The main attraction at the park is the manatees; they migrate here every winter for the warmer temperatures of the spring water. There were a lot of people here from all over the United States and the world; the boardwalks were pretty busy, and a lot of folks were also out in canoes and kayaks. We even saw a few guys swimming – that water is way too cold for me. The water was so clear we could see fish along with the manatees. We even saw a plecostomus that was about as big as the one in our fish tank.
Of course, most rivers and lakes in Florida have alligators, and this was no exception. We saw one sunning himself next to some Cooter Turtles. (Tina took this picture with the zoom lens; on my little camera, I could barely see him with my camera.) Alligators are one of their few natural predators, and about the only defense manatees seem to have against them is staying in shallow water so they can’t be dragged out to where it is too deep for them to get to the surface again. That’s about it… no speed, no teeth, not very maneuverable, rarely travel in large groups… it’s really kind of amazing that they’re still around.
Near the parking area, is the Thursby house. It was open for viewing, but there really wasn’t that much to see. Most of the rooms are empty with the exception of some informational displays and a couple of wood stoves. Following the boardwalk around to the end took us to the Blue Spring boil. The spring puts out about 165 million gallons per day; a pretty strong flow. Scuba divers are allowed to dive (after registering at the ranger station) into the cave down to about 125 feet.
After looking at the manatees for a bit, it was coming up on lunch time. We were planning on sitting on the tailgate of our truck for lunch, but we got lucky and were able to grab a picnic table just as another family was leaving. From lunch, we headed to the trailhead just on the other side of the parking area. After the crowds on the boardwalk and in the main part of the park, we were surprised that there was no one on the trail at all – we had the whole hike to ourselves.
The trail is very wide and well maintained, and starts out heading south through the woods. It shortly comes to an open area with palmettos and other plants on either side. There was a fallen log near the beginning of this section of the trail that was just about right for sitting on. Since it is so near the beginning though, we just paused for a quick photo.
As we continued on, we came upon a picnic table under an oak tree. This would have been a great spot for lunch… nice and shady and very quiet. I’ve always liked the way Spanish Moss grows on the trees down here. Here’s a useless bit of trivia… did you know that Spanish Moss used to be used for stuffing in furniture, car seats, and even mattresses?
Past the picnic table, we noticed an “X” along side the trail made with white plastic. At first I thought it was garbage, but a closer look showed that it was secured in place and used to cover a Traverse Point. I’ve come across benchmarks while hiking, but this is the first time I’ve seen one of these.
Most of this part of the trail (heading south) was hard packed sand, and some sugar sand, so when the trail turned back to the west into the woods we were back to walking on grass and leaves until we came to a swampy area. There were cypress trees all around and lots of little (shorter than twelve inches) cypress knees. Here though is where we came up on a spot for muck walkin’. Tina took the overshoes first and went to a dry spot about midway through and then tossed ‘em back to me. The water was only about six inches deep, so it was very easy to cross. We were able to walk around all of the other water spots on the trail.
Coming out of the swampy part of the trail, we were in a field of palmetto plants. There was another picnic table here, and as we looked around we also found a benchmark and what looked like a station set up to monitor the river water height. It had a scale that went up to eight feet, and was hooked up to a faucet / pump of some sort. It’s looked up behind a small fenced area, probably to keep people like me from messing with it, so we could really see how it worked.
We continued along the trail from here and were led back into the woods through a tunnel of trees. Looking at a satellite view of the area we could tell that we had one more swampy spot to go through before getting to the end of the trail. Unfortunately, as you can see, there was no way around the water spot that we came upon here. It was swamp on both sides of the trail, and the trail itself was underwater for too far for us to throw the overshoes back and forth. Rather than go wading, we called this the end of the trail for us and headed back from here. We made it about three and a half miles out and there was only about another half mile or so left on the full trail, so we made it most of the way!
This hike was a lot of fun, and the picnic tables that we passed on the way out made nice spots to take a break coming back. We wrapped up the day by taking one last look at the manatees before driving home. It was another great winter day in Central Florida, and I think we love the new camera.