Monday, October 31, 2011

Morning Walks, Cedar Knees and Freshwater Paradise

Florida has certainly had its due this trip, and now it's time to press on toward home. Still, we don't want to push ahead and miss ALL the sites in the 2,800 miles between here and home, so we've planned some stops along the way.

Last night, we camped at Silver Lake in the Withlacoochee Forest. Though unfortunately located adjacent to the freeway, it's a beautiful lake surrounded by forest, home to countless 'gators and (I was told) good fishing. Our camp neighbors were friendly, inquisitive and helpful. We arrived early enough to take out our Sanibel shells for a good washing - WHEW! Did they stink up the car or WHAT?!

I woke early this morning, so while the girls slept in the locked trailer, I took a short walk by the shore. The light was nice as the morning mist rose from the lake. I never spotted a 'gator, but wasn't brave (or dumb) enough to stick my feet in the lake's dark waters. No telling how quickly it may drop off, where the holes might be and just how big nature's critters might be here. Oh, and water moccasins - I'm not a fan.

Then we headed toward Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in hopes of seeing the manatees. (Note to all: research in advance would avoid this kind of confusion - I confess I didn't do my due diligence before leaving home - but that's alright.) Thanks to the information radio station broadcast for visitors approaching the reserve, we learned the refuge is only accessible by boat. Instead, we were directed to Homosassa Springs wildlife State Park.

I don't know who names any of these parks in Florida "the nation's best." While I enjoyed our afternoon here, it certainly wasn't the best zoo, park, refuge or family destination of any sort I've visited in the nation. It was fun, the animals were fun, the docents were friendly and we did get to set eyes on some manatees that live full-time at the reserve. The highlights for me were the boat ride from the main visitors' center up Pepper Creek to the park's front gate (there's parking at the gate, too). Small children (say 5 and younger) would be much more impressed than my children, who were hoping for some hands-on experiences. In fact, even the spring itself is entirely inaccessible to visitors.

The park offers a nice walk through the grounds, interpretive signs, animals unique to the area (plus Lu, a hippo made honorary Florida citizen some years back), hand-scooped ice cream and a nice selection of raptors. You'll see the noses of manatees grazing, and one presentation per day allows visitors to touch an animal (in our case, a King Snake). There's also a small education center where visitors can do rubbings (again, great for those 5 or younger) and read a bit more about the animals.

We DID learn that it would be unlikely for us to see manatees in the wild this early in the season. They won't head in toward the clear spring waters until the coastal waters cool. Then the manatees will head to the constant 72-degree temps of clear, clean spring waters for the winter.

So we pressed on to our intended camp destination - Manatee Springs.

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