Monday, March 27, 2017

Three Sisters Springs, 3/22/2017

Before leaving the Tampa Bay Area, we wanted to visit Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge (about 1.25 hours north of Lutz, FL) to see the manatees there. After doing some research on-line, I learned that the Visitor Center and Friends Store are being relocated and, therefore, closed. You can check at this site to see if it is open:

Much of the Refuge is accessible only by boat. Below is a map, also available at their website. 

Three Sisters Springs is the only area of the Wildlife Refuge that is accessible by land. And the Three SIsters Springs Trolley is the only way to visit it (no private vehicles allowed). Tickets are purchased at the Three Sisters Springs Center located on US 19 behind the sheriff's building. Honestly, we drove right past it as it is located when we first got to town. But we drove around the block and found it easily enough. 

Information about manatees and some paintings of them decorate the interior of the Center. Restrooms are also available here. 

The cost (for the day) is $12.50/seniors and $15/adults. The trolley runs every 30 minutes. There are two stops through the small town of Crystal River (where you can get off/on the trolley to enjoy restaurants and shops in town) Walking tours from the springs are also available and reservations can be made here or on line. 

The trolley left about five to ten minutes after we purchased our tickets. It is only a short drive to Three Sisters Springs.

boardwalk encircles the Three Sisters Springs area providing great views of manatees. 

The water is very clear and 74 degrees F year-round. Three Sisters comprises 3 of the 70 springs in the 600-acre area of Crystal River/King's Bay. Millions of gallons of water are discharged from these three springs daily. It is well known as a winter refuge for manatees due to the warm water. There have been hundreds of manatees here during cold fronts and tidal changes (usually after November 15). On the day we visited there were about a dozen manatee in the sanctuary areas (behind buoys and ropes). 

Manatees spend much of their lives underwater feeding and resting. In fact, they can stay submerged 15 to 20 minutes when at rest, but must come up more frequently for air when they are feeding on underwater plants (6 to hours a day!) In the three photos below, you can see a manatee sticking just it's nose up for air. 

Adults are 9 to 10 feet long and average about 1,000 pounds, although some large males can weight 3,000+ pounds. They can live in fresh, brackish, or salt water habitats and frequently move between these different marine environments. 

We walked along the boardwalk to the point where Three Sisters Springs flow into King's Bay. There is another roped off sanctuary area here (swimmers and boats are forbidden). 

Kayaking or swimming in this area is available through other tour companies in Crystal River. In the photo above, the family was hoping the manatee and her calf would swim into Three Sisters Springs wth them, but the manatees kept their distance. Babies stay with their mothers for around two years

We continued along the boardwalk to the north end of the springs enjoying the beauty of this place. 

Beyond the boardwalk is a trail along the water where we saw this beautiful butterfly, interesting plants/trees, and a bat house

I believe this is an Eastern Bluebird. There are birdhouses along the trail that are used by them.

More manatees could be seen in the water at various points along the trail. However, the water is not as clear as Three Sisters so they can only be seen when they are very close to the surface or come up for air.

The barnacles on the back of this manatee indicate that it has recently entered the bay from the Gulf of Mexico. 

Interestingly enough, the manatees' closest living relatives are elephants. The manatees in Florida are a subspecies of West Indian manatees and are endangered due to shrinking habitats. The majority of manatee injuries and deaths are caused by motor boats (most have scars from encounters with them). Other deaths occur when they are trapped in flood gates or entangled in discarded monofilament fishing line. 

We caught the trolley to return to our car, but hopped off at the second stop (before the Center) to walk a couple of blocks through the town of Crystal River. This sailing scow is a replica of ones used during the 1800s. During the Civil War, one captured by the Union Army was sued to attack Confederate shore posts. It is 36' long and 12' wide.

There are lots of cute shops with unique gifts in Crystal River and several nice restaurants in the area as well. 

We don't usually like to leave our dog, Sadie, for this long, but dogs are not permitted anywhere near the Refuge. So, we did not linger too long in Crystal River. 

Three Sisters Springs is a fantastic place to get a good look at manatees due to the very clear water. Plan your trip when there is a cold spell, because that is when more seek the warmth of the springs. They seek warmer waters when the bay is 68 degrees or colder. It is magical to see these gentle marine creatures up close.

