Today was very eventful and varied! We slept until after 7, which was quite impressive for us, and had a less-than-impressive hotel breakfast (the worst so far, but probably only by a few degrees) before we took off and hit a number of different stops we had thought would look interesting on the way to Gainesville. First of all, we stopped a few miles up north from Homosassa in Crystal River’s archaeological state park—right on the Crystal River, there are some paleo-Indian burial mounds and a big temple mound. The site really just looks like a few hills, but there ARE no hills in that area, which is why early 20th-century archeologists started digging there. It was a very tranquil and (at 9 in the morning) practically empty site, but the cool thing was that an archeologist from Florida Southern University and his students were actually working on a dig there and showed us a few primitive tools made out of shells that they had found among the debris.
After this stop, we went to Cedar Key, which is a set of little islands with a tiny settlement that is just tourism nowadays, but was once a port and then a place for oyster fishing. The tiny state park (with a closed museum) didn’t yield much, but we went to the pier/dock area (basically one fairly short street) and had lunch at the “Pickled Pelican” overlooking the gulf and the little islands that dot the estuary. As we left, we passed by an osprey’s nest and actually backed up because Mark had spotted a bird landing there. We actually got really good photos of the two young in the nest, even though it was very high up in a tree.
We took the back roads from Cedar Key to one of the many natural springs in Northern Florida, Manatee Springs, and this turned out to be the highlight of the day. Not only was the spring gorgeous, with the classic clear blue water going deep, deep down where the spring wells up out of the Florida Aquifer through the porous limestone. We did go for a swim there (cold only on first impact, at 72 degrees year round), and a woman who had been snorkeling let us use her goggles to look down into the depth of the spring, and watch the fish swimming merrily among the people. There were quite a lot of people swimming and so it was a bit of a ruckus, but there was also a very tranquil trail / boardwalk going to where the spring flows into the Suwanee River. That was really beautiful.
We left Manatee Springs about 3 pm and headed for Gainesville, where we were going to visit Susy, my ex-husband Bruce’s sister, and her husband, Kevin. I hadn’t seen them in a good long time—the last time I’d seen them in Florida was when I came down with the kids in 2006, I think! We got there about 4 or so, and found Kevin and Susy’s house without a problem. We hung out for a bit and then went for a hike with Kevin out to a part of the Paynes Prairie State Park, where we went over the main part of the Alachua Spring and along the water that flows from the prairie into the local river. We were looking for alligators and other wildlife, and hiked out about 3 miles into the prairie (there is a very beautiful trail out there). We didn’t see many alligators, but there were some wild horses in the distance, and of course a bunch of beautiful Florida birds, including more herons, egrets, etc. It was a very nice hike, and by the time we were headed back, it had cooled down a bit so we weren’t quite dripping anymore – and yet, we somehow dodged the rain that was threatening to fall. By the time we got home, Susy had come home, and we all had crockpot chili and cornbread for dinner, with chocolate ice cream and strawberries. I really have missed homemade food! It was wonderful. We chatted for a bit longer, but by 9:30, we were ready to go to bed. The day was packed but so much fun. I am excited about how much wildlife we’ve been seeing!