Canoeing at Blue Spring State Park
There are a few musts for any respectable trip through Florida. Near the top of the list are a visit to one of Florida’s many natural springs (Florida has over 700 freshwater springs, the most anywhere on the planet) and seeing manatees.
One of the best places to see manatees is Blue Spring State Park, where we stopped for a few hours while driving from Orlando to Jacksonville.
The water is crystal clear and just the right temperature for the wintering sea cows, who can’t stand water temperatures below 68°F. At Blue Spring, it comes out of the ground at a reasonable 73°F year round, making an ideal winter refuge for over 400 of the gentle mammals.
When we visited, most of the manatees had already begun leaving the area for the summer, but we were delighted to see 20-30 that were still there.
It was hard to get a good picture because of the reflections, but here they are (notice the dark shapes near the top of the pictures):
We spent the money for a one-hour canoe rental and enjoyed paddling around the river and watching the manatees swim by. We also spotted a lot of fish, some turtles, and even an alligator.
Oldest City in the U.S.
While staying in Jacksonville for a week, we made a day trip to St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied European-based settlement in the United States. Founded by the Spanish in 1565, it recently celebrated its 450 year anniversary!
Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the United States and one of only two in the world built of coquina, a porous limestone formed from fossilized seashells. The coquina walls look kind of like a granola bar, with gaps and pockets between the seashells.
Coquina turned out to be a fantastic building material for walls subjected to cannon ball impacts. Unlike more solid stone or brick walls, which shatter and crumble when hit with a cannon ball, the coquina compresses and absorbs the cannon ball. It’s like shooting a BB gun into a thick piece of styrofoam.
This helped Castillo de San Marcos defend St Augustine for hundreds of years without ever once being overtaken.
The fort has a Junior Ranger program, which helped make for a great educational visit for all of us.
There’s a pirate museum across the street from the fort. It looks small from the outside, but inside is filled with the largest collection of real pirate artifacts anywhere in the world. Kids get to do a scavenger hunt around the museum with a special prize at the end.
Any Arthur C. Clarke fans out there?
Ali loves the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and was thrilled to see Johnny Depp’s sword (notice how the point goes in).
Out of the way on Fort George Island, the Kingsley Plantation produced the extremely valuable Sea Island Cotton using slave labor. This type of cotton is very soft with long fibers that require hand picking. Cotton gins don’t work with this crop.
Slaves who lived at the plantation build their homes from tabby, a type of concrete made from oyster shells.
Fort Caroline was founded by French settlers in 1564, a year before St Augustine was founded. The actual remains of the fort are long gone, but a re-creation by the National Parks Service shows what it probably looked like.
This was one of the first European settlements in the new world, but only lasted a year before the Spanish sent a force from St Augustine to attack eradicate the French Protestants, slaughtering hundreds.
This video gives a fantastic history lesson about this settlement, really interesting to learn about.