him the jpgs of the photos. Done and done! I've processed this photo and other views dozens of ways. I can't decide which one I like best. Oh boy, oh boy, I'm thrilled with this one!

Wabasso Tackle Shop Wabasso FL


Along the Indian River

We headed up US1, taking side roads with signs that said "Scenic View". I saw a brown road marker for "Rodney Kroegel Historic Conservation Area" and stopped to shoot this:

Kroegel Homestead Sebastian FL

We followed another sign and ended up in what I think is Sebastian proper along the Indian River. My camera was clicking away.

Get your fresh fish here Sebastian FL Driftwood Fence along the Indian River Sebastian FL

Such beautiful scenery along Indian River Drive! Everything was about boating and fish! Numerous fish processing buildings one right after the other; we drove right past it at first, I turned to look, I had almost missed it. "Turn around! Turn around! I practically yelled at Tres. "What did you see?" he asked. I told him I thought it was a spectacular structure out on the river. We went back and I shot away. I didn't know what the structure actually was, so I posted it on my FaceBook page. A few guesses resulted, however my old high school buddy who now lives in Utah, posted a link to this exact building. It was the Archie Smith Fish Company from 1932! Jimmy included a list of the National Historic Register for counties in FL. This list propelled my next trips and those to come. Jimmy was part of our high school clique comprised of artists, musicians, poets, writers, singers, thespians. Madelyn, Jimmy, Barb, Mike, Deb and other like-minded students would gather at my parents' farmhouse to hang out, exchanging creative ideas, playing guitar, singing, listening to the music of the 1960s and early '70s. All of us moved away from Williamstown; we are far flung in the US. We keep in touch through Facebook. that would be an interesting road trip, visiting them all. I miss our creative camaraderie, now I'm part of the creative scene in Orlando, however the earnestness of my youth is missing. Oh how I miss that energy...

Archie Smith Fish Company 1932 - Sebastian FL National Historic Register
Archie Smith Fish Company Sebastian FL

It was pouring down rain as we headed up US1 North, we dropped into Cocoa Village for some coffee and pastry, then took the Beachline home. I was ready for more adventure in the near future, perhaps taking a road trip for a number of days instead of a day trip, to explore more regions and roads in Florida. And I had a new agenda, photographing sites on the National Historical Register.

Ft Myers Beach and Beyond

Down Route 27

July 25-27, 2012

I never realized how much I missed traveling and exploring back roads to near and far places until the opportunity presented itself to head out on the open road with a vague destination in mind. Planning to explore any road that looked interesting or promising for photographing historic buildings, sites, or just something that made a visually interesting photo, we made numerous detours.

We traveled 657 miles round trip with the destination of Ft. Myers Beach, planning to travel the back roads to places I had found on the list of historic places in Florida. My intention was to photograph some of these with my new Nikon D7000. One of my clients at Lake Eola where I set up my tent to sell my art and photography, recommended we go down Route 27 to photograph the Diving Girl sign at a now defunct motel. She also suggested getting photos of the ice houses off Pine Island. So that was my loose plan as we drove off from Orlando.

First stop was Lake Wales to see the historic area of downtown. I saw the old hotel and inquired of a friendly pedestrian as to the name of the building. She told me it was the old Grand Hotel also known as the Dixie Walesbilt Grand Hotel. She suggested I go to Cliff's Hardware Store and ask the owner to tell me more about it. I took some shots of the building, found the hardware store located nearby and found Cliff. He proceeded to give me a wonderful 25 minute oral history of the hotel, the town, and the murals of which he was the committee head. Had I known that it would be such a spellbinding tale, I would have shot video.

Wales Bilt Grand Hotel Lake Wales

Back in the 1920s Florida experienced a land boom fueled by the railways and the promise of land speculation from the newly drained Everglades area. Everyone built and built believing "if we build it, they will come". They built the hotel, there was a big bust in 1926 in Florida before the rest of the country experienced the bust of 1929. So it was never really used until a religious group called the Agape Players bought it in the 1970s. They made it their headquarters with a guru and followers. To raise money, they opened an ice cream shop in the ground level arcades as well as a theater where they put on productions such as the Music Man and other musicals and plays. As Cliff tells it, "the guru had zipper problems". There was a big scandal and the flock disbanded, abandoning the hotel. It sat empty for decades. The city took over until recently when a private individual purchased it for $10 with the stipulation of putting $1.5 million into repairs and renovations. As you can see, it is nowhere near finished. He plans to sell as condos, marketing to foreigners. I sure hope he doesn't make a mess of it. If you are curious about the history of Florida Land Boom of the 1920s, I've linked it for you. As we all know, history does repeat itself.

Walesbilt Grand Hotel Lake Wales FL Cliff the town historian Lake Wales Cliff's Hardware Store owner
The Dixie Walesbilt Hotel Cliff the Historian

About those murals that Cliff mentioned; this one depicts the Passion Play which was performed for many years in Lake Wales. In 2004, the hurricanes destroyed their amphitheater which was in a sinkhole outside Lake Wales.

