The next day we drove on, planning to drive one of our longer days – about five hours – to Manatee Springs, but somewhere between Holt and Mossy Head Greg looked in the rear view mirror and saw bits of our trailer tire spinning off into the air.
We disconnected the trailer and, thanks to Google Maps, we found a shop with a spare tire just down the road. We had it fixed in an hour or so, but it delayed us enough that we couldn’t make it to Manatee Springs by 5 pm when the park gates closed. We could have kicked ourselves: when we’d stopped in Arizona the entire Ruth family cautioned us to get a spare tire.
It was then that we faced weather dilemma #2. Thunderstorms were about to hit Key West. So we canceled our campsite in the keys. To appreciate this, you have to understand that getting a campsite in any park in the Florida Keys in December-May is nearly impossible. The booking system fills up months in advance with people reserving slots and we felt lucky to get two nights in row.
Suddenly, without that deadline looming, we realized we could slow down our pace. We stopped off and ate the other Muffaletta sandwich at Falling Waters Park (a giant sinkhole with a creek running into it). Sinkholes are common in Florida – maybe you heard about how one opened up and swallowed this poor man?
In reading about Florida and possible stops along the panhandle, I had come across a place called Wakulla Springs where a woman named Sarah Smith found mastodon bones back in 1850. The state owns a lodge there that has seen barely any renovation since it was built in 1935. I called and booked a room.
If you’re ever in the area, we recommend this charming stop-off for a number of reasons. Although the springs are now cloudy, contaminated by nitrates from nearby Tallahassee (they were also tea-colored due to run off from recent storms on our visit), so their glass-bottom boats haven’t run in years, they still take you out on a boat ride to see the wildlife. We saw alligators, manatees and a dozen different kinds of birds.
The grounds are lovely, filled with picnic areas and walks, and so is the building. “It is no exaggeration to say that distinctive features are commonplace at the Lodge,” reads the brochure. Since we arrived on December 1st, we opened the lobby doors to find the staff hanging holly and decking trees with ornaments. If it had been a little colder (49 degrees to be exact), there would have been a fire lit in the giant fireplace. The lobby ceiling was painted by the last appointed court painter to Kaiser Wilhelm, King of Prussia. We made jokes about the odd backlit artwork hanging on the walls, which assumed were added in the 1980s, but then learned that they were original and contained original images from when the Lodge opened.
They have one of the oldest continuously operating elevators in Florida, but I preferred to take the stairs with iron herons and cranes in its Art Deco balustrade. They play period music in the common areas, maintaining the illusion that we’ve gone back in time to post-depression-era Florida.
The other reason I recommend the place is the food. We were told we should come again because the lunch menu (featuring world-class shrimp and grits and key lime pie) paled in comparison to dinner.
The place was so romantic and charmed that we started thinking about making wedding plans.