Crossing Over into Cassadaga
If you're in the Daytona Beach/Orlando area, you might have an intuition to make a pit stop in Cassadaga, the tiny 115-year-old community composed of psychics and mediums who will be happy to tell you your fortune or put you in touch with the deceased -- for a price, of course.
Should you find the whole concept of psychics and talking to the dead a bit far-fetched, consider the history of Cassadaga, which is fascinating in its own right.
The story goes that, as a young man from New York, George Colby was told during a séance that he would someday establish a spiritualist community in the South. In 1875, the prophecy came true when Colby was led through the wilderness of Central Florida by his spiritual guide to a 35-acre area that became the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp.
Consisting of about 57 acres and 55 no-nonsense clapboard houses, Cassadaga caters to those who have chosen to share in a community of like-minded people who happen to believe in the otherworldly. Yes, the people are eccentric, to say the least, but they're all friendly. About 25 of the camp's residents are mediums who channel their skills from their homes. Designated a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, Cassadaga is one of the few remaining "spiritualist" communities, like Lily Dale in upstate New York.
When you get to town, head straight for the information center, where you can find out which psychics and mediums are working that day, and make an appointment for a session, which ranges from $25 and up for a palm reading to $50 and up for a session with a medium. A general store, a restaurant, a hotel, and a few shops selling crystals and potions of sorts will keep you occupied while you wait for your appointment. Whether you're a believer or not, an hour or two in Cassadaga will make for interesting cocktail conversation.
From Daytona, take I-4 exit 114. Turn right onto Highway 472 at the end of the exit ramp toward Orange City/Deland. At the traffic light, turn right onto Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Parkway. Turn right at the first light, which is Cassadaga Road. Continue 1 1/2 miles to the intersection with Stevens Street. The information center is on the right. For more information call tel. 386/228-3171 or go to www.cassadaga.org.
Ocala, Florida's Horse Country
Just 78 miles west of Daytona Beach is Ocala, a different world that is more Kentucky than Central Florida. Known for its rolling hills, cow pastures, and Derby-caliber horse farms (www.horsecapitaldigest.com), Ocala is a nature lover's paradise and home to the stunning Ocala National Forest (tel. 877/HIKE-FLA [445-3352]; www.floridatrail.org), with 600 lakes, 23 spring-fed streams, and two rivers and lakes, including Lake George, the second-largest lake in Florida, whose west side is encompassed within the forest and features springs and an impressive variety of wildlife and fish, including Atlantic stingray, mullet, striped bass, and blue crab. In fact, there's so much blue crab in Lake George that it supports a local fishery, making it one of the few freshwater blue crab fisheries in the world. Designated a National Scenic Trail in 1983, the forest's Florida Trail features the remains of homesteads made famous by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings's classic The Yearling.
Just outside of Ocala is Silver Springs, 5656 E. Silver Springs Blvd. (tel. 352/236-2121; www.silversprings.com), a 350-acre natural theme park whose main attraction is the country's largest collection of artisan springs. The park is listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks and features wild animal displays, glass-bottom boat rides, a jungle cruise, and a jeep safari. Ocala, in Marion County, which has been called the "Horse Capital of the World," also has a quaint, historic downtown district, with renovated Victorian homes and buildings, boutiques, antiques shops, restaurants, and cafes. While Ocala isn't necessarily somewhere to spend a week, it is worth exploring the Heart of Florida Scenic Trail (www.floridaseden.org), which comprises the college town of Gainesville, the horse country of Ocala, Old Florida towns including the very Victorian McIntosh and Micanopy, and the scenic Rainbow River (www.therainbowriver.com). For more information on the area, contact the Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau, 2102 SW 20th Place (tel. 888/356-2252; www.ocalamarion.com).
Paynes Prairie Preserve
Just 40 minutes north from Ocala is Micanopy (www.welcometomicanopy.com), Florida's oldest inland settlement that's full of great antiques shops and home to the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, 100 Savannah Blvd. (tel. 352/466-3397; www.floridastateparks.org/paynesprairie), a bird- watcher's dream, featuring more than 270 species, as well as alligators and bison. Exhibits and an audiovisual program at the visitor center explain the area's natural and cultural history. A 50-foot-high observation tower near the visitor center provides a panoramic view of the preserve. Eight trails provide opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling. Ranger-led activities are offered on weekends, November through April. Admission is $6 per vehicle with up to eight people, $4 single-occupant vehicle, and $2 pedestrians. From I-75 South, take exit 374, the Micanopy exit, and turn right at the end of the exit ramp. You will then be traveling east on C.R. 234. Stay on this road 1 1/4 miles until it intersects with U.S. 441. Turn left onto 441 and go about 2/3 mile to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.