Ponce De Leon Lighthouse (of horror)

The sun was still climbing toward the clouds as I roused the kids from their comfortable sleep under the lush white bedding of the hotel room. Chi, in her usual morning excitement, groaned and turned away from the morning greeters as she pulled the comforter over her head to block the imposing light. PopPop was ready to head out for the day’s adventure, though without Oma and a convenient internet connection, we’d yet to lay any concrete plans.

Madame GPS was asked to guide us to IHOP, and she obliged. Our first stop, then, was for breakfast. I wouldn’t let PopPop park at the spaces with the white and blue poles, as I was certain they were handicap spaces. As it turns out, however, the poles are to prevent older drivers from driving into the building. The usual curbs were apparently tripping hazards to patrons there. It’s interesting the adaptations different areas make.

I’ve learned that whenever I dine with men to always let them order first. Somehow, no matter how scrumptious my selected meal might be, whatever my male company orders is better. Art, whose post-college pallet is replete with impeccable knowledge of delicacies I’d never dare sample, ordered a Create Your Own omelet. Considering our youthful love of Dexter’s Laboratory, I half expected he’d request a mere “omelette du fromage.” Instead, he requested a grand omelet with cheese, spinach, turkey sausage, and tomato. It looked divine as our waitress set it on the table with a “Wow, yum.” And PopPop, with eyes in wide envy, looked down at his two by two and frowned. I ate in Art’s meal with my own eyes before sharing my own omelet with Ya, whose little fingers fished through each layer in a relentless search of ham cubes.

He paused only because I noticed his shifting hips and subtle bounce – – the potty dance seated edition – – and dragged him begrudgingly toward the restroom. In our bathroom tour currently venturing down the coast (courtesy of a partially potty trained tot), this restaurant had quite a spectacularly clean facility. Ya, however, was not eager to utilize the commode until forced. I wonder, will he ever willingly use a public facility?
inlet lighthouse
PopPop inquired with the waitress about touristy things to do in the Daytona area. A resident would know, right? Among her suggestions was a water park – a suggestion that seemed kind of silly for a beach town. She also mentioned the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse and I nodded. Yes, that was the beautiful red brick lighthouse I’d seen in the Daytona tourism website. I nodded with more fervor and PopPop decided that would be our destination.

Cost of admission: Adults $5; Children $1.50 (11 and under)
Open 7 days a week from 10 am until 9 pm in summer; 10 am until 6 pm Labor Day to Memorial Day

The ticket agent smiled as she reported that there were 203 steps to the top of the lighthouse. “Go up first,” she said, “and then tour the other exhibits. All the houses are air conditioned.”

“Where’s the elevator,” asked PopPop in jest.

“It’s your feet. One foot in front of the other,” she replied straight-faced and even-toned. Clearly the joke fell short of its humor on her.
w IMG_0822
Ya, positioning himself in front of PopPop and craning his neck toward him asked, “Where does the light turn on?” And with that question, we left the nautical-themed gift shop and went into the storage building that streams an informational video. Chi snuggled down against PopPop and promptly fell asleep, while Ya repeated “Can we get outta here” with more and more volume and whine each time.

Journalist that I used to be and teacher that I am, I jotted down little factoids (even though they are readily available in the brochure and online). We tried to stay through the 20-minute video, but the decibel of the vocals on “Can we get outta here” was such that it reverberated around the small room.

At the entrance of the lighthouse was a warning: No heels higher than 1.5 inches, no flip flops. You must be of good health. In the event of a storm, exit the lighthouse.

We began our ascent – Chi in the lead, followed by PopPop, me, and Art carrying Ya trailing behind.

As I climbed each flight of steps, my pace slowed. Art moved around me and I was left to climb last. I felt my chest grow increasingly tighter, constricting painfully. My lungs, not to be outdone, likewise shrank and my stomach wound itself into a knot. Breathing deeply and clinging to both the slate grey railing and the cool painted-brick wall on either side of the grey metal steps, I climbed. Slowly.

staircase shell

I looked up at the spiraling expanse above me, but dared not to look down. Passersby, mistaking my slow trudging condition for being out of shape and winded rather than terrified, offered encouragement as they continued up or down around me.
Finally, I reached the top, where my family before me disappeared out the black doors to enjoy the 365 degree view from 175 feet above ground. The winds whipped around the tower as I slowly stepped out into the solid black floor of the lighthouse tower. Sunlight pierced my eyes in stark contrast from the dim interior of the encased stairway as I pressed my back, arms, and palms of my hands against the black brick walls. Sliding myself along the brick away from the door, I allowed other visitors to complete their ascent into the open air.

