What started out as breakfast at our favorite restaurant on a 70′ pier over the Atlantic Ocean, followed by a leisurely walk on the beach as our first retirement mini-trip, turned into an unexpected treat to a photo location on my bucket list. The weather turned very windy on the beach, albeit the temperature was delightfully cooler than the record breaking heat of this 2018 summer. However, being sandblasted from blowing sand was not on my list of things to do. Instead, we opted to check off one of the locations on my photography bucket list not too far away.
The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse represents one of the best preserved and most authentic historic light stations in the nation today. As the road twisted and turned, I kept my eyes on the lighthouse while admiring the unique surroundings on the small road we were driving on. We had no plans, no information on the lighthouse other than some recollection of historical readings I had researched, and no idea if we could even get close enough to see it.
Much to my husband and I’s surprise, we only had 10 minutes to wait until the lighthouse opened up and would allow us to walk the surrounding area of small buildings where the lighthouse keepers and maintenance workers resided, and the opportunity to self-guide ourselves up to the top of the 175′ tall lighthouse.
The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest masonry lighthouse in the country, second only to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
On our way to the lighthouse, we stopped at an area of interest where there were wooden posts with a rusted marine-like chain. Encased in the fenced area was something we didn’t expect to see.
It was a location where Cuban Refugee Rafts washed ashore at the lighthouse. There were several pieces that resembled something like rafts. Oh, the pain and suffering these people had to go through to escape their country must have been harrowing.
It was intriguing to think about the dangerous and scary trek these desperate people had to have gone through.
The lighthouse was just ahead. It was breathtaking. The relatively new renovation and care of this lighthouse which was originally completed in 1887 was marvelous. As my husband looked at me and asked if I could make it up to the top, I was shaking my head up and down. “Yes, I can! Yes, I will make it!”, I kept assuring him. With my health issues being what they are, this wasn’t the wisest choice to make. As we entered the lobby of the lighthouse, our eyes immediately went up and up, and up and up. Fire department paramedics were there, “just in case”, I assumed. “See!”, I told hubby. “If I need help, they’re here”, I was serious. Hubby wasn’t amused. His worry was warranted. After being cooped up in the house nearly all summer long because the temperatures were too high and the humidity was outrageous for months on end this summer, I felt like a bird being released from it’s cage. You see, my health issues include intolerance to heat and medications make my skin burn within 5 minutes, even with sunscreen.
It was then that I realized the 203 steps up to the top seemed daunting. I kept telling myself with each painful step up that every 11 steps there was a resting spot where there was a window sill to look out.
Finally, we made it all 203 steps up to the top of the 175′ lighthouse. I was actually on top of a lighthouse looking out at the Atlantic Ocean for as far as the eye could see was open, beautiful water.
I was in awe and loved the feeling of freedom. It was like another world up there. As I made my way around the entire top of the lighthouse, I kept snapping photos of each direction and how each view changed.
Facing west there was a long pier and waves crashing up onto the rock pilings at the end of the pier. There was a person parasailing, a small vessel boat and the lovely shrimp boat coming in.
Continuing clockwise around the lighthouse top, there were several boats at a small marina, mainly fishing boats. A small island and dunes were lovely with the different shades of water.
It was amazing how far you could see out from up top the lighthouse. I wondered what it was like back when the lighthouse was in operation. The first lantern was lit on November 1, 1887 by Keeper, William Rowlinski. The light could be seen for 20 miles out to sea. Did the keeper get lonely? Was it scary? What made one want to be a lighthouse keeper?
Continuing my circle around the top, the colors were magical with the shallow depths and dunes. Look closely, and you can see a bird with shells and seaweed on the dune. Farther out, you can see civilization as the waters bleed into a waterway which takes you to bird island.
On the opposite side of the lighthouse, the sky and land looked totally different. It was more of wetlands and nature. The sun was shining beautifully highlighting the landscape.
On my last turn, I could see the homes we drove by, the beach nearby, and the beginning of the tourist-filled hotels lining the beach. Yet, there was water on both sides of the piece of land jetting out into the ocean.
It was time to head back down all 203 stairs. Thinking to myself, “This is gonna hurt,” I took my first few steps down with hubs in front of me to catch my fall, God forbid. My rheumatic knees were aching and stiff, not wanting to bend or bare the weight of my body much longer.
Stopping to rest on the way down, my legs shaking, my heart pounding, and me thinking what an idiot I was, I noticed the small cut out bricks in the lighthouse where the light was shining through. Taking this as my sign from the spiritual side of my mind, I headed back down not counting steps for fear I would just stop and plead for the paramedics to come get me.
At last, we made it down 203 steps. Pretty awesome for our first mini-trip. Hubs reminded me several times, “This is not a sprint, but a marathon.” He held onto me as we made our way to the closest place to sit down. I recall a kind of plop, rather than a graceful sit on the steps of the lighthouse keepers housing. We both looked at each other and laughed out loud. This retirement thing is rather fun. After all, this is how we started out – traveling about and seeing the unusual, the out of the way places throughout Europe in the early to mid-eighties. It felt good for the two of us to be in this place in our lives again.
As we sat there recalling how awesome the view was, my legs were barking and my lungs were heavy. Suddenly, the temperature seemed to jump to 100 degrees. However, I wanted to sit and admire this majestic structure and hug myself for just walking 406 steps. Taking numerous photos while sitting there was therapy for my aching body and splendid for my soul. In my mind, I knew exactly how I wanted to remember this landmark in this beautiful state.
I don’t want to bore you with all the history details of this landmark. Come see for yourselves. I highly recommend visiting if in the Daytona Beach, Florida area.
Fact: The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is now listed as an operational private aid to navigation.
Gaining courage to get up off the steps and back to the car with shaking legs there was a sense of pride knowing one check off the bucket list was complete. Lesson learned? I won! Despite my disabilities, my will to do what I wanted to do overrode whatever screaming my body made. Who knows where our next trip will be. I’ll keep you posted. Hopefully, I’m finished with 203 steps up and 203 steps down. Off we go making more memories.