Sometimes, a rainy day seems like a bad time for a road trip, but it's actually the perfect day for a museum.
Two museums were on my list on a recent excursion to North Florida, but the landscape along the way offers a glimpse of Florida's unspoiled past that rivals anything in a gallery.
My preferred route to the University of Florida in Gainesville, home to the Harn Museum of Art and the Florida Museum of Natural History, winds the back roads from southwest Volusia County to State Road 40, the two-lane blacktop through the Ocala National Forest. It's the land of tall pines and evaporating cellphone reception, a combination that contributes to the notion of escapism. I spotted deer in the wet grass by the road on my commute.
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3259 Hull Road, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32607, USA
Bypass downtown Ocala on State Road 326 and enjoy a view of horse farms and truck stops on the way to Interstate 75 north to Gainesville. The two museums in UF's Cultural Plaza are only a few miles off I-75 at State Road 24 (Exit 384).
Admission is free to the Harn Museum (harrn.ufl.edu), with its impressive art and outdoor garden that should be on the must-see list of every Florida resident.
I lingered among the highlights of the modern works, losing myself in the subtle colors or "Champ d'avoine," an 1890 painting by impressionist Claude Monet. Across the room, the brilliant shades of "Austrian Copper Rose IV" by American painter Georgia O'Keefe were equally captivating. The ongoing installation also includes paintings by European modernists René Magritte and Francis Picabia.
"Private Dramas, Public Dreams: The Street Photographs of Helen Levitt & Friends," on exhibit through June 8, showcases more than 40 photographs of New York neighborhoods in the 1930s and '40s. It includes a documentary on her work.
Next door, the Museum of Natural History (flmnh.ufl.edu) also is free, with the exception of its interactive Butterfly Rainforest and special exhibits. For $6, I toured "Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs," where I tried to guess what canines were saying.
For more history, it's a short hop south on U.S. Highway 441and county roads 346 and 325 to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park (floridastateparks.org) and the home where Rawlings wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Yearling."
The quiet grove was especially peaceful on a rain-soaked day.