Sunday, August 6, 2017

2017-07-01: Back in Florida for Two Weeks

Welcome back! So on Monday June 12, I finished my last day at work on Phase 1 of a solar power construction project. Spending another week hanging out in Texas, the plan was to fly to Orlando, Florida on Monday the 19th and stay there for a week seeing family and taking care of some doctors appointments. Then driving back to Texas in a U-Haul, bringing back a lot of our stuff since our stay is going on almost two years instead of the planned few months.

Well since when do things go as planned! First thing the plane was delayed a day due to weather. The flight was scheduled to leave Midland at 4:30 PM, a short stop in Dallas, then land in Orlando at 10:30 PM. Well correct that. It was first delayed a couple hours, so I still arrived at the airport, but then cancelled a day. I could have boarded a flight from Midland at 6:00 PM, to Dallas, to Los Angeles, to Charlotte, to Miami, then to Orlando at 2:30 PM the next day. If they'd have bumped me up to first class on every leg, sure. But no, so no I didn't.

So I called the hotel and the car rental and postponed my check-in. I flew out instead on Tuesday the 20th. By the time I touched down in Orlando, checked in with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and got settled into the hotel, it was nearly midnight. And boy was I tired!

One last call to my lovely wife who had to stay behind in Texas
 and then time for sleep!

So my first day in Orlando and I'm already a day behind and I have to hit the ground running! I think I checked out of the hotel before 7AM. I've got the cardiologist at 1:00 and my sons for dinner after that. It wasn't long before I realized I was back in Orlando when I hit that traffic. I'm still down in southeast Orlando near the airport heading westbound when I spot a Walmart. That was my first stop to pickup deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and all those essentials that I didn't want to hassle with in my carry-on luggage. Again, I hate flying.

As usual before leaving a Walmart, I check for Geocaches. There's one on the side of the parking lot. After a short search, I found the tiny cache container. However, I got nothing with me to help get the log sheet out of the container. So not being able to sign the log, I can't claim the find. Oh well, gotta move on.

Working my way west across south Orlando, I stopped by where I used to work before moving to Texas. Many of the faces have changed except for the two there working at that moment. There was a driver still around, but all the drivers had already taken off on their routes. It was good to catch up with my former coworkers. There's some customers I wouldn't mind seeing also, but I'm not going to go driving all over the state to do so.

Continuing west and heading into Ocoee, Winter Garden, and then Clermont, I spot a Jeep dealership. I still had to burn some time before my doctors appointment, so I pulled in for a quick look around. They didn't have any new ones in stock of interest, but a 2015 Wrangler Unlimited Artic Edition that was loaded with all the options. But it was this frost blue color and my preference is white. I talked to the salesman and got his card. I'd have to think about that one.

Turning north on US27, I start heading up towards the doctors in Mt Dora along the scenic route. After making the turn on Hwy 19 north and driving this country road for a few miles, I spotted this sign and got a chuckle. I just had to stop turn around and get a picture of it. Now being from Florida, I know it is the second home to a lot of snowbirds. As well as the permanent home to a lot of retirees! Well I didn't realize just how popular it REALLY was. I found the home of Dr Von Frankenstein! Florida truly is the retirement capital of the world!

A few miles further and I entered the small town of Howey-in-the-Hills, FL. Yes, there really is a town with that name in Florida. Checking my geocaching app, I noticed a couple of caches hidden since we were last here. They were on this nice boardwalk and trail leading down to Little Lake Harris. I took the short stroll, probably two miles round trip, and found both caches GC7785X & GC5QKH1.

Just around the corner from that park, I noticed a point of interest on the maps. It was the Howey Mansion and former home of the founder of this town. I'm just going to tell you of the very short version here, but I encourage you to follow this link (Howey Mansion) and read the full history and see the amazing photos of this historic mansion.

William John Howey was born on January 19, 1876 in Odin, Illinois. It was in 1908 when Howey found himself in Winter Haven, Florida where he perfected his citrus farming and sales program techniques. He believed that if he took raw land and controlled its development into mature citrus groves, he could guarantee investors a successful enterprise while making a profit on each step of citrus cultivation. In 1914, he began buying land for $8 to $10 per acre and later sold them at $800 to $2000 per acre, cleared and planted with 48 citrus trees per acre.
The Florida Land Boom tripled Howey’s enterprises and the “Town of Howey” was incorporated on May 8, 1925. In 1927, the name was officially changed to Howey-in-the-Hills to reflect the location of the town in an area of rolling hills which he dubbed “The Florida Alps”. In 1927, construction of his mansion was completed; a 20-room, 7,200 square foot mansion at the cost of $250,000, around $3.2 million after inflation. To celebrate, he hosted the entire New York Civic Opera Company of 100 artists, drawing a crowd of 15,000 arriving in 4,000 automobiles to the free outdoor performance.

Howey died of a heart attack on June 7, 1938 at the age of 62. His wife, Mary Grace Hastings, lived in the Howey mansion until her death on December 18, 1981 and was laid to rest in the family mausoleum on the mansion grounds along with William and their daughter Lois.

Arriving now in Mt Dora, I still had about an hour until the doctors appointment. I did a quick Google maps search for a Great Clips and there was one about 10 minutes away. Hopefully they wouldn't be too busy. I check in and was seated with only about a 5 minute wait. The girl cut my hair and did a fantastic job! I hadn't been able to get a decent haircut in Texas. I wish they had Great Clips out there. And I still arrived at my doctors with about 5 minutes to spare.

After two tests at the cardiologist, I'm back on my way in about an hour.

Now to drive back down to Ocoee,  about 30 minutes away, to pick up my two sons for dinner. Because of our wide variety in taste for food and the younger being a vegetarian, I decided on Golden Corral. They have a great buffet and a large selection to accommodate any palate.

