I *heart* NYC

So blogging world…it’s been a while, huh….

A few weeks ago I went to NYC (for the first time) with my husband.  I was so excited about all the great pics I was going to take (and I think I got some good ones!), the great places I would see and restaurants I would eat at, providing so much content for the ol’ blog….then I fell off the wagon and just plain didn’t….blog….about…any of it.  #fail

Better late than never!

The first two days we were in NYC, we spent time at the Javits Center (a large convention center on the edge of the Hudson River), visiting a cousin who was attending an eyeglass convention.  So the real exploration didn’t start until a little later in the week.

First day highlights…..

We stayed at the Manhattan Club (it’s a timeshare).  The rooms are very nicely done.  I’ve stayed in some dog-timeshares in the past.  This isn’t one of them.  This place is nice!  (Don’t have a pic of the bathroom, but it had carrara marble tile on the shower walls, and was just beautiful!)

I just wish there was  a filter to straighten up those bed sheets!

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The views out the window were great!  Towering buildings everywhere…

We tried to take the subway as much as possible, because, well, NYC traffic is craazy (I got to be quite a pro at navigating between the different trains.)  These tile mosaics were out of this world.  Not what I expected for the “dirty nyc subway” everyone talks about.  Although full disclosure, these were in a new subway station, near the Javits Center.  Some of the other subway stations were a little grungy…but nothing bad.

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We had brunch Sunday morning at Tavern on the Green.  The place was closed down for a while, but has recently reopened.  The architecture and interior details were on point, and the food out of this world!!  (We ended up back there for dinner a few days later.)

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This chandelier was above the bar, and it rotated around like a carousel.  DSC03932DSC03938

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If the day is nice, you WANT to sit outside on the patio.  It’s gorgeous.DSC03952

After finishing up brunch, we walked through Central Park.  Weather was about 65 °, clear sky, no humidity, in short – perfect for strolling through the park.

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Isn’t this statue of Hans Christian Anderson so charming?!DSC04009

So, I promise not to be a dead beat..I’ll put out some more pics of the rest of the trip in a few days!

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flamingo gardens – part deux

While the first part of my Flamingo Gardens trip was lots of fun, and a lot more interesting than I ever expected, it was the second part of the visit where this sanctuary really impacted me.  The animals….

I mentioned in the previous post that Flamingo Gardens houses animals that may have been injured and as a result can’t be put back into the wild.  In addition to owls and possums (did you see my last post?), they also have a permanent exhibit of two Florida Panthers, two large alligators, a pair of bobcats, several turtles, a black bear, and river otters.

I realize this doesn’t sound like much (it’s no San Diego Zoo), but on the day of my visit, the bobcats were out walking around, the alligators were moving too, the bear was playing with a chew toy, and my personal favorite, the otters were playing like it’s going outta style 😉

This pair of beautiful bobcats, were awake, walking around and much smaller than I expected!  A bobcat’s average weight is between 13-30 lbs, so they’re not “large” cats.

DSC03899.JPGThese guys were the highlight of the visit.  If you’ve ever seen otters playing around, you know why.  They were so active, and SO playful.  Three adults and three pups ran back and forth, tussled above and under water, and played to the audiences’ hearts.DSC03766DSC03771DSC03772A pair of large tortoises fascinated me.  The rings on their shells!!!  DSC03812DSC03813DSC03821.JPGDSC03820Of the two alligators, one was 17′ long!  (That is HUGE folks….HUUUUGGE!)DSC03754DSC03763DSC03895I couldn’t get a good snap of the bear, but he (or she?) was really animated.DSC03829.JPGAfter walking through all the animal exhibits and through the botanical gardens, I went BACK to watch the animals again.  They were just so wonderful!DSC03760DSC03786DSC03887The other attraction I haven’t mentioned yet, is the Wray Museum House.  Floyd and Jane Wray originally purchased this land and developed it into a citrus grove (most of which had to be torn down due to disease).  When they passed away, they left instructions that the place be left as conservation land.  And their heirs have done just that!

