Who cares about Punxsutawney Phil’s predictions about the coming of spring when you live in Florida?
On the first day of February we launched the boat at Pete’s Peir and then spent the day on the water. We started the morning playing hide and seek with the fish. The fish won.
Then we played a little Marco Polo with the dolphin as they would surface and hiss before disappearing.
Next, we played Peek-a-boo with the manatee as they’d quickly peek their snouts above the water but then slide beneath the surface before I could snap a satisfactory picture.
Finally, we quit playing games and headed to Three Sisters Spring where we knew we’d find manatee we could photograph.
And we weren’t disappointed. Dozens of the swimming potatoes were moving out of the spring in the warm weather to feed before the next cold front chases them back to their warm, protected hideaway.
The spring area also housed numerous manatee in the roped off portion of the river. A river congested with swimmers, boaters, photographers and people kayaking.
Only in Florida is it possible to enjoy what those living in other states would consider summer fun in February.
Daycation: Crystal River
In the book Deadly Waters, author Gloria Skurzynski, compares manatee to giant potatoes.
Not a bad description, but a potato may be more active.
These creatures are so ugly, they’re adorable.
Every year seems to be devoted to a different animal: sea turtles, black bears, moose, killer whales, grizzly bears. Last year was the year of the manatee, starting last January at Fanning Springs State Park and then at Blue Springs, Homasassa Springs, Wakula Springs, and finally swimming with them at Crystal River.
I wonder what animal will dominate 2015?
Well before sunrise on December 29th we started the day driving to Pete’s Pier in Crystal River to swim with the manatees, the final adventure on our 14 in 14 list. This was not our first attempt to swim with the manatee this year. A visit to Blue Springs in March found manatee in the spring area but swimming was prohibited. Then in July we swam in the springs in Crystal River where I hoped we’d by lucky and find a couple of manatee so I wouldn’t have to brave the cold later in the year, but they were not cooperative.
Since the only way I could possibly get in the water in December was with a wet suit, we decided to break down and pay to go with a charter company which turned out to be a great decision! Not only are wet suits included in the price, we didn’t have to trailer the boat for an hour on a foggy morning and we didn’t have to do battle to find a place to anchor the boat and then leave it unattended while we ventured back to Three Sisters Springs.
Instead, we eased into the not so cold water and spent nearly two hours enjoying the spring and the gentle giants resting in the area.
As our “captain” talked about the warmer than usual weather pushing the manatee back out to the open water away from the spring coupled with the sight of hundreds of brightly colored noodles with snorkelers from more than two dozen tour boats already in the spring, I thought the day was going to be a bust…a 5:00 wake up, cold water, a lot of people, no manatee…that sounded like wasted time and money.
Fortunately, only about 30 minutes into our trip one of the tour companies starting rounding up their group taking well over half of the people out of the spring making for a more pleasant experience.
In fact, the six critters in the spring had stationed themselves in a manner that enabled the the humans to cluster in small groups of six to ten swimmers making it possible to get up close and enjoy the time in the water.
We only swam (actually floated) with six manatee, but a cow and calf made up one pair and there was a pregnant cow which is expected to give birth any day now according to the preserve volunteer. Now that would be a sight to see!
What a wonderful way to end 2014! (And thanks to my wonderful underwater photographer and husband for capturing these images of the manatee.)
We’ve lived only an hour from Crystal River for over 35 years. I have to ask myself what took so long?
One of our goals for 2014 is to swim with the manatee. We didn’t have any luck finding manatee that we could join in the water last weekend, but spending the day on the water at Crystal River can never be considered a failure. No manatee…no problem.
We knew it was a long shot to find manatee on a day when the temperature is 90º, but we’ve seen them on summer days in the past so it was worth a try. The day quickly became a boat ride instead of a manatee swim, but what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Back at the boat ramp we met a couple with a pedal powered pontoon boat. This “green” boat uses pedal power connected to a riverboat style paddle wheel to move through the water. In addition, the boat had an electric engine powered by solar panels to provide a power boost while pedaling or as an alternative power source.
At only 14′ long and 750 pounds, the owners claimed that it was easy to maneuver and provided good exercise while enjoying a day on the river. I’m not sure I’d be too keen on taking guests since it would add extra effort, but maybe my next bike will be a pontoon boat!
We spent the day on Crystal River swimming and snorkeling in a couple of the springs in Kings Bay. Since the constant 72° temperature of the spring attracts manatee, we hoped to swim with the gentle creatures so we could check off another activity on the 14 in 14 list; but no such luck.
Manatee prefer the springs in the winter but finding them during the warm weather months is a bit more challenging. However, since I’m not fond of swimming when the weather’s cold, looking for the manatee on a summer day was worth a try.
We finally anchored the boat and made our way back to Three Sisters Spring, the ninth spring we’ve visited this year. Fortunately we avoided crowds by going on a Thursday morning, competing with only about two dozen swimmers and kayakers.
Even I enjoyed swimming in the refreshing water of the spring, and it was the perfect place for John to test out the underwater camera the girls gave him for Father’s Day.
We continuing exploring the Kings Bay region, and John jumped over for some more snorkeling. I decided to remain in the boat, afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back in without the aid of the shore (a good move).
No manatee, but an otherwise perfect day exploring yet another of Florida’s magnificent springs. And now we have an excuse to make a return trip!
After spending the day on the water at Crystal River, it was time to satisfy our seafood craving. We motored over to Crackers Bar and Grill, located on King’s Bay, where we sat on the deck at one of the picnic tables under a grass umbrella to soak in a little more of the view while we ate lunch.
We rarely order appetizers at lunch, but there’s no way we could pass up the potato skins. It’s hard to call them skins since there’s plenty of potato on the skin which is smothered in cheese, and then topped with bacon and onions. These are by far the best potato skins.
After loading up on an appetizer, we split the grouper sandwich with cole slaw…didn’t need any more potatoes so passed on the french fries. Plenty of food to split and very tasty. Not as good as the grouper sandwich at Sanibel Grill, but about three hours closer!
Good food. Waterfront dining. Great way to end a trip to Crystal River.
Last Saturday when we pulled in the parking lot of Pete’s Pier in Crystal River the first thing I saw – a car with a “Just Married” sign plastered across the back. As I looked past the car to the pair of green Port-a-Potties I thought, “Why would anyone spend their honeymoon at Pete’s Pier?”
Then a few minutes later as we pushed off the dock and headed toward Seven Sister’s Spring I realized just how much I take for granted. Sure, Pete’s Pier isn’t anything special. Small boat ramp. Primitive bathroom facilities. No restaurant.
But what a beautiful piece of Florida. Clear water. Sunshine. Warm weather. Surrounded by wildlife. People come from all over the country, no, all over the world to visit a part of the world only an hour from home.
Approaching the spring area, the tour boats packed with divers lined the river…a reminder of how popular the river, springs, and wildlife, especially the manatee, of the area are to the thousands who visit each year.
What a great reminder that our backyard is someone else’s paradise! And, a perfect place for newlyweds to spend their honeymoon.
(Meghan, thanks for the great manatee pictures!)