Showing posts with label FLORIDA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FLORIDA. Show all posts

Crystal River Florida - Home of the Manatee

Crystal River, Florida calls itself the Home of the Manatee.  This small town, located on the west coast of Florida alongside the Gulf of Mexico, is unique in that it’s the only place in the United States where one is allowed to swim alongside these friendly and gentle giants, who are harmless and lack any system of defense. Federal and state laws attempt to provide manatees with as much protection as possible.

Other than in Crystal River, law enforcement considers that for a person even to approach a manatee is illegal harassment. The typical manatee is about 9 feet long and weighs 1000 pounds but, despite its size, it’s an endangered species and deaths from boat strikes are frequent.

Manatee family

Manatees are elephants cousins
Manatees share a common ancestor with the elephant. Without additional protection, the Florida manatee faces extinction. Many manatees bear multiple scars from their encounters with boat propellers. At least Floridians are aware of this and many of their cars carry “Save the Manatee” license plates, the sale proceeds from which help to fund protection measures.

Save the Manatee Florida license plate
Manatees are herbivores, which mean that they eat only plants, which makes them vegetarians. They usually eat up to 10% of their body weight every day. The delights of lobster and crab and shrimp are not for them, presumably because removing the shells would be too much trouble. Any attempt by the public to feed manatees is strictly forbidden. How long does a manatee live?  Who knows, but a manatee called Snooty was born in Miami in 1948. He now lives at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, Florida, a few miles to the south of Crystal River.

Like Pat and me, the manatee spends most of its time eating, resting and in travel. Like Pat and me also, it needs to swim in warm water.  Prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit leads to its death and that sad fact brings us back to the little town of Crystal River. In winter, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico can become surprisingly cool – except in Crystal River. The town spreads itself around picturesque Kings Bay, which is fed by 50 springs keeping water in the bay at a year round temperature of at least 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Consequently, Kings Bay is home to over 400 manatees during winter.

Florida welcomes many visitors from Canada and the northern part of the United States during the winter months. We call them “snowbirds from up north”, who are wise enough to avoid the cold weather. The manatees in Kings Bay during winter are similarly motivated and are intelligent. Manatees are curious and possess a long term memory, which must be useful when the waters of the Gulf start to cool. Oddly enough, they don’t much care whether they are swimming in freshwater or sea water. They also talk to each other by making a wide range of sounds. They hear well, despite the absence of ear lobes, and can differentiate colors.

Crystal River marina
On September 12th 2013, Pat and I celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary by visiting Crystal River.  We were accompanied by our daughter Tara.

Pat, Bob and Tara Patten on Crackers dock
I would love to be able to tell you that, after donning our snorkels and masks, we plunged into the depths of Kings Bay, introduced ourselves to several talkative manatees and swam alongside them. Yet that would be a lie.

Crackers Bar and Grill in Crystal River
On arriving in town, we located Crackers Bar and Grill on the edge of Kings Bay and indulged in a substantial lunch, the soporific effect of which deterred us from even entering the water later.While comfortably reclining on the deck of the restaurant, we gazed at the waters of the bay, expecting a large mammal to break the surface and present itself to us for inspection. It didn’t happen. We never saw a real live manatee all day. However, it must not be said that we have let down the thousands of readers of this website who are eager to see what a manatee looks like.

Tara, Pat and Bob Patten at the Wild Life Refuge
Before leaving town, we visited the headquarters of The Crystal River National Wild Life Refuge which is operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. There we met and were photographed with a life sized statue of a manatee and her calf.

When we next visited our favorite bar in Lake County, Florida, about 50 miles to the east of Crystal River, it was much busier than usual. Snowbirds from up north had been arriving. Like the manatees, they were intelligent and talkative. The pleasure of their company compensated us for our failure in Crystal River to meet a real live manatee.

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on September 27, 2013.

Mt. Dora Florida - A Very Modest Mountain

Mount Dora, Florida is the smallest of mountains. The little town, on the shores of Lake Dora, occupies a plateau only 184 feet above sea level. It was here, in early 1930, that a great man and his wife chose to spend a month shortly after leaving The White House. Calvin Coolidge became President of the United States in 1923 on the death in office of Warren Harding. Coolidge, like Mitt Romney, was a former Governor of Massachusetts and had been elected vice president in 1920. He was elected President in his own right in 1924 and chose to retire after one term. They called him “Silent Cal”. He never wasted words. Someone once told him that he’d made with a bet with a fellow who claimed that it was impossible to get more than two words out of Coolidge. “You lose” was Silent Cal’s response. Coolidge was a great believer in small government and low taxes. The complaint today is that half the nation pays no federal income taxes and that is seen as a bad thing. Under Coolidge, only the richest 2% paid federal income taxes and that was seen as a good thing. How can American expectations have changed so much in less than a century?

President Calvin Coolidge and friends at Lakeside Inn
During his visit to Mount Dora, Coolidge stayed at The Lakeside Inn and participated in the dedication ceremony for one of its new buildings. Pat and I enjoyed lunch there in October 2012. I washed down my delicious beef bourguignon with Lakeside Red Ale, a satisfying brew manufactured by Budweiser exclusively for the inn. As we ate, we were entertained by seaplanes landing on Lake Dora, which is part of the Lake Harris chain of lakes – the largest body of fresh water in the state of Florida.

