Current Location: Fort DeSoto Campground Tierra Verde, Florida
Weather today: Highs in the mid 60s and Sunny
Yes, once again it is 3am and I am awake. I saw the huge moon filtering into the campsite and stepped outside into the bright light. Talk about a dark park! The moon is the only light around. Our site here at Fort Desoto is so incredibly long and we are tucked so far back into the jungle-like forest that we didn’t close the blinds or put up any windshield covers last night. But that is another blog post…
We entered the Forgotten Coast at the little town of Port St Joe on our way to St Joseph Peninsula. I have no idea how someone decided the boundaries of these coastal areas of Florida, but I think somewhere between Apalachee Bay and Cedar Key, the coast is no longer forgotten and becomes the Nature Coast. Who knows.
As we approached Tampa yesterday we also saw signs for the Sun Coast, which begins somewhere north of Clearwater and who knows how far south it goes. yah yah, I know…go look it up. Sometimes I just want a general idea and don’t want to have to go find all the details….Good thing I have a Verizon signal at the moment, here is someone who already predicted my dilemma and wrote about the Coastal Areas of Florida.
With only a short driving day of 150 miles or so, we took our time leaving St Joseph Peninsula campground. The kayaking trip the day before had been so delightful, I thought we might like to try some more kayaking on the way to Manatee Springs. Somehow, however, I didn’t properly estimate the actual driving time and it is a good thing we were not tempted by the short 1/4 mile channel between Indian Pass and St Vincent Island.
I crossed this channel a few years ago in a rented canoe. Bel and I camped in a cabin at Indian Pass on one of my many visits to Florida and I had nice memories of the wildness of the island preserve and wanted Mo to see it as well. Once again, however, since the island IS a wildlife preserve, there are no dogs allowed.
Such was not the case on the beach at Indian Pass, however, and we enjoyed walking the beach and campground. We knew there was a strong current in the channel, but a couple of kayakers seemed to have no trouble getting across and around the tip of the island to the Gulf side where they disappeared from sight.
Indian Pass is a great little funky place, and the Indian Pass Trading Post seems to be doing quite well, at least it looks a lot better than it did when I last passed this place. Maybe not quite as picturesque, but from what I hear from fellow bloggers there is great craft beer and oysters now. We didn’t find out, since it was still closed when we visited.
Within a few short miles from Indian Pass, we reached the charming coastal town of Apalachicola. I love saying that name; emphasis on the “lach”. Very nearly the entire town is on the National Historic Register with more than 900 homes and businesses listed. We didn’t have time to explore much more than the downtown area and the waterfront, but with the brilliant sunshine and warmer temperatures walking around was a nice break. Oh…yes…we had only driven about 30 miles or so since leaving the campground. Still a nice break, and a good cappucino and some rather incredible chocolate made a nice addition to our simple breakfast.
There were some rather incredible shops to explore, and neither of us could figure out why shops in a tourist town like this one wouldn’t be open on Sunday. Some were open, but I still managed to get out of town without buying anything but coffee and chocolate.
The town was once a major cotton port, at one time one of the most important cotton ports in the United States. But with the coming of the railroad, the Apalachicola River lost its importance as a shipping channel and the town had to reinvent itself around timber, and then oysters. The river, like many others, is endangered from development and we saw signs proclaiming, “Save Our River”. A sad story that seems to be repeated in many places throughout the world.
Leaving town, we hugged the coastline with beautiful St George Island visible across the bay to the west. I have been to St George as well, but it seemed a bit much to drive the 4 miles causeway and back since the day was getting away from us. Mo will have to see St George the next time I get her to Florida. A blogger mentioned in a previous comment that the beach at St George is dog friendly. I had no idea. When I picked places to stay, I knew that I really wanted to kayak the bay at Cape San Blas, and to stay in Manatee Springs. I would need another month or two in Florida to take in all the wonderful state parks and beaches and rivers, and by then the no seeums would be out!
We didn’t arrive at the park until just before closing time, thanking our lucky stars that we had decided to skip the morning kayak. Somehow the drive took longer than I had estimated, who knows why. Of course, losing that hour to “real” Eastern time had something to do with it as well. At St Joseph, there is no way to know what time it really is. The time lines shift at Port St Joe and are not vertical with the planet. The phone and iPad had a terrible time knowing what time it was, so I finally turned off the auto time feature on both.
I am glad I didn’t need to rely on blogs or reviews to decide on Manatee Springs as a destination worthy of three nights. I visited the park from Ocala for day trips, and looked longingly at the campgrounds, wishing for more time to camp there. I love this spring, love this park, love the quiet, simple, rustic feeling of the campground.
Our site was in the loop adjacent to the spring trail, with the sites fairly open but roomy enough. The other loops do have a bit more privacy, with taller trees, but the accessibility to the spring for repeated checking on the manatees was nice.
