Florida is one of the most visited states in the country and there’s a good reason for that. Most people know it has some of the most popular attractions, but did you know it also has some of the most unique?
Here are some of the best Florida oddities I bet you never heard of.
1. Canyons, Marion County
Do you think Florida is all flatland? You won’t after you see the Canyons in Marion County. Besides being the largest in the country, Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours is a wonderful example of humans and Mother Earth uniting to recycle. Looking at the green landscape, with lakes, caves, horse trails, and the country’s largest zipline, you would never guess this was an ugly limestone mine at the turn of the 20th century.
Traci and David Walker came here looking for a place to open a zipline. When they discovered this 94-acre tract that nature had begun reclaiming, it was love at first sight. They opened The Canyons in Nov 2011. For Traci, an ardent artifact collector, there is an added bonus, the area has some priceless relics, an old train trestle, a huge rusted metal door from one of the old buildings, and even a Civil War musket shot. Some of the artifacts in Tracy’s collection date back to the Second Seminole War.
We had a choice of zipping on three different routes or one of the night zip tours. Instead, we chose more grounded fun, a trip on their Mine-N-Wine Wagon. It’s a history tour combined with your choice of wine or chocolates. The tour gave us the history of the canyons from the time of the mining operation. The wagon is equipped with ipads at each place, so as you stop, you learn the history of that place. Ben and Clay were our terrific guides. You can also enjoy a horseback ride or a kayak trip along the waterways.
Nowhere else in Florida can you stand at the top of a canyon or zip across it and look down on a sparkling blue lake over 100 feet below.
2. Spook Hill, Lake Wales
There are some strange places where you find unexplained phenomena. Spook Hill in Lake Wales is a marvel that has to be seen to be believed. Folklore and legend offer more questions than answers. Whatever the reason, drivers now follow a one-way road, then stop at a white line. Under a banner touting S-P-O-O-K H-I-L-L, they put vehicles in neutral and appear to roll slowly up an incline. I tried it and did not believe my own eyes.
3. Florida Caverns State Park, Marianna
Florida Caverns State Park near Marianna is the only Florida state park where you can visit underground caves. The CCC built the park in the 1930s, and its visitor’s center/museum is a work of art in stone. The cave tour is a tribute to these enterprising workers.
The CCC workers cleared the passages, often working in small crawlspaces on hands and knees with picks and buckets, thus allowing visitors to walk upright through the magnificent cave. The parking area has a bronze statue honoring these workers who labored from dawn to dusk for $1 a day.
Not only is the park home to the cave system, but there are also dozens of other smaller caves. My cave tour was great. Our guide explained that at one time, seawater covered the area. As the water receded, erosion of the limestone that formed Florida’s bedrock caused the formation of the caves. Many caves in Florida exist, but they are far below the water table.
When we reached the section of the chamber called “The Basement,” our guide informed us, “At 60 feet beneath the surface, we are now in the deepest point in the cave above the water table. This is pretty rare as usually the water table in Florida is very close to the surface.”
More Than Deep Earth
The Florida Cavern’s State Park’s charms are not all deep in the earth. The above-ground topography is fascinating. I took the Bluff Trail that borders the Chipola River floodplain most of the way and meanders across a rocky limestone pitted surface covered in many places with wildflowers. Wild azalea, lyre-leaf sage, columbine, and cardinal flowers were some of them.
Some are small caves along the way are notched out of the limestone formations and used as hideouts or shelters by the Seminoles during the Seminole Wars fought in this area. The pick of the litter is Tunnel Cave. Here you can walk entirely through a small cave entering at one end and exiting at the other. It feels like the heart of the Appalachians.
Wildlife is abundant here due to the diverse habitats. You can find woodpeckers, barred owls, beavers, alligators, snapping turtles, raccoons, and many other wild creatures.
4. Coral Castle, Homestead
Coral Castle is one of those mysteries that may never be explained. How could one small man who stood five feet tall and weighed 100 pounds move stones weighing several tons and build this masterpiece all by himself?