Lake Wales Passion Play mural

More Murals of Lake Wales
Lake Wales photo collage mural Lake Wales Mural Photo Collage Lake Wales Mural of Jesse Williams

Avon Park and The Diving Girl

One of the known targets for this photo journey was the Diving Girl sign in Avon Park. We also planned to have lunch at the historic Jacaranda Hotel, which opened in 1926 and hosted such guests as Babe Ruth, George Burns and Gracie Allen amongst others. One hall which also has a real telephone booth, has a gallery of old photos of the famous guests. I really enjoyed the ambience of the lobby and restaurant with vintage music circa 1930-40s playing in the background. The light fixtures were from that era, which reminded me of my paradise lost when I lived in a 1920s Spanish Mission House in Winter Park. It had its original Art Deco light fixtures which I decorated around as I had plenty of Art Deco treasures from my flea market finds in the 1970s. There were 10 foot domed ceilings, French doors, a porte-cochère, a walled front terrace and Spanish Mission tower. The house was sold during our 2005 Land Boom (we all know how that ended up—see Florida land bust above) at a ridiculous price, out of my range. The new owners stripped all the original fixtures, put in chrome and stainless steel type of fixtures and decor. I was livid, but alas I didn't have the funds to buy the newly valued house. It was my "Casa Bohemia", my 1920s "Shangri-La" but it became the new owners' little design experiment which they called "Mies von der Rohe and Marcel Breuer do Spanish Mission". Considering they were a couple of architects from California, they should have known better. Their design attempts were a big FAIL! The new owners tried to flip the house for double what they paid; it has sat empty for the past 7 years, once more falling into disrepair. When I resided there, I had theme parties with belly dancers, henna artists, guests in costume, exotic ethnic foods, guest speakers and authors and art groups and showings; it was even on a local home tour. My decor was Art Deco mixed with Morocco (check out this shop in Orlando!) and India, and a few pieces of Arts and Crafts which I had picked up at the Morse Museum gift shop in Winter Park. I mention all this because I did not take many pictures during that time, not realizing that all things come to an end eventually. It is the impetus that drives me now to document what may be gone tomorrow. Well, enough about my past. Back to Florida's past.

Jacaronda Hotel Lake Wales FL
Historic Hotel Jacaranda

Another interesting building, was this one; mostly because I am a big fan of typeface & lettering. When I was in Graphic Design school, I bored my classmates to death with a 45 minute power point presentation on Typography. Well, I thought it was fascinating. From Gutenberg to the Adobe Font creators, I covered most of it. Ironic that history class in high school was a big blur, now I can't seem to learn enough.

Building in Avon Park with lettering

Back on the road (Route 27) I spotted her close to the intersection in Avon Park. The Diving Girl sign for Reed's motel which is closed at present, was more than I had hoped for, great color and design. However it is not the original sign as that was damaged during our 2004 hurricane season. This was the replacement with a 2 piece swimsuit as the original from 1957 had a one piece. I found a link to the neon sign which is spectacular! Since the hotel is defunct; I doubt it is lit at night.
To view the working neon sign click on this link: Neon Diving Girl sign at night for Reed's Motel Avon Park FL

Diving Girl Sign Reeds Motel Avon Park FL Diving Girl Reed's Motel Route 27 Avon Park

Venus, if you will...

Getting a little hazy about the road details but somehow we took a detour to Venus, home of the Venus Project created by Futurist Jacque Fresco. We had seen some information about it before and Tres, being a fan of science fiction was intrigued. Oh, if you haven't seen the rest of my site, Tres is my art partner and now travel partner, mostly the driver, as I no longer care to drive distances. I think it's an age thing with me, plus living downtown, I don't travel outside a 5 mile radius. I like driving slow these days. We found out that they charge $200 to tour the Venus facilities, so we were hoping to catch a glimpse or somehow luck out. We didn't find it, nothing really to see in Venus, except run down trailers and old geodesic domes which some of the natives must have bought early on. I did see this sign and ordered Tres to stop. I order him because if I suggest we stop, he keeps going. I have to be certain and adamant. It's the rule.

Venus FL General Store Sign

Ft Myers Beach

We arrived late afternoon at our hotel, hours after the check in time. It took us almost 8 hours to go on a 3 1/2 hour drive to the Gulf of Mexico. When we checked in at our hotel, the Lani Kai Resort Ft Myers Beach, there was a skirmish in the parking lot as the police were apprehending a bank robber who was sitting at the downstairs bar with a gal. The scuttlebutt was that his girlfriend ratted him out over jealousy. Someone ran into the lobby telling us not to leave as there were people with guns in the parking lot. The police managed to tase the alleged robber and cart him off. We didn't see a thing. I thought it was one of the many drunken guests acting crazy. That's what you get when you choose a hotel that boasts 3 bars, one roof top, one open air beach side and one somewhere in between. The hotel was not up to my standards but the view from the balcony was spectacular.