First entering the campground, however, can be deceiving with the sandy road all lumpy and bumpy. It looks quite primitive, but the sites are actually level, and with our 30 amp rig, the power was fine. I did see more big rigs in the other loop so perhaps they have 50 amp there. As with other Florida State Parks, you have to log in to Reserve America to see the amenities and the campground map.
Manatee Springs was the perfect place to do exactly what I wanted. Maybe kayak a little bit, read a little bit and sit around doing nothing. Even with three nights and 2 full days, we never really managed the “doing nothing” part. I imagined kayaking the short but lovely spring run, neglecting to pay attention to the fact that the run would be closed during Manatee season.
There is a kayak rental concession at the park, and the proprietor will shuttle folks with their own boats for runs on the Suwannee River for $15. per person. We wanted none of that, however, and found our way to the Usher boat launch, which requires a short drive outside the park south and back toward the river. I found it interesting that the park personnel was very quick to give us the concession information, but much less forthcoming with launch sites to use on our own.
We had no trouble finding the launch, and in spite of my previous misgivings, the wide Suwannee River current wasn’t the least bit daunting. We kayaked upstream for 90 minutes, past the Manatee Springs Run where no watercraft is allowed. The bald cypress are not yet in leaf, and are covered with Spanish moss. With the addition of a large population of both black vultures and turkey vultures, that shoreline looked quite spooky.
About a mile upstream past the run, we saw a very big log on the shoreline, and realized that we were looking at a very very big gator. Let me backtrack a minute…when we left the campground I carefully packed the camera in the Pelican case for the kayak, and carefully left it sitting on the table in the MoHo. No camera. I did have the iPhone, however. Believe me, do NOT depend on an iPhone for a photo of a gator that was more than 10 feet long, at least! Still, I’ll share the photo with you just to prove he was there.
I was fine until that big grandaddy decided to slide into the water toward me. It wasn’t a slow slide, it was incredibly fast, and thank goodness he really wasn’t coming toward me, but was simply slipping into the water with just his nose and eyes exposed so that he knew he was safe from the pesky kayakers. Still, it did take my breath away a bit.
Continuing upriver, we were treated to a truly big mature bald eagle landing in a big cypress surrounded by a flock of ibis, a few great egrets, and a couple of herons. Below the big cypress was a log protruding into the water that was lined up with turtles, a bunch of cormorants, and another gator, not as big as the first one this time. The gator and the turtles and the cormorants were all just sunning themselves within a few feet of each other. Thinking maybe turtle shells were a bit difficult to digest, I was surprised to read later that gators do indeed eat turtles. Everyone seemed to be getting along just fine on this sunny day on the river, however. I have a very fuzzy iPhone photo to prove it. I won’t bother sharing that one with you.
Of course, Manatee Springs is about the manatees, at least at this time of year, and we were not disappointed. On our first afternoon we saw three at the entrance to the spring run. They were just shadows in the murky water where the river meets the run, but it was still nice to see them.
Later the next day, we walked out the boardwalk in time to see another good sized manatee traveling slowly up the spring run toward the spring, but he also was just a large shadow along the far bank. People get very excited about seeing these big, slow moving, sweet vegetarian animals. I did notice that most folks spoke in low tones, and when walking the boardwalk, if someone had seen a manatee they usually let everyone know where it was.
On our last day at the park, however, we were treated to a special moment on the boardwalk. We thought it might be a bit early to see a manatee, but headed across the park toward the boardwalk. Several folks were walking but none stopped at one of the overlooks, so we wandered out there just in time to see a big sweet manatee slide right toward us under the crystal clear water. We watched him quite some time as he swam purposefully toward the spring, coming over to our side of the run to swim right beneath us.
This time I did have the good camera, and the good lens, but the most important thing when photographing something underwater was sorely missing. I AM going to buy a polarizer for my big lens. I used to use one all the time when photographing skies in B/W but lately with all the editing tools available it seemed an unnecessary expense. Not so, and my beautiful manatee photos show more reflections of beautiful water than the beautiful manatee beneath that water.
I have no idea why “sweet” is the adjective that comes to mind with these animals. Somehow their slow, gentle movements and sweet looking faces trigger all sorts of anthropomorphizing thoughts. No matter, whether they are actually sweet and loving, or just gentle, slow moving creatures who are not predators of anything but veggies, they have a profound gentling effect when you get around them. Or at least that is how they affected me. They aren’t playful like dolphins, or energetic like whales, but they are just slow moving, gentle, “sweet” very big mammals that are very good parents.
Some folks around the springs were poo-poohing the few manatees, saying, “Just go to Homosassa Springs, they are all over the place there”. I haven’t been to Homosassa, and won’t get there on this trip. My concept is of a place much more commercial than this quiet and lovely first magnitude spring that draws a few manatees at a time on a February day.
With tons of deer, squirrels, armadillos, a baby alligator in the pond called Catfish Hotel near our campsite, and a striking pileated woodpecker having lunch above our picnic table, we were quite content with our time at Manatee Springs.