Florida's Space Coast Part III: The Coast
In addition to witnessing the launch of the Shuttle Endeavour and visiting the Kennedy Space Center, we also explored some of the other things to do in the vicinity of the Space Coast.
On the barrier island south of New Smyrna Beach and to the north of Kennedy Space center is Canaveral National Seashore. The seashore is an undeveloped area that is a sanctuary for plant, animal, and marine life.
A short distance inside the northern entrance
to Canaveral National Seashore is Turtle Mound. Turtle
Mound is a 50 foot high hillock of mostly oyster shells and is a refuse
mound left by the Timucuan Indians from about 800 to 1400 AD. During the time the Indians lived here, the mound was as much as 75 feet high. Turtle Mound contains over 30,000 cubic feet of refuse and extends approximately 600 feet along the shore of the Indian River, which is the river that runs between the barrier island and the mainland. The mound is easily visible from the sea and has been used as a landmark by mariners since the time of the Spanish explorers. The turtle-like shape of the mound gives it its name.
There is a boardwalk that carries visitors to the top of the mound.
The photo below shows Margery and Paul on the boardwalk with the Indian River in the background.
Much of the larger plant growth has been removed from the top of the mound. You can see exposed oyster shells in a number of areas. But more importantly, with the vegetation removed, there is a clear view of the surrounding area. The photo below is looking north along the Indian River. The beach houses in the distance to the right are outside the national seashore.
Along the boardwalk, we saw several of these zebra longwing butterflies sipping nectar from the flowers.
A little farther down the road into the national seashore, we stopped at a parking area along the ocean side of the island where we could walk out to the beach.
After visiting Canaveral National Seashore, we also stopped to the north in New Smyrna Beach near where we were staying. Unlike the beach at Canaveral National Seashore, New Smyrna Beach is more like Daytona Beach a few miles farther to the north with a wide beach with little slope. The sand is very fine and so tightly packed you can easily drive your car on the beach like you can at Daytona. There is little danger of getting stuck unless you disobey the signs and try to drive on the sand at the very back of the beach where the tide seldom reaches. The photo below is one of the many auto entrances to the beach at New Smyrna.
The panoramic view of New Smyrna Beach below shows how totally different it is from the beach at Canaveral, which is only 8 or 10 miles to the south.
Just across the inlet to the north of New Smyrna Beach is Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station. But you can't get there from here because there is no bridge across the inlet. You have to go back across to the mainland, drive about 10 miles north almost to Daytona Beach, cross the bridge there out to the barrier island, then drive almost 6 miles back to the south to get to the light station.
At 176 feet high, Ponce de Leon Inlet Light Station is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest in the country. The lighthouse used to be called the Mosquito Inlet lighthouse until the inlet was renamed in honor of the Spanish explorer in 1927, which is a good thing because we tend to avoid any places that have "mosquito" in its name. :) Work on the lighthouse was begun in 1883 and completed in 1886. The lighthouse is constructed entirely of brick and contains approximately 1.25 million of them. The foundation is 12 feet deep and is 38 feet across at ground level. At the base of the tower, which is 32 feet in diameter, the walls are 8 feet thick. The tower tapers to 12 feet in diameter at the top where the walls are only two feet thick. The photo below shows the Ponce de Leon Inlet lighthouse.
This area of the coast was long recognized as being very dangerous. Bonfires were lit on the shore to aid mariners. The first lighthouse built on the south shore of the inlet in 1835 was damaged by a hurricane, attacked by Seminole Indians and eventually fell into the sea without its lamps ever having been lit.
Last year when we visited the light station in St. Augustine, FL, we learned that, although the terms lighthouse and light station are frequently used interchangeably, lighthouse refers to the tall structure with the light on top while light station refers to a lighthouse that has a complex of support buildings. The support buildings at Ponce Inlet include the principal keeper' s house, two assistant keepers' houses, a woodshed, a pump house, a generator building (added in 1940), and an oil storage building.
Paul climbed the 203 steps to the top of the lighthouse. The photo below shows one of the assistant keeper's houses from the top of the tower. Margery, who decided not to stress her knees by climbing the tower, is sitting on the bench in front of the house to the right of the steps.
From the top of the lighthouse, you can see Daytona Beach in the far distance to the north...
...and to the south you can see the marina at the mouth of the inlet, New Smyrna Beach in the middle distance, and Canaveral National Seashore beyond that.
