Once we'd had our fill of the view, we headed north! The drive was beautiful. We started along the coast, going through Fort Myers Beach before heading inland a bit. I didn't realize that Florida was home to so many farms. And cattle. The most interesting thing to me, though, was that we'd pass a patch of jungle, then a cattle farm, then more jungle. It was like Idaho had been transplanted to the jungle. (Also, I know it's not really a jungle[right?]--but it sure looked like one!)
After a while, we started coming to town Ryan knew. We kept driving until we came to the tiny town of Zolfo Springs, where we stopped at Dollar General (one of the only stores in town) for refreshments. We also came away with a pair of yoga pants for me that were on the clearance rack. The pants rang up for ONE PENNY and when I asked the cashier if they rang up incorrectly she told me that was really the prcie. What?! If there had been more pants on the rack you know where'd they be now. We asked the cashier if there was anything worth seeing in Zolfo Springs and she came up with literally nothing. Nothing! Luckily, we had Google Maps and Yelp at our disposal. First, we drove around Zolfo--which is beautiful, but maybe just because Florida is beautiful. Right by Zolfo Springs is a "town" called Ona. We had to drive through Ona, because once during his mission Ryan and his companion drove to the town of Ona, stopped at the Post Office asking for a map, and came away with a hand-drawn piece of paper with four streets on it--because that's the whole town! We toured Ona, then headed back to Zolfo Springs where we did, in fact, find something worth stopping at.
The worthwhile stop was the Cracker Trail Museum, which shared property with the Hardee County Wildlife Refuge. The museum was really interesting and had a ton of Hardee County history and memorabilia. Ryan and I love stuff like that, especially when we are able to peruse out our leisure (AKA the kids aren't tugging on us telling us they're ready to move on/they're bored/whatever). The museum also had other historical properties on the ground, including one of the founders' cabins, an old post office, and a steam engine. We loved exploring the grounds. I also loved that when we walked up to the museum, the woman in charge was feeding a buzzard with an injured wing!
After the museum, we decided to check out the wildlife refuge. I wish I hadn't lost my pictures, because the wildlife refuge was super cool! The whole thing had raised boardwalks for the visitors to walk on that allowed you to see down into the enclosure. All of the animals there were animals that wouldn't survive in the wild for one reason or another and were saved by being moved to the refuge. The refuge wasn't very big, but we had a great time. There were two adorable otters that we loved watching, especially when they dove underwater and were wrestling. They reminded us of Reed and Asher! I was paricularly entranced by the buzzards! I don't think they were officially a part of the refuge--they weren't in an enclosure--but they were EVERYWHERE! And they were huge. In one patch of sun, there were twenty or so buzzards standing stock still with their wings spread, sunning--it was breathtaking. And, of course, another highlight was seeing an ostrich poop. I'm not even joking. Ryan had told me about seeing an ostrich poop and described what it looked like, but it was hard to picture until I actually saw it. They have kind of a bum tongue that comes out, dumps the poop, then slurps back in! It is so weird and gross, in an I-can't-look-away-from-this kind of way.
When we were ready to move on, we headed to Wauchula! Ryan was a little worried that he wouldn't recognize much in Wauchula because just a few years after he came home from his mission, Wauchula was devastated by Hurricane Charley (even though it's relatively far inland). Around 90% of the buildings sustained at least some kind of damage, so he wasn't sure what would still be around. We found his old apartment though, which was not the nicest place ever haha. Apparently it looks just the same now as it did then! We also drove through some of the neighborhoods by his apartment and a school where he did service. When we were driving to the church, we saw an interesting building that looked abandoned, so of course we pulled over! The building was not in great shape but it was also not completely abandoned. While we were there, Ryan remembered that he had actually taught people who lived in that building! He remembered sitting outside the building and teaching. The saddest part of the day was when we found the church and, judging by a note on the door and a little research online, realized that it's not currently being used. There must not be a ton of members left in the area.
Past Wauchula was a little town called Bowling Green. While driving around, we noticed a road going off into a wood and decided to check it out. We found ourselves in the Payne's Creek Historic State Park. The state park was only going to be open for another hour and a half or so, but luckily it was small enough that we literally could drive through the entire thing in about 10 minutes! We decided to get out and walk along one of the trails. We chose the "Peace River Trail," which ended up being a very good choice. As you can imagine, the trail wound next to a river! At the very beginning were stairs that went right into the water. There was also a sign next to the stairs warning about alligators, so I'm not sure why the stairs were even there! We stopped at a bench partway through the trail and got to watch where a stream met the river, which was so cool. Another favorite part of the trail was a overlook that hung over a very calm part of the river that was absolutely covered in leaves from the trees. There were more alligator warning signs in this area and I was honestly truly hoping to see an alligator down in that water. No luck though.
Eventually we made our way up to Winter Haven, where we were staying that night, ate dinner--then decided that since we were so close, we might as well pop up to Orlando! We drove to the temple first. We walked around the grounds, which were (not surprisingly) beautiful, and I chuckled at the lizards that were climbing on the temple walls every few feet. Next, we decided to drive over to Disney World to see if we could actually see it. We got really close to Epcot and got to see the ball lit, as well as fireworks (hooray!), then tried Disney World. As it turns out, even if you go to the very front of the parking lot, you can see literally nothing but trees.
It was getting kind of late, so we decided that it was time to go find our hotel. We had a long but fantastic day!
This post literally described ONE DAY of our trip. Even I am impressed by all that we did.