Thursday, August 13, 2009

Horse Country

Continuing our Tour Of Florida 2009 my wife and I left Ocala Monday morning heading west for Cedar Key. We took smaller county roads across Levy county through what is horse raising country: This is another of Florida's little surprises; a corner of the state that tries to look like Virginia. The countryside around Ocala is mostly low rolling hills covered with pine forests and where human beings have imposed themselves, classic post-and-rail fences to keep those pesky horses where the ranchers put them:
The roads continue to run straight and true, with occasional bends and lots of uninhabited open space. These parts of Florida are not the least bit tropical. This is the land of oak trees, Spanish Moss and sandy soils. In summer it gets up into the 90s but in winter it's not unusual to get frosts that mess up citrus groves and have people putting away their motorcycles and surviving by use of cars. Horrors! I find these landscapes quite enchanting even though some people argue that north Florida is more like Alabama or Georgia, this is still the Sunshine State:
This is definitely the Bible Belt and wherever two or three trailers are gathered in His Name, then someone will promptly put up a church:The other reason to hang out here is farming or ranching, so on either count I am not really a suitable candidate for life in this part of the world. I like looking at the broad open fields, and the trees dotting the horizon, but I am glad I have a home in the heathen Florida Keys:I don't know how or why horses got started here but they have been an economic mainstay for Ocala for long enough that the city has erected statues of multi colored horses all over the town as civic Art. There are tons of ranches out in the country and tons of them are for sale like this one:I've lived on dirt roads and personally if I never have to commute down a white gravel road again it will be too soon for me. Yes I know it looks nice what with those tall pine trees lining the road but dust gets everywhere including in your air filter and tires and suspension wear out. It's ruinous I tell you:The horses grazing placidly don't seem to mind that their farm is on the market:
I found the countryside west of Ocala to be prettier than that to the east which is odd because to the east lies the mass of the Ocala National Forest. However, seen from the broad expanse of the paved highway which drives through the middle of the forest, there isn't really much to see. Perhaps a Triumph Scrambler might be useful around there to explore the dirt roads and sandy trails. The country road driving east from Ocala is smooth and straight and easy:
As we continued west toward Highway 19 we came across this sign:
Not only had I never heard of it, I doubted very much it was named for the German poet. A quick Internet search revealed the truth; it was named for the man who sold the land to the State in 1992, a J T Goethe. It consists of 53,000 acres in two separate pieces and includes what the State calls 15 natural communities. We drove through this piece in less than ten minutes. Which is I suppose a lot of pine forest one way and another.
Oops! Wake up! Bend ahead!
And there is Highway 19 steaming north in a dead straight line, all four lanes of it towards the state capital, Tallahassee. We had to go up a short way then turn west once more for our next destination: Cedar Key, an island some people like to say looks as Key West did decades ago.