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Friday, August 29, 2014

Fun with a Little Education on the Side - The Florida Museum of Natural History

Dinosaurs at the FloridaMuseum of Natural History
Dinosaur Exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History
While Gainesville, Florida may be best known as the home of the Florida Gators, there are much older reptiles to be found at the University of Florida - Dinosaurs! Well, technically they are dinosaur skeletons, but they are just as cool to look at!

Obviously, dinosaur fossils are not the only thing you will encounter at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Various permanent and temporary exhibits exist that delve into the state of Florida's historical inhabitants - both animal and human. The museum includes permanent exhibits on Florida fossils, waterways and animals of Florida, a Florida people and cultures exhibit as well as an area devoted entirely to energy and the environment - something very important to the Florida region.

Perhaps the most popular thing at the Florida Museum of Natural History is the rainforest and butterfly garden. Children and adults, alike, love seeing all of the beautiful butterflies flitting about
Butterfly at the Florida Museum of Natural History
Butterflies at the Museum's Rainforest
and letting them land on them. The kids are absolutely thrilled by the resource room, too. It has all sorts of interactive exhibits that children can touch, play and interact with.

Quite often on the weekends, local science teachers and university professors give free guided tours of the place. If you're lucky enough to visit when that happens, definitely take advantage of it - and don't be shy about asking questions; they love to answer them!

A little under a two hour drive from Orlando, The Florida Museum of Natural History is housed in three different buildings on the campus of Florida University with an additional research facility in Pine Island, Florida - near Fort Myers. Only two of the museum's buildings are open to the public in Gainesville - Powell Hall, which houses the main exhibits and McGuire Hall, which is the world’s largest center devoted to Lepidoptera collections-based research and education, as well as a living butterfly vivarium.

Admission to the public is free for the museum but there is an extra charge to visit the butterflies in the rainforest and various temporary exhibits, such as the one currently appearing - "Wolf to Woof," the evolution of dogs from wolves - sometimes charge a little extra for admission, as well.

If you've done all there is to do in the Orlando area or just happen to be heading up to Gainesville for a Gators game, it's definitely worth your while to stop by the Florida Museum of Natural History. Not huge, most folks cover it in 2-3 hours but some say they could spend all day there. Few things in Florida have a better rating from Trip Advisor and why not? The museum has a little bit of something for everyone and you sure can't beat the price!

You may not believe it, but you'll likely have to drag your kids out of this place. Who knew education could be so fun?

Florida Travel Sleuth Quote of the Day: "Most of us spend too much time on the last twenty-four hours and too little on the last six thousand years." - Will Durant

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Defy Gravity at Spook Hill - Just Outside of Orlando, FL

Spook Hill sign - nearl Orlando, FL in Lake Wles
The Legend of Spook Hill near Orlando Florida
If you're visiting Orlando and need to kill some time, lots of families get a kick out of Spook Hill - a street in Lake Wales, FL where cars seem to defy gravity by rolling uphill.

You won't even have to get out of your car to experience this Florida oddity. Just park your car on the white line at the bottom of the hill, put it into neutral and experience the eerie sensation of your car mysteriously moving backward up Spook Hill.

There are various legends about Spook Hill. The most popular story - and the one the city of Lake Wales officially endorses - is one of an Indian chief's great battle with a 17 foot gator. After rising triumphant from a battle in the lake that lasted for days, another smaller lake mysteriously appeared. Some say the ghost of the alligator is seeking some sort of revenge while others claim the chief's spirit is protecting the land.

Many locals say that the Indian story is a completely fabricated politically correct story that replaced the real story that used to be on the sign. In the original version of the story, an "old darky" had parked his car on the hill and when it started rolling uphill, he ran all over town, screaming about a "spook" that had moved his car.

There is no cost to experience Spook Hill - something you cannot say about many things in the Orlando area. Although the kids sure think it's cool - especially when they think it may involve ghosts - I'm not sure it is worth an hour and a half round trip drive just to experience this two minute phenomenon. There are definitely other things to do in the Lake Wales area while you are there, though.

LEGOLAND is a very short 20 minute drive from Lake Wales and is super popular with kids aged 2-12. It features more than 50 rides, shows, attractions, restaurants and shops as well as the LEGOLAND water park. With its stately mansion, beautifully landscaped gardens and singing tower, Bok Tower Gardens is certainly at the top of the list of other things to do in the Lake Wales area, too.

Also nearby, Kissimmee State Park is alive with all kinds of natural Florida wildlife and features an 1836 "living history" demonstration of early cow hunters and a cow camp. Historic downtown Lake Wales is also a favorite stop, due to its quaint antique and specialty shops.

The legend of Spook Hill appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in 1990 and that same year, it was featured in a segment on the CBS Morning News show. Here's a short video of what you'll experience at Spook Hill, filmed by local ABC affiliate, WFTV. Decide for yourself whether or not there are mysterious spirits at play here:

Florida Travel Sleuth Quote of the Day: "I wouldn't describe myself as lacking in confidence, but I would just say that the ghosts you chase you never catch." -John Malkovich