We stand at the mouth of the St. John's River, Florida's longest. It originates in the swamps of central Florida and lazily snakes eastward, dropping only 30 feet over its 310 mile length.
This lighthouse stands on the property of a naval air station, whose jets and live fire excercises can regularly heard. Large bullet casings regularly wash up on the beaches of Little Talbot Island and Fort George Island to the north.
This lighthouse was built in 1857 to a height of 74 feet, and replaced two earlier lighthouses that had become obsolete.
Just to the south of the Naval Air Station lies a city park, but today we are heading upstream a bit to the Jacksonville Zoo.
This is a well established zoo, having just celebrated its 100 year anniversary last year. With 849,000 visitors, 2014 was a record year for attendance.
Lucas Meers, public relations director, was a big help on our visit. Lucas grew up in St. Louis, which has one of the best zoos in the world. Attending it as a child sparked his interest, and he subsequently studied biology and marine biology in college. He loves the zoo and it loves him, as was evidenced by the interactions we had with others as we walked around the zoo.
An exciting project is coming next year - a manatee critical care program. It will be interesting to see what progress has been made when we return in a few years - hopefully it can do for manatees what Jekyll Island's Turtle Center has done for sea turtles.
The zoo has a large pier on the river, and if you arrive by boat there is no admission charge.
Numerous bamboo thickets grace the property - a couple dozen species of bamboo are represented here.
My favorite specie was this Chinese Sunburst Bamboo that looks like it has bar codes painted on the base of the stalks.
A train travels the edges of the property, providing a different vantage point to observe the many exhibits.
An old merry-go-round is just as fun as the train, but doesn't get you quite as far. Who doesn't love these old carousels?
It has been raining steady for two days here in north-eastern Florida, but it was still a pleasure to tour the zoo. There are many indoor areas - this next one houses many species of reptiles and small primates.
The exhibits are well lit and elevated a bit from the floor, so it is easy to observe the various creatures.
Another cool area is the tiger exhibit. They literally have a "cat walk." The raised tube you see is for the tigers to wander about between pen areas. One was sleeping on a platform just above me - it didn't make a good photo but was neat to see.
Dozens of outdoor pavilions have sitting areas where you can watch the various species go about their day.
Little portals in the hedge-rows hint of secret gardens.
And the gardens abound. This place has to be spectacular when the plants are in bloom. Those are huge jasmine bushes - the aroma must be absolutely intoxicating in season.
In keeping with the bamboo theme, there is an Asian garden area.
I have always loved to photograph these decorative bridges.
There is always a slightly different angle - a different view that seems to change the whole scene.
Fountains with statuary grace some of the open areas.
And even though it is February there are still a few plants in bloom.
I enjoyed some of the statuary as much as the animal exhibits. The statuary is always very cooperative with photographers.
This little guy looks cautiously curious as he peers over the rock wall - a great statue.
I always love the flamingos. So quiet, serene and reserved - a dignified bird if ever there was one.
A zoo-keeper brings lunch to the pond . . .
. . . never mind about that serene and dignified stuff. It is an all out frenzy as indigenous gulls and ibis jump into the fray to compete for a few tidbits of food. Such thrashing, biting, shoving and pushing - I had never seen a flamingo feeding frenzy before.
These Mandarin ducks were gorgeous - every bit as pretty as our Wood Ducks.
I forgot to get the name of this specie - a peculiar fellow with that bag hanging from his throat. Some kind of crane I suppose.
I love the spoon-bills.
Last year it took us months to find some otters to photograph. Here it was easy.
The Komodo dragons were cool.
And one of those tigers - a Sumatrin tiger I think.
There is a large jaguar exhibit here - appropriate I guess because the local professional sports team is called the Jaguars.
Rhinos are critically endangered world-wide - here a mother and juvenile child roam the savanna area.
This next exhibit I couldn't get a picture to show perspective. But this anaconda is bigger around than my leg !!
The museum has a display coming on the Titanoboa in March. That is a snake longer than a bus, thought to be the largest snake that ever existed on Earth.
There are hundreds of animals here - I only had space for a few. It is well worth a visit when you are passing through the area. The environment is serene, the place is clean and the animal exhibits are well thought out and presented.
Here is today's "faces in the crowd" shot:
And that brings us to our parting shot, seen on the wall in the men's room. I thought this was hilarious.
I am off to the Ocala National Forest - I have learned of a large meeting there called a "Rainbow Gathering." I want to check it out - hopefully it will make for a good story on Monday.