DeSoto National Memorial and Ocmulgee National Monument

In November, we travelled for another wedding – this time in Tampa, Florida. We drove, and on the way there stopped in Atlanta for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants Loving Hut. These can be found in many different corners of the globe, and always serve tasty vegan Asian food. Each restaurant has a different menu, but the same philosophy.

Once we arrived in Tampa, our first stop was to meet some friends at Taco Bus downtown. They have a walk up counter and an inside dining area. We chose to order outside and then walked over to the nearby park to sit and enjoy our meal in the warm sunshine. It was beautiful outside! The food was amazingly good, you can add vegan steak strips to any burrito or taco. We sat outside for quite a long while, enjoying the sun and company of friends who we do not get to see very often.

Our friends were married that evening at The Florida Aquarium, in front of a huge tank full of sharks, stingrays, and fish. A pretty amazing ceremony, watching them state their vows while giant sharks floated by their heads. During the cocktail hour, penguins came out to hang out with the wedding guests! That was pretty awesome. We were allowed to wander through the aquarium after dinner and cake, spying on fish, birds, seahorses, and other sea creatures. We had lots of laughs with friends, and amused ourselves for hours among the tanks and wildlife. What a great idea for a wedding location!

DeSoto National Memorial

DeSoto National Memorial

Early the next morning, we headed out to De Soto National Memorial in Brandenton, Florida. The site commemorates De Soto’s trek through the Americas in the 1500’s. He and his army spent four years threading their way through the southeast. Unfortunately it was not a successful mission – De Soto died of fever along the way, and his constant search for gold made him no friends amongst the Native American tribes he encountered. Enslaving and/or killing many Native Americans, as well as leaving a legacy of disease and social unrest, destroyed many tribes. Nevertheless, De Soto National Memorial is a beautiful, peaceful spot right on the waters of the Manatee River and Tampa Bay, and we were able to spend time walking trails in the sun and enjoying seasonably warm weather – much warmer than we would have in Asheville this time of year! The trail took us through a forest with many different types of mangroves, and down to small beaches covered in shells. A park volunteer mentioned that many visitors come to the park by boat, through the calm waters that mostly surround the park. There were interpreters doing a demonstration of the clothing worn during De Soto’s time period and many, many people enjoying the trails in the park. It was a busy location for such a small park site. The volunteers were, of course, super friendly and helpful. We always end up spending time talking to the people working at the National Park Sites, and really enjoy the conversations we’ve had.

We had lunch at Taco Bus again, with friends, and then spent the day just hanging out and enjoying being with everyone. We had dinner that evening at yet another Loving Hut – I had a fantastic ham sandwich and cheesecake. We ate really well the entire weekend.

Ocmulgee National Monument

Ocmulgee National Monument

Our last stop, on the way home the following day, was at Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, Georgia. Ocmulgee has an amazing history and is a beautiful park. With the leaves changing, and fall encroaching on the environment, the park took on an orange glow when we arrived in the late afternoon. The history is stunning – we were able to walk into an earthlodge built over 1,000 years ago. The mounds built on the site were quite a feat of engineering, but for some reason the earthlodge really blew us away. It gave me the shivers to stand in an underground chamber clearly created that long ago. We were also able to walk to the top of one of the ceremonial mounds and imagine why and how the early Mississippian people would create these structures. We stayed there until they closed, enjoying the peace and quiet beauty of the park. We always enjoy every park site we visit, but sometimes the less travelled, smaller sites are the ones that really surprise and delight.

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