After dinner my sons couldn't agree on what to do for the rest of the evening. The older, working at and being a fanatic, wanted to go to Disney to see the fireworks. The younger wanted to go to the old mall and play ping pong. Yes, there are so many empty stores in this mall that one space is rented out to this guy who has ping pong tables setup where you can play ping pong for as long as you want for just $4.00. Neither wanted to go to the movies as a compromise. But by now we are at the mall and so I made the decision to go inside.

Inside the mall, all the power is out. Even the theater has been emptied and people all standing around waiting. So the movies are a no go. We continue past and go down towards the ping pong place. And of course with no movies to watch the ping pong tables were all taken. We even passed by the bowling alley, and they were packed. So I returned them to their house and we made plans to meet again one on one so that we could do what they wanted to do.

That evening and for the rest of the time in Florida, I stayed at my mothers house up in Umatilla which is about an hour NW of Orlando. The next morning I took this photo of the male peacock all dressed up with his tail trying to impress the ladies for mating season. Just some of the many animals she has on her property.

So over the past two weeks between doctors visits and other errands around Central Florida, I did manage to find a few Geocaches here and there. Nothing real interesting, just some some basic urban caches. I did get three First-to-Finds though!

While I was there, I did spend a lot of time at the Glendale Cemetery in Umatilla. It's a half block down the street from my mothers house. The cemetery dates back to the 1880's, but most of the burials begin in the 1940's. Because Geocaching takes me to a lot of cemeteries, I also use the Find-a-Grave website for history and research. I also contribute and try to keep it up to date. After walking through the cemetery twice, I think I added about 30-35 photos to existing listings as well as added a few internment myself.

While using the Find-a-Grave website, I discovered another very small old cemetery a few miles down the road. Now I have been coming up here to visit my mother for over 15 years and never knew this other small cemetery was even here. There's not even any signage here, but it's often referred to the Old Fort Mason Cemetery. But even that is suspect because there's not much information about Fort Mason.

In a December 5, 1919 interview by one of the early pioneers of Eustis, Charles T. Smith presented some apparently accurate facts to the Lake County Citizen newspaper of May 25, 1923. When Smith and Guilford D. Clifford arrived in what would become Eustis, a few settlers were already there homesteading before 1876.

Charles Smith wrote in 1919: "Fort Mason was located about 2 1/2 miles northeast of Lake Eustis on the homestead of Warren Smith. The line of depression formed by the moat or ditch that surrounded the stockade was quite easy to follow 40 years ago." He saw the remains of the fort when he visited in 1875.

It is generally stated that the fort was built under the command of Brig. Gen. Abraham Eustis and his 1,500 troops during the 1836 Second Seminole War campaign. Little else is known about the military Fort Mason. Regulations required the commanding officer at every post submit reports, usually every month, however no records were ever found for Fort Mason. No one is really sure of what it actually looked like.

As for the nearby cemetery, all that's left is just a few headstones dating back to the 1880's. Looking at the first photo below, you can see a tall thin headstone by the oak and another smaller to the left. Further to the left is an overgrown iron fence plot with three headstones in it. Behind that is an open field with a dirt driveway along the treeline leading to that white building in the distance. About halfway back under the trees are a couple more headstones and all that remain in the African-American cemetery. In the last photo below, are whats left of two large above ground graves in very poor condition.

More doctors appointments meant delaying my drive back to Texas another week. On the bright side, I did get to spend more time with my sons, my mother and aunt, and catch up with some friends.

One day with my oldest son, I got to spend the day with him and meeting his girlfriend at Disney. We started out at Disney's Hollywood Studios. I hadn't been there since it was called MGM Studios. While there I finally had the chance to grab a Virtual Geocache (GC3338). You can't hide any actual cache container on Disney property, but there are 6 Virtual Geocaches created back when they were still allowed. Now I have 4 of the 6 in the find column.

Anyway, we finished the night at the Magic Kingdom and got to see the new fireworks show which also transforms the castle into a giant screen to play various scenes. The best fireworks show I've ever seen! Overall a very fun day and add the fact the it was raining for the first half of it, that didn't stop us from being kids again playing in the rain. During the summer months, that's the best time to go to Disney. When there's a chance of rain! Most visitors tend to hid out in covered walkways and stores trying not to get wet. As long as you don't mind getting wet, it makes for shorter ride lines and being cooler.

The next day I spent with my younger son. We had lunch and then went to the mall to try and play ping pong again. I think we waited for an hour but the guy never showed up to open the place. So we settled on a movie. Afterwards passing by the bowling alley and noticing an empty parking lot, we sought to play a few games. No luck. The league teams were arriving soon and the lanes were booked. Instead we played three rounds of billiards. It was a fun afternoon.

On Saturday July 1st, TeamFelixG stopped by my mother's house to pick me up and we drove north into the Ocala National Forest at Salt Springs for a Geocaching Event. Here I got a chance to meet up with some cachers I hadn't seen in a long time.
After about an hour we were joined up with framptoncomesalive and headed out to grab some caches. We started out finishing up the Lighthouse GeoArt caches which they had already completed about half of it. Now I have half a lighthouse myself. Next trip to Florida...

Along with some other caches and off-road trails, we ended the very hot day with 35 cache finds.

Tomorrow I return the rental car and pickup a U-Haul truck to bring our stuff back to Texas. What started out as a short temporary work stop in Texas has turned into 1 1/2 years and counting. Before we had to fit everything into two little Toyota's as work moved us from place to place. Now that we're set in one place, having more of our personal items and photos on the wall make it seem more like home.

On this drive back, I'm taking the scenic route. No long boring I-10 halfway across the country. I'll be going up to Georgia before heading west on US-84 stopping for caches along the way.

See you soon.