Friday, August 6, 2010

Trip 16: National Pauladay!! Or, Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins and Homosassa Springs State Parks

State Parks visited: 16

On August 1, 1976, a miracle occurred.  Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead, turned 34.  It was a day with much fanfare and drug use, and somewhere amid the excitement, my mother gave birth to me.  Okay, so they really have nothing to do with each other, but I was born on Jerry Garcia's 34th birthday.  And ever since, I've been celebrating National Pauladay!  This year was very special:  I got to celebrate for two whole days! 

My original plan was to simply go fishing.  We live near plenty of water, and I just wanted to spend a simple day casting a line with my family.  It got a little more complicated than that when my parents heard of my wish.  In fact, my dad's eye lit up like a child at Christmas when he asked, "On a boat?!?"  May I add, it is one of his favorite things to do. And so, at his invitation, Dad and I spent last Saturday on a chartered boat.

The tour I selected was 4 hours: One hour out, two hours fishing, and one hour back.  I managed to catch my first two fish, ever!!  I caught two sea bass, however, they were too small to keep.  While on the boat I was treated to lots of sealife sightings:  Turtles, dolphins, jellyfish, and even a shark!  And by the way, on the way to the boat, I saw a huge black bear just standing on the side of the road.  My second black bear sighting in just a couple of months!

I had a really great time with my dad.  He taught me a lot about casting and such, and I'd really like to go out and do that again.  We may not have brought any fish home, but that didn't mean we didn't get to eat any.  I had mentioned to my mom that I hadn't eaten at Red Lobster since about 1998, and wouldn't you know...we stopped for a late lunch on the way home.  I've got to hand it to my dad...even with a deathly allergy to shrimp, he made sure I had a great pre-birthday celebration!

So, since fishing was taken care of, I decided National Pauladay would be spent across the state., Rob, Olivia, and Chris...loaded up the car and drove to Homosassa Springs.  Our first stop was Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park.  It was once home to a 5300 acre sugar mill, but now it takes up just a couple of acres for the ruins.  It's pretty cool to wander around, and the signs are very informative.  A few highlights:

From the ruins, we headed just over a mile up the road to the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.  Seriously, where do they get these names?!?  Anyway, I had read about Homosassa Springs in the state park book, and I was fascinated.  There are manatees that you can see in an underwater observatory.  I love manatees, so I was sold!  We walked in and stopped at an overlook on the boardwalk, and suddenly Chris pointed out a manatee in the water nearly underneath us:

After watching it retrieve a branch from the bank to play with/eat?, we followed the boardwalk around the park.  As it turns out, Homosassa is essentially a zoo in a natural setting.  There are many animals on site, from red wolves to whooping cranes, bald eagles to a black bear. There is even a hippo, although there is a story behind how the hippo came to be at the park.  A few photo highlights:

The real draw, of course, is the manatees.  The underwater observatory is a neat place to see them float by, the gentle creatures that they are.  There are currently 7 manatees that live in the park, which has a barricade to keep them from heading out into open waters.  Sad, I know.  However, the majority of them are there for rehabilitation, so I'd like to think they're there for good reason. 

We wandered around the park for a long time, and I really, truly enjoyed myself.  It was one of the better birthdays I've had.  When I think of the Florida I love, this is the type of environment that comes to mind (minus the caged animals, of course).  The spring, the manatees, the color and vibrancy of nature.  It made me truly appreciate having another year to live in it. 

Happy National Pauladay to all!!!