Sunday, January 19, 2020

St. Augustine Churches

Churches are always free. The ones in St. Augustine are just spectacular!

There is a Greek Orthodox Shrine. The Byzantine art and icons were particularly interesting to me.

The Memorial Presbyterian Church was huge for a Presbyterian church. It looked more Catholic. The rich Henry Flagler (founder of Standard Oil and the Florida East Coast Railway) built the church as a memorial for his daughter. He, his first wife, his daughter and grandchild are in the mausoleum here.

I thought the Cathedral Basilica was unusual (and beautiful) with exposed wooden truss. It is the oldest Catholic parish in the United States. There are a lot of “oldest in the US” in St. Augustine!

Quirky St. Augustine

Of course we have to go to the fun places too. Most were free and just took a few minutes while others were tours that cost a bit but were worth the fee.

This is called the Zero Milestone. It was the start of an automobile road going from St. Augustine to San Diego built back in the 1910-1920’s. It ran where US-80 and US-90 now run (depending on the state).

I had to visit the cemeteries, of course. Both Huguenot and Tolomato were closed but we could see inside the fence. Tolomato was founded in 1565 and is the oldest cemetery in Florida. No ghosts seen.

The Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse (supposedly in the U.S. but probably just in Florida) has a large chain around it. It was put around the building in 1937 to keep it together in hurricanes. Not sure if this really works, but hey, it is still here!

The bridge in this area is called Bridge of Lions and was completed in 1927.

The Ponce de Leon Hall was once a hotel but is now a part of Flagler College. My college was never like this. Electricity was installed by Thomas Edison! Outside in the courtyard is a fountain with 12 frogs that can be used as a sundial. Inside is amazing woodwork. We weren’t allowed to visit the dining hall but it contains Tiffany stained glass windows said to be valued at $3.5 million. The list of people who stayed at this hotel includes Samuel Clemens, Henry James, five U.S. presidents (Cleveland, Roosevelt, Harding, Johnson, and McKinley), Babe Ruth, Will Rogers, Gary Cooper, and John D. Rockefeller.

Constitution Plaza has a weird juxtaposition of eras and themes. There is a monument built in 1814 to celebrate a new Spanish constitution. Another monument is a memorial to honor men who died in the Confederacy though a plaque has been added to honor black men from St. Augustine who fought for the North. Finally, there are footstep in the sidewalk showing where civil rights activist Andrew Young was beaten during a peaceful protest in 1964. Andrew Young later became a US Congressman, an Ambassador to the UN, and the major of Atlanta.

The tastiest part of our visit was a tour of a chocolate factory.

St. Augustine Museums

Besides the old buildings and the fort, there are quite a few museums in St. Augustine. We visited only a few of them. We can get “museumed out”, so only one or two a day is all we can take and still learn something. That left a lot of museums to visit on another trip.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum is in town. I didn’t want to pay the fee or see the historical value of the museum but there are several cool items around the parking area including a redwood log home (sort of looked like an RV inside) and a replica of David that uses marble from the same quarry and is the same size. The statue is much taller than I expected.

We visited the free Government House Museum. Interesting exhibits with artifacts from the town…including this silver ingot.

The biggest and well-known museum in town is Lightner Museum. We started our visit by eating lunch in the bottom of the old swimming pool! This was originally a fancy hotel called Alcazar and had the largest indoor pool at the time.

The exhibits are quirky and mostly consists of Lightner’s collections. This includes: lots of glassware, liquor labels, buttons, antique furniture, and even this ape.
We attended the talk on music machines. Quite fun!

The height of bizarre and macabre was the Egyptian mummy and the shrunken head. Though the stuffed lion which had been a pet of Winston Churchill was pretty bizarre too.
We were amused by the Little Museum of Toasters, especially after John realized that one of the toasters was a much newer version of the one we use!

Our final museum was the Pirate and Treasure Museum. There was Captain Kidd’s actual final log.

And a sleeping Captain Kidd who’s chest moved up and down and slept with his eyes half open.

There was plenty of gold and silver. John is lifting a gold bar that is inside the glass case.

And a real pirate’s chest. Arghh!

St Augustine in the Winter

We’ve discovered the perfect time to visit St Augustine…January! In December, the town has Night of Lights where everything is lit up for the holiday season. Lots of people come to walk around the town. The cool thing is that the lights stay up until the end of January. By that point, attendance is down. So we could enjoy the town, the lights, and the streets weren’t crowded. BTW, there were records set on temperature (low 80’s) so we didn’t even need a jacket.

St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States and was founded in 1565. The amount of history here is VERY cool! The buildings are old and the streets are narrow. Matter of fact, the narrowest street in the USA is here at 7’ wide (Treasury Street). The story goes that it was purposely made narrow so pirates couldn’t ride off with a chest of treasure from the Royal Spanish Treasury to the harbor. Today, you can drive it, but mostly people walk it and several of the streets the Historical Downtown are closed to traffic so tourists can shop in all the small stores. BTW, we heard there are over 150 restaurants within this section.

The biggest attraction in town is Castillo de Marcos National Monument. Through its history, St. Augustine was defended by soldiers from Spain, England, and America. The fort was completed in 1695. It survived at least two sieges over the years. It was last used in 1898 but only as a military prison.


We thought the different types of cannon were cool…especially the decoration. 

We also saw a demonstration of musket shooting by rangers dressed like Spanish soldiers. It took a long time to shoot (15-20 seconds if you are good) and the guns couldn’t shoot far or very accurately. Big difference between this and modern weaponry.

Another interesting point of this fort is that it is made of coquina (small shells in the limestone). During a battle, this material doesn’t shatter but sort of absorbs cannon fire. This material helped make the fort more defensive during sieges.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Virgin River Gorge

There is a small but very unforgettable section of I-15 in the NW corner of Arizona. The warning you get before talks about strong crosswinds…but we didn’t experience that. Instead it is a stretch of road with no safe place to pull over and maintenance work going on but GORGEOUS views.

According to Wikepedia, this is one of the most expensive interstate highways ever constructed. Given the amount of rock they must have moved. I can understand that. 

From online “I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge is a scenic wonder through a 500 million-year-old gorge. Construction of I-15, which opened in 1973, included re-channeling the Virgin River 12 times. "Somehow," Arizona Highways magazine said in 1988, construction of I-15 "enhanced rather than distracted from nature's handiwork."

BTW, it is difficult to take pictures since it must all be from the car windows (which aren’t perfectly clean) and it is so BIG. Hopefully you can see it yourself sometime.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

New at Page Arizona

This area is the location for movies like Planet of the Ages (original and 2001 remake), Maverick, and The Greatest Story Ever Told along with a bunch more. I realize I obsess on movie locations. I could talk about the geological history or the human history of a site. But, technically, movie locations are history too…though relatively recent history. On a hike near Lake Powell, I am told the rocks in the 3rd picture below were the location of Mount Sinai (Sermon on the Mount) in The Greatest Story Ever Told.

We also were told that this Navaho Generating Station is closing. It is coal powered and not economical to run. The closure is causing a problem for Page in that the good paying jobs are going away so that most of what is left is tourism and that is seasonal.

The big thing we did was kayak Antelope Canyon. We’ve canoed before but never used a kayak. The deal where you have to paddle together was quite a challenge at first. Scenes from the canyon:


We met a couple who took a picture of us then sent it to us while we took a picture of them and sent it to them. Nice picture!