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Continuing north along the Gulf Coast, we landed in Crystal
Springs. We went there to see more
Manatees, and wow, did we see manatees! The Crystal River National Wildlife refuge is the only NWR
designed specifically for the protection of manatees. The water is crazy clean and clear, allowing an easy view to the bottom of the shallow river.
The springs have a constant 72 degree temperature
and provide warm water winter refuge for the manatees who gather together, bunched up in
the shallow, warm, clear waters. It
reminded us of Alaskan salmon, so dense that it appears possible to walk
across the water on their backs.
type of Manatee was saw is known as West Indian Manatees are large animals.
Adults weigh between 900 and 1200 pounds, and measure 9 to 10 feet in length.
Their bodies are shaped like an elongated oval with a paddle-shaped tail
providing effective propulsion. Baby manatees come into the world weighing
between 60 and 70 lbs. Single births are most common. Occasionally one sees a mother with two infants but twins are rare. Manatee calves remain with their mothers and continue to nurse for as long as two years.
Florida manatees have a low metabolic rate and a
very low tolerance for cold weather. When winter settles over North America,
manatees seek out warmer water, which is why they are so abundant around Citrus
County, with its many spring fed rivers that remain constantly—and
comfortably—mild regardless of the weather. Manatees do well in salt or fresh
water. Their diet is totally vegetarian, and to maintain themselves, adults eat
10 to 15 percent of their body weight each day (about 100 pounds) in aquatic
seems that manatees spend about half their time sleeping. They drift down to
the bottom in relatively shallow waters and sleep. Being air-breathing mammals,
of course, they need to take a breath now and then, at intervals as long as 20
minutes. They rise to the surface, exhale noisily through the nostrils located
on the tip of their snout, take a deep breath and sink back down to resume
Manatees don’t have any natural enemies, and
under ideal conditions they can live 60 or more years. The biggest threat to
manatees comes from human activity. They suffer cuts from motorboat propellers,
they get caught in navigation locks, spillways and other water control systems,
they eat dangerous discarded junk, and they get caught in fish nets and crabbing lines. Overall, according to those who study manatees, their most serious threat comes
from a loss of habitat. As coastlines and river banks are increasingly
developed, the manatee population declines.
In recent years there has been a great deal of
interest in Florida’s migratory population of West Indian manatees. Efforts to
conduct an annual census include aerial observations from helicopters,
concentrating on favorite spots such as large, spring-fed pools and the outflow
of cooling water from electrical power plants puts the
number at 2,600. The mobility of
manatees impedes efforts at counting their numbers. There
were 70 Manatees in the crystal river basin the day we were there (according to the on-site volunteer ‘counters’). Manatees are protected in the United States
under federal laws, and additionally, in Florida, by the Florida Manatee
Sanctuary Act of 1978.
Cedar Key (population was 702 (the population in 1870 was 400 people)) is a small gulf coast island nestled in a cluster of islands near the mainland. The Cedar Keys are named for the Eastern Red Cedar, once abundant in the area.
The VERY shallow waters make the tides look extreme by revealing vast oyster beds at low tide
The shallow waters around the island are also traps for boats
There is a small tourist waterfront area with an interesting restaurant opportunity ... anyone interested?
Evidence suggests human occupation as far back as the Paleo period (12,000 years ago) and the first maps of the area date to 1542, when it was labeled by a Spanish cartographer. The islands were permanently settled in 1839. Cedar Key became an important port, shipping lumber and palm fiber products to the mainland. By 1860 mills were producing "cedar" slats for shipment to northernpencil factories.
Early in his career as a naturalist, John Muir walked 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from Louisville, Kentucky, to Cedar Key in just two months in 1867. Muir contracted malaria while working in a sawmill in Cedar Key. He wrote:
"For nineteen years my vision was bounded by forests, but today, emerging from a multitude of tropical plants, I beheld the Gulf of Mexico stretching away unbounded, except by the sky. What dreams and speculative matter for thought arose as I stood on the strand, gazing out on the burnished, treeless plain. "
Cedar Key was an important source of salt for the Confederacy during the Civil war. The salt, manufactured by boiling down salt water, was used for packing and and preserving meats. The factory produced 160 bushels of salt PER DAY using kettles like this:
During the fourth storm of the 1896 Atlantic hurricane season a 10-foot storm surge swept over the town, killing more than 100 people. Winds north of town were estimated at 125 miles per hour. The hurricane wiped out the juniper trees still standing and destroyed all the mills.Remains of pencil making mill
Newer homes on the island are built on hurricane 'proof' stilts.