Lakeside Inn
The Lakeside Inn is the oldest continuously operated hotel in the entire state. A group of elegant wooden structures spreads itself along the lakeside and contains 87 guest bedrooms, including the Coolidge Room. The hotel opened in 1883 with just ten rooms. Its development was assisted by the arrival in Mount Dora in 1886 of a passenger train service. Before that, guests traveled to the hotel by lake steamer from Jacksonville or by the logging train from Sanford to nearby Sorrento, where they would be met by horse and buggy.

Mt. Dora railroad station
Today there are alligators in abundance in Florida in general, and in the Lake Harris chain in particular. Estimates put their present total in the state at 1.25 million. In some places, there are so many that they have to be culled. This is very different from a few years ago when Florida alligators were in danger of extinction and when conservation measures had to be taken. Alligators are not too smart. A fully grown alligator can be up to 14 feet in length and may weigh over 200 pounds. Yet this powerful creature, with its mighty jaws, is controlled by the tiniest of brains weighing only two or three ounces! In its dealings with humans therefore, the alligator never relies on cunning. It is motivated purely by an instinct driven only by hunger and a sense of territory. If the human leaves the alligator in peace, the alligator is unlikely to seek the human out. As Pat and I sat on the veranda of The Lakeside Inn, we attempted to sight an alligator on the placid surface of Lake Dora. Surely we could see just one, if there are 1.25 million around? Alas, we saw nothing.

Segway tours in Mt. Dora

Bob on the veranda at the Lakeside Inn in Mt. Dora FL
There are a variety of ways of seeing this quaint little town. A horse and buggy is available. Then there is a train running around the edge of the lake, on which passengers are served with a fine dinner. A popular tour involves the use of a segway, which is a tiny moving platform with a wheel on either side. The passenger stands on the platform, moving at up to 12 mph, and needs to retain his or her balance. The vehicle is powered by an electric battery and is a recent invention which I had never seen before. In Mount Dora, groups of visitors traverse the gently sloping streets of the town on segways. Everyone wears a crash helmet and each group is led by a tour guide. When I glimpsed such a group, I became excited. I walk very slowly, but a segway would remove my need to walk. Instead I would be zipping around Mount Dora at the speed of a marathon runner. “I can do that”, I claimed with confidence. It was gently explained to me that someone aged 75 and weighing over 250 pound had no business to be riding on a segway. Losing one’s balance at 12 mph and hitting the deck at speed would be inevitable. My suggestion could only have been made by someone with an alligator sized brain. So they led me away, seated me on the hotel veranda, and fed me Lakeside Red Ale. As you will see from the photograph below, I am coping with my rejection as best I can.

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on January 20, 2013.

Inverness Florida - When Irma Came To Visit

It is ironic that the most recent post on this site was about Cedar Key and the destruction left behind by hurricane Hermine in the early part of September 2016.

However, in early September of 2017, we were paid a visit by hurricane Irma which left us with a massive oak tree on our house and structural damage to our garage.

We have a lot to be thankful for. No one in our home was hurt or injured. In fact, we all went to bed and slept through the storm. We actually heard the big thud of the tree hitting the roof as we were just falling off to sleep. The full impact of the storm didn't arrive for several hours later. But we are so fortunate that the tree fell on the garage and not on the bedrooms next to it. We only had to wait 5 days to get the tree off the house, which is excellent, considering how many people were in the same situation as us.

However, the good news is the tree has now been removed and our power was turned back on. See video below of the guys removing the tree from the roof of our house.

We wanted to take the time to wish the best for Floridians and those in Texas reeling from the aftereffects of these two powerful hurricanes, Harvey and Irma and to commend the wonderful people who have pulled together to help us get through this disaster without much loss of life.

A special shout out to the Citrus County Sheriff's department, Citrus County officials and City of Inverness who all did a fantastic job of helping keep people safe and informed. A hotline was available which was very helpful to those people who needed to get quick answers to questions. This kept the 911 lines freed up to handle emergencies.

One of the most helpful things the Sheriff did was continually update the status on Facebook and other social media of roads, shelters and other facilities. They put up lists of open gas stations and other businesses and information about restoring power. It was hugely helpful to know what was open and available and when we might get power back.

Bob and I wanted to give a great big thank you to all the police, firefighters, medical personnel and others who helped out to keep everyone safe, not only here in Citrus County, but all over Florida. A big shout out to all the linemen working round the clock in such dangerous and terrible conditions to restore power. You really don't realize how dependent on power we are, especially when not having means no water in our case.

Also, a great big thanks to President Trump who pulled out all the stops and managed the government response to these natural disasters with all the speed and efficiency needed to help us all through this trying time. We are extremely grateful to the President and Mrs. Trump for all they have done to show their support for all the people who have been impacted by these two terrible natural disasters. God Bless you President Trump for your fortitude and expertise in handling the situation so very well and God Bless America.

God Bless America and Trump
This piece, written by Pat, was originally posted on our website on September 16, 2017.