Back Roads and Castles Part 1

Lately I’ve been thinking about planning another road trip, get out and “boldly go” again. I pull out my Florida maps and visitors guides, and find some interesting places to check out.  When it comes to carving out a day of exploration, the day starts early. Today it starts with me and the canine crew driving out the campgrounds at 7:30 in the morning, heading somewhat south and east.

We aren’t far down the road when I see a sign for Campgrounds on the right.  Always good to know what the options are, so I follow the sign.  Well I don’t find any campgrounds, but what I do find is the Camp Bayou on Manatee Environmental Learning Center in Sun City.  What a great way to begin the day!  I park and walk the trails for about 30 minutes with the girls, and quickly learn much about the Florida foliage and habitat in the area. 

So much yet to do, we get back on the road to stay on schedule.  Following GPS coordinates in Florida is quite an adventure.  The moment you turn off of a major road, it seems like you are in the middle of nowhere. Maybe it’s just from stopping to take pictures of this and that, but I think we are in the middle of nowhere for the next hour, as we meander around curves, pass orange orchards, heavy brush, and OH, what is this?  A sign that says Bunker Hill with grapes on it!  Seriously, how could I possibly drive by a Winery sign?  So we turn left and follow the signs.

Best decision I’ve made in a long time! Bunker Hill Vineyard and Winery, and owners Lenora and Larry Woodham.  Wow, what a unique couple and amazing business they have!  I could stay here all day.  What a learning experience!

Lenora takes me on a full tour.  She reminds me of a “make love, not war, 60’s hippie chick”.  In reality, she and Larry are the real deal. They are a Certified Florida Farm Winery. They actually grow their own grapes on their land, and bottle a limited supply of extraordinary, unfiltered only wine. Theirs is

How Distilled Water Is Made

How Distilled Water Is Made

one of the only certified GREEN Winery’s around.  With the intense measures they’ve taken, they’ve become certified at the “Master Level” by the “Manatee County Chamber of Commerce for “Green Certification”; the highest “GREEN” level ever obtained.  Minimizing their carbon footprint. They live it, and preach it.   They have been devout conservationists since before it was fashionable—deeply committed to protecting and preserving the environment. In addition, their land is a Certified Federal Wildlife Habitat. A flourishing wildlife habitat.  Like, don’t go off wandering alone…

Their buildings are made of steel.  They are energy efficient, and are 100% recyclable. They take an active stance at repurposing existing materials, rather than buying new, right down to building arches and walls made with recycled wine bottles and cement. They are committed to purchasing USA made product as much as possible. They take incredible steps to minimize their carbon footprint.  Their drip-irrigation system is solar powered, and their water, stored in a 1350 gallon cistern, comes from a seep spring they created.  They even make all their own distilled water using solar energy and recycled wine bottles. Their processing equipment is all manually operated, and doesn’t require electricity. Every single bottle of wine they produce comes from a recycled bottle. 

And get this: By recycling 100% of their wine bottles, they reduce their carbon footprint by 60%  alone in comparison to other winemakers purchasing new bottles. They use all natural cork stoppers and hot-dip wax to seal their wine bottles. The wax, too, is re-melted and reused when empty bottles are returned. They even have a “hall of fame” page on thei014r website to recognize customers who bring back their bottles.

And as for their actual wines?  Nice…..very nice!  Worth making the drive to check out!  Not only do they produce wonderful Muscadine wines, but they produce 14 or more amazing fruit wines as well.  I am definitely returning on the way back to get a couple cases!

Bunker Hill Vineyard is also home to Water Garden Farm, a beautiful house located on two secluded acres on the property.  It’s fully furnished with 2 bedrooms, 2 baths and overlooks two natural spring fed water garden ponds. Simply gorgeous.  It is available to rent for a weekend, a week, a month or even more! Water Garden Farm is available for Weddings, Vow Renewals, Commitment Ceremonies and of course, Honeymoon weekends.  And guess what?  Lenora and Larry are Notaries, so they can officiate a wedding.  In addition to being able to just show up and visit the vineyard and grounds, of course they host group wine tastings and tours, offer evening Spirit Orb Walkabouts, and offer an ongoing “Eco Project” everyone is welcome to participate in.