Hotel Lani Kai balcony view Sunset Ft Myers Beach Pier

The moonlight on the water at night was almost mystical with the silhouetted palm trees, however the downstairs bar dj was blasting dance party music. "I'm sexy and I know it..." Boom boom boom on the bass beat. Not a hotel for grown-ups. Ft Myers Beach was merely our jumping off place for the adventures of the next few days. We never really went down to the beach.

Flame Thrower Channeling Jack Casady
Entertainment on the Beach Hotel Lounge: Channeling Jack Casady
Moon over Gulf of Mexico Crow in Palm Tree

Moonlight on the Gulf of Mexico

Hotel Balcony: Crow in Palm Tree


Venturing on: The Koreshan World View, Pine Island, Sanibel Island

The next day I was in search of the historic ice houses and fish cabins in the bay off Pine Island. This was one of the goals of the trip. I was under the impression that one could view them from Pine Island. Too late, I realized that they could only be viewed by boat and it was too late in the day to charter one. Had I known, I would have worked on it first thing. Instead we went searching down Estero Boulevard for some nature photo ops. But on the advice of the girl behind the desk in the hotel lobby, I was more interested in the Historic Koreshan Site off Tamiami Trail. Who knew there were people who believed the earth was hollow and we lived on the inside with the planets and sun in a sphere within that? Cyrus Teed the founder of the Koreshan Unity sect convinced over 200 people to follow him, give up their money for the opportunity to hack away at the backwaters and brush of Estero FL to build their compound. In spite of their strange belief system, they were mostly progressive, opening the first post office and general store in the area on the Tamiami Trail. They had an Art and Culture Hall, they taught schoolchildren from the area, had a publishing press. Ford and Edison visited them. Edison talked them into going electric as the other locals were so skeptical. One building housed the Planetary Court, which were 7 women for the 7 planets thought to exist at the time; they were chosen as leaders of the sect. They were supposed to be celibate. They must have practiced it, because the sect died out eventually. The last member donated the land to the state of Florida.

Koreshan State Park
Koreshan Premise Koreshan Spandrel Koreshan World View
Koreshan Premise Spandrel in Art & Culture Hall Koreshan World View
Koreshan Art & Culture hall interior
Koreshan Planetary Court First Cabin Koreshan Unity Estero
Interior of Art & Culture Hall Planetary Sisters Court First Cabin

We were off to Pine Island via Tamiami Trail. As we headed over the causeway to the island, we were impressed by all the little galleries, shops, and restaurants. Once we got on the island, we couldn't see anything, just a long road that goes up and down the island. No view of the bay, no view of the ice houses or fishing cabins. Tres was in need of a post office, we turned down a little road pointing to the Tarpon Lodge and there it was, the cutest little post office in the middle of nowhere.

Pine Island Post Office

Our idea was to sidle up to some boaters in the marina who might take pity on us and ferry us out to the bay to photograph the ice houses. We found a little marina with a lounge, the Lazy Flamingo and struck up some conversations over Shock-Top Lager and an excellent local Triggerfish dish. Earlier, one local we encountered told us the original Cheeseburger in Paradise was served to Jimmy Buffet on Cabbage Key, an island in the bay accessible only by ferry. It was supposedly the inspiration for the song. After hearing this local anecdote, Tres was craving a veggie burger, as he is vegetarian. What a surprise that the first item on the menu at the Lazy Flamingo was a Veggie Burger! Anyway, no one offered to take us out but suggested Island Girl Charters. If I have the opportunity to go back, I will check them out. It was already too late in the day.

This is an updated insert to the journal. It is such a curious coincidence to the whole ice house story. I have talked about the ice houses with a number of photographers, hoping to get a photo trip going with a group in order to pay for the charter boat. One Sunday, Manny, one of the photographers stopped by my booth at Lake Eola and mentioned he was serious about going to Pine Island Sound with me to shoot them. And we loosely agreed on late Spring, early Summer of 2013. About an hour later a man goes through my bins of photographs and asks me why I didn't have any photos of the ice houses off Pine Island. I thought Manny had put him up to it. But no, this man came out of nowhere with this strange request. I asked him if he was connected to the woman who had originally told me about the ice houses over a year ago. No, he didn't know her. But what he did want me to know was that his son had a charter service off Captiva Island and was very familiar with the history and historic structures in Pine Island Sound. He could do a personal photography tour with a lunch stop at Lone Cabbage Key. Wow! Is that synchronicity? My friend Tres was skeptical. He thought this was just a plug for me to use this stranger's son's charter service. Well, duh, I need one anyway. When I related the story to Manny, he said I was destined to shoot those houses.

Back over the bridge we went, back over another bridge then over to Sanibel Island via yet another bridge. It was late afternoon, nothing was coming together, so we took the road to the Sanibel Lighthouse Park. I finally saw the turquoise water that I remembered from previous trips to the Gulf of Mexico.