In front of me was a breathtaking view of the entire area – two rivers, the Atlantic Ocean, beautiful hotel and house-lined shores, and docks with boats large and small. Fear continued to hold me, so I appreciated little of this vantage point. My breathe came in labored, ragged heaves as I freed one arm from the wall and attempted to photograph the postcard-perfect display before me. Chi and Ya, uninhibited and unconcerned about the height of the building, stood against the black wire safety railing as they darted their heads back and forth in amazed appreciation of the view. I stared at the thin safety bars and prayed about going down those steep, tiny steps. I could not will myself to push away from the wall.

I snapped a few hurried and unimpressive shots before sliding myself back toward the door (the long way, circling the entire building in a show of bravado for my kids’ sake).

view 1 view 2

And then I looked down and my foot, hovering above the first step, froze.

I turned around and proceeded to go down two steps while clinging for dear life to the railing and the step above me. PopPop, deciding I was a pathetic nut, conjured his best Marine drill sergeant voice and said, “Turn around. Go. Stay closest to the wall, it’s larger.” I insisted he move in front of me, and he made to shove me ahead but thought the better of it and instead barked, “Just go.”

lighthouse director

And so in an asthmatic panic, I clutched the rail and the wall and started slowly down the staircase. My calves pressed against each step as I gingerly and carefully descended with my eyes tightly shut. It was torturous.

On the ground, thankfully, Chi cheerfully spouted, “I’m not afraid of heights; I’m afraid of falling.”

lighthouse gecko

And now I’ve met a definitive and unfortunate truth: I will not be on “The Shot” with Russell James if the series ever makes a return… extreme photo shoots would knock me out of competition in the first episode.

**shared with Sweet Shot Tuesday

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  1. I really enjoy the spiral staircase photograph. Very nice!

  2. Visiting from sweet shot – SWEET SHOTS! I love lighthouses, and I love how you captured them!

  3. such gorgeous photos!

  4. I’ve been there! We used to live not too far from Ponce Inlet and took that climb once. It’s a big climb but i think the going down was harder than going up! You got some beautiful pictures out of it at least! =)

  5. I am right there with you – I love how you told your story. I love incredible photos but I don’t always have the stomach to be able to get to the destination. Great work.

  6. Love your photo of the stairs in thelighthouse – found your photo on Kat Eye View.. The things we do for those we love!! Have you ever been up in the Gateway Arch in Missouri?? You sit inside this little egglike elevator which brings you 630′ up, in the tallest man-made monument in the United States. Or walked across the worlds highest suspension bridge, the Royal Gorge in Colorado – aghhhh
    I had to hold hands with my friends daughter in order to get across that one. And the thought of having to walk back across filled me with dread. Yes indeed, the things we do for those we love. Enjoyed your story!

    • Rachelle says:

      I don’t think I’d be able to handle any of those… my kids will just have to accept that Mommy is a groundling 🙂

  7. Beautiful images! I love your sprial staircase shot, I’m a sucker for all things lighthouse. 🙂 Thanks so much for joining in Exploring with a Camera! I’m glad to have you.

  8. Rose Gallitz says:

    love the staircase shot, but my fave is the captain’s hat. I love it! story was excellent–I could feel myself heaving the ragged breaths with you…Chi’s comment at the end cracks me up! She’s so smart. : )

  9. I love the staircase! However, my personal favorite is the little lizard on the latch. He made me smile.

  10. Hey I live there, well Port Orange, but it’s close enough. Just thought it was cool running across this on your blog. You got some really pretty captures from there.


  1. […] I’ll never, ever forget those dreadful stairs… in fact, I still have abnormal heart palpitations whenever I pass metal staircases. Stairs […]

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