This morning we met Miata friends at the Mason Jar and had a great breakfast…as we were paying the bill, Bob noticed that chipped beef on toast was on the special board…so next time we go we’ll pay more attention to the specials! I had biscuits and gravy with eggs and sausage…should have stuck to the B&G because really the eggs and sausage were too much. Shirley had fried potatoes with her eggs, and the portion was huge. Coffee was good, service was as friendly as it always is at the Jar, and after stuffing ourselves we climbed into our cars and headed for Crystal River.
It’s pretty much a straight shot…head west on State Road 44, through Eustis, on to Leesburg, into Wildwood and over the new overpass, past the Russell Stover Outlet on the way to Inverness and then on into the part of Florida that I’m not very familiar with. The day flirted with the idea of turning warm and sunny but never really committed. We ended up at Homosassa Springs for some manatee viewing and started with the visitor center at the state park.
There is a great display put together by volunteers. This park was once privately owned and there are historical photos and drawings interpreting history from the time of the Seminole right up to this decade. Of course there’s a gift shop, as well, and while the gifts are not particularly nature themed, I did see the coolest little Christmas tree…it was in a tub of tiny foam pellets which are somehow propelled through the trunk of the tree and come out at the top so that it looks like snow…the whole thing was about 4 feet tall and someday I must own something similar. Steve bought us a family membership to Florida’s state parks, so we can spend the next year exploring without paying entry fees. It could result in substantial savings because the entry to this particular park was $13, which is uncharacteristically high. Eventually we all wandered outside to begin our adventure.
The first thing we saw was a display about birds and their nests. We saw the boats that usually take folks to the main park area but were not in service today because of low water, then a small aviary area. A blue jay immediately flew up to me as if we were long lost friends…of course, I was thrilled because I think blue jays are so pretty. I got a blurry shot and then we wandered over to the tram so we could enjoy the rest of the park.
The tram dropped us at another visitor center (we never were quite clear on how you would get to that point from the main road, so when we go back we’ll repeat this process unless we get some appreciable rain and the boats are running). From here, we wandered on very nice paths and eventually got to the spring. From the path surrounding the spring, we could see huge schools of fish, and along the shoreline we saw several gar, looking like something right out of prehistory as they lay in the shallows. The big attraction at this part of the park is an underwater observatory, and I felt like a schoolgirl when I got down there for a closer look at those fish.
INCREDIBLE! Snook, snapper, drum, mullet, redfish, jack crevalle. . .it was so cool! I really would have liked to ask everyone else to leave so I could see everything I wanted to see for as long as I wanted to see it, but alas, I am an adult and had to share. Dammit. We made many jokes about dropping a net and having a cookout. Original, I know.
When Shirley and Bob and Steve dragged me out of the observatory, we went to an education building where the exhibits included a bat skeleton and a HUGE alligator snapping turtle. I don’t know if this poor turtle is permanently confined to the exhibit, but it looked small for such a large creature. There was also a seahorse in a tank and tons of other cool stuff. Something I would have loved to play with was a magnifier where you placed an object onto a tray and it was projected, enlarged many times, onto a viewing screen. Once again, if I were not such a mature adult, I could have monopolized that viewer for the better part of the afternoon. But I’m glad I didn’t because our next stop was a spot where a platform extended out over the water…there were several manatees visible in the river, and right below where Bob and I were standing a mother and her calf surfaced several times. I got one shot where the baby’s nostrils are showing, but it’s not even worth publishing. On the other side of the platform, there were three or four more. Out in the water, kayaks, canoes and boats were watching others, so this area is clearly manatee heaven. Watching the kayaks reminded me that I really need to get myself a kayak, but that’s another story.
There is a zoo area where injured animals are kept. We saw several wolves, a display of flamingos, some gators, one extremely entertaining river otter, a hippo and some owls, hawks and bald eagles. The eagles made me very sad and challenged my notions of, I guess, what it is to be an eagle…their injured wings were pitiful. The reptile display was fun but very warm. I can’t help it, I like snakes and I could have spent more time there.
By the time we finally left the park, we were starving and I could have run across the highway to the fast food joint across the street, but we decided to head home and stop at The Speckled Butterbean…a wise decision. This is a buffet that is well known throughout this part of the state, and none of us had ever been before. I asked if they had Coke or Pepsi and the waitress told me they had their own soda, so in an abundance of caution I got coffee. It was terrific, as was everything else. Well, not exactly. The mashed potatoes and gravy were not worth the trip but the sweet potatoes made up for it. We gorged, what can I say?
Then in the parking lot, we slipped up and started discussing the Chamber. Then we piled into our cars and went home. Where I now sit, ready to fall into bed and dream of prop-scarred manatees and one-winged eagles. But not before I leave you with this shot of my favorite manatee ever.