Sunday, April 10, 2016

2.26.16 - 3.2.16 - Crystal Springs, Cedar Key

Crystal Sprirngs

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.

The 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 vegetation.

It 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 their nap.

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 

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 northern pencil 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.

Bye Bye Cedar Key

Next Post:  Silver Springs and Gainsville

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

2.18.16 – 2.26.16 - Sarasota, Bradenton, Ruskin

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.

Just north 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!

Also in 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.   

In 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

The roof tiles came from Barcelona – from homes demolished for road construction.  Ringling had two shiploads imported for his home construction

These windows, clearly inspired by circus themes, look out onto an elegant marble terrace and dock area.

Mable 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 artifacts. 

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.  


Next Post:  Moving North