Our youngest son, Darby aka The Darb, flew down from Columbus, Ohio last week to visit. He was looking forward to a week of sunshine, shorts and exploration. What he got was record breaking cold temperatures, rain and wind. The only good news was that our weather here was consistently 40 degrees warmer than back in Ohio where one morning the temperature was -11 degrees. So the kid wasn't complaining too much.
Friday, the last day of Darb's stay, had a weather forecast of sunny and 80 degrees so I planned a stop for lunch at a restaurant on the banks of Lake Weir, followed by a visit to Blue Spring State Park to see the manatees and then Denny and I would take him to the airport to return to Ohio. Oh the best laid plans....the day dawned foggy, dreary and cool. Crap!
Determined to make the best of it, off we went for a very tasty lunch at Gator Joe's. On a nice day, we would have sat outside on the deck over the water and enjoyed the view. This time around, we simply enjoyed the company and the food.
About an hour's drive along county roads took us to the Blue Spring State Park where a large group of manatees had arrived during the frigid Florida weather. The spring that feeds into the St. John River here dumps about 100 million (read that again) gallons of water into the river and the water temperature from the spring is a constant 72 degrees. You see, manatees will die when they are exposed to water temperatures in the 60s so they search out areas where there are warm springs. On this day, the staff had counted 264 manatees in the river.
I have to admit, in the madness that precedes a person packing up and preparing for a flight out of town, I forgot to toss my camera into the car so the following photos were taken with the camera in my phone. Which is never an acceptable substitute but it was all I had. Sigh.
I have no idea what a group of manatees is called, but a magnificence of manatees would be good. If you click on the photo below you might notice one manatee grasping the tree limb with his flipper and pulling the leaf-filled branches to his mouth. Manatees are herbivores, eating the grasses and algae available in the waters and leaves that they can reach.
Manatees surface every few minutes for air and can remain underwater for 20 minutes or so. The largest of this group were noisy blowing out water and sucking in air while the babies were virtually noise-free.
A lovely statue of a manatee done in mosiac tile.
Slow, massive and peaceful, manatees grow up to thirteen feet long and can weigh as much as 1300 pounds.
The river is also home to several species of fish. We watched tilapia flashing their silvery sides and these Florida gars kept the manatees company.
The worst enemy the manatee has is man and his power boats. On the manatee on the left you can see the scars from the boat propellers. This one is surfacing for air while the other manatee rolls while luxuriating in the warmth of the water.
The obligatory tourist shot; me, Darb and Denny.
Mama and baby; as we approached the deck where this pair was resting I overheard a lady say she saw the mother nursing the baby. Darn! Notice once again the propeller scars on the mother's back. A simple cage over the propeller would help prevent a lot of the injuries but boat owners apparently aren't fond of this fix.
The manatees seem to derive a lot of pleasure in rolling over and over in slow motion. They are just so much fun to watch in their placid movements and obvious pleasure in the warmth of the water.
In the winter you can't enter the waters of the St. John's River near the Blue Spring but in the summer the river is open to swimming, canoeing and kayaking. There is a campground with water and electric hook ups, nature trails and the Louis Thursby house can be toured several days of the week. The Thursby family was one of the first to settle in the area and to plant orange groves.
Despite the cool temperatures and overcast skies and the fact that Darb had to return to Ohio, we had a really nice time at Blue Spring State Park.