We cut short our stay in Naples, leaving behind that big snowbird city with its commercial developments and traffic noise. We were eager to re-visit the “Nature Coast” along the inside curve of the state’s panhandle, remembering how much we’d enjoyed this area on our last visit five years ago. We had reservations at Crystal River and Perry, plus two nights we snagged at Hillsborough River State Park. This part of Florida is known for being a nature lover’s paradise where folks can experience “the real Florida” in laid-back fashion. We’re all over that! Continue reading
With our 2nd anniversary celebration week out of the way (hey, we’re always looking for something to celebrate), we’re back to posting about “regular” stuff. We have been fortunate to enjoy mostly gorgeous weather lately, and being outdoors and active beats sitting in front of the laptop anytime. We’re continuing to slowly make our way up the Florida panhandle, seeing even more of the unspoiled and laid back nature here. And the temperatures seem to drop a few degrees with each stop we make – maybe we’re moving too fast after all?
We exhaled a sigh of relief when we arrived at Chassahowitzka River Campground in Homosassa (Steve’s review here). Why? At our previous two stops we had dealt with terrible road noise and jetliners roaring overhead. The reason is that the RV parks most frequented by snowbirds save their best sections for the regulars who come down for extended stays every year, while the transient folks like us get relegated to the noisiest sites right next to the roads. Of course, that’s the way it should be, but it didn’t make our stay in those busy areas very pleasant. Oh well, that’s behind us now and our new home base was a county-owned property that was rustic and near a river – a long way from the sounds of the hectic life. Peaceful days and restful nights could be had once again!
We were in the midst of Citrus County, with its four main towns within an easy drive of each other. While registering for our site, the office staff gave us a list of 41 points of interest in the towns of Crystal River, Homosassa, Inverness and Floral City. We couldn’t see them all in just a week, so we selected and timed our “must-do’s”, taking into account some forecasted rain. But first I inquired, “If this is Citrus County, then where are all the citrus trees”? The reply was that the county was originally named for its abundant citrus trees, but citrus production declined dramatically after the “Big Freeze” of 1894-1895. Today, citrus is grown at only one large grove, Bellamy Grove, within the county. We did see many roadside stands selling fruits, mostly the very yummy Honeybell oranges which we had heard weren’t in season any longer. Well, we got some!
Of the two nationally protected areas in Citrus county, we chose to explore a section of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge itself is over 31,000 acres that were set aside by the federal government in 1931 to protect the rich waterfowl habitat there. It also happened to be located only about three miles down the Chassahowitzka River (called “The Chass” by locals) from our campground. And our site was only a short walk from a boat ramp, which was the ideal starting point for exploring the river and it’s surrounding springs, creeks, water trails and wildlife. After forking over $30 to rent a kayak for the day, we paddled off early in the morning to avoid the crowds and we were richly rewarded. The river was very clear, shallow and calm.
We paddled leisurely along as we viewed bald eagles and an abundance of egrets, great herons, little blue herons, ospreys, ducks, manatees, turtles and more. We can’t remember a place with such a variety of wildlife packed into such a small area! It was a very relaxing day of paddling, experiencing nature and just being in a quiet place surrounded by all of that unspoiled beauty. Awesome!
We drove to the county’s smallest town, Floral City. It is known in the area for its Avenue of Oaks, which are at least 125 years old. We came here to refresh ourselves with what Floral City is really known for, fresh-squeezed orange juice from Ferris Groves. The business began in 1930 as a roadside fruit stand and has grown to include a retail store with a gift fruit business. The juice was excellent, and we ended up hauling a gallon of it and a bag of oranges home with us. Yum! Did you know that Florida provides 80% of the orange juice sold in the country?
Our next outing was to take on the claim to fame for the city of Inverness – Withlacoochee State Trail. It is Florida’s longest paved multi-use path, and a recognized National Rercreation Trail. At 46 miles long, it stretches from Inverness all the way to Trilby in Pasco County. This trail made it into our top seven biking trails, for it is shaded in many parts and has ample comfort stops along the way. Since it also passes right through Floral City, it’s a great trip to include a break for lunch (which we did) and pick up some fresh orange juice at Ferris Groves. We began our ride at the Inverness trailhead and quickly discovered how popular this trail is, as we had lots of company from other cyclists, walkers and runners.
On another day, Steve and I decided to hit the walking trails at the Crystal River Preserve State Park. There were several trails to choose from and we decided on the longest one, a 7-mile loop. This trail was characterized by marshes, swamps, hammocks, flat woods and tidal creeks. We didn’t really have any wildlife to entertain us, so with my camera on standby we got some good exercise. Although there was a mosquito warning, we were in luck as the skeeters apparently decided to take that day off. Yay!
The RV park manager mentioned there was a restaurant nearby that the locals raved about, called The Freezer. We decided to give it a try for lunch and were very pleasantly surprised. The place was packed, and we ended up getting the last two seats at the bar. Very informal and with a simple menu, we heard their boiled peel-and-eat shrimp were to die for. And they were! I got a pound of them, while Steve tried the Talapia and was extremely happy with it. We really struck gold when we discovered this out-of-the-way place, and we’d recommend it to anyone coming within 50 miles of it – it’s that good!
Lastly, the final outing was an “alone time” for me, as Steve decided to stay home and do some little maintenance chores on Betsy. Like most folks, we need to be away from each other once in a while and this was a perfect way to do just that. Being alone, no one can whisper in my ear, “How many pictures do you have to take of that bird?”
So off I went on my merry way to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park…to be continued!
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