Fort De Soto Park

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Just off the coast of St. Petersburg, Florida likes 5 keys (islands) that make up Fort De Soto Park.  Part of the Pinellas County park system, it covers over 1,100 acres.  The 5 keys are Madelaine Key, St. Jean Key, St. Christopher Key, Bonne Fortune Key and the main island, Mullet Key and are connected by bridges or causeways.  In order to reach the park, you have to take the Pinellas Byway, a toll road that costs $1 and then another toll of $0.75 and parking of $5 per car for the day.  There are camping facilities for those interested.

Around the time of the Civil War and into the Spanish-American War, these islands were believed to be good military outposts to protect Tampa Bay and in 1898, the actual building of Fort De Soto commenced.  After World War II, however, the islands weren’t considered necessary for national defense and sold back to Pinellas County, who in turn made the islands a county park.

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Since this is a typical summer’s day in Tampa Bay, I opted to make a quick run down to the park before the afternoon rain storms hit.  Yes, the Sunshine State often gets quick rain showers during the summer months.  But don’t worry.  Just wait 15 minutes and then you can head back outside to enjoy the beaches.

Speaking of beaches, there are several to chose from along the park.

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There is a shorebirds nesting site on the North Beach that is off limits to humans, but there’s still plenty of space for beach fun.

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There’s also fishing available from the piers.

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And if that wasn’t enough, you can purchase tickets on ferries to either Edgemont National Wildlife Refuge or Shell Island.  Also, you can rent paddleboards, kayaks and bike to ride around the islands.

With beaches and activities galore, Fort De Soto County Park is a sight that needs to be seen and experienced to be believed.

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San Francisco Bay Trail

This past weekend, I decided to check out the San Francisco Bay trail.  It runs all the way around the shore of the Bay for a total of 354 miles.  I opted to stick to a much more reasonable about of trail and went to Baylake Park in Sunnyvale and Shoreline in Mountain View Park.

The day was supposed to be rainy, but the sun opted to make an appearance instead.  I first headed to the Sunnyvale portion of the trail, but found myself in a bit of a pickle as it was Free Dumping Weekend and the line to get to one portion of the trail was backed up.  So, I went down a bit more and entered through the Baylake Park portion.  It was $6 per car.

The sun was still struggling when I got there, but that didn’t matter as the view was amazing.

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This area is mostly wetlands and it is outside of the season for bird migration, but there were other creatures in the park.

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Even if not all of them were visible.

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Later, I headed north to Shoreline in Mountain View to check out more of the trail.

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You could see all the way to Fremont across the bay.

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The wildlife was more prevalent here.

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The plant life was very interesting as well.

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The trail meandered along the creek that feeds into the bay.

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And no matter where you go, there’s always that one guy…

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Also at the Mountain View portion is the Rengstorff House.  Mountain View’s oldest house, it was moved to its current site in 1989 and fully restored in 1991.  A fine example of Victorian architecture, it is also a beautiful place for events.

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The Mountain View portion was free to enter, though if you want to participate in some of the other activities offered (golfing and sailing to name a few), those have additional costs.  A beautiful way to appreciate nature and get some fresh air.

Weeki Wachee Springs-Home of Florida’s Mermaids

This morning, we headed down the road about half an hour from Crystal River, to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.  Weeki Wachee is a Seminole phrase for Winding River and is an appropriate name.  The river winds down into the Gulf of Mexico from a deep spring that remains a constant 74 degrees year round and is 99.8% pure water.  The attraction was established in 1947 by former frogman Newt Perry, who took his Navy diving knowledge and taught young women how to use hoses to breathe underwater, becoming mermaids.  It was a privately owned attraction until the state of Florida took over operations in 2008, turning it into a state park.

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With the holiday season upon us, we opted to get there early so we could see the early show of the mermaids.  There is also a water park attached to the main attraction, which is included with your admission.

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Mom thinks she missed her calling and should have been a mermaid herself.

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But it was time to watch the professional mermaids make breathing underwater look easy.

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It can take quite a bit of time to learn how to swim in the mermaid fins and breathe through the hose, as well as learning how to go up, down, sideways and all the other tricks they perform underwater in front of a theater that can hold up to 500 people.

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After being thoroughly impressed with the performance of the mermaids, we decided to take the 25 minute boat trip up the river that feeds out from the springs where the mermaids perform.

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Florida state law prohibits the touching or feeding of manatees and Weeki Wachee made sure to reinforce that information in the nicest way possible.

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No manatees were in the Weeki Wachee today, but the ride was still nice and we got to view some Florida flora.

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Upon disembarking, we ran into the other creature that Weeki Wachee is known for: their wild peacocks.  One decided to go on full display.

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Then he decided we needed to see what the back of the feathers looked like.

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The admission is very reasonable, at $13 per adult, children ages 6-12 are $8 and anyone under 6 is free.  The ticket includes all the shows as well as admission to the water park, Buccaneer’s Bay.  The mermaid shows do change and can be cancelled due to weather.  This is Florida, after all.  This state park is a good glimpse back at ‘Old Florida’.  It really is some place that should be experienced if you’re ever on Florida’s Nature Coast.