The house is decorated in period furniture pieces, and docents walk you through, giving historical tid bits as they go.DSC03709DSC03710DSC03714DSC03720DSC03721If anyone is in the Ft. Lauderdale/Miami area and has a few hours to enjoy this place, I HIGHLY recommend it.  How can you say no to a place where the mascot is a 7′ high pink flamingo??DSC03911DSC03908DSC03849DSC03846DSC03866DSC03698DSC03879

Looking back through these photos put such a big smile on my face.  This is My Sunny Moment.  I hope you all have a great day!

 

flamingo gardens

I love being a tourist.  Especially in my own state.  And, (in my humble opinion), Florida has a lot to offer in that department.  Not just mouse ears, thrill rides and beaches, but interesting, educational, beautiful, fun things to see and do.  If you tell me about something fun to do in my own backyard, I’m in, full force!

I have read about Flamingo Gardens, located in Davie, FL, in guide books, and seen flashes on it on my Pinterest account (Pinterest knows I like to visit places around Florida), so it was natural for me to take the day and scout it out.  I left the husband behind, and had the whole day by myself to explore leisurely.  Located on the southeast side of the state, near Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, it’s an easy place to get to, located just two miles off I-595.

Flamingo Gardens sounds like a cheesy road-side-tourist-trap type place, and honestly, when I pulled into their parking lot, I was afraid that was what I was in for.  But once you get past the simple facade, what you find inside is truly wonderful.

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I was lucky enough to visit on a Wednesday, when practically no-one was there.  Well, except for these colorful guys who greeted me as I walked up to get my ticket.

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Flamingo Gardens is a not-for-profit wildlife sanctuary and botanical gardens.  Inside, they have a lot to claim for themselves.  To start with, they have the largest collection of Florida Champion Trees in the state.

Champion trees are the largest of their species, and this place has twenty of these babies.

DSC03609DSC03612A tram ride (included in your ticket) takes you around the entire gardens – a significant 60 acres of trees, bushes, flowers and shrubs.  One was leaving right as I walked by, so I hopped on and listened while the driver took us on a 20 minute tour of the place, and detailed the history of what Flamingo Gardens was and how it came to be.DSC03625.JPGDSC03621DSC03864DSC03624They have a HUGE banyan tree (not native to Florida, but still so pretty).  It was like something out of a fantasy novel with somewhat creepy tentacle-like arms stretching to the ground from all the upper branches.DSC03854DSC03850On the grounds, lots of flowers were in bloom.  This huge orchid plant hung from one of the large trees, which caught everyone’s eye, and camera.DSC03703DSC03872DSC03874After the tram tour was over, I walked over to the first wildlife show of the day.  Flamingo Gardens provides a home to animals and birds that cannot otherwise survive in the wild (due to injury).  Two times a day, you can see their Wildlife Encounter Show.  I got to see these three charming friends during the first show.DSC03649DSC03627I know, I know…a possum, but she was sooo cute!   I think my cat needs a sibling.DSC03629

This poor fella lost an eye to a gunshot.DSC03646

This king snake was pretty good sized as you can see, but was quite friendly.DSC03653After the show ended, I continued to explore.  Nearby the wildlife show pavilion is a free flying aviary, full of native birds.  Just watch where you step.  Free flying also means free falling (poop that is).DSC03660DSC03664I managed to make it through the aviary, untouched by falling fecal matter, and proceeded to check out where the resident owls were napping.DSC03678DSC03680DSC03675DSC03679And a bird of prey cage.DSC03684

I’m going to wait and tell you about the rest of the animal exhibits in my next post.  (I took so many good pics I want to share and talk about!)  This place was THAT cool, it warrants two posts.  Catch up with you soon!

 

 

spring has sprung

Around the country, the weather has been very unusual for spring.  One day it’s warm and the sun is shining.  The next day it’s snowing!

South Florida has had some very nice weather as of late.  (Sorry North East & Denver!)  This has lead to some really gorgeous flowers in the past 3-4 weeks.  I finally had the time (and gumption) to get out and snap some photos of these vibrant plants.  (And believe me, the bougainvillea IS on point.)

So, whether you’re looking out the window at white stuff, sun and green grass, or brilliant blossoms like me….enjoy the color below.  Spring is here!!!

