|A few days in central Florida
||[Mar. 9th, 2010|08:15 pm]
After five days at Hillsborough River State park, it was time to move on, continuing our few days here, few days there short stays. From Thonotosassa, we drove north to Dunellon, FL. It was a nice drive on a state highway through horse country, all rolling hills (I thought Florida was just flatland..) and ranches. If it weren’t for the occasional palmetto and the Spanish moss everywhere I would have thought we were in Pennsylvania, driving through horse country in Chester County.
We really enjoyed the campground in Dunellon, in central Florida. Rainbow Springs is a newly redone state park, complete with white gravel sites and full hookups. Little to no shade, though, since the plantings are only slowly growing in (that was a feature while we were there, any and all solar warming welcomed.) It will be beautiful when everything has reached its full growth. While we were in Rainbow Springs, J bowed to my manatee craze and we drove down to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park near the coast. It’s an old wildlife park, privately owned for years and purchased by the government in the 80’s. We found several places like this in central Florida, old attractions served by the old highways, bypassed and left to die off by the freeways funneling the tourists past with nary a glance. The state appears to have stepped in and rescued the best of them, and they are very worth a visit.
In this case, what the state had rescued was a wildlife attraction, a local zoo of sorts. They changed the focus a bit, and now it only houses animals native to Florida. So you can see a host of beautiful birds, key deer, manatees, florida panthers, alligators, river otters, and a hippo.. wait, what? Well, the old zoo had a hippo, Lu by name, who was a film star in his youth and very popular with the locals. The state gave the rest of the non-native zoo inhabitants to other zoos, but when they went to give Lu away, the locals protested so much that the Governor intervened. So Lu the hippo was made an honorary citizen of Florida, and he can stay, since he’s a native by gubernatorial decree.
While we were there the captive manatees were kept out of their normal digs, the crystal clear spring that centers the compounds. Divers are working on a new fence and control gates in the spring and the manatees are so curious about them that they hinder the work. So all the captive manatees were up in the holding pools; I got my fill of manatee viewing between watching the ranger program, where four or five huge gray beasts were queuing up for lettuce with the lecture, and seeing wild manatees in the river which runs just outside the park.
The park is beautiful. There’s an entry near the main compound with parking, but the main entrance where we came in accesses the park via a short boat ride on the serene pepper creek, past mallards and turtles sunning on logs, all in a row. The spring features an underwater observatory, someone’s long ago Eagle Scout project, a submerged octagonal room with viewing ports all around built in the middle of the pool. Fish were everywhere when we went down the stairs for a quick look, and the water proved to be much deeper than it looks from the surface. This was my first view of Florida’s famed springs; we actually had only a couple of days at Rainbow Springs and after several weeks of touring we wanted rest more than sightseeing, so we didn’t see the springs for which the park is named. The campground is actually completely separate from the springs themselves. We’ll definitely be back, though, and I am looking forward to seeing more of the heart of Florida.