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El Galeón Retraces Ponce de Leon’s Route to St. Augustine

May 27, 2013 by · Comments Off on El Galeón Retraces Ponce de Leon’s Route to St. Augustine 

El Galeon sails into St. Augustine.

El Galeon sails into St. Augustine.
















El Galeón, (The Galleon) replicates a massive 170-foot long wooden 16th-century ship from Spain’s West Indies fleet. Pedro Menendez, founder of St. Augustine sailed the San Pelayo, a ship similar to El Galeón, however, Juan Ponce de Leon and Magellan used smaller vessels (called caravels) to explore. Spanish galleons were used to transport troops of men, animals, munitions and supplies between the Caribbean, Spain and the New World. As many of 300 men might have been onboard.

As part of the yearlong Viva Florida 500 celebration, El Galeón and her crew retraced the route of La Florida discoverer Ponce de Leon across the Atlantic to Puerto Rico then up along the Florida coast. The voyage took 22 days using technology of the past era and covered more than 900 nautical miles.

El Galeon slips between opening at Bridge of Lions.

El Galeon slips between opening at Bridge of Lions.

I went out to greet the ship as she arrived in the Matanzas’s Inlet from the Black Raven, a pirate ship that operates daily cruises from the St. Augustine marina. The Black Raven fired welcoming canon blasts.

El Galeón is one huge boat; I questioned whether the masts would fit between the openings of the Bridge of Lions. She entered the harbor with onboard power because the replica operates under majestic full sail only when out at sea – or in Captain Morgan rum commercials.

I boarded her the next morning by climbing up a steep gangplank. Polished wood gleamed from every surface and smelled of varnish. I discovered the ship’s wheel, the only way to steer the craft directly below the poop (uppermost) deck. Because this vessel was built just three years ago, modern navigational equipment is required, but hidden from view.

El Galeon's Wheel

El Galeon’s Wheel

Three masts support seven sails with 10,010 square feet of sail area. Raising the sails takes a crew of at least 20 over an hour. Currently crew consists of 18 men and two women, one who is the chef.


El Galeon ViewI took in the view of St. Augustine imagining a voyage that was likely quite unpleasant. You can also go below deck and see numerous canons and further below to watch a video. There’s 3,444 square feet of visiting area on six decks.



Information and tickets for El Galeón are available at or at ticket booths at Ripley’s Red Train Tours and the St. Augustine Visitors Information Center. Tickets are $8 for children age 12 to 6 years and $15 for adults. Children age 5 and under are free. The ship will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the St. Augustine City Marina. Hurry, El Galeón is only in town until June 3rd.

View of St. Augustine from El Galeon

View of St. Augustine from El Galeon

Explore Marvel Cave, Branson’s First Tourist Attraction

May 20, 2013 by · Comments Off on Explore Marvel Cave, Branson’s First Tourist Attraction 

Sun rays enter Marvel Cave

Sun rays enter Marvel Cave

Fishing and a hole in the ground gave start to Branson‘s fame more than 100 years ago. Today, Branson, Missouri reigns as a highly popular Middle American tourist destination in the Ozark Mountains.  In fact, some seven to eight million folks visit the city of 10,000 residents each year.

The Osage Indians first discovered the cave they called Devil’s Den around 1500, but it wasn’t until the 1860’s that geologists began to explore. By the 1880’s adventurers would lower themselves on ropes 200 feet into the main chamber. One of those daring visitors was a newspaper publisher who began to spread the word about the cave’s natural beauty.

After the Civil War, a group of Union veterans formed a mining company hoping to profit from the rich bat guano that filled the cave. They also hoped to find marble, but the cave turned out to be limestone.

In 1894, William Henry Lynch, a Canadian mining expert, purchased the cave sight unseen. He opened it for public tours employing his two daughters as guides.

By the 1920’s the cave was a well-established attraction with newly built roads for tourists arriving by car or by hiking from a nearby train stop.

However, in 1946, the cave became the backbone of a new tourist attraction, a theme park. Chicagoans Hugo and Mary Herschend moved to the Ozark area and worked out a 99-year lease on Marvel Cave- as it had become known. Around the mid 1950’s they recreated an old mining town around the cave entrance to entertain guests and the structures grew into Silver Dollar City theme park.

While Silver Dollar City continues to boom and now encompasses 100 acres (showcasing a demonstrating colony of resident craftsmen and numerous rides) I wanted to explore Marvel Cave. A tour takes about an hour and involves some 750 steps up and down fifteen stories through some narrow, slippery passageways. I entered the massive main chamber where shafts of light penetrate the walls from a sinkhole opening in the ground. The sun’s illumination glowed with what many photographers call “God rays”.

Formations within Marvel Cave,    Branson, MO

Formations within Marvel Cave, Branson, MO



I proceeded down stairs into an immense Cathedral Room that belittles you with its staggering proportions: 204 feet high, 225 feet wide, and 411 feet long. The chamber is so large that five hot air balloons once flew inside as a stunt.

My tour continued past some stalactites and stalagmites but the cavern is not as beautiful as some I have toured. The delight is walking through the huge open airy underground world and seeing a lovely waterfall- 505 feet below ground level. This sight is worthy of the cave’s name and is truly marvelous.

Marvel Cave visitors in the main chamber.

Marvel Cave visitors in the main chamber.

However, you must then climb up numerous flights and by the time you reach the end, you are happy a cable train waits to assist the final ascent back to the woodsy hills of the theme park.
I regret I did not have time to ride Silver Dollar City’s newest roller coaster ride. The Outlaw Run features the first and only double barrel roll on a wood coaster that twists upside down with three inversions. On second thought, maybe I don’t regret it.

Be sure to explore Marvel Cave.

Marvel Cave Waterfall

Marvel Cave Waterfall