Sanibel Island Beach by the lighthouse

Tres jumped in the water, I went off down the trail to shoot the Sanibel Lighthouse built in 1884. I walked up to it from ground level, then went back to the beach to take some long view shots. I was very pleased with what turned out.

Sanibel Lighthouse High Contrast Sanibel Lighthouse Vintage Vignette
Sanibel Lighthouse Upshot

The next morning we decided not to eat at the hotel, even though they had breakfast for $1.99, because Tres had seen a cute Key West style restaurant down the street. We still thought maybe we could also try some local marinas for a ride out to the ice houses as I had not quite given up. We had a rather long day ahead of us as we planned more back road detours to interesting places with historical significance; but if I could get back to Pine Island Sound, I was willing to forgo these other places. But back to our hungry stomachs... The restaurant was not as quaint as we thought, nice porch with people dining on paper plates and styrofoam cups. That's a big no no in Tres' book as he is obsessed with recycling. His creative endeavors are all about turning recycled materials into art. So we thought about another place that advertised breakfast, the Orpheus Cafe. We had no idea what an experience that would turn out to be. It was probably the highlight of the trip...


Gyros and Gurdjieff

Orpheus Cafe

We entered the Orpheus Cafe and immediately I sensed a creative presence. The décor was what I might called post-modern Greek. The walls were covered in abstract murals with some tile embellishments. There was great use of metal work for the lighting fixtures, the columns were made of corrugated metal, even the a/c grates received an artistic treatment. I ordered the Spinach Feta Omelette (it was awesome!) and wondered who created this environment. I asked the waitress; she told us that Tony the cook was the artist.

Orpheus Cafe Decor Orpheus Wall Mural Orpheus Cafe Counter and Bar

After we had finished our breakfast, Tony came over to our table and we struck up a conversation. He invited us to his upstairs residence and studio! So Tres and I climbed the stairs; he joined us between cooking orders. I was so excited, Tres had to take the photos of him as I was so enthralled with the conversation and a little enamoured with Tony. He spoke of the creative spirit, how determination to achieve the end result causes the loss of the creative spirit of play. Tres asked about the photos downstairs and also in his residence of a man and woman from maybe late 19th Century. Tres thought the man looked like Gurdjieff, the Greek-Armenian mystic. Tony the Greek cook (I would think he's also the owner of Orpheus Cafe although he never said he was) told us that the man was his grandfather who Tony claimed was a Shaman. When Tres mentioned Gurdjieff, Tony became quite animated, he claimed he was born on the day Gurdjieff died. Gurdjieff was very important to him. Tony said and I may be a little unclear about his exact words, "Creativity is like a feather floating above one's head, it is pure play". I believe Tony was a Shaman as well. I said that I wished we had met him when we first arrived in town instead of as we were leaving. In true mystic fashion he replied, "We met at the right time". He left us alone to photograph his studio and enjoy his creations as it was breakfast rush in the restaurant's kitchen. I finally got my art fix and creative inspiration as well. Hey girls, if I were younger before my inner cynic (isn't that a Greek word too?) took over, I could have run off with this one...

Enchanted with Tony the Greek Tony the Artist Listening to Tony expound in his Studio
Enchanted with Tony the Artist Tony the Artist Tony Expounding Exponentially in his Studio
Tony's Art Tony the Shaman Creativity is a feather floating over your head
Tony's Art Tony the Shaman Creativity is a Feather Floating Playfully
Over Your Head
Greek Icons Tony the Enchanter Shaman Implements
Greek Icons Altar Tony the Enchanter Shaman Implements
Creative Chaos Grandfather or Gurdjieff? Tony's Studio
Creative Chaos Grandfather or Gurdjieff? Tony's Studio

The Long Way Home

It took us 11 hours to get home by way of LaBelle, over to Clewiston, then driving along the west side of Lake Okeechobee.. But first we checked out the marinas in Ft Myers Beach for the outside chance of chartering a boat to Pine Island Sound. Well, you have to get up pretty early to catch a boat around there. I did find this scenic place along the river. And I love me some shrimp, any way you can make it, fried, boiled, broiled, stuffed and deviled, Cajun style, Tempura, Provençal, Jambalaya; my current favorites are in a mustard horseradish shallot sauce served chilled and Goan shrimp from Tamarind Restaurant in Winter Park, FL.

Trico Shrimp Company Ft Myers Beach Shrimp Boat Ft Myers Beach Shrimp Sign Ft Myers Beach

We took the highway out of town headed for LaBelle, where we stopped for coffee at the most charming place (as we try to patronize local mom and pop type restaurants whenever we can) at Bridge Street Coffee & Tea Company. It was raining, I didn't want to shoot any of the historical buildings in the rain, besides, the traffic was bad, there seemed to be no good view of any of them. The cafe itself had many old photographs on the wall depicting the history of LaBelle. This is another recommend from me if you are ever traveling through. We inquired of the Barista the best way to get to Clewiston, he said he had never been there, lived in LaBelle all his life! I have found it so odd that many Floridians have not traveled much even within their own state. I knew one Floridian who did not even know where Ft Lauderdale was.

