I woke up earlier than legally permissible, at about 5 am or so, and although I entertained myself by reading the news and browsing around on Facebook, I realized I couldn’t go back to sleep, and when I saw the first clouds illuminated by sunshine on the beach, I decided to go down and watch the sun rise. I was going to be nice and let Mark sleep, but the view was so fabulous once I got to the beach that I texted him to come join me with the camera. It was a beautiful pink sunrise, although the clouds ultimately got in the way of us seeing all of it—what a nice goodbye from Cocoa Beach! We then had breakfast, got ourselves packed (always a very smooth process – we are a good team), and let the GPS guide us from one Florida Coast to the other—we were headed to Homosassa Springs State Park, about midway up the gulf coast, and it took us about 2 hours to get there. The area there is mostly salt marshes near a couple of cold springs that feed two rivers that empty into the gulf after just a few miles—the Homosassa and Crystal River, and clearly, people come here to fish, boat, and see the manatees. I wanted to come here because I’d been to the State Park, which is really a little native-species zoo, because I’d been here with the kids 7 years ago and liked it a lot. It is an unpretentious area, and the tourism is pretty low key; as almost everywhere in Florida, June is NOT the high season, but the season to avoid, because it gets too hot and too rainy, not to mention very humid. We are not the biggest fans of that, either, but I am liking it that not everything is overrun and packed with people!
We were able to check into the hotel before 11 am in the morning right after our arrival in Homosassa, which was nice, and it turned out that we could walk to the State Park, right next door to the hotel, right away. From this entry point into the park, we got to take a pontoon boat down the Little Pepper River for about 20 minutes until we got to the park entrance, so we got to see turtles and alligators and an osprey’s nest before we even got to the park. In the park, we were pretty lucky in terms of seeing almost all the animals—no one was hiding, and we had fun with the giant alligators, the cougar and the bobcats, the many native birds, and so on. (Flamingos really DO look like someone “flamingoed” the lawn, just even pinker than the plastic flamingos.) There were some owls we saw up close, but of course the most spectacular part were the manatees. The park sports an underwater “dry tank” in the big manatee area, which is right over the spring that brings the 72/74-degree water the manatees need up from the Florida Aquifer. The manatees are very obliging and swim right around that tank so you are practically face to face with them. Mark took some wonderful pictures of one that even did a flip turn. We also watched them being fed huge bunches of lettuce, and we could see that their noses work like a super short elephant’s trunk. It was really a lot of fun, although quite hot and humid,
We had eaten wraps for an early lunch before we even started on the tour of the park, so when we got done with looking at everything, we were hot and tired but at least not hungry. We headed back to the hotel around 2:30, took a nice cool nap in the air-conditioned hotel room, and then had an early dinner in the hotel’s bar/restaurant (not great but ok). We then took a little drive around; first to “Old Homosassa” and the boat docking area there (very quiet and with not much to see except the remains of an old sugar mill from the Civil War era), and then to the Fort Island State Beach, furthest out from the town of Crystal River. I briefly went swimming there, and then we took a walk around the beach area, to the fishing pier and the boating dock. It was very nice out there and almost (but not quite) felt like open water, and we decided to stay the extra hour or so until sunset, which we watched from the pier. Like the sunrise this morning on the OTHER coast, it wasn’t a perfect sunset because of the clouds, but still very pretty. There were quite a few people on the pier, including drunk and slightly obnoxious teenagers, but it wasn’t crowded, so that was nice. (We also had a not-so-beautiful view of the nearby power plant, which was not so nice, but we were good tourists and ignored it—it was a bit of a relief to find out from the internet the next morning that the nuclear power plant among the five plants that make up the complex we saw had actually been shut off permanently. Then we went home, with a little detour for a shake and a malt at the nearby Sonic, but then we went back to the hotel for showers and an early bedtime!