What a remarkable find! Sadly, I must get back to our travels.  I thank Lenora and Larry for their very refreshing hospitality and educational experience, and we get back on the road.

In less than an hour we come across another amazing wildlife area.  The kids need a break for sure, so we get out and explore Pioneer Park Cracker Trail. There is not a soul in sight. I step out and survey the ground, wondering if this may be a snake haven.  It appears safe enough.  The girls aren’t too interested in this place, so Buddy and I play fetch the bumper down a cut grass trail for half an hour and we leave.  If he is happy, I am happy.

Back on the road again, enjoying 70 degrees and sunny skies, driving around in the middle of nowhere without a care in the world.  Finally we hit a narrow highway that passes several fields of pink and white foliage, eventually taking us to the outskirts of Lake Placid Florida, landmark city of the clown museum, caladiums and murals. I find a shady place to park, check on the dogs, and then head out for an amazing walk around town.

I just missed their County Fair, but there is a huge Caladium Festival in July.  Lake Placid is known as the Caladium Capitol of the World!  Caladiums are big leafed, bright colored, easy to care for shade loving plants that originate from the rain forests of the Amazon. People started growing them in Lake Placid in the early 1940s.  Now, over 1200 acres, and generations of at least 14 families are dedicated to growing caladiums.  Lake Placid Florida is responsible for over 90% of all of them.  Now we know!  And I thought Home Depot grew mine…

Walking around the city streets of Lake Placid is anything but ordinary.  Who knew this is the location of perhaps the only clown museum in the country? Toby’s American Clown Museum and School is where almost 2,000 clowns have earned their silly stripes and dots. I know a couple clowns.  Actually, I know a lot of clowns.  Well, literally, I know two real clowns.  I wonder if they graduated from Toby’s? 

Everywhere I turn there is a huge amazing mural of something on a building. The barber shop has this unbelievable scene of black bears, called Lost Cub.  The mural is over 45 feet wide and almost 15 feet tall!  Simply beautiful.  Another breathtaking scene is Tea at South Wind.  Simply elegant, huge 30 yards by 15 yards picture of Victorian ladies having tea in a serene garden, painted on the side of the Tourist Club building.  I find another wonderful mural of wood ducks, one of a grand Osceola turkey, a giant mural of Great Blue Herons, and well, apparently there are 44 amazing murals in all.  Even the city garbage cans are something artistic and beautiful.  My feet are killing me but I just can’t stop walking and looking.  There are many other people doing the same thing, some even playing a game to see who can find the most murals.  And there are images hidden within the murals!  Oh this would be a fun group adventure!

And did you know the sweet little blue birds that flit about down here are Florida scrub jays?

They are on the federal endangered list. They only live in the scrub oak, only in Florida and only in the Lake Placid area. They are fearless, friendly little birds.  Like ducks, they mate for life. They love peanuts and will take them out of the palm of your hand.  How do I know this?  Sitting on a bench, eating my strawberry smoothie, watching Eva, a local Lake Placidian feed them.  They may grab your treat and fly off to bury it in the sand like a squirrel buries nuts; but, if your treat is any good, they will be back for more.   The Florida scrub habitat is one of the most endangered ecosystems in all of North America, and it’s declining.  But the scrub jays are somehow imprinted to this area and if their territory is destroyed, they will not relocate. It’s rather sad.  Back wandering the amazing streets of art, I find the giant mural of the Florida Scrub Jays Eva told me about.  Never thought I’d get so attached to a little blue bird.

But, it’s “time to fly” so to speak, and with regrets I jump back in the truck and head to my next destination, just outside of the city limits.

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