Florida Pastoral

I'm not quite sure which route we took, it was a roundabout way of reaching Clewiston, perhaps it was Route 720 or some other back road to see more "real Florida". If it looked interesting, we diverged. We saw a park with camping for RVs, boat launches & locks but I don't remember the name. Seemed like we were the only car on the road.

Outside LaBelle Rte 720 Florida Pastoral

It was so quiet here. A whole lot of sky, open space, livestock peacefully grazing. Until we came through. I must have ruined their day.

Cows outside LaBelle FL

The Sweetest Town in the USA

We arrived in Clewiston during some sort of rush hour on the Sugarland Highway. Or maybe it was always that busy. Trucks were barreling through the center of town. I was here to photograph a building on the Historic Register, the Dixie Crystal Theater. Because there is not a dedicated page with accurate description (remind me to join the Wikipedia effort), I will have to copy and paste from the Historic Register:
"Art Moderne 1941. The Dixie Crystal Theatre is one of the few known examples of the Moderne style of architecture in Hendry County. The theater was built for Mary Hayes Davis, a prominent local business and newspaper woman who owned and operated a chain of movie theaters in south Florida during the first half of the twentieth century. Occupying a prominent site in Clewiston, along its main thoroughfare, the minimally altered Dixie Crystal Theatre provides a wonderfully preserved example of the Art Moderne style rarely executed in the Lake Okeechobee region and other rural areas of Florida."
I was disappointed that there were vehicles parked right next to it, the traffic was tremendously heavy and fast. There was a horrible cell phone tower directly behind it, it made it difficult to get "pure" shot. Oh, the dilemma of historical documentation in modern times! Thank goodness, or rather the amazing engineers of Adobe software, for "content-aware fill" in Photoshop CS5.5! This is the best out of 22 shots I took of this beauty. Hey, I think this should replace the photo on Wiki.

Dixie Crystal Theater Clewiston FL

Paleo Florida

Did you know Florida was home to mastodons and saber-toothed tigers? Neither did I! I noticed a museum located across from the Dixie Crystal Theater. I really was hoping they had a water fountain and restroom. I went inside and was immediately drawn in by the photographs of the history of Clewiston. I had numerous questions and it was suggested I speak with the curator who also wrote a newspaper column. I wish I had gotten his name. I thought for certain I could google all that later. After I mentioned that I was very interested in the history of old Florida, the curator asked, "Well, how old?". Then he led me to some rooms in the back with fossils from 10 million years ago. He did say the age of them depended on one's views. By then Tres had finally come into the museum and replied, "I'm a science teacher, so you can tell me the real age of these fossils". For more information about Florida Paleontology click here. You can also search yourself, I was quite amazed. The Clewiston Museum is housed in the old newspaper building. Their website is quite interesting and includes newspapers back to 1928. If you are curious about the history of the town, you can also start your research on this page. In addition to Sugar, there is Celotex which is made from sugarcane fibers; these were the big industries of Clewiston and important to its history. The museum also offers historical eco tours. I believe this little town, which I never knew existed in the 27 years I have lived in Florida, deserves another visit.

Clewiston Mammoth Graveyard Dugong fossils Clewiston Museum

We drove out of Clewiston on Route 78 after first getting lost in the residential area where the homes of the city founders stood, which once upon a time were on the shores of the Okeechobee. However, there were big levees and marsh beyond the homes and we couldn't see the lake. We thought we'd catch it further up the road. It is one huge body of water, and I have never seen it. Oh but look at this scene right on the highway! Tres turned around and found a safe place to park while I shot this:

Route 78 Photographer's Motif


Afternoon in Sugarland

We detoured down some smaller roads that looked like they would lead to Lake Okeechobee, there were signs, there were fish camps, boat launches, etc but no view of the lake, unless you took a boat out. Again, my plans were foiled by being boatless in Florida. We were in the middle of nowhere, miles and miles of sugarcane. No cars, silence, except for the birds and the clicking of my camera.

Sugar Cane Fields Okeechobee area

The banner photo on the top of this page was also shot along this road. I believe we were between Clewiston and Moore Haven. We drove and drove and drove. I was determined to see that huge lake. There was nothing at all to see but the levee and the road. It was early evening and we still hadn't seen Lake Okeechobee and I was anxious to get home. Next up on the map was Buckhead Ridge. We saw a place where we could climb up on the levee, I think there was a sign that said "Scenic Lookout". And there it was! Just a little sliver of the north shore of Lake Okeechobee, surrounded by marsh; not the monster body of water I had hoped to see.