An entrance building/gift shop was added to the complex in 1992. It was built according to 1883 plans for a proposed, multi-family keeper's dwelling. In 1995, a building to exhibit the Preservation Association's collection of Fresnel (pronounced Fre-NEL) lenses was also added.
Fresnel lenses are actually a combination of lenses and prisms. The use of prisms allows a reduction of the overall thickness of the lens.
Order numbers are used to classify Fresnel lighthouse lenses with a first order lens being the largest and a sixth order the smallest. The first lens used at the Ponce de Leon Inlet lighthouse was a non-rotating, first order lens illuminated by a five-wick kerosene lantern whose light could be seen 20 miles out to sea.
In 1933, the lighthouse was electrified and the fixed lens was replaced by a rotating, third order lens. The rotation of the lens allows a unique pattern of flashes which is used by mariners to identify the lighthouse so they would know their exact location. The third order lens continues in operation today as a privately-operated aid to navigation.
There are a number of lenses and lamps on display in the lens exhibit building, but the star of the show is the restored, first order lens that was originally located in the Canaveral Lighthouse to the south. The Canaveral Lighthouse is located near the Kennedy Space Center. When it was discovered vibrations from all the rocket launches were damaging the lens of the Canaveral Lighthouse, the lens was removed in 1993 and placed on display at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. The lens is over 16 feet high and weighs 12,800 pounds.
As you can see, the lens is illuminated, although with a lower wattage lamp than would be present in actual use. The lens also rotates, and we were fascinated by the light patterns as they traveled around the walls.
Many of the other buildings on the grounds have displays of artifacts and photos that depict the life of the keepers and their families. The First Assistant Keeper's house is furnished the way it would have been at the turn of the 19th century. The photo below shows the bedroom.
Also on the grounds is one of the first charter fishing boats in Ponce Inlet, the Gay Wind. The boat was built in 1939 in St. Augustine and was in service until 1999.
Next to the Gay Wind were two rafts used by Cuban refugees trying to escape to America. The one on the left is made from canvas and styrofoam and washed ashore in 1989. A life vest was left in the raft by the Coast Guard indicating those on board had been rescued. The raft on the right was made from a truck inner tube, some wood, and a few pieces of styrofoam. The fate of those on the second raft is unknown. The fragility of these rafts that were used to traverse 90 miles of open ocean between Cuba and Florida indicates how desperate some are for freedom...something we take for granted.
While walking the grounds of the lighthouse, we stopped to admire these tropical-looking plants with bright orange flowers. We don't know what they are, but it was a good reason for a photo.
We spent a week on Florida's Space Coast and we found plenty to do, but there was one more thing we wanted to check out before we left. Right up the road from the campground was a sign for the ruins of a sugar mill. Every time we drove by, we were curious as to what it was. Finally, on our last day in New Smyrna Beach, we drove into the narrow road to find out. Just a few yards off the main road was a nice little county park.
In 1830, Henry Cruger and William DePeyster acquired 600 acres of land, bought machinery, and established a sugar plantation and mill on the site. Unfortunately, in December, 1835, Seminole Indians attacked the mill, set fire to it, and destroyed other plantations in the area.
The sugar house where the sugar cane was processed is pretty much all that remains of the mill. The locals carried off some of the stone blocks to use for other buildings after the destruction of the mill. The building was made from coquina, which is a type of limestone found along Florida's Atlantic coast. Coquina is composed of compressed bits of shell and is quite durable. In our travels last year, we found the Castillo de San Marcos (the large Spanish fort) in St. Augustine, FL, was constructed from coquina. The photo below shows the sugar house.
The mill had a steam-powered cane crusher to extract the juice, which was then heated in large kettles. Some of the kettles are still there. With Margery and Molly standing beside them, you can see how big they are.
When enough water had been boiled off, the thickened juice was ladled into wooden cooling troughs. After the sugar had cooled and crystallized, it was packed in barrels. Before shipping, the barrels were stored for a time to allow the molasses to run out.
Behind the ruins of the sugar mill is a short nature trail that runs through the palmettos. Molly enjoyed the opportunity for a little walk.
As we said, there is a lot to do in this area, but it was time to be moving on. We will have to add another location to our list of places we want to return to someday. From here, we will be heading farther south.