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Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea glabra)  Let me tell you folks….when these bushes are in full bloom, they are STUNning.  The color pops are out of this world, and everywhere you drive, you will see these intensely colored blossoms.

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This set of plants have been around for a loong time…as you can see with the size and quantity of blossoms.  When you walk under the pergola these are growing around, you feel like you’re in a fairy tale!

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These little yellow lovelies were a cheery spot in the midst of a green spray.

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Dombeya – Tropical Hydrangea.  These trees have beautiful pink clusters of flowers…and are great pops of color to the area.

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The smell of the blossoms of this Plumeria tree are AM-azing.

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Even the aloe plant outside my front door got into the action.

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And last but not least….the most exciting one of all…Of course I saved the best for last 😉

My orchid is budding!  In a short time, I’ll be having beautiful orchid blossoms on my porch!  Stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted when they finally open up!

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Have a beautiful spring!!

 

 

life’s a beach

It’s been a busy last few.  Lots of fires to put out and people to make happy.

Times like these make me think of Blake Shelton’s song, Some Beach.  So, as an ode to that theme, here are some beach pics from my past travels to inspire your future travels, or just give you a few minutes in a happy place!

St. Lucia

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Tobago

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Guadalupe

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Dominican Republic

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California Coast

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And, of course Hawaii

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dinner in crystal river

After my most amazing experience at Rainbow Springs, I drove about 30 minutes south to the town of Crystal River.  Crystal River is well known for droves of manatees which populate the seaside waters in the winter.  There are several underwater springs in the bays of the Crystal River which the manatees flock to in order to keep warm when the temperature in the Gulf of Mexico drops below 68°.

South Florida has had a warm (i.e. HOT) winter in December and January.  In December it was a frequent occurrence that temps hovered around the mid-to-upper 80s (about 10-15° above normal), and January was very similar.  Thus the manatees were few and far between during the start of our winter, since the gulf waters were warm enough for them to hang out in.

I was hoping that manatees would be more abundant in March, since the temps had been dropping somewhat.  Weeelllll…I was mistaken.  Trying to see manatees in March in Crystal River was a non-existent-event.

A big tourist attraction in this area is actually getting on a wetsuit and swimming with manatees.  I had signed up for a snorkel trip to swim with these amazing, gentle creatures, and was GREATLY disappointing.  Not the tour group’s fault….more my fault for coming when the water was too warm for the sea cows to be near the warm springs.  We managed to see two of the lovelies, but they were sleeping and not active.

Here are a few snaps of my day in Crystal River.

BE WARNED. These pictures are not impressive.

If you look really closely, you can just barely make out the outline of a manatee tail in the middle of the image (near the top are snorkeler toes).

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See…not impressive photos.  But proof to Mom that I did see them!!!

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We went looking for more manatees at the Three Sisters Springs area (where manatees typically hang out when they need warmth.)  The springs underwater and foliage above water were so gorgeous!  The pictures I snapped do no justice whatsoever.  I could have spent all morning swimming around the springs area, the water was THAT clear, and the place THAT impressive.

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Nonetheless, still no manatees in this sanctuary space, so all of us snorkelers hopped back on the boat and went back to doc with not much to show for ourselves.

Crystal River does not have much to do other than a visiting a few nature parks, and the manatee viewing/swimming. With the manatee viewing exhausted, I decided to check out somewhere interesting for dinner.

Trip Advisor’s 600+ reviewers recommended I try Pecks Old Port Cove for great seafood.  I tell you what…getting to Pecks is half the fun!  It was a leisurely 25 minute drive from the main area of town to get to this restaurant.  The restaurant is located at the end of a very twisty, turney, windey road.  Save for a few houses here and there, unless you’re headed to dinner, you’re not on this road, which added to the ambiance of a nice drive in the wild.

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I sat down early (I was afraid there would be a crowd) around 5:30pm.  I mostly had the place to myself at that hour, but the place rapidly filled up.

My server recommended the crab rolls (kinda like egg rolls, but with crab inside), which were topped with a tangy sweet-and-sour sauce.  (The sauce probably was the best part of the appetizer.)

