Columbus landed in the West Indies and never actually reached the mainland. Ponce de Leon accompanied Columbus on his second voyage to the “new world” in 1493. They landed in Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic. About 15 years later, Ponce was sent to explore and conquer the island that is now Puerto Rico. He succeeded and was appointed governor of the island. He later heard about a garden island called Biminy. It had a fountain of youth. He obtained a permit from King Ferdinand to look for the island. He set out with three ships and landed in what is now St. Augustine on Easter Sunday, 1513, thinking it was the island of Biminy. He named the land La Florida (the flower) and claimed the territory for Spain.
Near his landing location, Ponce de Leon found a large spring and a band of extremely health Timucuan Indians. They drank the water, lived twice as long as the average Spaniard, and grew to an average height well over six feet (Ponce was 4’-11”). He believed he had found the “Fountain of Youth.” He didn’t know that it was tribal tradition that the tallest man married the tallest woman and they gradually created a tall tribe. Ponce took vast amounts of the water back to Puerto Rico to drink and bathe in, and he lived 61 years, which was old for that time. He might have lived longer, but he died of an infection from a wound following a struggle with the Calusa Indians. They didn’t want Spanish settlers moving into their territory on the west coast of Florida and fought long and hard to keep them out.
Today, the Fountain of Youth Park is an interesting collection of historical data about Ponce de Leon’s life and discoveries, as well as the story of the Timucuan Indians. A celestial planetarium explains early astrological sailing techniques that Ponce used to find his way around, and there's a monument at the original landing site (photo). The spring has been preserved and all visitors get a free cup of water. We feel much younger now.
The oldest masonry fort in the U.S. is the Castillo de San Marcos. It dates back to 1672 and is still standing solid on the waterfront. It was built with coquina, a soft shellrock formation that was mined nearby. The rock is full of shells and gets very hard when exposed to air. It was used extensively for foundations, walls, sidewalks and other purposes. A similar building material called tabby used oyster shells in its mix and was used primarily for walls.
Downtown St. Augustine is a grid of narrow streets. One street is only six feet wide. St. George Street (below) has been turned into a pedestrian-only street and is full of shops and restaurants. The less busy residential streets are quiet and full of character. Preservation is a high priority in St. Augustine. Strict design controls make sure that new development doesn’t corrupt the character of the town.
A couple miles outside St. Augustine is Anastasia Island with long beautiful beaches. We packed the sunscreen, beach chairs, towels, sunglasses, etc., and set out for an afternoon of cooling off in the surf.
As we were leaving the beach, a big storm cloud was building off the coast. It dropped two tornado type funnels, like long black hoses. It was well off shore but caught the attention of everyone on the beach and even made the evening news on Jacksonville TV. You might be able to see it in the following photo. It got much closer, but we were driving away . . . fast.
On the way to the beach, we stopped at the St. Augustine Lighthouse (1874) and climbed the 219 steps to the top. Great views from up there.