When fickle 16-year-old Agnes Scuffs jilted her 26-year-old fiancee (Ed Leedskalnin) on the eve of their wedding, she set in motion a series of events that would lead to constructing a monument comparable to Stonehenge. Agnes informed Ed that he was too old and poor for her. Brokenhearted, Ed left his native Latvia and settled in Florida. He began carving a memorial to his lost love that he always referred to as “Sweet Sixteen.”
Ed had a sense of humor for a man so obsessed, as evidenced by the Florida Table. It is a twenty-foot-long table shaped like the Sunshine State and surrounded by ten stone chairs. Ed envisioned the governor at the head chair and senators and representatives at the others, discussing ways to raise taxes. Coral Castle contains gigantic coral rock formations, weighing as much as 29 tons. Ed dedicated the entire estate to “Sweet Sixteen,” often referring to her as if she were due to arrive any day.
These sculptures are even more miraculous because Ed Leedskalnine used no power tools, just simple blocks, tackles, winches, and wedges, many of them homemade from junkyard parts. He worked alone, usually at night, and told no one his secret for moving the giant rock.
20 Long Years
He created a castle and all its furnishings out of the solid rock he quarried for over twenty years. The castle walls are made of giant stone with cracks filled so perfectly that you cannot see the light between them. He fashioned a bedroom with beds for himself and “Sweet Sixteen” as well as children’s furniture for his hoped-for children. Many men put their loves on a pedestal—Ed fashioned a throne for his, as well as for himself.
Ed’s romanticism shows most in the Feast of Love Table, heart-shaped and weighing 5,000 pounds. However, his crowning achievement is the Nine Ton Gate, which fits within 1/4″ of its surrounding walls. Part of his secret is its balance. I was able to move this massive 9-ton gate with one hand.
During Ed’s lifetime, visitors marveled at his workmanship, but he never revealed how he did it. Some have surmised Ed knew the secrets of the pyramids. Many of his carvings do show an interest in astronomy. The Polaris Telescope, which he created out of almost thirty tons of rock, focuses perfectly on the North Star. His Sun Dial is so accurate you can determine the time within one or two minutes. The Crescent Moon and Planets, the moon alone weighs 23 tons, The Moon Fountain, containing three phases of the moon, and the Great Obelisk, larger than the great upright at Stonehenge, all indicate knowledge of the heavenly bodies.
5. World’s Smallest, Ochopee and Carrabelle
There are a couple of tiny attractions found only in Florida. The world’s smallest post office is in Ochopee, not far from the Skunk Ape Headquarters. It’s a 7×8-foot shed used to store irrigation pipe for a tomato farm. When a fire in 1953 destroyed the Ochopee General Store, which also housed the post office, the building became the official post office and still functions as a working post office.
The World’s Smallest Police Station is in Carrabelle, Florida. It’s a regular phone booth. Remember those antiques from the pre-cell phone era? The original is now at the Chamber of Commerce Office in downtown Carrabelle due to vandalism and even attempts to steal it.
It came into use on March 10, 1963. The city had a police phone in a call box bolted to a building at the corner of U.S. 98 and Tallahassee Street. Tourists would use the phone to make long-distance phone calls. Johnnie Mirabella, St. Joe Telephone Company’s only Carrabelle employee at the time, first tried moving the call box to a different building, but the tourists were right behind him.
He also saw that the policeman would get drenched while answering phone calls when it was raining. So when the phone company told him to replace a worn-out phone booth in front of Burda’s Pharmacy with a new one, he used the old booth to house the police call phone.
A Solution and Entertainment Fame
They moved the booth to US 98 at the corner of CR67, where you see the replica today. It did solve the problem of police getting drenched answering calls, but people still used it for illegal long-distance calls. The city finally solved the problem by removing the dial.The booth was moved to US 98 at the corner of CR67 where you see the replica today. It did solve the problem of police getting drenched answering calls but people still used it for the illegal long distance calls. The city finally solved the problem by removing the dial.
The World’s Smallest Police Station has been on TV shows—Real People, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, The Today Show, and Johnny Carson and was featured in the movie Tate’s Hell.
Yes, my home state has a lot of oddities. It’s just waiting for you to come visit.
Article written by Kathleen Walls of American Roads and Global Highways.
Some of these attractions were ones I visited on comped press trips. My opinions are my own.
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