Buckhead Ridge Lake Okeechobee


Lake Okeechobee Buckhead Ridge

We were famished. The next town on the map was Okeechobee. Believe me, there was nothing in between towns. We stopped for dinner at Lightsey Fish Co & Seafood Restaurant. It was at a marina. The restaurant was truly unique, boasting a menu of anything you can catch, shoot, or spear; we sat on the screened-in porch. Too bad the ambiance was lost on road weary travelers. We were finally on the way home by way of Yeehaw Junction. Tres was willing to hunt down interesting subjects until the sun went down but I said adamantly and with great certainty "Get on the Turnpike and head straight home!"


You Can Go Home Again...
Travels in Quirky, Historic South Jersey

August 16-29, 2012

Jersey Fresh Vegetables and Fruits Sign

It seems I have neglected to post the South Jersey trip for several months and in the interim, Hurricane Sandy visited the state. While my family members are safe with virtually no damage to their properties even though Sandy made landfall about 30 miles from them, many parts of NJ suffered incredible damage. Parts of the famous Jersey Shore have been forever changed. And that's where I traveled, from the mouth of the Maurice River at the Delaware Bay to the north tip of Atlantic City.

My family settled in NJ after my father's 20 year career in the US Army. My parents took over the family farm in South Jersey in 1965 after living in Lawton, Oklahoma, before that was Fulda, Germany, prior to that was Killeen, TX, and before that was Fulda for the first time. We also lived in Brooklyn, NY when I was a toddler, and before that was Neu-Ulm, Germany, where I was born. But NJ is where I call home because my family is there. Wherever we lived, my father would pile us up in the car and go traveling to see the local sites. He just loved going down back roads if they looked interesting. That was back in the day when kids would have to look out the window for entertainment, before video games, dvds and whatever else bored kids do when they are stuck in the car with their parents.

My sister, and sometimes my brother-in-law, did the driving during my stay. My father was a passenger as his vision does not allow him to drive anymore. My sister is a destination driver, whereas my father was more of an explorer. I really miss riding with him as he would slow down to determine if a little back road might lead to an interesting place.

It was almost like the old days, off to sight-see with Mom & Dad, and my sister Silvia in the vehicle. Well, almost...My sister and I were trying to outdo each other with our own navigation technology. I think mine was better than hers. At least it directed us forward to the nearest WaWa for coffee.

Upon my arrival at the Atlantic City airport, we traveled the back way home wandering around the South Jersey countryside. My sister had already planned on taking me to places for great photo ops. We pulled over to take this shot as dusk was approaching.

Deer field in South Jersey

I want to marry a Lighthouse Keeper and live by the side of the sea...

A few days later, my sister had planned a trip to Delaware Bay and the backroads to Cape May. My brother-in-law drove as it was their anniversary and they planned to celebrate at the Lobster House in Cape May. They took me to the East Point Lighthouse at the mouth of the Maurice River. Built in 1849, it is on the National Register of Historic Places. I've heard this area of the bay got hit hard by Sandy.

East Point Light House Maurice River NJ East Point Light House Maurice River NJ East Point Light House Maurice River NJ
East Point Lighthouse Delaware Bay NJ
Seagulls Delaware Bay NJ
Delaware Bay Maurice River Mouth


Historic Cape May & the Painted Ladies

We were off to Cape May to check out another famous lighthouse. Cape May is one of my favorite spots in South Jersey. Home to countless Victorian Painted Ladies, it is about an hour and a half drive from our farm. My dad closed the farm once a season to take the help down to Cape May to go deep sea fishing. We put up a sign "Gone Fishing" on our farm market and left early before dawn; the truck loaded with the hired help and coolers. It was back in the day when we could pile in the truckbed without legal repercussions. When we were young women, my sister and I spent a weekend in Cape May at one of the grand hotels, next to the beach. It was one of the first places to have an elevator in the 1800s, but even in the 1970s, it didn't have air conditioning. The beautiful wrap-around porch adorned with Victorian gingerbread and white Victorian wicker furniture, was a great place to enjoy the ocean breeze after a day at the beach.

We went down to the point to the Cape May Lighthouse which was built in 1859. Much work had been done since I was last there. There are boardwalks to the beach where one can view a WWII concrete bunker that served as a lookout for German U-boats. At Sunset Beach, a sunken concrete ship, the SS Atlantus, built during WWI is visible in the water. Well, maybe not after Hurricane Sandy.

Cape May Lighthouse Black/white Cape May Lighthouse
Cape May Lighthouse
Concrete WWII Bunker Cape May
WWII Concrete Bunker
Concrete Sunken Ship Cape May  SS Atlantus
WWI Concrete Ship SS Atlantus


The Lobster House was on the menu for lunch. I think it was more hype than great food. I was not impressed. I've had much better meals in quaint restaurants, with lunch served on the Victorian verandas. The Mad Batter comes to mind. From photos I've seen, looks like the Lobster House got flooded half way up their entry doors during the storm. We made a quick trip into town to see the "Ladies". It was more crowded than I had ever seen, a good season for them. We had trouble finding nearby parking so we cut our visit short, since we didn't want to leave my dad in the car too long. The walk was too far for him. I don't think he waited in the car the entire time as an ice cream shoppe was nearby.