The fishing boats are interesting, with no stern, allowing easy access to clam and oyster beds
Cedar Key is an old-fashioned fishing village, now
a tourist center with a developing
clam-based aquaculture industry. It reminded us of
Solomons Island (Maryland) 50 years ago ... quaint, natural, and quiet.
From our campsite, we rode our bikes into and all around town.
Moving up the
coast, we stopped to see an old high school classmate of Tom’s who owns an ice
cream business in Venice (Bentley’s).
Catching up on old times was great and we really enjoyed seeing the ice
cream production in action. We didn’t
see much of Venice, but we liked what we saw.
It is on the list of places to re-visit. Lunching
with Marty and Grace, seeing their beautiful condo, and walking on the often
voted #1 most beautiful beach in the country gave us a brief preview of
Sarasota. Now our heads are beginning to
spin with possibilities! The sand was nearly as fine as baby powder. We'd never seen anything like it before.
of Sarasota, in the town of Bradenton, we dined with long time friends, Ed and
Janet who have retired to Florida. They
were kind enough to arrange our boondocking in their church parking lot. It was much nicer than Walmart, Cracker Barrel,
or Flying J – all of which we have done!
Bradenton, lives the Ringling museum.
You’re thinking circus museum … right?
Welllllll, there’s a lot more to it.
This is the state art museum of Florida, holding a large (21 galleries,
10000 objects) collection of European paintings, sculptures and antiquities
amassed by John and Mable Ringling.
addition to the art museum, the property also includes Ca d’Zan (the estate
home) and rose garden with European sculptures throughout, the Circus museum, a
large historic theater (built in Italy in 1855, disassembled and purchased,
imported and reassembled by Ringling Museum) and the largest art reference
library in the southeast. We could have
spent longer at the museum complex, and could have moved right into the house!
Ca D’Zan was
our favorite of the luxury homes we toured.
It was completed in 1926, (about the same era as the Flagler and
Vizcaya homes which we had toured earlier in this trip) as a winter residence.
The architecture is Mediterranean Revival, inspired by Doges palace in
Venice (we have been there). The
Ringlings traveled extensively and the home has many items collected from their
travels. We could identify with that
approach to decorating.
The residence was restored in 2002 with most details of the original construction and
decoration faithfully restored. The
approximate cost for the original construction converts to about $21 million in
2013 dollars. Love the whimsical ceiling paintings
tiles came from Barcelona – from homes demolished for road construction. Ringling had two shiploads imported for his
These windows, clearly inspired by circus themes, look out onto an elegant marble terrace and dock area.
Ringling had a gondola kept at the deck and frequently had servants propel her
along the shoreline
Mable Ringling died in 1929, just 3 years after the completion of Ca’ d’Zan. As a result
of the depression and bad investments, Ringling had $311 to his name at his
death in 1936. To save his beloved home
and art collection from creditors, he willed the assets to the state of
Florida. The circus
museum, established in 1948, offers a collection of Ringling circus art and
There is a wood carving studio where woodcarvers have been working since the 1960's to continue this tradition
John Ringling was the youngest person in the country to own a private Pullman car. The walls are mahogany with intricate moldings and gold-leaf stencils. The car was built in 1905, it is 79 feet long.
I always wanted long lean legs
Other fun circus items:
Our last stop (for 5 days) on this leg of the trip was in Ruskin. Ruskin ?? you ask. It is southeast of Tampa, inland, on the Little Manatee River. We met Jerry and Sherri in Alaska and have visited and stayed in touch since then. They invited us to park the RV in their driveway and enjoy their little winter residence slice of heaven. From their back deck:
We had a wonderful time with them, and in their neighborhood. We kayaked, played pickleball, tennis, golf, picked fresh oranges, met neighbors, and painted.
Kris has been turning wrong side out trying to figure out how to see sand hill cranes, in South Dakota, in April, during their migration pattern. Who knew that they would be right here in Ruskin !
This community was SUCH a good cultural and geographic fit, we are on a wait list for a rental next winter.