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
In our lifestyle, “alone time” is occasionally required (my fellow full-timers know exactly what I’m talking about). Most people would otherwise end up at each other’s throats after hanging out together 24/7. Although Steve and I do get along very well, we make sure to enjoy some alone time, even if it just means Steve running off to the store for a bit or me doing laundry by myself. Sometimes I can hardly wait to do the laundry!
I had some real quality alone time when Steve stayed at home to work on Betsy while I went off to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, which was advertised as a showcase of Florida wildlife. I was not disappointed, and I think Steve wished he had gone along when he saw the pictures of gorgeous wildlife I took there. But of course he wouldn’t admit it!
There are two ways to visit this park, one by tram and the other on a pontoon boat along Pepper Creek. I chose a 20-minute ride on the pontoon boat and gave my camera a real workout.
During the trip our guide narrated the history of Homosassa Springs, its beginnings and the importance of the spring. At the same time, he pointed out the many colorful wood ducks swimming alongside us.
First a brief history of the park. In the 1920’s, a train stopped at the springs to allow passengers a close look at the crystal clear 55-foot deep springs that form the headwaters of the Homosassa River. In later years a zoo-like park of exotic animals was built. The ownership of the springs area changed many times since 1940 due to economic hard times and recession. Then on January 1, 1989, the attraction officially became the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, owned by the State of Florida and managed by the Department of Environmental Protection.
All exotic animals and non-native plants were removed in order to restore the park to the “Real Florida” – except for one. If not for hundreds of school children protesting the removal of Lucifer the Hippo, the last exotic animal would have been gone. “Luc”, who remains in the wildlife park from the attraction days, has received an honorary citizenship by declaration of late Florida Governor Lawton Chiles.
After the boat ride I immediately went to the centerpiece of the park, a freshwater spring which produces millions of gallons of fresh, crystal-clear water every hour. This spring outflow actually creates the Homosassa River. The spring and headwaters of the Homosassa River is the only known place in the world where thousands of fresh and saltwater fish congregate. These fish are free to come and go to the Gulf of Mexico, nine miles downriver.
At the Fish Bowl floating and underwater observatory, I saw literally thousands of fish from above the lookout and then below the surface in the clear spring environment. Unfortunately, the park’s resident manatees were not present while I was there.
And that was just the beginning! I followed the elevated boardwalk while taking the Wildlife Walk. The 210-acre park is home to native Florida wildlife, and I got to see them all in their natural setting.
Strolling on the boardwalk, I had a front-row view of Florida’s wildlife, including a bear, bobcats, Key deer, alligators, a wide variety of wading birds, birds of prey and some beautiful Flamingos. Although I always prefer to see these animals in the wild, it looks like this is the best I’ll be able to do for some of them.
Some of the birds here were injured and can not be returned to the wild. I feel very fortunate to have been in Florida’s wilderness (refuges/ preserves/national parks) and exposed to many of these birds – although some at a great distance. On this day I got quite excited as I had an up-close view of some endangered and threatened species. Since Steve was not there to whisper in my ear about taking so many pictures, I snapped away to my heart’s content. Click on each image to get a bigger and better look.
After almost overheating my camera, I sat down and listened to the Flamingos honking in unison, while also enjoying the sound of the Whistling Ducks at the nearby Shore Bird Aviary. I thought all ducks quacked until I met these guys.
I had a wonderful day at this park and went home whistling like a duck! I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys wildlife and is in this area. It’s worth every penny of the $13 entry fee.
On my drive home I caught a glimpse of this sign – do people really have to be told how to use parking spaces? Hmmm..I wonder if it’s meant for locals or tourists?
Back at home, Steve was also smiling and looking contented. He had completed a few of his Betsy to-do’s. He even commented about how relaxing it is to do his work while the “supervisor” is away.
He had installed these nifty door locks for our new residential refrigerator, to keep the doors closed while we travel. They can be “disabled” once we are parked, and they actually look kind of cool. They’re designed to keep children out of the refrigerator, but work perfectly for our purpose. Only about $5 each at Toys-R-Us, not bad!
He also took our noisy fireplace back apart for the second time to clean and lubricate the motor again. It runs quiet for a while each time he does this, but we’re going to replace the motor next time it gets noisy. Steve’s become quite an expert with electric fireplaces, so at least we’ve been able to save money on labor – and he loves taking things apart. I love it when he puts them back together!
We enjoy our alone times such as this. How about you, are you getting enough alone time?
Next up: Rare Species and New Friends