Cape May Inn NJ Pink Victorian Painted Lady Cape May Poor Richards Inn Cape May
Cape May Inn Pink Painted Lady Poor Richard's Inn

I have been to Cape May many times. I was there previously with an Olympus Evolt. We had more time to spend wandering around town that day. We took a trolley tour of the historic Painted Ladies and other noteworthy places. While walking around, we saw a group of young men sitting on a porch in their white suits, members of a wedding party. They hammed it up for my camera but the best shot I got was later when they were crossing the street with the wedding photographer. I saw a photo op and yelled at them "Do Abbey Road!" I had hoped they would cross single file. My sister says they were probably too young to know what I meant. I still like the shot.

Cape May photos from previous visit in 2011
Queen Ann Victorian Painted Ladies Cape May NJ Emlen Physick House Cape May NJ
Queen Anne Victorian Emlen Physick House
Cape May wedding party
Hey, why don't you do Abbey Road?


Off to Atlantic City, but not to gamble...

The family piled into the car for another road trip — destination: Atlantic City via the Old White Horse Pike. When I attended Stockton State College in Pomona NJ, I recalled seeing many roadside oddities on this route, old retro motels, ramshackle roadside stands selling Jersey shore type souvenirs, and interesting handwritten signs & odd buildings. As we traveled down to the shore, it seemed very different. Of course it was nearly 40 years later. The highway had been expanded to accommodate the casino traffic and all those little tacky South Jersey roadside businesses were gone. Again, another reason to document. So we drove into Atlantic City past a large wind farm. We arrived at our destination at the north end of Atlantic City. The Absecon Lighthouse, built in 1857, is New Jersey's tallest lighthouse and third tallest in the U.S. (Pieces of the Atlantic City boardwalk washed up right next to it after Hurricane Sandy.) I took many photos of the lighthouse but lamented afterwards that I should have taken the shots from the other side. Ansel Adams said that great photos are all about positioning. This is the only shot I really liked; I worked it up half a dozen ways. Here are two of my favorites.

Absecon Lighthouse Atlantic City NJ halftone Absecon Lighthouse Atlantic City NJ
Absecon Lighthouse Atlantic City, NJ
Stairwell inside Abesecon Lighthouse
Inside Abescon Lighthouse

After a quick stop at Trump Plaza Casino to play the slot machines, we won $20 and left. We were headed south on Atlantic Avenue to a place I had never been before; it was on my bucket list and the National Historic Landmark list as well. We drove on through Monopoly Board country past Ventnor to Margate.

I Shot an Elephant!

Would you believe this is where Hurricane Sandy made landfall? Lucy just got her feet wet and she's still standing!
How is it I never saw Lucy the Elephant in all the years I was growing up in South Jersey? Nor had my family seen her. Wow, was she ever big! My sister got our father over to a table at the nearby ice cream joint right on the beach and Silvia, Mom and I went on a tour up inside Lucy. Her back leg is a stairwell. We went all the way up to the Howdah and took in the view of the Atlantic Ocean. There is a great, interesting history of Lucy on her website. She was built in 1881 by a real estate developer to attract attention to land south of Atlantic City. She's had many incarnations, as a residential dwelling as well as a bar which was almost the death of her when brawling bar patrons knocked over an oil lantern and set her on fire!
I would have preferred Lucy to have a larger plot of land that allowed for better photography without all those buildings in the background. I took one shot backed right up against a fence, couldn't go back any further. Obviously, I need another lens for wide angle shots. I took so many photos but few of them were compositionally great due to the challenges of her environment. Here are the best; processed in my usual vintage photo style.

I love Lucy the Elephant
Lucy the Elephant Lucy the Elephant
Lucy the Elephant Lucy the Elephant
Rear view of Lucy the Elephant

Yes, I became a fan of Lucy the Elephant. She has many friends throughout the world. We got back in the car and drove a little further south ending up in Ocean City NJ. This town is dry, you can tell by the numerous bars and liquor stores on the other side of the bridge waiting for the visitors who didn't know or the local residents who need to stock up their cabinets to put up with all the tourists if all the churches in town fail in soothing their souls.
To my amazement, this Ferris Wheel made it through Sandy. The amusement piers in the northern parts of the shore did not fare as well as Gillian's Pier.

Gillians Pier Ferris Wheel Ocean City NJ

Get a little lost on South Jersey back roads...

Well, my sister is never one to admit she is lost, while my dad relished getting a little lost. That's how he found new, interesting places. I believe the term originally referred to improvisation in jazz music. Growing up in South Jersey, I had access to the best radio stations. WMMR and WDAS Philadelphia underground, WXPN of University of Pennsylvania, and WRTI Temple University's jazz station. From the late sixties through college, I learned to love experimental jazz such as Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, riffs by John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Lonnie Liston Smith. These stations were a creative beacon in a dismal town that feared any change in the status quo. Granted, I had found a clique of like-minded people, but most of the town was anti-intellectual, anti-change, and definitely not progressive. As happens in such towns that lack a creative vision, the youth turn to destructive indulgences out of boredom. I never understood why it was such an intellectual wasteland because Williamstown is 15 miles from Philadelphia and an hour and a half train ride to NYC.