For additional information about Three Sisters and the tours available at the Center, check out this site:

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Fort Cooper Historic State Park, 3/20/2017

Located about an hour from where we are staying in Lutz, FL, this 704-acre park is a nice place to relax, hike, and learn about some of the history of this area. The land was acquired from the owners by the state in 1970. Archeologists began excavating the site of the Fort Cooper shortly thereafter. 

Below is a map of Fort Cooper Historic State Park and hiking trails. There is one large parking area near the center of the park. 

We grabbed some water (and our doggie, Sadie, of course) and made our way to the shore of Lake HolathlikahaCanoes can be rented for exploring and fishing in Lake Holathlikaha (private boats are prohibited). 

We were fascinated by these large sandhill cranes. They have such a loud and distinctive call that we heard then long before we saw them. Check out those red eyes!

playground is located near the parking lot as well as restrooms (the only ones int he park). This small pavilion provides a lovely area to sit and enjoy the view. A large picnic shelter can be reserved. 

Dogs are not allowed on the large sandy beach, but are permitted elsewhere in the park. Signs warn of the presence of alligators, although we did not see any.

There are about five miles of hiking trails. We set out on the trail at the west end of the parking area to find the location of the original Fort Cooper. The Seminole Trail Heritage signs provide insight into the life of the Seminole Indians that lived in the area and the reason Fort Cooper was constructed here. A military road that once let to Fort Brooke (Tampa) can be seen from the Fort Site Trail

Fort Cooper was constructed in 1836 during the Second Seminole War. The war had begun in 1835 when the Seminoles and blacks annihilated a force under Major Francis Dade.

General Winfield Scott put Major Mark Anthony Cooper in command here with troops to build a shelter to care for the sick and wounded during the Battle of Withlacoochee. Scott planned to send relief in nine days. In just a couple of days the troops cut down hundreds of pine trees to build picket walls on this hilltop overlooking Lake Holathlikaha. 

A few days later Osceola (courageous and respected leader of the Seminoles) attacked and held siege of the fort for 16 days with intermittent skirmishes throughout. Finally, relief arrived and the Seminoles were forced to leave. 

From 1836 through 1842, the US used the fort as a horse depotscouting post, and watering hole. It was subsequently abandoned. 

The Third Seminole War broke out in 1855 and lasted more than two years. When Native Americans were captured they were sent to Indian Territories in the west and the blacks fighting by their side were returned to slavery. The defiant Seminoles continued to fight against the effort of the US government to deport them to reservations in Oklahoma. There were three great Seminole leaders during the wars: 
  • Chief Micanopy: captured, imprisoned, and eventual sent to the Indian Territory in the West.
  • Osceola: skilled political and military leader who was taken prisoner by General Jesup during a meeting under a flag of truce. He died at Fort Moultrie in 1838.
  • Chief Ablaka: a medicine man and spiritual leader who evaded US forces and relocated to the Everglades in south Florida. He taught his warriors to evade the whites, but to fight fiercely when forced to do so. Most of the surviving Seminoles were led by him to safety. 
Approximately 200 Seminoles remained hidden deep in the Everglades with no treaty. The tribe was not federally recognized until the 1950s...a very sad story of the exploitation and treatment of Native Americans in our country. Today there are 4,500 ancestors of those survivors of the Seminole Wars.  

We continued to hike the long loop trail near the fort site. Because we visited on a Monday, there were very few people in the park. Sadie, had a blast, as usual, exploring the smells of this new place. 

After returning to the parking area, we walked to the east end of the lot to pickup the Dogwood Trail. It is another trail through a hardwood hammock where there are many dogwoods, although they were not yet in bloom during our visit. The trail continues past the edge of Coot Marsh of Lake Holathlikaha.  Signs are very helpful in determining where you are along this (and other) trails in the park. 

Sadie continued her investigations along the trail. There are bobcats, deer, snakes and other wildlife here, but we did not see any during our hike. We did see lots of butterflies but I only caught a photo of this one.

We continued on the long loop enjoying the beauty of the area. We really enjoy this type of park: a mix of nature and cultural history. The admission fee is a $3/vehicle. For additional information about the park, check out their website: