Day 8: Manatees and Alligators in the Swimming Hole

Today was an amazing day.

First of all, here is what our campsite looked like. Check out that jungle seclusion.

It was a balmy 90 degrees about mid-morning. So, after a breakfast that included our Peach Crumb Cake that we picked up heading out of Georgia, we headed to the swimming hole.

Blue Spring State Park is known for its beautiful blue spring that comes out of the ground into the river. Because it is a spring, it runs at a consistent 72 degrees year-round. In the winter, it attracts hundreds of manatees. Sadly, this isn’t winter. So, we weren’t sure whether we would spot any.

There were all sorts of wildlife — beginning with the human variety. Safe to say, some people should receive citations for indecent exposure. Not because they were naked — just because nobody should have to see that.

I encountered this little guy on the trail on the way to the swimming hole. He wasn’t the least bit shy. It was almost as if he posed for his close-up.

At the swimming hole, the girls were greeted by an intimidating sign.

Nonetheless, we persuaded them to persevere.

This was despite the fact that the river was full of so many species of fish. Gar, catfish, bowfish, large mouth bass, tilapia and more. Most of the fish were simply hanging out, perhaps emboldened by the fact that an ordinance prevents fishing in the spring.

Do you see all of the little dark shadows below the trees in the image below? Those are Gar. Hundreds of them. Each one is about 24-30 inches long. I tried to touch a few. No luck.

Photo courtesy of Addie.

We saw a variety of birds while we were hanging out as well. One came down, landed on the water, struggled for a bit, and then flew off into the distance while trying to maintain a grasp on his catch of the day. Others were content to hunt while we humans lurked nearby with cameras. Note the little guy blending into the composition below. The camera doesn’t do justice. His plumage is actually more blue and purple.

After the swim, we returned to the camper for a bit. It was a happy accident, because there was an unexpected rainstorm that moved in.

So, we did the only logical thing. We played cards, while we imagined Jurassic Park dinosaurs closing in on our location.

When the rain subsided, we ventured out to see the homestead of the man who owned the springs before they were bought by the government. LaShera really liked the shape of the creepy tree hovering over the white house.

Then, we strolled the boardwalk to see what other critters we could spot. We struck it rich.

After working to identify the various fish in the stream, this huge guy paid us a visit. We were excited to get to check “see a manatee in the wild” off of our camping to-do list.

Then, we decided to let Libbie play on the playground for a bit. There were a lot of vultures lingering nearby. Addie entertained herself by chasing them around — amused that they would hop away, but never considered her enough of a threat to leave the ground.

Meanwhile, a group of siblings were playing on the playground, eating cheese balls as they enjoyed the swing. As they played, they attempted to catch cheese balls in their mouths and made a mess of the ground below.

That, of course, attracted more vultures.

With all of those children around, we also saw another animal and her maternal instincts.

That’s not our kid that LaShera is holding. That is LaShera rescuing a little girl who got into a big pile of ants. I’m not sure what I like most about this picture — the moms sharing an unwritten code about looking out for babies, Libbie looking on curiously but seemingly unconcerned, the little girl’s brother who was more interested in the cheese balls, or the vulture who lurks in the background, perhaps hoping the ant-bitten kid becomes dinner.

Meanwhile, the squirrels in the area were unconcerned with much of anything, including the humans only a couple of feet away.

At that end of the spring, we encountered another predator lurking in the water. Notice the floatings logs.

Photo courtesy of Addie.
Photo courtesy of Addie.

He was using the raft of moss and weeds in the center of the spring as camouflage as he hunted.

Photo courtesy of Addie.

For reference, I thought it would be useful to show exactly how close each of these things were to one another. The only real barrier between the gators and where we swam was the level of clarity or murkiness in the water. The manatees loved the crystal clear waters near the spring, while the gators liked to be nearly invisible. But, in total, they were less than a quarter-mile from one another.

That about sums up our day. It was full of fun, cold waters, warm sun, and great memories. Tomorrow, we move down the road into Orlando where we’ll visit Universal Studios.

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