Follow that Dream … to Florida

Yankee Town, Crystal River, and the Gulf Coast are Waiting for YOU!

At the end of the road, you will find this sight!

General area of Crystal River.

Yes, there is a road named, “Follow the Dream Parkway.”  It heads out to Bird Creek Beach on the Western shores of Florida–Gulf side.   On the way to this more than remarkable place, we saw signs claiming that Elvis had walked the path.  Little did we know that, it was right here on this very road and in the town of Yankee that the movie “Follow that Dream” was filmed.

Crystal River Archaeological Site  (Click on the title to view a great video.)

This is a photo of the 30 foot high mound on Crystal River.

We have been planning for months to visit the Crystal River shell mound.  The more we studied the beauty of the area, the more we knew we had to extend our stay.  During the holidays we sprint out of town.  Cooking and socializing with scads of people is not the game we like to play, and this year with Covid hanging over us, we knew we had to leave.

Artist’s conception of Crystal River Mounds.

Crystal River was home to  Indigenous peoples who have vanished.  They left evidence of their friends and family who had passed on, and built huge mounds along a gorgeous river that was near healthy springs.  Those mounds took many years to build.  Some archaeologists argue that this was a meeting area for celebrating the dead and the performance of religious rituals.  No one really knows how it was used.

Besides mounds where people were buried with important (maybe personal) objects, there was a large, long presentation area–like a stage in a sports arena.  Some of the areas at the site have been bulldozed by contractors who used the shells for construction.  In one film  about the mounds, the park ranger asked us to imagine paddling down the river in a canoe.  All of a sudden, high above the water travelers would see these huge mounds with buildings on top of them.  Brightly colored flags and, perhaps, music would have greeted the traveler.

Another artist captures Crystal River. The area is much larger than depicted here.

In Turkey, we ran into very large circular areas called Caravanserais.  Travelers could stay overnight, purchase food, and keep their animals in a holding area below the rooms or out in the plaza.  I  wonder if some of these archaeological sites served the same purpose.  They always have a huge open area in the middle of the mounds.  Archaeologists find virtually nothing in the plaza or open areas.  I also wonder if these sites were a little like Las Vegas for the locals?

Unfortunately the museum was closed due to Covid.  Here are a couple of photos (taken from the net) of artifacts found at the site.  Wish we knew who created them!  Archaeologists link the culture and artifacts with several groups of cultures that go East and North as far as Cahokia Mounds near St. Louis and in Illinois.

Three Sisters Springs 

This place was a treat.  It is home to hundreds of Manatees during the winter months.  The water stays a good 75 degrees and Manatees love it.  We have a National Park pass but it only gave us a discount here.  In order to visit the springs and hiking trails next to the Crystal River, we had to board a bus.  No automobiles are allowed, there is no parking outside the springs, although walkers and bicycles may enter.  We did not know exactly how to locate the entrance to Three Sisters so we took the bus. Normally we would have hoofed it.

I could not capture the very blue. clear water here. Even more beautiful than this pic.

Rangers and volunteers have built a boardwalk all around the area.  We walked it twice because the views were stunning.  A few manatees were sunning themselves as we followed them.  One negative note here is, as the day marched on, snorkelers dominated the springs.  It was almost as if we came to see them snorkel.

This is not my photo but people snorkeling soon filled the area. Notice how close they are to the Manatee.  We heard that you could touch the Manatees if you had a mind to do it.

Tom paddling toward Three Sisters that can be accessed by water.

Touring Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

It is not exactly a zoo.  The wildlife park houses (mostly) creatures indigenous to Florida.  Panthers, Bobcats, Red Wolves, Birds of Prey, Shore Birds, and even Black bears greeted us.  Along the way  we viewed a very active Hippopotamus.  What cute eyes!

Many of its inhabitants have been injured.  There was one large bird that had been there for 30 years.  Below are a few of the intriguing sights. The park is well-maintained and visitors use a boardwalk to reach the inhabitants.  Some of the areas were closed due to Covid.

Such a bright and spunky guy!

Beauties!

The closest I have been to a Manatee–the water cow!

The Town:  Crystal River

Tourists had invaded the town when we arrived.  They were everywhere and most were not practicing social distancing or wearing masks.  The main drag on Citrus Avenue sports several small shops.  Some of them could only hold 3-4 people.  One of the most interesting things to me was William Mickey who was painting a mural just outside the town square.  Talent is his middle name.  After offering an appreciation for his work, I mentioned that it was a bit idealized.  He agreed and said he was going to work harder to make the mural and his love for the area more realistic.

An idealized manatee on the loose.

Can you imagine doing this?

I explored Crystal River while Tom paddled around.  Here are a couple of fun shots.

Go Fish.

The sun is in my eyes.

The Sugar Mill

While touring around in Homosassa, just south of Crystal River, we ran into a Sugar Mill.  On the island of St. Croix (Which we love and considered purchasing a condo.) we visited several mills but none of them had a huge iron engine like this one.  It seemed to be much more advanced than those on St. Croix.

Do you know that sugar mills did not only produce sugar.  They produced molasses and syrup that eventually was magically turned into “Rum.”  So the mills were important to the locals!

It was a beautiful setting.

Notice the huge iron wheel and other metal objects. In the foreground are metal vats.

Fort Island Gulf Beach

Boardwalk and fishing pier. This is one of my favorite photos from our Crystal River adventure.

We were not sure we wanted to take the nine mile trek from Crystal River to Fort Island.  But, oh, what a ride it was.  The road is built on top of tiny islands with water and grass on each side of you.  Were we in the Everglades?  No!  I have a sneaking suspicion that the military did the work on this one.  I searched for its history and could not find it. Also,  I spent some time thinking I should straighten this photo but apparently it is straight with the horizon.  The tilting is an illusion? Tom says that the boardwalk is not straight.

A blue haze and sky greet you when you arrive at Fort Island Beach.  The sky melts into  the water.  Where were we? on some distant watery planet?   The experience was very eery and beyond expectations.  Walking the beach we discovered a well-built fishing pier.  Then, we waited for the sun to show its magnificent face.  Such beauty!

This is beyond …

Discovering Florida is a bonus that we had not anticipated when we moved here. Every day we gaze out our porch and see alligators, birds we can’t name, fire ants (ouch!), and huge turtles — no snakes or black bears yet.  The other night we heard cows bellowing and on an evening walk, a bobcat stared us straight in the eyes!

Quiet moments on our porch.

Hope all of you are well.  It seems that the Covid hurricane is upon us.  Stay safe and keep busy somehow.

Next report will be on Sebastian Inlet.

As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge

 

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