Fort Myers Tourism



A Visit to

Bok Sanctuary

Even Florida residents like to play tourist for a day now and then and treat ourselves. My husband had mentioned visiting Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida when he was younger and how amazing the adventure had been. Naturally, I wanted to see this special place. We agreed to pack a picnic lunch and take a day trip inland to see Bok Tower, and the gardens surrounding the pink marble tower.

Leaving in the early morning from our home on the beaches of Cape Canaveral we traveled inland, turning south on US 27 and motoring down the center of the state. Once reaching the Lake Wales area, the signs to the Tower were easy to follow. We noticed along the drive that the landscape had changed somewhat to more oak and pine forest interspersed among the palms rather than the palms and scrub oak of the beaches. The ride was quite beautiful. This area differs markedly from the flat lands of most of Florida since it lies on a high ridge running north and south through central Florida. This section of Route 27, designated as the "Scenic Drive," starts at Lake Wales and follows this ridge southward, looping through the small towns and around the lakes of the hilly countryside. Beautiful vistas are encountered for those traveling this scenic road southward. Our drive, though, took us through the hills of Lake Wales, up through the orange groves surrounding this sanctuary and to one of the highest spots in the state.

Upon arriving and locating a parking space, we entered the Visitor’s Center and Carillion Café to grab a map of the Sanctuary. I learned that Bok Tower was built on the highest point in Florida, 298 feet above sea level. Edward W. Bok once made his winter home in Lake Wales and enjoyed walking up “Iron Mountain” to view the sunsets and native Florida wildlife. He felt the experience should be preserved for all generations and did exactly that. Bok purchased the land and commissioned Frederick Law Olmstead to turn the landscape into a place of true beauty while maintaining the natural homes for the over 100 species of birds which live in the area as well as the multitude of squirrels. On the exact highest point in Florida, Bok had built a wonderful pink marble carillon (defined as at least two octaves of carillon bells played via keyboard) which still plays today at specified times which are stated in the brochure.

While at the Visitor’s Center, we enjoyed going through the Museum which explained even further about the carillon and the history of Bok. The scale model of the carillon and information about the various species making Bok Garden and Sanctuary their home was informative yet fun. Then we purchased tickets to enter the park. The tickets are very inexpensive and groups of 15 or more can buy even lower priced tickets.

With map in hand and the peanuts we had purchased to feed the squirrels, plus the pecans I had brought as an extra treat for the squirrels, we started on our trek up the hill into the gardens. The quiet solitude of this special place became evident as we walked along the trail, our voices unknowingly turning to whispers as if to respect the silence. Soon, surrounded by shade trees overhanging the pathway, we were hidden from the sun and surrounded by true nature. The walk was easy since pathways had been cleared and laid with mulch to provide a guide through the park. Everywhere we turned there were flowers of all kinds planted in the beautiful landscape. Such lush tropical surroundings with benches to rest on left me both impressed and wonder-struck!

As we moved on toward the Tower, we noticed that many plants were named in our brochure so we could readily identify them. Also, our map of the gardens helped us very much in identifying the many birds we encountered. Eventually, we arrived at the Reflecting Pool of Bok Tower and were ready to sit on a cool stone bench for a while. I thought it time to break out the pecans for the squirrels and a large number arrived to sit with us on the bench. Now, I had heard these squirrels were tame, but I really wasn’t prepared for exactly HOW tame. A cute little squirrel, when offered a peanut, came right up to my outstretched hand to take the nut. As if the squirrels have psychic communication, soon there was a small group of squirrels eating our offerings. Two even chose to sit in my lap, thinking they would receive the favor of extra nuts - it worked, too! One climbed right up my husband’s jeans leg to get in his lap. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! They never tried to bite, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to capture one or touching it because a squirrel bite can be serious business. We sat and enjoyed the squirrel as well as the awe-inspiring view of the carillon tower reflected in the pool. The reflecting pool is also home to several graceful swans; such beautiful, elegant creatures.

We then continued on to the Tower itself. I simply couldn’t believe the smooth pink veined marble of which much of the carillon was built. It was smooth as glass. Portions of the “Singing Tower” are made of salmon colored coquina - a Florida stone created from small shells entrapped in sand-like dirt. The tower soars 205 feet into the air and is surrounded by a 15 foot moat populated with Koi (large goldfish-like aquatic creatures). Access is gained across a draw bridge-like walkway. Designed by Milton B. Medry in the Florida Deco style, this tower is stunning to view. You can approach the carillon, but you can not enter it since that is only permitted to the carillonneur who plays the carillon. With 60 brass bells and the keyboard to protect, you can well understand why no one is allowed inside. The music from the Singing Tower is beautiful and like no other you will ever hear. The resonant notes can be heard far across the ridge and it seems like all activity stops during the splendid melodies. One can't deny the spiritual aura evoked while listening and gazing at the tower in all its majesty.

We soon decided it was time to eat and went back to our car. Taking our picnic lunch to a shaded picnic table near the entrance of the park, we ate our lunch and relaxed for a while. My husband saved a few grapes to see if the squirrels liked them.

Then we continued our stroll through the gardens. Visiting the nature observatory, “Windows by the Pond”, we had time to relax on benches and watch the birds, butterflies and wildlife play in the pond. We continued our stroll, feeding the squirrels often along the way and admiring the beautiful gardens and plantings. With the plethora of trails to be covered in the Bok Garden and the day beginning to wane, we decided we couldn’t possibly cover all of the many acres encompassed by the gardens, but we could always return for another visit! With that we headed home to prepare for another work week.

Unprepared for the loss of time we experienced while we were absorbed in the encounters at Bok Tower, we had to forgo the opportunity to visit some of the more famous attractions in the Lake Wales area like Chalet Suzanne and Spook Hill! Chalet Suzanne is a unique inn and restaurant fashioned after a Swiss village and set in the private surroundings of a 100 acre estate. Offering 30 guest rooms all differing in size, decor and content, the inn is a special place to stay. The restaurant features extraordinary cuisine at extraordinary prices - don't go without your wallet! In contrast, the Spook Hill tour is free. Here you will experience a magician's illusion in which your vehicle seems to defy gravity. Instead of rolling "downhill" from a stop, your car seems to go back "uphill"! You'll not know the answer until you try it. Don't spend a lot of time pondering this though because the drive through the scenic hills southward beckons. Along this pleasant 2-lane roadway you can envision what most refer to as "old Florida." The charming towns are a throwback to the old days and some breathtaking views of hillsides and lakes will inspire. At the end of this tour you will be back on State Road 27, some miles south of Lake Wales and ready for the ride home. It's a trip you won't forget!

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