My sister Silvia drove us down the back roads to Elmer, Porchtown, Deerfield, Salem, Woodstown, most within a 30 mile radius of home. We were looking for old farms, farmstands, 18th century buildings, odd roadside attractions, the mix that is South Jersey. The trips were taken at different times, so the photos are not chronological but representative of the areas we traveled.

Elmer Times Elmer NJ Schalick Mills Elevator Elmer NJ Nick's Pizzeria Elmer NJ
Elmer Times Schalick Mills, Elmer Nick's Pizzeria, Elmer
Zion Methodist Church Porchtown NJ Episcopal Church Salem NJ Belleview Winery, Landisville NJ
Zion Methodist Church, Porchtown Episcopal Church, Salem Belleview Winery, Landisville
Grain Mill South Jersey Marina, Greenwich NJ Cowtown Sign, Woodstown NJ
Abandoned Grain Mill, Somewhere? Marina, Greenwich Cowtown, Woodstown
Broadway Theater, Pitman NJ Angelo's Diner, Glassboro NJ Downer Methodist Church, Downer NJ
Broadway Theater, Pitman Angelo's Diner, Glassboro Downer Methodist Church
Wamsley's Texaco Elmer NJ
Wamsley's Texaco Route 40, Elmer

South Jersey Farmland

South Jersey Farm Cabbage Field
Jocelyn's View South Jersey Farm South Jersey Dairy Farm Buildings South Jersey Farmland


Try a little quirkiness...

South Jersey, that area between Philadelphia and the Shore is an eclectic mix of small town, farmland, and small businesses with grand ideas and even grander signs. Here is a sample of how they advertise:

Viking Carpet Man Nitro Uniroyal Girl Cowtown Rodeo Muffler Man
Viking Carpet Man
Deerfield NJ
Nitro Uniroyal Girl
Blackwood NJ
Cowtown Rodeo Muffler Man
Woodstown NJ


One last time...

As I stated before, I didn't really have fond memories of Williamstown but I took some photos of the iconic buildings and businesses while I was there. There was a tomato canning factory, that stank up the town late in the summer and early fall. And many of the Italian families had a little side business selling water ice in their neighborhoods. One staple was Bill Wood's Tavern where many a town citizen spent a few hours on those barstools. It is now John & Doug's but many of us still call it Bill Woods. A group of citizens is trying to emphasize a more historical aspect of Williamstown, which I noticed this trip with all the new signage in front of the older buildings. Funny, I never thought of it that way.

Williamstown "Icons"
Don Pepini Williamstown NJ Italian Water Ice Williamstown NJ
Hall Street School Williamstown NJ BillWoods Tavern Williamstown NJ


After my Dad retired from the US Army, we settled in Williamstown, where my Dad was born in a cabbage patch on the farm, so I've always been told. He is now retired from farming but keeps a small garden on the acre they kept after selling the farm. There is nothing like Jersey tomatoes or any fresh vegetable raised on your own land. Every winter, he still orders seed and starts them in a small greenhouse until it is time to plant into the ground. He keeps a little cart now for selling his vegetables or plants he has raised for other gardeners.

Duncan's Farm Stand Williamstown NJ

Once upon a time he was the owner of Duncan's Plant Farm, raising plants for farmers and gardeners. We had orders of thousands of plants at a time for South Jersey farmers. It was not unusual to get an order of 50,000 cabbage plants, 25,000 brocolli, 100,000 tomato plants (it could be a mix of varieties or all one type such as Rutgers, Ace, Big Boy, etc), another 25,000 eggplant, peppers (all varieties including bell, hots, Hungarian wax, Cubanelle, etc) and maybe another 50,000 sweet potato and yam plants. It kept us pretty busy when I was growing up. Oral Leddon in Sewell NJ was our competitor. My Dad used to pay my sister and me 50 cents a week. We also planted the whole farm for the vegetable crops of the summer and fall and would work the roadside stand selling the vegetables. Later my Dad built a a much larger fancy market further away from the road with ample parking. In the old days cars would line both sides the road all the way down past the neighboring properties. I wish we had more photos of those days. I go home once a year, and no, you can't go home again, not to the same home that exists in memory.

What remains of Duncan's Farm...
What remains of Duncan's Farm Williamstown NJ


Stay tuned for my next adventure on the roads of Florida...

I would really like to travel the west coast of Florida through the coastal panhandle and along coastal Alabama, Mississippi, then on to New Orleans. Trying to figure out how to make that happen.


For prints of these photos, please contact me by email. Sizes available and prices are listed on my Fine Art and Photography pages. Custom sizes and gallery wrap canvas prints can be ordered. If you wish to speak to me, my information is on the contact page linked at the top of the page and down below. Thanks!

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