Ranger Bob happened to be in the office when we were checking on a kayak rental. Turns out he had quite the day trip to recommend, so we started early with a 6:30 wake up! Hard to believe it, but we were on the road by 8:30.
Homosassa Springs State Park is an amazing wildlife hospital & sanctuary. They even have a free dog kennel so your pet can chill while you tour the park! I do not think Maggie appreciated it as much as we did! The animals housed at the refuge are unable to live in the wild. Most of them were injured, some were orphans & a few abandoned by owners. If an animal has to live in captivity, this park is awesome. All the animals (except for Lu, the Hollywood hippo) are indigenous to Florida. So many beautiful animals enjoying themselves! The shore/water birds had it the best. Their environment is so nice that wild birds fly in to join the injured. Guess the free fish is a big draw. When the populations get too crowded, the non-residents are captured & released elsewhere.
The carnivores were cool to watch, but the fences reminded us of their plight. Realizing captivity was the only option for them helped, but.... The two red wolves looked amazingly like German Shepards. They came close to the fence so we could see their beautiful faces. A mother & cub cougar were a big hit as well, but I loved the bobcat. (I apologize for the fence picture) He paced relentlessly, making me want to take him home. What do you think? A good addition to the Airstream?
The park has three resident manatees but heals & returns many others back to wild. Manatees need water that is 67 degrees or warmer; Florida is usually a perfect winter home. But the last decade's wacky weather has really hurt them. The park now opens up the protected spring waters to allow the manatees access to the constant 72 degree water. Probably what the manatees have always done prior to the creation of the state parks. Hmmmm....did we create the problem & then feel good about fixing it? Manatees are really an interesting species but not that photogenic. My photos looked like underwater blobs & hit the recycling bin pretty quick. The fish photo was taken from the underwater observatory where we hoped to view manatees.
Finally we got some answers about the first people in this area at the Crystal River Archaeological State Park. They were mound builders like the Mississippi & Ohio groups! Artifact evidence dates them in this area as early as 500 BC & as late as 1050 AD. There is evidence that the groups traded & shared customs & ceremonies. There are many similarities with South American mound builders as well but no artifacts to connect them. The mound builders disappeared 500 years before Europeans arrived so it is difficult to know what happened to them. We do know they used their garbage along with oyster shells & sand to build the mounds. Several were burial mounds & who knows about the rest. Landfills of the ancients? The State of Florida rescued this site from a trailer park!!! The mounds were being excavated to build the driveways. Oh brother!
Being a tourist is hard work & we were happy to end the day under the shade of our awning with a cup of tea.