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For my main course, it had to be blackened grouper.  I love blackened fish, and grouper is a great fish if you can get it.  This did not disappoint.

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Served with typical uninteresting sides (hush puppies, fries, baked potato, cole slaw….I opted to forgo the fried sides for a lettuce salad.)  They send over the salad, but still included a set of hush puppies.  As you can see, this made me happy!  🙂

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I wouldn’t say the food was AM-azing.  But getting to the restaurant was a fun adventure, and the sunset view made it all worth while.

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They had a small dock out back with a few pub tables so you could take in the view.  I’d say it was a nice place to rest for a few beats before making the trek onto the next adventure.

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crystal clear water at rainbow springs

When you think of Florida, you probably dream of three things: Disney, palm trees and water.  Whether it’s the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, or the calm seas that make up the Gulf of Mexico, so many people come to Florida for sun, sand and the sea between their toes.  However, if you do some research, and travel a little ways off the beaten path, you’ll come to a lesser known State Park near central-west Florida.  Welcome to Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon, FL!

Rainbow Springs State Park has some interesting history, being several times over the years a privately owned tourist road-side attraction, complete with waterfalls, glass bottom boat tours and even a zoo!?!  Today, it is managed by the State Park Service, and for a mere $2 entrance fee, you too can enjoy the beauty of this place.

Mother Nature installed the first (and in my opinion best) attraction that this place has to offer.  A crystal clear, turquoise swimming hole that is out of this world beautiful!

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I mean, come on….LOOK at how clear that water is!

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The water is a constant 72 degrees, which is a bit chilly for this lady, who likes her swimming water to be the temperature of warm bath water…..but that didn’t stop lots of people from jumping in for a nice swim under the sunny sky.

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Because water is constantly flowing from the natural underwater spring, the color and clarity of the water at the headsprings area has this amazing turquoise color, and is soo clear you can see everything under the surface (including little fishies swimming around!)

In the summer, the State Park offers inner tube “rides”, in which you slowly float down the beautiful river, and get whisked back to your car by a tram when you arrive downriver.  This was closed when I visited earlier this month, but will open up as an attraction in the summer.  I do hope to be back to experience it!

For rent on site are kayaks and canoes, giving everyone a chance to glide along the calm waters.

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The park has picnic benches, a pavilion for large gatherings, large grassy hills that you can play frisbee on, and even a concession station, complete with hot dogs, ice-cream bars and nachos (the diet of all who wish to don a bathing suit 😉

On my visit, throughout the park, the azalea bushes were in full bloom, only adding to the beauty of the area.

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The other part that makes this park so interesting to visit, is the historic side.  As I mentioned, it used to be a tourist road-side attraction, at one point having a zoo and rodeo.  You can see remains of some of the zoo enclosures, and posted signs describe to visitors how the area was used.

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The enclosures were a bit rundown and spooky, having been around for several decades.

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Some of the sidewalks even were stamped concrete to look like wood planks!

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And the last thing to see, but definitely not least, are the WATERFALLS!!!!!!  When this place was designed in the 20s, 30s, and updated in the 60s and 70s, several waterfalls were created to add to the allure of the attraction.  These waterfalls are so beautiful!

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The falls are positioned along meandering paths that wind through the park.  The native plants around them are lush, green and full, making this seem like paradise!

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Signs make sure swimmers stay where they belong…..;-)

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I could have stayed forever, walking among the trees, hearing the water crash down on the rocks, and looking at the water everywhere!  If you are traveling through Florida and can take the time to visit, it is well worth your while!  I can’t wait to go back!

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Success!!!

Today’s blogpost is a little different that the last two posts in subject matter.  But it is something I am SO excited about and I wanted to share!

I finally bit the bullet and purchased a food processor.  Well, let me clarify.  I finally purchased a “mini” food processor.  I HAD a large Cuisinart food processor, and have lovingly cared for it for many years.  (By “lovingly cared for it”, I mean to say, I have kept the huge, heavy, awkward to use, pain-to-clean-piece-of-junk in the cabinet for five years!)  Soo many recipes call for using a food processor to pulse, puree, mix or otherwise combine ingredients into fantastic dishes.  Every time I went to use it, I had to unpack half of my cabinet to get at the darn thing.  Then, lug it out (its heavy!!!), and unpack all the blade attachments only to be unable to mix the ingredients properly, thus making a HUGE mess, and ultimately, no fantastic dish at the end.

Enter…the Mini Food Processor.  (Yes, it deserves capitol letters.)

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I couldn’t give you a good reason as to why I haven’t purchased one of these before now.  I wanted one for such a long time.  My rationale is that I cook in small batches, so never needed the bulk of the full size processor.  And I figured, smaller == easier to clean!  Lastly, these mini processors are not that expensive.  Mine costs just under $40 MSRP, which ISN’T that much $$.  It’s win-win all around.

I finally decided to get mine at Target last week.  Guess what…..It was ON SALE!!!  So I got this beauty for only $32!!  (#SCORE!)

Side Note: I didn’t realize when I purchased mine in the store, but it comes in a TON of great and fun colors!  Check it out online!

Unlike my big momma machine, the mini has only four moving parts.  The base that plugs into the wall, the container you put the food into, the blade, and the top!  And they all lock/unlock with EASE!  I could do it with my pinkie finger if I needed to.

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Another reason I was so happy to get this was Homemade Hummus.  I have unsuccessfully tried to make hummus at home with the Big Processor and also a blender.  Both HUGE disasters.  I was starting to think it wasn’t worth it to DIY hummus.

You know whats coming…. Enter the “little wonder”.  I tried my hummus recipe on it, and BLAM-O!  Wonderful, amazing, PERFECT homemade hummus!

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And to top it all off, the clean up is a breeze (very important, because I am a messy chef!)!  I am SOLD on this little miracle worker.  I would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone and everyone.  Oh, and did I mention it could fit in a shoe box?  (small) And it’s soo light weight, a baby could lift it with a single finger (slight exaggeration).

Check it out for yourself.  You won’t be disappointed!  And with all the left over time you have from not de-cluttering your kitchen cupboard to get your big food processor, or all the clean up you have to do….you can enjoy a nice glass of wine with your delicious food!  I know I did 😉

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A Surprise Boardwalk Delight

About a year ago I purchased a book called “Hiking Southwest Florida”, in hopes I would find hiking trails that had thus far eluded me as I explored South Florida.  Unfortunately, “hiking” South Florida – well Florida in general – is more like a gentle stroll….a FLAT gentle stroll.  (sigh, the Rocky Mountains are calling my name!)

I’ve been slowly visiting the different walking, ahem, hiking paths suggested by the book, and last week I visited Six Mile Cypress Slough (rhymes with through).  I didn’t have high expectations for the place (it is a 1.2 mile boardwalk through native Florida scrub, and I’ve seen Florida flora before).  I was SO surprised how much I loved this place!  It is amazingly beautiful.

You pay a small fee to park (I paid $5 for the day, but you can get away with as little as $1 per hour).  No fee to walk the boardwalk or to visit the nature center.

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An elevated boardwalk takes you through the entire space, which means it’s a place which can be visited during the hot, humid, WET summer months.   The board walk starts through a man made patch of bald cypress, which was in its “bald” state, and eerily beautiful.

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The board walk continues on to wind its way through native flora found in Florida.

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In between the amazing scenery, I was pleasantly surprised to see a great number of animal friends!  This little guy was a baby, only about two to three feet long.

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This guy was a bit bigger, coming in around five to six feet long!

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Plenty of birds and turtles.

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A slick guy working on his tan.

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And in the back pond…..three of these little guys splashed around and amused all the visitors for five minutes!!!

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Because of the wet winter (and a recent rain shower), the base of the park was quite flooded, with a good 24″ of water.  Although unusual for our winters, it provided for amazing reflections of the massive trees above.

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I ended up spending over three hours exploring, taking photos, sitting and enjoying the wind, and feeling the warm sun on my face.  I highly recommend anyone to visit this gem, and I would love to see what surprises it holds in the spring and summer.

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