Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Here's To the Sunshine

Magnet # 183: Map of Florida

Material: Acrylic

Purchased By: Me

Today, Florida celebrates the anniversary of the day in 1845 when it finally achieved statehood.  Even though it boasts the first permanent European settlement on the continent, it was not among the original 13 colonies and was actually the 27th state.  The Spanish were the first Europeans to make it to the area in 1513, when Ponce de Leon landed there in search of the Fountain of Youth.  He later tried to colonize the area, but was unsuccessful.  More Spanish explorers followed in his footsteps, landing in Florida, and even the French built a colony there.  But King Philip II of Spain was not amused, and sent his own men there to expel them.  They founded a settlement at St. Augustine and went on to massacre the nearby French setters, taking their fort.  Two years later, the French sent more forces to fight back and they wiped the Spaniards out.  The British also made their way over to Florida, attacking St. Augustine, but the Spanish were truly the most prevalent of all European nations there until 1763, when they traded it with the British for control of Cuba.  The British divided it into eastern and western halves and held it for about two decades.  Seizing an opportunity to attack a country weakened by the Revolutionary War with its colonies, Spain was able to attack the area and force Britain to hand it back over.  Spain had little involvement for the next nearly four decades until they finally agreed to hand over control of the area to the United States after the First Seminole War.  By then, a great deal of Americans had traveled into Florida and settled there.  In its time a territory, Andrew Jackson was the first military governor, even more settlers flooded in, and nearly all of the Seminole Indians were removed.  Although Florida applied for statehood in 1839, it would have to wait 6 years to be admitted to the Union, for as it was a slave state and Congress wanted to admit it with a free state.

Well, the two states in which I've spent the majority of my life both border Florida, so I've had quite a few trips there over the years. Of course, many other Americans can say the same as this is one of the most popular tourist states in the nation. With its nearly yearlong warm weather and a plethora of beaches, the Sunshine State is a beacon to travelers around the nation, particularly those wanting to get away from miserably cold winter weather. Florida's tourism actually peaks in that season, and its government is well-aware of the appeal they have to tourists. It was one of the first states to open a welcome center back in 1949, and they continue to lure travelers in each year.  Aside from its many beaches, Florida is filled with all sorts of great tourist attractions.  I've mentioned locales like Weeki Wachee Springs, Tampa, and historic St. Augustine on here before, and there are plenty more.  In south Florida, the Everglades National Park, a gorgeous wetland home to exotic animals and nearby Miami is a colorful and vibrant urban jungle.  There are also beautiful mansions like the Ringling Estate in Sarasota Bay and the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach.  Visitors to Cape Canaveral can tour the Kennedy Space Center and possibly watch shuttles launch toward space, and those in Key West can kick back and soak in the mellow atmosphere of the Conch Republic.  And, of course, there's Disney World and the other amusement parks in Orlando that nearly every family must visit at least once.  One thing's for sure - Florida has no shortage of one-of-a-kind sites that pack in the tourists each year.  I must admit, the one problem I have had with Florida is the road system there.  Many times, they are laid out in a way that makes them tough to understand and navigate.  I remember on a recent trip there trying to find a sign for a road number that just wasn't there.  All we could find was a sign for a turnpike that didn't correspond with what was on our map, but we had to take it anyway.  They are also very aware of how many tourists come to the area - toll roads are all over, particularly around tourist areas like Orlando.  And, yes, I have mentioned their notorious Speed Trap Alley on here before, and I simply don't understand how the Florida legislature allows it to continue.  I know I'm not alone in this - Lindsay was often frustrated in our recent trip there, and I have another friend here in Savannah who likes to travel, but hates driving in Florida, often avoiding it.  So there you have it - Florida, a great place to see, but not to drive in.  But if you've never seen this incredible state, don't let that stop you - go ahead and sample some of the great locales the Sunshine State has to offer, just be careful as you drive along, or perhaps fly in.

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